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10 things your brand can learn from Obama’s re-election campaign

Having followed the Obama re-election campaign closely ever since the New Hampshire Primaries in January 2012, I have come to believe that there are important lessons to be drawn for success in leadership branding and getting people to vote for your brand — both on a political and commercial level.

These are ten principles that have helped Obama snatch victory from the jaws of defeat (when the global media were counting him out after the first TV debate with Mitt Romney) and secure a landslide victory that seemed impossible only a few weeks ago.

1. Strategy trumps tactics
Obama’s campaign team understood the dynamics of this election extremely well as they not only got their timing right (almost to the minute) of swaying the undecided voters but also targeting so-called loyal places and clearly defined voter groups such as Hispanics, gay people and women in the swing states that had been secured in 2008.

In Virginia alone (a state that had been predominantly republican for almost half a century), Obama’s field operation included more than 60 offices, hundreds of paid organizers and more than 20,000 volunteers, who, last Saturday alone, placed 560,000 phone calls and knocked on 580 000 doors.

2. Negative advertising does not work any more
After decades of presidential candidates all over the world dragging their opponents through the proverbial mud, electorates have grown tired of being bombarded with negative advertising. Recent surveys have shown that the most popular comments on social media (and the highest EdgeRank views on Facebook) are those that carry a positive message (over 70% of social media users attested to that).

According to a live CNN tracking poll of undecided voters in Colorado, the lowest rated moments for both candidates during the TV debates were moments when they negatively attacked each other.

3. Application hunters beat fault finders
Romney clearly did not get this message as he kept hammering away at everything that Obama had not achieved during his four-year term instead of putting forward an action plan on just how he proposed creating the 12-million jobs he kept promising throughout his campaign.

Obama’s economic pitch dovetailed perfectly with the one policy that helped him most in swing states — the bailout of the car industry. His decision to use government funds to rescue GM and Chrysler, and by extension, the rest of the industry, proved to voters that Obama was intent on fixing the economy rather than playing the partisan game as his opponent kept doing.

4. Collaborative intelligence matters most
In the new economy, there is strong public support for more collaboration and less partisanship in most parts of the world. More collaborative people tend to be more likeable, especially in times of hardship. They are the ones who are able to work with anyone, even those who disagree with them. Perhaps more than any other time in American history, voters realized that this had to be a critical quality in their next president.

Throughout his campaign, Obama by far was the more conciliatory candidate of the two, always looking at the bigger picture of the United States of America rather than the Divided Camps of Political Foes.

5. Connecting with the culture code
According to Clotaire Rapaille, author of “The culture code: why people around the world live and buy as they do”, every country is subscribed to their individual culture code, a set of unwritten rules that determines the behaviour of the constituency at large and determines the leadership style that resonates the most within the populace.

Says Rapaille: “Our leader is the person who leads the rebellion. We are always changing, always moving forward, always reinventing, and we want a president who can direct this process. The president needs to understand what is broken, have a strong idea about how to fix it, and then ‘rebel’ against the problem. We expect our presidents to show us that they know where the country needs to go and how to take us there.”

Especially in the third and final TV debate with Romney, Obama demonstrated more than once a keen understanding of what it will take to restore Brand America and move forward (as his campaign slogan astutely referred to the very American notion of continuously pushing forward).

6. Applying ‘the vision thing’
According to Rapaille, the first George Bush famously derided ‘the vision thing’, and that cost him dearly in the 1992 election. George Washington understood ‘the vision thing’. So did Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and all the other presidents who resonate in our minds as the greatest to lead the nation.

At his final rally in Des Moines, Iowa, Obama put forward his vision of one America where young and old, rich and old, black and white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, democrats and republicans who believe we all have something to contribute. They all deserve a shot at the American dream. When the cynics said they couldn’t, Obama said ‘Yes We Can!’”.

7. Likeability rules
Contrary to popular belief, it is not the rational arguments that tend to swing the undecided, or the “low information voters” (as Bill Maher derisively called them) rather than the irrational factors of trust and likeability. According to Rohit Bhargava, the author of ‘Likeonomics: The unexpected truth behind earning trust, influencing behavior, and inspiring action’, by most accounts, they are the ones who decide US elections, and they cast their votes based on which candidate they like and personally connect with more. After all, the winning candidate is the one that they have to contend with sharing their living room for the next four years.

