Until November 4, 2014 every political campaign my business had designed for ended up losing.
Sure, the losing campaigns amounted to a whopping two campaigns, but it was enough for me to question if this was a worthy niche to work within.
But then our client was re-elected during this past election cycle, and my hope and faith in branding for political campaigns has been restored.
A Difference In Approach
The biggest difference between the three campaigns? Listening and value of input.
The first two campaigns had one thing in common: They kept directing me to make their literature look more like typical literature. I remember at our first meeting to review creative the campaign marketing person said something like, “Dan, this looks great, but it looks TOO great. It looks like we spent a lot of money on it, and our constituents will not like that. Can you make it look… less great?”
I pushed back over the course of a few emails and meetings, but eventually I did as I always do: Yield to the person hiring me because after all, in the final analysis, it’s theirs to own.
We went through 3-4 rounds of revisions, each time the request was to add more messaging, and tone-down the aesthetic. At the end of the project those two campaigns had literature that looked exactly like every other piece of mail a voter receives. Nothing stood out. Nothing was different or fresh. It was just more “me, too!” branding.
But then this year my firm was hired by a candidate’s re-election team, and the person hiring me was one from the previous two campaigns (different candidate) who wanted to bring me into the fold because she knew I would bring some fresh ideas. Apparently the first round of ideas I had pitched for the first candidate/campaign way-back-when had left an impression.
By the time we were hired it was too late to craft a true brand for the candidate. Yard signs, which are the equal to product packaging for any candidate, were already printed and being planted around Cincinnati. But we had a say in how the campaign talked in its literature.
We produced some strong ideas up front, employing design principles that work no matter the subject, and this time we had an open and receptive client: They truly valued creative direction, and accepted my guidance.
Even when we had a couple of instances where we weren’t sure if we were on the same page, I made my case as to why I believe my chosen direction was best, and in the end we went in that direction.
The difference between the campaigns that lost, and the campaign that won was that the latter trusted in better branding.
Better branding for candidates helps win elections. Period.
We don’t need to look too far in America’s past to see what role better branding plays in politics. Barak Hussein Obama’s 2008 campaign will go down in the branding history books as one of the single-best branding campaigns, ever. From his iconic “O” logo, to the “HOPE” posters, to how his team took visuals to social media and beyond – the campaign should be Exhibit-A of what candidates should aspire to with their branding, even if they don’t agree with President Obama’s politics.
Americans are consumers before they are voters, so if a candidate can position themselves as a product through better branding, the voter will absorb the proposition much faster than the old Times New Roman with an American Flag, a star, and a swoosh nonsense.
If I were advising a candidate today, here are the 3 things I would tell them:
1. Hire a branding firm or consultant.
You might not even know what you need them for in the long haul, but for the immediate season, you need to begin crafting your visual presence, starting with your candidate’s logo. That logo will appear on yard signs, tv ads, social media, and mailers. It is your package. Those candidates who brush this off are losers in-waiting.
2. Trust your hired branding firm or consultant, and start now.
I shouldn’t need to say this, but I do: Trust the branding professionals you hire. Branding is what they know best. To be blunt: They know branding better than you or anyone on your team. You’ll be paying them with money raised to help your dreams and goals happen, so put full faith behind your dollars with those you hire. Go against your feelings when the visuals seem too different, too new. If you’re a GOP candidate, I cannot emphasize this second point of advice enough. GOP branding is mostly terrible. The other side gets it, even if a lot of them are just copying Obama’s 2008 brand book. The point here is that any candidate of any political persuasion needs to trust this process.
The sooner the branding process can start, the better. Too many candidates trust their sign-makers to craft their branding, and the work starts 6 or less months prior to voting. If all of this is intriguing enough to trust, then plan on starting a year out from elections. Maybe even sooner than that if fund raising is starting before campaigning. Get people familiar with your brand with what we would call a “soft launch,” and build momentum behind it, being consistent at every point.
3. Be consistent.
Inconsistency is Enemy #1 for better branding, and the poison of inconstancy in the visual branding deals the same death blow no matter the product, person, or service. If you have gotten this far by hiring a branding consultant and firm, then entrusting them, the final key is to make sure they are the gatekeepers for your new brand. Do not allow a sign-maker, a commercial printer, someone’s nephew, or your neighbor to create even one piece of branding for you. Consistency creates familiarity and trust.
Examples of better branding in politics.
I will wrap this up with some examples of great political branding from the 2014 mid-term elections. The following images are from winning candidates. The examples will be heavy on GOP candidates because, well, they just won by a lot.