This is the first in a three-part series in which I will look at how Barack Obama and his staff are branding America during his tenure in the White House. Whatever your political views, the Obama Administration is directing one of the largest budgets in the world and has arguably the most difficult marketing task of any global organization. It’s also hard to deny that Obama has already created one of the most successful political brands in American history, one that has captured the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of people worldwide. President Obama and his staff now have the task of uniting the world around America the same way they united voters around his campaign.
The Obama Administration Brand Story
Note: I have not listened to any punditry or analysis of President Obama’s address, nor have I read the text of his speech. I watched it live with the rest of the world and I have not seen or heard it since, so this is what stuck with me.
A successful brand story is one that can be summed up by a simple message. For example, Apple has branded itself as computers that work (the counter to that idea is that Windows PC’s don’t). In order to communicate that message, the story must be told in different ways using themes that help the message resonate with a variety of people. Extending the Apple example, they have told stories about how easy it is to switch to Apple, how easy it is to setup an Apple (just plug it in), and that Apple computers work so well they even work with Windows.
It is important to use themes to communicate a brand’s message because a brand is little more than an individual’s interpretation of a person, group or organization. By communicating a story through different themes, people are able to better bond with the brand you are trying to sell them. Themes also create a better story. They allow you to consistently say the same thing without sounding like a broken record.
In his Inaugural Address, I believe Barack Obama’s message was: We, as Americans and as World Citizens, are all in this together (the counter to that idea is that if you’re not with us, you’re against us).
Now, Obama never said this, just like Apple never says, “our computers work and theirs don’t.” A brand’s success isn’t a measured by a person’s ability to regurgitate a message. A brand’s success is measured by the belief a person has in the brand; the trust they have in the brand. So while the message was not specifically stated, it was interwoven through his entire speech, and told primarily through three themes. Each of these themes reached out to a different group of people, allowing individuals within these groups the opportunity to internalize the message (the brand) he was trying to communicate.
To reach Americans, Obama spoke about the sacrifices we all have to make to rebuild our nation. To reach humanitarians and the downtrodden, he said that America is ready to lead the world into a new era of acceptance and equality. To reach foreign leaders, he stated that we are extending our hand in friendship, and warned them against meeting our hand with a fist.
The point here is not in the details of what President Obama said, but in how he constructed each of these themes around his brand message. Each theme skillfully incorporated and reinforced his message. This allowed him to communicate that message to as many people as possible while keeping the story simple and memorable.
While you probably aren’t branding an organization with a trillion dollar operating budget, you can still use these principals to craft a successful message and tell a great story for your brand. The key is to identify what you want to say, and then shape that message into different themes that your target audience will be able to internalize. The creation of the brand story is the first step in a successful brand.