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A Presidential Brand: Effective Campaigning

So with all of the excitement over the last week with the presidential election over there has sure been a good deal of open interaction, discussion and apparent hope which the election brings. The most interesting theme in all of the discussion is that with the election over everyone, regardless of the vote they cast are optimistic about what lies ahead – even with a 6+% unemployment rate (rumored to go MUCH higher), compressed 401K’s and the risk of increased taxes for some. So a friend of mine John put it best “While I’m not sure how this will all work out, the fact that folks are focusing on the minor increase in taxes in my circle of friends is a little off the mark, they should be focusing on the 32% loss in their portfolio’s.” Interesting how the election reflections change when it’s over, since before the election John was MOST concerned about the incremental taxes he was going to pay. So why are things a little different now, then they were a month ago in folks’ eyes?

The Message is the Man

After a lengthy discussion with Sheryl, an alleged blogger here as well, but she is WAY overwhelmed with her marketing consulting workload of late, I think it is basically brand management by each candidate which determined the outcome. As an aside, for a down economy, consultants are getting a good deal of work and it makes sense, since it is always an interesting business proposition to turn fixed costs into variable costs and the marketing space is no different. Sheryl’s thoughts are along the lines that running a successful political campaign, at least in this year’s election, had a lot to do with effective application of key marketing and brand management principles. She thinks that staying on message was a key differentiator for Obama in the campaign. The story and vision portrayed by Obama never changed. Things suck and need to change, not sure I have all the answers, but let’s work this out together and things just might change. Yes, grossly oversimplified or is it?

Keep it Simple – Keep it Constant

For 21 months, the drum beat of the Obama campaign was consistent, constant and simple. That’s not the case with the McCain campaign. The McCain campaign struggled with the message, and it was evident with the multiple changes in staff, message and his change in addressing the populous. Back to John’s comments who definitely voted McCain “Man, at the end I had no idea who McCain was. His change in position and posture almost made me forget I was a Texan and vote Dem.” His position is very similar to my take on this as well, along with Sheryl’s – not so much the wife’s opinion, but at least a shared concept by more than a few of my friends and myself — The guy who won the republican nomination was NOT the same person who ultimately lost the election.

The core values of being a maverick, a person that can reach across the isle and drive change were left somewhere along the way in campaign staff changes, negative ads and quirky debate rhetoric and behavior. Think about if you were to do a negative marketing campaign – what do you think the results would be? I guess it all depends on how you define negative, but let’s say calling out a competitor for “X” and declaring “X” to be bad. Would it damage your brand? Would it add new attributes to the brand? Would it just move the brand? It could do all three, which ultimately could impact success in the marketplace, not unlike what we saw in the election.

Vision: Emotional Execution

Everyone wants to be the part of something good, something big and something innovative and this is what Obama created – a path forward for everyone to participate in. For many the message was not just an idea, but also an emotion – a positive vision forward. It may not be the right path, it may ultimately be a bumpy path, but the message was we will be doing this together which was ultimately embraced by the voters. Inclusiveness as a core attribute to Obama’s vision is another delta in the messaging platforms during the election. The initial McCain platform was about bringing together folks towards a common goal and then it changed – not sure what you do when you are down in the poll, but this may be an interesting case study for politicos to look back on. The McCain messaged moved from hope and security to fear and exclusion – not a very compelling or differentiated message and ultimately may have been a key driver to the loss.

Taking your brand to the marketplace requires consistency and dedication toward a single vision and if you are unable to sustain that it is typically just a little harder to get where you want to be, when you want to be there. I guess core branding principles could be as applicable to politics as it is to products.

Roads, Rail and Infrastructure: The economic opportunity

Not really political these days, but I find myself just a little more interested in politics than I have been for a while with the upcoming presidential election.  I actually haven’t had a sticker on my car since the first Clinton election which surprises me now that I think about it.  The key driver for my acute attention on this election is the economy.  The current market status is just a fun little thing to watch – evaporating value and continuous corrections.

