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Political Campaigns – A Lesson in Brand Management

The Republican presidential primaries and debates have been fascinating, if not whiplash-inducing, to follow. The candidates continue to float on the winds of public opinion rather than their own personal convictions and vision. On any topic, they appear more interested in setting themselves apart from the competition than in having firm positions that constituents can rally behind. Focus groups form politicians’ positions on issues, instead of politicians working to help constituents understand and value what they really stand for. The absence of a clear frontrunner so far is evidence that candidates are failing to define what they stand for and that they lack resonance with the American electorate.

Politics & Brand Management

The word “politician” has taken on negative connotations; it is more and more likely to define a person who will say or do anything to get elected.  There are plenty of politicians in the world, and it seems few are irreplaceable. Brands should not fall into the same trap. To be effective in the marketplace, a brand must clearly communicate what it represents and what it aspires to become, and then deliver on that promise to its customers. The opposite approach – building a brand based exclusively on customer opinion or desired image – is a recipe for failure, as the brand in the end will lack identity, and will likely be forgotten when the next new product comes along. The more effectively a brand communicates and delivers on its promise, the more likely customer experience and feedback will reinforce the brand’s position.

The Walt Disney Corporation stands as a perfect example of brand conviction and purpose. Despite the ups and downs of the entertainment industry and economy, the brand has never strayed from its promise to deliver high-quality, family-oriented entertainment in a variety of formats. As a result, consumers know what to expect from a Walt Disney product when it is released without questioning its authenticity, quality, or content.

To be considered a true political leader, a candidate must have and communicate a vision; an authentic theme that voters can focus on and associate with that person. The same is true of a brand.  Without clear vision and promise, a candidate becomes a politician, and a brand becomes a commodity. Both will recede from relevance when the next new “thing” comes along.

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The Fallout of a Flip-Flop: When Brands Gets Political

Any brand that thinks it is above reproach need only look back as far as the recent Susan G. Komen Foundation debacle for a taste of reality. Organizations out of step with their audience find themselves foundering in the wake of public outcry when business decisions appear to be based in politics. Komen, arguably the most visible women’s health advocacy group in existence today, spent last week backtracking and apologizing to constituents and supporters for political missteps it made not once, but twice. The first when it apparently bowed to political pressures from the right to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood, and the second when it apparently bowed again, this time to political pressure from the left, to restore funding.

Susan G Komen

The original decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood appears to have been based on an existing internal policy. But the move outraged supporters, convinced it was politically driven. The Foundation was inundated with angry emails, tweets, and Facebook posts. After two days of threats, resignations, and retracted pledges, Komen ceded and reinstated funding for the organization, sparking a second wave of anger from the other side.[1]

The fervor has since died down, but the damage left behind to the Komen Foundation’s brand is irrevocable. Contributors who, in the past, may have had concerns about the Foundation’s political affiliations but chose to overlook them for the betterment of women’s health are now voicing those concerns, and donations to the Foundation may never return to their former level. In addition, some of the past affiliations of the organization’s leaders are resurfacing, complements of media groups adamant to keep the controversy alive. This is slowing whatever recovery the organization expects to make as it responds to these new allegations.

Brands deliver a promise – what customers should expect from a product or service. When expectations and reality are not aligned, the promise is broken, and it can be very difficult to regain trust. If a brand does misstep and must reverse course, the reversal should be swift and apologetic, and make things better than they were before; not just return to the status quo. The Susan G. Komen Foundation was out of touch with its key audience, and failed to appropriately judge the response of its supporters to a politically-based decision, real or perceived. How the organization got to be so distant from its audience is a mystery, but in the minds of many, the Komen Foundation broke its core customer promise, and its trust among many may never be regained.

[1] “Who is Behind Susan G. Komen’s Split from Planned Parenthood,” Feb. 1, 2012, Nicholas Jackson

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Company Branding – Why Can’t We Do This Ourselves?

Company Branding and Brand strategy is the process of identifying and articulating who you are, what you do and why you matter – as clearly and compellingly as possible in ways that are unique, motivational, sustainable and meaningful to all of your critical audiences.

It can be difficult for an executive team to step back from the flow of business for any period of time and think holistically about where the business is going. What are the big ideas will drive their critical audiences? And, how can the executive team arrive at a consensus when multiple ideas are generated at the decision table?

A clear brand strategy can be a powerful tool for the overall company branding, and finding the right consulting team to gain strategic branding advantage is critical.

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Three Key Brand Success Factors: Clarity, Relevance and Engagement

Every afternoon, we get an email called the Chart of the Day from the Silicon Alley Insider, a unit of the larger content publisher Business Insider. This chart is always current, relevant, topical, and easy to digest in under a minute. A minute is about the amount of time that we give it each day, but we remember these charts, and the simple points they make, and find ourselves referring back to them often.

Brand Success Factors

These charts tell a simple story, visually, relevantly, and succinctly. They tell us who is responsible for the most bandwidth usage on the Internet (Netflix by far), where Apple’s astounding revenues come from (iPhone more than 50%) and who pays the most for software developers (Facebook, $110K). They never try to do any more beyond connecting the reader to a deeper article in which he or she may be interested.

These Charts of the Day, while highly focused and specific, represent a clear, relevant and engaging promise­ – one that can be delivered every day with consistency. Each chart tells different brand success stories, but the overall promise, of a quickly digestible snapshot into the business of technology, is fulfilled every time.

It is a helpful exercise to look at brands like this, and to consider the questions, “What is the promise we can make with our brand that gives us the flexibility to deliver over time, and the challenge to continue to fulfill customer expectations?” and “How can my brand deliver on its promise in a clear, relevant and engaging way, every day?” and, in this particular case, “If I had only one minute to deliver value to my customers, what would I say?” When brands get this right, customers recognize, appreciate and remember the value they create.

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