Political branding is no different from commercial branding.
Get my attention. Tell me a compelling story. Show me who you are; make me trust you. Show that you understand me. Give me the power to carry your torch and then deliver the goods. Now repeat.
I just attended the RNC 2012 where I was a contributor to FOX News.com and FoxEdge. In a heated, tight race to elect the 45th president of the United States, the stakes are high; emotions are intense and brand matters.
Most people decide whom they will vote for long before they enter the voting booth. Brand leadership behavior, campaign ads, communications, visuals, personal experiences, peer endorsements and messages have all weighed in, and their choice — each Party hopes — was made easy by the power and persuasion of brands, the candidate and sometimes the party.
Challenged by an ever-evolving society, where attitudes toward alternative lifestyles are becoming mainstream, the Internet and social networks have changed not only the speed but also the way people get information, and the gender and age gaps between the candidates are wider than the Red Sea how is that Grand Old Party, the GOP, doing as it rides the wave of their just finished convention?
Have the Pachyderms truly broadened their net: Did the number of women on the platform change the perception that the GOP is the anti-women party, the party of exclusive country club set, dominated by white males? Did the number of Hispanics and African American speakers convince skeptics that this is a party of inclusion when the cameras panning the audience showed a sea of mostly white faces? Did they convince religious moderates that the party is not the captive of the extreme religious right?
From my bird’s eye view, it appears they made some admirable progress; they seem to be moving in the right direction, but they have a way to go if they really want to expand their base to include a younger, ethnically diverse and female demographic. It’s no easy task.
How does a political party — or any brand for that matter — balance the need to keep their loyalists happy and still win a new constituency? The task is even harder when you are battling an established incumbent brand — in this case a president.
As with any brand, the GOP’s multitude of touch points are complex. Some are within their control; for example, these visual assets:
- The strategically placed people of color in the camera’s eye on the convention floor seen by millions;
- The “on brand” messengers who were carefully chosen and scripted to represent a platform of diverse speakers ranging from up incoming female leader: like Moi Love, who is the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, and the GOP congressional nominee, to small business, entrepreneur Steve Cohen who owns a small manufacturing company in Ohio (maybe the next Joe the plumber?) to Artur Davis, an African American, Obama defector and former Secretary of State
- Condi Rice; and the unforgettable, warm and touched by two serious medical conditions, Ann Romney introducing “the man you really need to know like I do,” eloquently resonating with women from all walks of life and economic status.
The Tampa Bay Times convention center sported a consistent, clean and memorable GOP graphic identity. It felt fresh, energetic, and youthful, successfully combating the old, stodgy, and sometimes uptight brand persona. And — mindful of the base — the iconic elephants were clearly visible.
The big event in Tampa was coined, “a convention without walls” and several phone apps and a Facebook destination allowed attendees to get out the Party’s story to like-minded modern , social, GOP friends.
Social media has become an important weapon the GOP’s arsenal, and many say it is already having an impact on the brand. During the first two days of the convention, there were more tweets than in the entire 2008 election campaign. Beyond followers and “likes,” branding is about engagement, message channeling and lighting fires under influencers, and this convention gave the GOP new wings as social players.
The well-trained GOP and event staff added to the “you are welcome here” (of course with your proper credentials) and social media was buzzing — all good for a brand trying to expand its reach and relevance.
Storytelling is brand building magic, and it showed up in the speakers’ crafted tales of shared values and our Founding Father’s principles and in the short films highlighting the Convention’s overall theme of “A Better Future.”
And what big party could be complete without the celebrity parade of actors like: Clint Eastwood and Stephen Baldwin and musicians like 3 doors down and Kid Rock and a dozen of America’s elite Olympic stars who passed the torch of leadership to Governor Romney.
In the end, did these four days help put a new face on the Grand Old Party? No brand bombs went off; there were no unruly protestors, Beck, Trump and Limbaugh were relatively calm; and Hurricane Isaac kept its distance, and may have offered a bonus by allowing Republicans to show their compassion when they cancelled the first day of the Convention.
From my perch I’d say the elephant herd is moving in the right brand direction. The key will be what they do next to sustain and grow it in the coming months. Right now, the GOP web site is still pretty flat and low tech; they need to show new and diverse faces throughout their events and tell their stories; and, except for the convention, the energy level has been pretty low and most importantly, they’ll need figure out how to honestly welcome more diversity, moderates and all lifestyles to their party to maintain and build on this newfound high.