Politics and Personal Branding: What the Presidential Election Can Teach Us About Branding

It’s election season, and most of you have already begun seeing political commercials on TV. If you haven’t, rest assured that you will be soon—especially if, like me, you live in a swing state like Florida. If you’re like many people, there’s a good chance that the barrage of political ads will irritate you and lead you to reach for the “mute” button on your remote. But think twice before you do so—because believe it or not, you can learn an awful lot about branding by paying attention to political campaigns. Here are four lessons that particularly stand out to me.

Staying on message is key to success. The worst thing that can happen for a political campaign is to fall “off message.” Each campaign has a specific narrative that they want to advance. Mitt Romney, for instance, wants to focus on the weak economy and his qualifications as a business expert. The more time he can spend hammering this message home, the happier his campaign will be. The same is true for you and your brand—the more time you spend reinforcing the key elements of your brand, the better you’ll do.

“Controlling the narrative” is critical. Because focus is so important, maintaining control of the narrative surrounding a political campaign (or your business) is crucial. Of late, the Obama campaign has been able to create distractions for Romney—such as clamoring for the release of his tax returns. These distractions force Romney to spend time addressing them, rather than focusing on his core message. Now, few business environments are as ruthlessly competitive as a presidential campaign, but the point remains: if you control the narrative surrounding your business, you’ll be better off.

It’s not “all business” all the time. Despite intense focus on the “issues of the day”, political campaigns have learned the importance of showing off the personality of their candidates. Romney proudly talks about his family every chance he gets, as does President Obama. Obama is known as a sports fan, and rarely refrains from sharing his opinion, even if it carries some level of risk. (Such as criticizing the New York Jets offseason moves, which he did recently.) The lesson? Whether you’re a politician or a businessperson, if you want your audience to truly connect with you, you can’t be one-dimensional. Make your family, your hobbies, and your passions a visible part of your brand.

Define yourself – or let the competition define you. Have you ever wondered why politicians start spending millions of dollars when the election is still months away? The answer is simple: they know that if they don’t “define” their image and their brand in the minds of the public, their opponent will define it for them. The same is true for your business. It’s important to proactively take control of your brand rather than let the chips fall where they may.

So the next time a political ad pops up on TV, resist the urge to change the channel and instead consider whether there is a lesson that you can apply to your business. You may be surprised at how much you can learn!