September 24, 2019

Three Branding Lessons from the Campaign Trail

Tuesdays With Coleman

“Don’t write a blog about politics!!”

That’s my inner voice talking. And my wife. And maybe a co-worker or two.

But here’s the thing. Although there’s plenty about politics I loathe, there’s a lot about “the game” I enjoy following. When there are twists and turns (maybe it’s the researcher in me,) I want to know why there are twists and turns.

So when news broke last week that Elizabeth Warren is leading an Iowa Democratic Primary poll for the first time, I found it interesting.

A little digging indicates her surge isn’t isolated to Iowa.

If we look at an aggregate of three sources of polling data: Politico, Economist/YouGov and The Hill/Harris X, according to national surveys conducted the week of May 27 – June 4, the top three candidates were:

Joe Biden: 33%

Bernie Sanders: 17%

Elizabeth Warren: 9%

According to the same polling sources conducted the week of September 7 – September 15, the top three candidates were:

Joe Biden: 28%

Elizabeth Warren: 18%

Bernie Sanders: 17%

I wanted to know the answer to the question, “What’s behind Warren’s rise?” While only research can effectively answer that, in digging for reasons behind what may be fueling her poll numbers, I found some branding takeaways I feel are worth sharing,

It’s truly a sign of the times that I went back and forth on whether or not to share them. It might anger people! It may make us appear like we’re endorsing her!

So, here’s the disclaimer. Neither I nor Coleman Insights is endorsing any candidate. We acknowledge Elizabeth Warren is not the only candidate deploying noteworthy strategies. My hope is that we can set partisan politics aside to appreciate some branding strategy you may borrow with the understanding that there’s no agenda attached.

Here are three strategic moves Elizabeth Warren has made that are worth noting.

  1. SHE’S TURNED NEGATIVES INTO POSITIVES

According to Democratic consultant Doug Rubin, who worked on Warren’s 2012 Senate campaign, she was depicted as someone detached from the average voter – someone who “dined with the intellectuals at Harvard.”

She developed a reputation for being stand-offish with the press.

She is a “policy wonk” – someone who knows a lot about many things, but perhaps gets in the weeds too much for the average voter.

Remarkably, Warren has turned her nerdiness into a strength with one simple phrase:

“I’ve got a Plan for that”.

Elizabeth Warren has a plan for that

Negative perceptions can hold a brand back from progressing and linger for some time. What if you had market research to inform the positive and negative perceptions of your brand? What could you do to turn your perceived negatives into positives?

  1. SHE’S USING SIMPLE, CLEAR MESSAGING

Need to convey the message that the country is on the wrong track?

“Make America Great Again”.

Make America Great Again hat

Hope and optimism?

“Yes We Can”.

Like other simple messages on the campaign trail, “I’ve got a Plan for that” conveys that Warren has considered everything that might come her way. It conveys stability.

And, it repositions negative perceptions of her as a policy wonk into a strength against an incumbent president who many perceive is lacking in preparation and planning.

Do consumers clearly understand what your brand is about? Can they regurgitate it back to you?

Could Elizabeth Warren have changed the narrative from “Oh, Elizabeth Warren – she’s that know-it-all” to “Oh, Elizabeth Warren, she’s the one with a plan for everything” without a simple slogan like “She’s got a Plan for that”?

In what ways can you simplify your messaging so consumers can easily describe what you stand for?

  1. SHE’S MASTERED THE ART OF SOCIAL MEDIA AMPLIFICATION

Have you heard of “The Selfie Line” yet? At a rally last week in New York, Warren hung around for four hours after her speech to take a picture with anyone who was interested. The campaign estimates that over 60,000 pictures have been taken. And it isn’t some website you have to visit to get the pics. You get it taken on your phone. Within minutes, rally attendees are posting their photos with a presidential candidate all over social media. Their friends, of course, like and share it.

Elizabeth Warren selfie line

Now, every campaign manager knows paid social media advertising is an integral part of a strategy. Meanwhile, here’s Elizabeth Warren spending a few hours meeting fans and hearing feedback, while racking up organic social media exposure worth far more than any paid campaign. She decided to ditch the traditional “rope line” at campaign stops for something more intimate.

As noted in #1 above, what better way to shed an image of being detached, cold and stand-offish than by hanging around for hours to take photos with everyone that wants one?

Your brand, too, has fans and potential fans. Do you have a “rope” between you and your fans? What can you do to create more intimacy and generate more buzz?

As the U.S. presidential election season continues, we’ll surely find other examples of impressive branding and content strategy. If there’s one thing we can count on between now and next November, it’s that anything can happen.

 

 

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