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What Obama teaches brands about emotional intelligence

Social & Digital

What Obama teaches brands about emotional intelligence


ABT CEO Antony Gowthorp says Brand Obama shows how emotional intelligence can help organisations handle tough economic times.

When Barack Obamas election campaign encountered potentially image-denting, bad news threats – in the shape of outbursts from Obamas former religious mentor the Rev. Jeremiah Wright – Barack the brand demonstrated the versatile value of emotional intelligence.

The, then President-elect didnt shy away from the issue – he addressed it head on with a response replete with authority, reason and purpose. And when Obama received news of a family death while on the campaign trail, he gently expressed his grief in an appropriate yet heartfelt manner.

The lesson for brands under pressure is that emotional intelligence can be as much about being assertive as it can be about being soft.

When times are tough, how many brands communicate with comparable amounts of emotive savvy?

Typically, most hunker down without really relating to their key audiences. But to stay silent to the difficulties you and your stakeholders may be experiencing, is to pass up an opportunity to develop stronger emotional ties between brand and audience.

Many Australian brands – corporate, governmental or political – may be the bearers of bad news in coming months; budgets slashed, orders cancelled, spending cutbacks and job losses, not exactly brand enhancing events.

Yet studying Barack Obamas branding campaign gives clues for successfully navigating harsh operating environments:

  • Unified purpose – the brand vision stayed on message and was regularly communicated to key audiences
  • Storytelling – the campaign leveraged the power of leadership oratory
  • Walking the floor – from backstreets to boardrooms, brand big dog Obama regularly fronted up and personalised the brand experience
  • Resource allocation – the campaign kept communicating, even when times (and questions) got tough
  • Audience centric – while his brand mission remained constant, Obama tweaked the ways he expressed the messages to different stakeholders
  • Celebrating success – especially in tough times any wins were acknowledged and used to fuel campaign motivation.

The other hallmark of Obamas brand behaviour was the personalised nature of the communications activities.

Extensive use of newer and more direct social media – from blogs to Facebook and even YouTube – added informality and impetus to fundraising, communication, voter data, voter profiling and viral campaign activity. As a result, the overall brand experience was a much more personal and personable one than those mustered by other political players, present or past.

Quite simply, Obama showed that winning brands are as much about empathy and emotion as they are about money and might. In today’s new media environment, clients must acknowledge the context theyre communicating within, and the attitudes and demands of the people they deal with.

As Barack Obama clearly understands, good branding isnt just about outputs and targets; more simply, its about talking to and connecting with people.

Thats what separates emotionally intelligent brands from the rest.


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