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Romney Needs a Better Brand

It need not be as simple as "9-9-9," but something in that direction would help him.

photo of Matthew  Dowd
May 3, 2012

Branding is as important in politics as it is for products in the commercial marketplace -- and our daily lives and relationships (but that’s a column for another day).

This election will be contested around certain values and the economy. Right now, Mitt Romney has a slight lead in polling over President Obama on the question of who can best handle the economy. But to win, Romney has to have a large lead on this issue, just as other challengers had when they beat an incumbent president -- as Bill Clinton did against George H.W. Bush in 1992, and as Ronald Reagan did against Jimmy Carter in 1980. 

To do this, Romney needs a simple-to-understand and easy-to-talk-about brand plan. Right now, his message seems to vary between a complicated, too-many-points blueprint that no one really understands or just saying, “I’m going to do the opposite of President Obama on everything.” That strategy just isn’t enough.


Romney doesn’t need more details on economic policy or to get more down in the weeds -- he needs a memorable economic brand umbrella. It doesn’t need to be as simplistic as Herman Cain’s "9-9-9" plan, but something headed in that direction would be helpful. He should take four or five key existing economic policy points and tie them together in a manner that voters can get quickly and talk about over their back fence or on their front porch or at the water cooler. It needs to be quickly understood and easily conveyed.  

Maybe Romney could develop something like a “M*A*S*H Plan” (taken from the hit TV series): More innovation, Affordable and simple tax structure, Streamlined and smaller government, and Halting burdensome regulations. This isn’t perfect or immensely creative, but just a suggestion to give an easy-to-remember brand to an economic plan.

Voters’ attention spans on politics are short, and there are only a few moments when they’re ready to listen. So in those key moments, campaigns don’t need more details or better marketing tactics, they need a memorable and easily understood brand. The best communicators and leaders -- whether they’re in politics, business, or religion -- understand this. And it isn’t about dumbing down, it’s about making things understood when patience has worn thin -- something that’s often a difficult task.

As the old saying goes, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

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