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Old School Speech Lessons for the Modern World — Kissinger’s Eulogy to Sen. John McCain

29 Sep

    As time has passed since the passing of the late Sen. John McCain, this is a good time not to pass over one of the better eulogies in his memory and the lessons it offers to communicators. 

    At McCain’s own request, President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama led the eulogies and stole the headlines.  McCain wanted it that way.  He wanted the world to see that in America we settle political scores at the ballot box and thereafter break bread at the table of ideals.  But buried among the communion crumbs was a speech that students of political and social rhetoric should take note.  It came from none other than Henry Kissinger.   

    In many respects, these two men share nothing in common, and yet everything in common.  Separated by a generation, they represent different chapters in American history. Kissinger’s coming of age came during a time when American power was ascending, McCain’s came when American power was fracturing.  But Kissinger’s flight from Nazi tyranny formed his views on the ideals and values of America every bit much as communist captivity formed McCain’s. 

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Former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Senator Joe Lieberman, and Meghan McCain were among the speakers eulogizing the late Senator John McCain at his September 1st funeral.

    The former Secretary of State under President Nixon, and co-recipient of the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating a ceasefire in the Vietnam War is not especially noted for his oratory.  The plodding, bookish, and deliberative elder statesman speaks with a heavy German-accented monotone that is the antithesis 21stcentury talking heads. But his eulogy of Sen. McCain was a speech writing lesson in structure, substance and delivery. 

    By contemporary standards his eulogy was short, just 738 words.   But it carried exponentially more power, focus and ultimately a more forceful persuasion of McCain’s legacy than did a wandering speech by Sen. Joseph Lieberman who rambled for more than 20 minutes, often times talking more about himself.  Kissinger’s eulogy had a clear beginning, middle, and end.  In the first two sentences, he tells the audience what the speech is all about—one of history’s great personalities that remind us of unity and sustaining values.  “John McCain was one of those gifts of destiny,” said Kissinger.  Every word that followed supported and transcended this notion.

    Kissinger powerfully attempted to prove that gift of destiny with an admission of his own guilt.  Guilt about what he too didn’t do in life and what he couldn’t do.  The former diplomat acknowledged that he had the chance to free McCain during his negotiations with Hanoi to end the Vietnam War.  McCain thanked his captors for the offer, but refused. Kissinger had to wait until 1973 to finally meet McCain at a White House reception for several prisoners who were finally freed.  Kissinger remembered, “When we finally met, his greeting was both self effacing and moving. ‘Thank you for saving my honor.’”  It was all because as Kissinger noted, that in the McCain family national service was its own reward that did allow for special treatment.

    Kissinger noted that McCain, too, returned to an America divided over its presidency and the direction of the country. Perhaps in an affront to the current administration, Kissinger skillfully challenged the notion that America cannot retreat from the world stage.   McCain, he said, would never allow for it.  “In this manner John McCain’s name became synonymous with an America that reached out to the powerful to be loyal and reach out to the oppressed,” said Kissinger.

    Perhaps most powerfully, Kissinger reflected upon his own failings as a world leader to instill hope and set for a call for action.  “Like most people my age, I feel a longing for what is lost and cannot be restored,” reflected Kissinger.  He then hypothesized that if beauty and youth are fleeting and short lived, then sacrifice for the greater good is ultimately what endures—qualities McCain proved.

    His conclusion was as short and strong as his “gift of destiny” beginning.   As if to put an exclamation point on his opening sentence, Kissinger declared, “The world will be lonelier without John McCain.” But in perhaps a tribute to the late Senator he challenged all Americans to fill the void.  Kissinger concluded, “Henceforth, the country’s honor is ours to sustain.”

     But it was more than Kissinger’s words.  Students of speech and communicators who want to better connect with their audiences should also pay close attention to Kissinger’s delivery. He spoke in short, declarative sentences.  Each one commanded its own power.  They willed the listener to pay attention.  In a teleprompter world, Kissinger goes back to an era where oratory was delivered from paper and memory, not from glass.  For reference, go back and watch every JFK speech, especially his “We choose the moon” address.  It’s a skillset where the speaker delivers no more words than the simple sentences and thoughts in front of him.  With this style, Kissinger created a cadence and rhythm that drew in the listener.

      It was certainly not the most talked about eulogy of John McCain.  McCain’s daughter, Meghan delivered her own powerfully emotional and political charged memorial to her father.  In a headline news world, Kissinger didn’t make the cut.  But for communicators his words deserve serious study because they offer a highly focused rhetorical map in a Google Maps world.

