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Jim Stengel Headshot
Matt Carcieri Headshot

Obama's Win: What It Teaches Business

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Given the economic doldrums of the past four years, President Obama was unlikely to win reelection this week. The fact that he did says a lot about the strength of his "brand ideal" and the effectiveness of his campaign. So what can we learn from his success?

Certainly, there were a number of factors that contributed to Obama's triumph -- the improving jobs picture, the recovery of the housing market, etc. -- but his success points to a critical issue at the heart of any people-related endeavor. Whatever the product or service, the most important question on customers' mind is: "Who cares?" "Who cares the most about my welfare and is helping to improve it?"

For most of the campaign, Obama cornered the market on caring. He did so by focusing his narrative on the "Why" -- emphasizing shared values and a people-serving purpose to lift the middle class. Bill Clinton's rousing convention speech and Romney's own foibles (including his '47%' comment) helped to make empathy a meaningful point of difference for Obama.

By contrast, the bulk of Romney's campaign focused on the "What": cutting taxes and downsizing government. It promoted Romney's "features and benefits" as an economic repairman, and his résumé was the "reason to believe." It wasn't until the first debate that Romney gave voters a real taste of his "Why" -- his empathetic interest in fighting for people. Only then did a real contest emerge.

Obama's victory underlines the importance of "Why" over "What," and it reminds us that every winning enterprise needs an ideals-driven agenda -- a people-serving purpose. It's by caring for people that we earn their trust, and that trust leads to commitment.

As it turns out, Dale Carnegie's maxim on relationships is also a power strategy for businesses. To win fans and influence customers, you have to show genuine interest in them. That's exactly what today's most effective companies and brands are doing. Coke works actively to "open happiness" for people. At Ritz-Carlton, "We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen." Nike helps you "find your greatness." And because Apple puts such loving attention into its user experience, we love Apple in return.

To get love, your business has to show love. That's how everyday elections are won. Just ask President Obama.

Jim Stengel is President and CEO of the The Jim Stengel Company, LLC. Matt Carcieri is Brand Strategist at The Jim Stengel Company, LLC.