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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.