Note: Every four years I start following political communications strategies they way some people follow sports. Like sports, political strategies can be focused, executed with creativity and discipline, and inspire the fans. Similarly they can be a train wreck.
I think President Obama is onto a potentially powerful message strategy in his campaign speeches. Now, he needs to support that platform with emotional stories, and convey the three essential messages more clearly and consistently.
The platform is essentially about fairness.
In America we’ve always been greater together than on our own. We succeed when we’re all rising. This big, inclusive, generous, bold, ambitious vision of America is what’s at stake, is what we’re fighting for.
- Every American gets a fair shot if they’re willing to work hard to get ahead.
- Every American needs to do their fair share.
- Every American plays by the same set of rules.
Our brains react to five threats or rewards: status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness. Choosing fairness is both an American value and connects with the 99 percent who are outraged at the inequities of the one percenters, which both Romney and Gingrich are.
Scientists have also found that fairness can be linked to achievement. “Fairness between strangers at the individual level is what allows social organisms to thrive, and to out-compete more selfish societies, ” according to a Fast Co. article last year about a study done by evolutionary scientist Joe Henrich at the University of British Columbia.
While I think most voters want the “certainty” brain circuits lit in this election — more jobs, stable housing prices, assurances about no new taxes, withdrawal from Middle East — those are things that no politician should promise as he or she has so little control over those outcomes.
But fairness? Fairness provides an opportunity for all boats to rise. And who doesn’t want a better country for themselves AND their family, friends, neighbors and countrymen?
If I were running the Obama campaign I would support the platform by:
- Share stories of Americans — famous and everyday — who have gotten a fair shot, succeeded, and give back. Make the message real, emotional and aspirational through individuals’ stories. Even the President’s own.
- Highlight people who are doing their fair share — and then some. Social entrepreneurs. Small business owners committed to their employees and their communities. Community college teachers. Hospice nurses. Tireless community volunteers. Generous individual donors to vital non-profits. You can whine about how unfair life is, or you can do. Celebrate the doers.
- Give concrete examples of distorted rules that need to be changed to level the playing field. Specifics make a message real.
During his first term President Obama has not emotionally connected as well as he could with Americans, and what he most believes in seems kind of vague to the average Joe and Jane. People don’t want wonk-ish explanations. They want to be inspired.
While I am comforted to know that a leader has the intellectual chops to lead amid complexity, most people want a president who “gets them” — feels their pain, their hopes — and has the conviction to make things happen to address those pains and hopes.
Conviction is emotional, passionate, fierce and focused.
Obama potentially can deliver on this. Romney, not so much. Gingrich, potentially.
Let the election communications strategies begin in earnest!