As the campaign season reaches a fevered pitch, we can scarcely turn on the TV, open the newspaper or surf the web without hearing about Obama's or McCain's “brand.”

For example, McCain's recent campaign commercial featuring Brittany Spears and Paris Hilton is acknowledged to be effective in defining Obama in an unflattering light, probably impacting his popularity. At the same time, the pundits say it runs the risk of backfiring and devaluing McCain's brand.

In this case I think the pundits have it right. The candidate's brand is not just a factor in how people will vote; it will be THE determining factor. Understanding why can give you insights into how to grow your professional service firm.

Here are some key take-aways from the presidential campaign that apply to your firm:

  1. Each candidate's brand is more than his name, logo or website. It also encompasses his competence, values, experience, expertise and—yes—even likeability. When developing your firm's brand, dig a little deeper to uncover those attributes that truly matter to your customers.
  2. The candidate you vote for (or the service firm you select) is based on the totality of your impressions and the way you feel about that person (or firm). After the fact, it's easy to rationalize your choice, but the actual decision is often driven by emotion.
  3. Competence—the ability to deliver desired results—is critical to a brand's success. Can a certain candidate (or firm) solve my problems? Can he (or the firm) deliver what I need? If not, the candidate will lose. Your firm will not be selected. But running on competence alone is not a winning strategy. Any major party candidate is assumed to be capable of doing the job. Unless demonstrated otherwise, he will be given the benefit of the doubt. So don't build your firm's reputation on expertise alone; nobody will care.
  4. It's easier to destroy a brand than it is to build one. One too many slips and the brand collapses on itself. A good brand gives you some resilience. But if you appear to violate your core brand promise, you're toast. (Easy to see why negative campaigning is so prevalent.)
  5. All other things being equal, the upbeat optimist wins. While historically true in presidential elections, a hopeful demeanor can also influence the selection of professional service firms. People want to work with upbeat people. Trusted yes. Admired, of course. But add inspirational, forward looking and optimistic and you have a winning brand.

The next time you are tempted to grumble about the wall-to-wall politics, take a moment to observe some pros in action and reflect on how their missteps and triumphs can help make your firm more successful.