Why marketers should be more like politicians (and spin-doctors)

[Image courtesy of DEMOSH at Flickr Creative Commons]

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, we’re heading for another general election here in the UK.

It’s the the third time in just over two years that the nation has been asked to decide an important issue. Ballot boxes are being dusted off, and pencils sharpened.

“It’s undemocratic!” shouted some opponents. “A blatant power grab!”

Hang on a moment and let’s unpack those statements.

It’s undemocratic to hold a general election?

It’s surely the very definition of democracy to consult the people on a regular basis, to ensure that their will is supreme. To get a clear mandate for a government (general election) or to decide on a hugely important issue (Brexit). 

As for it being a power grab, if that’s actually what the Tories were doing, then why didn’t Labour – who are trailing badly in the polls – vote against calling an election when it was put before the House of Commons?

The answer, of course, is that they they didn’t really have a choice. Opposing the election would have looked like self-interest, putting their party’s survival before the greater good. 

The Lib Dems supported it because they have nothing to lose. Wiped out in 2015, they figure that the only way is up, so they’re cranking up the party machine and getting out the rosettes. This is Brexit referendum take 2, they hope.

But apart from all the party shenanigans and hidden agendas, for me what’s really interesting here is the use of language.

We live in a soundbite era, so getting the message across fast is vital. Say something is undemocratic, and the accusation sticks. As does power grab.

Virtual reality bites

We saw it last year in the Brexit campaign (better together vs. take back control). And we’re seeing it again this year in the run-up to the election on 8 June.

Delivering on Brexit is Theresa May’s mantra whenever she talks to the media. Hard Brexit and soft Brexit have entered the political lexicon, as has the more pointed Tory Brexit.

Hard-working families are much mentioned, safe in the knowledge that the term has mass appeal. (I always wonder what the childless or those who don’t work particularly hard must think, but they’re clearly not target voters.)

Interestingly, family values doesn’t feature much here in the UK, though it might elsewhere. And religion is off the agenda, unlike the US, where it’s pretty much a given. As Alastair Campbell once famously said, “We don’t do God”.

As ever, simple messaging works. It just does. Make America Great Again worked wonders for Donald Trump, as did Hope for Barack Obama.

Nobody does detail, and especially not the electorate, who often make a snap decision on the day of the vote. (I certainly know I have.)

Spin and win

If all marketing is sales (and it is), then pretty much all of politics comes down to marketing these days.

Which is why Theresa May has once again enlisted the help of Lynton Crosby, the Australian spin-doctor who engineered victory for David Cameron and Boris Johnson on more than one occasion.

Crosby knows that image is everything in the 24-hour news cycle, and it’s important to get your message across fast and simply.

During his watch, the Conservatives came up with How Would You Feel if a Bloke on Early Release Attacked Your Daughter? (to show they were tough on crime) and It’s Not Racist to Impose Limits on Immigration (to detoxify a sensitive issue and open a debate).

Managing the message is everything for these politicians. And it’s not just the Anglosphere that’s at it – everybody is.

French connection

Across the Channel, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen are simplifying their message to appeal to voters.

For the second round of the election, their new posters show them looking presidential, with simple taglines: Ensemble, La France! (Together, France!) for Macron, and Choisir La France (Choose France) for Le Pen.

Interestingly, they’ve also both decided to make things more personal by removing any mention of their party from the posters. So En Marche! (On the Move, which mirrors Macron’s initials) and Front National (National Front) appear nowhere.

They both know they need to broaden their appeal beyond their party loyalists, and bring their personalities to the fore.

Marine Le Pen may have a slight advantage there, being one of the few politicians referred to by her first name alone (joining an exclusive celeb lineup that includes Oprah, Madonna, Boris, Nigella and Elvis).

Crossing the line

US election strategist Frank Luntz is in no doubt about the link between politics and marketing.

He says Bill Clinton won the 1992 election “because he, more than any other political figure, understood what was happening in the country at that time, and had an innate ability to communicate it right back.”

Luntz’s book (Win – the key principles to take your business from ordinary to extraordinary) shows that what works for political parties also works for companies.

So if your business were a political party, what would your manifesto look like? And what would your campaign slogan be? How would you get people to sit up and pay attention?

In these election-happy times, it’s worth thinking how you’d get your message across in a soundbite.

No need for a power grab. But you might just get some prospects to pick up their pencils and tick your box.