Here is the text of Henry Kissinger’s eulogy on Sen. McCain:

   Our country has had the good fortune that at times of national trial a few great personalities have emerged to remind us of our essential unity and inspire us our sustaining values. John McCain was one of those gifts of destiny. 

   I met john for the first time in April, 1973 at a White House reception for prisoners returned from captivity in Vietnam. He had been much on my mind during the negotiation to end the Vietnam War, oddly also because his father, then commander in chief of the Pacific command, when briefing the president answered references to his son by saying only “I pray for him.” 

   In the McCain family national service was its own reward that did not allow for special treatment. I thought of that when his Vietnamese captors during the final phase of negotiations offered to release John so that he could return with me on the official plane that had brought me to Hanoi. Against all odds, he thanked them for the offer but refused it. When we finally met, his greeting was both self effacing and moving. “Thank you for saving my honor.” He did not tell me then or ever that he had had an opportunity to be freed years earlier but had refused, a decision for which he had to endure additional periods of isolation and hardship. Nor did he ever speak of his captivity again during the near half century of close friendship. 

   John’s focus was on creating a better future. As a senator, he supported the restoration of relations with Vietnam, helped bring it about on a bipartisan basis in the Clinton administration and became one of the advocates of reconciliation with his enemy. Honor, it is an intangible quality, not obligatory. It has no code. It reflects an inward compulsion, free of self interest. It fulfills a cause, not a personal ambition.  It represents what a society lives for beyond the necessities of the moment. Love makes life possible; honor and nobility. For john it was a way of life. 

   John returned to America divided over its presidency, divided over the war. Amidst all of the turmoil and civic unrest, divided over the best way to protect our country and over whether it should be respected for its power or its ideals. John came back from the war and declared this is a false choice. America owed it to itself to embrace both strengths and ideals in decades of congressional service, ultimately as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John was an exponent of an America strong enough to its purpose. 

   But John believed also in a compassionate America, guided by core principles for which American foreign policy must always stand. “With liberty and justice for all” is not an empty sentiment he argued, it is the foundation of our national consciousness. To John, American advantages had universal applicability. I do not believe he said that there’s an errant exception any more than there is a black exception or an Asian or Latin exception. He warned against temptation of withdrawal from the world. In this manner John McCain ‘s name became synonymous with an America that reached out to oblige the powerful to be loyal and give hope to the oppressed.

   John lines of all these battles for decency and freedom. He was an engaged warrior fighting for his causes with a brilliance, with courage, and with humility. John was all about hope. In a commencement speech at Ohio’s Wesleyan University John summed up the essence of his engagement of a lifetime. “No one of us, if they have character, leaves behind a wasted life.” Like most people of my age I feel a longing for what is lost and cannot be restored. If the happy and casual beauty of youth prove ephemeral, something better can endure and endure until our last moment on Earth and that is the moment in our lives when we sacrifice for something greater than ourselves. Heroes inspire us by the matter of factness of their sacrifice and the elevation of the root vision. 

   The world will be lonelier without John McCain, his faith in America and his instinctive sense of moral duty. None of us will ever forget how even in his parting John has bestowed on us a much needed moment of unity and renewed faith in the possibilities of America. Henceforth, the country’s honor is ours to sustain.

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When a Meme Becomes a Social Movement — Chaos Theory and the Al Franken Resignation

16 Jan

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    In Shakespearian tragedies, kings and lovers alike are brought down with daggers and potions.  In today’s tragedies, they are brought down with tweets and hashtags.

   The remarkable and sudden fall of US Senator Al Franken is a unique case study in chaos theory, contagion, and the resulting social movements that create new order.  It is not just the story of David throwing a single tweet at Goliath—it’s also the story of ten thousand re-tweets, each with the weight of a stone.  The social narrative gives cover for suppressed victims to thrown their own stones.  Despite all efforts at containment and crisis management, the outcomes are as unpredictable as a creative Saturday Night Live sketch that bombs, or a brilliant legislative package that can’t gather enough votes.  In Franken’s case the unpredictable became inevitable.  It forced Franken to resign from the US Senate.  Goliath fell.

   By itself, the tweet seen around the world from Los Angeles radio host Leeann Tweeden of Al Franken appearing to grope her chest during a 2006 USO tour was a powerful image.  Even though the picture was taken before Franken became a US Senator, it creates a strong cognitive intrusion into the known and expected behavior of a person of power.   But the visual dissonance of the image carried even more weight against the backdrop of social chaos already underway with the sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein.

