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

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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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