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Karen Wensley

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The Branding Lessons You Can Learn From the U.S. Election

Posted: 11/07/2012 12:58 pm

Most of us are relieved the U.S. election is over -- listening to the hyperbole of the campaign for so many months has been difficult even for Canadians who don't hear the ads and don't have the same emotional reaction to the candidates. But there are some lessons to be learned for non-politicians working on their personal brands.

Show us, don't tell us

President Obama got a boost in the polls by acting presidential in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. In a workplace, this is equally true. If you are working towards a promotion, find opportunities to show what you would be like in the new role. Lead an initiative, take on a project, or fill in for an absent colleague so that people can see what you would be like in a more senior leadership position. It's the old advice to dress like the person at the next level up -- except that it applies to more than clothes.

It's about the local workers

In a close race, success goes to the party that can muster local volunteers to get out the vote. In a workplace, having the support of your team, especially the people junior to you, can make a huge difference. They make you look good by getting the work done well and on time. They tell others how great you are to work for, and attract other talent to your team. As they get promoted into new roles, they continue to spread your great brand. So don't focus on impressing the bosses while neglecting your base.

Attack ads may work, but only in the short term

Unfortunately, most people have reluctantly accepted that attacking your opponent (in the most unfair way possible) wins votes. But the winning candidate then has to live with the adversarial relationship that results -- which means that nothing gets done because the political parties in Washington can't work together. In a workplace, winning a promotion by undermining your competitors does the same long term harm to your career. Even if the unsuccessful competitors leave the organization, their supporters will remember what you did to win, and you will have an uphill battle to win back trust. So unless you are running for political office, win by showing how great you are and demonstrate why your particular strengths are needed for the organization.

The 30-second clip is important but so is the debate

Personal branding books all advise you to perfect your elevator speech. And, just as for political candidates, you may only get 30 seconds, so you need to have your message down pat. But the longer "debates" count too (although describing the U.S. political theatre as a debate is stretching the definition...). Speaking to a partisan crowd requires a different style from a television debate which is again different from appearing on Letterman. In the workplace, observe and ask colleagues about the expectations and norms of various meetings, events, and interactions. And adjust your behaviour and style accordingly. (Just don't tell one group that the other 47 per cent don't count!)

Authenticity does matter (really!)

Governor Romney's drift from moderate Massachusetts governor to right wing candidate at the republican convention back to moderate opponent of President Obama gave the democrats ammunition they used to attack him. He tried to position himself as authentic by saying that what matters are practical results and efficient execution, not ideology. But conventional wisdom says that defeating a sitting president presiding over a terrible economy should have been easy.

In the final analysis, gaining the support of independent voters requires that they develop a sense of trust. The president lost trust because he didn't deliver on all his promises. But Governor Romney also lost trust by flip-flopping. Succeeding in the workplace also requires building trust -- of your team, your colleagues, and senior management. And staying consistent and authentic is key to retaining that trust. So in this case, learn from the politicians what NOT to do.

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  • Indonesian school children erupt into cheers on hearing the announcement that U.S. President Barack Obama had won the U.S. presidential election at SDN 01 Menteng elementary school to which Obama once attended in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. Obama attended the school when he was a child while living in Indonesia. (AP Photo)

  • Cyclists ride on a beach passing by a sand sculpture congratulating U.S. president Barack Obama for a second term in office in Puri, India, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. Obama captured a second White House term, blunting a mighty challenge by Republican Mitt Romney as Americans voted for a leader they knew over a wealthy businessman they did not. (AP Photo/Biswaranjan Rout)

  • Sarah Obama

    Sarah Obama, step-grandmother of President Barack Obama, waves her walking cane towards supporters in celebration before speaking to the media about her reaction to Obama's re-election in the U.S. presidential election in the garden of her house in the village of Kogelo, western Kenya, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

  • Students hold a poster of U.S. President Barack Obama as they watch the US election vote counting at SDN 01 Menteng elementary school where Obama studied in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. Obama attended the school when he was a child while living in the Southeast Asian nation. (AP Photo)

  • An American supporter of President Barack Obama holds a flag and sports a T-shirt which has a portrait of Obama and a phrase that reads 'Bangalore has hope' during a screening of U.S. elections coverage organized at a restaurant over breakfast in Bangalore, India, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. Obama captured a second White House term, blunting a mighty challenge by Republican Mitt Romney as Americans voted for a leader they knew over a wealthy businessman they did not. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

  • U.S citizens celebrate U.S. presidential election results in Mumbai, India, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. President Barack Obama captured a second White House term, blunting a mighty challenge by Republican Mitt Romney as Americans voted for a leader they knew over a wealthy businessman they did not. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

