Can Short-Term Brand "Candidate Obama" Transform Successfully Into Long-Term Brand "President Obama"?
Dan Herman, Ph.D.
A spate of recent articles about the Obama brand have, in my view as an expert on marketing, neglected the brand's strategy and focused its verbal or visual expressions. But far more important is the distinction between the short-term brand, "Candidate Obama," and the long-term brand, "President Obama."
So far candidate Obama's campaign exemplifies perfect wizardry in short term branding. For those who had not yet encountered this terminology, a short term brand is a pre-planned meteoric and relatively short-lived marketing success. "The Da Vinci Code," is a classic example. Huge success – but fleeting.
Short term branding entails the kindling of enthusiasm, expertly and speedily, in a selected target group. Its usual purpose is to motivate members of the group to buy a product promptly and buzz about it. Other times, as in our case, it is to propel the group to volunteer, donate, evangelize and vote on a certain date. In contrast, long term branding endeavors to establish a long term demand (or support) based on an enduring preference and trust. Think of your allegiance to a particular brand of toothpaste.
The relevance of short term branding to political campaigning is evident. This is true especially when the candidate is relatively unknown, and his or her political and leadership records are too limited to flaunt.
Every brand, short or long term, holds a promise of benefit to its target audience. It is the expectation of this benefit that stimulates desire. A short term brand (as opposed to a long term one) presents a transitory opportunity to achieve such a benefit. Thought of this way, the Obama campaign's promise is clear and unique: "here we are giving you a one-time opportunity to impact history by electing the first African-American President of the United States".
But isn't this promise similar to that of the Clinton campaign, if we, say, substitute "female" for "African-American"? It could have been, but it is definitely not. The main reason is that Senator Clinton's campaign is not about this equally momentous opportunity. It is about "Clinton as president". Therefore, Clinton is already running a presidential campaign, i.e., attempting to build a long term brand. She is trying to inspire trust, while Senator Obama is spreading enthusiasm, taking advantage of the benefits of short term branding.
My 80%-20% Marketing Hits Formula postulates that a successful STB (Short Term Brand) will be 80% conventional format and 20% innovation. The 80% part is meant to dissolve resistance and to ease acceptance and, therefore, will challenge the consumer only minimally to learn and adjust. Prima facie, the Obama campaign has all the elements of such a campaign. It has a logo, an emblem, a slogan and it employs all the customary one-to-many communication tactics. That is the 80% part.
However, it is the other 20%—the innovation—that delivers on the brand's promise and drives the STB phenomenon. The Formula says that the 20% must be innovative in a way that will entice action. One of the main rules of short term branding is to use something very contemporary and cool, or something which stimulates a Wow response of pleasant surprise and wonder, or something that is twisted, unexpected and provocative in some manner.
The chieftains of the Obama campaign team opted for cool. Personal expression and activism as well as social networks constitute the cool "now". These are the exact trends that the Obama campaign has used in a pioneering fashion.
Its remarkable use of the Internet is all about inviting, empowering and enabling people "to make history" on their own. On BarackObama.com people can find plenty of means to do that. They can create their own blogs, send in policy recommendations, find other supporters in their area (thus creating a quasi-social network), organize events, set up their own fund raising mini site, get call lists and scripts, download videos, photos, ringtones and any other "now" cyber service you can think of. The use of social networks from FaceBook to niche demographic ones such as Blackplanet and Asianwave sends a message that everyone is included and reinforces the feeling of brotherhood amongst people from all races and origins. The many viral clips on YouTube produced by supporters and fans are a natural outgrowth: people doing their own thing within the framework of a "history making" movement.
All of that understood, does the success of the short-term brand ,"Candidate Obama," foretell similar success for the completely different, long-term brand, "President Obama?" Not necessarily! If Senator Obama wins the Democratic Party nomination, we must expect a switch in voters' perceptions. They will then begin to give increasingly more weight to the potentially long-term "President Obama" brand, at the expense of the weight they had given to the "Candidate Obama" brand previously. It will not suffice to be a part of a history making movement. Voters will be interested in the promise of the "President Obama" brand, which has to be a promise in which they can believe. In other words, they will want to know how President Obama will function as president at these challenging times for America, regardless of his racial identity.
The open-ended, "let's do it together" leadership style that is such a powerful element of the "Candidate Obama" brand may even become a setback during the presidential campaign stage. To win against Senator McCain, Obama will have to more distinctly shape the "President Obama" brand as well as its promise to Americans in a strongly persuasive manner. Among other tasks he will have to explain in a crystal clear manner how he is going to redefine the leadership of the United States in the world and how he is going to integrate its economy with the global economy in a healthier manner.
If he wins the nomination, then this will certainly be the next challenge which the "President Obama" campaign masters will have to overcome: to smoothly handle the transition from short-term brand "Candidate Obama" to long-term brand "President Obama". Time will most certainly tell.
Dan Herman, Ph.D., is a globally renowned strategy consultant, a keynote lecturer and workshop leader and the author of "Outsmart the MBA Clones: The Alternative Guide to Competitive Strategy, Marketing, and Branding" (http://www.outsmart-mba-clones.com).
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