Hard marketing lessons to be learned from 2019 polls

Comelec Chair Sheriff Abas raises the hand of reelected Sen. Cynthia Villar. —AP

Not even one candidate from Otso Diretso, a Liberal Party (LP)-dominated opposition slate, won a seat in the Senate during the recently concluded elections.

Where did their campaign go wrong? Perhaps part of the blame can be placed on missed marketing opportunities.

Here are some lessons that can be learned from the elections that further strengthened the administration’s hold on power.

1. Know your customers – Seventy-eight percent of the voters belonged to the D income class, 16 percent in the E income class, with only 6 percent belonging to the ABC upper and middle classes. The DE class can relate to their heroes Lito Lapid who they see in the TV series “Ang Probinsyano” and Ramon Revilla Jr., who won despite being tainted with a corruption accusation. They do not even need to engage in televised debates nor show up in a membership meeting of some upscale business associations since 94 percent of the DE “size of the prize” is over 15 times more than 6 percent of the ABC voters.

2. Know your barriers – Yellow used to be considered a positive color in the 1980s because of People Power, but it turned negative three decades later.

In 2016, LP’s Mar Roxas used the term “Disenteng Pilipino” (decent or honorable Filipino) to describe his differentiation from the “foul-mouthed” then Mayor Duterte who was fast gaining ground. But the term was offensive to some and condescending to others who were undecided. Supporters of Roxas were also calling Mr. Duterte’s supporters “bobotante,” and this turned off many voters.

The Otso Diretso team should have learned from this elitist, self-righteous image problem.

3. Know your offer – The challenge of LP is to present a slate that is a better option to competition in order to shift voters’ preferences, but Otso Diretso was unable to offer a better option that addressed target market’s needs for action. That they were even unable to complete their slate of 12 candidates meant they were unable to attract bigger names to their coalition (compared to Mr. Duterte’s coalition), unable to raise critical resources for mass media (an indicator of a lack of compelling reason to open the wallet) and unable to give social proof that they have the clout to get things done for themselves and their constituents.

4. Know your branding – The Otso Diretso brand means “straight 8” with no value association while the “Hugpong ng Pagbabago” (HNP) brand means change for the better.

Also, the Otso Diretso brand was more known than most of the individual coalition candidates.

Even independent candidates Dr. Willie Ong (7.5 million votes), and Jiggy Manicad (6.8 million votes) got more votes than most of Otso Diretso’s coalition candidates, pointing to the possibility that some people who did not like Mr. Duterte would rather vote for independents than the “Dilawan”.

5. Know your goals – Two simple goals to win an election is to increase awareness and convert that into votes.

While conversion is dependent on awareness, a high awareness may not always lead to conversion.

The Jan. 26-31, 2019 preelection survey of Pulse Asia on awareness levels showed Otso Diretso candidates Erin Tañada, Chel Diokno, Gary Alejano, Romulo Macalintal, Samira Gutoc and Florin Hilbay having relatively low awareness levels of 33 percent, 23, 29, 22, 5 and 5 percent, respectively. The survey of April 10-14, 2019 showed improvement in awareness to 51 percent, 50, 44, 41, 37 and 31 percent for said candidates, but for a party that desperately needed to make a comeback by attaining the same 95-99 percent awareness level of HNP candidates in four months, the activities to match or go near HNP’s awareness level, together with having a much higher conversion rate, were insufficient to turn the tide.

6. Know your endorsers – Mr. Duterte enjoys a record high popularity rating of 79 percent (SWS March 2019 survey). This means his endorsement will affect choice preference, especially at the national level (local level may have other influences).

The preelection survey just prior to the election as of May 3-6, 2019 (source: Pulse Asia) showed incumbent senators JV Ejercito, Jinggoy Estrada and Bam Aquino slugging it out with newcomer Francis Tolentino for the last senate seat, with Tolentino outranking these incumbent senators, gaining more conversion (11.4 percent in Sept 1-7, 2-18 to 29 percent in May 3-6, 2019 preelection survey of Pulse Asia) and becoming number 9 on voting day. Religious groups Iglesia Ni Kristo and El Shaddai also endorsed most of the candidates affiliated with Mr. Duterte. Who were the endorsers of Otso Diretso?

7. Know your persuasion – The Otso Diretso team could have learned from behavioral marketing. They used parent-to-child communication by criticizing Mr. Duterte, belittling his achievement. They could have used adult-to-adult communication by applying “convert communication” instead of outright criticism. They can do this by saying “I have similar goals of fighting criminality but this is what I have discovered,” lessening resistance of those still considering the senatorial candidates of the president, and making them more open to reconsideration instead of making them defensive. It is important to win the hearts of the voters first before winning their heads. Likability of the candidate is a prerequisite.

George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”.

8. Know your metrics – Otso Diretso campaigns kept showing their candidates winning in mock elections in different universities, but none from farmers, vendors and the D income class. In fact, they had very few local candidates to help reinforce their campaign, something that is critically needed in areas where there is no internet and social media access. Earlier surveys showed senators Aquino and Roxas within winning distance. However, Roxas left for the United States in the middle of the campaign for 20 days to fetch his newborn twins, cutting his voting preference from as high as 42 percent voting (Jan. 28-31, 2019 Pulse Asia survey) to only 21 percent (May 3-6, 2019 Pulse Asia survey), earning him a final 9.8 million votes, statistically the same level as his 2016 presidential run but much lower than the 19.37 million votes he got as senator in 2004. —CONTRIBUTED