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Brand Obama Sets High Expectations for Second Term

Posted by: Nora Geiss and David Trahan on Tuesday, January 22 2013 08:36 PM

Swearing In

Strong brands are predictive. Yes, they are built over time on a solid foundation and rely heavily on in-the-moment perception for success, but as economic assets they indicate the trajectory of a business and give insight into projected earnings for the coming years. This is why brands have real, tangible value: they tell us what to expect. Looking back at the evolution of Brand Obama from the 2008 campaign to Day One of the second presidential term, it looks like we can expect the next four years to be action packed.

When we talk about what we expect from the brand of the American President, we are reminded of the one true hallmark that confers value to a brand: Trust. It’s built on promises kept; on a relationship that has value; on a set of experiences that share something familiar but never fail to deliver in ways that fulfill different needs. It’s tough to come by, particularly in politics, where the window of opportunity is small and every action is wrung through the partisan machine of opposing ideals. But it remains incredibly important to the success of the President:

“Many people no longer believe this, but trust remains the coin of the realm in politics. A president who is trusted – by the people, by the congress, by the press, by foreign countries – is a president who can get a lot of good things done.” ~David Gergen, White House Advisor (Nixon / Reagan / Ford / Clinton Administrations)

After four years in office, two election campaigns, big changes like the Affordable Care Act, and big challenges most recently manifest in the Fiscal Cliff debates and gun safety policy, what have we learned about the brand of President Barack Obama? What consistent core promise has been present through his 2008 campaign, his 2012 campaign to today, and how well has he delivered? In this new term, how does the brand indicate what the President will do to continue to meet the needs and demands of the American people and push us even further forward?

The Promise

Through his transformation from community organizer to Harvard Law Review president to state and then US Senator, we’ve seen Barack Obama build his brand around thinking big, calling for collaborative action and pursuing a genuine realization of equality in which every citizen has the same opportunity to achieve success. These foundational themes set him up as the guy who wouldn’t stand for “politics as usual,” who felt the people’s frustration with two-party gridlock, and who stood up to say that our future depended on a different approach to getting things done.

This is the promise of Brand Obama: Progress above politics. We can make a better future for ourselves, but only if we work together, only if we strive to find more common ground than ways to draw lines in the sand.

It’s a promise that resonated in the 2008 campaign through messages that inspired Americans to believe that there was hope, that we could change, that yes we can! rise to meet the challenges of our time. It’s a promise that fueled the dogged pursuit of the most historical policy changes of the first term, like healthcare reform and the end to enforcement of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. It was still alive in the 2012 campaign, but tempered by a tone that said “don’t give up – we need to keep pushing forward to make the change we seek a reality.”

Not every promise from the 2008 campaign has been kept; political watchdogs have called out financial reforms (US debt to China, executive pay, the mortgage crisis) and unemployment as areas that have so far failed to live up to expectations. Delivering the proof to back up the promise is critical to maintaining trust in the presidential brand. Without trust, there will be no way to reach beyond the constraints of traditional politics and move forward.

The Way Forward

Despite leaving some boxes unchecked on the to-do list drawn up in 2008, the promise itself has not changed. In his inauguration speech on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, President Barack Obama reinforced that “when times change, so must we; … now more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation, and as one people.” The call for setting aside our differences to move forward together beats steady within every speech.

Brand Obama communicates a clear message, has a consistent storyline and sets itself apart with a differentiated approach - all elements common to strong brands that predictably perform well against their goals. So what does the brand promise of the President predict for the new term?

Prioritizing decisive action over party politics.

The tone set in the 2012 campaign was less about stirring hearts and more about getting the work done – and getting party-driven obstacles out of the picture. In his inauguration speech, the president made it clear which political tactics wouldn’t fly this time around, saying “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle… or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.” In other words: Time to grow up. Expect to see a president less patient to play “compromise” and more likely to use executive action to make policy a reality, especially in dealing with public safety issues like gun control.

An emphasis on the people’s role and our responsibility to act.

The inauguration speech closed with a clear call to action: “For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot delay.” This echoed earlier reminders that we the people have a responsibility to our shared goals as a nation: “As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government.” Not coincidentally, Organizing for Action, a group dedicated to pulling together local people and resources to initiate change on a grassroots level, was launched the day of the official swearing-in.

A pursuit of lasting legacy.

Legislation core to the original dreams of the presidential candidate we met in 2008 will come back to the battle grounds of Congress and the House. DREAM Act, here’s looking at you.

If the predictive nature of strong brands plays out in this second term, it looks like we have a lot of hard work ahead – set to payoff the promise of change the American people bought into in 2008. The expectations have been set to a very high bar. It won’t be easy. But where there is trust, there is still hope.

Nora Geiss is a Director, Verbal Identity & Digital, Interbrand New York. David Trahan is a Consultant, Verbal Identity, Interbrand New York.

Source: The West Wing, Season 3: Special Episode (Documentary), 2001; Swearing in photo above from whitehouse.gov.

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