The Republican Party is in turmoil, no doubt about it. White males in suburban and rural areas, their core base, are fed up with Government and want an “outsider”, even Donald Trump. Meanwhile young voters love Bernie, and women and minorities support Hillary, despite questionable trust in her. The Republican establishment is bewildered because their traditional message no longer resonates with most of their constituents. In short, the world has turned upside down for them. And these dynamics are not so different from the constant changes in the marketplace that force companies to sometimes re-position their brands.
There are clear signs that the Republican Party has lost its way. In a CNN/ORC poll in March, only 10% of Americans have a lot of confidence in the G.O.P providing real leadership for the country. The perception of Congress, controlled by Republicans, is just as bad – only 15% approval rating, down 6 points from February.
The branding challenges facing the Republican Party are significant, and also can provide a useful lesson for businesses when they experience market changes that affect their brand image:
• The Customer (i.e. Voters) – nothing is more important in branding than constantly monitoring the target audience and their evolving passions, and being able to adapt accordingly. Older white males with less education and income, a primary target for Republicans, have grown impatient with promises of higher income and better jobs. They identify the Republican elite with big business and the wealthy, the “donor class”. Certainly the Citizens United case fueling the power of super PACs and the influence of wealthy donors has contributed to this disenchantment, leaving these downscale voters with the impression that they no longer have a voice. While many of these voters drifted to the Republican Party between 2008 and 2012 because of their frustration with Obama, they are now very skeptical and see Washington dominated by lobbyists, contractors and lawmakers who have ignored these voters’ growing anguish.
Meanwhile the profile of American voters is changing dramatically. The Millennials have become the largest voting bloc and are gravitating to Bernie Sanders with his idealistic promises, which are very different from the mandate of Republicans. Even younger Republicans are not in sync with issues like immigration; for example, 63% said they supported giving immigrants a chance to become citizens (source: poll in March by Public Religion Research Institute). In addition the voting power of minority segments is growing rapidly, along with their frustrations with the Republican brand. The “Tea Party” conservatives may be the most passionate and outspoken, but their views are seen by many as too extreme and there are not enough of them to win the main Republican goal, the White House.
In business, the emotions and desires of a brand’s target customers, plus its profile mix, are always in a state of flux, as well. Smart companies know how important it is to identify emerging trends and the evolving needs of their customers, and will re-position their brands with modified promises and/or new features to sustain their emotional bond with them.
• Competition – The race for the Republican nomination has attracted entirely new and different candidates with strong views outside its traditional mantra of values and brand positioning (i.e. “outsiders” like Trump and Cruz). Trump’s belligerent propositions, while they may appeal to heretofore loyal Republicans (e.g. white males, less educated) who today have dubious perceptions of Congress and Republican leadership, are clearly not in line with the views of the Republican elite. Cruz has galvanized the extreme right, but his brand image is hostile and not consistent with the old Republican persona. In business, when new competitors arrive, savvy companies will assess which competitive brand promises are so appealing, and why, and either revise their brand positioning to resonate more (rationally and emotionally), and/or create new offers to convince customers that their basic promises still represent better value.
• Brand Promise or Message – there is definitely a glaring disconnect between the traditional views of the Republican Party and the attitudes of their standard voter base, especially on an emotional level. The embarrassing lack of trust of the Republican controlled congress (only 41% of Americans trust Government today) and the perception of its elitist leadership being out of touch, have fueled the anger and frustration of most voters. More important, this has also undermined the relevance of its mainstream brand promises. As in business, the key is to re-evaluate their customers and revise the brand message to emotionally connect with their passions, and also to appeal to emerging segments that offer greater potential for achieving their strategic goals.
Unfortunately there is no simple or immediate solution to the Republican dilemma for this race to the White House. At a minimum, they should examine the causes of their problems, especially how the perceptions of their traditional voters have evolved, and start to make strategic changes in their brand. Their situation is not unlike the market dynamics constantly affecting any brand, and both sides can learn from each other to ensure sustaining that critical emotional connection.