brand platforms are like political ones

Earlier this week I posted some key takeaways from the keynote speakers and panelists at the Southern California Business Growth Conference.  As a panelist on the marketing track, one of the things I said during the “Brand Implementation & Impact: Bring your Brand to Market” session seemed to spark some interest of its own – and so I thought I’d say more about it here.

Political CampaignI referred to political platforms when I explained why I call a brand strategy a “strategic brand platform.”  Just as a political candidate or group has a platform which outlines what they’re advocating, I explained, a brand should have a platform to delineate what it represents.

Specifically I see three similarities between brand platforms and political ones:

1.    a platform outlines what the brand – or candidate – stands for

For example Meg Whitman, who is running for Governor of my fair state, has outlined 3 goals she has for California.  On the platform page of her website she says:

“I am running to reinvigorate California’s economic potential and help employers create two millions jobs by the beginning of 2015. I am running to rid our state government of waste, duplication and inefficiency so we can get control of runaway spending and create long-term fiscal stability.  I am running to fix our failing schools so we can give our children the opportunity to advance up the economic ladder and achieve their fullest potential.”

From these brief statements, we get a clear understanding of what Meg stands for.

In the same way, a brand platform should clearly outline the values and attributes of the brand. A tagline, mantra, or even brand essence serves as a useful tool to summarize and/or communicate the brand strategy, but it’s not the same thing as a rich and thorough brand identity which fleshes out all that the brand stands for.

2.    a platform gives buyers – or voters – reasons why they should choose the brand/candidate

The storied Contract with America which the Republican party created during the 1994 congressional election campaign is another example of a political platform.  In it, the Republicans promised a list of actions to bring on the first day of their majority to floor debate and votes, including
* cutting the number of House committees, and cut committee staff by one-third
* limiting the terms of all U.S. Congressmen and U.S. Senators
* banning the casting of proxy votes in committee
* requiring committee meetings to be open to the public

By outlining these specific plans, the group made a clear case to those who were seeking governmental reform – if you elect our people, you will get these results.

Similarly brands need to outline what customers will get when they buy them. A strategic brand platform should include a brand positioning which states the unique benefit or value the brand delivers to customers.  It shouldn’t necessarily be about specific offerings or value propositions – rather, the platform should articulate the broader, higher level brand value.

3.    a platform explains how the brand – or candidate – differs from others

In the 2008 Presidential campaign, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton sought to differentiate themselves from one another by adopting distinct platforms.

Each used postures (the establishment vs. the challenger and the tested vs. the inexperienced) to denigrate the other. But more importantly, the candidates’ positions on policy and major issues also were points of differentiation.

For example Clinton’s American Health Choices Plan provided a mandatory path to universal health care for all, ensured coverage is not denied because of preexisting conditions, and gave small businesses a tax credit for health care coverage.  Obama’s platform outlined universal health care (although not mandatorily), a reduction in family premiums, and the establishment of a National Health Insurance Exchange to oversee plan fairness and standards and increase competition amongst insurers.

On the campaign trail, these differing plans and the philosophies behind them were hotly debated between the two candidates.

As noted above, the unique value or benefit delivered to customers is an integral element of a strategic brand platform – here the emphasis is on the word unique.  Oftentimes a brand platform might also include a list of key differentiators. The point is to articulate what makes the brand different and better from the other choices the buyer has.

The similarities between brand platforms and political platforms are reinforced by some of the definitions of the word “platform” listed on Dictionary.com including:

– a public statement of the principles, objectives, and policy of a political party, esp. as put forth by the representatives of the party in a convention to nominate candidates for an election
– a body of principles on which a person or group takes a stand in appealing to the public; program
– a set of principles; plan.

I hope this examination has been helpful. I also hope it has led you to an important conclusion about campaigns — political ones and brand ones.  That is, a campaign is only the promotion of a platform – it’s not the platform itself. So when a company is looking to develop or optimize its brand, it should start with the platform first – it should ensure the strategic foundation is right before seeking a creative way to communicate and promote it.

Furthermore, the integrity of the campaign really becomes apparent only after the purchase (or election!)  Hopefully brands have a better track record than most politicians when it comes to doing what they say they will do.

For more of my thoughts on the elements of a strong brand platform, see this post.

Oh and of course I must point out that all of the above examples are used for the purposes of explaining my point, so please don’t try to surmise my political leanings from them.

other posts inspired by politics:

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  • Thanks for the great post and the great analogy. As a guy who’s been in marketing for more than 15 years I can support what you’re saying, “a brand should have a platform to delineate what it represents.” Too often people run companies without a clear differentiator.

    Companies must set their platform – and not leave it up to their customers. Having a clear image, clearly articulating what you represent and what sets you apart is truly the way to rise above the crowd. Thanks for subscribing to this philosophy and calling attention to it publicly.