Earlier this week, Jeb Bush rolled out his new campaign slogan: “Jeb can fix it.” It’s a terrible slogan for his campaign, and not just because it has made him an Internet laughingstock. It fundamentally misunderstands how to connect with an audience.
The most effective messaging creates a narrative arc, as in a story. Narratives are driven forward by their hero, and that’s where Jeb misses the mark. Jeb’s campaign sees him as the hero — “Jeb can fix it” is all about Jeb. It’s a selfish implication: that people are not able to fix things themselves, and need him to do it instead.
Great storytelling makes a hero out of their audience. Jeb needs a message that makes each individual voter a hero in the American story. “Make America great again” works not because Donald Trump is a great person, but because it implies that the audience will be the source of said greatness (plus it's already worked once). Trump’s bombastic, but he’s made himself a catalyst for voters' own desires. Casting a vote needs to feel empowering; Jeb implies it will be surrendering.
Levering this narrative arc, and crafting messaging consistent with it, applies to brands as well.
Customers need to be heroes, empowered to improve themselves and the world through the buying decision. The brand’s role is that of the mentor (the Obi-Wan Kenobi to your customer’s Luke Skywalker). Effectively positioning a brand that way does more than create customers: it motivates those customers to become evangelists for the brand and spread its message.
If Jeb wants to get his campaign back on track, he needs to think a little less of himself, and more about how he can be a conduit for Americans to achieve their desired future. The same goes for business. When growth is slow, double down on your customers. Shift your brand narrative away from features and benefits and toward the future your firm supports. Your customers (or voters) will take you there.