Fretting about vote splitting in this 3-way race? Worry about boosting voter turnout instead

Green Party’s Elizabeth May continues to urge voters to stop fretting about vote splitting and instead start a “buddy system” (a.k.a “refer-a-friend” strategy).

Bravo! If every voter in the last federal election recruits one other person to vote in the next federal election, Harper’s Conservatives will be toast this fall, argues May.

Fair enough. Why not try a grassroots campaign? Why not drag our kids, their friends and young colleagues into the voting booth?

The refer-a-friend strategy may indeed boost voter turnout. However, I fear my generation has probably squandered our credibility when it comes to promoting democracy among youth.

Take Michael Ignatieff. In his latest book, the former Liberal Leader provides his insights into political life. In Fire and Ashes he outlines his own political trials and tribulations with significant writing skill. The book is conveniently subtitled Success and Failure in Politics (Random House Canada, 2013).

Ignatieff explains his relationship with the media. “Obviously, a straight answer to a straight question is a good idea, and when citizens put a question to you, such candour becomes an obligation. They elect you after all. The rules are different with the press. … You try never to lie, but you don’t have to answer the question you’re asked, only the question you want to answer.”

I’m into PR. I think I understand spin. Actually, I’ll admit I enjoy spin. Also, I don’t want to underestimate the unrelenting pressures our politicians experience every day with a news cycle on social media steroids. We demand from our politicians instant responses and offer little forgiveness.

Nevertheless, it seems disturbing that a respected intellectual such as Ignatieff, a former journalist himself, feels politicians don’t have to answer questions from the media if not convenient.

“You try never to lie,” says a man who aspired to lead Canada. May this be one of the primary reasons younger voters often feel politicians can’t be trusted and don’t have anything to offer?

Can a refer-a-friend strategy get voters to the polls when our political leaders openly admit that it’s OK to avoid answering valid questions from the media (say, about the current refugee and migrant crisis unfolding in Europe?).

Ironically, social media platforms, even though they may threaten the long-term survival of mainstream media, may yet save our democracy by forcing politicians to try brutal honesty or burn (like toast).

Ignatieff says it well when he observes outsiders like Barack Obama can win elections by mobilizing youth by using the power of social media to draw them into a political campaign.

Buddy system sounds so baby boomer, Ms. May. Let’s share, re-tweet, re-post, recycle and re-purpose a very neutral message: Dude, go vote, now!

Gradual introduction of new brand may flush “Wow! Factor” down the drain

Have you noticed the improvised signs popping up in public bathroom? (see illustration!)

With the gradual switch to electronic toilet flushing, we seem to be a bit confused these days about bath031room etiquette. To flush or not to flush? The slow introduction of new technology can have unintended consequences.

How could this possibly be related to introducing a new visual brand identity – a new logo?

In 2008, with the launch of the Beijing Olympic Games, Bell launched a new corporate brand. Except, someone apparently decided it was either too expensive or logistically impossible to re-paint hundreds of service vehicles – billboards on wheels, all of them. In fact, the Bell vans on the road undermined expensive billboard advertisements along the road. The “wow factor” of the new brand was compromised, I thought.

More recently, a neighborhood non-profit in Toronto repeated the Bell story. The charity adapted its name and introduced a new logo. The move was overdue and well done. Again, I noticed that the organization’s vehicles driving through my neighbourhood still carried the agency’s original logo and name. So did a large sign displayed on their building.This continued for at least a full year.

Unfortunately, reinventing an organization’s visual identity is an expensive proposition. Before an organization considers going ahead with the project, it may be wise to make a complete list of absolutely every customer touch point: biz cards, baseball caps, vehicles, social media platforms, displays, printed marketing collateral, packaging materials and, likely, many other items. Can the organization introduce the new logo everywhere within a reasonable amount of time? If not, what items need to be prioritized and why?

Some other questions an organization may wish to ask: Have we really done an honest cost/benefit analysis for the brand project? Does it make more sense to make this change during an upcoming anniversary year and build some general PR around the new brand launch? How much would it hurt to wait a few more years so budget can be set aside to cover all associated costs? (Meantime, existing marketing materials can be used up or re-produced in much smaller quantities.)

A gradual introduction of a new brand identity may be necessary to spread costs, but it can threaten the very reasons for doing the exercise in the first place.

Thought leadership vs content marketing: what’s the difference?

Canadian research study finds firms may not measure outcomes appropriately

Most professional services firms engage in thought leadership activities to gain and retain clients.

What used to be referred to as thought leadership has morphed into “content marketing” – an effort to build a client base by providing thoughtvaluable information. Lawyers, accountants, consultants and similar professionals now publish online a wide variety of insights, opinions, reports, research and case studies.

A small, but interesting Canadian study on thought leadership activities identifies “there is an opportunity for firms to increase the use of measurements such as referrals, client growth rates and employee satisfaction rates in evaluating their thought leadership strategies.”

Author Wendy McLean-Cobban conducted her research under the supervision of David Scholz at McMaster University’s Master of Communications Management Program. She concludes, “Digital measurements for the web are being used more frequently [to evaluate thought leadership activities], but their effectiveness in measuring success is less certain.”

In other words, it’s often relatively easy to provide basic measurements for content marketing — how many individuals visit a website, download a paper, or open the link to an e-zine. In contrast, it is often much more difficult to qualitatively measure the benefits of speaking engagements, media interviews or board directorships.

However, just because online activities are easy to track doesn’t mean, of course, they can be linked to a new piece of business gained or, more importantly, business growth over time. A small event for a narrowly targeted group of prospects may bring in a piece of valuable business; an e-book downloaded by hundreds of web visitors may generate a long mailing list but not a single referral.

What’s the take away? Ms. McLean-Cobban quotes an observant marketer who preferred to remain anonymous: “If thought leadership starts with a marketing intent in mind, it will probably not be successful. You really do need to actually be thoughtful and leading. And then you should market the hell out of it, but you don’t start from a marketing point of view.”

I say, Amen. If you want to share a new insight or research, you may wish to first distribute it quietly and in person to key prospects. Then, develop a strategy to distribute it as part of a larger content marketing approach. And, don’t forget to track feedback and business generated down the road.