Brand Winners… And Losers: Sarah Palin and Microsoft

The Marketing Doctor says:

Winner: Sarah Palin Defines Her Brand

Loser: Microsoft’s Brand Continues To Be Defined By Its Competition 

Folks, here are this week’s brand winner and brand loser.


The Winner:

No question that Sarah Palin is this week’s brand winner. 

Her convention speech has gotten all kind of attention for energizing the base (and possibly many Americans outside the base) and delivering a populist rallying cry that will rival Obama’s change camp/constituency. 

But step outside the typical political calculations (and guesses) and you’ve got a great example of how to define a brand in the blink of an eye.

Usually, branding takes along time, but Palin’s brand has gone from unknown to well known in about a week. 

How did this happen?  Two ways:

1)   The massive media attention established a brand image (we saw the kids, the snowmobiling husband, the new baby; we learned about the family struggles and Palin’s unusual life story as well as her work as a governor)

2)   In her speech, Palin masterfully played off the negative publicity, harnessed the anti-media and inside-the-beltway beliefs of her audience and, most importantly, reinforced the image of a rugged, the-people-first maverick that had already emerged over the course of the previous week.  

Palin’s rapid brand development goes beyond politics.

It is a lesson for anyone who is interested in defining their personal brand or their company’s brand.  At bottom, what Palin did was prevent people from being distracted from her brand’s core features.  Every possibly fatal distraction (i.e., her daughter’s pregnancy) she turned into a strength (every family has its struggles). 

We’re also seeing a marketing trend at work that is translatable to business marketing and any other kind of marketing: it’s the shift from push marketing to pull marketing.  Traditionally, push marketing was about getting the consumer (or the voter) to buy your product (or candidate) by having a third party literally push your product (or candidate) on the target market.  This cost a lot of money because in effect, these third parties had to be paid up-front, typically in the form of commission.   

What we’re seeing in this election is the revolutionary use of pull marketing.  Voters know what kind of candidate they want, and they are seeking that candidate out.  Ron Paul has used pull marketing simply by being Ron Paul.  Obama has done this.  And Palin is now doing this to stunning effect for her target market.  From a marketing perspective, this means that the candidate needs to harness demand rather than seek it out.  Ron Paul did this with his amazing Internet fundraising.  Obama has also used it to raise money and, even more impressively, with the unprecedented email and social networking machine he has built. 

And now it’s Palin’s turn.  This is marketing as the new advertising using a wide range of tools (including controlled adpublitizing and brand management) to build a brand rapidly.  How else do you explain Palin’s ability to attract a television audience larger than the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics and just a million shy of Obama’s own?

A pull marketing strategy leap frogs over third parties and ultimately lets the brand go direct to the target market in this case, the voter.

The weeks ahead might bring different news, but this hockey mom is a brand winner.    


The Loser:

Sometimes it feels like I’m kicking a dead horse with the Microsoft brand. 

Google announced the launch of Chrome this week, its first foray into the browser market in which Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is used by roughly 60% of people.

The browser market is not a money maker for anyone.  Typically, browsers are given away for free. 

But this isn’t point.  As we’ve seen from the head-scratching economics of the Internet, market share on the web is what counts.

Right now, Microsoft is unsuccessfully facing down its future as the old software model, upon which it made its billions, crumbles. 

Chrome shows why Microsoft is in trouble.  For what was likely very modest development costs and some marketing (a lot of free publicity though), Google has pitched its tent in Microsoft’s backyard and will probably start eating into its share of this market.

Also, as in the political sphere, we’re seeing pull marketing at work with Google’s success (and the lack of it with Microsoft).  Google’s target market —like Palin and this season’s political candidates— is seeking it out, and there is no better marketing position to be in.

More than anything, Google’s move makes Microsoft’s brand seem even more vulnerable, defensive and out-of-date. Google is the brand that is seen as bringing in the new, exciting and revolutionary. 

Microsoft’s brand image has been damaged by years of a you-must-like-our-products-or-else approach.  Customers accepted this because they had little choice.  This reality has changed, and even Jerry Seinfeld (who Microsoft has brought in to help advertise) probably can’tdo much to help this brand.  A first glimpse at these ads shows that Microsoft really doesn’t get it. (The Seinfeld-Microsoft ad is a confusing muddle.)  More to come on its 300 million dollar marketing campaign.

How toxic is Microsoft’s brand image? Here’s a good example. Microsoft’s Vista is struggling, but not because of the weakness of Vista itself.  In fact,  Vista seems like pretty good software.  Apparently, one focus group overwhelmingly liked it when they were told that it wasn’t Microsoft’s Vista —and they were shocked when they learned the truth.

Microsoft is this week’s brand loser because Google’s latest assault reminds us that the company is having its brand defined for it.  The new Seinfeld-Microsoft ad is terrible, and many things have to change on the marketing side if Microsoft hopes to prosper (or even survive) in the years ahead. 

And remember, it’s always easier when you keep branding in mind.


Brand winners work from their core features and define their brand themselves.

Brand losers forget their core and let their brand be defined by their competition.


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