   When actress Ashley Judd accused Weinstein of harassment in a October 5th “New York Times” investigation it created its own cognitive intrusion into the reputation of one of Hollywood’s most successful film makers.  The Times investigation uncovered eight settlements paid out to women for their silence on Weinstein’s alleged predatory behavior.   The story was David’s stone cast into a pool of water.  The ripples are the basis for what social scientists call the modern embodiment of chaos theory.

   Chaos theory has its roots in mathematics and physics where researchers such as Edward Lorenz found that even minor variances in complex computational models led to unexpected and contradictory equations.  Lorenz called it the butterfly effect, where the flap of a butterfly’s wings could ultimately affect weather patterns weeks later.   Increasingly applied to social science, chaos theory holds that small events cause ripples that eventually amplify into meaningful movements.  University of Amsterdam researcher Jaap van Genneken notes that within a collective adaptive system such as public opinion, those small events or voices can multiply through media channels to become a powerful and shifting force.

   That’s exactly what Ashley Judd started.  Within seven days, former actress Rose McGowan also publicly disclosed Weinstein had assaulted her and reached a settlement in 1997.  Two days after McGowan, actress Alyssa Milano encouraged victims of sexual harassment to tweet #MeToo.  By the next morning 30,000 people did.  The hashtag shot like its own stone into the public consciousness.  The voices of three women suddenly identified an issue that had been covered up for too long.

   In an age where we communicate at the speed of light, more women saw the light.  Chaos became a contagion.  But it was more than Weinstein.  Accusers came forward targeting politicians, actors, ceo’s, musical directors, even Today Show host Matt Lauer.  Perhaps the most famous target, Alabama US Senate candidate Ray Moore, was accused of sexually targeting teenagers when he was in his 30’s.  

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Figure 1 – December 6th tweets of women U.S. Senators calling on Sen. Al Franken to resign

   This was the chaos and contagion that encircled Al Franken like a swarm of Davids.  By the morning of December 6th, a seventh woman accused Franken of attempting to kiss her.   That same morning TIME named the “Silence Breakers” as its Person of the Year.  In its cover story TIME wrote, “When a movie star says #MeToo, it becomes easier to believe the cook who’s been quietly enduring for years.”   Within hours, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand called for Franken’s resignation—seven more women senators joined her in short order. (Figure 1)  Those were David’s final stones.  The next day, Franken announced his resignation on the floor of the US Senate.

 

 

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  Although Franken’s communications team tried to counter the attack by producing testimonials from former women staffers on his thoughtful and supportive treatment of them and his championing of women’s issues, it couldn’t compete in a climate of #MeToo contagion. (Figure 2)  Google Trends data clearly shows a timeline of the chaos and the shifting social attitudes.  A TIME/Survey Monkey poll conducted between November 28th and 30th showed 82% of respondents were more likely to speak out about sexual harassment since the Weinstein allegations.  Furthermore, 85% said they believed the women making the allegations of harassment.  

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   But the phenomenon also speaks to the changing nature of influencers in an environment of fragmented media.  It demonstrates how the old rules of linear communications models with thought leaders at the center have given way to randomized networked systems of influencers. (Figure 3)  Columbia University sociology researcher Duncan Watts has established a model where movements are not necessarily driven by a single person or media channel, but instead by cascades of easily influenced people.  Those cascades turn global—or large—when a critical mass of early adopters connect with each other in the influence network.  Although Watts argues the critical mass may only occupy a small fraction of the population, the cascade effect becomes global when the remainder of the population activates as well.

   This is essentially what happened on the morning of December 6th, when the seventh accuser stepped forward against Franken.  She may have been a small influencer, but timed with the release of TIME’s “Silence Breakers” it built the critical mass that gave cover for the coordinated call among women senators for Franken to resign.  Accelerated by social and digital media, the cascade became unstoppable.

   One of the principals of chaos theory is the self-organization that occurs after the chaotic state or crisis.  In other words, there’s a return to a new order.  In the case of the chaos brought on by the Weinstein accusations there is an emerging re-organization on several fronts.  First, in Hollywood, the creative community has formed the “Times Up” movement creating new awareness and expectations for worker treatment in the entertainment industry.  Second, industrial giants such as Ford have already reexamined HR policies including harassment training at its manufacturing plants—especially in Chicago where complaints surfaced.  As for Al Franken’s senate seat, there is also new order.  A woman—former Minnesota Lt. Governor Tina Smith has replaced him in an orderly transition.

   Like the butterfly’s wings, a single voice can still create the stone in David’s hand, or the dagger in Shakespeare’s play.  And in today’s world of digital communication the contagion they can generate are exponentially powerful at creating disorder and reorder.

