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Five Branding Lessons Learned From Obama’s Mistakes


Undoubtedly the last week had to have been the worst week of President Obama’s term. He turned 50 (a milestone for many), became the first president to oversee the downgrading of the country’s credit rating, then he presided over the deadliest day in Afghanistan, then the markets plunged. All tough stuff.

How he’s going to get out this mess is yet to be seen. But perhaps more urgently, what can be learned by the average brand or business from all of this?

In February 2009, Shaun Rein wrote an article for, “Five Leadership Lessons From Obama’s First Month”. Rein asserted the President had done three things all CEO’s should do and two they should avoid. In hindsight none of Rein’s points turned out not to have legs but his points aply to any brand.

Lesson 1 – Have A Strong Brand and Position In The World – I can’t argue with that one! Clearly Obama had great branding. Where that may have hurt the President however is an inability to deliver on the brand promise. You know how the “Hope and Change” has been twisted by his detractors. Don’t let your brand come close to that one! Make certain your brand’s position is deliverable.

Lesson 2 – Don’t Lose Sight of The Long Term – Again, I agree with the concept. However focusing on the long-term while not delivering results today is problematic – for any brand (or President). Brands must keep their eye on today and the future – simultaneously, and without going cross-eyed.

Lesson 3 – Smart PR is About Managing Expectations – Lowering expectations and delivering on the high side is common in business. Eventually sandbagging can be sniffed out. Alternatively, brands are likely to put too positive of a spin on a situation, product or outcome. The best path for your brand is to communicate realistically on expectations and deliverables.

Lesson 4 – Build Consensus – But Don’t Let A Minority Derail Your Plan – Another concept I agree with. Again, however, consistency did not hold for this principle….Obama campaigned on reaching across the ideological divide but ended up blaming the Tea Party for the credit downgrade. For your brand #4 should be applied to your social media strategy. Build an audience but don’t let them drive your brand’s reputation.

Lesson 4 – Conduct Super Due Diligence, Repeatedly  Anyone in business knows the value of competitive analysis, research and evaluation. Most brands don’t have the luxury of the “Repeatedly” part. Ready, fire, aim is no way to run a business but neither is paralysis by analysis.

To summarize all 5 lessons into one gem I’d say this: Know your audience, your competition and your business. Understand your customers wants and expectations. Clearly state how you’ll meet those wants and expectations. Do what you say you’re going to due…consistently. If you make a mistake, admit, fix it and move on.

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