All eyes are on the Democratic National Convention to see what the Democrats will do differently in the wake of several moments, at the earlier Republican convention, that struck some viewers and commentators as just a bit off.
Let's take a look at some key events and focus on this idea of how important it is for brand strategists—whether political or in small business—to craft moments that remain clear through execution, so that audiences will understand the message.
Republican National Convention
Some have criticized the 2012 Republican National Convention of being devoid of a sense of plot. And some say the sweeping narrative, in the modern political convention, no longer matters very much.
But there are narratives that became evident during the 2012 RNC. Here's one: the GOP struggled to control what was said, or not said, about Mitt Romney, its nominee. Two cases in point:
Key speakers should believe in your brand and save their own ads for another time. Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, may well want Romney in the Oval Office come January 2013, but the way that he delivered his keynote address made that desire—present or not—almost irrelevant.
The problem with Christie, as it is likely seen from the Republican branders' point of view, is that he spent a great deal of time during the address talking only about himself. It was a pattern he repeated throughout the rest of the convention.
The New York Times tells us that, in some cases, his speeches in various places, at various times, started with 1,800 words about Chris Christie, and then he got around to the nominee. And, in the end, when it came to Christie, the press focused a lot upon this element.
The takeaway: Nominate a spokesperson that you understand believes in your product. A representative who runs away with the podium—whether it's at the Republican National Convention or at a trade conference on behalf of your small business—are the folks that get remembered for all the wrong reasons. And your brand, which is what is supposed to be promoted, gets lost in the sideshow that a me-focused speaker can create.
Your spokespeople can clarify your message, but muddy it as well. We must talk, of course, about Clint Eastwood. Whereas Christie blew up into a story about Christie, the RNC potentially lost control of its brand in a different way with Eastwood's segment before Romney's acceptance of the nomination.
The strangeness of the venerable action-actor's monologue—like something out of Samuel Beckett as he spoke to an empty chair—left many wondering if what they'd seen was brilliant or just weird.
Now, that can be desirable for a brand, if it gets people talking. In this case, it also compounded the RNC brander's problem: folks talked about Eastwood, but not about what Eastwood had to say about Romney and his campaign.
The takeaway: Creativity can be an advantage for small businesses who want to push the envelope when it comes to branding. But it can also be confusing if the artfulness of the spokesperson or commercial overtakes the underlying point.
Democratic National Convention
What happens at the DNC remains to be seen, but if there are lessons at the core of what small-business owners can learn from it, they're also in the realm of brand and message control.
Sales are about promises and solutions, spelled out specifically. Any small-business owner who steps up to the sales plate knows that customers want to understand what it is they'll get for their money. Would you order a pizza from the local pizzeria if the ingredients weren't given on the menu? "Hey, we'll just throw on a coupla' things you'll like!" Not likely.
And, as John Dickerson points out in his September 3 article in Slate: The Democrats stand to make gains during the convention if the brand they promote is one that gives its audience an understanding of the future. President Barack Obama's picture of a second term has to be supported by concrete details and what specific ingredients that future will include.
Controlling brand is also about preparing for interference. To some, this might be an idea that goes without saying, but already the Democrats have shown its slip when it comes to brand control. Obama is scheduled to give a key address to convention-goers tonight. His planners set the event on a stage, outside. And it's raining all week in North Carolina (hello, hurricane season).
The takeaway: If timing is crucial to your brand strategy, minimize the elements that can interfere with the reception of your message.
That's a factor that may occur to some of Obama's audience, if the rain does sustain, when they're standing outside in the umbrella-forbidden zone of the President's address. It will be harder, perhaps, to find the spark in their candidate's message while simultaneously being soaked through.
O'Brien blogs for numerous clients on topics that include: film, social media, writing, technology, marketing, business, and design. He is a correspondent for Boston University's Research Magazine and for The Commons a journal covering higher-education. He has written extensively as a news correspondent for The Boston Globe. James blogs via Contently.com.