Category Archives: Public Affairs

A Tale of Two Brands

One week after Donald Trump’s stunning win in the presidential election, the debate is still going on, as to how he was able to pull off his stunning election victory. One reason that is being overlooked and should be studied by business communicators and CEOs is that Trump regardless of if you love him or hate him was consistent with his brand identity.  In every election since Franklin Roosevelt’s re-election in 1936, the candidate who came across as being more authentic with his brand identity won the election.  This election was no exception.

A brand needs to tell a story.  That story needs to be consistent and reflect the brands values and beliefs.  It is what consumers and voters buy into and will allow a brand to develop a loyalty that will allow it to survive in hard times and flourish in good times.

Donald Trump over the years has built a brand identity based upon being brash, abrasive, in your face, decisive, and one who never backs down.  This identity has been built upon countless interviews, books, product lines, and of course Celebrity Apprentice.  It is why Americans felt that they knew him, the moment he announced his candidacy, while other candidates like Scott Walker, John Kasich, and even Ted Cruz were struggling to introduce themselves to the American public.  This familiarity with the Trump brand is why he was able to survive incidents that would have taken down another candidate (insulting John McCain, the Megyn Kelly episode, the Access Hollywood tape).  Millions of voters just saw these events as Trump being Trump and were neither shocked nor angered.  They saw it as Trump being consistent with his brand.

Contrast this with Hillary Clinton.  Voters were never sure what her brand identity was.  She introduced more new Hillarys during the campaign, then Richard Nixon had new Nixons in his entire career.  First she was the mother and grandmother breaking the glass ceiling.  Next she was the most experienced candidate to ever seek the White House.  After that, she was the progressive Hillary in the mode of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.  This shifted over time to the consensus candidate who would unite America.  Yet at the end voters were uncertain if she was any of these brands.

But it just isn’t in politics that we see this.  Recall the Duck Dynasty scandal several years ago when Phil Robertson made homophobic and racist remarks.  He and Duck Dynasty survived and continue to flourish because he was seen as being consistent with the brand.  Yet Paula Deen who was seen for years as a nice grandmotherly person saw her brand crumble when it was revealed she had used the ‘n’ word.  This went against her whole brand identity and she has yet to this day to recover.

The lesson that Trump and others serve is that by being consistent with a brand identity forged over the year will allow a brand to weather the worse of scandals and allow for even greater success.  Having no brand identity or going against an established brand identity is a recipe for disaster.


Five Communications Lessons From Trump’s Win

Americans elected Donald Trump as President on Tuesday.  It was the political upset heard around the world as every poll and pundit had predicted a Hillary Clinton victory.  Without a doubt it was our version of the famous Harry Truman upset over Thomas Dewey in 1948.  Even more so for business communicators Trump’s strategy provides some lessons on how to effectively communicate.

So what were the lessons?

  1. Have a message.  Whether you liked Donald Trump’s message regarding immigration, the Affordable Care Act, or banning Muslims, he had a message and stayed on those major points throughout the campaign.  People knew where he stood on issues and by his consistency of message appeared to be a strong leader at a time when America was looking for a strong leader.  Clinton on the other hand seemed bland with her statements which seemed as if they had all been focused group tested before she made them.  A clear message will win every time.
  2. How you say it matters. Trump had an almost uncanny sense of what voters wanted to hear and how they wanted to hear it.  He realized more than what he said, how he said it to voters mattered.
  3. Social media is effective. Trump was mocked for his late night tweets on Twitter.  Yet he understood the power of social media far better than anyone else.  It wasn’t by accident that he has more followers on Twitter than President Obama has.  He understood that social media provided a cost-efficient way to reach voters and engage them.
  4. Be true to your brand. Trump was attacked time and again for his over the top statements and being politically incorrect.  Yet that was his brand that he had developed over the years through Celebrity Apprentice, media interviews, and business deals.  He was being consistent with that brand identity and that is why he was not hurt with his statements.  Clinton on the other hand seemed to be rebranding herself throughout the campaign, leaving voters to wonder who was the real Hillary.
  5. Know your audience. Trump knew throughout the campaign who he was trying to reach – the Silent Majority as Richard Nixon called them or the Reagan Democrats as they were rebranded – and tailored his statements and appeal to that audience.  Clinton on the other hand never seemed to know who she was trying to reach.  Was it the Obama coalition?  Disgruntled Republicans?  Undecided independents?  And at the end that was fatal as her vote totals among core Democratic constituencies was far lower than that of previous Democratic candidates.

