Skip to main content

Positioning the Democratic Presidential Candidates

I watched the New Hampshire debates last night. What struck me on the Democratic side was the extent to which the candidates stuck to their positioning. Three of the candidates have clearly staked out their territory in the mind of the voter.

What do the Democratic candidates stand for in the mind of the voter?

Barack Obama stands for "hope" in the mind of the voter. Last night, he repeatedly used words like "empowerment", "getting beyond cynicism", and "bringing people together". The notion that he is an agent of change is an undercurrent of this theme. He wants voters to think he can change the divisive nature of decision-making in Washington into a more inclusive one. His being a fresh face strengthens this message. Voters perceive the usual faces as partisan squabblers that can't accomplish great things.

John Edwards embodies a "fight the power" mentality. He is the populist of the group, and he spoke of battling special interests, lobbyists, multi-national corporations, and "forces of the status quo". The story of his blue-collar father and grandparents working in the mills, and his fighting insurance companies as a trial lawyer, supports this theme.

Hillary Clinton has projected "strength" as a candidate. Her more muscular stances on foreign policy, her statesmanship and experience, and her claims to be a doer and not just a sayer all contribute to this theme. She did not consistently stay true to her positioning in the debate. There were moments in which she responded forcefully to Obama and Edwards with a "let's get back to the real world" message, but she also tried to claim to be an agent of change. This claim distracts from, and may actually undermine, her "strength" theme.

What single idea does Bill Richardson stand for in the mind of the voter? It was difficult to tell from last night's debate, and I suspect his poor standing among the remaining candidates has a lot to do with his failure to position himself clearly.


Scott Sehlhorst said…
Love this!

Great analysis, and the visual is one of those "hit you over the head with the idea" diagrams. Love it when something makes a concept resonate like this.

It hits me at a visceral level that this would be a great analysis to do for a product - not just in crafting a message that "works best for what you have" but also to reverse directions and say "here's a message that would work - what do we need to add to the product."

Thanks for sharing this!

Roger L. Cauvin said…
Just an update that the visual in this blog entry was the first iteration of a type of diagram that I now call a "competitive mindshare map". It's a visual way of applying the principles of Ries and Trout to position a product.

Popular posts from this blog

What Product Managers Can Learn from the Apple iPod

The Story When Apple unveiled its iPod digital music player back in October 2001, I dismissed it as a  parity product . I already owned the Cowon iAUDIO CW100 MP3 player, loaded with my favorite tunes. There was Apple, generating great hype over the iPod as if it were a breakthrough product. The idea of a portable digital music player was nothing new. The first mass-produced MP3 players came out in 1998. In late 2001, the concept may have been new to a lot of Apple customers, but it wasn't new to me. I proudly showed my MP3 player to friends when they gushed about the iPod. Thus Apple's iPod was not an innovative product in and of itself. Years later, however, I realized the significance of ecosystem of which the iPod was a part. Apple had released iTunes (with technology purchased from  SoundJam MP ) and created the iTunes Store for finding and downloading music. Unlike Napster , it was a safe and legal way of distributing and acquiring music. The prior way of playing

Why Spreadsheets Suck for Prioritizing

The Goal As a company executive, you want confidence that your product team (which includes all the people, from all departments, responsible for product success) has a sound basis for deciding which items are on the product roadmap. You also want confidence the team is prioritizing the items in a smart way. What Should We Prioritize? The items the team prioritizes could be features, user stories, epics, market problems, themes, or experiments. Melissa Perri  makes an excellent case for a " problem roadmap ", and, in general, I recommend focusing on the latter types of items. However, the topic of what types of items you should prioritize - and in what situations - is interesting and important but beyond the scope of this blog entry. A Sad but Familiar Story If there is significant controversy about priorities, then almost inevitably, a product manager or other member of the team decides to put together The Spreadsheet. I've done it. Some of the mos

Interaction Design: the Neglected Skill

Your product development organization has a big, gaping hole in it. (Be prepared to feel defensive as you continue reading.) One of the most important roles in product development is the role of interaction designer. An interaction designer designs how the users will interact with the product and conceptualize the tasks they perform. He decides whether, for example, the user interface will be command driven, object oriented (clicking on objects then specifying what to do with them), or wizard based. The interaction designer decides the individual steps in the use cases. Every company has one or more people that play the interaction designer role. Usually, those people have little or no expertise in interaction design. Sadly, they typically don't even realize how unqualified they are. Let's see who typically plays the role at companies. Engineer . An engineer is an expert on building what is designed. Yes, an engineer may know how to design the internal structure of the hardware