In the immediate aftermath of the 2012 presidential campaign – like any campaign – two things happened: the winners went to bragging and the losers started pointing fingers. One thing became clear. Obama for America’s digital, technology, and analytics teams were indispensable in securing the president’s reelection.
The Cave is what OFA called the windowless room that housed their analytics team. Like digital in 2008, analytics came of age in the 2012 campaign. OFA’s analytics team had 50 staffers. By comparison, the Romney-Ryan campaign had a data team of 4 people.
Veterans of OFA have been surprisingly forthcoming in providing details on how they leveraged the latest in technology and digital strategy to make their campaign as effective and efficient as possible.
In 2016, Republicans can’t afford to fight the battles of 2012. We have to look forward to the future and start preparing now.
Last week I presented at a new media workshop for staff members of the CDU, one of the prominent political parties in Germany that includes current Chancellor Angela Merkel. Oliver Röseler, Head of Communication, started the day with a presentation about the online strategy for Merkel’s 2009 re-election campaign. During his presentation, it struck me that the CDU’s creative efforts were cleaner and prettier than our equivalent U.S. efforts, even when compared to the standard-bearer Obama campaign. The CDU put a premium on branding and visual appeal, which emanated to everything from their pens to the architecture of their party headquarters, and rivaled the best corporate branding efforts.
During a leisurely boat ride through Berlin after a long day of noodling over the future of new media and politics, Mr. Röseler interrupted my nirvana with my least favorite type of question — that for which I have no good answer. In one of the presentations that day on web design he had seen website examples from different players in the U.S. Republican Party — the NRSC, a local party committee, and a couple of candidates — and wanted to know how it was possible the sites shared so few likenesses. “You wouldn’t even know they were from the same party by looking at them!” he exclaimed.
First, I explained that “some candidates and local committees intentionally disassociate themselves from the party committee.” But that’s not the whole answer. I went on to explain that “we Americans tend to be more cavalier, valuing our independence and individuality.” As I explained, however, I realized that this topic requires much more discussion and debate. No longer in boat ride heaven, the gears started churning and I formed a slightly more cohesive stance on the topic of brand consistency and control.
This may sound simple and trite, but why do so many political organizations fail to make branding a priority? Branding is communicating. If you are an umbrella organization for millions of people, like a national political party, shouldn’t your members recognize you no matter where they see you? I think so.
And the majority of political campaigns are guilty too. In 2005, when I worked at the RNC, we embarked on a rebranding effort for all web-based communication. We had feedback from our online activist base that the look and feel of the committee was dated, and rebranding online, we hoped, would kickstart the process of wholesale re-branding. We almost succeeded until traditionalists in the organization resisted the change for fear that elder donors and local committees would resist change. (Don’t worry, I was confused too.)
If affiliated organizations like local party committees, reject your brand, that’s a reason to re-brand and not give up on branding. A re-branding effort provides the opportunity to both solicit feedback from your stakeholders about their satisfaction with the brand and also increase their satisfaction. In the end, we did nothing and now the GOP faces the situation that baffled Mr. Röseler. Some might argue that in politics, traditional corporate branding efforts are not a priority — substance is what matters. And they could be right. Yet, I’ve found that the organizations with brand disorganization are just generally disorganized. Those who get the details right more often get the nuts and bolts right. Take a look at the Obama 2008 campaign vs. the McCain 2008 campaign, or vs. any campaign that is not the Obama campaign. For which could you identify their logo? Only one: Obama.
Take a look at some of the most well-known companies: Google, Facebook, McDonalds, BP. (Ok, good branding is not a guarantee of success). Others would argue that we need more creativity and diversity in websites, not less, and I would agree. However, creativity and brand consistency are not mutually exclusive. The ideal website brilliantly masters both.