Sales Symbolism (Issue 453)

In which we discuss the importance of choosing and developing a personal brand and symbols that align with our clients’ concerns or opportunities. We had a big upset in the Peoples Republic of Massachusetts last week. (No, I’m not referring to the fact that our Boston Celtics continued to lose games with lousy defense and shooting during the week.) Better than that.

Scott Brown, Republican candidate for the US Senate seat previously occupied by Ted Kennedy, trounced (Dare I use that word? It’s such a lovely word! Trounced!) Martha Coakley, Democratic party candidate in a contest for Senator Kennedy’s seat in the US Senate. I suspect that political operatives will study the campaign for years to come for lots of different reasons, one of which will be the use of symbolism.

A brief poll, conducted by your curious correspondent, indicates that the symbol most quickly recognized as “Scott Brown” is his truck – the 200,000 mile GMC Canyon truck in which he drove around the state to meet and greet his fellow citizens. There are other associations – Scott Brown/putting up his own signs, Scott Brown/working really hard, Scott Brown/National Guard service to his country, Scott Brown/daughter was on American Idol. However, the truck (in our Clarity poll) is the most quickly recognized symbol.

Why? Brown built his campaign, largely, around voter anger with what’s been happening in Washington around the economy, the wars, and health care. Folks in this state are ANGRY! So, why would he or campaign observers or the press emphasize “the truck?”

It’s a symbol of American strength, tradition, and the American automotive industry. The thought leaders associated with Martha Coakley do not drive American trucks with 200,000 miles on them; the truck positioned him as a man of the people and (thanks to all of the TV ads that promote trucks) strong and independent. If we, the voters of Massachusetts, want change in Washington, we’re sending the truck-guy down there to do something about it. The campaign symbol was “truck”.

So, as sales people, it’s useful to ask ourselves about our own sales “election” campaigns. Who are the “voters,” our clients and prospects? What are their concerns or interests? Who are the people against whom we’re running for seats in our clients’ chambers? What are the issues in the campaign? On which ones are we focusing? On which ones are they focusing? What are our symbols – what’s our version of “Scott Brown’s truck?” Is it our products? The way we dress and speak? Our unparalleled mental capacities? Our experience with particular issues? What are the signature impressions by which our voters will remember and think about us? What are our competitors’ symbols?

The point is: Martha Coakley lost what should have been a slam dunk sales campaign for US Senate because she did not read the voters correctly, she did not see the real issues, she did not work hard enough (in this correspondent’s view), and she did NOT think about her symbols, the signature impressions by which voters would categorize her. She competed with a guy whose message was, simply, “I’m Scott Brown, I’m from Wrentham, and I drive a truck.” And, with 72% voter turnout, she lost.

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