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Most candidates don’t think of themselves as a brand. But in order to be a successful candidate today, when campaigns are competing for attention with sophisticated brand advertisers, they should start.
Now, most early-career candidates understand they need to market themselves to voters. But marketing and branding aren’t the same thing. Marketing is the process that supports bringing a brand to market.
Branding, meanwhile, involves developing things like a candidate’s public image, personality, awareness, perception, values and messaging. The brand must resonate in every aspect of an overall campaign. In fact, crafting a brand is a bit more complicated than just putting up a logo, or communicating policy issues.
On Ted Cruz’s presidential, branding was an essential part of the campaign. But not at first. When I was brought in to serve as a brand strategist, initially it was hard for me to break the rest of the senior staff from mindset of: "This is how we always have done things before.”
The corporate world where I came from is not immediately embraced in the political world. But the corporate methodology caught on after it began to show results during the primaries. It’s easy to forget that Cruz was one of 17 candidates when the race for the GOP nomination started.
Branding was one of the tools we used to break through the media noise of the other candidates. Moving forward, here are three lessons we learned from this experience.
Get To The Essence Of The Candidate
Before a campaign officially launches, dig deep into the essence of the candidate and what he/she stands for. This helps ensure that his or her message is not just a word salad, but a true representation of what he/she is made of.
I trained the Cruz campaign to be engaged in making sure that Cruz’s values, virtues, and view of the world were inherent in all of our messaging and carried through every aspect of our communication. We were dedicated to sculpting the look of the events, the management of our advance teams, and the visual and digital communication pieces to ensure alignment with our brand strategy.
Cruz is a conservative so his values and his positioning as a candidate were clear. The hardest part was bringing that level of consistency to every other area that fell under my watch. I was often labeled the "brand police" for trying to enforce consistency of look, feel and messaging at every level, including the website, our events, marketing material and advance teams. Lack of consistency can hurt a brand more than anything else.
Live Your Brand
Whether it was our campaign launch, or a small town hall, we were driven by our brand. In fact, the only other candidate with a strong brand in the GOP primary field was Donald Trump. That said, Trump had years to develop his brand under the national spotlight. For Cruz, that process continues.
During the campaign cycle, branding can be accelerated with attention to detail. It’s extremely important for campaign teams to understand their candidate’s brand and the consistency of the brand's positioning. Whether seasoned in branding or new to it, the opportunities are awaiting campaigns to drive a winning strategy that is brand driven.
Bonnie Siegel is president & CEO of ASE Group, Inc.