Electioneering in a business context: What can we learn from Clegg, Cameron and Brown?
Public relations consultant Emily Cagle takes a look at the campaigns of each of the political parties, and considers how they compare to marketing in business.
The three main political parties in the UK have all been approaching their election campaigns from slightly different angles.
Here’s a look at what each model can tell us about business marketing.
The Liberal Democrats’ approach
The approach of the Lib Dems has been to position themselves as an alternative to the two old parties (Labour and the Conservatives); framing a vote for them as a vote for change.
Can businesses distinguish themselves from competitor firms in a similar manner? Is that enough to attract the support of new clients?
The answer is generally yes – but only to an extent. Arguably, a big part of marketing is to draw attention to the fact that you differ from other businesses in your industry and use this as the basis to drive sales; but such claims usually have to be backed up with something tangible. For example, a company that sells fridges might highlight the fact that, unlike their competitors, their fridge cools using an energy saving new system.
However, two elements are risky in this 'change' approach. Firstly, criticising the status quo can make a marketing campaign inherently negative. Just look at the way that people react to negative political poster campaigns – as a rule, people want to hear what you do well, not what others do badly.
Secondly, there's a lot to be said for old and familiar, because as buyers, we tend to trust what we know. The lesson here, then, is that if you are going to adopt a marketing strategy which promotes change, you must also illustrate how and why the new alternative would be better.
The Conservatives’ approach
The Conservatives have also promised change, of course, but a big part of their campaign has focused on scrapping the National Insurance increase planned by Labour – and they have kept hammering this home. In PR terms, this approach has certainly paid off for them with a lot of press coverage quoting business leaders who are in favour of the pledge, but does this work for businesses when it comes to marketing, or is there a risk of being seen as a one-trick pony, with only one thing to offer one group of people?
If you have one really strong selling point, leading with it certainly can work as a marketing strategy for businesses, but the reality is that potential clients are after much more than a one-hit wonder. For example, people don't just want a good plumber, they also want a plumber that does the job well, is reasonably priced and offers a good after-sales service.
Ultimately, this means that while a good campaign can be built around one key message, it also needs to reflect that you can deliver beyond the headline.
The Labour party seem to be touting themselves as a 'safe pair of hands', focusing on their experience and what they have done well in the past.
Does this work for businesses, though? Should marketing look backwards, or focus on what can be done now and in the future?
Now leaving aside the fact that none of the parties records are exactly blemish-free, focusing on past achievements can definitely work for businesses, and tends to come in the form of sales figures ("One sold every six seconds") and testimonials ("After trying X, I’ll never use another Y firm again".) Also, if a product or service in your portfolio achieves a great reputation, when it comes to launching your second offering, it makes perfect sense to reference the first in some way.
However, you can't rely on past achievements alone. Buyers will want to know what this new product has to offer, particularly if it's going to replace the first. 'New and improved' is an oft-heard marketing phrase, but to have substance we need to know what that means in real terms. Is your cereal crunchier, is your call answering time down to five seconds, can you guarantee next-day delivery on all purchases?
Whichever party wins the election, and by whatever methods, the public will be hoping that they can go beyond the spin and deliver real results - and the same is true in business. Clever marketing can win clients, but it's how you live up to those marketing messages today, tomorrow and the next day that will dictate the future success of your business.
Emily Cagle is Director of Emily Cagle Communications. Click here to read Emily's blog.
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