And we’re off to the races… With last night’s Iowa Caucus action, the personal brands of the candidates became front and center once again.
As a personal branding consultant, I’ve been watching this election cycle with my head cocked to one side, like a confused cocker spaniel. Last night was no exception.
But as always, I try to take away from this very public display of leadership presence — or in some cases, the lack thereof — the most important personal brand and positioning strategy lessons businesses can use. Here are 6 from last night.
#1. 90% of success is showing up — and the Donald didn’t. Missing the last republican debate signaled a lack of ability to play well with others when things don’t go his way. That dose of reality may have pushed undecided voters over the fence — away from Trump and toward Cruz.
Your Branding Lesson: Sometimes playing the game in the long-term interest of making your contribution trumps (no pun intended) the short-term gain of getting your point across — now.
#2. You need both an air game and a ground game. Metaphors borrowed from 1920s college football have gone from the football field to fodder for the political pundits. While Donald Trump was busy promoting his personality, Cruz was focused on organizing for action.
Your Branding Lesson: A charismatic personal brand will buy you a certain amount of attention, but when the rubber meets the road — or the caucus floor — there is no substitute for a well-implemented strategy.
#3. Radical authenticity wins the day. Like him or not, you can say one thing for Bernie Sanders: He has been consistently consistent from the beginning. His tone, messages and demeanor have not changed with the circumstances. This radical authenticity has helped him create what one CNN newscaster called the “passion gap” between himself and Clinton.
Clinton, on the other hand, kept trying to borrow from Sanders’ personal brand last night with statements like, “I’m a progressive.” Well, not really. She may be smart, focused and experienced, but being a progressive isn’t part of the brand she’s built.
Your Brand Lesson: It’s very hard to switch branding horses midstream. Once you dedicate yourself to a personal brand, a re-brand takes time and energy before it becomes a reality for others.
#4. Don’t put all your eggs in a single-message basket. Donald Trump’s entire brand — at least until this point — has basically been one message: I’m a winner. Well not last night, and as Donald tweeted once, “No one remembers who comes in second.” Whether he can re-brand at this point remains to be seen.
Your Branding Lesson: Your brand needs to be more than a single sound byte or pithy elevator pitch. Otherwise, you run the risk of damaging your brand when things don’t go exactly as you planned. The best brands feature multiple, complementary messages that weave together to form an accessibly complex and in-depth communication.
#5. Winning isn’t always winning, Despite Clinton’s ultimate and minuscule victory over Sanders, who really won the night? The degree to which Sanders inspired millennials, who are disenchanted with politics as usual, to participate is in many ways a much more important and longer-term gain that could make the difference in the end.
Your Branding Lesson: Be in it for the long term. When it comes to building a personal, business or CEO brand, it’s all about the long game. Try and override the tendency to judge the efficacy of any one particular action by its immediate result. For example: That blog post you write today may not land you a customer immediately, but it will build your personal brand long term — and that could bring you a whole new bunch of clients down the road.
#6. Don’t take your eye off the guy bringing up the rear. Marco Rubio may have come in a close third, but Americans love an underdog — especially one who’s attractive and articulate. By the end of the night, he had pulled in an unexpected 23 percent, just one point under Trump.
Your Branding Lesson: Under-promising and over-performing brings positive attention to your brand. Even if you aren’t the front runner, the strength of sticking to your brand message and moving consistently toward your goals may make you the winner in the end.
With that, we’re off to New Hampshire, where who knows what personal branding lessons will reveal themselves in the primary? Only the voters of that fine state know for sure.
This article is copyrighted by Karen Leland and cannot be reprinted in any form, electronic or otherwise, without the express written permission of Karen Leland.
Karen Leland is President of Sterling Marketing Group, a branding and marketing strategy and implementation firm. She works with individuals, businesses and teams to enhance their business and personal brands. Her clients include LinkedIn, American Express, Apple, Marriott Hotels and others. Her ninth book, The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand, is due out from Entrepreneur Press in May of 2016.