Counselor Commentary: Lessons From The Midterms

Don't Be Wishy-Washy - Your Brand Needs An Identity

Dave VagnoniWhatever you call it – a rout, a shellacking, or a wave – the recent midterm election cycle was a good one for the GOP. Winning control of the Senate seemed likely, but picking up governorships in places like Maryland and Illinois was totally unexpected. Yet, Republicans shouldn’t be caught doing their happy dance for too long, as 2016 will bring a dramatically different electorate. You might be wondering what any of this analysis has to do with your company. Glad you asked. No matter your view on politics, the midterms offered some interesting lessons that businesses should pay attention to. Let’s focus here on two of them.

First, every winning brand needs a clear and effective message. Throughout 2014, Republican candidates offered an uncreative, but pointed stump speech. It went something like this: The president is doing a bad job and we’re different from him. Many Democratic candidates, meanwhile, tried noticeably hard to distance themselves from President Obama, worrying his sagging 40% approval rating would hurt their campaigns. This message became a jumbled mess. The ultimate example was the refusal by Senatorial candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes – an Obama delegate – to say who she voted for in the 2012 presidential election. She appeared unauthentic and lost by 15% in a race that was once a dead heat.

Listen up people: Wishy-washy doesn’t work. Your brand needs an identity. Maybe your business is “the service leader” or “the solutions provider” or the “always on time with orders” company. You need to develop a message that is consistent, that resonates and that shows you are for real in a competitive climate.

The second midterm lesson has to do with the blame game. Immediately after this year’s election results, Democrats pointed fingers at each other and at the president. An aide for Harry Reid, the current Senate majority leader, directed sharp criticism at the president in a November 5 Washington Post story. The criticism, of course, did nothing to change the election results. (By the way, the Republicans did plenty of their own finger-pointing in 2012.)

Let’s be honest – there will come a time when your business loses. A long-time client might look elsewhere, an order might be incomplete, a former employee might bash you on social media. How you react to losing will demonstrate whether you’re a good leader or a lousy one. Blaming staff for screw-ups is a clear mistake, as is dwelling too much on things you can’t control. Look, instead, to correct problems so you’ll win in the future. Criticism is alienating and will cause you to lose influence. Translation: your employees will think you’re a jerk. Don’t be a jerk.

The implications are simple: Having a clear message is good and pointing fingers is bad. It’s easy stuff that real winners understand – in politics and in business.