A campaign theme and a communication strategy are two very distinct parts of any organization’s attempts to communicate with the public. While themes convey the core essence of an organization and what it’s trying to sell – whether that’s a political message or a product – the communication strategy is the actual method organizations use to broadcast that theme to the public.

Organizations need to have a theme behind what they’re selling before they can create a strategy, since the theme helps an organization better understand what it’s trying to sell and, consequently, who will be most interested in what the organization is trying to sell.

Creating Campaign Themes

An organization’s theme can be reduced to a single, compelling sentence that summarizes the message that an organization or individual is trying to communicate. Good themes drive interest among the public and, ideally, motivate others to action.

For this reason, an organization’s theme should be both goal- and action-oriented. It should inspire others to take actions that meet the goal of an organization.

Of course, different organizations have different goals. Political organizations want people to vote for their candidates and hope to drive voter support, while businesses hope to make sales and want to drive customer purchases.

The goals and actions settled upon by an organization are entirely native to the kind of organization that is designing its theme. That same theme should partly drive action by being distinct, original and intriguing whenever possible.

Interest-generating themes are more likely to get people to take action than bland themes that do little to set an organization apart from its competition. For this reason, an organization’s theme needs to be designed in such a way that it sends a message distinguishing the organization from others like it.

By asking a few simple questions of itself, an organization can design a successful theme.

Designing a Successful Campaign Theme

An organization’s theme can be created by using the Tully method, named after Democratic strategist Paul Tully. This approach requires campaigns to ask four questions that help shape the theme:

  • What are we trying to say about ourselves?
  • What are we trying to say about our competition?
  • What are others saying about us?
  • What is our competition saying about themselves?

Asking these four questions at the start of a campaign can help shape the campaign’s theme and how it broadcasts its message. It’s important for an organization to first know what it wants to communicate about itself, but what it’s trying to say needs to contrast effectively against the positions of its competition.

Without that distinction, the company won’t be able to stand out from its competitors and may fail to attract support.

One theme for GE was that their products were integral parts of their customers' lives. For Nike, one theme was that their products would help you be your best.

The organization’s theme also has to take a stand against the competition. If a competitor is making claims that it offers the superior product, it is inherently saying that your good or service is inferior. When a campaign makes a claim that it’s offering the superior product, it makes a statement about not only what it offers but what its competition offers (or doesn't offer).

A campaign’s theme contradicts what denigrating messages are saying about it while also contradicting what the competition is saying about itself.

Designing Communication Strategies

Communication strategy is the actual process by which a campaign’s themes are communicated. An unfocused marketing campaign will only broadly target the public, leaving people confused regarding who your product or service is aimed at.

Once you have established your audience, it’s time to understand the context of your audience’s lives. You need to know what major event might have occurred and what experiences they’ve had that you can target with your marketing campaign.

Well-crafted communication strategies also have specific outcomes that they’re designed to achieve. Without specific goals, it’s impossible to know whether a marketing campaign has been successful, so campaigns need to be designed to produce results in terms of sales, branding and similar outcomes.

For this reason, it’s also important to have a system in place for measuring whether the campaign has been successful or not. Some systems of communication are easier to measure than others, such as web traffic, since marketers can see precisely how many people are visiting a company’s website.

A final element of a successful marketing campaign strategy includes deciding what media to use to communicate that message. Media can include everything from television and emails to in-person events and conferences.

Since different parts of the public respond differently to different types of media, companies can use different types of communication avenues to reach out to the public. When all five of these elements have been carefully considered, it makes it all the more likely that a company’s communication strategy will succeed.

 A Few Words About Slogans

As previously noted, a campaign theme should be designed well enough that it can be communicated in a single sentence. This single sentence can be considered the campaign’s slogan – an easily communicable message that quickly captures the spirit of the campaign, invokes imagery in the mind of the hearer and drives the actions that will fulfill an organization’s goals.

Slogans fulfill all the goals of a campaign theme, helping to distinguish an organization from a competition while positioning that organization as a superior choice. Badly designed slogans fail to capture the spirit of the campaign’s larger themes.

Almost more than any other field, politics is known for being littered with campaign slogans. John F. Kennedy’s 1960 slogan, “A Time for Greatness,” captured the spirit of an America embarking into space, booming with economic prosperity and strengthened by an incomparable military. Barack Obama’s 2008 slogan, “Change You Can Believe In,” captured the desire of the American public to take back the economic prosperity that disappeared in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks and the subsequent recession. In contrast, Adlai Stevenson’s 1956 presidential slogan, “We Need Adlai Badly,” captured little spirit and focused the slogan almost entirely on Stevenson himself.

Since a slogan is an essential idea that works with the theme of the campaign, it needs to be broad yet specific. GE's "we bring good things to life," led to many different ways to support that message. Similarly, Nike's "Just Do It" slogan led to many opportunities to highling the way different niches of their audience "did" it.

A slogan should do more than just communicate the product, whether that product is a politician or a can of soda. It should capture the essence of what that product is about, or at least what the organization wants the public to believe the product is about.

Those same slogans, when reinforced and associated with imagery and deeper campaign messages, can eventually become associated with a campaign’s deeper messages once the slogan and messaging have been tightly associated with one another.

Summary of Themes, Strategies and Slogans

As an organization begins coming up with campaign ideas, it eventually settles on ideas it wants to communicate and messages it hopes to pass along to the public. These ideas become part of the organization’s larger themes, which itself is the essence of the campaign’s many messages – a sort of reduction of many complex ideas into singular larger and easily communicable themes.

These many themes can then be further reduced into a slogan, or several slogans, that quickly capture the spirit of the organization and what it wants to communicate. Consequently, campaign marketing begins with a complex web of ideas that are reduced to easily understandable themes, which can then be further reduced to catchy slogans. It’s a process of reduction that makes it easier to communicate with the public, and that communication can only occur with a good communication strategy. This strategy identifies an audience, sets measurable targets and identifies the best means of communicating the campaign’s themes and slogans.