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The Death of True-Data: Political Branding in Action

Take from this article information about personal branding, what to look for when trying to distinguish brand from action, and why separating brand from policy is vital.

Selling your personal brand isn’t anything new. Musicians, politicians, and public figures sell themselves to the public instead of their music, policy, or actionable business solutions. In some cases it really works out, Trump, Putin, and Courtney Love all did really well with their personal brand, even though their actions do not merit the level of attention that they received.

What is Personal Branding?

Personal branding is important for a public figure. It connects a person with ideologies and humanizes their actions into a consumable form. It makes that asshole who raised your taxes look nicer: someone you would drink a beer with, someone you would eat an onion with, someone who you should keep away from your livestock.

Branding means more consumer trust and more buy-in. For politicians, that means more votes. Which is important if both candidates receive equal media saturation (media saturation is a big reason people win).

Some beginning steps to a personal brand are image control, taking advantage of content creation, and focusing your off-line presence to match your brand. Using a personal brand means that you’re selling yourself on-line. And it is necessary if you want the buzz.  

Can Branding Breed Bad Solutions?

There are some aspects of personal branding that have a huge effects for defining a brand, but don’t dilute the message. Things like using photoshop to make your face more desirable or choosing images of yourself that look professional instead of picking that one from your crazy ski weekend (unless that’s what you’re into) are great. They don’t change the message, but still alter public perception. The main concern is when branding dilutes the message.

Controlling the narrative around your story and sticking to your personal brand to avoid taking actionable solutions is where it gets really sticky. In politics (and many other things),  communication is very important, but poorly communicating solutions can be frustrating for your voters. Especially if that sort of communication spreads hate or divides a nation.

For example, if your brand is to be divisive and against your opponent, instead of saying, “I agree that there might be some errors in the way that we count votes” you might tweet something like “three million illegal immigrants voted.”. This brand of message doesn’t actively address the problem and adds a bit of xenophobia to the conversation about legitimate voting. Even worse, it also lends support for higher voter registration standard! Which is dangerous because it disenfranchises poor or minority voters. Sticking to a toxic brand can breed a toxic message, especially if people like the brand or if the brand spreads deceptive information. Your brand is causing more harm than good. This is one scenario where sticking to a brand dilutes the problem and ends up actively promoting a bad solution. Branding can be positive, but it can also bring in bad solutions if the brand is overshadowing the solution.

You can sometimes distinguish a brand from the actual message, by looking at the difference between pre-campaign statements and political actions. Other times it can be almost impossible, especially if the brand over-powers the message. Those are the bad-brands to watch out for. They can breed bad solutions.

Why Does it Matter?

Because if real messages and solutions are hidden underneath brand voice, then it can be hard for voters to make choices that are good for them. For example, instead seeing the Putin sucks at economic policy, you see a strong leader, because that’s his brand. Not the imminent failing of his policy.

Policy is what makes changes in the world. While policy is influenced by the thoughts and the deep rooted beliefs of the people, it has more control over real, sustainable change. Policy is what builds a better world (or a worse one).

If a politician’s poster is photoshopped to be a little less wrinkly or if a candidate’s speaking is more focused around their central brand goal of “a better life for all people,” you can normally assume that their actions and policies that they pursue will be for the betterment of all people. It’s good personal branding because it combines policy and emotion without diluting the statement. However, a personal brand built around hatred for other people fuels hatred and can move policy in devastating ways.

A toxic personal brand can be at odds with good PR, but according to George Washington University that can be addressed with social media engagement. People love being connected with people on social media. Retweets are great, or a mountain of Putin-worthy of memes, or China’s uber control on social media are great ways to engage and control the direction of the conversation that you have with the public. People don’t like a bad brand, but will stick to it if exposed enough. Like Denny’s, terrible brand, but great on social.

Branding matters because it can hide the real message. Breaking down those emotional brand cloaks and getting to the real message can help you look at policy more objectively and respond less intensely. You’ll sound smarter and have better points to change your mind and others’.

It wasn’t about Brexit. It was about xenophobia. About fear. Not economic success.

It wasn’t about abortion (looking at Ohio). It’s about anti-personal autonomy. Not health care.

There are a thousand messages out there. When you look at them without the brand value, but as individual items, it’ll help you sort through what is right for you. What is right for the society. And what the important problems and solutions are moving forward.

Mary Grace, an independent liberal from the United States, lives in the beautiful Boise, Idaho, and adores her mountains. She loves skiing, hiking, and repairing vintage bicycles. If you want to chat, or have any questions, feel free to tweet her @marmygrace.

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