obama stateofunion header State of the Union and Re Branding Obama

By Ethan Lyon, Senior Writer

In 2008, Obama was the answer to the ailing economic, political and social strife. Astoundingly, his hope-inspiring brand was the gold standard in politics, with approval ratings soaring from 65 percent in January to 76 percent in February. Expectations were high and his rhetoric indicated such change was possible. His leadership and charisma could correct the broken path we were headed down. Obama faced a deepening recession, a broken financial system, rising unemployment, two wars in the Middle East and numerous other challenges. He was going cross party lines to spark vital change in Congress and fix the broken American machine.

“The state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift. And we will act, not only to create new jobs but to lay a new foundation for growth.” Nearly one year ago, Obama spoke these words to millions of hopeful supporters in his inaugural speech at the National Mall. Today, Obama’s approval ratings have sunk to 51%. Why? The American people don’t feel that he has done enough to address the economy and instead, that he has gotten bogged down in healthcare.

By comparison, at this stage in George W. Bush’s presidency, he enjoyed approval ratings of 83%. While Bush’s popularity ended at historic lows, his first year was perceived as a success. Bush showed leadership after the 9/11 attacks and united the American public on a common cause. In contrast, Obama has divided the country with healthcare reform that strays from the priority of job creation.

Pundits label Obama’s first-year performance as lackluster. A year ago, hopes were high as Obama was masterful in communicating his vision and building a Messiah-like brand image. Today, Obama’s brand value has plummeted. In short, Obama broke a cardinal rule of branding by not focusing on his constituents needs (i.e. jobs), instead wasting political capital on less important issues, such as healthcare and cap and trade.

The Obama Brand Cloud Today:

screen shot 2010 01 21 at 10 16 08 am State of the Union and Re Branding Obama

Americans want tangible impact — or at least understand that Obama is working towards it. Obama has kept 91 promises, made 33 compromises, broken 15 promises, stalled 87 and 275 are “in the works,” according to PolitiFact.com. To show his effectiveness as a leader and put his brand on track, Obama will need to outline clear, specific goals in his State of the Union address and meet them in the coming years. Obama needs to take ownership of something he can solve, quickly. American’s need to see tangible results to indicate he is actually creating change. For instance, the unemployment rate must decline. Providing the jobs in construction and alternative energy — he discussed in his inaugural speech — would go a long way with the American public.

Ronald Reagan faced similar challenges. Reagan’s approval ratings were comparable to Obama’s today. In 1981, the Republican president dealt with a deepening recession and published his fundamentally flawed Reagonomics theory — whereby the rich trickle-down wealth to lower classes. His approval ratings were 50% at that time. So how did Reagan rise above to become a Republican demigod and what lessons can we learn for Obama? Just as former presidents facing similar challenges, Obama needs to change his strategy; beyond rallying his party, he will have to be partisan and a uniter — to create change.

To add complexity to the mix, the majority of Obama supporters (i.e. 66%) are Gen Yers and Gen Xers — digital natives who expect fast, sweeping change. America’s youth is dealing with the harsh reality that Obama is not a miracle worker and Washington is still Washington. It turns out that Obama cannot single-handedly win the Olympics for Chicago or shoe-in Coakley’s Congressional seat or fix the economy in one year. Obama is a little less powerful than we thought, but it’s not too late to re-brand and re-capture American hearts.

Obama needs to become more assertive, with more fight and less “Ghandi.” Despite his bi-partisan, “cross-the-aisle” aspirations, Obama needs to fight for change. The Republican party of “no” is always going to fight him, tooth and nail. Obama could take a page from the Sarah Palin play-book. Palin’s recent move to Fox indicates she’s not afraid of new challenges to get in front of her key demographic — hardcore Republicans. For Obama to impact change, he will need to re-win the hearts of Democrats and also rework his image with the public at large. He needs to evolve his own devaluing brand from promise to action, success and progress.

Image via Whitehouse.gov