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In 2006, I worked for the Conservative Party in its election War Room.

The contest became known as the “Tim Horton’s versus Starbucks election” in certain quarters.

Harper was the Tim Horton’s guy. The hockey dad who drank $1.15 cent coffees at rinkside on Saturday while he watched his son play. Martin was the Starbucks guy. The guy from Westmount, who drank $4 lattes with fancy names. We won largely because people thought our guy was more like them – pragmatic and grounded in mundane realities.

The truth is that Stephen Harper is not remotely normal (neither is Paul Martin). Harper is an intellectual, arrogant, controlling and can be dismissive of those who disagree with him.

It did not matter. People thought that the messenger and message matched up, based upon a perception we created and actively disseminated.

Let’s play out the opposite scenario.

Michael Ignatieff is at the Liberal Party’s policy conference this weekend trumpeting a plan for the “damaged middle class.” The success or failure of this program will involve a number of complex  factors. One, though, is Mr. Ignatieff himself. Specifically,whether he can convince the middle class that he’s the man to save them.

He’ll fail at this quest.

Public perception of Ignatieff is of a man who has lived, for most of his career, outside Canada. He’s been a jet-setting intellectual who’s preferred London and the US to Toronto and Montreal. He’s a child of privilege who is descended from White Russians. Finally, Ignatieff is undeniably brilliant but fails to connect in a Barack Obama sorta way. This last fact is the most important.

People’s perception of Ignatieff simply does not fit with the problem he’s purporting to solve.

Is this the case with you company?

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