How 3M’s Inge Thulin Fought The Charlottesville Crisis with Code

14 Sep

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       3M’s CEO Inge Thulin recently found himself caught between a meme and a movement.  The violence in Charlottesville, Virginia during a neo-Nazi rally and President Trump’s half-hearted condemnation of white supremacists put Thulin and other business leaders in an uncomfortable spotlight with the president generating the wattage.   How to respond to an emerging public relations threat is not just a business decision, it’s also a strategic communication decision.

        Thulin along with 26 CEOs joined Trump’s Manufacturing Council at the beginning of his administration.  For these business leaders, joining the commission not only gave them an important seat at the table in forming government policy that could benefit their core businesses, but it also could provide valuable insights into economic trends and how to strategically position their companies.  There was little to lose.

       Then came Charlottesville.

       The images that spread at the speed of ones and zeros also captured a fractured nation at the speed of smartphones and social media.  President Trump’s ultimate failure to condemn the white supremacists simply fed the outrage.  The business leaders on the president’s manufacturing commission quickly found themselves caught in the contagion.    

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       Knowing how such a contagion starts and evolves is also helpful in navigating a response that protects and elevates a brand.   Social psychologist Jaap Van Ginneken holds that such a coalescence of public opinion forms when diffuse ideas congregate around an idea or strong replicator.  It’s a process he calls entrainment.  In Charlottesville, one of the replicators was the image and video of the car that killed a woman as it was driving through the crowd of those rallying against the white nationalists.   The image forces the viewer to associate the experience with their own closely held beliefs.  The stronger the beliefs, the more likely it will affect their attitude toward action to align themselves with those who share their beliefs, and just and important, align themselves against those who do not. (Figure 1).  It’s classic balance theory.   In this case of entrainment, the image turned viral, a contagion was born, and it coalesced around pop-up movements, vigils, and rallies across the country to denounce the violence in Charlottesville. 

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       For the CEO’s on the president’s commission, the contagion prompted viral petitions for members of the Manufacturing Commission to stand up to President Trump and resign.   3M’s Inge Thulin was among those in the cross hairs.   For most multi-billion dollar corporations, responding to such a crisis typically involves a team of attorneys, advisors and corporate communicators who look at everything from the effect on stock price, supply chain, and potential investor lawsuits.  To complicate matters, Charlottesville happened as 3M shares were already falling on Wall Street.   One question 3M certainly asked itself was whether to associate the fortunes of the company to a president experiencing dismal approval ratings. (Figure 2) 

      It’s complicated.  Thulin made it simple.   He resigned from the commission and announced why on social media.

 

            In making its decision, Thulin and 3M looked no further than their own corporate soul–their code of conduct.  The 3M code spells out in detail the values and expectations of not only its business practices, but how employees are to treat each other.  Among its core principals: be good, be honest, be respectful.  

            Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky made a similar decision.  Gorsky too, leaned on his company’s own credo.  Over the years the J&J credo has famously guided the company in responding to the Tylenol tampering crisis in the 1980’s and other product recalls in 2009 and 20010.  To this day, the J&J credo is considered the gold standard of corporate ethics.  After Gorsky, Thulin and several other CEO’s decided to leave the president’s council, the remaining members dissolved it.

            During a time when a polarized public and consumer attitudes shift like the fog in a crooked canyon, brands and their communicators need a guiding light.  3M had one, and Charlottesville helped its CEO focus the beam.

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How Strategic Communication Positioning Won for Donald Trump

13 Nov

trump-positioned-to-win-002     Donald Trump didn’t just win the war for the Electoral College, he won the messaging war for an important segment of disaffected Americans.  He did it by strategically positioning his brand, his message, and perhaps by complete accident, his marketing drivers.

     Trump paid attention to the one data set we now know mattered most—dissatisfaction with the direction of the country.  The Humphrey School of Public Affairs’ Dr. Larry Jacobs told a group of journalists and producers during the political conventions (myself included) that this was a political insight that couldn’t be ignored.  Jacobs warned that it would be extremely difficult for an incumbent or someone closely tied to an incumbent or the perceived establishment to win. 

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      In this respect, the polling was convincing.  In the aggregate tracking compiled by Real Clear Politics, the margins couldn’t be more stark. (Figure 1)  For nearly all of 2016 Americans believed with a nearly two to one margin that the country was heading in the wrong direction.  Donald Trump focused like a laser beam on that insight and the people behind it. 

