Just a short time ago, it was widely accepted that the front-runner for the GOP nomination was Mitt Romney. While Governor Romney has myriad relevant experience, significant dollars to spend on advertisements and other qualities that should position him well for both the nomination and the presidency, he has had a hard time conveying all of that to those in the Republican Party.
While Mitt Romney had a strong appearance in Wednesday night's CNN debate, overall his Romney's personal brand is still in disarray. So, what can he do to give it an overhaul and potentially change his fate?
It goes back to "know, like and trust"
The old adage is that people do business and want to associate with individuals that they know, like and trust. The problem for Mitt Romney is that Americans don't feel like they know him and therefore, it is hard for them to like and trust him.
Given Mr. Romney's reserved nature, this means that he needs to put extra effort into building up the rapport required to turn the "know-like-trust" tide. He appears to have a wonderful family; he should involve them more and show Americans a side of him as a family man. He should also seriously consider taking on more interviews with journalists that focus on getting to know him as a person, perhaps also involving his family (as Rick Santorum did with Piers Morgan on CNN). For example, Mitt's wife was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Continuing to share their battle openly like they did on Fox News would likely positively impact the impression of him as a privileged outsider with few problems.
To be entirely cliché, he needs to shake more hands, kiss more babies and allow the public to get to know more about him, otherwise they will never like or trust him, and that means that they won't vote for him.
Rick Santorum's brand weakness is also his strength. He has a very focused message and hasn't wavered from that since the race began. You know where he stands and what he stands for, which will inevitably divide people. However, in today's over-messaged market, a willingness to impassion your target market at the risk of turning-off others is a requirement. You can't please everyone and trying to do so ends up in pleasing no one. You have to be able to stand out and have a very clear personal brand identity.
Mitt Romney's brand needs to be re-focused, and for him, this is a no-brainer because his strength is exactly in line with the biggest issues facing America today. He's "Mr. Fix-it" when it comes to financial and economic matters. However, instead of hammering that concept home, his messaging has been all over the board, even leading him into unfortunate word choices like stating that he is "severely conservative."
Romney needs to realign his brand with the unique set of skills and experience that he brings to the table, which just so happens to be the perfect fit to solve the economic crisis that the U.S. faces.
Everyone's favorite radio station... WIIFM
In America, everyone is constantly tuned into their favorite "radio station" -- WIIFM (aka What's In It For Me?). That means that candidates need to frame issues from the side of the public, intertwining their own unique brand strengths that address those issues.
There are several opportunities for Romney to do this for some very large segments of the population. For example, none of the candidates are effectively addressing the small business owners (of which there are approximately 28 million in the U.S. today). Small business owners' biggest challenges center on issues such as too much government regulation and lack of access to capital. Given Mr. Romney's private equity and business background, this should be an easy pitch. I want to see him reaching out to the small business community to say something such as, "We have 28 million small business owners in this country. If you are one of them, you are spending far too much time on administration and too little time on running your business. You are having a tough time accessing capital. I understand your issues. I have helped provide financing for some of the most successful businesses in this country, such as Staples. I know how important this is to you and I have a plan to fix it..."
Nobody else can connect to that issue like Mitt Romney can. Similar "WIIFM" issues relate to seniors on fixed incomes who are suffering because of the artificially depressed interest rates and even the general sentiment of those who are unemployed, underemployed, underwater on their mortgage or who have lost significant asset value over the past four years. Brand and messaging focus plus framing the issues from the American public's perspective can help create that bridge that Romney needs to build.
Show, tell and involve
Another relevant proverb says that "if you tell me I will forget, if you show me I may remember, if you involve me I will understand." Mitt Romney needs to move from telling to showing and involving Americans in not only the ways discussed above, but by changing his communication from talking at or to people to talking with them.
A great tactic here would be to delve into some storytelling that hits on the points above as well. He could tie the plight of someone whose mortgage is underwater or who is underemployed and feeling like the situation will never really improve to the feeling of those involved with the Salt Lake City Olympics. He can paint the picture of how the night was crisp and that there was a heavy air of despair when he got the phone call with the news that the Olympics was hundreds of millions short of its revenue budget and plagued by scandal. He can convey the feelings of angst and uncertainty and what affect that had on everyone involved. He can give insight on why he turned down the salary that came with the job and contributing a donation from his personal funds. He can demonstrate how he used his skills to change the situation and create a substantial multi-million dollar profit for the games, which set records in both the broadcasting and sponsorship/marketing. He can share the sounds of Americans cheering on the athletes who won 34 U.S. medals and relate that to how we as Americans will all be cheering again one day soon with the right leadership to set us back on track.
The key element with the "show and involve" story strategy is that it makes people feel. Even if individuals can't remember the specific details of what someone said, they always remember how someone made them feel. Right now, the American public hasn't been feeling much when it comes to Mitt Romney. He needs to connect with and make people feel hopeful and excited for the future.
Mitt Romney has all of the experience and character to reclaim his frontrunner status for the Republican party nod, but he needs to sharpen his tools, connect with the public and realign his brand to convey how he is the best and most uniquely qualified candidate. If he fails to do this, he will continue to put his chances for the nomination in serious jeopardy.