Insurgent for President!

It's election season, when voters turn into consumers and campaigns become vast marketing operations. What can we learn?

Plenty, say Columbia professor David Morey (liberal-to-moderate) and strategist Scott Miller (conservative), coauthors of The Underdog Advantage: Using the Power of Insurgent Strategy to Put Your Business on Top (McGraw Hill, 2004). We let them duke it out.

Fast Company: Who wins this election, incumbent or insurgent?

Morey: The best position to be in is the incumbent who acts like the insurgent. Think of companies such as Microsoft or Verizon. Bush has to do what Bill Gates has done — keep defining an aggressive vision for the future.

Miller: The president has to show that he can still act like an insurgent and not just play defense.

Morey: They both need to control the dialogue, to frame the argument for voters and not let the other do it first. That's what great companies do — they control the dialogue with their customers and employees.

Miller: In business, insurgents do a great job of reminding consumers what's at stake. And they have a high level of belief in the product itself. Incumbents just say, "We've got a better jingle than they do." An insurgent would say, "How do I drop napalm on my own position? What would my best customers really love for me to do that would just shake things up?"

Morey: Both campaigns need to move the segment of voters that can still be moved. Both have to play offense. Corporations can learn a lot from politics about playing offense. There's enormous paralysis out there today. Continued customer centricity is the best indicator of an insurgent.

Miller: Don't do what you can't do. The Bush campaign is "doing the doable" — focusing on national defense, terrorism, and personal character. It's going after the soft support to move it to harder support. If you look at this campaign in strict marketing terms, this would be the biggest business effort ever — bigger than Coke, Pepsi, Ford, GM, all laid end to end. And yet it's a very focused effort. When it's over, people will be astounded by how all the money spent in this campaign by both sides was focused on so few voters. But that's where it will be won or lost.

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