Branding is inescapable. If a Green party wants to stand out in a crowded field of competitors, they will have to have a strong idea of what their brand’s strengths and weaknesses are. Good branding can make the whole campaign a lot easier.
At its most basic level, the purpose of a brand is to act as a consumer behavior heuristic or psychological shortcut for consumer choice, allowing consumers to quickly and easily differentiate between similar products in any marketplace. Political brands are defined by academics as “political representations that are located in a pattern, which can be identified and differentiated from other political representations.” In politics, as in commerce, branding is essentially about recognition and expectation which allow people to make shortcuts (you might even call them stereotypes) in their decision-making process.
Here's some examples:
Why would someone choose to vote for their local Green party over anyone else? Their reasons for doing so are part of what makes up the “brand” of that party, sometimes even more so than the party’s policies themselves. Is the party, and its politicians, seen as authentic, as an issue owner, as the solution to a problem, as a good representative of the voter?
A re-think of a green party’s brand will help re-think the whole strategy, answering many unanswered questions and clarifying things that might have been vague.
Before getting to some of the more practical applications of branding, it can be helpful to reflect on some of the underlying theory.
Please note, much of branding literature and theory comes from the world of marketing and corporate communications and as such, it may not seem immediately relevant to a political party. But by swapping out concepts such as “ideal users” for more applicable ones like “target voters”, we can already see how these theories can be helpful for us.
A successful brand pays attention to these 3 dimensions:
In a political context, the substance can be interpreted as the values and core policy goals of a party. The appearance is the visual identity of the party and the campaign materials more generally. And the experience is about how voters may first come to hear about the party and then end up casting a vote for it. Ideally, you want the image, the experience, and the substance of a brand to match (to be consistent). And, ideally, you want to continue this consistency over time and in any situation, so that you're creating a clear and strong ‘shortcut’ for voters.
These dimensions will come up again later in this article, under Brand Practice.
A “brand platform” is the best way to tell a brand’s story with a few well-chosen words.
It is one tool that defines and explains a brand’s fundamentals through simple phrasing. It is most useful as an internal tool, but some of the platform may still overlap with external communications.
The brand platform is made up of the following components:
The goal of this exercise is to come up with 2 or 3 words that summarise each concept, the more concise the better.
Here are some questions that can help with the process, rephrased to make sense in a political context:
The process of establishing the Brand Platform can be quite difficult, especially if you are working in a party that doesn’t feel comfortable “branding” itself. A lot of these questions also point to structural aspects of the party and can provoke reflection on the wider strategy. This isn’t a bad thing, it can be part of a holistic approach taken when planning for a campaign. But a party that already has a clearly defined strategy will have a much easier time establishing its brand platform.
You can tell the difference between parties and organisations that take time to structure their branding and those that don’t. It is worth the effort to do it well and will prevent having to have many complicated discussions later on in the campaign when things get more intense.
Now that we have looked at some of the theory, it’s time to put it into practice. For example, if the brand platform is well established, practical decisions about the campaign become much easier to answer.
The ideas that guide the brand: the brand must answer some essential questions in a way that makes sense to its audience.
Stylistic and linguistic codes that can guide the way someone interacts with the brand: a mix of ingredients that is constant and variable.
A relationship between the brand and its audience at every contact point along the user journey.
The substance is what makes up the bulk of the brand’s identity and it will inform the Appearance and Experience, so take the time to get this right.
The following components make up a brand’s substance:
The narrative is the summary of the brand in a way that makes the most sense to people. It’s the narrative that you tell yourselves as the motivation to work on the campaign, it’s the narrative that you tell voters to convince them to vote for you, it’s the narrative you tell prospective staff to encourage them to apply for a job. The narrative is key, and if it helps to view it in practical terms, it can form the basis of an “About” page on a website.
So what is the narrative of your Green party? Is it agreed upon across the team? Do party members and activists have a different narrative to the party compared to voters? If so, work out why.
See Campaign Narrative for more, but be wary that a party’s brand narrative is slightly different to its main campaign narrative. The brand narrative is more of an internal reference point, and it should be consulted as often as possible to make sure all other branding remains consistent.
The brand context is important to understand in order to place your party and the campaign in the current moment. The context is also about the political, social and economic situations that potential voters find themselves in during the campaign. The context flavours every part of the brand and how people understand it.
So what is the context that the party’s brand exists in right now? Is the party doing well? Are our typical voters in a good financial situation? How has COVID affected the election? Are climate politics relevant to voters’ everyday lives?
Every team member and volunteer should have an understanding of these contexts and how they affect the perception of the party’s brand. The context can also shift in an instant due to geopolitical events or the outbreak of a health emergency. Having a solid understanding of the context can allow the campaign to adapt and shift the branding to match the moment.
The tone-of-voice is the way that the party presents itself in all its communications with prospective and current voters. What way should you write emails, what way should you speak on social media, what way should you tell candidates to talk about the party on TV?
What way should the party “speak”? Should you come up with internal guidelines? Are there certain ways that you should speak that reflect the world that we want to see? How can you be more inclusive in our language? What do your voters want to hear from you?
The key messaging of the party in a particular campaign should be an agreed-upon set of statements that become second nature to the whole team’s members and volunteers. They can then be used to promote the party in every social and professional interaction in a consistent and coherent way.
Messaging is not just a list of policy goals, it’s also the core values of the party expressed in an engaging way. This messaging becomes much easier to define once the Brand Platform (see above) is agreed upon.
The appearance of the party or particular campaign is the first thing that people see when they interact with it as a brand. Get the appearance right, and half the work is done. The appearance is shorthand for the rest of the brand.
Political campaigns benefit from thoughtful use of their visual identity. Smart candidates and parties coordinate their campaign materials with a unified theme. A successful visual identity can help make your name and message stand out amongst potential voters.
Green parties more or less share a lot of the same visual themes and symbols, but there is still a lot of room to explore new looks from campaign to campaign. It can be interesting to work around the limitations of established Green branding and find new innovative ways to present the party.
The following components make up a brand’s appearance:
A campaign should adapt its branding to the probable “contact points” that someone will have with the party specifically and with the election process more generally.
Sometimes the experience of a consumer brand can be linked to more tangible things like the softness of a leather shoe or the response time of the customer support helpline. But more often than not, it’s the things we just feel or think about the brand that give us the most impactful experiences. For a political party, it could be a combination of all the interpersonal interactions that you have with campaign staff mixed with the feeling you get when you share a post to your Instagram story and the pride you get when casting your vote.
Simply put, what is the brand’s “vibe”?
Good branding can smooth things out and address some problems without actually having to change the fundamental things underneath. This can be a bad thing, or it can be used to your advantage. Perhaps you are riding low in the polls after a disastrous TV appearance, but good branding could reassure the voter that everything will be OK regardless. This takes hard work!
Branding is probably the most important thing to consider when drawing up your campaign plan. How is your party already perceived and how can you change that to benefit the goals of the campaign? Good branding ties everything together and transmits the whole messaging of the campaign in as efficient a way as possible. Good branding can often go unnoticed if it works, but everyone will notice bad branding. It is vital to treat branding seriously, and not let it turn into an afterthought.
Last updated: June 2022