Successful businesses understand the power of a brand. Brands differentiate, inspire loyalty, and motivate people to do things they might not otherwise do.
Strong brands evoke emotion, represent beliefs, and stand for values that create a following.
Successful political parties also understand the power of a brand. A party’s brand significantly affects a candidate’s ability to garner support from an electorate that must either overlook or embrace party affiliation in deciding how to cast their votes.
A party’s brand has a particularly strong effect on independent voters, as well as voter enthusiasm and turnout; realities that are seemingly lost on Republican leaders today.
The strength of a party’s brand is best evidenced in its approval ratings.
Currently, both parties suffer from anti-Washington sentiment, as reflected in voter approval ratings of 34% for Democrats and 25% for Republicans.
Somehow, the Republican brand has suffered more than Democrats' brand, despite President Obama’s recent, numerous, and high profile missteps.
Congressional Republicans suffer the further indignity of a mere 51% approval rating from their own party members, highlighting the party’s lackluster brand amongst even its core supporters.
Recent polls also show that a significantly higher percentage of Americans now self-identify as Independents, versus members of either political party. But even in this “biggest loser” match up, Democrats still have a six percent advantage on Republicans -- 31% to 25% -- with respect to party affiliation.
This trend reflects a dangerous gap for the GOP that can only be bridged by strengthening the party’s brand. Until this basic dysfunction is remedied, Republican candidates will be forced to play permanent defense against both their opponents and negative voter perceptions of their own party. In any close race or swing state, that added burden is likely to cost Republicans the race.
A close look at the GOP’s leadership reveals a self-serving Beltway-centric power structure, that isn’t capable of recognizing or remedying the Party’s bigger problem.
Case in point: not a single Republican leader occupies a position of such strength that he or she is capable of assuming the responsibility or moral authority required to rebrand the Party.
The reason for this lack of leadership is that in order to stay in Washington’s good graces, Republican leaders must please small but disparate constituencies, such as their own caucuses and members of the National Committee.
Consequently, they are incapable of looking beyond the day-to-day care and feeding of niche Beltway groups, and the management of their own personal brands.
Sadly, there is no incentive for things to change. Scarcity of media bandwidth, voter attention spans, and donor dollars drive individual candidates, party factions, and think tanks to differentiate their particular brand of Republicanism from all others. The situation is akin to Santa’s twelve reindeer straining at their harnesses in different directions.
So what can the GOP -- the political party that champions the free market of ideas and the innovative spirit of the private sector -- actually do to fix its brand?
The obvious answer is to ditch the Washington, D.C. political caste and look to those entrepreneurs in the private sector who’ve successfully managed brands for a living.
The private sector is replete with experts who’ve branded multimillion dollar companies and products, many of whom would gladly volunteer their time and expertise to rebrand the Party.
Ironically, Democrats have been far savvier than Republicans in tapping private sector expertise in this realm, as evidenced by their success in “branding” Republicans (with more than a little help from the media) as the party of “old white men,” “no,” and the “one percent.”
Until the GOP engages the private sector, bringing all technological and creative forces to bear in their efforts to rebrand the Party, Republicans will be forced to continue defending the liability that the ballot designation “Republican” has become.