Mitt Romney’s Big Brand Marketing Lesson

| Marketing

The most expensive Big Brand marketing campaign ever has just concluded with an overwhelming victory for President Obama. This blog is not about my politics, but about Big Brand marketing lessons learned from this Presidential campaign and a simple potentially game-changing suggestion.

Disclaimer: I was a registered Republican for most of my adult life. I voted for Presidents Reagan and Clinton. I resigned from the Republican Party when my former Party abandoned science, women’s rights, immigration reform and the Republican leadership lost the recipe for one of the formulas that has defined the United States’ success as the world’s most innovative economy: The ability to be open-minded and listen to a wide range of views, to be pragmatic, and to adapt. I voted for President Obama in 2008 and reluctantly for Governor Romney in 2012.

From a Big Brand marketers’ view, the Romney presidential campaign’s leadership was inept.

In Big Brand marketing, “perception always leads reality.” Romney missed every obvious opportunity to take control of perception.

The Obama campaign understood the power of controlling perception and was brilliantly run.  They recognized last summer that the American public did not have any perceived idea who Governor Romney was. So the Obama campaign went about introducing the Governor to voters as a greedy, vulture investor opportunist, completely out of touch with the lives of most Americans. What’s amazing is that the Romney campaign never countered these arguments.

The Republican convention was a missed Big Brand opportunity to set forth a clear explanation of what and how a President Romney would do to lead the country to a better place. Instead, the convention was predictable and boring . Can anyone summarize any positive, insightful message beyond “no new taxes”?

The best Big Brand marketer in this presidential campaign by far was former President Clinton. He actually was able to unwrap complex and controversial issues and make them understandable, then package his ideas in the perception of persuasive  arguments ( even if one did not totally agree with him). The perception President Clinton left voters with was, “He really understands people like me.”

Or take the vice-presidential debate. Joe Biden’s performance was the sacrificial bunt in this campaign. He created the perception he was just a smiling, slap-happy, local pol, interrupting Paul Ryan at every opportunity.  Result: Paul Ryan was never able to create any perception of himself beyond the narrowly defined box as a smart technocrat that Biden maneuvered him into.  Another big missed opportunity by the Romney campaign to influence voters’ perceptions.

Big Brand marketing assumes a freedom-of-choice marketplace. American politics is anything but a free choice market. Voters are forced into abiding by the rules of institutional relics: The Republican and Democrat Parties. Primaries eliminate any serious debate of real issues as highly skilled and motivated narrow special interest groups demand often ridiculous promises from the candidates.

So here’s a simple idea that might shift the balance of power to real debate and meaningful perceptions. Some states allow independent voters to vote in Republican and Democrat primaries. Why not allow independents this opportunity to vote in the presidential primary in every state?

The derivative effects could be: Better candidates, better debates, better perceptions of promised leadership, and better outcomes. It could also weaken the influence of fringe special interest groups.

If President Clinton had been running as an Independent against both Obama and Romney I believe he would have won.

Constitutionally, US Presidents have little real domestic power, but a lot of perceived influential power. Steve Jobs’ perceived power went way beyond his real authority. Gifted, talented perception leaders like Reagan, Clinton and Jobs have an intuitive talent to create big idea perceptions that connect powerfully with people.

Romney was an awkward candidate obviously uncomfortable in situations where he had to connect with people. As we look to future presidential candidates, regardless of their politics, we should expect more natural talents to create perceptions. Presidents are the Biggest Brands. Even for Presidents, “Perception always leads reality”.

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