Since November 2016, Hillary Clinton's public persona has been wobbly. She published a book that got mixed reviews. She's made some speeches nobody heard. She's done a bunch of interviews rehashing why she lost the election, and through it all she's been unable to shed the awkward, secretive brand that cost her the White House.
Not anymore. Hillary's back.
Love her or hate her (nobody's neutral about her), you have to admit that her appearance on the 2018 Grammys was not only an epic act of trolling but a stroke of branding genius. If you missed it--if you did, watch it now; I'll wait--host James Corden set up a bit where auditions were being held for a 2019 spoken word Grammy contender. The reading material: Michael Wolff's controversial White House tell-all, Fire and Fury.
John Legend read a bit. Then Cher. Then Snoop Dog and a few more celebrities. Then Clinton read a short passage about the president's passion for McDonald's and said to Corden, "The Grammy's in the bag?" The audience went crazy. Cut.
Let's ignore the politics of what was obviously a political stunt, because politics aren't the point. Whether you're left, right or in the middle, Clinton's decision to play a part in what was essentially a globally televised diss-track contained three potent lessons for anyone trying to build a brand--or revive one that's gasping for air:
1. Come out swinging.
A basic rule of branding is that if you don't define your brand, someone else will do it for you.
Despite millions of admirers, nobody was clamoring for Secretary Clinton to reemerge on the world stage. If she was going to get back in the game, she had to do it with guts and panache.
If she'd made a vanilla speech, her haters would have crucified her as a sore loser while everyone else would have dismissed her as a relic. Instead, she surprised everyone and set them on their heels, forcing them to view her on her terms.
In your own branding, remember that half measures and lukewarm messages are worse than no branding at all. Make your first move bold and brave.
From the jump, make it clear who you are or what your company stands for. Deny the other guy the chance to redefine you or muddy your message.
2. Be self-deprecating.
With the storm of criticism she's endured in recent years. Clinton has every reason to be resentful and angry.
But self-righteousness is unpopular. We love public figures who have the grace to poke fun at their failures--like the fact that Trump is president and she isn't--and laugh at themselves.
When Clinton turned up on that video with all that energy and that goofy grin, it was difficult--no matter what you thought of her, politically--to not grin back. When trying to build up a flagging brand, humor is your ally.
Nobody wants to be lectured about how awesome you are or your business is. But we've all failed and looked ridiculous. When you share and laugh at your shortcomings and screw-ups, you become accessible and relatable. That's everything.
3. Provoke a reaction.
Great branding is about eliciting strong emotions. Your audience should love your brand or despise it. The only unacceptable response is "Meh."
From that perspective, Clinton's 20-second reading was a master class. Liberals, women, and Hollywood gushed their delight. Conservatives, including Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, loathed it. Mission accomplished.
When you use messaging and strategies that provoke, you put your competition on the defensive. By making them react to you, you seize the initiative and give yourself a brief but important business advantage.
Clinton probably won't run for office again. But she's set herself up for a successful next act with a daring decision.