Winning an election, any election to public office, requires a candidate to capture at least 51 percent of the market. A bit daunting, to say the least particularly when even the most successful marketer has ever come close to capturing more than 50 percent of their market. With digital technology and social media platforms dominating the marketing landscape, effective branding is of paramount importance to selling anything, even a politician’s message. But even in the mostly analog times of the past, the ability to develop a winning brand strategy for a politician and their message ended up being the determining factor in who won or lost.
More than ever, candidates today must understand the social physics of what is most effective in motivating buyers or, in the case of public elections, voters into making a buying decision. While developing an intelligent, original and meaningful message that is distributed across the full spectrum of marketing collateral is fundamental to succeeding; the brands logo associated with a candidate may be the most important aspect of a successful political campaign. To be effective it must be representative of the candidate’s personality; be memorable and adaptable to all media platforms; and convey an immediate and impactful message. So how are the 2016 Presidential candidates doing with their branding strategies?
Hillary Clinton’s brand promotes experience and confidence and her 2016 campaign logo, a blue H with a red horizontal arrowhead, invokes a sense of forward movement and may represent an attempt to promote the message of moving forward to something better than what now exist. While the logo meets the memorable and architectural requirements of a good logo, some have been critical of the image for its simplicity. Others point out that her stated message of continuing the established policies of the current president and her previous experience as Secretary of State is contrary to the bold, forward looking promise of her brand. For voters who are looking for innovation and change in the next office holder, what hope is there for change and creativity with a candidate who espouses simple continuity?
Mike Huckabee’s sweeping, athletic, red, white and blue logo appeared to be a perfect fit for a bumper sticker but his “From Hope To Higher Ground” message, while effectively playing off President Obama’s successful message of 2008, fell short of defining his mission or the term “higher ground” for voters in the primary elections. Marco Rubio’s brand was youthful, trusting and experience and his logo was a fair representation of his message which attempted to brand him as the best choice for those seeking an experienced, inside outsider. The effort and his overly persistent messaging failed the persuasion factor.
To many voters, the Ted Cruz brand remains as much of a mystery coming down the primary stretch to the finish as he was when he sprung out of the gate at the beginning of the race. The candidate’s brand is most akin to the personality and behavior of every family’s eccentric uncle, who lives aside from the rest and takes seemingly immense joy in peppering the other members with pesky and critical zingers. Hoping to be the brand carrier for the Christian, evangelical and ultra conservative voter, his message has not yet translated into a substantial hit on its intended mark. The challenge for the Cruz campaign in the words of its manager Jeff Roe is, “Regardless of what you’ve got in the bank, you’d better determine the narrative of the campaign, and show that’s who we are, every day.’’ And many might add in response, NOW would be a good time to deliver a performing narrative. The Ted Cruz logo, a representation of the American Flag in the shape of a flame, successfully projects an aura of mystery instead of clarity of message. Its design has been compared to the logos of Aljazeera, the Onion and the Natural Gas industry, none of which can possibly hope to attract positive reaction among voters of any demographic looking for clarity of message. Artist Milton Glaser, the celebrated designer behind the “I Love NY” logo, expressed confusion at Cruz’s messaging in an interview with Business Insider recently. “This looks like another example of a flag burning to me. Is Mr. Cruz certain that is what he wants to say?” Be warned, in all things, perception is the most persistent form of truth.
And then there is Donald Trump. The consummate iconic egotist and entertainer, Mr. Trumps brand is that of the un-politician whose goal is to “Make America Great Again”. His out spoken and boastful personality and lack of filtering when speaking his mind is capturing votes among a large number of the electorate who are fed-up with career politicians and the current state of our nations representative marketplace. His message is overtly void of specifics on how he intends to make America great again, but his commitment to consistently conveying his brand to the market is resonating with voters to the amazement of all the political experts, political media pun dents and established marketing mavens who have long predicted his early demise. His message is not so much defining the benefits of his policies but rather the negative and personal idiosyncrasies and capabilities of his opponents. Being different may be his most powerful enticement to capturing the masses.
In order to be successful, it has long been thought that a successful campaigner must identify itself with an appealing and accessible image that is compliant in every aspect to the brand. Usually simply creating a look and feel is not enough when making a logo, except if you’re Donald Trump. The modern font and common red, white and blue colors are a bit of a departure for the typical Trump business moniker but it is true to who he is and personifies his simply stated message.
For a Presidential candidate the task at hand is huge, no matter the message, the party or the brand, capturing 51 percent of sales on Election Day in a complex and diverse market is a tall order. A successful brand dictates a narrow focus but winning a national election demands a candidate who can connect with a wide and comprehensive electorate. The competing dynamics is about to play out, and the prize for the best brand is about to be awarded.