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     In speaking to those voters, he positioned himself in their minds as the candidate who represented change.  Quite frankly, he stole a page from the strategic marketing playbooks of major brands and products in carving out a point of differentiation.   Consumers tend to build perceptual maps in their minds about how products compare to each other when they make a purchasing decision.  I would argue they make the same set of comparisons between political candidates.  In the case of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton the dominant perceptual map came down to a choice of who represented true change and who would be better for the economy. (Figure 2)  As a brand, you want to occupy the upper right region of the axis points on the perceptual map.  Trump didn’t just occupy this position, he owned it with the majority of voters in the critical swing states who tipped the Electoral College. 

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     In many respects he did it through branding and messaging.  In a previous post, I established how Trump personified the Rebel archetype. (Figure 3) His break-all-the-rules brand spoke directly to disaffected voters who felt that the country wasn’t just heading in the wrong direction, but that no one was listening to them.  Clinton’s Ruler archetype was too closely aligned with the establishment that Trump’s voters felt alienated from.  To be sure, Trump also successfully deployed the fear factor.  By exploiting voter anxiety on crime, immigration, jobs, and health care insurance he banked on well-established economic theory that people are more motivated by loss than they are by gain.

     But Trump also helped his candidacy by how he marketed himself.  Former Campbell Mithun advertising agency CEO and University of Minnesota Strategic Communication Program Director Steve Wehrenberg argues that there are seven irrefutable marketing drivers.   Whether by pure luck or shrewd planning, Trump succeeded at nearly every one of these drivers.

Brand Awareness.   Real estate, hotels and casinos made Donald Trump a business brand and best selling author, but the NBC television show “The Apprentice” made him a star. By the time Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president in 2015, he was already a household name having built his brand as a savvy business expert and larger-that-life personality.  Trump was able to leverage his brand awareness to get free airplay on cable news channels and largely bypass expensive television advertising.

Emotional Bond.  Trump’s brash personality and shoot-from-the-hip style caused people to love him or hate him.  But those who loved Donald Trump, really loved him. Trump famously said during the campaign “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”  Even when the video emerged of Trump making lewd remarks about women on the “Access Hollywood” bus, it only had a temporary effect on his polling numbers.  We now know that the emotional bond to Trump’s economic message simply swamped whatever misgivings his voters had about the messenger.

Product News.   Trump’s pension for outrageousness and unpredictability made both his supporters and enemies follow his every move and statement during the campaign.  Quite simply, he was a Los Angeles car chase no one could stop watching.  His use of Twitter as a means to directly communicate with his followers kept them constantly informed of his every thought and move.

Activation.  In the marketing and advertising world, activation is getting the customer to make the immediate decision to buy your product through a sale, coupon, or incentive.  In politics, activation is about getting people to vote for you on Election Day. For all of her superior organization, fund raising, and GOTV, Hillary Clinton lost the activation battle in several critical battleground states.  Trump won it in part by his message and his personal social media appeals on November 8th.

Loyalty.   This is all about providing exclusive offerings to loyal followers.  The Best Buy’s and Amazon’s of the world build loyalty by offering discounts and free shipping if you join their rewards program.  Similarly, politicians reward loyalty by providing exclusive access and one-on-one pictures for followers at donor events.  Donald Trump attempted to build loyalty in reverse by making disaffected workers believe that he was the only candidate who believed in them. 

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Picture 1 – Donald Trump at Minneapolis-St. Pau Intl. Airport on November 6, 2016

Product Experience.  Here too, Trump created the illusion that getting the chance to see him and hear him at a rally was a not-to-miss experience.  To be sure, every candidate does this.  But Trump’s rallies became a calling.  At the Minnesota rally hastily arranged within 24 hours at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, the Republican Party of Minnesota reported 17,000 people RSVP’d online.   Trump’s followers illegally parked on Hwy 77 and scaled chain link fences to race to the hangar to get inside for the rally.  Even then, more of his followers were left stranded outside of the hangar than the thousands who got inside to hear him speak. (Picture 1)

Buzz.   For better or worse, Trump dominated Internet search and chatter.  The final Google Trends metrics show how Trump (seen in red) commanded a large share of search queries all throughout the campaign. (Figure 4) 

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    Political scientists, strategists, and journalists alike will analyze the Trump electoral phenomena for months to come.  Many will focus on the flaws of Clinton herself, her State Department emails, and her abrasive personality.  Others will focus on her campaign’s failure to activate Obama Democrats.  The Washington Post has already examined misplaced ad buys in the final weekend that could have contributed to Clinton’s final downfall at the polls.  But perhaps none of that could overcome the headwinds of an electorate who believed in their core the country was heading in the wrong direction. Trump positioned himself to be the messenger change.  They may not have liked the messenger himself, but enough of them perceived his message was the only one they could identify with.

