THE FIRST 100 DAYS: Look Out, Washington, There's a New Brand In Town

By John TantilloMarketing Expert

Folks, there are now three distinct brands in Washington: Democrat, Republican and Brand Obama.

Here's what this means and why it matters.

Let's start with Brand Obama. The single most important aspect of this brand is that it is characterized by a popular mandate for change.

Essentially, we are talking about an almost extra-political reality when we talk about the Obama brand. --President Obama's campaign underscored the new politics or the new political-marketing or poli-marketingwith its rigorous, broad-based supporter organizing, use of e-mail to galvanize support and involve voters in new ways, Internet fund-raising, YouTube message control and so on.

The Obama campaign bypassed traditional political channels, the entrenched punditocracy and back room deal-making to take its case directly to the American people. The Obama presidency will probably do the same.

"Poli-marketing," like real marketing, is about discovering needs in your Target market and then satisfying them. Obama has a giant e-mail list leftover from the campaign that will enable him to instantly make whatever legislative case he wants to make to millions. Poli-marketing moves politics more firmly into the issue mode and away from old-style partisanship and ideology.

President Obama wasn't elected because the country suddenly decided that the Democrat's ways of big-spending and supporting old guard had been right all along. Or that the Republicans didn't have any values or beliefs they could agree with. He was elected because he figured out that people wanted change and he represented change ---this was change away from both Republican and Democratic standard operating procedures.

This brings us to the other two brands in Washington.

In the context of Brand Obama, both the Republicans and the Democrats now stand for old politics and old ideas. Some of the old politics might be necessary and some of the old ideas might still be good ideas, but both of these brands are facing down a new reality when they look at the Obama brand. -- How they respond is going to decide whether they prosper or vanish. Their old politics must be re-assessed and the old ideas must be re-packaged and adapted to the new Washington landscape.

The recent stimulus plan battle is a good example of this new, three-brand reality. The old-guard Democrats have made the mistake of thinking that the Obama victory means that the country supports their ideas. Thinking this, then sure enough, they promptly created a monster-sized package that no Republican could support. The Republicans have made the mistake of thinking that if they simply oppose the old-guard Democrats, they will somehow triumph and show why their ideas are correct.

Neither of these two brands is handling things right. For the Democrats to be successful, they have to remember that Obama is driving the legislative agenda via a powerful popular image and mandate. They have to forget their legislative wish list and embrace the new poli-marketing .

The Republicans are closer to getting onto the right track, because after a Republican presidency that caused confusion about the fiscal-responsibility and small-government beliefs at the core of the party, it looks like they are finally becoming cohesive as a brand.

They probably had no choice but to reject --unanimously-- the fiscal stimulus plan. But poli-marketing demands that they go farther. The next step for them is to take the old ideas and old values and counter Obama's "change" with the word "innovate." Innovation is more powerful than mere change, because innovation connotes smart approaches that revolutionize and improve things.

If one Republican represents the new face of poli-marketing, it's Obama's choice for Commerce Secretary, Senator Judd Gregg. Judd Gregg really seems to get it.

At the announcement of his selection for the position both President Obama and soon-to-be Secretary Gregg rejected the old political brands.

Obama admitted that the two men had big ideological disagreements, but that Gregg was still the best one for the job. For his part, Gregg said he was taking the job because the American people wanted the parties to drop partisanship and work together on the urgent business of fixing the economy. Both politicians were speaking to their Target market (the voters) and not the inside-the-Beltway fiefdoms of Washington.

My guess is that we'll be seeing more of this new poli-marketing as individual Democrats and Republicans, and the parties themselves, adapt to the new political reality and find new ways to learn what the voters want and how to satisfy those needs.

This is poli-marketing and it's sure to make for some surprising twists and turns in the weeks and months to come. Stay tuned.

And remember, it's always easier to understand politics when you keep marketing and branding in mind.

John Tantillo is branding editor for Fridge Magazine, the magazine for small business owners and entrepreneurs. He is the author of "People Buy Brands, Not Companies."