Message and Branding and Dean

In marketing message is everything. If you want a message to sink in it can’t be complicated. Short and simple, repeat it over and over again. The basics. Think about the most successful brand marketing and you’ll realize that it is about a very short message that you hear over and over, and pretty soon that message is what the product/company/candidate/whatever IS. You “brand” a product with an emotional image that you want the customer to feel whenever your product is thought of. That message becomes identified with the product. Lexus = luxury. WalMart = cheap. Jetta = youth. Scope = get kissed. Campbell’s Soup = mmm good. Marlboro = manly. Virginia Slims = feminine. Chevy = Apple Pie/America. Sony = quality. Hot Sauce=Tobasco. (For some reason I’m having trouble thinking of these tonite…)

Often the branding is the ONLY difference, yet it causes customers to make a clear distinction or to pay a premium. For an example look at the ingredients in the cold remedies or pain relievers at the drug store. You take a product, maybe soap flakes, put it into two different boxes, repeat over and over again a different message about each of the boxes, and that is what the product IS — regardless of what it really is. One of the boxes contains “BOB’S JEAN WASH” a basic soap for washing blue jeans, and costs $4.99. The other is “LEXO SHORT PREMIUM” a high-end soap, used only for expensive cotton shirts, and a box costs $7.99. If this message is repeated often enough I bet you that every house in America will have one box of each, and the BOB’S is only used to wash blue jeans, and the LEXO is only used to wash expensive cotton shirts, and the customer won’t have it any other way! Marketing WORKS!

It works with candidates, as well. Republicans know how to do this. You decide the message of the candidate, and repeat it over and over, and IT DOES NOT MATTER if it is a truth, or consistent, it becomes what the person IS. Bush said, over and over, that he was going to bring “honor and integrity back to the White House” and said it again, and then again, and pretty soon he was the guy who was going to bring honor and integrity back to the White House. It DID NOT MATTER that Bush had no honor or integrity, because he had a clear message and repeated over and over that he had honor and integrity SO THAT BECAME WHAT HE WAS. And he was able to repeat over and over that Gore was a liar. This is how marketing and repetition works.

If this sounds simplistic, in marketing and mass communication you CAN’T oversimplify. The shorter the message the more effective it is. It is a basic rule of hi-tech marketing that you have to have what is known as your “Elevator speech.” This is the description of your entire product strategy/company/whatever, that you can say in the amount of time it takes to ride a couple of floors in an elevator. Because for an interested person that is all the time you get to convey everything to either win the person over or lose the person forever.

I think the Iowa caucuses were all about beating Bush. The only question was, “How is he going to beat Bush?” I think a candidate’s positions on jobs, national security, and other issues were relevant only so far as Iowans imagined most American voters responding to the positions, not their OWN response. (And probably mostly in terms of imagining those other voters seeing Bush as = security after 9/11.)

Here are the simple messages, or “brands,” that I think people went to the caucuses with:

Kerry = War hero

Edwards = From the South/Nice

Dean = Money & supporters/Fighter

Gephardt = Unions

But Dean allowed himself to be defined/branded by others as “angry,” and that, of course, scared Iowa voters. (Previously they tried defining him as “extremist/McGovern,” but that didn’t stick, so along came “angry.”)

Sun Tzu’s Art of War says to beat a powerful enemy you must “find the weakness in his strength.” If Dean’s strength is being a fighter who is ready to get in Bush’s face, then “angry” is the weakness in that strength. So Dean got branded as the “angry” candidate and this is Dean’s fault. The reason it is Dean’s fault is that if Dean is going to go up against Bush, and is ready to fight back, that means that he shouldn’t be so easily defined by opponents — because that is what Republicans DO. He should already have a team in place ready to counter that basic tactic — defining your opponent!

To me, this is about getting some things done, not about marrying a candidate. It isn’t about “loyalty” whatever Joe Lieberman says. Yes, it’s about changing the Democratic Party, but mostly it is about going into a fight to save the country, maybe the world, and finding the best candidate to do that. That is why I turned away from Kerry and supported Dean.

Dean has a few days to turn this around. And it is up to HIM to do this. He can blame the press or “negative campaigning” but that’s the playing field he is on. If he can turn it around, then maybe he does deserve to be the nominee. If he can’t, than maybe we would do better sending someone else up against Bush — IF we can find someone who is better. I think he’s a smart guy, and I expect he will do a good job of this.

Now it is time for Dean to show us he can win.