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The Modern Online Candidate: Part 1
Political Brand & Campaigns

By Michael Teeter, Scott Proudfoot & Alex Langshur, Principals

Modern political candidates use the Web to create and extend their personal brand. They understand the connection between campaigns and online personal branding.

Politics and the Internet work well together. Over time, this relationship will evolve and grow in unforeseen ways.  We at Hillwatch make it our business to monitor and understand how these changes will affect the Canadian public policy and the political landscape.  This article is the first in a Hillwatch series to explore how the Internet can be used to grow and sustain political brand.

The landscape, circa 2002

It is early days but we are witnessing the emergence of a cadre of political candidates who understand the power of the Internet to promote and extend political brand, to identify and engage support and to incite supporters to take action on-line and off-line. The thoroughly modern candidate will follow these trends carefully and be as innovative as possible.

The Jesse Ventura and John McCain campaigns are now part of candidate folklore, particularly for the professional campaign community. These path finding campaigns, more than anything else, underscored the role and efficiency of using the Internet to organize people around actions and campaigns of personal interest.  The McCain campaign was further distinguished by its unprecedented and outstanding success at fund raising; some US$7 million in less than three months. (To see where Ventura and McCain are today go to: www.jesseventura.org and www.mccain2000.com)

The role of the Internet

The Internet should be viewed as a strategic tool that complements the traditional elements of the campaign tool chest.  It excels as a foundational element ideally suited to supporting the high transaction, low touch processes that are the nuts and bolts of every campaign. 

The Internet also allows a personal political brand to become the manifestation of a broader campaign itself and be unfiltered by other sources.  In effect, a website can broadcast a candidate's perspective and issues 24/7. Internet campaigns work with, not against, societal tendencies to disaggregation or demarcation. The technology is not challenged by distance or differentiation. It thrives on both these modern day features by providing the tools for global and community re-aggregation.

Although Canadian political parties show few signs of doing so, they must learn to encourage, live with - and leverage off - candidate branding and individual political candidate Internet organization. If they do not, they risk becoming less relevant. (See January 2001 Hillwatch Bulletin: Political Parties Lose Ground Steadily)

Here is a quick snapshot of what modern online candidates understand about the power of the Internet to extend political brand:

  • They think of politics in terms of campaigns, which are the confluence of issues, events, values and targeted political activity.
  • They understand that people are interested and motivated by their values and they support and join campaigns in support of those values.
  • Like good marketers, modern online candidates understand they can only extend their personal brand if the people that matter identify with and support the candidate’s campaigns. And, the people that matter vary depending on both the candidate and the campaign.
  • People’s attraction to a candidate centre around perception of biography, values, issues and affiliation. The campaigns, which the candidate champions, visibly demonstrates values, issue priorities, affiliation and builds biography.
  • Modern online candidates promote their brand relentlessly.  They drive people interested in their campaigns and their brand to their website.
  • The modern online candidate's website works hard to gather the e-mail addresses of supporters. He or she uses these lists to provide meaningful content and information, while providing opportunities to join in and take action in support of candidate’s campaigns.
  • The modern online candidate learns from Internet organization trailblazers, notably civil society and environmental groups. She or he understands the activists of today and tomorrow are connected and desirous of meaningful communications via the Internet.

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