"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

Friday, July 18, 2008

Obama's Energy Plan Lacking Energy


I fear that you are really missing a key opportunity to not just catapult your candidacy into a double-digit lead, but to show America that Democrats embody the brand of economic, ecological and foreign-policy leadership.

Is there really reason for fear? Well, I recently saw your campaign ad, "New Energy," and what I see in this ad is essentially what I hear on the campaign stump: a series of initiatives that you know will help America move into a new era. Unfortunately, only smart, engaged people like you and your staffers -- those who can intuitively connect the dots -- can get excited about how these initiatives will intermingle to allow America to rise above our current challenges.

The first half of this ad simply explains why McCain stinks (fair enough, though not the "new kind of politics" you kinda-sorta promised us). The second half then outlines a few initiatives and vague promises. In fact, it looks like an ad that could have been run by the Kerry or Gore campaigns (ouch). This ad risks leaving many independent voters thinking "sounds like more-of-the-same Democratic government programs."

Barack, there's a big gap here -- aren't you supposed to be the young, smart, energetic and innovative candidate who's going to solve America's toughest problems?
Traditional Democratic frames of programs and policies might do the trick in today's anti-Republican environment, but they'll barely work, and your use of these frames won't advance the Democratic Party brand like many of us thought you might advance the brand.

In fact, you have a responsibility to live up to being the transformative leader you've promised us you are. And that means being a political leader -- that is, a leader of ideas, not just a smart administrator of programs.

Mainstream Americans don't want any more government programs -- they want solutions to their problems.

And here's the irony -- a solution to a problem might very well be a series of programs! But Democrats inextricably reverse the messaging orientation: they tend to extrovert the underlying policies and programs, and introvert the values and philosophies that power them. I call this Democratitis.

But, you, Barack, didn't seem to have this problem in your primary fight with Hillary. She was the one rolling out the litany of programs, and you stood above and bequeathed philosophy. So it befuddles me why, now, you seem to have come down with Democratitis.

Build Your Pillars
Like any structure designed to withstand stress and weather storms, strong campaigns require strategically placed and sturdy pillars. The Obama campaign already has a solid bedrock -- change -- from which to build. Yet, there has been precious little development on this bedrock.

This takes us back to your energy plan as a case in point: Your energy plan is simply sitting on the foundation, with minimal context, no related initiatives, and most importantly, no linkage to your broader strategy. Your energy plan needs a home -- a pillar -- where it is connected to a larger message; where it has neighboring plans that, together, create a community of plans that make up the pillar's raison d'ĂȘtre.

Ultimately, the Obama campaign should define 3-4 pillars that completely encompass your brand, your priorities, and your values. These pillars should be labeled aspirationally, and should act as sub-brands that people can use as linguistic shortcuts to easily and readily discuss the ideas.

To help make the point, which conversation can you imagine happening at the water cooler or over the dinner table?

"So, what do you think of Obama's energy plan, where he is going to make energy independence an urgent priority, raise mileage standards, fast-track technology for alternative fuels, and give us a $1000 tax rebate?"


"So, what do you think of Obama's energy plan, you know, that 'Free, Clean and Green Country' thing where we become
free from foreign oil while also cleaning up the pollution by investing in green technologies to help make America beautiful again?"

See the difference? People are much more likely to discuss and share your plans when they're wrapped in a compelling brand than if they are just a list of policies.

The immediate next steps required are:

  1. Collect all of your initiatives, policies and priorities
  2. Segment these into 3 or 4 broad categories
  3. Step back and decide what philosophy or American value powers each category
  4. Label the category from the solution perspective, and develop slogans based on the philosophy and values powering that solution

When you've built and communicated your campaign pillars, you will then be able to refer to them without having to discuss policies and programs. You will be framing your campaign in a solutions context from an emotional perspective. This is exactly what the voters want and need to hear.