Every good election seems to have an economic issue, wars not so much – kinda odd.  There have been two fairly interesting politically driven economies – Clinton’s internet stock bubble and Bush’s housing crisis.    Both which have helped bring us to where we are, for good or ill.   This $700B bailout has sparked more than a few interesting conversations in which I was a participant or witness over the last couple of weeks, so the economy is front and center for most of us.  I was recently reminded that we already put like $250B into the mortgage market already this year, but with the passing of the most recent allotment, I’m just a little curious of what it means.  A little positive motivation from President Bush to help me keep my head straight:

We have acted boldly to help prevent the crisis on Wall Street from becoming a crisis in communities across our country…our economy continues to face serious challenges.

Effort Free Growth

Each of the previous market growth markets – Internet and Housing, had little true production of goods and no real multi-industry impact.  Seemingly effortless growth, – stocks, real estate – passive financial growth.  If you look at the current optics of the market, it has essentially removed all the intangible/labor free wealth from the system.  The fiction and folklore around the current economy is fun to watch as well – everyone has ideas and suspicions.  Take the debates – everyone had perfectly focused talking points to promote their platforms, as long as they ask the right questions.

Plenty of non-answers or message moves throughout both debate, but one particular question effectively helped both debates go a little off message.  A single question from Jim Leherer on “what would the candidates change” based on the latest economic twist?  This question was also echoed in the VP debate.  You betcha – no one is giving up on anything for the United States voters.  None of candidates answered the question really can’t really blame them though.   That’s a tough thing to answer this close to the election date in such a competitive presidential race.  Effectively the candidates were asked to publicly modify their platforms in real-time on national television.  Nothing good comes from a direct answer, but Biden did admit a need to “slow things down”.  But the other three had no real talking points on this, so they just stayed on message. Energy, Engine, Maverick, Big Business, tax cuts below $250,000…..

Neither of the candidate’s platforms really do much for the economy, they do each have a “gap patch”, which will fix it for a while and allow them to get on with their presidency, but no long term benefit for the country.   The question I have is: “Why not go big and build a bunch of stuff too?”.  If the last couple of hurricanes weren’t enough of a clue – we may need a little Civilian Conservation Corp revival, not just to improve for disasters, but to build an infrastructure for growth.   You could give the initiative some cheesy name like Infrastructure 3.0, that way you can have a cool logo and t-shirts.  Gotta give some money to the apparel industry along the way, a single industry growth model doesn’t work.   Perhaps a plan which included the delivery of long term reusable/durable assets which make the nation’s infrastructure sounder and provides for the distribution of funds across economic strata and geographic boundaries. Cross-cutting economics might be one way to look at this.

From Productivity to Production

A geographic based development effort to optimize multi-industry growth and spawn regional economic growth through local/state projects.   Burgeoning economies, sustaining economies – ultimately build things.    Think the development of the TVA via the new deal.   The previous investment in infrastructure post depression was focused to enable the US to fully transcend an agrarian economy and to bridge the economy.  Perhaps the US now needs a new infrastructure that better supports the current information based economy which is in transition.  Perhaps we could put some folks to work building roads and enhancing the current high tech infrastructure for the future growth of our tertiary economy.

I’m not talking about a bridge to nowhere, but maybe some new bridges.  Infrastructure is on at least one candidates mind, Obama asserted that high speed internet infrastructure was important for the populous, but so are roads, rail and the environment.  A set of initiatives which focus on in country investment, energy conservation and better access might be what we need.

A new growth grid which helps optimize transportation and encourages investment in new places, local places could provide a significant improvement to the economy overall.  Basically if we could build an upgraded grid of interstate roads, rail, wireless, and internet bandwidth rural and urban areas alike would benefit.   The system would have improved routing based on current population distributions, mass transit extensions would ultimately be funded by states/private sector would provide for basic sustainability.  A more sustainable impact on the environment and a sustainable economy, for say 15-25 years.   What the US needs now is a little eminent domain, steel production and construction.

