MBA Guide for the Democratic Party – Part 2

Part 1 spoke to the need for change in leadership of the Democratic Party. Besides leadership, we also teach strategy, tactics (operations and supply chain management, and marketing) and financing (finance and accounting) in a business school. With change in leadership, there is a better chance for improvement in these business attributes.

Strategy generally involves setting goals, determining actions to achieve the goals, and mobilizing resources to execute the actions. Strategic goals for a company could be deciding what products and services to create and what markets to play in. In U.S. politics this means deciding which candidates to support for the different offices around the nation, what states to concentrate on, and what kind of actions are necessary to get the chosen candidates elected.

The current strategy of being simply the opposition party is not going to work for the Democratic Party. Just imagine if Honest Tea’s strategy was simply that they were not Coca Cola or Pepsi, and that they do not add sugar to drinks, it would not have worked. In order to be successful they followed a positive strategy that focused on using real tea leaves and being an environmentally friendly ethical company. Just imagine if Southwest simply had a strategy or not being a “big bad” major carrier like United, American or Delta. The strategy would never have led to Southwest being the most profitable airline in America. The Democratic Party needs a clear positive strategy to gain “market share”, i.e. the mind share of the American population.

There are essentially four major concerns of almost all voters: (1) Am I going to have a long-term job with a living wage that will allow me and my family to live in reasonable comfort? (2) Am I going to be able to have affordable healthcare until I die? (3) Will I be able to live in any neighborhood from Boise to Baltimore without worrying about safety? (4) Will my children be able to have a standard of living that is no less than mine? The Democratic Party needs its own positive strategy and message for each of these concerns. The most important task for the next-gen Democratic Party leadership should be to come up with long-term sustainable strategies to deal with jobs, healthcare, safety and security, and inter-generational standard-of-living.

Having a strategy is fairly academic if the marketing and tactics are flawed. What we teach at a business schools on marketing and messaging will really help the Democratic Party. Marketing has the customer as front and center, and messaging is a way to get one’s brand across to the consumer. It is well known that the best way to capture a consumer’s mindshare is to get through to their emotions, or heart-share.

The Republicans have really done a great job here. Take the issue of jobs for example. The Republican Party which is anti-unions and against minimum wage says that it supports “right to work”. Who wouldn’t? The Democratic Party simply says that it supports unions and a minimum wage, both of which are subject to complex debate. Is it the same minimum wage in New York as well as Mississippi? Can small business afford minimum wage as much as large corporations? What about if the unions support older workers over the young entrants? Even the child birth issue has been very cleverly usurped by the Republicans as a “right to life”. Who does not support the right to life?

For marketing and messaging, the Dems can take a page out of a movement that has mostly succeeded: Gay Marriage. So long as gays and lesbians were portraying the issue as “gay marriage”, much of the American public considered it to be an affront to their religious and cultural beliefs. Why allow these “weird homosexuals” to get married? After all God turned them into stone in Sodom and Gomorrah. As young people swelled its ranks, the gay movement dropped its stand that “we are gay and you need to respect us, dammit” and started talking about the issue as “marriage equality” and captured the intrinsic value system of a country which was built by immigrants who came to the U.S. to escape discrimination. Yes, no one, even the religious ones would be against equality. So “marriage equality” worked while “gay marriage” did not. Tactics matter.

Marketing matters. The young voices matter. Finally, how one finances the resurgence of the Democratic Party really matters. In Business Schools we teach budding entrepreneurs that the amount of money raised, while very important, is not as important as the person or people who provide the funds. The reason is quite simple: usually the funder, whether an angel investor or a venture capitalist, also brings knowledge, expertise and a network that helps the entrepreneur even more than the money they contribute.

In the last Presidential election, Donald Trump raised about $280 million from small contributors, each contributing less than $200. Clinton was supported by a small army of really wealthy donors and hundreds of bundlers who raised $100,000 or more. And yet she lost. With an enormous war chest, Clinton almost lost the primary to Bernie Sanders who raised roughly $183 million in donations that averaged $27. The tactic that got Barak Obama elected the first time was also an enormous outreach to numerous supporters using many different means, especially social media. More than the money, the way money is raised for campaigns enables those who contributed to have a stake in the victory of the candidate. The more the people contributing financially, the more locked-in the candidate will be to eventually winning the seat. The flip side is that then the Democratic Party will start fielding candidates who can inspire and excite the working class whites and blacks, and rural poor to contribute $20-$30 dollars to that candidate. So what does the current DNC do? It has reversed its practice under Obama of not accepting large corporate donations!

So there are multiple lessons from a business school that should show the way for the Democratic Party to get on a winning way. The question is whether the current leadership is more interested in perpetuating their comfortable positions or whether for party, polity and principle they will step out of the way for a new generation to be at the helm of the resurgence of the Democratic Party.

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