If your brand is a consumer product and it’s a relatively close number two in the marketplace, as Mitt Romney was in this election, number two is a lot better than all the competitors below you, who, in this analogy, would be Perry, Santorum, Huckabee and others. But a presidential election isn’t the consumer marketplace, it’s the political arena where winner takes all. For now, the national GOP brand is badly dinged up. And the Romney brand is finished and will be taken off the market.
So, for the moment, let’s treat this as a plain ol’ marketing problem. The republicans, the conservatives, the Grand Old Party, lost an election they confidently expressed they would win in a “landslide” of 300 or more electoral votes. (And subsequently called it a “squeaker” when Obama got 330.) Post-election analysis showed that Romney won the white male and over 65 demographics, but lost on most other major categories, including women, youth and minorities.
So, the central problem is this: In the last two elections (and four of the last six), the GOP brand has lacked sufficient appeal to a broad enough audience to win the race for president. On a local basis, they are still a strong brand that has more members in the House of Representatives than their competition. The state level is a different story—where the democrats hold the Senate—so the brand is struggling there, with some particularly spectacular flameouts by republican senatorial candidates in Massachusetts, Missouri and Wisconsin. (Whether you are liberal or conservative, I hope you can stand back from this for a moment and marvel at how our complex political system continually provides balance and stability, no matter where the power base lies.)
I may have mentioned a few hundred times in the past that brands are all about self-esteem. People buy (or support) brands that make them feel better about themselves. Take your kids to Disney, you feel like a good parent. Choose FedEx and you feel like a smart business manager. So the heart of the GOP brand problem is this: Why don’t enough people feel good about themselves for voting for a republican president?
Of course, this is not a war of toothpastes where one brand is about white teeth (and good looks) and the other is about fewer cavities (and a healthy lifestyle). It’s about brands that clash on social, cultural and religious values we hold dearly. If you’re the fewer-cavities toothpaste brand you might add a whitener to blunt your opponent’s brand. But if you’re a political party, it can be hard to change your position on key issues that separate you from the other party.
Since I’m walking a fine line on an emotional subject, I will continue to speak in analogies.
If the GOP actually were a toothpaste brand, they might examine their product’s features and say “Hey, our customers love the teeth whitener and the stripes that come out of the tube, but maybe they’re not so crazy about the anisette flavor that used to be so popular.” In other words, perhaps some of the more extreme expressions of the GOP brand platform are putting off too many voters who might otherwise align with the brand. (You may have noticed that the GOP did successfully mute angry Tea Party rhetoric and sent one figure that “energizes the base,” but is highly polarizing, back to Alaska.)
The GOP may also want to examine whether their brand messages are really working with a broad enough audience, as well. So, for instance, is it more effective to say, “We’ll make your teeth whiter and brighter,” or does, “The other toothpaste will make your teeth black,” work more effectively?
Brand aside, the GOP may also have suffered from a basic sales problem. The democratic “ground game” or grass-roots effort is said to have been more effective at getting out the vote than was the republican effort and their failed Orca mobile app strategy. Most brands depend on a reliable sales force of some kind. The GOP may want to review theirs.
Finally, here’s a tip to both parties: When the battle reaches the point where both sides appear to be saying that the other toothpaste will make your teeth rot and fall out, maybe that’s the time to take a breath and give the voters a break. For now, the clock is ticking for the GOP brand. And it’s only, what, just two more years until it starts all over again?
As published in the Central Penn Business Journal.