The first debates revealed a huge gulf between the candidates’ messaging styles. While McCain is deeply savvy on policy nuances and could entertain any audience of policy wonks for hours, Obama cuts through the white noise and reaches right to the individual voter’s pocketbook. Look at each candidate’s response to the moderator’s question about what they would do to lead the country out of the financial crisis:

McCain: “Well, the first thing we have to do is get spending under control in Washington. It’s completely out of control. It’s gone — we have now presided over the largest increase in the size of government since the Great Society.”

Obama: “What I’ve called for is a tax cut for 95 percent of working families, 95 percent. And that means that the ordinary American out there who’s collecting a paycheck every day, they’ve got a little extra money to be able to buy a computer for their kid, to fill up on this gas that is killing them.”

Neither candidate really answered the question. But while McCain delivered a compelling talking point, Obama dropped in on your family, helped you help your kid, and even went with you to the gas station. In doing so, Obama showed an absolute mastery of what I believe to be one of the golden rules of public relations: explain everything in the context of the individual.

The strongest messages are always those that speak directly to one’s sense of economic security, physical safety, and physical health. Take any subject and boil it down to this basic level, and your message will be heard.

While many experienced politicians have this wisdom programmed into their DNA, it is not so intuitive for business executives, particularly those who are not selling directly to consumers. But the rule applies in business just as in politics.

Try selling a new software application to a hospital CEO, and you will be far more successful if you can speak to the dramatic improvements in patient safety, enabled by your software, than if you simply highlight the features and benefits of the application. Even though a patient will never buy your software, your company’s appreciation for their safety will win the day.

When you are segmenting audiences for your own corporate messaging, don’t leave out the consumer at the end of the supply chain — even if they are not the ones writing the check.