Strategic Communications spicing political campaigns

The campaign season is here with us.

Increasingly, Kenya’s General Election slated for next year is showing signs that it will be very competitive. The sophistication that comes with electoral campaigning has also moved up a notch higher.

In more ways than one, our polls also seem to be mirroring the American campaign pitting Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump, with a fair share of drama and counter offensive tactics at play.

To a large extent, such competitiveness points to the growing attractiveness of electoral posts. The motivation for the posts, whether for public or personal good, is however a story for another day.

With increased competitiveness across all the electoral slots comes the need to engage in strategic communications to win the day. Reputation management for the candidates will be a key headache subject to cultural and sometimes easy-to-ignore politically important voter dynamics.

Naturally, politicians tend to be the most dynamic consumers of public communication platforms. To survive in politics means growing a thick skin that allows you to adopt all the integrated marketing communication solutions almost effortlessly, sometimes even subconsciously.

Today’s political strategies are no longer founded on capacity to mudsling. The ground has shifted. To win a political duel, one must creatively craft a campaign that not only seeks to dazzle and confound as much as it seeks to sell ideals.

Candidates participating in the electoral process are setting off for the grueling campaigns well aware of the need to package themselves as bankable brands. Well-packaged brands that can easily arrest audiences with persuasive speeches, delivered confidently and with a fair twist of empathy.

The recent launch of the Jubilee party with much fanfare and razzmatazz speaks to the essence of political branding to help shape narratives. The hiring of aptly branded Sports Utility Vehicles and an office block for example sends out an image of a solid party that will spare no effort/resource in winning the election ahead. To a large extent, branding and related communication efforts including counter operations play a key role in fundraising by enhancing support base confidence.

Such communications strategies are developed with the sole intention of providing a clear differentiation between the candidate and his opponents. The winning President, MCA, MP, Woman Representative, Senator or Governor next year will need to have created a distinct brand to sail through the crowded field.

This flows into another aspect of strategic communications that candidates must work extra hard to appreciate the voters’decision-making process. This is a pretty scientific process that involves extensive behavioral studies, deliberately or otherwise.

The art of behavioural science from a communications perspective allows the candidate to design messages that resonate with the electoral audience. These messages however must be founded on a distinct identity. From choice of party colours, slogans cum campaign clarion calls, all the way to campaign routes and news media option.

In the current state of Kenyan political affairs, candidates will need to undertake detailed research and analysis to better understand their audience. Whereas party affiliations may matter, understanding and analyzing insights touching on the audience priorities, fears, and expectations of their elected leader will be a key requirement.

This requirement is now popularly known as the Get Out The Vote (GOTV) strategy geared at harnessing voter dynamics and motivation to make an unequivocal effort to register as a voter, perhaps participate in party primaries and ultimately turn up for voting on the D-day.

Through research, the candidate is also able to appreciate the opposing candidates set up, selling points, audience appreciation and traditional voting patterns.

As Sun Tzu wrote in his Art of War memoirs, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” The research and analysis element will thus allow the candidate to face the daunting task of setting up a customized campaign and electoral machinery. Such infrastructure provides a good focal point to direct resources and co-ordinate the campaign teams in every ward, constituency or even county.

In traditional campaign setups, audience targeting used to be based on a wide net casting effort. With the advent of digital communication, out of home media and a general youthful electorate, we now have to grapple with micro-targeting options in communication.

Essentially micro targeting in an electoral campaign works by reaching out to individual political trigger points. Such points are not manifested homogenously due to personal values, opinions, attitudes, interests, and lifestyles that manifest in an individual or even in a household.

Micro targeting in communication appreciates that at a household level, we may now have a CORD husband and a Jubilee wife. The husband may love attending adrenaline filled rallies even as the wife may loathe such rallies and opt to consume her political messaging via social media platforms.

Such realization that audiences are not homogenous also helps to address voter concerns based on specific elements that may differ from ward to ward, constituency to constituency and county to county.

The functionality of some of these efforts cannot be gainsaid. Retaining a well oiled campaign machinery complete with a functional operations centre, establishment of a clear operating strategy that identifies campaign policies, manifesto, tone of voice, communication strategy among others are the contemporary lifelines for a campaign process.

When all is said and done, there’s no denying that the best campaign effort founded on a solid communications strategy, will carry the day.

Mr. Ng’ang’a is a Partner at Oxygene Marketing Communications Limited and a seasoned corporate communications consultant.

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