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Whether running a first-time candidate or a former officeholder mounting a comeback, campaigns need to start formulating a marketing strategy right out of the gate.

For some candidates, that strategy might involve repositioning on certain policies or zeroing in on a part of their personal narrative worth highlighting. Others might need a complete makeover down to how they dress.

But once that heavy lifting is done, the candidate has to be marketed effectively to voters. Here are seven attention-grabbing tips.   

Brand the Candidate

By some estimates, you only have seven seconds to make a first impression. Your candidate and his or her graphical branding are the frontline introduction to the effort. The branding should convey trustworthiness and be easy to understand. Can someone know what your candidate stands for just from your branding? Do you have branding guidelines that determine colors, fonts, and uses of the logo and corresponding advertising? If not, it’s time to engage the services of a professional branding firm or designer with this experience. It’s money well spent.

Our company has a unique, somewhat quirky, name on purpose. Cygnal is pronounced “signal,” which is what breaks through in communication. Our name and logo is a story we can use to convey what we do.

The same thing applies to candidates and campaigns. The brand needs to mean something. That means the social media presence, physical presentation, and how the candidate comes across to supporters and prospective voters are all important.

Develop Materials That Tell a Story

It’s nearly impossible to pitch a candidate without some sort of literature to help educate voters. That could be a brochure, flyer, or push card. Whatever it is, these materials should do two things: match the candidate’s branding and tell a story. They should answer the five important questions: who, what, when, where, and why?  

What do I mean by tell a story? Walk the voter through the process in a way that doesn’t make him or her feel like you’re selling them. Moreover, make sure to avoid sales language. Voters don’t like to feel as if they’re being sold. They want to be convinced. Present problems in a way that makes a voter think: “I agree we have that problem.” Then sell how the candidate will make it better. For example, don’t just say you’re going to improve the economy. Instead, show the benefit of your policy proposal with a line like, “I’ll make sure our sons and daughters don’t have to leave home just to find a job by doing X policy.”

Have a Legitimate Website

There are dozens of free or simple do-it-yourself website services out there. Some of them make a good final product, but few are search engine optimized. People use the Internet for everything now, and most voters are using Google to research your candidate prior to making a decision. What will he or she find when conducting a search?

A professionally designed website that matches your candidate’s branding, provides pertinent information (but not too much), and is responsive (mobile-friendly) is a must. Will this cost you some money? Yes, but so long as it’s developed on an easy-to-use content management system (CMS) like WordPress or Drupal, it can be self-managed after development.

Invest in Content

There’s not much worse than a stale web presence. Without continually adding to your website, your traffic will flatline. Blog posts are an easy way to invest in content — all it takes is your time. We instituted a weekly blog post writing task for everyone at our firm. Since then, traffic to our website has increased 10 fold.

Consider that photos, infographics, sharable social media images, and video are also content. They have a cost to them, but the investment is worthwhile. By 2017, Cisco believes 70 percent of all Internet traffic will be video.

Get Involved on Social Media

I can hear it already: “Are you saying you want me to tweet and pin stuff and play on Facebook?” Yes and no. Too many campaigns think they have to be on every social media network. This is the wrong approach. Start with only one or two social media networks. Your target audience will weigh heavily on what social media network is best for you to start with. Regardless of what networks you choose, focus on learning your audience’s patterns, lingo, and habits. Take that understanding to inform your social media strategy.

Set Up Email Marketing

Outside of the few dollars you’ll pay to an email newsletter sending service, the cost of an email marketing campaign can be negligible. In fact, MailChimp (my favorite service) is free for lists under 2,000 subscribers. Provide a sign-up form on your website to capture emails and ask your known supporters to join also. Set a schedule to send out regular blasts to your list, but avoid being “spammy.” Email services will help you build a template that matches your candidate’s branding and renders well on desktop and mobile email applications.

Then you can take some of that content you invested in and distribute it through the email newsletter. I’d also highly recommend engaging a professional email marketing firm if your campaign is large enough.

Advertise Smartly, Starting Online

At some point, you must spend money to reach your audience. This starts with understanding who your audience is. Include what they look like demographically and pay attention to behavioral patterns. With this information at hand, figure out what advertising avenues help you reach those people for the lowest cost. We tend to drive our clients toward search engine marketing (SEM), digital display ads, and Facebook ads, because they’re highly targeted, cost-effective, and measurable. Our next favorite medium is direct mail for all the same reasons.

Lastly, realize that time may be a limiting factor for you, so keep in mind there are a lot of great firms out there that will help you create and execute a branding and advertising plan. Consider using one, because they can help you focus more on the candidate’s core job – raising money and meeting voters. At a minimum, write down your marketing plan and spend time executing it weekly.

This might seem like a lot to accomplish, but any further steps you take to expand the reach of your candidacy or campaign will be hampered if you don’t start by focusing on these seven basic areas.

Brent Buchanan is a managing partner at Cygnal, which provides polling, data management, targeting and integrated communications for candidates, groups and businesses.