What This Election Taught Us About Branding
11.10.08 · Deanna Harms
Whether or not your candidate won on November 4, we can all learn something from Barack Obama’s successful presidential campaign.
He had a single, voter-resonating message – change – and stuck with it. And he bolstered traditional tactics by using new media in ways never before seen in an election. Working with chief strategist David Axelrod and campaign manager David Plouffe, Obama crafted a strategy that made him Advertising Age’s “Marketer of the Year.”
Businesses Can Learn Much from Obama’s Campaign
Here are just a few of the lessons:
- Consistency. Obama’s branded “change” campaign set him apart from the pack. As branding guru Al Ries points out, do you even remember Hillary Clinton’s creative? Here she was, the beneficiary of Bill Clinton’s eight years in office, with the most experienced campaign team, yet her message kept morphing into something different. (If you can’t remember, you’re not alone. There’s a number to keep track of. First, came “Experience,” then “Countdown to change,” then “Solutions for America.”) McCain threw out numerous branded images and hoped one stuck. Maverick. Straight talker. American hero.The public and media’s infatuation with Sarah Palin drowned out McCain and, at times, made it feel like he was second on the ticket. Obama, meanwhile, stayed with his message: Change.
- Resonance. Obama had the luxury of distance from George W. Bush’s policies. McCain did not. And if McCain tried to create that same distance, Obama would remind us how often McCain voted Bush’s position. You heard it often enough to recite it, too: 90 percent.
- Tactics. Obama successfully employed social media to speak directly to his supporters and, equally important, to get their feedback. He listened. And learned. Obama created a groundswell of support at the micro level and communicated with his base via what insiders call MyBO, or “MyBarackObama.com.” He used email, text messages and Twitter. If you attended an event, he sent an email saying thanks. If a candidate attacked him, he refuted the attack with a video, delivered directly to your inbox. These tactics helped him earn votes. But they also helped him harvest an unprecedented $650 million from more than three million supporters. That war chest allowed him to purchase the ads he needed to win: $160 million on broadcast media, almost $14 million on print, $12 million on digital media. Note that while his social media campaign was phenomenally innovative and effective, he still spent the bulk of his outreach dollars on traditional media.
Applying the Principles
Whether you voted red or blue, remember that branding principles, properly executed, can help you succeed. Know your audience. Speak to their dreams. Create a vision of what you will do. Choose the right message and stay with it. Work tirelessly and well using both traditional and new media tactics. Reach out and energize new customers. Give them the tools to convert others to your product or service.
And once you’ve made the sale, remember to keep building and deepening the relationship. What’s happening now that Obama won the election? The millions who used MyBarackObama to organize 35,000+ groups and host more that 200,000 events are now being encouraged to continue the community, to stay connected, to collaborate, to add members and to move forward. Together.
Winning Is Only the Beginning
Check out the new transition social media site, appropriately named Change.gov. It lets you upload your ideas for the country, apply for a job, check out the developing face of the new administration and more. Want to see images of the election? You can view them on Flickr.
A brand is what people think of you. And that perception constantly shifts. So you must keep building your brand. Every day. It will be interesting to watch Obama these coming weeks and months.