Finding and Measuring Your "Vision Thing": Political Branding: How to Manage It and Help Your Candidates Win

Article excerpt

Campaigns begin with a candidate. And in the beginning, each candidate, regardless of party, regardless of the office sought, must first consider some very basic questions: Who am I politically? What do I want to achieve? Why am I uniquely qualified?

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The candidate's public profile or, if you f will, political brand, starts with the answers to these questions.

Perhaps less personally profound for the candidate but operationally no less important to the campaign manager is the question: How does the political brand translate into key messages, stump speeches, a killer brochure, effective media, web-based mobilizations and all the other elements of a winning campaign?

What follows is a straightforward, researched-based approach to identifying and refining political brand, managing the brand, shaping campaign strategies and tactics and creating compelling messages that touch the hearts and minds of voters and motivate them to vote.

But again, campaigns begin with the candidate ...

Political Brand = The Effective Communication of a Vision

As Vice President George H.W. Bush prepared his 1988 presidential run, he bristled at suggestions that he lacked "the vision thing." Although Bush never found his vision thing, he successfully exploited Ronald Reagan's vision of small government and low taxes. The "Read my lips, no new taxes" message helped Bush ride Reagan's visionary coattails into the Oval Office.

Let's face it; most of us are not visionaries. Even those with vision are often beaten down by practical political considerations and the lack of resources, power or influence to realize their vision. Thus, we look to political, social or business leaders with vision and who can define an actionable set of principles and goals around which to rally.

'Vision' gives hope, focus and meaning to our lives. It allows us a feeling that there is "something more" to life. In politics, a well-communicated vision wins. It excites partisans and nonpartisans alike and may drive voter turnout. Clearly, President Obama and President Reagan are great examples of vision well communicated.

Vision is, in essence, an identity.

When we think about brand identity, what usually comes to mind is a name, logo, or perhaps its advertising jingle (It's the Real Thing). Identity, however, is a far more complex myriad of association that might include package design, brand voice, attitudes, brand personality, product utility, visual style, etc.

The most powerful brands, however, are those with a consistent brand voice and visual style that trades as equity when introducing brand extensions or new products.

In politics, brand extensions are the 'story' told to sell the campaign. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America" is the foremost example of a simple, yet effective story used to create what is basically coherent brand equity. President Obama's book "The Audacity of Hope" was a strong autobiographical component in the "Hope and Change" story.

The trend in corporate America is for powerful corporate players, such as Procter & Gamble, Pitney Bowes, General Electric and 3M to leverage a corporate brand equity that offers consumers quality assurance and name recognition; at the very least as an umbrella quality.

Gingrich's vision, "Contract for America," sparked a conservative Republican "revolution" mobilizing both fiscal and social conservatives. This "branding" of the Republican Party has been critical to the party's success in marketing itself as the fiscally disciplined, morally correct, small government, national security guardian of the free world--attributions that haven't necessarily been earned through actions. But that is the power of branding.

So, what are the most effective ways to introduce such a coherent brand strategy into a political campaign? …