This history of business is the history of branding – and for good reason. When properly constructed, brands offer a powerful shorthand for communicating value – and values. Effective brand strategies signal strong promises and reassure buyers that they’re making smart choices. Damaged brands have precisely the opposite effect. They destroy value, create barriers and undermine credibility.
I believe the Democrat brand is a broken brand. Stretched beyond the all reasonable limits, “Democrat” has come to stand for everything and nothing, creating a swirl of ambiguity that leaves many in the middle scratching their heads and wondering what the party actually stands for. This is true for the Republican party too, thanks to Dear Leader’s total abrogation of their core principles, but that’s their problem, not mine.
There are many ways to repair broken brands. One strategy is to begin and sustain a relentless march toward clarity, integrity, and competence. Companies do this all the time – or at least they talk about doing it. For the most part, such strategies rarely deliver the turnaround necessary to be successful. Ford Motor Company, for example, is trying to reposition its brand by promising design and safety benefits, trying to suck equity from the Volvo acquisition into the Ford brand. It will not work. I believe Howard Dean is pursuing a similar strategy – trying to reenergize the Democrat brand and have it stand for the things he so clearly articulates. It is a long and challenging path, with no more likelihood of success than Ford will have. In fact, Dr. Dean’s challenge is even more daunting because he is not in control of the brand imagery or message. Indeed, no one is in control – which means the Democrat brand is diffused through countless lenses at the national, state and local level, each standing for what it stands for more or less independently.
Another strategy for repairing broken brands is to replace them. That is what this diary is about. Specifically, I am calling for a new brand to replace the Democrat brand.
The new brand name is Blue.
You are seeing this strategy unfold every week with UPS positioning around the color brown. But unlike UPS, I am actually suggesting the radical move of changing our brand name . . . and realigning our brand values. And though this strategy is not rocket science, it is loaded with risk. For example, a newly named party with the same old bullshit would be a joke of tragic proportions. And it will be challenging to work around this particular risk. Because right now, Democrat and Blue are totally conflated. The color is used to describe geographies and practices that are already aligned with the Democratic party. This will have to change. Blue cannot be synonymous with Democrat. It must add value and solve problems.
One opportunity Blue creates is the opportunity to stand for something specific and simple. I will argue that that ‘something’ should be three things: Integrity, competence and the common good. And while we have the ‘common good’ dimension pretty well pinned down, I would argue that we are seen as interchangeable with Republicans the areas of integrity and competence. People believe politicians from both parties are crooks and liars . . . and frankly, there’s plenty of evidence to support that belief, especially if you look beyond federal office holders. Also, it may not matter if it’s true – perception is reality.
Another opportunity Blue creates is this: it cannot be easily countered by Red. The brand imagery around Blue is infinitely superior to the imagery for Red. Red is an aggressive color, tinged by a communist tradition, little red books, blood and worse. Blue is solid and dependable.
Green is not Blue
Not discussion of brands and political parties can be complete without acknowledging that there is already a “color” brand out there. It is Green. And while I personally subscribe to many, if not most, of what I understand the Greens to stand for, Green is not the same as Blue on the political spectrum. It’s probably safe to say that Blue is Green, but that Green is not Blue. Blues, for example, should articulate a position for nuclear power, but only as a last resort – after all conservation initiatives and alternative energy sources have been fully developed and deployed.
Green started from a blank slate, which means it had no legacy brand to borrow from and build on. That mostly accounts for the inability of Green to really gain traction in today’s political landscape. Blue would not have that problem. Blue would borrow the best of Democrat . . . supplement that best with the best of other political practices, and relaunch itself as a new progressive force. The Blue Party is not same as the Democratic Party. It is different because it is founded to three core principles: competence, integrity and the common good.
Operationalizing the transition to Blue will be a tricky undertaking. But if we do it properly, we can gain tremendous momentum. Sure there will be detractors (the Reds and the old-school Dems who like things just the way they are) . . . but if we put some substance behind our rebranding, there will could be a tremendous ground swell as well. And make no mistake, if there’s not substance, don’t bother. For example, Blues should have a fundamentally different approach to public education policy than traditional Democrats. We should be FOR experimentation, entrepreneurial initiative, less bureaucracy and accountability. But we must redefine those terms so they are not the same talking points that created the monstrosity of NCLB and never-ending standardized testing. We should be for small schools and multi-track secondary education.
More generally, we should also embrace privatization where it makes sense. Indeed, we should not just embrace it, we should advocate for it. That would give us even more power to object when it doesn’t make sense. Bush’s privatization of the military, for example, is a time bomb with devastating potential.
So now what?
For whatever it’s worth, you heard it here first. One of these days, the Democratic Party will either become the Blue Party or it will succumb to the Blue Party. And I, for one, look forward to the day when the candidates I support are listed under “Blue Candidates” on my paper ballot.
Cross posted at Daily Kos