Politicians Reveal 3 Important Branding Lessons
IMPORTANT NOTE: This is NOT a politically-minded post (however, we should expect that all of you will exercise your voting privileges). All examples used here are from the June Democratic debate for the purpose of timeliness, and ahead of the second debates that will occur at the end of the month.
The recent Democratic Presidential debates that kicked off in June fielded 20 candidates over two nights, and sparked a lot of questions about the people on the stage:
- Who stands for what?
- How are these folks really different than one another?
- Are those major differences major, or just minor?
- Who spoke to your heart?
- Who impressed your mind?
With only several minutes for each candidate to speak, did any individual communicate so well that you got clear answers to any of these questions? Did you get a clear sense of who each person really is?
Which candidate would you choose ... and more importantly ... why?
So, I got curious when I saw those Democratic candidates. What did they do to make themselves different from each other, and relevant to voters?
In politics, the candidate is her/his own brand. It’s clear what the playbook looks like for the most successful candidates, and those plays should sound familiar to consumer brands, too.
There are three important branding lessons that apply well to politicians (and your own brand, too).
1. Have a Clear Plan
The cliche of “the confused mind says no” is absolutely true. If you don’t understand your brand’s plan for transforming your customer, then the customer won’t either. And they won’t engage. Remember that you are the mentor, and that you as mentor need to have both empathy and a plan.
Many politicians state their plans for the economy, social justice, climate policy, immigration, etc. Those plans need to show they understand the issues, care for the people affected by the conditions, and clearly can map a good path forward to a better tomorrow.
Like her or not, Elizabeth Warren has positioned herself as someone who has a plan for everything, including Ashley Nicole Black’s love life.
The plan for Dove Soap is very clear: it offers pro-age formulas that enhance your real beauty. Dove doesn't promise that their products will make you look younger and sexier. Dove's plan for you is that — whatever your age and however you look — they will help you love and reveal your own real beauty.
2. Stay on Message
Brands — and candidates — need to do the important job of staying on message. Stay consistent. Maintain the position.
Like him or not, Bernie Sanders stays on message. He has never wavered from his position of Universal Health Care and taxing the wealthiest Americans. Disagree or agree, we all know exactly what he stands for, and what his message is.
When a brand like Coca-Cola stays on the message of “Choose Happy,” then all of their marketing over time can reiterate that message and concept. Look, everyone knows Coke isn’t healthy for you. Coke knows that. But Coke can bring a small spark of joy and delight. So Coke stays on the happiness message in all of their ads.
If you don’t believe me, just go to YouTube and search “Coca-Cola Happiness.”
3. Keep Working and Trust in the Process
The political season is a long slog for these folks! So many events, road trips, questions, prying cameras, the works ... and it goes on seemingly forever. Think about it: one of these folks is in the heat of it until election day in November of 2020. That’s almost 500 days of being ON. But honestly, you would think that some part of each person must love this experience. Otherwise, they couldn’t do it.
Joe Biden, like him or not, seems like he has been working political processes since The Dawn of Time. Clearly he must love the engagement, feeds off the energy of his public appearances, and enjoys pursuing the hard negotiations needed to move legislation.
Of course, your team has been working hard, too. It’s a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly process of constantly refining and reinforcing your brand message. The best reward for the constant, consistent effort is that if your team loves it. They must love the process of having a brand message they stick with, or else they’ll get tired and fatigued.
I’m going to be following every step of the political unveiling and see what lessons can be gleaned from these folks. Because in Politics...the Person is the Brand.
As always, I welcome your comments.
Chris Foster has been teaching Brand Strategy and Positioning at UCSD Extension since 2009. He has lead professional workshops and presented at numerous San Diego Marketing Association events as well as national events for the Direct Marketing Association; been guest lecturer at SDSU Marketing Courses; and participated in numerous professional panels.
For the past 20 years he has worked in all aspects of marketing and creative direction for start-up, growing, and established business environments. He has a passion for helping any-sized business transform their brand so they can more authentically connect with their audience.