Looking at the Candidates Through the Marketing Lens

I’ve been advising corporations and individuals for years on the best ways to develop and market their brands. It frustrates me when people throw around the word "brand" and have no idea what they’re talking about.

A brand is not just a name. It’s not just an image. It’s certainly not ever just a logo. A brand is the total sum of all the perceptions that have become associated with the company, product or person. People make the mistake of thinking these perceptions are only superficial. You might be able to get the preppy candidate to stop wearing the button down shirt but you’ll never get the button down shirt out of the preppy candidate.

Brands are real, they have core characteristics that you need to acknowledge and if you understand what a brand is and where it’s come from, chances are you’ll be able to predict where it’s going next.

Armed with that knowledge, let’s now take a look at four prominent political brands we've heard a lot about this election season. Here's how they look when viewed through the marketing lens:

Marco Rubio, The Conservative Innovator Brand

He’s the candidate with serious charisma: bright, likeable, has got the academic credentials, a terrific communicator of his ideas.

His conservative street-cred unassailable. But he’s seen as an innovator. His well-regarded book is built around new ideas for governing well.

He’s a listener. Many of his new ideas came directly from ordinary citizens.

He’s a Latino with wide appeal who could help bring minorities to the table and shows that the Republican party is an open one.

The media is unlikely to label him “whacky” and they certainly can’t call him incompetent.

He’s the top-tier Tea Party candidate who has shown his brand’s deep strength by maintaining their support while wisely distancing himself from them. He’s the guy, after all, who said, “When you talk about the tea party, remember, I’m a Republican.”

Bottom Line: Rubio is showing all conservatives the way to ride the Tea Party wave without being tarred by Tea Party fallout.

Jerry Brown, The Eccentric Longevity Brand

There's no question that Jerry Brown is a political “longevity” brand.

He's a three-time presidential candidate. Two-term governor of California. Mayor of Oakland for eight years. State Attorney General. Now a candidate for California governor, again.

He's been in the public eye for so long and been so eccentric that he is almost immune to media scrutiny. The voters basically know what they’re going to get if they vote for Jerry Brown.

All politics is local. Jerry Brown wouldn’t work nationally, but he’s more in step with California culture.
His brand has publicly matured. He put his left-leaning pedigree on the line by becoming mayor of Oakland. Showed that he could get tough on crime.

Bottom Line: The times have caught up with his brand in a good way. His famous flat tax beliefs are in line with popular sentiment. Is Brown actually a Tea Partier in disguise.

Christine O’Donnell, The Ultra-Lite Republican Brand

An exciting part of today’s political terrain. Represents high-energy direct democracy and citizen involvement.

Non-traditional candidate without the “insiders” resume has helped her get this far but has made her unqualified for “prime time.”

Undeniably likeable but her girl-next-door appeal doesn’t translate into competence. In fact, this week’s gaffe that showed she didn’t understand the constitutional separation of church and state is likely to be repeated again and again with other critical knowledge issues.

Major question marks about her ethics, character, education and history make her brand radioactive. She has apparently not consistently told the truth about her academic background. Even though she advocates things that Tea Partiers endorse like fiscal responsibility, her own personal finances seem to include a recent mortgage default.

For those conservative politicians supporting her: Watch out for collateral brand damage if you are seen as getting too close to O’Donnell!

Evan Bayh – The Closet Republican Brand

Evan Bayh is a Democratic brand to watch for the 2012 presidential race if the Democrats are so thoroughly beaten up by then that they need a Republican-like candidate who has even a chance at winning.

Unlike Harry Reid, Pelosi, Frank and others, he’s stayed apart from the big government Democrat model.
His brand is aligned with tax cuts. In fact. he presided over the largest one in Indiana’s history. He’s also proven his electability. In 1992, he won the largest percentage of the vote in Indiana history during his re-election campaign for governor.

Unlike many Republicans and Democrats going into a 2012 general election, Bayh has both executive experience as governor and federal legislative experience as a two-term U.S. senator.

Most importantly for his brand, he combines his welfare-to-work and tough law enforcement credentials (he’s pro capital punishment, for example) with a likeability and acceptance that crosses party lines.

Bottom Line: Folks, this guy is a Republican posing as a democrat. Stay tuned.

John Tantillo is a marketing and branding expert who is a principal in Metzger Tantillo Marketing, a recently formed strategic alliance targeted to small business professionals. He also offers his own services as The Marketing Doctor. He is a frequent contributor to Fox News Opinion and the author of the new book, "People Buy Brands, Not Companies."