By Kris Tait, US MD at Croud
Itʼs still a recent phenomenon that people now behave like brands as much as any business does.
Athletes, musicians, influencers, even business people of different stripes have curated their images in such ways that their successes can be viewed through the lens of successful marketing.
Perhaps the original sector that blurred personality with branding was politics. Even certain phrases, like “campaigns,” are shared by politics and marketing; both areas are meant to distill and disseminate ideas, information, emotion, awareness and relevance in order to earn the support and inspire action.
What marketing insights can we then derive from the ascension of President Joe Biden, or rather brand Joe Biden? How do the attributes of his brand and the way they captured public support reflect what brand marketers can do to realize similar success?
Joe Biden as a legacy brand
Biden has served decades-spanning different political eras and social climates: his familiarity with Baby Boomers, who came to know Biden for his senate tenure and previous presidential campaigns, is quite different from his familiarity with millennials, who most readily associate Biden as President Obamaʼs VP.
This persistent visibility over time and his effective reintroduction to new audiences characterize Biden as what marketers would call a legacy brand. This term does not simply mean an old brand but also refers to consumersʼ broad familiarity and how it lives in peopleʼs minds. Perceptions of legacy brands are more fixed than what startup brands can achieve with even the most widespread promotion.
They are well-known, ubiquitous, household names. Non-threatening because of their familiarity, they draw authority from their track record. The perception of Biden today parallels this archetype, as his most memorable qualities have been cemented across generations and his longevity in government earns him a sense of credibility.
What does a legacy brand do to stay relevant?
You might not think that “old” would jibe with relevance, yet we often need to reframe how we understand the relevance.
Relevance isnʼt about short-term notoriety, moments of being known as a star. For brands, more often itʼs about earning trust incrementally. With a strategy of being targeted and measured in how you grow and become known, by the time associations are widely known, they are ownable, defendable strengths, and your brand has developed trust and a relationship with its consumer.
These were notes Biden played especially well in his presidential campaign. While some candidates were branded in narrow, short-term lanes, Biden had associations built over time that solidified his more personal qualities. Recognizing his folksy speech, for instance, is a connection people have to him that confers a deeper level of trust born out of familiarity.
Legacy brands have this unique advantage that can be lost in the pursuit of misplaced relevance. For Biden and for many legacy brands, being the most relevant may simply mean being the most well-known.
Legacy brands face a different set of challenges
Longevity alone, of course, wonʼt make your brand relevant or well-known. A common challenge for legacy brands is how to refresh in smart ways at the right times.
Unlike a startup, these brands are continually bridging what works currently with what will work in the future. This means making gradual adjustments and calculated risks, like introducing a new product line or implementing a new ecommerce channel.
A great example of this is with the apparel brand Champion, a legacy brand that had faded from relevance and been relegated to discount stores. The brand chose to refresh with new trendier items sold in specialty retailers, transforming the brand into a fashion symbol to be found on the pages of social media influencers.
Legacy brands can look to Biden for how he maintained his steady presence in government, even as he took risks with presidential campaigns and publicly incorporating new beliefs. At times a legacy brand may be tempted to overhaul itself or dramatically pivot to steal the growth of a rising rival; brand Biden shows how adjustments work best when supported by an established strength.
Rising to the moment
To age gracefully, play to strengths, and refresh occasionally through measured risk assessment is all you can ask of a legacy brand, and of a political career. But the last consideration for legacy brands, where Joe Biden can lend some insight, is being ready for the moment.
Although these brands arenʼt well-served by seeking the spotlight, there are times whereby merely occupying space in peopleʼs minds, they quickly find themselves under a spotlight – with an opportunity for massive growth.
A great brand example, despite not (yet) being a legacy brand, is Zoom. The brand has existed quietly, steadily since 2011, and though it had been growing and refining its product over time; until 2020 it was only one of several video communication brands people considered. Yet the circumstances shaped by the pandemic provided the brand a moment to rise to, an opportunity to grow more deliberately into.
Similarly, Biden likely expected his role as Vice President to be his career capstone. However, as the political landscape took shape over the last five years, it was due to the arrival of a certain moment, a result of a number of outside factors, that Biden suddenly stood out starkly as the most potent candidate for president. He showed a readiness to meet the moment and capitalize on it that can be a takeaway for legacy brands currently outside of the spotlight.
The exercise of people as brands
Once you start noticing how people, especially public figures, and brands mimic each other, you start to see patterns in the interactions of different brand types and the way they are received.
If Joe Bidenʼs success illustrates how legacy brands can find their ways to the forefront, it makes me wonder, what can Donald Trump tell us about disruptor brands?