brand story
Marketing Content Strategy

5 Lessons in Brand Story from the 2016 Presidential Election

8 Minute Read

597 days.

That’s how old the 2016 Presidential Election will be on Election Day.

For perspective: President Obama had almost a year and a half left of his term when we first started talking about the next president. A baby born at the beginning of election season could likely say the winner’s name when s/he is elected. Pew Research reported that over half of Americans will be sick of the coverage when it is finally time to vote. Who can blame them?

Five hundred ninety-seven days is nothing compared to the longevity of some American brands. Through consistent approaches to brand story and an appeal to people of all ages, these brands have withstood the changing times. Dixon Ticonderoga (the pencils we were all required to use when taking standardized tests), was established in 1795. Jim Beam, established in 1795 as well, is currently being run by the seventh generation of the Beam family.

But though campaign season may be (slightly) shorter than a brand’s lifetime, candidates and brands must master the same tactics and use them in their content strategies. In any election season, politicians are required to create a campaign that lasts months, sometimes years, starting off small leading up to the primary and ending big in the general election. The same is true for brands.

A baby born at the beginning of election season could likely say the winner’s name when s/he is elected.

After 597 days, only one candidate will succeed to hold the most powerful job in the country. And the winner of the election will have succeeded in the same way that brands have: with a great story.

How is it that these candidates continue to tell the same stories throughout the season while keeping them interesting and relevant to potential voters? And how can today’s brands translate those tactics into brand stories that stand alongside the Ticonderogas and Jim Beams of the world? Here are five key lessons in content strategy from this (seemingly endless) election season.

Swearing in

1. For the Slogan: Keep it Broad

When you think of this year’s election, two main thoughts (among others) probably pop into your head: “I’m With Her” and “Make America Great Again.” These slogans are the core foundations of this year’s election season, encompassing everything that the Democratic and Republican candidates stand for and driving their strategies for the long haul. When creating a campaign that spans years, coming up with a slogan that is flexible enough to bend to each phase of the campaign can help result in victory.

A candidate has to keep her/his slogan broad in order to attract the most potential voters. The more ways a slogan can be interpreted, the better. In this year’s election, Hillary Clinton’s slogan of “I’m With Her” is straight to the point. There is no question of who “Her” is, or who that person is voting for. It’s catchy enough to even use in a sentence to answer questions about the election. The same could be said for Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again.” There’s no question of what he wants to achieve as a president: bring America back to the time when he considered it to be great. These broad slogans help Clinton and Trump appeal to voters of different ages, races, statuses, genders, and those in other criteria because each of these slogans can be interpreted by every individual in a way that relates to them.

In contrast, a slogan too narrow has the potential to alienate voters and could cost the candidate the campaign. A slogan that only appeals to certain types of people completely shuts off voters who don’t identify completely with one party. Mitt Romney encountered this problem when he ran for president in 2012. His slogan,”Believe in America,” brought up some questions to voters: Is America imaginary? Who doesn’t believe in this? There was no question that people believe in America; they know it exists.

Brands can take note of this strategy by keeping their slogans broad—that will attract consumers and audiences to their sites again and again.

Lessons for brands: keep the slogan or tagline broad so consumers can interpret what it means to them.

2. For the Message: Keep it Consistent

For candidates to be successful, they must maintain consistent brand voice throughout the entire election season. This involves staying true to the values that they portray to the public. A candidate in the middle of the season cannot change how they feel about the economy, for example, without upsetting millions of voters one way or the other. But being consistent is easier said than done, especially in our day of social media and the constant news cycle where everything is fact checked and information is revealed when either candidate opens their mouth.

President Obama’s consistent message of “change” in the 2008 election helped him gain voters and convert them on voting day. Due to the recession and other national and international issues, Obama picked a message that many people could relate to and understand, and appealed to voters throughout the entire presidential run. Whether he was talking about changing foreign policy, changes he wanted to make to the economy, or a change from the type of president that came before him, the message was kept consistent and was applied to all aspects of his campaign.

Lessons for brands: having a consistent message helps brands hone in on exactly what they want the consumer to believe about them.

3. For the Brand Voice: Be Relatable

The hardest part of an election for a candidate is to be relatable. They must somehow relate to everyone, from an 18-year-old college student to a 100-year-old and still get them to vote despite what the media might say about them. This range of people differ in race, status, ethnicity, orientation, generation and more. No one is alike, and many fit into more than one category, making it hard to please everyone. A candidate must somehow appeal to them all. To be elected as president, they must create a brand voice that can appeal to millions of people. This seems hard to do when all voters have such differing opinions and what is most important to them.

To do this, a brand must create a relatable brand story and voice. As Robert McKee explains in his Storynomics seminars, people can read through the promises and the bragging; it’s not what they want to hear. A candidate must tread lightly as to not appear to make promises they cannot keep if they are elected.

Lesson for brands: for a brand to succeed, they must be relatable in some part to all types of potential consumers.

4. For the Communication Outreach: Appeal to the Target Audience

Candidates must know what to say, when to say it, and where to win people’s votes. A candidate cannot go to a university and talk solely about foreign policy, when what is more important to college students may be student debt or civil rights. At a rally in a blue-collar town, a speech about the economy will get those people to cast their vote for a candidate more than if they were to talk only about climate change. As important as all of these issues may be, some are more important to some people than others. A candidate and brands must know this to get the results of the election, or campaign, that they need.

Brands can succeed in this way in their outreach by doing research on their target audience and segmenting based on the information they find. By analyzing the results, brands can create content or campaigns around topics that matter most to them to convert consumers. The same message cannot work for every audience.

Lesson for brands: know who your target audience is and what they want to hear.

Vote America

5. For the Social: “Get Out the Vote”

As election seasons come to a close, the strategy turns from the candidates to the voters. Organizations and members of the campaign teams execute “Get out the Vote” strategies, which are designed to encourage citizens to go out and vote. One of the most famous organizations leading the charge is Rock the Vote, encouraging young Americans to care about politics and their future by voting every election. Whether through social media, events, or in-person canvassing to drive people to the polls, converting people to voters is the only way a new president will be elected. The people who vote in one election have an increased probability of voting in future ones.

Getting the vote out can work as well for brand strategy. Through social media, events, or networking, audiences can be made aware of your brand and what you stand for. Once they know your name and know what your brand does, they can make the decision to buy from you, and hopefully, you make enough of an impression to continue the partnership.

Lessons for brands: get your name out there. Once consumers know your brand or buy from you, they are more likely to do it again.

Companies that approach brand story like candidates do, encompassing all the elements of successful campaigns, are the ones that ultimately stand the test of time. Consumers are like voters: you want to win their business (votes) and keep believing in them as a brand (their time in office). Brands that follow similar strategies may not end up in the White House, but will last long enough to go down in history.

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Dara Cohen is a Demand Generation Specialist at Skyword. She graduated from UMass Amherst in 2015 where she studied Sociology and English. Dara enjoys exploring the streets (and eats) of Boston, spending time with family and friends, and is looking forward to the day when she can go back to Barcelona, her favorite city.

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