8. Archetypal branding creates trust
As was very much the case in 2008, at the end of his presidential campaign, Obama successfully adopted the archetype of the creator (the motto of this archetype being “If you can image it, it can be done”) — most effectively so when the natural disaster of superstorm Sandy called upon his leadership qualities. He positioned himself strongly as a hands on leader who managed to rally every single governor of the affected states in a national rescue effort that stood in stark contrast to the ambivalent posturing of his predecessor, George W Bush, during Hurricane Katrina.

9. Getting the facts right
Halfway through his campaign, Mitt Romney claimed that Chrysler was planning to move all production to China (later repeated in a republican ad on national radio), adding fire to his assertion that a trade war with China was looming (and playing to the gallery of advisors who pleaded with him to establish a clearly defined “enemy of the people”).

Unfortunately for Romney, this move backfired badly when Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne went on air declaring that “Jeep production will not be moved from the United states to China”. Chrysler went as far as sending an email to all Chrysler employees to correct Romney’s assertion and allay fears about imminent job losses.

10. Don’t listen to the experts
“Too close to call” — that was the resounding verdict of veteran political analysts all over the world, predicting that this election would be decided in the so-called swing states and that the vote would come down to one or two percentage points in the delegate vote. By now, the margin of victory is 303 to 206, hardly a close call and a very clear indication that Obama’s strategy was vastly superior to that of his opponent.

Will brands heed the lessons gleaned from Obama’s campaign? Only time will tell – especially after very few leaders applied the lessons of inspirational leadership after Obama’s history making campaign in 2008.

  • Somebody has not made his homework. The Chrysler miss-information is unacceptable at this level. Or it is a huge mistake or an intruder has been giving this info purposely just for miss-leading Romney team.
    I agree, that the trust and the charisma played a very high role on this victory. We, from outside the USA, who haven’t follow the campaign as close as the American people, have felt also that Obama is still the proper president for this moment and for the next step in the US and also in the World movement. The big picture delivered by Obama team is that there is still a hope and that there is still the power to acquire it.

  • Copywriter Lu

    Hi, Nik.
    It’s an interesting article you got going on here: how brands should go the Obama way.
    But it’s likely Obama would have lost, and what would you be saying to that?
    And then there was that Obama speech yesterday: if he had lost the elections we would have “missed” his speech. What worries me, though, is I would have like to hear the Romney speech as well, cause i believe he’s still looking at it now… sobbing, perhaps.
    Is there any chance that you can throw in an article like Ten Things Your Brand Can Learn From Romney’s Loss?
    Would appreciate it,
    Thanks Mr. Eberl

  • You obviously did not follow the election closely or maybe you just misunderstood it!

    The Obama campaign place loads of negative ads and the Obama campaign was a negative campaign. This is evident during the debates where instead of focusing on the issues – he was arrogant , sarcastic and attacked Romney. Obama is without substance an this is evident in his support in the media and Hollywood.

    You say Obama outlined an economic plan that resonated with voters , however his plan is more of the same – this won’t work.

    Your take on Romneys Chrysler campaign is incorrect – the ads were factually correct , get your facts straight.

    You say the election was not close in then end stating his electoral college numbers , the facts are that almost half the electorate don’t support Obama or his policies and he how has to govern with a hostile (Republican) congress who are going to fight him every step of the way. Sounds like a booby prize to me.

    Its a pity that people like you focus on things like image and branding instead of substance , perhaps if more people did , idiots like Obama wouldn’t get elected.

  • eish… some one needs to look at the process of the US Electoral College — multiple errors in this I am afraid

  • I reference http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-20009195

    The Point system as specified in the score 303 to 206 is not actually relevant to political win percentage. You will see if you look at the actual popular vote whereby each ballot is counted. the Precentage is 2 and some change between the two candidates. The Electoral College sys taking values of states based on multiple factors, and as such from an outside view this can be rather confusing.

    The analysts said it would be played in i minimal percentage. go through the states and look at it.

    Other points are just as factually flawed. Did you actually follow the election or just go back hunting for an article once it was all over?

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