If it wasn’t already obvious to you that politics is primarily a marketing business, last night’s SOTU festivities ought to have been convincing. President Obama said nothing that wasn’t carefully focus-grouped and poll-tested. He talked about relatively unimportant things that are easy to explain and popular to champion, while virtually ignoring the biggest challenges facing the country because of the complexity, large numbers, and costly remedies involved — all potential turnoffs to the audience.
My friend Mark McNeilly, a longtime marketing executive with IBM and Lenovo who now writes books and teaches B-school courses on marketing, thinks that the Republican party would benefit tremendously from a thorough rebranding effort. Applying his professional expertise, McNeilly has taken an initial stab at the problem, writing up his results for Fast Company magazine. Among the findings that Republican leaders and consultants ought to take to heart:
Using word clouds from the two national conventions, McNeilly concluded that Republicans fail to emphasize terms with emotional resonance while Democrats make extensive use of them. The GOP ought to be talking more about “families,” “opportunity,” and “values” rather than abstractions such as the “economy.”
Speaking of the GOP, McNeilly suggests either redefining the term as the “Growth and Opportunity Party” or ditching it altogether. Also, ditch the elephant as a brand marker. Democrats rarely use the jackass as their symbol, anyway (at least not intentionally). He recommends the use of stars or Lincoln in a new logo.
Marketing messages only work in the long run if they match the messenger and comport with consumer experience of the brand. That means doing a better job of recruiting, training, and supporting young, optimistic, and capable candidates. It also involves delivering on the promise of “opportunity for all” (which is McNeilly’s suggestion for a new Republican tagline), so Republican policymakers must be willing to spend their political capital to advance entrepreneurship, school choice, market-based health reforms, and similar causes.
McNeilly suggests that after developing a new brand manifesto, the Republican party ought to spend some money in 2013 on national advertising campaigns to introduce its new brand. Why advertise now, when the midterms are still a long way off? “If the GOP waits until election time to start advertising,“ he writes, “it will be too late.”
You can read much more about Mark McNeilly’s ideas for rebranding the Republican party here.