Monday, June 9, 2008

Politics, The Long Tail, Branding, and the Passion of The Niche

Politics isn't usually a good topic for business discussions -- like those other third-rail topics, people can get so passionate about their personal beliefs that the analysis itself becomes shaded. However, I came across an interesting post from the political blogs over the weekend, and it really connected with some of the things that I've been thinking about with respect to branding, passionate customer bases, and The Long Tail.

On Saturday, Hillary Clinton conceded to Barack Obama. On Sunday, The Daily Kos held a blog symposium of essays on "Why Clinton Lost (and Obama Won)". In this post, Why Clinton Lost, Hunter presents the idea that Clinton lost because she didn't campaign, but instead pursued a strategy of trying not to offend any specific niche demographic.
...the age-old Democratic mandate for running campaigns has been one of excruciating timidity. The goal of most recent high-profile elections, the Kerry campaign included, the Gore campaign included, and several dozen other campaigns besides, has not been to win, but to simply avoid losing.

Towards that end, no large issues are addressed with too much passion, and no stances are taken with too much vigor, and for the love of God nobody is made to feel the slightest bit uncomfortable. It is playing to the middle writ large, and in crayon, and with big block letters. The goal is to assemble the broadest coalition possible -- by saying nothing that could possibly offend anyone. The premise is to appeal to "independents", and "centrists", and most of all the "undecided", that group of people so uninterested in politics that they cannot fathom the difference between the parties, but who allegedly can be mobilized into action if only you do absolutely nothing that will get them the slightest bit worked up. It is a cynical, wretched excuse for leadership, but more to the point it provides absolutely no room for error: it is an all-defensive strategy.
The problem with the broad, all-encompassing strategy is that it doesn't connect with the passion of the niche. The very nature of the idea, the sort of "well I guess I'm okay with that" approach simply doesn't connect with any energy or emotion. It doesn't drive people into action. It's easy to see in politics -- when politicians connect with fringe elements and special causes, like when the Republicans connect with the radical right, the reach a passionate audience of activists. These people at the fringes are passionate. They are the people that will get off their asses and engage the system.

Consider the word Genuine. When candidates or products approach identity, part of what they are expressing are those core values that segment an audience and establish a position. When Obama says that the war in Iraq was a mistake and that it should end, he has defined a value. It may be a value that some people won't like, but it stakes out a segment. And within the audience that connects with to that aspect, the connection is strong.

How about you? Do you often find your products and your marketing being dumbed down with some vague goal of broader acceptance? Or perhaps it's the addition of features and concessions in order to address "gaps" or "concerns". Remember, some broad brush inclusions are an effort to sweep up more, but they're driven from a lack of understanding of the design, the message, and the focus. Do you connect with the Passion of the Niche?

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