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Political Candidates, Pass the Pedialyte

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If you’re a parent, you know the name Pedialyte. It is in any parent’s emergency kit. For the rest of you, Pedialyte is a liquid electrolyte solution that prevents dehydration and provides nutrition when a toddler can’t keep anything else down. Think of it as a healthier Gatorade for little kids.

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So I was puzzled when I read a CNBC news report showing one-third of Pedialyte sales now come from adult consumers, up 60 percent since 2012. Are the parents dipping into the kid’s stash? What’s going on here?

I mentioned the Pedialyte sales puzzle to a well-placed source who told me sales to adults are booming because fitness trainers and endurance athletes have found it more effective than other branded sports drinks at delivering a quick energy boost. They recommend it to their clients who in turn discovered Pedialyte is a dandy hangover cure. They swear by it.

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Pedialyte is paying attention. The company announced it’s now changing its marketing strategy, and will start appealing to the young adult audience. It plans to release a portable powdered version in new flavors this month. To promote the new product, it’s handing out free samples at endurance sporting events like Spartan Races and festivals like Bonaroo.

By paying attention to consumer behavior, Pedialyte discovered its product solved a problem it didn’t even know about. The company is listening to the marketplace and, in a canny move, it’s jumping in to make the product even more appealing to its newly important demographic. Pedialyte is responding to customer demand, and gladly.

Political candidates should take a swig from Pedialyte’s new strategy.

Here’s Pedialyte’s marketing lesson for political candidates: pay close attention to voters, and pursue a new strategy based on demand, even though it is a brand stretch.

When candidates stumble across an issue people really care about (some may call it “hot”), campaigns should formulate a plan to meet the need and then develop messaging to suit. This is a recipe for success especially with the vitally important persuadable voters, who are looking for a good reason to support a candidate.

One great way to dig around and proactively uncover these issues — instead of waiting for them to bubble up — is through focus groups. Conducting focus group research can bring a potentially hot issue to the surface. A well-conducted follow-up survey will show whether the issue really is hot and, more importantly, whether it can be used to change the minds of persuadable voters. If so, candidates can get in front of their opposition on a vote determinative issue.

Here’s a California example. Candidate X is fairly well-known as a government reformer. She has won elections while pushing hard for open government and she’s comfortable with reform-minded rhetoric. At a Starbucks, the campaign manager overhears an engaging discussion on water rationing. He hears a couple of similar discussions and then sees a piece covering the state’s response to the severe drought on the evening news. He suggests the candidate pivot to drought remediation. She, naturally, is reluctant.

As part of the pre-campaign research, the consultant includes a module in the focus group discussion guide on the drought and how elected officials should be addressing it. As in public settings, the discussion is animated and participants swear politicians aren’t doing enough to “fight the drought.” That’s enough to suggest the issue has promise. A voter survey conclusively shows that a) drought remediation is a hot topic, b) it is an even hotter topic among persuadable voters, and c) Candidate X’s drought-fighting messages are persuasive with the group she needs to convince. Candidate X decides to base her campaign on her plan to fight the drought.

As Pedialyte recognized, consumers will show companies what they want to buy. The same principal applies in political campaigns. Voters will show candidates what issues they want addressed. It’s easier for candidates to win by addressing the electorate’s top priority than by talking about “your” solution to a relatively minor problem. Good research can give candidates that “cup of courage” to leave their comfort zone and win with a new issue.

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