The 2016 Presidential Campaign is loaded with great branding lessons that every company and person can apply to their favorite brand. I’ll try to be unbiased.
1. Awareness Trumps – The ascension of the Trump brand has been astronomical, largely due to awareness. You had heard of him before, and you’ve certainly heard of him now. Millions of Americans were exposed to the Trump brand through his television series, real estate and entertainment holdings, media-inducing polarizing comments, and the unique, visual persona. He’s said more soundbite friendly and contentious comments since, further gaining publicity. The political pundits were quick to downplay his legitimacy, yet he dominated media mentions. If you’ve heard of something and it registers in your mind, it has successfully penetrated the critical consideration set – the short list of things you might choose.
2. Differentiate – Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and Bernie Sanders are succeeding, largely on their ability to differentiate themselves. Ben Carson expertly plays the ‘I’m from outside of politics, plain-speaking neurosurgeon’ game, Carly is the ‘seasoned ex-HP CEO, non-Hilary female leader,’ who deftly leveraged the “look at that face” Trump gaffe into a gift, and Bernie Sanders is the self-described democratic socialist focused on improving middle class inequality. He also is the sole non-Hilary Democratic option. Conversely, Scott Walker, an early front-runner dropped to oblivion and out as one of the many ‘successful governor with relevant experience’ options. You must be different, and relevantly different, to be selected from your competition.
3. Be Authentic – Consumers demand authenticity in their brands and selections. Consumers have a strong “bs meter” and have 24/7 access to social media that can uncover and amplify lies, inconsistencies, and skeletons. On the (at least perceived) authenticity meter (net score on honest and trustworthy, latest Quinnipiac poll) Carson (+51), Biden (+45), Sanders (+23), and Bush (+19) lead, while Clinton (-31) and Trump (-22) take a beating. A brand is a promise to consumers – what you are, what you stand for, and what you consistently do – and consumers value and crave credibility and authenticity.
4. Resonate – Your offer must resonate with your target audience; know what their key issues are, articulate how you solve their most important issues, and speak their language. Despite his polarizing personality and image (top 4 Quinnipiac poll descriptors: arrogant, blowhard, idiot, businessman), his surge is largely explained because his messages of ‘make America great again’ and ‘sick of insider incompetence’ resonate deeply with a vast population. He may ultimately have a product and personal credibility gap (29% of GOP voters would definitely not support Trump), but his message unquestionably resonates.
5. Cut Through the Clutter – You must sharply define and articulate your unique brand positioning. At the moment, Trump, Carson, Fiorina, and Sanders’ brands are memorable and clear. Although still early in the campaign where Trump’s style over substance noise is captivating consumers and the media, several extremely solid, admirable and, arguably, superior talent – like Kasich and Pataki are going relatively unnoticed so far, as 57% and 58% “haven’t heard enough” about them, respectively.
As the campaigning and jockeying for position continues, we continue to enjoy the show and its rich brand and marketing lessons. The marketing communication is riveting, but great brands perform on measurable criteria over time.