Updated: Jul 16, 2020
Watch our Video on Product Strategy for Kanye's Path to the Presidency
Is Kanye West Running for President in 2020?
While Americans were home barbecuing and lighting fireworks this Fourth of July, on America's 244th birthday, Kanye West announced his intention to run for President of the United States of America, igniting pandemonium to Twitter, social media, cable news, and the entire internet.
People on social media immediately responded with a range of emotions from excitement and support for Kanye's candidacy about change and positivity, most notably a tweet from Elon Musk stating "You have my full support!", to disbelief and negative judgement from those bringing up Kanye's controversial remarks about slavery being a choice for which he has since apologized, his support for President Donald Trump and the MAGA movement, and the potential for Kanye to take key votes away from Democratic Candidate Joe Biden, leading to a Trump victory.
One should note that Kanye has already missed the deadline for the application to get on the ballot for president in six states even before he posted the tweet.
Is Kanye running in 2020 or future?
One very important piece of Kanye's announcement, which I have not seen debated or presented as an argument, is hidden in plain site. Kanye never says he is running for President in 2020, but the simple implication has driven all the narrative. The key clue is in his last line, "I am running for president of the United States 🇺🇸! #2020Vision", where he never actually says he is running for president in the 2020 Election, but rather its his "2020Vision".
UPDATE on this point: Kanye confirmed he is in fact running in 2020 in a Forbes interview on July 8, 2020)
Kanye Political History
This is not the first time Kanye has shared his political opinions or announced his intention to run for president. Kanye was vocal about George W. Bush's reaction to Hurricane Katrina, mentions being the "abomination to Obama's Nation. Well that’s a pretty bad way to start the conversation” in his 2010 song "Power", and shared his desire to run for the highest office in the land back in 2015 at the MTV Video Music Awards at the conclusion of his acceptance speech for one of his many music related awards, "and yes, as you probably could've guessed by this moment, I have decided to in 2020 to run for president."
In 2016, Kanye had left many believing he was Pro-Trump due to several events, such as saying while performing at a concert that, "he would have voted for him," meeting with Trump at Trump Tower, and wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat in public.
It's important to note that during this time, Kanye had been battling mental illness, and was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, had stated he was in financial trouble, and took a hiatus from the spotlight.
"I know Obama was heaven-sent/ But ever since Trump won, it proved that I could be president." - Kanye West (Ye vs. the People - April 2018)
Kanye's Spiritual Awakening
Kanye was raised in a Christian home and though he has been controversial in the past with comments and actions, his faith in God has guided him throughout his career. On his first album "College Dropout", he released the song "Jesus Walks", wanting it to be the first single, though convinced otherwise by his team and label.
Though Kanye has long been about positivity and encouraging people to grow intellectually, he had a spiritual awakening in 2019, which brought positivity and love at the center of his message, driving him to be done creating secular music and releasing the Gospel Album "Jesus is King".
I bring up Kanye's spiritual awakening only to draw context to the decisions he's made, and as a lens to his past affiliations which may no longer be there. Though Kanye has not said so publicly, I do not believe Kanye is supportive of Trump strictly because Kanye is now all about unity, love, education, helping those oppressed, civil liberties, and family.
UPDATE on this point: Kanye confirms he's not backing Trump saying "I am taking the red hat off, with this interview" and disagreeing with Trump entering the bunker, discussed in this Forbes interview on July 8, 2020)
Product and Strategy Lessons from Kanye
While there is a much broader story to tell about Kanye West, the overview above was intended strictly for context into the Product and Strategy lessons we can learn from Kanye West, not only the artist, business man, and individual, but also as Kanye West the brand and company.
It's important to note in these examples we are treating as product and business lessons, not necessarily personal or individual lessons.
PR, Media, Social Attention
As stated above, at no point has Kanye said he is running for president in the 2020 election, yet the way the tweet was written it's definitely implied. Kanye West has not clarified, confirmed, or spoken about his statement publicly since. (UPDATE: As stated above Kanye has confirmed he will be running in 2020)
The tweet sure got everyone's attention and has put Kanye squarely in the news. If this was a PR stunt, it was brilliant. Kanye's brand wins either way. If he runs for president, or if he says he wants to run in the future, he is able to make the decision based off the best outcome for him.
Often brands, companies, and products are fearful of making bold statements for fear of backlash, or if they do receive backlash, they are quick to take step back from the initiative. Sometimes the best tactic is just simply wait, which works well for Kanye in this moment.
Surround yourself with others trying to change the world
To do big things, you need to surround yourself with others who want to do big things, regardless the arena.
Kanye has perhaps the greatest inventor of the 21st century in his corner, Elon Musk. Having been friends for many years, with Elon penning a piece on Kanye in the April 2015 issue of TIME Magazine, "Kanye has been playing the long game all along, and we're only beginning to see why," it is apparent to see why Elon would be quick to give his "full support."
In product, business, and startups, you need to build relationships and audiences to get your message across, find support, and achieve your vision. Be the champion of your product and find the stakeholders who can help you make it happen.
While Kanye has our attention politically, I don't believe he takes it lightly. Kanye's announcement could be a maneuver to drive attention to causes which are now important to him. If he wants people to go out and vote (not necessarily for him), grabbing our attention with this announcement is bigger than him simply telling his audience to vote, like most celebrities do.
Building Supporting Brands and Product Lines
Kanye has extended his brand with his Yeezy shoe deal partnership with Adidas, his high end clothing line, and his recent partnership with Gap, his involvement with Tidal, as a rapper and producer, and more endeavors not yet made public. Each serving as an opportunity for one of his brands to support the other.
As companies and products evolve, it's in their best interest to build tangential brands or offering that either support each other, or support the personal brand of those involved. You see this in the form of company acquisitions, new product offerings, or repurposing existing product to a new customer segment.
The importance of social media as a distribution channel can no longer be debated. Kanye made the announcement on Twitter with no need for a press release or to make an announcement on a news show. Kanye's other advantage as a musician is that he can share his message and point of view through the release of his music.
It's important for brands and companies to have a handle on their content creation, production, and most importantly distribution, by not only building their social channels, but thinking through content creation via video and audio like podcast. This allow brands to build audiences around the content who can be reached when new announcements or offers are available.
Importance of Personal Brand
By now you have likely heard influencers in your social feeds talk about how to build your personal brand or the importance of creating one. Personal brand has always been important but the age of the influencer magnified the opportunity. The reason many celebrities and public figures are able to create brands, shift industries, invest in opportunities, and promote their company indirectly, is a result of building their personal brands.
The best way to build your personal brand is to simply find something you are passionate about and find a way to tell that story in your everyday life. It does not need to be directly related to your day job, and in fact, is often better if not. You will begin to create an audience for your personal brand which will build curiosity to what else you do in business.
Disclaimer: I am not a journalist nor am I a political commentator. I write about Product Management, Business and Technology Strategy, Branding, Commerce, and Media. I happen to be a fan of Kanye West as an artist and business man, though do not necessarily agree with his politics.
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