Strategy & Marketing

Brand Reality Versus Your Perception

When a product, person, or organization has to enter a particularly hostile or challenging market, they essentially have three choices:

1) Stay true to who or what you are,

2) Change who you are, or

3) Change how you’re perceived. It doesn’t matter if it’s product sales, non-profit work, or politics, perception matters, and in a media driven culture, how you’re perceived is just as important as who you are.

In looking at politics, this applies to the campaign for “Change” by Barack Obama. He has the exact same choices in this presidential campaign – Stay true to who he is, change who he is, or change how he’s perceived. The policy information indicates he’s a liberal. According to the National Journal, he’s rated the most liberal person in the Senate in 2007. The reasons for that assessment seem to be sound:

• He’s criticized the Supreme Court for upholding the partial birth abortion ban. He’s pro-abortion all the way through the pregnancy.
• He favors higher taxes on Social Security, retirement income, and regular income.
• He supports massive increases in domestic spending and government regulation.
• He opposes the North American Free Trade Agreement.
• He voted against John Roberts and Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court.
• He supports giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.

• The list continues, which is why he’s gained the endorsement of – as the Wall Street Journal says, “One of the most radical groups within the liberal universe.”

So whether you like Obama or not, each of these issues are classic liberal positions, and he has a problem if he wants to appeal to voters outside the far left segment of the population. So what’s the choice?

1) He can stay true to himself and his values. That’s a vote for authenticity, but in this situation it keeps him in a niche. If he campaigned publically on the list above and his other similar positions, he’d be relegated to a Left wing niche of the party. (Remember – he’s rated more liberal than Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton).

2) He can change. I don’t see that happening. Whatever his politics, I think Obama is a man of honor. He is true to what he believes, and hasn’t shown me that he’s the type of person who could compromise those beliefs. So that’s out.

3) Change your perception in the marketplace. In my opinion, this is the path Obama has chosen. Knowing that his liberal views would relegate him in the direction of fringe status and leave him open to Conservative attacks, he has chosen a strategy of being dismissive of “labels.” He calls those labels simplistic and outmoded. He blames categories and labels as obstacles to solving problems. He’s been quoted saying, “Let me tell you something. There’s nothing liberal about wanting to reduce money in politics. It’s common sense.”

By using this strategy (as I’ve written before) he’s deflecting people from his real positions, by changing the way he’s perceived. In my recent memory Republicans have been very effective at dismissing Democrats as “liberal” and Obama knows this. Even Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton ran as moderates, because the data indicates that this country is center to center right on most issues – particularly when it comes to Presidential elections.

Is this strategy wrong? Not at all. While some people might call it deceptive, it can be used for all kinds of issues. Las Vegas recast itself a number of years ago as a “family entertainment destination.” Tribal gambling on reservations has been repositioned as “Native American self-reliance.”

From a positive direction, in my book “Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media” I write about the importance of a powerful brand story, and how that story can help a religious organization or non-profit cut through the media clutter and connect with an audience.

For good or bad, be aware of brand repositioning. From politics, to business, religion, sports, entertainment and more, in a media driven culture, it’s not just who you are, it’s how you’re perceived that counts.

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  1. It's funny how, for most Americans, the "perception is reality" rule simply stops there. Does anyone research the actual answers behind the perceptions? Certainly the media elite doesn't seem to (only conservative talk shows mention Obama as "left of Hillary").

    How do we get people to get beyond the perceptions, so that they can adequately, reliably, and informed-ly thin for themselves?

  2. I think we may be about to witness the failure of disingenuous manipulation of public opinion.  Over the last 7 years, the Left leaning media has succeeded in conditioning the majority to view Mr. Bush's presidency as an unmitigated failure.  Many people actively loathe the president, and their reasons are rooted in carefully constructed media myths, not reality or reason.

    So the Democratic party entered the Presidential race with a ridiculous advantage.  At the outset, I didn't think they could lose.  Then Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama became the Democratic front runners.  Wow.  Hillary is unlikely to win the presidency, because too many Americans loathe the Clintons and their political machine.  Obama is unlikely to win, because he's way, way too far to the Left of center.  Wow!!! 

    The DNC is well poised to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory!   The longer it takes for the majority to figure out how Left leaning Barack Obama is, the easier he will be to defeat when he becomes their candidate.   The more Mrs. Clinton gets beat up, the easier she is to defeat should she become their candidate.

    So yes, public opinion is being cleverly manipulated, but the people pulling the strings are not particularly well organized.  It looks very likely the Left has outsmarted itself.

    I'm too conservative to have a dog in this fight.  The Republican Party hasn't represented my values since Mr. Bush Sr. was president.  The Democrats have never seriously considered a candidate I could vote for.   So I watch the whole mess with resigned disgust.  McCain is likely to become President, and I couldn't care less.

    Reinventing yourself for the public and slandering your opposition will only get you so far.  

  3. Phil –

    I am adding this post here because you were talking about branding and that is what I wanted to share with you.

    I didn’t know if you were aware of this polling website.

    I joined a few months ago because I felt it would give me an in to voice my opinion on a myriad of subject matters which it has. I also joined to earn an ipod!

    Anyway, they send me polls to take every few weeks and one of the things they track pretty consistently is how I respond to brand names. Is my response positive or negative.

    I thought you might like to venture over and check it out for yourself.

    By the way, I have implemented some of the things you talked about in your book on my blog and in my first month of being on squarespace, I have had over 6500 views! And I have been able to get 5 articles published in the past 3 weeks.

    I am still working on my logo. That one is a little challenging for me…don’t know why.

    Anyway, to all of you on here that haven’t gotten Phil’s book, it is worth every penny and then some!!!

    Remaining Steadfast,

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