Primary vs Caucus Marketing

March 5, 2008

Texas’ hybrid approach to apportioning delegates – 65% based on primaries, 35% based on caucuses* – reveals an interesting difference between Brand Hillary and Brand Obama.

Both methods are proxies for the ‘will of the people’. Hillary Clinton took the primaries with 51% of the vote. Barack Obama led in the caucuses with 56%. The people have spoken and said two different things. Have they contradicted themselves?

If we accept the calculus that one person = one vote, a primary is the more purely democratic measurement. Like the quantitative part of a survey, the vote of Hillary’s biggest fan counts the same as someone who has a slight preference. Some marketers manage brands like they are competing in primaries. Being available at point of purchase, or at the elementary school on the drive to work, is paramount. Microsoft is a primary brand – market share is everything, availability and convenience through any channel is an obsession (their OEM team made that very clear to me at Dell).

Caucus marketers love the passionate verbatims from survey research and focus on net promoter scores. They want customers who will stand all evening in a crowded gymnasium. One customer may equal one vote in primary marketing, but in caucus marketing one advocate equals countless referrals. Transactions aren’t the hit for caucus marketers – they get their buzz from referrals, renewals and repeats. A caucus brand, to some extent, is defined by its customers. Stevie J may define Apple products with dictatorial authority, but he couldn’t have created the Apple fanboy (and fangirl) culture that makes the brand what it is.

The different ways of measuring the ‘will of the people’ may even affect their choices. A friend tells me that a caucus participant last night asked “Do I have to vote for the same person here that I voted for in the primary?”

If your brand is a primary brand, what are you doing to get everyone out to the polls and make voting as easy as possible? Are you in every channel that you need to be? If you’re a caucus brand, what are you doing to fan passion, encourage community and reward commitment?

*Yes, it’s more complicated than that, what with caucus delegates not being technically pledged, and with the 25 superdelegates and all. Get the details here.

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