Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Making Better Lives For All. Not Just the Privileged Few.

 Making Better Lives For All.

 Not Just the Privileged Few.

This was the branding campaign, expressed as this theme, developed for the Harris County Democratic Party in early 2011, following the 2010 mid-term blowout we experienced in Houston and the state of Texas. 

It was created as an outgrowth of planning and idea exchange that took place with Democracy For Houston, a very active progressive group closely tied to the County Party.  From there, with the approval of Gerry Birnberg, a County Party messaging committee was created involving about 25 party activists to undertake the first known market research project ever undertaken by the Party.  Messaging Chair Stan Merriman collaborated with a former marketing colleague, Bill Penscak, himself a dedicated Democrat.

Stan initially led about 45 Democrats active with the party through a process of prioritizing issues this group felt best reflected the values and beliefs of local Democrats, expressed during a post mortem meeting following the blowout Republican sweep of 2010.  He then turned over the messaging committee’s report on values and belief to Penscak, a professional marketer and focus group expert.

With the help of local  Harris County Democratic clubs, Penscak conducted a series of very intense, in depth focus groups with club members, reflecting the demographic diversity of Harris County.  His work was very time intensive and pro-bono.

The overall conclusion of the focus groups was that economic populist issues best expressed the value system and beliefs of local Democrats and a number of branding/positioning statements expressing these were recommended.

Merriman followed up with interviews, on line and in person with approximately 100 additional local Democrats to refine the results, using branding/theme statements developed by colleague Steve Barnhill and his advertising agency.   In all about 300 local Democrats participated in these various interviews and focus groups.

Merriman took these findings and developed this branding statement which he asked Chair Birnberg to critique.   He not only critiqued, he word crafted further with Merriman to result in:

Making Better Lives For All.
Not Just the Privileged Few.

A comprehensive communications and messaging plan was presented to the elected precinct chairs of the party and the campaigns first phase, internal party introduction was launched via club presentations, web site, presentations to candidates and Dem office holders, introductory web videos and Facebook postings in 2011.  The campaign was presented and transitioned to the new, incoming County Party Chair and Merriman retired from his post with the Messaging Committee.

Since our move to Delaware I’d lost track of messaging and the like at the Harris County Democratic Party, but a couple of days ago I was struck by an article in my most recent issue of In These Times.
Lo and Behold, the senior editor reported on research and a study done of the respected Hart Research Associates.   They describe this research as having been done in 2014. They are major advisors to the DNC and Democratic candidates, conducting both polling and focus groups.  The In These Times editorial in November cited this research pointed out that “Democrats were beaten because their leaders failed to speak to the economic concerns of economically traumatized Americans”.
This editorial further cited Hart’s finding that Democrats who supported creating an economy “ that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few” by 22 points. 

Wow.  Sound familiar doesn’t it?  I did further looking into the Hart research and found this on the web.

Here are some excerpts I found.

Hart Research Associates

“Voters respond most favorably when Democrats deliver a populist economic message centered on the idea of building an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy and big corporations.
Today, Americans believe that the single most important goal for the nation’s economic future is to create an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few.”

Here is more:

“While voters also rate many other economic goals as priorities no other formulation resonates
nearly as strongly. And no other critique better captures Americans’ economic anxiety than the idea that our economic system now benefits only the wealthy and corporations, while the deck is stacked against
everyone else. Fully 59% of voters say making the economy work for everyone, not just the wealthy few, is an extremely important goal.”

And their findings revealed:

“The following candidate message proved very appealing to 63% of swing voters,
and is a strong formulation of a populist Democratic economic message:”

The promise of America should be for everyone, not just the wealthy few.

Hart further postulated:

“Most compelling goal:
An economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few”

The leading comparative statement of a series presented with 47% of respondents preferring:

“Which one of these phrases describe the most important goal for America.”

An economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few

Hart probed further exploring deleting the very aggressive reference to the wealthy.  This reminded me of a very tense exchange I had with Hon. Vince Ryan in a presentation to candidates, where I was defending our choice of words.

“Could Democrats enjoy even more success by employing a message that promised  “an economy that works for all,” but  omitting the sharper-edged populism of talking about the wealthy? The data shows that this would actually weaken Democrats’ appeal. In a choice between a Republican who will “grow the economy” and a Democrat who will “make the economy work for all of us, not just the wealthy,”
swing voters prefer the Democrat by a 22 point margin (61% to 39%). The other half of our respondents heard the same partisan choice except that the words “not just the wealthy” were deleted.
This Democrat actually lost to the Republican by 10 points, a net loss of 32 points
In a contest for voter allegiance, four little words—“not just the wealthy”—made all the difference. Instead of broadening the Democrat’s appeal, filing off the populist edge turned out to undermine support for this candidate. Significantly, it is with more conservative voters that a populist message provides the greatest advantage. By adding “not just the wealthy,” Democrats improve by 42 points with men (just 18 points with women), by 44 points among voters over 50 (just 19 points underage 50) by 39 points with swing voters planning to vote Republican.

 A  populist framework also proves to be the most advantageous way to contrast the difference between the two parties.”
Our work, again, was done in 2011 in Harris County.  Hart's with polls and focus groups done in 2014, three years later.  Were we ahead of our time in Houston?   We'll never know, but to firmly establish this branding positioning, I told the party it would take about 3 years of intensive campaigning and communications.  We designed it so the campaign could be used by officeholders/candidates  who might not directly impact economic issues...ie: judges, etc., as well as the Party.

Remuneration?  I'm reasonably  sure the DNC paid Hart tons of $ and the work was well worth it.
The HCDP Messaging Committee, Merriman, Penscak?  All pro-bono. 

On previous blogs I have been critical of the DNC for their lame or nearly non-existent messaging.  Not following Harris County from Delaware, I don’t have a clue but……I do wonder.

Most importantly, congratulations to all the members of the messaging committee who worked their tails off hoping their labors would be adopted and exploited to the maximum and the 300 loyalists of the Harris County Democratic Party who gave their time and ideas so generously.  I hope for the best for all of you.