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The Archetype Branding of Trump and Clinton—The Rebel vs. The Ruler

5 Nov

rebel-ruler-2-002     Since the rise of modern consumerism, political campaigns have tried to market their candidates like soap.  The positioning and branding of a candidate, especially a presidential candidate, in many cases is now performed with the discipline of commercial product launch.  They are the ultimate consumer packaged goods.

     Joel McGinniss in his ground breaking book “The Selling of the President 1968” exposed the marketing strategy of Richard Nixon and how this advisors strategically used advertising and staged television town halls to craft an image of Nixon as a knowledgeable and caring candidate.  Even Nixon lamented, “It’s a shame a man has to use such gimmicks as this to get elected.”

     In 2016, the presidential campaigns have become increasing more strategic in how they market themselves.  Among the most effective of the strategies is the grounding of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in brand archetypes.   Trump is the Outlaw or Rebel, Clinton is the Ruler. 

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     Archetypes are essentially powerful symbols of meaning that our minds easily recognize.  They originated with the Greeks and Romans who created their Gods based upon powerful myths.   Marketers today still attach many of these metaphorical myths and archetypes to a brand or a product in order to make a psychological connection with the consumer.  They act as heuristics, or shortcuts for the consumer to build an emotional attachment with the brand.  For example, Nike is the Hero archetype, Hallmark is the Lover.  Johnson & Johnson is the Caregiver.  Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson in their book “The Hero and the Outlaw” establish the case for twelve brand archetypes based upon a quadrant of opposing psychological needs.  (Figure 1)

     It’s hard to know if the Rebel archetype was made for Donald Trump, or if Trump was made for the Rebel.  Either way, it fits.  The “rules were meant to be broken” motto of the Rebel is exemplified by one of Trump’s recent Twitter posts.

     For most of Trump’s career he’s been the Magician.   He’s the man who somehow overcomes all odds to create great deals and build great real estate properties.  In the process he has built for himself power and wealth.  For a while Trump re-branded himself as the Sage.   As the star of the NBC television show “The Apprentice,” Trump dispensed his business knowledge to would-be students and potential employees.  But with his presidential campaign, he morphed again into the Rebel.   So far he’s effectively and brilliantly used his take-no-prisoners and break-all-the-rules branding strategy to overcome every opponent that’s crossed his path—including the Republican establishment.

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     Trump’s entire career has shown how he has mastered the art of self-promotion.  And in this latest incarnation he’s created a powerful brand of an irreverent leader who will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. (Figure 2)   With his core value of putting America first, he’s crafted the brand promise of de-rigging this system—his way.  The Rebel or Outlaw archetype is a strong attractor for people who feel left out and left behind by society.   Following or identifying with the Rebel gives a feeling of liberation.   Our culture is filled with Rebel personalities such as Madonna, Niki Minaj, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly.  The archetype is also the core identity of many successful brands such as Harley Davidson, MTV, and Fox Television.

     In many respects Trump has become a California car chase—you know the outcome, but you can’t stop watching.  His unpredictability is a key part of his Rebel brand.  He doesn’t just attack and disrupt Hillary Clinton, but he shocks his audience and the media.  It’s a strategy he deployed in the third presidential debates when he promised to jail Clinton.

     For her part, Hillary Clinton with her experience as First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State brings to her brand expertise, power and control.  She is clearly the Ruler.

     Rulers are motivated by their desire to lead and consolidate power.  This is the archetype of CEO’s, kings, and yes, presidents.   Ronald Reagan, former New York Mayor Rudy Guilliani, and former Ford leader Alan Mulally  were all rulers.  Ruler brands include Goldman Sachs, Cadillac, IBM and The White House.

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     Clinton’s Ruler archetype mediates directly into her brand promise of experience to lead. (Figure 3)  Her core value may be competence and moral authority, but make no mistake, she also needs control.   That control is also the Ruler’s chief weakness, especially their fear of chaos and preoccupation with their enemies.  In nearly every instance those traits of the Ruler have become Clinton’s chief liabilities in the 2016 presidential campaign.

     So far, her campaign has tried to use the archetype to their electoral advantage.  Even with appealing to voters to “Stand with Hilary” they are inviting them to be the rulers of their own destiny.  By pitting the Ruler against the Rebel, Clinton’s campaign is betting experience will trump recklessness and unpredictability.   The strategy is clearly evident in this recent campaign video.

