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According to published reports, Barack Obama’s victory in the Presidential election was celebrated around the world. Here in Richmond, Virginia, the former capital of the confederacy, election night took on powerful symbolism as supporters encircled the statue of Robert E. Lee with Obama signs.

But what led to this historic outcome? The sharp contrast between the campaigns of John McCain and Barack Obama provide a lesson in the fundamental nature of brands.

Brands are not the product of logos, slogans or jingles. They are built through consistent, predictable behavior. This predictability provides consumers with a reference point for the brand. They come to expect a consistent experience that gives them confidence that future experiences will be equally positive. When companies behave unpredictably, they imperil their brand. 

So which campaign was more consistent and predictable? Barack Obama’s team never wavered from the calm, pragmatic optimism that characterized its communications. Contrast this with McCain’s campaign, which seemed to leap from one opportunistic message to another. His team abruptly halted the campaign, and then hastily restarted it. They drifted from Bill Ayers, to Joe the Plumber, to celebrities to socialism. It felt like we were all sitting in a focus group as their campaign staff asked us “how about this one? No? How about that one?”

Another major failing of the McCain campaign was their focus on the competition. Look at the TV ad section of their website (below) and you’ll notice the face on most of McCain’s ads is Obama’s. It’s hard to build a brand while constantly invoking other brands. Consumers want to know your story, not the other guy’s. What were his campaign managers thinking when the chose to bypass McCain’s own accomplishments to latch onto the dubious saga of a tax-delinquent plumber?

Great brands become great, not by skipping from place to place in an attempt to pander to consumer whims. They act with conviction and they communicate with clarity and consistency. Ask yourself which candidate best fits that description and I don’t think you’ll have any trouble picking the winner.

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McCain ads from his campaign website

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