The 2016 election will be studied for years.  Donald Trump will become the modern day version of Harry Truman with Hillary Clinton as the Thomas Dewey foil.  Yet for communicators, the key is learning and incorporating the successful communications strategies from the election.

What Businesses Can Learn From This Year’s Political Conventions – Social Media Is King

The 2016 political conventions are upon us. Unlike political conventions of the past, the suspense is gone on who will be the nominee and no intense battles over party platforms are fought out at the conventions. The political convention in this day and age is in many ways an infomercial for the presidential nominee and their political party. Yet millions of Americans still tune into the convention. Yet the way they tune in to obtain coverage is one studied intensely by businesses so that they can copy the methods to reach the consumer.

Political communications leads businesses in new ways to reach consumers and position their brands. In 1920 and 1924, radio came of age covering the Republican and Democratic conventions. Businesses paid note of that and the increasing number of Americans who owned a radio. The result was that businesses began reaching out to Americans via radio – sponsored shows like Little Orphan Annie(the forerunner of product placements) and direct advertisements. In 1952, as Dwight Eisenhower and Robert A. Taft battled it out for control of the Republican Party, millions were glued to the convention proceedings on television that was just reaching its potential. Again businesses took note that a new way to reach consumers had emerged.

So what can businesses learn from this year’s political conventions?

Social media is king. The television networks have all cut back on their coverage of the conventions (a trend that has been going on for a while now with all of the suspense gone). Americans are paying attention to the conventions not with traditional sources of media (radio, television, or print) but via social media – Twitter and Facebook. This confirms something we have seen over the past several years – social media sets narratives. In fact a tweet or Facebook post often reaches more people than a television broadcast of the proceedings. Beyond that, people react to what they are seeing on social media. The takeaway from this convention season for businesses – social media is only growing stronger as are the ways to use it. A shrewd business leaders will copy what they are seeing at the conventions and use the methods.

Business always follows politics in terms of how to reach consumers. It has been this way since politics became the competitive and partisan profession it is today. Each election cycle offers business leaders lessons on new ways to reach the consumer and make their brand standout. The next two weeks will provide many examples of this – just stay tuned.

Midterm Communications Strategies

The midterm elections are history. Republicans retook the United States Senate for the first time since 2006. In the United States House of Representatives they increased their majority to the largest since the presidency of Herbert Hoover. The Republican campaign theme was one of opposition to President Obama and his policies and voters responded with one of the greatest repudiations of a sitting President’s party since Harry Truman in 1946.

A negative communications strategy of opposition to President Obama gave the Republicans their victory. But now that they have won, how must their communication strategy change if they hope to maintain and even expand their majorities?

  1. Republicans must change their communication strategy from one of simply being opposed to Barack Obama to one that offers positive conservative alternatives. The Republicans need to show voters what they are for and what they believe in. To be successful, Republicans need to communicate their ideas that they believe will solve the nation’s problems in a way different then politics as usual. They need to show a vision. In short, they need to take a leaf out of their icon, Ronald Reagan’s playbook.
  2. The Republicans need to communicate that they are willing to work with President Obama as a partner if he is willing to reach across the aisle to them. Many voters have complained about the lack of willingness of each side to try to come together to offer concrete solutions. By making that statement, Republicans would seize the high ground in terms of a communication strategy.
  3. Use effective spokespersons. Republicans have suffered lately because many of their spokespersons have come across as grumpy old white men. With a large number of female legislators such as Mia Love and Joni Ernst, and an African-American Senator in South Carolina’s Tim Scott, Republican leaders should put these leaders at the forefront in communicating the Republican message and showing minorities that their party is an inclusive party.
  4. Communicate their opposition to President Obama in positive terms. Many voters agree with the Republican message of opposition to President Obama. The voters don’t like it conveyed in harsh and biting rhetoric. Republicans need to frame their opposition in positive ways, keep it from being personal, and let voters know how their opposition to President Obama will benefit voters.
  5. Keep the message on results. One of the great failings Republicans in the House of Representatives have had is in communicating what they have accomplished. This failure has led many to dub the outgoing Congress, a do-nothing Congress and register some of the lowest approval numbers ever. The challenge for Republicans is to communicate to voters what they are achieving.

Republicans won a historic landslide with a communication strategy of negative attacks. As they now seek to maintain and increase their majority, they must change communication strategies or their majority will be short lived.