This is not a policitcal blog.  It focuses on connecting with customers, forming strong customer relationships, and related marketing issues.

So … read this as a marketing commentary.

One of the pillars of my beliefs about marketing, as captured in my book Brand Harmony, is that today’s customers are too savvy and self-reliant to believe everything they are told in marketing messages.  Marketing communication isn’t about what you say.  It’s about what people believe after you say (and do) it.

Yesterday, Colin Powell credited the negative tone of the McCain campaign and specious claims McCain’s team has made about Obama as key drivers in his decision to endorse Barack Obama.  He also criticized the McCain campaign’s lack of clarity and consistency in their approach to the economy, saying, “Every day there was a different approach.”

In addition to other, policy-driven reasons, which are not my subject here, Powell’s endorsement reinforces this key idea of modern marketing.  Customers are highly scrutinizing, and all aspects of your message need to blend in Brand Harmony if you hope to create a powerful, motivating message.

McCain should have looked at the key marketing lesson of the 1992 Clinton-Bush race: “It’s the economy, stupid.”  By having an incredibly clear focus, Bill Clinton out-marketed Bush Sr., whose messages were more muddled and harder to hold in your hand.

Maybe this is why an Ad Age poll selected Obama as marketer of the year, beating out Apple, Nike and, yes, McCain.


  • Larry Kaufman
    Oct 20, 2008 - 12:21 pm

    In addition to the messaging need for clarity and consistency, noted both by Powell and Yastrow, let’s re-emphasize credibility. The focus on Ayers erodes credibility two ways — because it’s seen as not terribly relevant and as standing in the way of talking about what IS relevant. When you have earlier weakened your credibility as a patriot by putting the nation at risk through the possible elevation of Sarah Soundbite……

    • Steve Yastrow
      Oct 20, 2008 - 12:36 pm

      Obama has also made some similar marketing mistakes … why has it hurt McCain’s brand more? Has he made more mistakes? Different types?

  • Jayakumar Hariharan
    Oct 22, 2008 - 02:08 am

    In the Twitter era, the U.S presidential campaigns are more than just election campaigns. They set the stage for far bigger things.

    See what Robert Scoble has to say:

    The world, and markets, are listening!

    Jay, from Bangalore

  • Sonia Simone
    Oct 22, 2008 - 14:22 pm

    Wherever one is in terms of politics, Obama’s campaign has a lot for marketers to study.

    Strong, clear, consistent messaging. Disciplined use of social media, internet and email to market the candidate and encourage viral sharing of the message.

    To use the “brand harmony” framework (just started BH last night, really digging it, by the way), Obama’s signals are more harmonious. The bearing and appearance match the voice matches the tactics matches the message matches the target audience matches the ads. Everything works smoothly together.

    McCain’s campaign bears at times very little resemblance to who John McCain was in the long career that won him respect in the first place. His choice of Sarah Palin, for example–completely counter to what one would have thought John McCain would do in, say, 2007.

    Every candidate makes missteps and has inconsistencies, but I’d say Obama’s signals are better unified and more, well, harmonious.

  • Steve Yastrow
    Oct 22, 2008 - 14:29 pm

    Sonia –

    Your point that McCain’s campaign is not in harmony with what John McCain has been in the past is a key point. I’ve never voted for a Republican presidential candidate, but during the primaries I thought he was the one I would not be too upset with. However, since the campaign against Obama he has morphed into something/someone else, and it is dissonant with his past.

    Ironic that he’s talking about Obama’s lack of experience and he is not leveraging his own history. (Not to mention how Palin undercuts the experience message)

  • Judith Ellis
    Nov 09, 2008 - 02:27 am

    Excellent post and great comments. McCain has not only not leveraged his own history, he chose someone who was diametrically opposed to his message of experience. His brand is seriously tattered and the whole Republican brand needs a serious overhaul. I voted for Obama, but I have voted for Republicans too. In fact, a family friend ran for the US Senate and I supported and helped him quite a lot in his campaign. He lost. This was not a good sign. 🙂

    In 2000 after being a guess of a Congressman and attending some functions, I wrote a piece in the Detroit Free Press about the Democratic Party taking certain segments of the population for granted. It was then that I became annoyed with the Democratic brand. But I’m loving the new leader of the Democratic Party and worked, as so many others, tirelessly to get him elected.

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