Friday, December 07, 2007

Nine Insights on Personal Branding

By Thomas Murrell MBA, CSP - International Business Speaker

How can you increase sales, stand out from the crowd or be a better leader?

Political elections are all about personal branding, it's the ultimate branding exercise.

Political candidates have to persuade, sell and get electors to act by voting for them.

There's always a winner and always a loser, unlike marketing where you can be the main brand or the challenger brand and still have sales and still survive with any combination of market share.

With election marketing, election campaigning and election branding, there's no second place, you either win or lose and its all over in a day.

So consumers make their decision in one day compared to a longer time frame.

There are lots of branding and marketing insights you can learn from elections.

We've just had the federal election in Australia and The Australian Labor Party has won its first election in 14 years.

John Howard has not been returned as Prime Minister after a 33 year career as a professional politician and is the second sitting Prime Minister in history to lose his seat.

Interestingly, most research shows that any political party in power during a strong economy will be comfortably returned to Government.

This did not happen in Australia because while the Howard government was strong on the economy, it was weak on the softer, more human issues of concern to the Australian people.

In terms of leadership, language and personal branding, what can we learn from the Australian election?

Long term readers of Media Motivators may remember my previous analysis of the last federal election three years ago and you can read the article here on how John Howard owned the whole concept of patriotism.

Marketers behind Kevin Rudd's campaign aimed to undermine Howard's ownership of this space.

If you want to increase sales, improve your career or attract and recruit the best people possible, these nine insights on personal branding from the Australian federal election will help you.

1. Timing Is Everything

In elections, as in consumer marketing and branding, timing is everything and catching the next wave, the next trend, is important.

Did John Howard stay too long? Is it time you moved your career along or introduced some fresh ideas or new products to your business?

Kevin Rudd is not a career politician and his timing has been impeccable, to take over the leadership of the Labor Party 18 months ago and then become Prime Minister.

Its been a rapid rise, but he's timed everything perfectly.

2. Simple Concepts

The headline, tagline and heartline are really important for election campaigns and your messages must line up.

For leaders they must reflect voter concerns and feedback in a clear, condensed and crystallised way.

Its about the alignment of your message with some of the resonating issues with the electorate and Kevin Rudd's tagline was very, very simple - Kevin07.

Its memorable, effective, catchy, even cheesy and yes its clever, but its very, very simple and it became his signature slogan and its effectiveness is in its simplicity, Kevin07, just two words and they align and rhyme.

Now interestingly in terms of headlines and taglines and visual cues, in the nineties we had Nike with three words - Just Do It.

Lyn Altman a New York based branding expert says while in the nineties three words were popular, we now need to do what she calls the two-word drill.

She believes for a new idea, product or concept to be successful, it must be in its most pure form and that's just two words.

Finding two words that last is very difficult.

In fact, Kevin07, was originally initiated as an internet address for an election website. But it took on greater significance.

There are a number of organisations using two-word branding slogans, Beyond Petroleum for BP, Intel Inside for the ingredient brand Intel are good examples.

Numbers also have a magic about them and Kevin Rudd date stamped his tagline as a time in history, as a historical moment and a time of great change.

No wonder Kevin07 T-shirts are now collectors items!

3. Visibility

Being elected is all about increasing your visibility, making sure your taglines, messages and product are as visible as possible.

If you compare these two graphic images of the acceptance speeches of Kevin Rudd and John Howard's concession speech on the night of the election, you can see they are quite different.

Kevin Rudd, you can see the simplicity and the effort that's gone into the branding and visuals behind him, just the simple words on the podium, New Leadership, again very simple, very effective, very visible and very, very slick.

Howard stuck with the Australian flag.

Often its not how you sound, but how you look and these two visuals sum up the generational differences between the two leaders.

The visual message to audiences: Rudd - new, fresh and well branded with an investment in good design. Howard - I'm stuck in the past and haven't moved on.

The logo for the Australian Labor Party was also redesigned with the words Australian Labor beneath the symbolic Southern Cross.

This rebranding, redesign and application has taken political marketing to a new level in Australia.

It visually showed how far behind John Howard was in a branding sense.

4. Action Orientated

We're seeing the rise of the celebrity politician, but people want actions to be taken and there are some issues where actions weren't taken in Australia.

Kyoto, Iraq, AWB, WorkChoices, Aboriginal reconciliation and refugees all became trigger words about a lack of action.

They became symbols of inflexibility and a lack of ability to change.

Ratifying the Kyoto Agreement on climate change and saying sorry to Indigenous Australians' became tangible issues on which there was a point of difference between the two political leaders.

5. Congruent Language

In terms of the Coalition Campaign, the electorate was intelligent but they were confused.

Positioning with the messages about the economy just didn't have enough human or emotional connection and you'd have to say it was poor and bad positioning.

The incumbent strength of the government and John Howard's very wise, very old and very crafty 33 years experience became a liability instead of a legacy.

Labor tended to use message framing around working families and this resonated with the electorate and voters.

Other words used included education revolution, new leadership, and fresh thinking.

Compare the simplicity of these words with John Howard's aspirational nationalism concept.

Leadership is about language.

6. Internet and Web 2.0

The Labor Party managed the online environment a lot more savvy, a lot more effectively.

They used MySpace, and social networking sites, like YouTube, much more effectively.

The Coalition failed and missed out on a marketing opportunity.

7. Innovative Marketing

On the day I had to vote in Subiaco, Western Australia, I was with my daughter.

She looked up in the sky and said "Daddy, daddy, what's that up in the air?"

I looked up and saw some fine white lines coming from the back of a small plane high in the sky.

It was actually a sky writer, and the message coming out of the rear of the plane? Kevin07.

Now, I'm not sure if this happened in every capital city on voting day, but it was innovative, different, and timely.

This typified the on-the-edge, creative thinking of the Labor Campaign.

8. On Message

One of the key strategies of the Rudd campaign was to stay on message and not to have any disruptions.

That was done beautifully. They had a flawless campaign, and nothing went wrong for them.

Compare that to the Coalition, where three major issues stand out in terms of mismanagement; one was Tony Abbott who had several blunders, including one over Bernie Banton, the Asbestosis Diseases Activist and his lack of diplomacy.

The second was an issue regarding racially abusive pamphlets that were distributed illegally on the eve of the election.

This action really confused the message and dominated the media instead of the campaign launch of the Coalition.

The third confusing issue for the electorate was the succession plan of John Howard and who would succeed him as Prime Minister if elected.

The public really didn't know who they were going to be voting for, whether it was John Howard or Peter Costello the Deputy.

In marketing or sales terms, always make your offer or value proposition clear.

9. Embracing Multi-Cultural Interests

A stand-out moment was Kevin Rudd's performance as a speaker and orator earlier in the year when he clearly upstaged John Howard.

Chinese President Hu Jintao came to Australia for APEC, and in an important speech, Rudd broke into fluent Mandarin and spoke directly to the Chinese leader in his own language at the end of his speech.

It was a big risk for Mr Rudd to talk in a foreign language about his life as a diplomat in China, his love for the booming country, and his family's close ties to the region.

It was a brilliant move, very innovative, very creative and was a major point of difference in a critical time in the lead up to the actual announcement of the formal election.

In the wake of any change, there are always opportunities to learn from the past to better prepare for the future.

How can you apply these nine insights to your own marketing and branding efforts in your personal or professional career?