Branding Lessons from the 2008 Presidential Election

The 2008 Presidential Election has finally ended, and the results provide a valuable lesson in branding.  In simplest terms, people are changing – quickly.  The social web has certainly played a part in making that change move so fast.  Never before has the exchange of information and ideas been easier or faster.  With the power of the social web and the word-of-mouth marketing it fosters, people have chosen a brand promise of “inclusion” over one of “exclusion”. 

In other words, President-elect Barack Obama ran a campaign based on an inclusive brand promise, while Senator John McCain’s campaign focused primarily on his core supporters, conservative Americans, with many people outside of that demographic feeling excluded.  While Barack Obama spoke of wanting to meet with world leaders regardless of the United States’ current relationship with them in order to start a dialogue and move forward, John McCain repeatedly stated that he would not sit down and converse with these same leaders.  At the end of the day, the majority of Americans supported the brand promise of inclusion and cast their votes for Barack Obama.

The results of the election demonstrate a shift in thinking that can be directly applied to consumerism as well.  Earlier this week, I was corresponding with a potential client that has a reputation of being exclusive – you’re with us or against us, not unlike the George Bush doctrine that Senator John McCain continued in his own campaign.  I mentioned to this client that the social web has dictated a change in brand strategy away from being exclusionary to being inclusionary.  In short, I’d rather have the online buzz about a brand be supportive and positive than negative, simply because some consumers don’t feel welcome to the party, so to speak. 

Naturally, every brand has its core demographic customer, or its “best” customer, but that doesn’t mean consumers who don’t fit the mold should be made to feel any less valuable.  It’s a fine line between boosting ROI from your marketing initiatives and maintaining an inclusive brand image.

The lesson to learn is to embrace all consumers using a brand promise of inclusion – everyone is welcome to the brand party.  While every consumer might not be 100% happy with your brand or might not support every aspect of your brand promise, it’s better to agree to disagree and move forward in unity than it is to turn your backs on consumers. 

This could be considered a protectionist strategy, but the power of the social web has dictated a shift.  Brands must get on board and leverage the power of the online buzz and citizen journalism or they risk consumers feeling excluded and driving a negative buzz that can damage a brand in the short and long-term.

What do you think?

Image: Flickr


  1. Scott says

    Great post! Very insightful for businesses. Let’s hope they heed your advice and accept/leverage the role that the social web now has in the marketplace.

  2. says

    I’d take one step back and say that social media is just one tool in the overall strategy and brand. I agree with all the shifts in consumerism and voter psychology, but the principal is ancient — create a strong consistent brand and people will follow it. It just so happens he stood for all the right things at exactly the right time.

    I wrote about it myself, with photos and video support:

  3. Susan Gunelius says

    Scott, Thank you. That’s definitely my point. The country is changing and consumer demands are changing with it. Let’s hope companies realize it soon!

  4. Susan Gunelius says

    Prescott, thanks for including the link to your post, which is awesome as always! You provide a great, in-depth analysis of the Obama campaign and associated brand strategy. It really is a perfect lesson in branding.

  5. says

    Online Buzz is the top online social media tool. The Barack campaign was up to date and very active on any network it could spread the word in. We finally see the relevance and importance of branding in today’s world.

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