Political Branding: Redefining Politicking

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Charles O’Tudor, Group Principal Consultant, ADSTRAT BMC and Alumni, The School of Politics, Policy & Governance [SPPG].

Politics, Elections, Campaigns, Voters, these words mean different things to different people, they are attributed to democracy, a concept that is built on giving equitable representation, but what is representation if a few too many are not involved in the process which determines how the democracies of their different nations are shaped.

“We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.” Thomas Jefferson couldn’t be more apt when he made the above pronouncement.

In my over two decades of creating impossible brands, converting customers, designing campaigns, winning and losing, I have come to understand how through the use of a few branding principles, we can run campaigns, choose leaders and compete in ways that are ethical and free from the usual vile and “negative focused” campaigns that are slowly becoming the norm.

I have summarised my initial points in a series of write-ups posted on my personal blog, but I have decided to harmonise all three talking points and break them into bits using language and references which are simple, so it’s easier to connect, reflect and recall the core essence of this message.

A Game Of Consistency

One of the most successful teams in NBA history, The San Antonio Spurs, have a quote from social reformer Jacob Riis hanging in their locker room: “When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow, it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it— but all that had gone before.”

Being in an election year in Nigeria means having hundreds of people shove their big dreams of transformation in our faces, some of whom we know all too well, and most of whom only show up every leap year with promises. This does not negate or confirm the chances or intentions of these august visitors, but it does highlight the difference between politicians who win big and those who continue to play the four-year card.

Taking lessons from the life of a Chinese bamboo tree which takes five years to grow. It has to be watered and fertilized in the ground where it has been planted every day. It doesn’t break through the ground, there is no visible result for all that consistent input for FIVE YEARS.

After five years, once it breaks through the ground, it will grow 90 feet tall in five weeks!, what happens with the Chinese bamboo tree can be likened to “overnight success”, but is it really overnight or a five- year journey of consistency as the opening quote alluded to.

A more relatable/”Human-Like” example is the narrative of someone who is so extraordinary that his story of reaping the value of consistency is only beginning to unfold.

Tunde Onakoya (Founder Chess In Slums) set up what has now transformed into a nonprofit that’s intentional in delivering on its promise of empowering children in slums across Africa, these are children who live in some of the most terrible living conditions have gone back to school and accessed other opportunities which have set them on a path of success using the game of chess as a driver.

With a GoFundMe campaign whose target was changed twice to set a current target cap of 1 million dollars, Tunde’s consistency over the years has given birth to a global movement that is committed to ensuring vulnerable children have an equal opportunity to live purposeful lives.

Both case studies are lessons that speak to political brands on the need to not just jump on every moving trend but identify/carve a niche where their talents are their truest self and keep building, showing up and putting themselves out there.

Similarly, In governance and leadership, you cant bypass consistent effort and take all the spoils in one hit.

“When you finally break through the Plateau of Latent Potential, people will call it an overnight success. The outside world only sees the most dramatic event rather than all that preceded it. But you know that it’s the work you did long ago—when it seemed that you weren’t making any progress—that makes the jump today possible”- James Clear.

When it comes to political and emotional branding, the ugly truth is that it is simpler to make a consistent brand rise than an almost non-existent one, even if the consistent brand has a pile of skeletons, selling a promise of “tested and trusted”, or “the devil you know” is an easier sell.

We are always attempting to improve ourselves, but it is never that simple because we are continuously confronted with challenges that encourage us to give up. Progress can be gradual, but like the Chinese Bamboo tree, you must have the strength to overcome any difficulties because it will all be worth it in the end. Growing a new set of talents is beneficial not only to you but also to others, as is the ability to persevere even when you don’t see results.

Without a doubt, All big things come from small beginnings, This is not to say don’t play big but to recognise the value of consistent effort.

START TODAY.

The Last Mile Is Perception.

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

This statement from hamlet by William Shakespeare speaks to the need for aspiring leaders to understand the need to own up to whatever they choose to stand for.

In playing politics with leadership we have seen various perception shaping campaigns where deceit and lies take charge, and trust, consistency and self-awareness take the back seat.

I think the big question then is, “how do you create a perception that is both true to you and sellable to your followers”?

Let me share with you the catalytic story of Viktor Frankl— he was imprisoned in the death camps of Nazi Germany, where he experienced things that were so repugnant to my sense of decency that I shudder to even think about them. His parents, his brother, and his wife died in the camps or were sent to the gas ovens and Frankl would often wonder if he would suffer the same faith as he shovelled out the ashes of those so fated.

One day, naked and alone in a small room, he began to become aware of what he later called “the last of the human freedoms” –his Nazi captors could control his entire environment, they could do what they wanted to his body, but Viktor Frankl himself was a self-aware being who could look as an observer at his very involvement. He could decide within himself how all of this was going to affect him.

In the midst of the most degrading circumstances imaginable, Frankl discovered a fundamental principle about the nature of man: Between our realities and our response to those realities, man has the freedom to choose.

He became an inspiration to those around him, even to some of the guards. Helping others find meaning in their suffering and dignity in their prison existence.

What does this tell us about brands who aspire for political leadership?

For one— you have to create who you are, first in your mind’s eye, then in the eyes of your followers, opposition and those who are indifferent about what you stand for.

