Dems now must manage brand

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The Democrats ruled in last Tuesday's one-day sale. But it could be a one-night stand-or, more precisely, just a two-year hitch-unless the party figures out what it stands for. This editorial isn't about politics. It's about marketing.

Voters-consumers-were desperate for a change, voting against the president, the war and GOP scandals. Democrats won by being the Uncola. But the party must build a brand by standing for positives rather than simply standing against negatives if it is to carry momentum into 2008.

Party leaders must think as marketers: Start with the consumer. The party last week drew independents and disaffected Republicans who had nowhere else to go. Democratic leaders have the opportunity and imperative to embrace their new customers, crucial if the newcomers are to become repeat customers. The party would do well to study how Republicans made "Reagan Democrats" feel welcome.

Immediately after Mr. Reagan's 1980 landslide victory, his campaign's research firm went back to work, fielding a poll to see, in effect, how post-purchase views compared with consumer sentiment earlier in the campaign. Rigorous market research helped win the election-and then sell the new president's legislative agenda to the public. (Ad Age named President Reagan's campaign strategist, Richard Wirthlin, Adman of the Year.)

Of course, it's easy to build a brand when the product is as clearly defined as Ronald Reagan. And it was easy for unified conservatives to rally around "Contract With America," which swept Republicans back into control of Congress in 1994.

It's another thing to manage a brand as diverse as the new Democrats. The party did a remarkable job of fielding candidates suited to local markets. But that creates a marketing challenge on how to define the party going forward.

In 2008, the Democrats' new customers will decide whether to re-up. The party needs to produce results and show what it stands for rather than against. It must be more than the Uncola. It must be the choice of a new generation.
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