  • A Kenyan supporter of U.S. President Barack Obama cheers as he watches a broadcast showing that Obama has won the U.S. presidential election for a second term, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. Obama won re-election Tuesday night despite a fierce challenge from Republican Mitt Romney, prevailing in the face of a weak economy and high unemployment that encumbered his first term and crimped the middle class dreams of millions. (AP Photo/Sayyuid Azim)

  • A U.S. citizen reacts as he watches the live telecast of U.S. presidential election results in Mumbai, India, Wednesday, Nov 7, 2012. Barack Obama captured a second White House term, blunting a mighty challenge by Republican Mitt Romney as Americans voted for a leader they knew over a wealthy businessman they did not. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

  • An empty champagne bottle and glasses are left after President Barack Obama's victory was announced Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Shanghai, China. Obama won re-election Tuesday night despite a fierce challenge from Republican Mitt Romney, prevailing in the face of a weak economy and high unemployment that encumbered his first term and crimped the middle class dreams of millions. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

  • Villagers ride motorcycles and wave branches to celebrate Obama's re-election, in the village of Kogelo, home to Sarah Obama the step-grandmother of President Barack Obama, in western Kenya Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

  • U.S. embassy staff, Iraqi guests, and ambassadors listen to the speech of U.S. re-elected President Barack Obama at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed, Pool)

  • Barack Obama

    A man reads a Spanish newspaper with the smiling portrait of U.S. President Barack Obama on his front page, in Pamplona northern Spain, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. It is announced early Wednesday that Obama has been re-elected to be U.S. President for next four years. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

  • Indian Muslim students pose for photographs near cutouts of U.S. President Barack Obama, background right, and Republican candidate Mitt Romney during an event organized by the U.S. Embassy in Chennai, India, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. Obama captured a second White House term, blunting a mighty challenge by Romney as Americans voted for a leader they knew over a wealthy businessman they did not. (AP Photo/Arun Sankar K.)

  • Indian students react to results on television networks during an event organized by the U.S. embassy at the landmark Imperial Hotel in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. Obama captured a second White House term, blunting a mighty challenge by Republican Mitt Romney as Americans voted for a leader they knew over a wealthy businessman they did not. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

  • President Obama supporters gesture and celebrate upon hearing the presidential election results on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Singapore. Obama won re-election Tuesday night despite a fierce challenge from Republican Mitt Romney, prevailing in the face of a weak economy and high unemployment that encumbered his first term and crimped the middle class dreams of millions. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

  • U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos, center, and Japanese high-school students celebrate reports that President Barack Obama won the presidential election at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)

  • Indian students react in front of photographers next to a cardboard cutout in the likeness of U.S. President Barack Obama after he was projected as the winner during an event organized by the U.S embassy at the landmark Imperial Hotel in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. Obama defeated Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for a second term. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

  • U.S. citizens Jaspal Singh, right, and Jane Ludin break into a dance as President Barack Obama's win becomes certain, during a live telecast of U.S. presidential election results organized by the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. Obama captured a second White House term, blunting a mighty challenge by Republican Mitt Romney as Americans voted for a leader they knew over a wealthy businessman they did not. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das)

  • Indian students have their picture taken next to a cardboard cutout of President Barack Obama after he was projected as the winner of the U.S. presidential election during an event organized by the U.S. Embassy at the landmark Imperial Hotel in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. Obama captured a second White House term, blunting a mighty challenge by Republican Mitt Romney as Americans voted for a leader they knew over a wealthy businessman they did not. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

  • A young woman poses for a photo with a cutout of President Barack Obama, right, beside a cutout of Republican candidate Mitt Romney, left, during an election night event organized by the U.S. embassy in Skopje, Macedonia, early Wednesday, Nov.7, 2012. President Barack Obama won re-election Tuesday night despite a fierce challenge from Republican Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

  • A shop assistant watches US President Barack Obama speaking on TV screen in Moscow TV shop, Russia, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. Obama defeated Republican challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)

  • A U.S citizen reacts as she poses for the media after watching the live telecast of U.S presidential election results in Mumbai, India, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. President Barack Obama captured a second White House term, blunting a mighty challenge by Republican Mitt Romney as Americans voted for a leader they knew over a wealthy businessman they did not. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

  • Guests watch live television coverage showing the victory of U.S. President Barack Obama, Wednesday Nov. 7, 2012, in Shanghai, China. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

  • Palestinians at a barber shop watch a televised speech by U.S. President Barack Obama after his vicotry, in the West Bank town of Jenin, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012.(AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)

  • A Muslim woman poses for a photo with a cutout of President Barack Obama during a victory celebration for Obama in the U.S. presidential election in an event hosted by the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)

 
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