Branding is both impossibly important and ridiculously difficult. A good brand can help ensure success in the market. But it can be easily attacked and undermined and can require constant protective vigilance.
One of the most interesting examples of successful branding, in the face of incredible headwinds, has been in Hillary Clinton's campaign for the presidency. Yes, she has a lot of baggage based on political history. Yes, she's getting dogged by that decision years ago to keep emails on a private server. And yes, had Clinton faced another opponent, she might have had a much rockier path to power.
Whether you're a fan or not, it's possible to look at a critical branding move that was long in the making and that helped change some of the dynamics of her past and reputation. That strategy was to refer to the candidate as "Hillary."
Have you noticed how pervasive the practice has become? Frequently in media you'll see pundits and journalists use her first name rather than last. Does anyone call Trump "Donald"? Did journalists talk about "Mitt" or "Barack" or "John"? No, they used last names, as did most people talking about the associated elections.
Referring to candidates by their first name isn't all that common. It was done for the Eisenhower campaign, with the "I like Ike" slogan. Carter's emphasized "Jimmy." But neither essentially dropped the last name. Bernie Sanders did use a similar approach of becoming "Bernie," like your uncle, but that seemed less calculated and more something that happened organically.
In Clinton's case, there has been the long trope history of her being distant and secretive and elitist. Establishing her as Hillary created the aura of a regular person--a friend, even. Someone voters could relate to and feel protective of--a neat trick when you consider that the marketers behind the campaign managed to do this without giving up ground on the idea of strength in dealing with problems and geopolitical situations.
I was talking about this with a friend and marketing consultant of mine, Rachel Weingarten. She brought up the point that the "Hillary" branding accomplished something else as well: the ability to refer to her without each time evoking ties to Bill Clinton. The former president has been active on the campaign trail, but they needed people to focus on Hillary Clinton as a separate person with her own track record.
Making branding like this work isn't easy. Sure, you can have campaign signage with the word "Hillary" prominent. But coming up with a brand alone doesn't do the trick. You need to sell it. The mistake many companies make is to assume they can advertise their way into a brand. That can be done, but is very expensive. Now, the Clinton campaign has raised a boatload of money to support the branding, but it's been the close ties with many in the media that really made things work. Not only surrogates but journalists and pundits, many considered friendly, started using the Hillary brand.
That gave permission and direction for celebrities who wanted to be on the inside to do the same and, eventually, that extended to the public at large. To show how well this worked, noticed how many people who oppose Clinton have also given in to the Hillary branding in referring to the candidate.
There are other aspects to the branding as well. For example, having the candidate appear in white at the convention and in the third debate played the subconscious Western association between the color and purity, fighting various charges of deception and corruption. The work has been masterfully conceived and executed.
Many have said that Clinton wouldn't have stood a chance if she hadn't faced an opponent as flawed as Trump. Her branding probably helped make the difference.