Friday, January 4, 2008

Politics and brands

The 2008 presidential race is poised to be the most important election in decades. For the first time in 80 years no incumbent President or Vice President is seeking election. The choice is important, and so are the messages Americans are sending to candidates during the primary season.

One clear message is that we want our elected officials to stop behaving like neatly packaged, focus group tested brands. Don’t spin us, be authentic. Have a clear point-of-view, stand for something deeper than yesterday’s polls. Display an ability to get the job done because the problems we face are significant. Blind partisanship is part of the problem, so build bridges and make things happen.

While we want our leaders to stop behaving like brands, perhaps it is also time for brands to begin behaving like leaders.

I admire brands that have a clear sense of true north, a set of values that inspire product decisions and corporate behaviors. We intuitively know what brands like Target, Nike, Land Rover and Apple stand for. They each have a clear sense of true north.

I admire brands that connect with customers in an authentic manner. Toyota doesn’t spin us. It’s about the virtues of the product, not the glitz of the message. Ditto for Ford trucks, Callaway Golf and Dyson vacuum cleaners.

And, mostly, I admire brands that perform at a higher level. I am loyal to Westin because its Heavenly Bed is incredibly comfortable. I drive a Prius because nothing else matches its combination of green creds, comfort and versatility. I fly United (even before they became a client of BD'M) because of its Economy Plus seating and its PS service on transcon routes. And although I’m typing this on my beloved Mac, I will admit I miss my Blackberry Pearl since being seduced by the iPhone. It simply cranks out emails better.

Brands that are too driven by yesterday’s focus groups tend to have no sense of purpose, no clear north. Let’s make 2008 the year of brand leadership, not brand marketing.

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