I came to a bit of a revelation last night during my PR class. Actually, to be fair, I was brought to it. We had a guest speaker in to discuss branding and she began by showing a Ted Talk clip from Simon Sinek about the difference between the marketing or branding strategies of a great company (or leader) like Apple and most others.
To sum up the talk, it all has to do with where the message begins; with the why or with the what. Interestingly, this is a theory based on the biology of our brains. Our neo-cortex, the newest part of our brain, processes facts, figures, language and the like. It is our truly “thinking” brain. When most companies develop a marketing plan, Sinek says, they start by addressing this part of the brain with the what. They tell us about the car’s gas mileage and its handling or how its paper towels are the cheapest. This is all good stuff and necessary on some level. It may even lead a lot of folks to buy the product. But more important than the what is the why, the feelings behind the purchase, which are controlled by our limbic brains. When you present someone with all the best facts and they agree with them completely but still may not take action because “it doesn’t feel right” or their “heart just isn’t in it” this is the part of the brain that is working. Apple gets this. It’s why there is a whole culture behind its products. It’s why people will buy anything with an Apple logo on it. A lot of car companies, especially luxury brands, get it too. Volvo and BMW don’t sell cars. Volvo sells safety. BMW sells the ultimate driving experience.
What’s even more extraordinary about this is, once a company gets you to buy into its culture, its why, it has turned you not just into a customer but into an advocate. You’ll probably also excuse some less than satisfactory performance or service from time to time because, after all, the company is almost like family now.
Part of the reason I signed up for the PR certificate program was to be able to better communicate the message of limited government. This message is currently carried, as it has been for the last century or so, by the Republican Party. And despite all its faults, and there are many, the GOP is still the best vehicle to continue doing so. But it doesn’t appear to be doing very well, nationally or, especially, in Washington state.
There are several things I’ve pointed to in the past but these are all relatively small and, for the most part, the inability for the GOP to connect with voters has always perplexed me somewhat. Conservatives outnumber liberals 2 to 1 (40 percent to 21 percent with the remainder classifying themselves as moderate) yet Democrats and Republicans are tied in the electorate. I could never put my finger on why until last night (although, once I did, I knew that I’d known it on some level all along but probably just didn’t want to admit it).
I guess this would be the appropriate time to pause for the old saw about Republicans not having hearts. Ironically, it turns out, it’s true, at least in the above sense. Those of us on the Right tend to focus on the bottom line, the brass tacks, just the facts, ma’am; while those on the Left tend to focus on feelings. I wish this weren’t the case. I wish more people would listen to reason. But it’s not and Republicans better get with the program if we’re going to win any more elections.
We see this dichotomy perfectly evidenced in the current gun control debate. We are supposed to live in a nation of laws, not of man. What that means is legislation shouldn’t be the result of individual incidents like Newtown but the result of overarching need and based on fact. And when one looks at the facts it’s apparent that the proposed gun control measures, most gun control measures for that matter, wouldn’t prevent the overwhelming majority of incidents like Newtown. But that doesn’t matter to most people, probably even a lot of people who are Second Amendment advocates. Case in point, Wayne LaPierre, the Executive VP of the NRA, has advocated for armed guards in schools. And while this strategy would certainly be more effective than banning “assault rifles”, it’s still, largely, a solution in search of a problem.
What happened in Newtown was tragic and should never have happened but, sadly, people die everyday in this country as the result of evil or stupidity. In 2011, 211 children were killed as the result of drunk driving accidents but celebrities aren’t making videos “demanding a plan”, Obama isn’t signing executive orders seeking to limit the sale of beer and or cars to law-abiding citizens, and Andrew Cuomo isn’t shrieking about only needing 12 ounces of beer to kill a deer. As tragic as Newton is, the chances of it happening to any one person are about as likely as being struck by lighting and are, in fact, considerably less than they were in the 90s. None of this matters though because “guns are scary.”
Obama rode to victory on the mantle of “Hope” and “Change”, words that have nothing to do with facts and everything to do with feeling. He did it again in 2012 because Romney chose to focus on his record at Bain Capital and as governor of Massachusetts and Obama’s record as president. On paper, the choice was clear. Even a large majority of the electorate believed so with Romney favored 2 to 1 on the all-important question of who would turn around the economy. But when it came to the why, when it came to who voters thought identified with them more, Obama was the clear leader.
So what must Republicans do to regain the edge they had during the Reagan years? The answer is quite simple, senator. So many politicians on both sides of the aisle, Obama included, like to channel Reagan for a reason. He is one of the most beloved and respected presidents of the last century and this is in large part because he was able to connect with Americans on that why level. To regain the edge Republicans must speak less about facts and figures and more about feelings. And while we’re at it we must convey positive feelings. Yes, the economy is in shambles and it’s largely the fault of overregulation and high taxes. But this is all boring to the vast majority of Americans who are too busy cooking dinner and watching their kids’ soccer games to connect the dots between the Community Reinvestment Act and the mortgage crisis. They just want to know that their leaders care. They just want to feel good. Then, if the facts back up those feelings, all the better.