First, you need to be clear on what you stand for. Then you need to make sure everyone knows exactly what that is.
While LOLGOP was posting an excellent piece on how Democrats fell short of making the best possible case for voters to elect them (and if you haven’t read it yet, you really should), I was posting along similar lines at my personal blog. Except my focus was on content and communications strategy.
LOLGOP is exactly right that Democrats need to put forth much more decisive policies to win elections. But they also need to pay more attention to their communication strategies.
Some campaigns did a much better job at this than others during the 2014 election.
I watched in frustration as many campaigns didn’t make their case as well as they might. They didn’t let the candidate’s true principles and personality show through. It was hidden behind carefully crafted talking points that seemed message-tested within an inch of their lives.
Too many candidates couched their positions in what they thought voters wanted to hear, instead of saying what they really believed.
Too many candidates focused on what they were against instead of running on what they stood for. They didn’t stand up for good policies like Obamacare. Opposition messaging is part of the game in politics, but it shouldn’t be the whole ballgame. So we never really got to know who some of these men and women were. We only knew that they wanted you to vote against their opponents.
Who got it right? Senator Al Franken of Minnesota leaps to mind. So does Senator-elect Gary Peters of Michigan. Both of these winning campaigns illuminated the candidates’ humanity, a word used by Sen. Franken’s digital director, my friend Sara Cederberg, to describe what’s at the heart of good messaging. I could not agree more.
For example, Sen. Franken was frequently shown with his wife, Franni, telling stories of their life and work together. This photo of Al, Franni and their first grandson, Joseph, is at the top of the “Meet Al” page of the campaign website. The campaign gets bonus points for putting a button on every blog post that says “I care about this,” so supporters could instantly share content that reinforced their own values. The tone was consistently warm, friendly and fun where appropriate, yet serious when it needed to be.
In one of the best TV ads of the campaign cycle, Sen.-elect Peters showed off his favorite raggedy sweatshirt and worn-out shoes while his family teased him about being frugal. It was an entertaining spot that showed off his personality while helping him drive home his message about careful spending. See for yourself.
When I was volunteering by making phone calls to voters in Michigan, one woman said, “Tell Gary Peters I just love that ad with the shoes! He should make more like that.” A refreshing change from the majority of comments I heard about people being sick of negative campaign ads.
That’s not to say that these candidates didn’t go on the offensive. Although their emphasis was on what they were fighting for, they talked about what they were fighting against. But they did it with solid facts about policy, not personal attacks.
Plenty of other campaigns did a great job communicating, but those that did the best work focused on helping voters get to know the candidates as people first, then politicians.
These aren’t new ideas, but they are ideas that seem to have fallen from favor in an environment where sound bites and 140-character barbs sometimes get more attention than thoughtful communications. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Democrats can take control and put positive messaging to work for them. I firmly believe that Americans will respond favorably to solid content that gives them something to vote for — not just something to vote against.
And that means letting voters see who your candidate really is. Let your candidate’s humanity shine through. Give people something and someone they can relate to. Make them like you and believe in you enough to say “yes.”
A version of this post originally appeared at alswrite.com.