Last week, in the course of three days and in three different Asian cities, I was asked about the US Republican National Convention by three different English-speaking taxi and Uber drivers.
Now, casually discussing American politics in a cab is nothing new. But the Melania Trump and Ted Cruz speeches had just happened, and these drivers were curious to get an American’s perspective. Surprisingly, they had very specific questions and keen observations, like whether Melania’s speech copied Michelle’s speech on purpose so people would talk about it more; or if the lack of giving a Trump endorsement will hurt or help Ted Cruz in his career later. I even got the question about what “Republican” really means.
SIDENOTE: If this isn’t a great reminder that the whole world is watching, then I don’t know what is.
During the end of my ride in Hong Kong, I asked the driver, “So, who do you think is going to win the election?” His reply: “Oh, I don’t know. I keep forgetting this is for the presidential contest. After it’s over my TV will be so boring!”
For years, communications professionals have been analyzing politicians’ effectiveness in order to advise clients on the lessons that can be applied for brands. And during this US election cycle, there are just too many to count. The biggest takeaway from my rough taxi cab analysis as well as all kinds of other interactions about these campaigns comes down to a very simple theme. Comms 101: don’t lose focus on your key message. The entertainment factor that has news ratings spiking has unfortunately overtaken the simple message of “Vote for me.”
Of course, these drivers in Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai aren’t voters. They are not the direct audiences. But they are citizens of the world and involved in a dialogue about a pretty significant global moment. The message lost in an indirect audience can be a strong indicator of how badly the message is getting lost in the primary audiences.
Brands can fall into the same trap. If the direct and indirect audiences of brands simply can’t remember what the story is about or why they should care, then those brands fail. It could be “buy me” or “feel this” or “work here”, but the simple message that must come through for brands cannot be distorted, made overly complex or buried. If you look at a time when brands are at their strongest, it’s when all their stories, content and leaders are saying slightly different versions of the same, simple things.
Let’s make sure we have a “vote for me” in our brand stories, so we’re not giving people the chance to forget the point of the whole thing.
If you need a reminder of how easy it is to get it wrong, just ask your next taxi driver.