"Our Karl Rove is the blog you should be glad that Democratic strategists don't seem to listen to"
-- what they're saying on Republican blogs

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Candidates, Can You Spare Some Change?

Democratic Candidates (and, what the heck, Republicans too),

The media and the voters have decided that this is the election season of "change." And -- no surprise -- Barack Obama's campaign is the most directly associated with this campaign brand platform.

This is very good news for the Obama campaign, because now that virtually every politician has glommed onto this campaign keyword (see chart below), there is an implicit call back to the Obama change movement. As a result, every campaign now is -- at least indirectly -- an endorsement of the Obama campaign brand.

Advice for change-glomming candidates:

You're making a mistake by latching on to "change." It's taken, and all you're doing is showing that you can spot a successful trend, and follow it. That would be fine in a normal election season, but this season, you're in competition with Obama's campaign, which "owns" the trend. The media has written the narrative of Obama, which means that the brand has been set and will be continually reinforced (and eventually overplayed). Implicitly, voters are going to sense that trend followers are not change agents. So, while change-glomming might feel like the right thing to do, it's not.

I know, I know. You do represent change. Of course you do. Every candidate does. But the "change" brand is taken. Consider it trademarked. You need to be creative and come up with a brand that is distinctive in the political marketplace of ideas. Even messaging maven David Axelrod agrees: “unless a message authentically reflects the messenger, it’s likely to fail.”

The right thing to do is to now is to conduct a rapid brand evolution program within your respective campaigns. Assemble you key staffers (from all levels) and brainstorm and whiteboard all of the key attributes of your candidacy. Coalesce these ideas, boil them down, and settle on one-to-five words that describe why you're the best person to win the nomination --and then to be President.

You then need to map these concepts against what you think (or, preferably, know) the majority of the voters are looking for. In other words, once your find your core, distinct message, you then need to ensure that your core, distinct message is relevant.

Some examples:

  • Ready (Clinton)
  • Leadership You can Count On (Clinton)
  • Principled Leadership (Edwards)
  • Principled Change (Edwards) [and puts a knife in Obama]
  • Taking America Back (Edwards)

Advice for change candidates

This might be very difficult to digest, but you're going to need to get beyond "change" as your campaign evolves. I know, it sounds like asinine advice to a campaign that has the most successful brand of this election season. But hear me out.

You should not abandon change. But you need to build from it, creating a brand tree. This means viewing "change" as a foundational brand trunk, but then growing specific brand branches to keep ahead of curve. Keeping ahead will ensure that you avoid:

- attacks on change. The longer "change" is out there, the more time for competition (Democratic and Republican) to develop and deploy effective foils and cynicism around change.

- the "spare change" effect. Change is good, but too much change can weight down your pocket with too much of too little. Meaning, change is a big idea that doesn't mean much once you get beyond the big idea.

The good news is that there seems to be plenty of growth potential for the change brand. The challenge, though, is to define brand branches to grow from the brand trunk. This means looking at the hot political topics -- foreign policy, ecology, economy and the nation's spirit -- and developing brand platforms around each of these as extensions to the change brand trunk.

Some examples:
  • Change means: Regaining the Moral High Ground
    (foreign policy)
  • Change means: Treating Mother Earth with Respect
  • Change means: A Re-energized, In-Demand Workforce
  • Change means: One Nation, Under G*d, Indivisible
    (nation's spirit)

Advice for all Democratic candidates

There is a risk of relying too heavily on the "change" brand: a sudden shift of the political status quo could blunt its effectiveness.

George W. Bush's legacy will be firmly grounded in political success (i.e., having a Republican successor). So you need to be mindful of the potential for a shifting political dynamic in 2008. Bush will likely pull all the levers he can to create a political environment friendly to a Republican nominee. If Bush succeeds in creating a more positive outlook in 2008, "change" won't resonate as much as it does now -- just like the Iraq War doesn't resonate as much merely 4 months after it was widely considered to be the #1 campaign issue.

Number of times "change" is used on campaign websites:*

Barack Obama: 66,600
John Edwards: 23,800
Hillary Clinton: 3,670
Bill Richardson: 1,450
Mitt Romney: 952
Mike Huckabee: 795
John McCain: 347

*Conducted through a basic Google search [site:campaign_site_name change -climate] to exclude any pages where "climate change" would be the topic. Obviously, not all instances of "change" represent the campaign concept of change, and the number of hits are likely relative to the size and depth of the respective websites.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Obama is not mature enough to run for president. During last nights debate when asked a question about what the GOP candidates were saying about him he seemed flustered and admitted on national television that he did not watch the previous debate he was watching a football game on TV! Was that more important than learning how to beat his rivals?
I went to see him talk in Manning,SC. I sat next to some local police and security staff. They were talking amoungst themselves and were saying that Obama was joking backstage and had them in stitches. I want a president who is talking about local issues with local voters when he comes to visit SC, not joking to amuse himself. This does not seem like the actions of a mature individual who I want leading my country!