More than any previous political event, the 2020 US Presidential Election was a battle between two brands. Trump and Biden offered very different visions of the future, represented by two distinct personalities making succinct promises. Each mobilised his messages with targeted, relentless and, like them or not, disciplined campaigns. Each had an audience in mind – a ‘base’ as commentators call it – and stuck to the stories and straplines that would motivate their base to vote. All of it could have come from a classic brand strategy playbook.
The word ‘brand’ has not been far from the lips of serious political commentators when reflecting on the last four years of Trump’s presidency and, indeed, on the election itself. It was The Economist which declared, in its editorial of 23 January, that Biden’s “folksy brand of dogged centrism is so well suited to the moment.”
The Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Evan Osros, in his collection of essays on Joe Biden, American Dreamer, recalls how Biden revealed his self-awareness of his ‘folksy brand’. Addressing his trademark tendency to ‘overtalk’, Biden said “I don’t say very much I don’t think through. I know that sounds inconsistent with Joe Biden.”
The 2020 election and its aftermath are a vivid reminder of the modern power of branding in general and of the personal brand in particular. Branding, we now know, is relevant to almost every part of our lives. Whether you like it or not, every one of us has a personal brand – an image that people have of us in their mind. You can choose to manage it or not, but it’s there. Branding is morally neither good nor bad. It is why and how you use it that determines its impact.
In a webinar we held last year, Rita Clifton CBE shared with us the three principles that successful personal brands share with any other type of well-managed brand: clarity of purpose, coherence in performance, and sustaining leadership.
As Rita is at pains to explain, brands only remain relevant and popular if they actually do what they say they will do. That’s true of products and people – and especially of politicians. Biden has promised to unite America and to “build back better.” America chose his message of progressive unity. It’s in all our interests that he stays true to his brand promise.