Barack Obama rose to the US presidency on the power of one of the greatest and most thoughtful tech-driven viral branding and marketing campaigns in history. Brand Obama was a phenomenon for six years and two national elections.
And then suddenly the power of the brand began to deteriorate– slowly at first but then with the speed of a gathering avalanche. The question is, how did this happen and what can we learn from it for our businesses/our careers?
It all starts with the fact that the core of a great brand is not a logo but instead a “promise.” The brand promise defines what the product/service/candidate stands for. When people are attracted to the promise, they buy it. When they love the promise, they spread the word virally. When Obama promised “hope and change” from the weary old ways of Washington, the brand caught fire. And those who were happy with it and voted for the charismatic President stayed with him, even through the inevitable bumps in the road that face any product/service/candidate. Starbucks has had its setbacks but always rebounds. Amazon is in the midst of a writers’ revolt but the vast majority of its customers still adore the brand.
Things go south, at times implode, when a brand misleads. When it is perceived as no longer trustworthy. For Obama (regardless of anyone’s political position), this turning point occurred when his “promise” that one could keep their doctors and medical plans proved to be erroneous. Whether this was intentional or not, many believed that the Obama brand could no longer be taken at face value.
Once this crack in the dam occurred, the President’s actions were open to much higher levels of scrutiny. Does he work hard enough? Does he vacation too often? Is he just another politician? Is he soft in the foreign arena?
Independent polls are now revealing that Obama’s popularity is declining rapidly. In fact, his brand is collapsing. Who he is, how intelligently he thinks through issues, the way he views the world and his role– none of this may have changed.
But that’s not the point. Once trust in a brand is weakened, the love affair is over. The key is to recognize when that “crack in the damn” occurs in any brand and to take decisive action:
1. Correct any misconception that has led to brand confusion and apologize for it.
2. Demonstrate with specificity how you will move forward to restore confidence in the brand.
3. Recognize that a simple “open letter” will not suffice. Management (or a candidate) must communicate by doing as well as by speaking.
4. Meet with the key influencers in your market and seek their help in restoring the power of the brand and the loyalty to it.
Waiting too long inevitably leads to a loss that cannot be recovered. Brand Obama is still waiting.