Lessons from the campaign trail

Karl R. LaPan, President & CEO, The NIIC
Photo by Shutterstock

Don’t be alarmed- I am not going to talk politics other than to make an analogy between campaigning and business building.

As the 2020 presidential election season heats up, we’re seeing how each candidate approaches his or her campaign. Some are veterans and others are relative newbies to the scene. This week’s debate shows it takes more than money to be a legitimate presidential candidate, but regardless of platform or political party, business builders, today can learn a lesson or two from the “business” of politics.

Rally support

Whether on the debate stage or in the boardroom, you need to be at home by asking for support. Campaigns need money, grassroots support, and other resources to thrive and similarly, business builders need capital and talent – entrepreneurial resource partners and support organizations, service providers, mentors, investors, and customers – in their corner to advance the organization. After all, it takes a community – an entrepreneurial one – to succeed, regardless of the context. Leaders that take we/us approach and not an I/me one are better positioned to accomplish their goals.

Hold yourself accountable

Politicians make promises on the stump. They know their reputation is at stake come reelection, so it’s imperative to say what you mean and mean what you say. The same goes for business builders. When you market a product or service, customers count on you to stand behind the claim – your personal credibility is at stake. Companies that have generous warranty programs are more trusted than those that don’t stand behind their quality. For example, all Away Carry-On cases come complete with a limited lifetime warranty that covers any damage to the shell, wheels, handles, zippers, or anything else that functionally impairs the luggage. The electronic components are guaranteed for two years. However, recently, I had a bad experience at a Hilton in Florida, and their “we’ll make it right promise” really translated into what is the least we can do to make you go away. Contrast Hilton’s lack of empathy and bureaucratic customer experience and service recovery efforts with the incredible stories I am reading in The Power of Wow, and you would never buy anything from anyone other than Zappos. So, if you have a promise, you better live up to it in the moments of truth.

How can you earn trust in a time of a great gap? This is the million-dollar question for candidates and business leaders alike.

Stand out – Be a Seth Godin “Purple Cow”

One of the keys to a strong political campaign is the candidate’s ability to carve out a niche policy-wise. How are they different from the status quo and what will that mean to the electorate? Business builders can take a similar approach in the marketplace by building and telling a brand story. By communicating how their business model is different and better, potential customers, partners, and investors can better understand how you will add value. Remember, what former P&G’s CEO AG Lafley said regarding leveraging innovation for a winning business strategy – “Winning is at the nexus of a company having a unique market position, leveraging a sustainable competitive advantage and delivering superior value to its customers.”

Bottom Line

Today, business builders are competing for funding and resources so finding ways to be remarkable, sticky, and memorable is paramount to success. While some politicians can buy their way to a debate stage by spending over $460 million, most business builders have to earn their way to success – one building block at a time.


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