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Friday, October 3, 2008

Total branding and the financial crisis

Total Branding is about aligning an organization's functions with its culture and communication despite the fact that achieving total alignment is realistically impossible. In an absence of total alignment you basically do the best you can.

We see this approach in action with respect to the bailout. Both candidates are trying to align their operations with their culture and communication for maximum impact in an environment where:

1. There is cultural dissension within each side about how to fix the situation (e.g. the bailout bill is contested)

2. There appears to be inability or resistance within each side to communcating about how it happened, except to vaguely blame "Wall Street"

3. The public is divided about what it wants--bailout vs. no bailout

As a result, from a Total Branding perspective, here is how I look at the candidates' approaches to the issue:

1. Demonstrate functional competence - good job on both sides but undifferentiated: Say that they are serving the people (performing their overall function) by assuring the bailout effort is done properly (subfunction). Not coincidentally, no brand differentiation there--they are in effect in the same organization (government) and this is basic competence.

2. Demonstrate a uniquely valuable culture - partial success: Claim a distinctive approach based on their record and party/peer beliefs, behaviors, tradition. Some brand differentiation there - e.g. regulation vs. deregulation - but since the Republican candidates place themselves in "maverick" (e.g. independent) territory this is a bit inconsistent on one side (they can shift culture depending on the issue).

This is where it falls apart:

3. Lack of communication clarity, credibility, and consistency. I don't know what the candidates are saying within their respective organizations, but to the outside world something is not working.

Specifically, neither candidate is credibly and clearly articulating what happened to cause this crash and how their unique approach will fix it. We hear catchphrases like "Wall Street corruption and greed" but that is not enough.

What does the Total Branding approach recommend?

1. Tell the story in a unique way: Explain the crash - very basic - what happened, how did it happen, who is responsible. Don't over-focus on any one group such as Wall Street: be fair and evenhanded, even if it means blaming the public in part.

2. Envision and communicate a happy ending: Show people that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Stop calling it the equivalent of an "economic 9/11" or "Pearl Harbor."

3. Offer a unique and credible functional approach to arriving at the happy ending based on a unique culture of the potential administration. E.g., show how increased regulation will work or show how less but more effective regulation will work.