From the time we get our start in marketing, we learn how people absorb our messages through the irrefutable power of brands: Find a point of difference, create an emotional connection, promise a benefit to the end user.
And is there any place better than the current election cycle to see this playing out in all its glorious, gory detail? I think not. Let’s have a look.
On the Democratic side, there’s a stark contrast between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Simply put: Hillary is a pretty good product, but a terrible brand, whereas Bernie is, like Barack Obama before him, burnishing a brand that makes supporters tear up with joy and prospects (you know, “undecideds”) sit up with curiosity. A former first lady, senator, and secretary of state with a long list of accomplishments, Hillary has not figured out that it’s all about us, not her. But it didn’t start out this way.
Hillary’s announcement video titled “Getting Started” did a great job of connecting with Americans on an emotional level. It was a powerful film and is her most watched film on her YouTube channel by 10X (currently at 4.9M views). Today, 10 months after her announcement, many of her speeches (New Hampshire), ads (Children), and campaign slogans (Hillary for America) are about “I”– she’s focusing on her product attributes, not benefits to voters. As far back as 2008, she had a slogan “I’m in it to win it.” What’s that got to do with anything?
A recent CNN article counted the pronoun usage in the speeches made by both democratic candidates after the New Hampshire primary. Hillary used the pronouns “I” or “me” in that speech 44 times. She used the words “we” or “us” less than half that amount — 21 times. For Sanders, it was the exact opposite. Sanders used the words “I” or “me” 26 times. “We” or “us” was used more than twice as much — 54 times.
Bernie makes it completely about the voters, why they should be upset, and what they’ll get from him. But beyond the rational points (free college tuition!), he is delivering a deeply emotional and patriotic message while screaming about revolution. It’s a neat trick he’s pulling off. His “America” ad is a viral sensation and his new “Together” ad is on its way there as well. And the tracking numbers, both on YouTube and in the polls, demonstrate the power of his approach: “America” has earned 3.3 million YouTube views –over 2.7 million more than any Hillary video in the past 10 months – and within a month of its release, Bernie’s poll numbers rose almost 5% (his numbers have since declined following Super Tuesday but are still higher than they were before the ad was released).
Across the aisle, there can be no question that Donald Trump is displaying marketing discipline with his distinct point of view and message to voters (“Make America Great Again”). His brand is well-defined and vanquishing rivals with more self-centered slogans (“Jeb!”).
If Hillary wants to cement the lead she’s now created coming out of Super Tuesday, and set herself up for the general election against a marketing ninja (yeah, him…), she should return to where her campaign started with a similar tone to that of “Getting Started” and limit her policy-driven messaging. And Bernie? He should continue to make sure we all “Feel the Bern.”
First Appeared on Forbes.com