The top three fatal mistakes you can make in marketing are:

  1. Underrating your competition (and failing to create a competitive advantage)
  2. Misunderstanding what your target market (audience) will buy and why
  3. Failing to repeatedly deliver a crisp, clear, consistent and compelling message

This “don’t” checklist works for business, consumer and personal brands. The deadly dangerous part is this: you have to be right with all three rules if you want to win your category. Do one wrong and you’re headed for #epicfail or a descent to Dollar Tree (or whatever your version of marketing Hades is).

As the US presidential race kicks into high gear, consider how death itself became the central and winning branding element for the Republican and Tea Parties. This is true for candidates’ personal brands and collectively the parties’ brands.

Here are just a few of dozens of examples that are teachable moments for us (and the Democratic Party, which we take on next week).

1. Death is a competitive advantage

When leading Republican candidate for president Rick Perry touts Texas’ executioners as being the most prolific in the land, he clearly beats the competition. Texas leads the nation in killing death row prisoners by a landslide. It alone is responsible for 38% of all executions in the US. Texas governor Perry leads in the national polls.

2. Death connects positively to the target audience

Ron Paul, the leading vote getter in the California Republican straw poll, won it by a landside with a whopping 45% of the vote. In fact, Ron Paul is a medical doctor, but he promotes a strict interpretation of personal responsibility even in the face of someone he cherishes dying of a treatable illness. His campaign manager Kent Snyder just died of pneumonia because Snyder was unable to afford medical insurance on his salary, and the Ron Paul campaign wouldn’t provide it.

Paul is now famous for promoting death from illness or accident as a “personal freedom.” At the televised Ronald Reagan library debate, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Paul, “What should we do if a thirty year old man gets a life-threatening illness and doesn’t have health insurance?” Paul replied: “Freedom is all about taking your own risk.” Blitzer then asked, “Should society let him die?”  The studio audience yelled “yeah” and applauded.

3. Death as a crisp, clear, and consistent message

Running strong with governors and other key endorsers, Republican candidate Mitt Romney put death in the crosshairs two ways. He proposes an increase in the military budget for war and defense, paid for by decreasing the budget for Medicare and Social Security, the safety nets that many seniors need to survive in their declining years.

Romney stays on message. Even though:

1. Fifty-four four- and three-star generals and flag officers sent a letter to Congress in support of a $58 billion budget “for civilian tools of international development and diplomacy.” There was not support for more military spending from these experts.

2. The Economist reports the US already accounts for 60% of all global spending on military. By contrast China ranks second in the world’s biggest defense budgets, spending just $76 billion compared to $693 billion in the US budget.

Death takes a holiday

Perhaps if the Republican and Tea Parties take the executive branch in the next elections, we will celebrate the Mexican holiday: Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead.

Don’t dilute the message

Of course, we first heard these parties test the use of death as a way to rouse voters against healthcare coverage. Republican-Tea Party stars Michele Bachman and Sarah Palin first attacked the administration’s insurance plan because they said it contained “death panels” in its charter. They purported that the bill included a provision that doctors tell grandma she isn’t entitled to healthcare and therefore would be left to die.

No slinging around those death panels threats now. Why? Because death turned out to be the winning issue with voters, even those who are living in their cars, waiting in food pantry lines and lining up for MASH-style medical care in major cities across the country. These impoverished people, along with the middle-class and wealth-class, seem convinced that death is the answer to life’s current economic problems.

Marketers aren’t ethicists. We are superb at:

  1. Positioning against competition
  2. Leveraging what drives consumers to buy, and
  3. Crafting messages that consistently and relentlessly drive a sustainable, persuasive campaign

Right now, the Republican Party and the Tea Party are doing a superb job. They seem to know what the Democratic Party doesn’t. The brand death sells big today in America, and there’s lots of ways to incorporate it into policy statements.

Next week: what can we learn from the flailing Democratic Party!


Nance Rosen is the author of Speak Up! & Succeed. She speaks to business audiences around the world and is a resource for press, including print, broadcast and online journalists and bloggers covering social media and careers. Read more at NanceRosenBlog. Twitter name: nancerosen