  • Recognise the things you can control and leverage on them, one key factor in this as Frankyl’s story revealed is that the human mind is always free and available for the next convincing story to occupy (Your opponents might own the money, but you own the gold mines, which is people’s minds).
  • Be an existence that expresses what you stand for, speak it, wear it, be it, engage it. once you identify who/what you want to be, apply the tools of the modern world (media, communities etc) to sell your message and promise.
  • The best way to actualise that which you claim to be is to actually be it even in private, which is why Brand management identifies, highlights and transforms those things which can be found in your belief systems when queried.

Be in the minds of your followers and you don’t have to be in anyone’s pocket.

The mastery of controlling perception is one of the biggest determiners in politics and leadership in general.

HOW ARE YOU SHAPING YOURS?

Special thanks to Stephen Covey for inspiring the use of Viktor Frankl’s teachings.

Campaigning Differently

“The level of voter participation is mostly contingent upon the sophistication of the channels utilised by candidates and political parties to manage and disseminate political information and campaign messages to the electorate. Succinctly put, the robustness of a party’s propaganda machinery is a key determinant of the outcome of an election”. [Excerpt from a Study by Aloysius-Michaels Okolie, Chukwuemeka Enyiazu & Kelechi Elijah Nnamani].

It takes a lot of courage to do things differently, but this is what sets you apart from the deluge of posters, messaging, and other materials that are commonly associated with election/campaign seasons. People have lost trust/faith in a system that is supposed to empower them, not put them down, which is why a large percentage of Nigerians are not paying attention to the 2023 elections. So, how do you gain votes and trust?

“Every great political campaign rewrites the rules; devising a new way to win is what gives campaigns a comparative advantage against their foes”. John Podhoretz.

Running campaigns traditionally the same way as “it has always been done” has been proven to be a defeatist strategy, the typical Nigerian campaign landscape revolves around churning out money with no clear cut strategy on community engagement, money is definitely important no doubt, but the question is how do we use money as a transformative campaign tool rather than a weaponised one.

I have always been fascinated by the process of persuading others to make particular judgments. I will summarize my observations on the following six points, based on my experience with hundreds of successful and a few unsuccessful Brand Management procedures and tactics, as well as Louis Perron’s comment on the topic:

Identify and speak the language of your Audience

In your attempt to connect, you risk alienating your core supporters by attempting to be everything to everyone. Find something that connects to your audience’s diversity or give them that one thing by getting to know them.

Message

This is not about a tagline, It should express something about you and your opponents, you have to give voters a reason why they should vote for you, Ideally, not by talking about yourself but by telling them what’s in it for them.

The 2008 Obama campaign slogan “Change we can believe in” and the chant “Yes We Can” played a vital role in making the Obama campaign one of the most successful in modern-day democracy.

Media

Successful campaigns tell a story and are not afraid of taking their voters on a journey, great storytelling is not an ideology, but simply about storytelling. leverage on social media, print, local/community engagement— the ability to harmonise them make for an exciting campaign. Also, If you want the media to run your story, give them fireworks and rainbows— in the answers to their question, remember, strategy.

Be human

As simple as it sounds, being human is one of the most difficult things politicians aiming for leadership positions face. People want to know that you are a part of them and relate to their common reality. Have human moments but be strategic about it.

“If you think that elections are cerebral affairs decided by logic and facts, I have bad news for you. As psychologist Drew Westen explained, “Two-thirds of voters’ decisions to support one candidate or another could be accounted for by two simple variables: their partisan feelings and their feelings towards the candidates. Candidates’ positions on the issues had only a modest effect on their electoral preferences.”

Money

One of the most difficult tasks for anyone in politics is to inspire the public. Many people believe that money is the most essential aspect of campaigning, but I believe that you can get the proper message out with less money. In my line of business, I have had clients with too much money, and one thing they all had in common was that money impedes/undermines discipline; for example, you’ll see campaigns with so many advertising that the heart of the message is lost.

Politicians need to rethink how they gather finances for campaigns, from social media fundraising to event sponsorship. The use of precise storytelling, informed positioning, and forming principled alliances may all help raise money that can subsequently be used as a transforming instrument. We need to shift our minds about money in politics in general, including where it comes from, how it is spent, and how transparent we are with campaign donations, among other things.

Lastly, Make No Major Mistake

You may be wondering how it is possible to avoid making a mistake when it is human nature to do so, but through consultation and strategy, you can avoid making major mistakes.

The following are major blunders: Starting too late, conducting faulty research, and, by far, the most serious error is producing campaign materials that are devoid of context.

What are your font type, colors, poses, and so on? Why should your campaign billboard look the same as everyone else’s?

You should offer the solution to a common problem in a unique way, and address issues that other politicians are unable to recognize.

Is there a consistency to your processes or you think order does not matter in Nigerian politics? Have the courage to take a step forward and stand out from every other campaign.

I enjoy the fast pace and adrenaline rush of campaigning, but most importantly, it is an opportunity to make a positive contribution to society.

These concepts are not all there is to leadership, politics, or campaigns, but they are the framework for any successful political campaign, so use them, expand them, and build a campaign that unifies rather than divides.

“Talk is cheap, voting is free; take it to the polls.”- Nanette L. Avery

Charles O’Tudor, Group Principal Consultant, ADSTRAT BMC and Alumni, The School of Politics, Policy & Governance [SPPG].

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