Tuesday, March 15, 2005

A Candidate's Brand

I was just reading over at MyDD on a post about rumors of a Hyde retirement in a couple weeks. Great news. But about halfway down the thread, there was a comment from someone who looked up my local county party website and complained about it's lack of, err, visual aesthetics. When another blogger commented that it wasn't so bad as some information was easy to find, the response went like this:
Just for comparison's sake, check out the DuPage GOP website.  Visually, one can tell that a design team took care in creating it.  

[...]

I'm not the type to advocate doing what the Repubs simply because they do it, but I do advocate doing something right.
This touches a nerve with me. We don't live in a vacuum, especially in politics. We wil always be compared to the competition. This is not about doing it "right." It's about understanding the importance of design. It's about understanding that design is not just window dressing that can be sloughed off to your cousin's sister's kid brother's friend who has a Mac at home. It's about a candidate or organization's visual representation of who and what they are. The GOP get the importance of a seamless well designed visual image, and spend money on it. The Democrats don't seem to.

Don't think a visual image is important? Then how many of you would think of going to meet a new client without making sure your belt and shoes matched? Would you check to see if your tie matched your shirt? Would you at least check to see that your socks matched? None of us serious about earning that client's business would skip any of these things.

Yet how many candidates have you seen that had signs that were unreadable 20 feet away? Candidates that used three different fonts in their logo? Candidates that had one logo on their signs, another on their stickers, and a third on their website? Or my personal favorite, logos that showed no evidence of typographical understanding what so ever, set in Times New Roman, with absolutely no kerning, no alignment, and no visual meaning what so ever?

I know what the design challenged in the blogosphere reading this are thinking right now: What's kerning and who cares? I don't need to know about that; you're just being a designer. Wrong-O, there Sparky. Just as most people don't know what the alternator does on their car, they know when it's not working. An un-kerned word or poorly set letter pair in a logo registers as amateur and clunky as surely as the bad alternator signals the car won't start. You may not think, "gee that "A-O" pair doesn't seem to be kerned right." You just think, "Damn, that logo looks uninspired."

A candidate's logo is their brand. Brand awareness is just as important in politics as in advertising. If a candidate uses a weak logo with typical type, poorly kerned and leaded, it is a reflection on that candidate like it or not. People today are much more aesthetically aware than 10 years ago. They notice a professional look (GOP site) vs. an amateur look (Dem site) whether or not they can point out the design reasons for it.

Now extrapolate the use of the brand across multiple platforms. Your potential voters and donor base will see your brand more than they will likely see you. They will see it on your signage, your literature, your advertisements, your banners, and everything you put your name one. Your logo or website is a visual representation of who your are, both in position and in personality. It is what you represent from you views to your work ethic.

Use it consistently in the same font, same color, same professionally coordinated way and your brand becomes not only familiar, but comforting in its consistency. It is known. There are no surprises. Your brand, and you by extension, are safe, steady and consistent. People vote for that.

In comparison, use your brand inconsistently, poorly, in different fonts or with mismatched colors, in ways that don't make sense or look like you paid you sister's kid brother to do your palm cards, and while you'll have saved a buck or two, your brand and thereby you as a candidate will look inconsistent. As a candidate you then look less reliable, inspire less trust and be seen as more of an unknown quantity. No one likes surprises, especially in a brand.

People donate and support organizations and candidates who are consistent in person and who's image is consistent as well.

As a company or a candidate, the need to differentiate yourself from your competition is key in gaining market share. Branding through competent design is critical to one's success. The GOP understand this. We often don't seem to.