Earlier this year, the U.S. experienced what some pundits call one of the greatest political coup d’etats of our time. Clearly the most nationalized election in decades, the 2014 Senate elections changed the balance of power in the U.S. Senate literally overnight.
Since the mid-80s our nation’s political voting slant has been largely based on candidates and their campaigns. Historically, voters have been politically motivated by who they felt connected with – not necessarily political ideology. While this recent election largely bucked that trend as voters chose to vote strictly consistent with their party line, the next presidential campaign may be a battle of family brands.
While she hasn’t officially thrown her hat into the political ring, Hillary Clinton is the current frontrunner for the Democratic party in 2016. And Jeb Bush, another pundit from a well-established political family brand, currently leads a field of prospective GOP presidential candidates.
But family branding can be tricky, especially in the political arena. Both the Clinton and Bush “family brands” are assets, as well as liabilities, to their possible candidacies.
For instance, Bill Clinton’s administration was seen as one of fiscal discipline and economic globalization. But no conversation about the Clinton presidency is complete without the controversy of Monica Lewinsky. Hillary Clinton is perceived as a tough, no-nonsense politician who has first-hand experience in the White House. Unfortunately, she has also been the target of negative publicity, including her involvement in the alleged cover-up of the Benghazi attack and the Whitewater controversy.
Likewise, the Bush namesake in politics either sends your blood boiling or conjures up feelings of true American grit and determination. Neither George H nor George W were great orators. In fact, both were teased relentlessly for their difficulty in public speaking. On the other hand, immediately following the attacks of Sept. 11, George W was seen as a fearless Commander in Chief willing to do anything to save the American people from additional terrorist attacks. Jeb has his own political personality as a two-term Florida governor, but will have to work with the legacy his father and brother left for him if he runs for the nation’s highest office.
Politicians, however, are not the only families who are challenged with managing a family brand. A company that is branded with the family name can also provide a critical point of reference for its consumers. For example, Johnson & Johnson approaches the market with to-the-point messaging, “a family company since 1886.”
On the other hand, a family name can dilute the value of its brand if it sends a weak message to the consumer. For example, Comcast founder Ralph Robert could have named the company after himself. However, because he wanted to create a more technological identity for his growing company, he took parts of “communication” and “broadcast” to create Comcast Corporation. Robert’s company has acquired NBC, Time Warner and Universal, and is now known as an international powerhouse in entertainment and telecommunications.
There are some simple steps every family business can take to help effectively manage their namesake:
1. Conduct Surveys. You can’t act on what you don’t know. Conducting online surveys is a simple way to provide actionable data to build brand messaging. Assuming that you know what your consumers think or feel about your brand based on casual conversation, or a few Facebook comments, isn’t enough. Asking consumers to complete online surveys or retaining an independent firm is a simple and cost effective way to monitor and manage your company’s name.
2. Differentiate Yourself. In order for your family business to effectively manage your brand, you need to define your corporate identity. Many businesses focus their marketing on what sets their products or services apart from the competition. But when your blue widget goes toe-to-toe with your competitor’s blue widget on a big box store shelf, and your blue widget looks and operates the same, the consumer will defer to what they know, or may have heard, about your company. While very subjective, your client’s perception or perceived value of your brand will likely determine if they spend their money on your blue widget – or go with your competitor’s product instead.
3. Get a 3rd Party Involved. Sometimes you’re too close to the challenges facing your family brand. Or, sometimes difficult family dynamics are the problem of your family brand. Our team has consulted with hundreds of family businesses in multiple industries. A consultant can help shed light, suggest new ideas and offer a critical “outsider” perspective targeted to help your business grow.
For a family business, like a well-run political campaign, the family brand can take years of sound decisions to build. Sadly, it only takes one poor decision to alienate or distance a consumer from your brand. I encourage you to take the upcoming New Year as an opportunity to reassess your family brand. Are you on the right path? Let us know if we can help.