     The use of branding archetypes is all about strategically positioning an easily identifiable image in the mind of the consumer–in this case the voter.   But with both Trump and Clinton the archetypes also magnify critical flaws with each candidate.   Trump’s unleashed and undisciplined style expose him as a bully and sexist.  Clinton’s Nixon-like desire for command and control, especially in how she’s handled her State Department emails and the Benghazi attacks aftermath have made her simply untrustworthy to a significant portion of the electorate.   Come Election Day we’ll find out whether the dominant brand of each candidate is able to overcome their equally exposed flaws.

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Trump, Clinton and the Psychology of Fear

2 Aug

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     A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, George Lucas created one of the greatest narratives of good vs. evil.  In a curious twist of art imitates life, the archetype is very much alive in the 2016 presidential race.  Darth Vader vs. the Jedi.  The dark side vs. light.  Fear vs. unity.

     The deep political divides in America skew the perception of who is Darth Vader.   To the significant number of voters who don’t trust the Clintons, it’s definitely ‘Crooked Hillary.’  Likewise, to  a majority of immigrants and highly educated Americans, it’s ‘Demagogue Donald.’

     However, the campaign strategies now cast in the nomination acceptance speeches of both candidates paint a stark electoral narrative based on fear.  And Trump has doubled down. Trump Clinton Fear.003

     “America is far less safe and the world is far less stable,” Trump told the Republican delegates and the nation.

     Trump painted a picture of lawlessness and rampant terrorism with the clock set at midnight and an illegal immigrant hiding in every closet.  “Nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records, ordered deported from our country, are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens,” said Trump.

     As a campaign strategy, Trump’s politics of fear is grounded in well-established psychological and economic theory.  Psychologist Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University established in 1979 that people when presented with a set of known risks are more motivated by loss than gain.  The resulting research is called Prospect Theory and it won Kahneman the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2002 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.  In short, Prospect Theory holds we are motivated by fear.

     Trump’s campaign strategy is clearly to use fear as a factor in the complex decision making process that voters will go through in deciding whether they can commit to him in the voting booth.  His strategy is well grounded in the fact that the vast majority of Americans believe the country is heading in the wrong direction.  When combined with the consumer behavior Theory of Trying by Richard Bagozzi, it establishes a clear framework for leading voters on the path toward supporting Trump.

     In the Theory of Trying model, there are three dimensions of attitude. (Figure 1)   One is toward success, one is toward failure and the other is toward trying.   In Trump’s case the attitudes toward success include better pay, secure jobs and safer streets.  In other words—attitudes framed as personal and social gains.  

Trump Clinton Fear.001

Figure 1

     The attitudes toward failure include stagnant income, job insecurity, fear of crime and terrorism—Prospect Theory’s framing of loss.   All of those are balanced against the efficacy of trying supporting Trump based upon his reputation as a successful businessman, and the perception that he’s not a quitter and on our side.  All three of those attitudes combine to influence the behavior on whether to vote for Trump.

   Hillary Clinton has taken a different approach based not on fear, but the social norms of rejecting fear. Trump Clinton Fear.004

     In her speech accepting the Democratic Party nomination, Clinton exclaimed, “We are not afraid!”

     She spent considerable time reinforcing universally held social truths that America is not a nation of bullies, and that “we are stronger together.”   In supporting her central thesis, she quoted FDR in saying, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”

     In forging such a strategy, Clinton is employing the Theory of Reasoned Action as advanced by Martin Fishbein and Icek Azjen.   This too, is a psychological consumer research theory based upon behavioral intentions and attitudes toward social norms and expectations.   In this model, the consumer/voter is weighing their behavior based on their attitudes toward Clinton, and their attitudes toward societal pressure. (Figure 2) 

Trump Clinton Fear.002

Figure 2

 

     The attitudes toward Clinton range from her experience and competence for the presidency, to her trustworthiness (or lack of) as a public figure.  The attitudes toward social norms include the notions that Americans stand up to bullies, that they don’t ban religions, and that Americans are stronger when they stand together.

     To be clear, Clinton is using her own fear factor.  One of the more striking passages from her acceptance speech implored voters to consider the risk of Donald Trump as president.

   “Imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis,” Clinton said.  “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”

     The tactic was stolen straight from the playbook of LBJ in 1964.  In that presidential campaign, President Johnson exploited the fears of a nation still jittery from the near apocalypse of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Republican nominee, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, had famously campaigned on the notion that “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!”   The Johnson campaign responded with an advertisement called “Daisy.”   The ad aired just once–so powerfully based in Prospect Theory that it never needed to air again.  LBJ won in a landslide.

