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Whenever I get asked about branding a candidate, I think of the old riddle: What comes first, the chicken or the egg?

For campaigns, the question becomes: what comes first, the branding or the marketing? For me, the answer is clear. There’s no effective marketing without a defined brand. But in politics, that distinction isn’t always clear.

In fact, one trend I’ve witnessed in the political space is once the campaign team creates a logo, said team considers the logo the candidate’s “brand,” and now has the inspiration to design a website and marketing materials that encompass the “brand.”

Big mistake. A logo is not the candidate’s brand.

Moreover, adopting a national party ID as a brand is problematic for any number of reasons, not least because both major parties are extremely unpopular at the moment.

In today’s political climate, it’s imperative a candidate develop his or her own identity. And every aspect of a campaign should support the overall brand look and feel, as well as candidate objectives.

For example, as brand strategist for the Ted Cruz for President campaign, I ensured that all messaging, website design, content and events were created to complement the overall candidate brand identity.

Brand development requires in-depth analysis into overall candidate goals and objectives, and taking into consideration the candidate’s beliefs, voice, essence and differentiators. Once you gain a clear perspective about your candidate’s brand, you’re ready to tie everything together, unifying the brand using the following components:

Messaging and marketing

Branding your candidate and incorporating these elements into overall campaign positioning is the first step to marketing your candidate, and messaging and marketing must be consistent and true to the brand.

For example, is he or she edgy or steady? Is your candidate disruptive or do they play by the book? Does the look and feel of digital and print collateral reflect the candidate’s brand? More importantly, does it reflect the voters that support the candidate?

Effectively using all available assets (and even liabilities) is necessary to cohesively communicate your candidate’s brand positioning, identity and brand essence, giving you and your candidate a great advantage.

Website and social channels

Your candidate’s website, Facebook page and Twitter handle are your campaign’s main vehicles to showcase brand identity, beliefs and issues. Across each of these channels your branding needs to be on-point.

For your homepage, look to create a clean, easy-to-navigate site that contributes to better end-user experience, encouraging users to stay on your site and get engaged. For your social channels, maintaining a high standard for visuals, while using the same fonts and colors from your homepage, is key. 

Your team of digital developers and content experts will pave the path for your campaign’s online presence. But remember, this team must live and breathe the brand. They must be willing to learn about the candidate throughout the campaign. This is paramount in creating clear, engaging messaging, images of the candidate that reflect the brand, online voice and online store with candidate swag.

Events

Your candidate’s campaign launch is a key introductory moment. This important and monumental event should be designed to unveil and showcase your unique brand, and every event thereafter should reflect that brand identity. Whether a rally, a small town USA diner stop, a major speech or donor dinner, each event and appearance should relay the candidate’s brand and personality.

If your events are chaotic and lack organization, your audience might assume your candidate is the same, damaging his or her image. If your events are well-orchestrated, have a welcoming team of volunteers and distribute information complementary of your candidate brand identity, you’re off to a great start.

The key to creating these well-organized, brand-centric events is securing an Advance Team that goes the extra mile and acting as “brand police.” That means keeping a keen eye on brand consistency through push pieces, signage, registration, staging, backdrops, press management, security and candidate movement. Mastering the event experience is crucial in supporting and complementing overall brand experience.

Bottom line, a campaign consists of many moving parts, and strong political brand identity not only makes it easier to create compelling content and messaging that complements and reinforces a candidate’s brand, but also creates a solid roadmap for the campaign – driving everything from events and collateral, and can even help a campaign use data and polling information more effectively. So, before you do anything else in your campaign, make sure you establish – and really understand – your candidate’s brand identity.

Bonnie Siegel is the founder of PoliticalBranding Associates. You can hear her speak on the importance of candidate branding at C&E's Campaign Expo conference.