As marketing folk, rather than politicians, we think in a particular way. We also have roots across the country, and don’t live in the London bubble. So reflecting on marketing politics over the General Election, and since the EU Referendum, we share thoughts on lessons learned.
It is Friday 13th December and all of the results from the first winter-time general election since 1923 are in. Of 650 seats, the Conservative Party have 365, a clear majority of 80. That’s an increase of 47 more seats, while Labour Party lost 59 seats. The reflects a 44% and 32% share of the vote respectively. The SNP also gained seats with a 45% share of the Scottish vote. The Lib Dems lost one seat overall, most notably that of leader, Jo Swinson. Their vote share was just 11%.
The Conservative seat gains are largely in the North, Midlands and Wales. These are also amongst the highest Brexit supporting areas. And also areas of traditional working class labour support. Though Labour also lost share of vote in strong remain areas (1).
Six lessons learned
1. The winner best matched the electorate’s wishes
According to numerous polls in the run up to the election, the key issue facing the country was firstly, though not universally, Brexit. Second, health (i.e. the NHS). And third of approximatly equal importance, crime, immigration and the economy (2).
Of course, the Brexit issue masks different needs, either to leave or remain in the EU. Nevertheless, the 2016 Referendum result stands, and ‘leave’ was endorsed in the 2019 local European elections. Further, Parliament’s inability to get the job done has compounded public frustration.
2. Simplicity of offering and message
The Conservative message focused primarily on ‘Get Brexit Done’ and also ‘Unleash Britain’s Potential’. Secondarily that enabled investment in the NHS (20 new hospitals, 30-50k new nurses etc.) and 20k more police. Thus cleverly linking the voter’s #2 and #3 concerns to the first. Whereas Labour focused primarily on the NHS (the concern most relevant to their supporters) yet offered a protracted and no obvious solution on Brexit.
Yet interestingly, despite the Conservative’s focus on Brexit messaging, a recent survey suggested that still only some 57% associate the party with this cause. Thus while many of us may be bored with the message, it failed to reach 43%.
3. Messages must be believable
At the same time as promoting ‘Get Brexit Done’ the Conservatives also ‘dissed’ the ambiguity and incredibility of Labour’s position in calling for another referendum, and being unclear what they would support.
Conversely the Labour Party attempted to stoke fear that the NHS would be sold by the Conservatives to Donald Trump). This message was strongly challenged, unsupported by documents provided. Procuring drugs from US companies at the right price appears an entirely different and less relevant point.
4. Targeting by demographics alone is not enough
While historically voting allegiances split along age, wealth and geographic lines, the Brexit issue has complicated this pattern (3). There now appear to be more different types of people with differing underlying concerns. In London, folk are younger, more white collar, work for big, multi-national business and are remain concerned. Whereas in the Midlands, North, and Wales, as well as parts of the South, there are also larger numbers of blue collar, small business, and leave concerned. As the Conservatives have won them over, reading between the lines, it appears that Labour has failed to understand and meet their hopes.
Social media which allows targeting by multiple demographic and psychographic variables seems to have played a significant role.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether Labour voters’ switch of allegiance is temporary or evidence of a fundamental shift in attitudes.
5. Personality counts
The Conservatives elected Boris Johnson leader partly on the premise that he would give them a bounce in the polls. He has also consistently led Jeremy Corbyn on leadership ratings (strong, decisive) (4). While there are many personality issues on both sides, it appears there is considerable anecdotal evidence on doorsteps that JC was a liability. The Conservatives knew this and it was central to their communication strategy – ‘we’re not Jeremy Corbyn’ (rated dislikeable, weak, untrustworthy) (4).
6. Know where you are on the brand lifecycle
Sensing decline under Mrs. May in the Summer, the Conservatives, quickly replaced her with a fresh face. While much has been made of his personal life little appears to have harmed. Again this is interesting, and by comparison, we should remember that a ‘colourful’ personal life appears essential to get top jobs in countries such as France and Italy. Looking to the future, it remains to see what type of Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be. He has the opportunity to choose and learn from others – perhaps Winston Churchill or Ronald Reagan.
Today’s announcement that JC will not stand at the next election in order to oversee a change of leadership and not go quickly seems to prolong Labour’s difficulty. Though perhaps in time, the Labour Party will thank the Conservatives for hastening his end.
Politics and Marketing Inspiration
- Successfully marketing politics, political parties, and policies, as well as any product or service, relies on a clear understanding of audiences, their needs and attitudes.
- Understanding, segmenting and targeting audiences by needs and attitudes is easier, more discriminating and effective than demographics alone.
- Don’t under-estimate the importance of a clear singled-minded message, and benefit, backed by a credible supporting argument. Equally, fuzzy messages are both difficult to understand and identify with. They also question the credibility of the message sender.
- Personality is also differentiating. It is fine to have a few warts and use colourful language or display strength of character such as drive and determination, in order to get your message across and engage. Though it is important that your overall beliefs and behaviours are consistent, and grounded in what’s generally regarded as truthful.
- Monitor where you are on the brand lifecycle. If sales or support wanes, it is time to rethink your brand communication. Start with #1.
- Based on EU Referendum estimates by the BBC and Professor Chris Hanratty
- Sir John Curtice, Strathclyde University writing for the BBC.
- Sir John Curtice’s research on political leadership as published by the BBC
- You Gov Political tracker