Super Tuesday is finally upon us, giving us the best indication yet of how each presidential candidate’s brand promise translates into actual votes. Like many, I have been following the presidential election process with some interest. As a long-time entrepreneur, I think it is a fascinating study of the market for American voters. I have read many attempts to explain the surprising rise of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. The standard answer is some form of “the people are angry and want an ‘outsider.’” However, this opinion is from people who spend all of their time inside the political bubble and view the world as insiders versus outsiders. I don’t believe the vast majority of voters see the world that way.
The Presidential election is like any other market, and American voters (customers) make decisions no differently than they do in other markets. Today’s voters are bombarded with multimedia attempts to attract their attention and money. Marketers know how hard it is to penetrate the noise and get the attention of their target consumer. The ability of a brand to communicate a simple promise that people value is critical to success.
As any marketer will tell you, however, this is very hard work. For only the second time in forty years, there is no sitting president or vice president in the mix. Because of this, all of the candidates – perhaps other than Secretary Clinton – must create their presidential brand promise from scratch.
So how have the presidential candidates done in creating their brands? It is clear that some have been more successful than others. While I am no fan of Donald Trump, he has a huge advantage in this area having spent his entire adult life marketing his personal brand. Many people immediately associate his name with “winning.” Of course, as in any other market, Trump doesn’t have to win all the customers. A consistent plurality of the Republican customers will gain him the party’s nomination. Then he simply has to beat one other brand to win the presidency.
Among the other Republican candidates, are there any clear brands? Rubio, Cruz, Kasich and Carson have struggled here. Maybe Carson is the nice guy candidate, but the market for that brand is fairly small.
The brand promise concept offers a pointer for these candidates on how to attack Trump. The only attack that will be effective is one that dilutes his brand promise. This is why it is so important to Trump that people believe his business success and net worth, and why he probably won’t make his tax returns public. Anything that suggests he is not really the winner he claims to be will hurt him deeply. Almost any other issue will only be a flesh wound.
On the Democratic side, when I think of Bernie Sanders I immediately associate him with helping the poor. Whether I agree with his plans or not, I know the brand promise and can make a decision accordingly. As for the other candidates in the race, things are murkier. Secretary Clinton, while well-known by the general public, has not established a clear brand promise. Is she trying to recreate the “success” of her husband’s presidency, be the first woman president, or capitalize on her long history of political activism? Simple is better when it comes to marketing.
For entrepreneurs, establishing a brand promise from scratch is really difficult, but if done well the potential payout is huge. Focus on consistently driving the message home in everything you do. If you aren’t sick of hearing it, you probably haven’t talked about it enough. The Donald has pounded his message home and may win the biggest market in America. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when you arrive on your personal 757!