Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a press conference at the United Nations in New York March 10, 2015. ... © Lucas Jackson / Reuters March 19, 2015 01:20pm EDT

From assembling a campaign team to a New York City base of operations, along with media advisors, pollsters and focus group directors — a Hillary presidential run in 2016 is now immanent (she’s to announce this Sunday.) Yet the question remains — what will be her main message?

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While she’s lived in the White House and led the charge on national health care, was elected a U.S. Senator from New York, travelled the world as Secretary of State and even made an attempt at the Presidency once already, what major success, from all of that experience, can she stake a claim to?


What significant accomplishment is there that one can point to, aside from her Zelig-like ability of being in the room when something historic was happening — a key piece of legislation, a peace agreement?


Perhaps she should take a page out of Obama’s playbook? After all, while his skills at oratory catapulted him onto the national stage at the 2004 DNC, his resume was very thin leading up to 2008.


And yet, his candidacy was clearly successful and it all came together in a single word. Indeed when candidate Barack Obama ran against Hillary in 2008, the word that hung from every podium where he gave a speech was “Change.” And when he ran for reelection against Mitt Romney, his campaign again nailed down the message into one word, “Forward.” 


Being able to boil down and isolate a word in the voter’s mind is what the advertising world calls “positioning. “


And it wasn’t only Obama. You may recall, when Senator John McCain rose to become the nominee and the Republican candidate facing Senator Obama in 2008, the two words that were the rallying cry everyone in the RNC hall roared in unison were, “Country First.”


From one or two words flowed an entire mission on which to steer the campaign. Just as important, it lined up with the character of the candidate.


When you think Mercedes Benz, you think prestige.  When you think Volvo, you think safety.  When you think BMW, you think performance.


These brand impressions are not accidental. They took a lot of work involving consumer research, category and competitive comparisons and a real understanding of what the essence of the brand was all about.


Team Obama understood this.  The other competitors didn’t. Do you even remember the other Democratic candidates in ‘08? I didn’t think so. Well, there was Senator Christopher Dodd. What was his message? There was Senator Bill Richardson too. What word did he own in the mind?


No doubt all of the consultants on Hillary’s team are busy putting a ground game together, lining up donors and figuring out the campaign’s logistics. But if they’re not working on the big idea that positions her in the voter’s mind and gives them a reason to, first choose her over any other Democratic rival and then eventually hand her the keys to The White House, then all that energy is wasted without a central concept to rally voters.


So what is that word in the mind that she will need to attach and hang all of her talking points under?  Ultimately, great brands are about us. They reflect our hopes, our ideals and our dreams. BMW doesn’t just say it’s well engineered.  It demonstrates it on those windy roads where you can imagine yourself driving. Hillary needs to focus and to speak directly to the American people and unite us around an idea. Actually, the word that captures the vision for this country and has the gravitas to hold up through what will be a hard fought campaign and one that Hillary can lead with is just that — “united.”


But does it reflect who she is? On a very personal level, she stayed united with her husband and is now a grandmother. She’s a matriarch to her family – a symbol of unity. Can she be one to ours?


On a global level, her relationships with world leaders, forged over years – from First Lady to Secretary of State - can demonstrate that she, more than anyone else, has the ability to unite friends and allies the world over.


Of course, no one ever said that uniting the world and uniting us, was going to be easy. In fact like most vision statements it may in reality be very hard. But nevertheless, like MLK’s dream speech or Reagan’s City on a Hill, it’s an ideal to strive for and whether you call them voters, constituents or consumers – people unite behind leaders who look to the future.


Abe Novick is a writer and communications consultant.



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