Branding Rules Apply, Even on the Campaign Trail

one red comment bubble overlapping a blue comment bubble both have outlines of faces in them

Mitt Romney’s recent VP pick, Paul Ryan, has the media buzzing, devoting all their time and effort to dissecting the true identity of the Congressman from Wisconsin. The media is attempting to answer an important question for this election: what is the Ryan brand?

A brand is the perceptions you hold in the minds of your key audiences – what they say and think and feel about you. Branding is the art and science of creating those perceptions. In picking Ryan, Romney is trying to reframe the conversation around his own brand and change the impressions that the media and voters have of him.

An article recently published by HBR addresses the rebranding challenge that presidential hopeful Romney faces, and the crucial role Paul Ryan has played in this apparent branding issue. The author, Dorie Clark, a strategy consultant, writes of Romney’s identity crisis, “Once someone has an entrenched perception of who you are, it can be extremely difficult to reshape that opinion. That’s certainly the case for Mitt Romney, whose greatest branding liability is his perceived lack of authenticity.” Clark is not alone in her thinking. A New York Times article from The Opinion Pages says of Romney’s personal brand, or lack there of, “…Team Romney has tried to construct a Brand Romney. This problem of who he is, Romney acknowledged last year, has plagued him ever since he became a public figure.” Clearly, there is some agreement over the public identity Romney puts forth in relation to his views and initiatives as a political figure–that being his identity is unclear.

For a public figure or a global corporation, consistency in messaging is critical to establishing an authentic brand. This is especially important in the political realm due to the scrutiny candidates face throughout the campaign process, as well as over the course of their career. Romney has been deemed by various media outlets as  “untrustworthy, inauthentic, a flip flopper, vacuous, and unknowable.” Team Romney, it seems, is also having trouble defining Brand Romney. The root cause, as it relates to this campaign: they have thus far been unable to identify his true differentiators – those attributes that resonate strongly with voters and that only he can claim – and communicate them in a consistent and compelling manner.

This is a common branding challenge. The approach to finding these differentiators is the same as it would be for any brand, and we cover the process fairly extensively in this recent whitepaper. It always begins with research to understand audiences’ perceptions and needs, the development of an overarching positioning that succinctly encompasses the brand’s unique value proposition, and supporting messages that resonate powerfully.

The challenge for the Romney team will be identifying the unique value proposition of both Romney and Ryan (as individuals and as a team) and weaving it into a cohesive brand strategy. It needs to be credible and defensible, but also aspirational, something Americans and the media believe and can believe in. While certain messages will inevitably be adapted to appease different constituencies, the core messages – the heart of the Brand Romney story- need to remain consistent throughout the campaign. That is the only path to authenticity.

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