Political leaders have known for centuries what commercial organizations have recently discovered: The most successful brands are rooted in universal human Ideals.
Analysis we've done on more than 50,000 brands across the globe confirms that the best brands, in addition to operating from an Ideal, have developed a consistent set of good habits.
If you want to be in the stratosphere of great brands, you have to do three things: commit to the principles of successful brands (like being in touch with your heritage and building buzz), be motivated by an Ideal that goes beyond the product you sell, and, most importantly, live the Ideal every day.
So, how do this year's presidential hopefuls match up on these brand-building principles to heavy hitters like Starbucks and Apple?
Strong brands embrace their heritage, operating with one foot in the past and one in the future, creating brand stories. Consider luxury champagne brand Moët & Chandon, which, although over 250 years old, has managed to more than double its brand value in the last ten years. It constantly reminds consumers of its long-standing French heritage while simultaneously projecting an image of modernity. Even in the absence of a long heritage, young brands can be very successful by meaningfully connecting their stories to their Ideals and to consumers. In the presidential race, Romney has an advantage on this front and reminds people of his extensive background in business as well as his family heritage and his successes as Massachusetts Governor. A relative political newcomer, Obama has sought to build a heritage outside of the political realm and instead embraces his story as the outsider, the community organizer, and the first African American president.
Maintaining relevance and inspiring followers requires consumer engagement and interaction. BMW's Mini is incredibly effective in generating consumer dialogue, with over fifty local consumer-led Mini clubs for enthusiasts. On the buzz front, Obama has the edge -- just compare Obama's 31 million Facebook "likes" (approximate) to Romney's 11 million (approximate). Obama's young following and unprecedented use of social media aided to his success in the 2008 election, and continues to propel him in this year's race. To rival Obama's buzz, Romney has organized the "Young Americans for Romney Leadership Team," a group of 20-somethings who have embedded dozens of "Young Americans for Mitt Romney" groups at universities across the nation.
A brand Ideal serves as a business' compass, acting as the raison d'être of the entire organization. Iconic brands like Starbucks and Red Bull are masters at centering their businesses on one Ideal. Starbucks continually delivers a consistent experience around the world, embodying its Ideal of "human connection," while Red Bull uses its product, corporate culture, and extreme sports sponsorships to channel its Ideal of "uplifting mind and body." Though neither candidate has one singular Ideal, Obama's slogan of "Forward" and Romney's "Believe in America" act as proxies for the platform upon which they base their campaigns. These are the symbols of their candidacies and are the inspiration for all interaction with the American public.
But there is one major difference between good brands and great brands (to me, there are no such things such as bad brands, because I love brands).
The real difference is living the Ideal.
And living the Ideal is difficult. Formulating a powerful Ideal is easy enough -- it is a mix of art and science, a whole-brained effort that people in my profession often are asked to do. Living the Ideal and harnessing its power is difficult because it takes executive discipline -- discipline to resist the temptation to take the easy road of short-term political or economic gain.
Discipline to stay true to the Ideal. That's why the inspirational leader, no matter whether CEO or commander-in-chief, has to make the tough decisions, communicate consistently, and act from a place that's bigger than himself.
Amidst the worst global economic crisis in generations and a fractured Congress, there's no doubt that Obama has made a slew of unpopular decisions within his four-year tenure. However, Obama's supporters could argue that these tough decisions have been in service of the president's Ideal of 'Hope, Progress, and Inclusion.' Proponents might cite Obama's oftentimes unpopular championing of Obamacare as a prime example of sticking to his guns. His critics, however, might call him a flip-flopper and argue that decisions like keeping Guantanamo Bay open and pursuing drone attacks have contradicted earlier stances. On the other hand, Romney's commitment to living his presidential Ideal has yet to be tested. His primary focus on the economy would surely be a key tenant of his brand Ideal, and his persistence to better the economy would be a major litmus test.
So, how do the current presidential candidates and their Ideals match up against one another? Well, I'll let you be the judge of that. May the best brand win!