Wow! Itâs as if the air suddenly got cleaner as the huge cloud of election messaging disappeared, literally overnight. And for the first time in weeks, it felt that the moment was right to reflect on what we had all just experienced.
Now, do not expect a politically based reflection â that would be wholly inappropriate from a green card-holding Brit and there have been hundreds of those anyway!! Rather, I want to share my thoughts from a brand perspective on lessons learned from the election. In the process of decision-making, it is inevitable that I end up favoring one brand over the otherâŚbut this is based on brand reasons, not political reasons.
Generally I always try to avoid evaluating people as brands as it feels somewhat hokey and over simplistic, but I have to make an exception for Obama and Romney. Over the past 6 months, they have become mega-brands in their own right and not just they but their brand plans, strategies and programs have been laid out for each of us to experience and evaluate.
So here, in my opinion, are the seven major branding lessons learned from the election campaign:
1. Getting the targeting strategy correct is fundamental to successful brand building
In this regard, the Obama camp nailed it. They appeared to have defined exactly who they wanted to appeal to and had done their homework in slicing and dicing the demographic dynamics of the nation. The Romney brand seemed to be tied to historical targeting and look to have paid the price.
2. No amount of marketing money spent can compensate for a poorly positioned brand
And no-one can dispute the ridiculous amount of money spent by these two brands. The fact is that the Obama brand was more consistent and flip-flopped less than the Romney brand but both of these brands should be ashamed at the wastage factor, given the dollars involved.
3. Brands must always display a united front with a single and distinctive brand voice
And even with this in place, building enduring brand equity is a hazardous business. In the election campaign, the Romney brand suffered because it was consistently derailed by colleagues within the brand team making controversial statements on complex philosophical issues â the result was increased brand blur and confusion within the audience. On this point the Obama brand was more clear and consistent and made less mistakes.
4. To be successful, brands need a clear and inspiring vision together with a roadmap for the future
And conversely, brands that dwell on the past often end upâŚin the past. Consumers respect brands that share their purpose and tell them where they are going and not just where theyâve been. Sadly, both election brands lacked clarity of vision and focused conversation disproportionately in the past. Mistake, big time, for both brands.
5. Brand leaders instinctively think multi-platform and deploy all the tools in their communication toolbox
Now this could be a case of perception rather than reality but it just seemed to me that the Obama brand was smarter, quicker and more effective in integrating their media and messaging plans. The resulting impression was of a modern âsocialâ brand communicating in a thoroughly modern âsocialâ way. I have met no-one who has echoed these sentiments for the Romney brand.
6. Negative energy is probably the least effective messaging platform on which to build a brand
In any political campaign of this magnitude, one has to expect a degree of negativity but this was extreme and it was often personal. Consumers understand competitive advantage and why one brand can benefit directly at another brands expense. But both brands suffered because they failed to ring-fence the negative energy component and it was allowed to run riot â shame on them both.
7. Brands need to display humanity in order to build a meaningful relationship with their audience
And it took the wives and families of both brands to deliver on this important dimension. The kind of gladiatorial behavior shown, for example, by both the Obama and Romney brands in the second presidential debate created a chasm for some that was never repaired and for others, it took Michelle and Ann to step in and deliver the compassion needed in order to bridge that gap.
In summary, I also have absolutely no doubt that future campaigns need more hands-on professional brand help â not just on the activation side where many agencies are involved but more on the strategic branding side where both brands were often exposed. It is true that brand Romney appeared to need more help but I can assure you that brand Obama would also have benefited from some serious professional branding assistance.
So onwards and upwards to 2016 â I just wonder how much will really change!!