In November the USA goes to the election polls to determine who will be the Commander in Chief for the next four years, in one of the most important choices that will affect the world, not just American citizens. The decision has a little more importance than choosing Coke or Pepsi but the final campaign will use many of the same techniques, strategies and marketing ingredients as a consumer goods product, so let’s consider at this early stage what are the cues, clues and challenges the two candidates face and to look for that will determine whether the democrats’ or the republicans’ brand wins the White House in 2012.
Successful brands and their strategies for persuasion are all based on a few key principles and by reviewing these and applying them to the US Presidential candidate campaigns over the next months, weeks and days we can begin to consider through analysis which candidate’s brand stands a greater chance of success. Four critical components for brands to succeed are principles embedded in the very thought process and action of decision-making, these are:
1. Brands don’t persuade people, people persuade themselves. The critical element of persuasion is relevance. Does the brand offer a relevant solution for the consumer? The brand “offer” and proposition must be succinct, credible and well articulated in terms not of theory, but practice. What will the brand ‘do’ for the consumer in terms of providing an improvement to their lives, which makes the decision to choose the brand a decision for ‘better’ or at least, not worse. A relevant solution well presented and clearly articulating a believable ‘better’ helps people persuade themselves. Persuasion is linked to the second key principle;
2. When faced with choices, people choose what they know, are familiar with and/or ‘like’. If you like something or someone you know, you are more likely to be persuaded to choose them, as they are familiar. The familiar offers a degree of safety in that it is less of a risk; there are less unknown or unfamiliar aspects to consider. More often than not, our human inertia and preference for the status quo means that even if we don’t really ‘like’ something familiar we still prefer it to the unfamiliar. Choices must be framed around the degree to which risk is mitigated, and the familiar reinforced as preferable.
3. The principles of ‘better’ and ‘familiar’ are most effective when tied to a higher purpose, vision and tangibly-defined desired outcome for the future. This means that the relevant solution for consumers to choose must not be seen or understood as a ‘one off’ decision, but rather as a wider, integrated and more meaningful future outcome. Strong brands, whether companies or products must continually project a vivid and compelling view of the future and why the choice of the brand is more than just a transaction. Ideally, the choice is a commitment or endorsement of the brand’s future view of the world from a consumer or constituent’s perspective. It is often infused with a zeal that invites people to join the cause, or engage as a participant. If captured as a ‘mission’ a brand suggests a positive, confident and determined view of the future, which has tangible, practical and measurable outcomes. No one buys into ‘empty promises’ or ‘false hope’ and a product, service or company must at the end of the day deliver the goods, and do so in a way that demonstrates progress towards their own previously stated or marketed goals and objectives.
4. And, as a last key principle a brand must be authentic, consistent and engaging in all forms of communications. On both a rational and emotional level with audiences, consumers, stakeholders and constituents a brand must be mindful of its use of language, imagery and storytelling to engage and deliver a message clearly, simply and consistently. Ideally, a brand must be attractive and compelling. The very best brands and brand communications strategies are consistent in their ability to engage attention and interest. They use carefully chosen words, imagery and actions to consistently reinforce who they are, what they believe in and what makes them unique. At the core of every brand’s competitive advantage is its ability to convey meaning through messages, and connect with its audiences via different media channels and mediums of communication with a high degree of consistency and authority.
So, there we have the key principles and ingredients for how successful brands help people make choices and decisions. Now let’s consider what this means for the two 2012 US Presidential candidates, and what we should look for as the election gets into full swing!
Barack Obama is the incumbent candidate, so therefore he has a natural advantage. He is already familiar. He is a known quantity. He was elected on a vision of hope, change and ‘yes we can!’ purpose. His campaign in 2008 set the new standard for integrating media, channels, messages and grassroots activism and advocacy. He was able to leverage the positive optimism of change and the ‘new’ to override the inertia and status quo of eight years of republican government under George Bush. He presented the choice in 2008 as one of open, positive, modern and youthful optimism versus closed, negative, old fashioned and naive conservatism. It was a message that resonated in a world in which brand USA had lost credibility, trust and preference offering Obama the chance to portray his ‘product/solution’ as a credible ‘new and improved’ America. In 2012, it will be this ‘product/solution’ that will be judged by the American consumer-citizens! Therefore, in this year’s election Brand Obama must identify the key proof points and reasons-to-still believe which validate why he was elected in the first place. In effect, his campaign must defend his record and use less rhetoric so that the decision to change for something unfamiliar and ‘new’ in 2012 is more of a risk to his vision and that of the people who elected him four years ago. He must leverage his competitive advantages and communicate them more effectively than his opponent by especially focusing on how his approach, results and solutions are relevant. In particular, this election for Obama must address a re-definition of the Democratic Party so as to contrast it with the divided and less clearly defined Republican Party. The Obama brand challenge is to reassure Americans that his leadership, vision, party and results are more compelling and reassuring as a solution to the concerns of citizens than that of his challengers. Four more years of Obama must feel like the more relevant and favourable solution for America.
Mitt Romney is a challenger brand by the very nature of his position contesting an incumbent President. His main challenge however is to define who he is and what he (and the Republican Party) stands for and will bring to the future of the USA. Having successfully won the party nomination, he must now unite the party, define his future vision and agenda for America while also crafting a compelling, consistent and credible image for himself and a potential Romney administration that gives Americans an idea of what they could expect if they choose Romney. In this manner, Romney must frame the choice of change to present four more years of Obama and the Democratic Party as a greater risk. He must portray the familiar as failure, and change as a pragmatic choice with clear benefits and reward. The Brand Romney communication strategy must focus on galvanizing core republican voters, and convincing ‘swing voters/independents’. He must define himself with language, imagery and storytelling that is authentic to who he is and what he believes in while being careful not to use ‘empty rhetoric’. His greatest opportunity will be to offer tangible and measurable outcomes that force a reappraisal of the past four years of Obama’s results for both the nation and individuals. Brand Romney must rally a party and voters to believe in an alternative that has clear and tangible benefits, while highlighting the failures of the Obama administration to deliver on their promises of 2008.
Brand USA requires a strong leader in the form of the President. Perhaps, in 2012 more than ever in the face of a multitude of problems, challenges and changing world dynamics the USA requires a government that has a clearly defined role and purpose for its citizens and an agenda for actions on the economic front. The promise of change and empowerment in the digital age, which defined the choices, and decisions of 2008 are now the questions of confidence and results in 2012. As American citizens consider their competing candidate brands, look for the four principles outlined here to evaluate whether Brand Obama or Brand Romney better campaign and communicate their brand to victory.Social tagging: Branding > communication > Obama > Politics > Romney > social