SOURCE: Whitehorn Group

Whitehorn Group

June 05, 2013 13:34 ET

Obama's Crisis of Scandals Won't Devalue the American Brand According to Christopher Johnson of Whitehorn Group

NEW YORK, NY--(Marketwired - June 05, 2013) -  "President Obama can rise above crisis and controversy to increase the Value of America through embracing brand management," says branding expert Christopher Johnson, CEO of Whitehorn Group.

"Early on, Obama's Presidential campaign represented something new. With his "Yes We Can" slogan, he tried to change America's failing image, and perception of itself. Obama, like a great CEO, offered a new image for America in the global marketplace. He's the first President in American history to employ marketing tactics associated with brand name consumer products."

"Obama is a master of marketing. He's transformed the political machine and updated it for modern times and a younger generation. Like any big company, Obama pursues his objectives through the art of marketing. In Obama's case, he's trying to effectively pass Democratic policies by rallying a coalition of change."

He notes Obama's carefully controlled messages, from his first slogan, to his use of social media, and even to his graphic design. "He's a brilliant orator with top-notch writers at his disposal, a trend established at the outset when he announced, 'Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for another time… We are the hope for the future.'"

"Obama is a perfect case study of how to play the American marketplace. His openness to how consumers communicate with each other today, and his understanding of their desire for an authentic product lends his unique image such power. He has all the qualities you want in a brand; he's fresh, different, appealing, and he's embraced the Internet like no other before him. He uses its inherent transparency to his advantage. He offers the American people an open image unencumbered by the lack of authenticity that's become famous in politics and for politicians. More than just another President, he also represents the very redefinition of the Presidential Brand itself."

He believes that the best way to ensure the Obama legacy would be for his administration to subjugate it in service to the American Brand itself, saying, "It would benefit him immensely due to the simple fact that his reputation will endure inside the context of a well-defined Presidential Brand that reaches beyond his own reputation. The practice of actively considering the American Brand a top priority would be progress for the United States as well as for himself. To apply this and define the country's brand could become Obama's legacy just as George Washington's became his role as the Father of the American Revolution. Abraham Lincoln led during the Civil War, forever ending slavery and Franklin D. Roosevelt led the country through worldwide economic depression and war. Each of these men was the leader of not only our country but the primary zeitgeist of their time. Branding is ours, and Obama is our President during this era."

"America, the Brand? Yes, applying long-term brand strategy practices in service of our nation will create unparalleled Value -- beyond the hundreds of billions in measured brand value attributed to global corporate giants. And that should be merely the beginning -- the discipline required for long-term brand management can also protect and increase the Value of America -- similar to the way corporations manage their increasingly valuable global brands." Johnson says emphatically.

Lately, however, that brand is at risk of being eroded by all the current scandals taking place. Fox News accurately assessed the situation recently when it said, "There's a hellacious amount of fire and it's spreading. If Obama can't contain it, the fires will merge into one mighty conflagration -- and light up just how awful his administration has been to the press and his opponents."

The IRS scandal may be the most damaging of them all, however. The NY Times reported, "It's still not clear if anyone in the White House took note of the situation at the IRS in the spring of 2012. Republicans have speculated, so far with no proof that the tax agency was acting on political orders from higher-ups, presumably in the White House at the President's campaign."

Obama recently sought to douse these flames in a speech, saying, "Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it." This is classic Obama messaging, and it looks a lot like brand strategy. Obama is seeking to rally the American people to counter whatever crisis is occurring with the message of communal change by the people at large against government. In doing so, he somehow, brilliantly, separates himself from the very government that is under attack, once again placing himself with the common man.

After 25 years working as a brand expert, occasionally watching scandal unexpectedly touch his clients' businesses and lives, Mr. Johnson knows long-term brand management is not as easy as it sounds. "The trick," he says "like with most of life, is in the execution. It takes a shift away from the usual focus on short-term objectives to consider brand strategy. Business goals such as creating a sales increase for the upcoming quarter or even political goals to assure a recent law enactment was a win for everybody are short-term. Long-term goals require strong commitments from leadership, planning and significant resources."

"Elections and campaigns are short-term concerns -- even Presidential elections. The crafting of a message, even a message that defines a direction for a sitting President, is not the same as maintaining a long-term brand identity. It is not about the individual who is serving as the President, but rather the Office of the President of the United States of America. Our country itself requires our President's leadership and active guidance to be clearly and consistently branded -- and therefore protected."

The single most important consideration for any brand is Value, which is beyond messaging and marketing. Whether it is shareholder value for large public companies, or stakeholder value for organizations and private businesses of all sizes, brand management is key. Value is forever being built or destroyed with either good brand management, or by ignoring it in exchange for a quick fix. Allowing the market, the public, or the latest crisis to dictate direction for the overall brand itself only damages the brand. Prada, with a brand identified with luxury and quality increased their brand value 63% in the last year according to the Economist.

Johnson asks, "What do you think is the value of BrandUSA?"

The branding specialist advises that Obama address this and other emerging crisis issues head-on while conducting the business of his Presidency. He suggests that this includes assessing the foundations of both the Presidential and the American brands individually and in relationship to each other. He suggest this be accomplished by doing the hard work required to truly determine long-term objectives, and then use those to define the core brand of the Office of the President itself rather than his personal brand. Then work to inform how these brand pillars support Brand America now and in the future.

Why do this? According to Johnson, "Protecting the long-term success of our country ensures the brand remains bigger than the details, or the current situation -- in crisis or not. Done correctly, this is well worth the effort in terms of permanence. The brand, as defined by long-term vision rather than any lesser concerns, will not change. Again, regardless of the current climate or circumstances, whether great or scandalous, the brand -- corporate, product or our country's -- stands for itself."

Coca-Cola, at the moment, faces issues on an international scale. New Middle East marketing initiatives have roused tensions in the area. That said, the brand is essentially undamaged. Coke has created a perception through consistent marketing of their products being a catalyst for togetherness and even world peace. The concepts associated with the brand are so visceral that managing through any crisis that arises lies largely in relying on the strength of their brand.

He explains, "Just like Coke, who manages their brand to ensure they remain embedded in our lives, the Obama administration can take an even more substantial step and initiate a serious Brand Management process for America itself. Just as the corporate c-suite is responsible for the direction of a company and the ultimate value of its brand, the President is responsible for directing the future of our country, and for protecting and increasing its value. No administration, however, has yet to employ the proven practice of strategic brand management for the USA. Time for government to catch up to business and Obama is just the President to do so."

Johnson believes that Obama should make a departure from damage control toward a real change of perspective during his Presidency. He states, "I'm not referring to polling, or the usual gauges of public perception, which changes often, but management leading the way for the national brand -- in this case President Obama. I believe that practicing the proven discipline of long-term strategic brand management would change his legacy. Obama could become the first President to actively and deliberately practice branding as core to his office and the country, and in doing so -- he has the potential to fully embrace what he has done from day one -- to create and own his unique role in our history as Father of the American Brand."

About Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson is CEO of Whitehorn Group. Mr. Johnson is a highly regarded authority on leveraging intellectual brand capital and creating innovative products that change markets. His focus is primarily in the global consumer marketplace using ground breaking global retail and e-commerce channels to penetrate markets, change consumer preference and influence behavior and establish worldwide distribution. Johnson attended Carnegie Mellon University where he won the Tholenheimer Award and McCurdy Prize. 

About Whitehorn Group

Whitehorn Group is a premier full-service brand identity firm that combines strategic insight, innovation and implementation know-how to deliver imaginative profit-focused solutions designed to get results. Their capabilities include Branding, Product Development and Digital Marketing.

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