B2B Marketing ProTips: 5 lessons companies can learn from the 2015 Canadian election

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The Canadian election of 2015 will go down in the history books as an election to remember.  The New York Times is calling it a “stunning rout.”  What an incredible success for the Liberals, and a dizzying loss for both the Conservatives and NDP.

The pundits are still analyzing, assessing, and debriefing what happened, and more importantly, why.  But some clear lessons are already emerging – lessons that are as applicable for B2B companies and their marketers as they are for the politicos.

Learn about the five lessons that B2B companies can take from the 2015 federal election.

1. Don’t underestimate your competition.

The Conservatives called for a long campaign for two reasons.  First, they believed their deeper campaign coffers would provide a significant advantage over the smaller bank accounts of the Liberals and NDP.  Second, they thought a long campaign would expose the weaknesses of Justin Trudeau and eliminate him and the Liberals as a viable voting option.

Before the first leaders debate in August, Harper spokesperson Kory Teneycke joked that if Trudeau “comes on stage with his pants on, he will probably exceed expectations.”  Likewise, the NDP started the campaign as the front runner and saw only  Harper as their competition.

Both parties were fabulously wrong to underestimate Trudeau.  Not only did he show up with pants on at the first debate, he performed impressively.  That was a major turning point in the election.  Trudeau and the Liberals became contenders and made the campaign a three-party race rather than a two-party race.  And they just kept getting stronger.  If the Conservatives and NDP had not underestimated Trudeau, I wonder how the entire campaign would have gone differently.

For B2B companies, the lesson here is not to underestimate or ignore your competition.  I see this increasingly in mature companies, who get blindsided by emerging technologies and new competitors in their industry. In many cases, they don’t even have these competitors on their radar, or they underestimate the ability for a competitor to come back from previously hard times.

Lesson: No matter how much better than your competition you think you are, don’t ignore them.

2. Don’t make it all about you 

In the last few weeks, Stephen Harper launched a new TV campaign saying that the election was not about him. That was hard for anyone to believe because all Canadians have seen for the last three months was Harper. He did not use any of his team, strong MPs like Lisa Raitt, Jim Oliver or Jason Kenney to campaign on behalf of the party nationally.  Canadians were left with no one to focus on but Harper.

Conversely, the strength of the Liberal campaign and Justin Trudeau’s message over the last month has been that it focused on Canadians. Many of his stump speeches talked about how the campaign was about ‘you’, with Trudeau emphatically motioning towards the audience. We saw it in Trudeau’s acceptance speech as well, when he said many people would attribute the election victory to him – but he attributed it to the voters.

The lesson for B2B marketers here is to not make your marketing all about your company.  No customer wants to read and hear only about you. They want to know  what you can do for them. Make your marketing about the customer and you will reap the rewards – just as the Liberals did. 

3.  Try something new

 The history books will argue that Harper was an extremely effective manager, and much of his strength came from staying the course.  When times were difficult he focused on his end goal, to the disregard of everything else. He has been strong at staying on message and making Machiavellian moves, like proroguing parliament multiple times and distancing himself from previous confidant Nigel Wright, to achieve his goals.  

But in this election, that was his downfall. Canadians wanted something new and Stephen Harper had a deaf ear to the calls for change.  He remained completely stuck in his usual (old) way of doing things.  What was his greatest asset became his biggest weakness.

That’s the lesson for mature B2B companies in particular. Unless they can learn a new way and try new things, and reinvent themselves to evolve to changing and evolving market needs, they cannot succeed in the long-term.

4.  Fear will only get you so far

PMharperUltimately, Canadians chose the positive message (‘sunny ways’) of the Liberal party over the fear-mongering and divisive message of the Conservatives. Harper and the Conservatives used fear as the foundation of the campaign, using attack ads like ‘Just not ready’ and the niqab issue to foment fear and uncertainty among Canadians.  Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi spoke passionately and convincingly against Harper’s approach of “the politics of division.”

The lesson for B2B companies is to be skeptical of using a negative approach.  It’s true that fear, uncertainty and doubt (the FUD factor) have commonly been called upon in marketing to promote a particular company’s offer and downplay a competitor’s.  But fear will only get your business so far.  Depending on how long you use FUD as a tactic, it will wear thin.  And if your competitor uses fear as the theme of their marketing, perhaps the opportunity for your business is to take a positive message and reap the rewards.

5.  Endorsements are powerful

 I wonder how many Mississaugans saw the Hazel McCallion commercial.  “Stephen, do I look scared to you?”  (you must watch it if you haven’t already seen it). 

 First, that woman is amazing. 94 year old and still fighting the fight.  Go Hazel!

In terms of impact for Trudeau, Hazel’s incredible popularity no doubt played a role in the strong showing of the Liberals in the GTA.  Now that is a good lesson for B2B companies.  It’s one thing to promote your message in the market, but it’s quite another when someone with clout does it for you. Endorsements from Hazel and others helped Trudeau and the Liberals win a strong majority in the long-fought 2015 election.

There you have it, five  immediate lessons from the 2015 Canadian election.  Undoubtedly there will be much debate and analysis in the coming weeks and months as the fallout (including Stephen Harper’s resignation as Conservative Party leader) from the election continues.  And for B2B companies and their marketers, there are many useful lessons to be gained.

Photo via Justin Trudeau’s Facebook Page 

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Lisa Shepherd

Lisa Shepherd

Lisa Shepherd is the author of two books on B2B marketing (The Radical Sales Shift and Market Smart). She is founder of The Mezzanine Group , a B2B marketing company based in Toronto that has worked with over 200 B2B companies in the last decade. Lisa is a frequent public speaker on B2B marketing strategy and execution and was the youngest female CEO to appear on the Profit 100.