Make sure your customers are putting their X in your box

[Image courtesy of Avaaz at Flickr Creative Commons]

It’s easy to be wise after the event. And when the event is as earth-shattering as last week’s UK general election result, a lot of people wise up very quickly indeed. Because they have to.

After all, if you’re a political commentator and you didn’t see this coming, then why should anybody believe what you say about what’s still to come? 

So history is being rewritten very rapidly.

It was common knowledge, said one journalist in an online article, that Theresa May’s ex-advisors, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, were rude, controlling and secretive. Which prompted one below-the-line commenter to ask why the journo had never mentioned it before.

The question was politely ignored.

Be careful what you ask for

As it happens, several weeks ago I was chatting with a friend and casually raised the possibility that Theresa might lose her bet.

“Can you imagine how gutted she’ll be? Going to the country when she didn’t have to, then crashing and burning?”

That was never going to happen, my friend countered. Yes, the public opinion polls were showing a tightening gap, but then look at last year (Brexit, Trump) and the year before (UK general election). Wrong, wrong and wrong again.

Plus, private polling by Tories showed that they were still well ahead (as if that wasn’t subject to the same problem). But I had to admit that my friend probably had a point, so we moved on and I thought no more of it.

And if I was proved right, it’s less because I’m a clairvoyant and more because I’m a natural catastrophiser  – which you may remember is one of the cognitive traps I spoke about a few posts ago.

Wise before the event

All election campaigns are actually marketing campaigns nowadays. It’s all about image, airtime, soundbites and slogans that stick.

I think there are several valuable lessons that can be learned by marketers from the mistakes of the Conservatives’ approach:

  1. Focus less on the detail and more on the big picture. When the Tories unveiled their plan for covering care-home costs from the value of a patient’s house, it was immediately branded a dementia tax by the opposition. Game over. The details of the policy no longer mattered, because those two simple words killed it stone dead. 
  2. Don’t forget your existing customers – or if you’re a political party, your voter base. The Conservatives didn’t focus nearly as much on the party faithful as Labour did. Having loyal supporters is great, but not if they don’t vote/buy. So it’s vital to spread the love and not take anybody for granted. 
  3. Get specific: the Labour Party’s granular Facebook campaign micro-targeted voters in certain key constituencies. The details of this are still sketchy, though crowdsourced research carried out by the BBC (who asked people all over the country what ads they were seeing on social media in their area) shows that the Labour party wasn’t doing one-size-fits-all. 
  4. Avoid negative campaigns. Whether it’s Acme Inc or Jeremy Corbyn, the same rules apply: don’t badmouth the competition. The Conservatives’ fierce attack campaign against ‘Red Jezza’ (as The Sun uncharitably branded him) fell badly flat. Worse, it backfired, making him seem like the victim of an unprovoked attack. It didn’t really matter what his position was on the IRA or Trident. The Tories’ negative campaign gave him a Teflon coating  – and moral superiority.
  5. Get out there and meet the people. Theresa May didn’t take part in TV debates, and didn’t make firebrand speeches in front of cheering crowds. Perhaps restrained by the despotic duo Timothy and Hill, she gave the impression of a leader who was more comfortable in the bunker than on the front line. But that’s where battles are won, whether they’re political or commercial. Sometimes, you just have to feel the pain and do it anyway. Get out there and put yourself in the way of opportunity. Because if you don’t, the competition will. 

It’s early days yet, and the calamitous election campaign by the Conservatives has only just begun to be picked apart by analysts and political wonks. Over time, the big fault lines that we already know about will be traced back to the hairline cracks that were barely visible in April.

No doubt we’ll be told that it was all perfectly predictable, and that it was a disaster waiting to happen. Then again, I could have told you that.

Though at least I’d have been the first to admit it was an uneducated guess. Which, with classic dumb luck, turned out to be true.

Maybe I should set myself up as a political pundit.