Boris and the truth about brands

Last week witnessed a shift in the British political scene with the Tories gaining extra seats in local councils at the expense of Labour and the Tory candidate for London Mayor, (Bumbling) Boris Johnson scoring a resounding victory over the incumbent Labour (Communist actually!) (Red) Ken Livingstone. I’m not yet sure about Boris – it could be that London is buggered, but watching (blonde) Boris in action is sure as hell going to be more entertaining than the 2012 Olympics!

This Tory triumph represents two fingers for Labour and is a classic case of a) what happens when a brand (in this case Labour) fails to deliver its promise and b) how important the emotional side of brands is in any buying decision. David Cameron, the Conservative leader hasn’t come up with anything you could nail to your mast in the way of a policy yet, but the general opinion seems to be that he’s “our kind of guy”. Boris likewise won his contest really just by being a good bloke, in stark contrast to the slime-ball that Red Ken has always been. Welcome to the cut and thrust of political marketing!

The whole thing is a really great demonstration of how any kind of marketing works – the corporate and sub-brand relationship (Tory central office policies being represented at local level by brand Boris) and the harsh truth that a great brand is one that, when the Champagne bottles have been taken to the glass bank, delivers its promises. Yes, winning the election, just like making the first sale, only gets you as far as a seat at the crap table. Its what you do when you get there that really counts.

The terminology differs a bit between commercial and political marketing, but it all boils down to the same thing. You join the community by voting instead of buying and if you want to evangelise, you pay your fees and join your party, it all depends how close to the brand you feel. The parties are a sum of their membership and voters and the honeymoon period that they all talk about is the time immediately after election when the party has to put its plan into action. Up until that point the voting decision has been very much an emotional (right side of brain) thing now the rational left side of the electorate’s brain kicks in and takes increasing prominence (although it is never the whole story).

As with any organisation the people we see representing government are not those who will actually deliver the promises – that’s down to the minions – and the only way that the leaders can be certain that the delivery will match their promises is if they have their internal marketing really buttoned down. Every marketer in every sector faces the same issue. I was talking to someone the other day who said that they were going to vote BNP (British National Party – the remodelled National Front). His point was that their policies make sense. I felt obliged to point out that while I might agree, the real point was that while the senior party officials were spouting the (arguably) sensible stuff the grass roots representatives were interpreting this as race hate and ethnic cleansing. That’s what happens when your internal marketing fails and the front line do it their way! You could argue that its the same with Islam. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the Koran, but it leaves much to the interpretation of Imams, who, intentionally or otherwise sometimes use the vagueries of the text to justify their own ends.

I have had a little experience of working with political parties, so I appreciate that its more complex than a commercial brand, but that doesn’t mean that the same rules don’t apply. You have to have a programme and my Brand Discovery is as good as any, even in this context. The stages are clearly defined:

  • Establish exactly what your brand is all about – That’s the process of creating the Brand Model within which is the brand promise that every brand has.
  • Make sure that your stakeholders (party members and representatives) understand it, buy into it and commit to playing their part in its delivery.
  • Go and tell he world about it, confident in the knowledge that wherever they encounter your brand the experience will be consistent.

When you are doing this every contact you have with customers or electorate will further enhance your relationship give you greater opportunity for sales and make life far simpler and your business more efficient. I didn’t say it was easy, in fact its where most organisations (and I mean all but a very few indeed) fail, but that’s all the more reason to be focused and tenacious because when you have been missing the target by the margin that most businesses are you’ll see results very quickly.

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