Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Building a successful personal brand: Barack Obama

Say the name “Barack Obama” to almost anyone, anywhere in the world and immediately, there is a picture of an imposing orator standing before the US flag. Obama has a personal brand that he and his staff carefully manage, trying to ensure that his identify is clearly differentiated from his opponents and is associated with the values for which he stands. Political figures like Obama know the power of building and maintaining their personal brand and so they invest hugely in trying to manage their most valuable asset.

In marketing, we tend to think largely about strategies and tactics we can employ to acquire and build relationships with chosen customers. However, we can use these same approaches to developing our own personal brand – and that is exactly what President Obama does so successfully. He has created a brand identity that is emotionally appealing, associated with integrity, fairness and a desire to fulfill the American Dream.

Although many people think of personal branding in terms of image building and personal selling, the concept can address a much broader range of personal marketing strategies. The key is to effectively identify and influence how others perceive you and how they position you relative to others. Personal branding involves implementing a positioning strategy that manages the perceptions of how others perceive you when they hear your name.

In today’s digital age, having a carefully managed personal brand has become even more important. Social media has made personal branding a complex management task. The immediate impact globally that positive or negative comments can have on a personal brand requires constant vigilance, monitoring and maintenance of all channels. Take for example the power of social media during the 2008 US presidential elections. Obama had over 2.3 million supporters on Facebook alone, while McCain had only 620,000. On You Tube there were almost 1800 Obama related videos with over 114,000 subscribers, while McCain had only 329 videos with 28,000 subscribers. Obama was taking his message to many more people and entering into a personal conversation with them so he could explain his views and respond immediately to challengers. It was clear at an early stage who would win the election, long before the polls closed. No doubt, Obama has a well-defined social media strategy in place as he goes towards the next election in November 2012.

In the current competitive climate of the US presidential election, Obama has played his trump card to revitalize his flagging personal brand. During the recent Democratic Convention, one of the most powerful images was not of the President making fiery speeches, but of his wife, Michelle Obama, addressing the delegates with passion, sincerity and humility that rekindled many of the brand values the President has struggled to maintain. The association of the two brands is a clever tactic to revitalize Barack’s personal brand and reconfirm to the world his values.

Building a personal brand is not just a task for celebrities. All of us have a brand, what we stand for and a promise that may be attractive and appealing to others. Few of us manage our brand strategically, working out a careful plan of how we would like others to perceive us, what are our aspirations, and what we are associated with. Do you manage your personal brand and if so, what do you think are the most important ways of building your personal brand?

Pennie Frow

Associate Professor and Program Director of the Master of Marketing Program at the University of Sydney Business School


  1. Nice article Pennie. Obama has certainly turned grassroots campaining into a science. Some more stats: he apparently raised $6.5M online with 93% less than $100ea. He also gathered 13M opt in email addresses and 1M for TXT messages at a myriad of touchpoints. And spent less than 50% of campaign budget on TV - unprecedented! Also created a very cool 'win dinner with Obama and take a friend!' strategy. He's re-running it again at the moment.

    1. Thanks Anton. It's very true that Obama has been innovative with his strategies. He has successfully integrated social media into his campaigning, adding a priceless platform for discussion and idea sharing. Should be interesting to see how his strategy might change as election day approaches. I wonder if Ohio will pick the winner once again!

  2. It is important to create a personal brand, and you are correct that Obama has done quite a successful job at creating his brand. However, the fact is that Obama didn't create his brand on his own. He had a team to aid him, and I think anyone who is serious about making a name for his/herself should consider hiring brand consultants who can strategize and create an effective branding campaign.

  3. I agree that many people would benefit from a team of trained professionals coaching them on how to create personal brand equity. What would you consider to be the top 3 pieces of advice you give clients when they seek advice on branding or re-branding themselves?

  4. Indeed Obama has been very innovative in his campaigns by successfully mixing up integrated media marketing and a lot more strategies that involves the social media. That's probably the reason why many people salute him because his works are very transparent and are strongly for good purposes only.

  5. His PR people immediately saw how new media can change the landscapes of campaigning. If they weren't the first ones to utilize social media for the elections, they were definitely innovators.

  6. Great Post..Brand building is any activity which influences the customer of your product in a positive manner... a brand is not about a slogan, advertising or marketing campaign only - it is about trust and credibility. We all need good Brand Marketing Company