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Convention Branding 2012: The Brand Strategy Behind Political Campaigns

By Kristy Gulsvig

In the wake of the Republican National Convention, and now with the ongoing Democratic National Convention, campaign ads and speeches have become an everyday reality. But what do political candidates and national companies have in common? Well, for starters, the success of either relies on their ability to sell their brands.

Let’s face it: politics are — well — political, and not always able to maneuver the way a business brand can. But there are basic principles that political brands could borrow from a strong brand strategy.

Emotion vs. Substance

In 2012, the political brand campaigns have often focused just as much on establishing an engaging personal brand as on the substance of a political talking point. It’s why so many of the RNC and DNC speeches have focused on personal life stories as much as — if not more than — political discourse. But while it’s touching to hear about Mitt’s parents’ love for each other, or Michelle’s feelings for her husband, there must be a careful balance between that “character building” and the substance that will keep their customers coming back and completing their purchase at the ballot box.

When talking about a brand campaign, creating an emotional connection can sometimes be just as important as a fact-based value proposition. Think of consumer brands like Coca-Cola, or the prestige and trust in names like Accenture and GE. But, that emotional connection cannot be a substitute for a consistently performing product — in this case, a political candidate. Otherwise, the emotion will fade and the customer will become frustrated.

De-positioning the competition

Most powerful brands have formidable competitors. Sometimes, the key to a successful brand campaign can be to deposition your competition. There are subtle ways to deposition your competition — for example, to claim yourself as a market leader (hence the competition as a “follower”) or to add definition to your business category (and placing your competition outside of it).

The political campaigns of late are much more forward in de-positioning their competition. The “attack ad” has increasingly become a cornerstone for today’s political campaigns. But a true “attack ad” is not especially common in the corporate world, and for good reason. In the business world, you generally don’t vote against a brand — you vote for the brands you prefer with your wallet. And there must be a reason to cast that vote — otherwise, that support becomes passive at best and inconsistent at worst.

If politics were a corporate brand, they would benefit from some brand research and brand strategy into what their true value propositions are, and concentrate on generating excitement for themselves.

What branding lessons have you learned from today’s candidates?