I ain’t no Economist, but…

When you hear the word depression, crisis and meltdown – something’s just a little off with the current model.  We might want to find a way to lessen the consumption, limit emissions and improve distribution. The current infrastructure and capacity was optimized for fulfilling demand as forecasted in let’s say the 50’s or 60’s and things have changed a little.

A Potential Opportunity

So there are probably 4 things which could be laid out by who ever wins which could significantly improve the economic balance of the our free market economy.  Balance between the public and private sector is the key, so the government funds it, private sector builds, localities monitor and maintain, and everyone benefits.

Funding: The funding of the activity will need to come from something, so it’s imports and export taxes/tariffs, it’s ok America is on sale and if you really need a new coach bag, you will pay the additional 4-7%.  The Euro and Pound have all kinds of room to absorb the price, as does nearly every other currency.   Other trickle down funding opportunities:

  • The incremental income tax driven by lower unemployment
  • Small business growth in new grid cross road communities
  • More government employees will be needed to support the infrastructure (police, road commission, telco, maintenance)
  • New local development to drive local taxes
  • Project bubbles for in localities on use and sales tax.

Hopefully this redistribution of tax dollars into the economy will help Hockey mom’s and hard workin American’s everywhere.  We can dream….

The Road System

We certainly do have enough roads, but most need a bunch of work and we might be able to improve commutes, increase safety and provide for an improved transportation systems for goods delivery and ultimately lessening the overall impact to local and national environs, plus you get some new bridges and new places for the tertiary economy to develop.  Who knows, maybe the next generation of bridge graffiti will be cooler to look at while your taking the train in an hour from the city, rather than commuting 12 miles in an hour.  But if you have to drive, maybe you can go 12 miles in say 20 minutes – that might be nice.


Well.. we certainly aren’t a compact set of nations like Europe which makes it a good deal easier to develop a strategic local and extended rail system, but the movement of goods, vacationers and business people via rail could accelerate extended industries like metals and aerospace while improving the environment.  No really aerospace, Boeing makes train fuselages, so this isn’t just about construction workers, engineers make out too with this plan. Putting our money here is definitely a long strategy for the movement of people, but it would provide states the opportunity to build into a new modern infrastructure for the movement of goods.  New distribution centers could develop and helping establish new growth areas economically, which don’t have the opportunity now.   Along with roads, this could help move folks and industry to less dense areas, a non-obvious eco-friendly side effect of rail and new crossroads.

Internet and Wireless

So hows that new iPhone 3G working for you?  Ok for some, not ok for others, we are a little light on coverage for the cool stuff.   You could develop as part of the road and rail activities big crazy pipes which run parallel and an extend the next generation wireless network which could further distribute IP connectivity and support for the next wave in commerce. You could also run some new energy delivery through the same network while were at it, perhaps a wind farm or two along the way.

Dream big, don’t just fix it

Wow – that’s gonna cost a lot and take a bunch of time, more than most president’s got, but the results would be immediate as folks ramp up the staff to accommodate so it just might work.  You probably also noticed that a couple of points of tax/tariff will work, but it could be enough of a hit to move some jobs back to the US, which based on fuel prices alone appears to be already happening.  You betcha we gotta do something to make sure it’s funded appropriately.  😉

So what would a maverick do?  Lease the rail?  So you could subsidize the effort by letting folks bid on say the 6 new government internet backbones, which parallel to the new train and interstate road system.   Heck – it’s all for rent!  I have no idea if the strategic multipurpose development on single set of eminent domain swaths can re-distribute population, optimize distribution models, improve the environment and provide bottom up economic growth, but you have to dream big, which I hope the next president does when elected. It’s not like I’m a economist or even that political, but this seems like a big election for some reason.  Make sure you vote.