The Politics of Polarization: How Hillary’s and Donald’s Branding Strategies Expose America’s Divide

Business.com / Branding / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

“Everything is political,” or so the saying goes. This means politics is also business; you need to know what and who you’re selling to.

“Everything is political,” or so the saying goes. This means politics is also business; you need to know what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Democratic and Republican candidates running for president come November 2016.

Hillary – ex-Senator, ex-Secretary of State, wife of President Bill Clinton – has a political career ripe with victories for the American people.

She’s made strides for women, the working class, and every lady who wants to wear a monochromatic pants suit. However, her critics cite her personality as unlikeable and her demeanor as cold.

Related Article: What Does Your Brand Say? How Branding Can Make Or Break Your Business

Cut to Donald Trump – a vastly successful businessman and political outsider whose mix of brash personality and lack of political credibility has actually been an advantage in his bid for the presidency – and you’ll see two candidates running in parallel who could not be further from one-another.

Hillary has genuine executive, political, and diplomatic credibility and is disliked for her personality. Trump has no political experience but is finding a foothold based on his outlandish personality and appeal to his target audience. How could two candidates, outside of any policy positions or political platform, manage to rise to the very top of their respective parties with such different personalities and approaches? And what does that say about their constituents? That is the business of political brand strategy – know what you’re selling and know who you’re selling it to.    

Hillary Clinton’s Brand Strategy

Hillary Clinton presidential candidate

Hillary Clinton has the edge on nearly everyone running in the field when it comes to international political credibility. She was in the White House for 8 years as FLOTUS, she was a Senator for two terms, and she was the Secretary of State for four years where she oversaw Obama’s foreign policy after a contentious primary election in 2008. She proved that she has serious political acumen and the wherewithal to execute when the job needs to be done – but America has trouble seeing these attributes as everything one needs to be a president. America needs to see the humanity of our presidents. We need to ‘be able to have a beer at a backyard BBQ’ with them. We need to see them laugh, joke, and generally be people we like, not just people we respect.

Therein lies Hillary’s immediate branding problem.

If the people don’t see a personality, give them a personality. Since her campaign began, Hillary has created a Pinterest page with categories of gift ideas for her granddaughter, an Instagram account joking about her taste for pants suits (red, white AND blue), and even an incognito trip to Chipotle for a burrito bowl. These are the things the American people do every day – and this is what Hillary needs to show everyone. She may be a political insider who’s been a fixture for more than 20 years – but if she can convince voters that she is also a mother with a Pinterest account, a person who knows their Chipotle order, or a fan of our favorite TV shows (read the email releases) – she can convince America to vote for her.

What’s the lesson here? Listen to what people are saying about your brand and respond. Hillary Clinton is not an unfeeling, political robot. She is a person just like us, but because she has had such a long political career – not to mention being a woman in a predominantly male space – it’s natural for the public to be unable to relate. So to combat what many see as an inauthentic personality, she makes sure people are seeing her human side. She is making sure people know she is excited about her granddaughter. She is making appearances on Saturday Night Live poking fun at herself and her political rivals. She is taking part in the conversation people are having about her personality and through that - owning it. Once you own the conversation that your competition is having about you, you’ve won the battle. Now it’s the war you’ve got to worry about. 

Related Article: It's About The People: The "Stakeholder Approach" to Building Better Brands

Donald Trump’s Brand Strategy

Donald Trump presidentail candiate

If Donald Trump’s campaign has any clear brand strategy take-away – it’s don’t be the other guy (or gal in this case.)

Donald Trump’s entire strategy has been to be the political outsider and paint everyone else as just another Washington suit planning 4 more years of the same-old-same-old. However, let’s just say that his tactics are a tad unconventional for the man trying to get as many people in the country to like him as possible. By speaking his mind, he risks alienating the entire Latino voting population, women, service workers, and Miss USA contestants. But what he has gained in the short-run is an incredible amount of visibility for himself, his campaign, and his message. He has a short message of making America great again and this, coupled with his strong personality, has resonated with many American voters who are tired of seeing the political elite win election after election. A message of populism coming from a billionaire New York real-estate mogul might not make sense on paper, but it’s working in practice and that’s what counts.

So, what’s the lesson we can all take from the Trump camp? The same as the lesson from Hillary’s – authenticity. Trump may publically say things that enrages half the nation – but that is exactly who he has been, is, and will be. He isn’t making excuses for his remarks regardless of who it offends or alienates. His defined character and easily consumable policy messaging is all a simple play at a popular message saying “things are bad, I’ll make them good.” As far as a branding strategy goes, it’s simple and effective, and it’s speaking directly to his target audience.

Overall – the lessons of a political branding strategy are very apt for a business branding strategy. There will be times when you need to go on the offensive and times you need to sit back. There will be times when you can be jovial and times when you must be serious.

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At the end of the day, it’s all about the right communication strategy, appealing to your target audience, and proving why you should be the leader of our country.

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