business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Longtime readers of this column know all to well that I look everywhere for unusual lessons. But while I’m willing to talk about sports, fashion, recipes, movies and even airplane safety videos, there’s one topic I studiously avoid: politics.

The reasons are simple. First, we’ve become so polarized about politics that increasingly any discussion is immediately dumped into the good or bad bin and all talk shuts down there. Second, the nature of competition in politics is usually less than stimulating because it is so limited. If business competition constantly limited new competition, one can only imagine where we’d be today. What’s more, the primary process is directly opposite usual marketing. Instead of census-balanced feedback, primaries seem to skew the consumer group even more.

Yet sometimes there are happenings we shouldn’t ignore, even in the incredibly yucky world of politics. So, for this morning, let’s think of Rick Santorum as a lesson, not a politician. Ignore any positions or statements made by the former Pennsylvania senator, no matter how hard is may be to do just that, and consider the following:

If Santorum were in any field other than politics, his methods and success would be getting studied right and left. After all, Santorum is the Moneyball candidate, getting more mileage from less than anyone should.

Santorum has amassed the second largest number of delegates to the Republican Convention and has won the second largest number of state primaries and caucuses. Yet as media reports make clear daily, Santorum is being outspent on ads and organization by Mitt Romney’s campaign by as much as 10-1 in some states.

Santorum is even being outspent by Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, both of whom trail him in victories and delegates. By any measure, Santorum spends far less per delegate than any of the other three candidates, which makes him the champion of productivity even if it’s unlikely that he will win the nomination.

And by looking at his productivity we can find obvious lessons for every business. Based on reporting of the campaign, his success seems based on a few easily discussed characteristics: clarity and authenticity.

Let’s start with the clarity. Whatever you think of Santorum, he certainly projects a clear picture of who he is. Like all politicians his record is full of inconsistencies, largely because so much of politics is a business of compromise and conciliation, so virtually every long-term candidate has past votes that seem strangely at odds with their current positions. Yet, throughout the campaign, Santorum has articulated a defined group of issues with consistency and clarity. His positions are what they are and seem to remain that way no matter where he is or whatever crowd he’s talking with. Those positions may not get him elected, but they certainly define him.

Likewise, he seems to be exactly as advertised. It’s clear that he’s a religious man from a relatively simple background who never hesitates to explain how his background or religion helps form his world and political view.

Let’s examine the parallels to business. We hear endlessly about the importance of clarity and authenticity. Santorum demonstrates that if such a strategy is done well and with discipline, a store or product can achieve exceptional productivity from ad spending and marketing. In business terms, he has a well-defined niche that appeals to a core group of shoppers. (As a side note, the same could be said of Ron Paul. But as with niche markets, it’s important to serve a large enough constituency to keep you in business. Paul has enthusiastic followers, but apparently not enough to win primaries.)

Of course, business and politics are very different. In politics is that only one candidate can win each contest, whereas in the marketplace there are countless winners and losers each day. And certainly, lots more and better choices in the end. Plus supermarkets and products have to wage the competitive battle daily, not every four years.

So maybe there is some benefit to this depressing political season after all. Certainly there's at least one lesson’s worth.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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