The candidate who wins an election isn’t always the candidate with the most money, most endorsements, or most volunteers. The winning candidate is quite often the person who tells the best story. If you’re serious about winning your election, then your campaign must have a winning story. But what makes for a winning story?
A winning story, like any good movie or novel, has several key elements. For political campaigns I’ve found that there are 7 elements that help a candidate connect with the voters and win the election.
1. The Hero
Every story needs a hero. A story without a hero is nonsense. You need to know who to follow in a story and that person is a hero.
Now you may think the hero of your campaign story is you the candidate. It’s not.
The hero of a winning campaign story is the voters.
This may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s not. To motivate voters to cast a ballot for you, you first must reach them where they are at
So where are the voters when you come campaigning into their lives? They’re living their lives just like you’re living yours.
And everyone is the hero of their own stories. You must acknowledge this and make it part of your campaign.
If you’re the hero of the story, the voters don’t have a single reason to pay attention to you.
But if they’re the heroes of the story you’re telling, then they have reason to sit up and take notice.
2. The Problem
A story without a problem to solve is a boring problem. Every great story features a hero who has a problem in need of fixing.
The problem of your campaign story however isn’t about how you’re going to get elected. Remember, you’re not the hero of the story. The voters are and don’t forget it.
What’s the problem the voters want solved?
What’s the issue that’s bothering them? What’s making them angry? What concerns them deeply?
Identify this issue or issues and state them clearly. This will show you understand what’s going on in the minds of the voters and it will keep them as the hero of the story they’re living.
3. The Plan
After you’ve identified the problem that is on the minds of the voters, you need to present a solution.
You need to specifically lay out a plan to fix the problem that’s troubling them.
Your plan should be clear and specific, stated in words the voters won’t need a dictionary to understand.
Whatever you plan you present is, it needs to be reasonable and believable. Voters are highly skeptical of politicians and campaign promises. Your solution to the problem doesn’t need to be simple, but it must make sense to the voters.
Additionally, you don’t need to go too deep with the details. You can outline this in broad strokes. It’s important for you to know the details if asked, but you don’t want to overwhelm the voters with too much information.
If you make this mistake, their eyes will glaze over and you’ll lose their attention, possibly their votes.
4. The Guide
Just as every great story has a hero seeking to solve a problem, such stories also have a guide who helps the hero on his or her journey.
Luke Skywalker had Obi-Wan Kenobi. Frodo had Gandalf. Harry Potter had Dumbledore. Catniss had Hamich. The multiple incarnations of 007 always had M.
The guide is your role in your campaign story. You’re the one who’s given the hero the plan to solve the problem.
But why should they trust you to serve as their guide? In other words, why should the voters trust you with elected office?
This is the point where you tout your credentials. You need to let the voters know you have the knowledge and experience to solve the problem with the plan you’ve created.
Putting this information forward and presenting yourself as the wise sage, without coming across as arrogant in any way, is vital to earning the trust of the voters.
Trust is essential if you want to build a solid support base.
5. The Villain
When you look back at your favorite movies, how many of them have great villains? Probably a lot of them.
You can’t look away when Darth Vader, Hans Gruber, Hannibal Lecter, or the Joker are on screen.
Obviously, you don’t want the villain of your campaign story to be that captivating, but you still need a villain.
Because there must be someone standing in the way of your heroes reaching their goals of solving the problem.
The pain of a problem becomes even more intense when a villain is standing there preventing things from getting better.
Now the villain may be an opponent you’re running against. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re challenging an incumbent, you definitely need to cast that person in the role of the villain.
But your villain doesn’t always have to be another candidate. It doesn’t even need to be a specific person. It can be something intangible like the government or corporations or unions or special interests or the mysterious Surf Nazis of Ridgemont High.
Donald Trump did an exceptional job last year of casting not only his opponents but also the federal government and special interests as villains working hard to undermine the American Dream for the voters who were the heroes of the story he was telling during his campaign.
6. The Stakes
In any story you pick up and read or movie you watch, the hero needs to take action. But the hero has no incentive to do that until they understand what’s at stake.
You must state the stakes clearly in your campaign story.
If the voters cast a ballot for you, then you can go to work on their behalf to implement their plan and solve the problem that’s bothering them.
But if they don’t vote for you, or worse fail to vote, their problem won’t get fixed.
Yet you can’t stop there as you tell your story. The voters also need to know that if you aren’t there to put your plan into action, the problem won’t just remain unresolved — no, it’s likely things will get worse.
You must make it very clear what’s at stake if the heroes of this story vote for you, and if they don’t.
7. The Call To Action
As soon as you put the stakes out there for the voters to consider, this is where you must call them to action.
You must ask the voters for their vote.
You cannot be shy about this. There is no reason for them to mark your name on their ballot unless you ask them to.
In a speech you can be very clear saying, “I can’t do this without you. I need your help. I need your vote.”
In your mail or commercials you can say straight forward to vote for or elect you.
In person, you can ask, “Can I count on your vote?” or humbly state, “I’d be honored to have your vote.”
If they say yes, thank them, get them to sign an endorsement card, then see if you can put a sign in their yard.
When a voter publicly lets you use their name or displays your campaign sign at their home, this is a secondary commitment that demonstrates they believe your story and that you are the guide with the plan to fix the problem that’s bothering them.
Now that you know the seven key elements of a winning campaign story, think about these elements and how they apply to your race.
Which voters do you need on your side to win? These are your heroes. This story is all about them.
What issue is troubling or concerning them? That’s the problem to focus your attention on.
What’s your plan to solve the problem? State is plainly and clearly, but make sure it’s believable.
Present yourself as the guide. What knowledge and experience do you have to fix the problem?
Identify the villain. Who’s standing in the way and stopping the problem from being fixed?
What’s at stake? Tell the votes what will happen if you get elected and what will happen if you don’t.
Ask for their vote. There’s no reason for anyone to cast a ballot for you unless you ask them to do so.
Take the time to think deeply about these seven elements then write down your campaign story. It will do a marvelous job of focusing your campaign’s messaging and go a long way helping you winning your election.