Where Has the Republican 'Market' Gone? Should We Go There?

Although he didn't have politics in mind, marketing provocateur Seth Godin wrote on his blog:

How can we get large groups of people to value our craft and buy from us again? ... In terms of educating the masses to differentiate yourself, the market is broken. Fixing this is almost always a losing battle. Just because you're good at something doesn't mean the market cares any longer. ... It's extremely difficult to repair the market.

Politics get mass-marketed, and niche-marketed, and permission-marketed. But what's the product? Is it a politician, an ideology, a vision for the future, a body of policy expertise?

As we survey the landscape in January 2010, with Democrat-dominated legislative and executive branches at the federal level and far too many states, perhaps Republicans need to ask:

Where has the market gone? Should we go there? What kinds of change would be required to go there? Would we need to alter our principles, practices, personality, or some combination of the three?

My guess is that if you're reading this, you think you know the answer. It's patently obvious. I think I know -- but upon what data is my knowing based? Legions of consultants, pundits, and pols think they know, and they make a dandy living boldly proclaiming this knowledge.

However, there's a tendency in politics to believe that whatever wins an election is what the people want. Whatever strategy or tactics were employed to produce victory the last time are the new formulas for success. Recent Republican victories in Virginia, New Jersey, and a near-miss in New York's 23rd congressional district bring great encouragement to partisans.

However, if we assume we have found a formula for success, our assumptions are amiss.

We're always fighting the last war on a broad strategic basis, but it's in the trenches -- where foot soldiers innovate to meet the exigencies of the moment -- that victory happens. Until recently, there were few channels for distributing the lessons from my trench in Pennsylvania to yours in Wyoming. The internet has changed all of that -- it has given us an opportunity to share lessons learned, but also to realize that there's no cookie cutter for electoral success.

Former House Majority Leader Thomas "Tip" O'Neill purportedly said: "All politics is local."

I disagree. That's not putting a fine enough point on it. Truth is: All politics is personal.

There are no demographics, psychographics, or polls that provide a reliable compass going forward. You can take snapshots of the past, but not of the future. I'm not saying these pursuits are useless, but perhaps the mentality of mass-marketing has distracted us from the fact that there are no voting blocs.

There's just one voter. In other words, "the market" is a woman, a man ... one person.

Of course, since one woman cannot generate a six-figure annual salary for a consultant, they have to lump her together with millions of others and develop clever buzzwords to describe the proclivities of this massified, de-personalized woman. They sell you software and polls aimed at generating generalizations.

But the market is one woman. And she will do as she pleases.