     Both the Trump and Clinton campaigns have laid out their archetypal strategies both grounded in solid behavioral theory.  Fear of loss is a strong psychological motivator and one that Trump clearly hopes is a message he can ride to the White House.  Clinton’s arguments based upon established social norms of working together and rejecting fear are equally as accessible in the minds of voters.  The wild card in all of this may come down to individual personalities.  In other words, do the powerful negative attitudes toward either Clinton or Trump actually swamp the attitudes towards loss and social expectations?

     We’ll find out on Election Day which theory “Trumps.”

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When Poor Crisis Communication Defeats Smart Branding–Trump and NC in Cleveland

20 Jul

 

Trump Blog Still.001

     In a presidential campaign that has been anything but predictable, strategic and organized, Donald Trump has finally put together a surprisingly strong branding strategy for the Republican National Convention.  And then watched it blow up.

     The Trump campaign and the RNC have gone to great lengths to brand each day of the convention with an overarching platform central to the Trump campaign.

     In marketing and branding parlance, the Trump camp and the RNC are very shrewdly appealing to personal core values: keep me safe, save my job, save my country, united we stand.  The clear goal is to reinforce these core values to build to the Trump brand promise of strong leadership to strengthen America.

      Here’s how the themes it will play out during the four days:

Monday: Make America Safe Again

  • Core value: Keep me safe

 Tuesday: Make America Work Again

  • Core vale: Save my job

 Wednesday: Make America First Again

  • Core value: Save my country

Thursday: Make America One Again

  • Core value: United we stand

             Trump himself had already been ramping up his social media rhetoric in preparation for the first convention day’s core value of ‘keep me safe.’   He especially used the Baton Rouge police shootings as a Facebook call to action.

                  On Twitter the day before the convention he also tried to weave the threat from ISIS into the narrative.

      But Trump’s marketing team has also been proactive and smart in making sure his social media messaging has tied directly into the core value agenda.  Each day on Facebook the team has posted branded content reflecting the day’s agenda and inviting followers to engage.  Monday’s theme of ‘keep me safe’ brought several posts throughout the day of videos and images for viewers to share.

 

     On day two, the core value of ‘save my job’ was addressed directly by Trump himself on Facebook.   It’s a smart tactic to keep Trump’s own words in the public dialog of his followers as they await him to address the convention on Thursday night.

 

     But even the best branding can’t overcome the push of a campaign’s own mistakes and the pull of the news media and social media in off-message directions.  Case in point is the speech of Melania Trump on the opening night of the convention.  The allegations of blatant plagiarism from Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech at the Democratic National Convention are damaging at best.   The side-by-side split screen compiled by CNN and other news outlets is a communications management nightmare for any organization.

 

   Even worse, was the campaign’s denial and refusal to address the issue.  If there’s any lesson for communicators in the 21st century it is that you have to work at the speed of news.   The complete 20-hour vacuum of activity on the GOP convention floor and the virtual silence from the Trump campaign is deadly in the world of 24 hour news.   What the campaign organization doesn’t help fill, the news media and social media will fill for them.   And that’s exactly what led to the heated confrontation between CNN anchor Chris Cuomo  and Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort where Cuomo called him a liar.

 

    It took the Trump campaign two days to finally acknowledge and respond to the crisis.   In a posting on Trump’s website, in-house staff writer Meredith McIver admitted she wrote the speech based on conversations he had with Melania Trump who read her portions of Mrs. Obama’s speech as examples of what she liked and wanted to say.  McIver admitted she did not check Mrs. Obama’s speeches. (Figure 1)

Figure 1 - Letter from Trump in-house writer Meredith McIver

Figure 1 – Letter from Trump in-house writer Meredith McIver

     The incident shows that the best branding and communication efforts also must constantly plan for the contingencies of crisis communication.   In this case, Malania’s speech slipped through the cracks of an otherwise seemingly disciplined RNC communications team and it raises serious questions about the competence of the Trump campaign.

     Effective crisis communications calls for an immediate response, often times an immediate commitment of an organization to cause no more harm, and dare I say it—apologize.   Ms. McIver did.  We know that publicly such a word is rare in Mr. Trump’s vocabulary.  Ignoring the issue while waiting for the next news cycle is not a crisis communications strategy.   Responding sooner would have allowed the campaign to get back on track with the smart branding of his convention.  But it may also leave lingering questions with voters about how he may make decisions as president in more consequential crisis matters.

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