When Political Parties Fail at Brand Basics
The brands of both major US political parties are broken. Both parties crafted brands that have revealed that they're out of alignment with their constituents. The fact that so many pollsters and pundits were wrong reveals that voters hid their true intentions. Democrats made too many assumptions and suffered. Many Republicans disavowed a candidate whose brand eventually won anyhow. My personal observations while on my morning commute this election season reinforced significant branding problems for both parties. Gone were the bumper stickers and magnetic car signs common on my route back in 2008 and 2012. And where were all the yard signs advertising my neighbors’ support for their preferred candidates? I observed a totally different kind of water cooler conversation this time around too, in which my colleagues talked in generalities about campaign shenanigans and the media, but rarely stated strong opinions about any party’s candidate for fear others would judge them harshly. Myself, I was downright embarrassed to admit my political leanings to anyone. I still am.
Let’s dissect some specifics a bit further through the lens of branding. If you’ve been following along at home, you now know that a brand’s role is to answer these three important questions for its customers:
- What does it say about a person that they use/wear/drive/eat/drink/support this brand?
The number of Republicans who went on record saying they wouldn't support Trump was well over 100. It shook many Republican voters' confidence in their party's candidate. After all, the ultimate in brand embarrassment is when the "company" doesn't eat its own dog food.
- What is the singular thing a person gets from this brand they can’t get anywhere else?
Jayson Demers, CEO of AudienceBloom, wrote an article on the Entrepreneur website on this very topic. Trump gave his audience a niche-focused message to white working class males. He was extreme and polarizing, which his audience valued. He was anti-establishment, which played into the general dissatisfaction Americans felt. Trump was also nostalgic. He consistently reminded his audience of a time when they believed America was better. Trump’s Facebook and Twitter numbers certainly proved that he had struck a nerve, doubling Hillary Clinton's followers in both channels.
- How does this brand make a person the hero in his/her own story?
Hillary made her brand about her. This hurt her with minorities. Many couldn’t see the Clinton brand making them the hero. The facts show that her campaign failed to activate the minority coalition that supported Obama in previous elections. According to Pew Research, “Hillary Clinton did not run as strongly among these core Democratic groups as Obama did in 2012. Clinton held an 80-point advantage among blacks (88% to 8%,) compared with Obama’s 87-point edge four years ago (93% to 6%). In 2008, Obama had a 91-point advantage among blacks.” Back in 2012, voters clearly saw how they could be a hero in the Obama narrative.
Bottom line: brands exist to elevate their customers’ self-concepts. Customers align themselves with brands because they like what those brands say about them. The brands they love make them feel proud, give them that feeling they have the world on a string, like they can accomplish anything, like they’ll reach self-actualization and achieve their full potential as humans.