05.11.2017 | Publications

Pantsuits and Power Ties: Branding Lessons from the 2016 Presidential Campaign

By: Jeannette Riendeau May 11, 2017

Branding is not just for law firms anymore. Attorneys can and should develop a personal brand. A personal brand identifies and projects your professional strengths to your desired client base and helps you stand out in a crowded legal marketplace.

A brand should achieve three main goals:
1. Create awareness among the identified target audience;
2. Create a clear differentiation from the competition; and
3. Inspire confidence in both clients and potential future clients.

The biggest mistake attorneys can make when developing a personal brand is trying to be everything to everyone.

‘First in the Nation’
Every four years, our neighbors to the north find themselves in the middle of the political universe. New Hampshire’s place as “First in the Nation” for the presidential primaries attracts worldwide news media, political junkies and, of course, plenty of meet-and-greets with the candidates.

This past election season was no exception, and given this election was anything but business as usual, the spotlight on candidates in New Hampshire was even brighter.

In the fall of 2015, it seemed there was no diner, coffee shop or town square in New Hampshire that was free from the seemingly endless parade of presidential candidates. As the weeks rolled on, the male Republican candidates all seemed to adopt a similar uniform: a collared shirt underneath a quarter-zip sweater. No tie, no jacket.

These candidates appeared to be following one of the most important rules in marketing: Know your audience.

The audience was hard-working New Englanders who are a bit more laid back than voters in Boston and other nearby urban areas. The candidates’ quarter-zip sweater tried to say, “Hey, I understand you and your needs because I’m just like you!”

Rather than appealing to the voters, the candidates came across as pandering. Why? Because while it is important to know your audience, it is just as important to be consistent with your brand. If you are not consistent, you won’t win over your audience.


Trump card: consistency
The one Republican candidate who stayed true to his brand was Donald Trump.

Never wavering from his power ties and suits, Donald Trump’s brand was not “I’m one of you”; it was, “I know better.” Trump’s speeches described perceived problems in America and, according to him, the only solution was Trump.

By staying true to his brand, the primary voters found him more appealing, and the result was his first primary win in the Granite State.

Rather than cave and ditch the pantsuits, Clinton ignored the criticism and embraced her brand.

Birth of a Pantsuit Nation
Trump’s main political rival, Hillary Clinton, also stayed true to her brand. Her message to voters was she was strong, powerful and should be judged on an equal playing field as her male political rivals.

As the political season gained momentum, the media criticized what came to be her signature pantsuits. Her suits were fodder on social media and “Saturday Night Live.”

Rather than cave and ditch the pantsuits, she ignored the criticism and embraced her brand: a candidate who should be judged on her accomplishments rather than on superficial bases, like her clothes, a challenge often confronted by women.

Clinton’s embrace of the pantsuit spawned a movement. Pantsuit Nation was born. Pantsuit flash mobs popped up across the country, the hashtag “#pantsuitnation” was trending on Twitter as a form of support and solidarity for Clinton, and voters showed up to the polls on Election Day wearing their best pantsuits.

When to change, and when not to
The moral of the story is if the branding is consistent, the right people will respond. Don’t waver just because you think it’s what your audience wants to hear.

A brand can be fluid and should evolve in response to internal factors, like the adoption of new practice areas or adding offices in new geographical areas; or external factors, such as changes in targeted industries, an increase in competition or a shift in behavior from the core audience.

A brand should not change just to throw a wider net to a larger audience. Changing the key message based on what you think a client may want to hear, rather than staying true to what makes you stand out, will make you sound and look like everyone else, and it certainly won’t inspire confidence in your clients.

In the legal market filled with collared shirts and quarter-zipped sweaters, find your pantsuit or power tie and wear it proudly.

Jeannette Riendeau is director of marketing and business development at Boston’s Bernkopf Goodman. She can be contacted at jriendeau@BG-LLP.com.

Originally published in  Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, May 2017