What was Hilary Clinton’s campaign slogan for the 2016 presidential election? Was it “I’m with Her”? Or “Stronger Together”? I’m not sure. Full disclosure: I couldn’t even remember those two without Googling a bit.
But what was Donald Trump’s? Oh, we all know it.
“Make America Great Again.” #MAGA
And that guy won the election.
So, some issues with these. Hilary’s slogan – whatever it officially was – was apparently not memorable. Also, neither of the two I mentioned really had a meaningful message. The first one just states the obvious fact that she’s a woman. The second could mean a ton of different things. Less partisan politics, perhaps? A more unified Democratic party that’s subtly anti-Bernie Sanders? More campfire-kumbaya-fireside-chats across America? Whatever it means, it’s not empowering.
Trump’s slogan, on the other hand, was kind of brilliant. I mean, it made no sense, but it spoke to his people. He never even had to explain it, but it was chanted at rallies, embroidered on red trucker hats, and hashtagged to hell and back consistently throughout his campaign.
People may have asked, “Make America great…again? When was it great? When was it not? Who was it great for? How can we get back to aforementioned greatness?” But he never answered any of these questions because he didn’t have to.
Whoever came up with the slogan took into consideration the fact that Americans think very highly of themselves, as a culture and as a world leader. Also, the people who were likely to vote for Trump were the same ones who perceived the country to be falling behind and failing under President Obama. Presumably, they wanted to get back on track, back to the glory days when Americans could do whatever they wanted at home and on the world stage, back to when jobs were plentiful whether or not you were educated or competitive, and back to when the millennials and minorities weren’t always mad about something.
While these aren’t exactly accurate assertions, and while everyone who voted for Trump didn’t feel this way, it didn’t matter. The people with whom the message resonated were the angriest – they were the ones who were left behind and forgotten. They were the ones chanting the loudest and rallying the hardest.
And that was a brilliant bit of branding.
Say what you will about Donald Trump, but the man can build a brand. He’s maintained it throughout his career and he’s adapted it as he’s needed to, from real estate tycoon to reality television show host to president of the United States.
If you ask me, that’s a huge part of why he won the election.
People were sick of the existing politicians. They were sick of the parties. They weren’t inspired by Hilary’s tired “I’m a woman and a Clinton, so I should be president” tirades, and for some reason, none of the ~200 Republican candidates we started the election process with inspired a huge following with their charisma, passion, or intellect (Can’t imagine why…Ted Cruz? Ben Carson? Seriously?).
Now, we’re seeing an influx of almost-ridiculous congressional, presidential, whatever candidates. Kid Rock is making a bid for Senate. And The Rock and Tom Hanks on one ticket? Well…that one was a joke, but maybe it wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world.
But there’s the overwhelming sense that things are spiraling out of control for our political institutions. There’s no consistency. Everything is up for grabs. Anything can happen – which could be a really good or a really bad thing.
I just keep hearing Doc Brown’s voice in my head…
“Then who’s vice president? Jerry Lewis?!”
All I’m asking for is a little branding. Deliberate, strategic branding.
Every major company knows how crucial branding – and sometimes rebranding – is for their overall success. Without something for people to cling to and identify the brand by, there’s little chance for it to connect with its target market.
The problem – or one of the problems – with our prevalent social, religious, or political institutions is that there’s a distinct lack of branding with them. Many of them are struggling against decades or centuries of established stereotypes, preconceived notions, and dirty history.
Unfortunately, all of these perceptions and misperceptions cloud whatever message the group is trying to get out, and for the most part, there is no active or concerted effort from any of these groups to manage and overcome those perceptions.
Instead of getting ahead of the image, they’re constantly fighting against it. It’s an uphill battle. The higher ground hasn’t been held for a while.
Think about it. The Dems are seen as super liberal, to the point of being naïve, unrealistic, and overly sensitive. The Republicans are seen as being out-of-touch rich people who don’t represent the general American population. Muslims are seen as terrorists who don’t respect women and live according to archaic standards. Millennials are lazy and entitled, and don’t have a strong grasp on practicality.
But I promise you, these aren’t the messages these groups are trying to convey, and these personas are not who they would choose to represent them.
So, how can they better convey their messages, reach their targets, and manage their public perceptions and personas, etc?
I spoke to Aaron Mireles, a branding expert/enthusiast like none I’ve ever met before. Here’s what he had to say:
“Branding is like having a reputation. When organizations don’t care about the reputation of their ‘brand,’ the ‘what’ and ‘how’ that happens/happened is simple. When there is a lack of transparency, authenticity, and accountability, you cannot have a strong brand, nor can you shift the opinion of those who already have an idea of what you stand for.
“So knowing that, how can brands overcome this? It’s about those three core values and committing to establishing an emotional connection with your audience. I say ’emotional’ because it’s about finding trust. They have to trust you, and as a brand, you have to trust them to see your actions as who you really are.
When you think about politics, how many people voted for Donald Trump because he said whatever came to his head, regardless of how nonsensical, ignorant, or inflammatory it was? They were craving the transparency that they weren’t getting from literally anyone else in Washington. They were tired of questions being addressed without actually being answered. They were tired of feeling left out of the conversation and not knowing what was going on. They were tired of being lied to by their leaders and they just wanted someone to tell it like it is. Hence…President Trump.
As a young, female, American Muslim, I’ve personally thought a lot about the way my religion is represented versus what it means to me. Unfortunately, there’s only so much that I can do to alter peoples’ perceptions of Islam. And regardless of my efforts, someone else is making a completely different effort with a conflicting message to the one I’m putting out there, and who’s to say who’s right or wrong? There’s no consistency, and there definitely isn’t any accountability. Muslims struggle against cultural prejudices that get muddled with the religious ideologies, and Islam doesn’t have a Vatican to confer with.
Speaking of which, social institutions and ideologies could also use a good dose of branding. The truth is, the bigger the group, the harder it is to manage and the harder its members are to identify. There will always be outliers and wild cards who are the most obnoxious or the most interesting. What then ends up happening is the group’s original purpose or identity is lost, its definition broadens to the point that it loses its authenticity, and then – what’s the point? The elevator pitch is no longer viable.
I don’t know what the solution to something like this is, but I imagine it starts with the younger generations. With social media, concerted efforts and organized organizations have a better chance of getting off the ground, gaining credibility, and establishing trust with its members and non-members alike. And with every new wave of people joining the ranks of these groups, new voices are emerging and changing the narrative and perceptions.
Total brand unity for religious, political, or social groups is a pipe dream, to be sure, but at least it’s something we can start thinking about.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – leave a comment or send me a message.