The European political scene is akin to a horse champing at the bit and the rider struggling to rein it in. The world has barely caught its breath in the wake of Brexit and the US elections, and now it braces itself for two consequential events that can change the face of Europe, if not the world. Specifically, the upcoming French elections and, later this year, the German ones. Thankfully, the Dutch elections confirm that there is still hope for the voice of reason, and that the foundations laid after World War II to spare Europe, and the world, the continuous bloodbath, can still stand.
What are the lessons that politicians can learn from a tumultuous 2016? More to the point, what can brands learn from the political upheaval and apply in the marketplace?
Much has both been written and said on the subject by political experts; although, I am not one, after a quick review of a variety of articles on the subject, a recurring theme becomes obvious. These are the five key lessons that aspiring political candidates, parties, and even brands can learn from these recent events:
1. The polls can be wrong: Few outside the UK voting universe ever imagined waking up to a leave vote. Actually, many went to bed thinking that Remain’s success would be resounding. Similar sentiment was shared across the Atlantic, only for the inconceivable to become a hard reality, and the rest is now history. In both instances, polls and projections proved to be wrong and failed to capture public sentiment. Just like politicians and political parties need to heed this call, so must brands as they approach the future a rapidly changing marketing landscape, where people’s desires and ambitions for change are not only expressed in the political arena but very much so in the marketing world;
2. Don’t walk away from your base: Hilary Clinton and the DMC have been criticised for walking away from their political base- the white working class. No political leader or party worth its salt should walk away from the people they represent and stand for, and yet some highly experienced and seasoned politicians seem to have done just that. This also holds true for brands. We see many a company too eager to rise up the value chain that they often forget the very people that they entered the market to satisfy. Whether it is a challenger brand that wanted to focus on the bottom-end of the market, or brands that deliver basic mass benefits, the lesson to heed is this “your base is your bread and butter in the present and into the future; ignore them at your own peril.”
3. Rely on analytics, but do not ignore instinct: Today, it is becoming highly fashionable to rely on data and the analytics. Whether the numbers help deliver precise targeting, or it is a matter of deciphering consumer desires and aspirations, science is no replacement for organic zeal. Scott Goodstein, a former Bernie Sanders adviser captured it well when he said that “no amount of digital savvy will take you across the finish line if you don’t have a message that resonates …. The Clinton campaign too often chose gimmicks over real heartfelt messages.” An important lesson in politics that translates well for Brands; we are often blindsided by the data and tech that we forget that a well-articulated idea that resonates is critical for success.
4. Don’t overcomplicate the issues: If a situation seems complex or if it has multiple facets to it, does not mean that the decision itself is complex. Many analysts fault the UK EU referendum on having left voters overwhelmed and confused. It seems no one shared the bare plain facts with people, and as a result many, in the aftermath of the vote, regretted their decision. Marketers are frequently guilty of this because they, perhaps inadvertently, overcomplicate matters for their consumers leaving them confused or less than properly engaged. Simpler is better in any proposition. Ultimately, communication should not require rocket science for interpretation.
5. Arrogance: Real or imaginary, a considerable portion of the US voter base saw Hilary Clinton as over confident and that her expected win was a foregone conclusion. Arrogance is a human trait, and we are all vulnerable to it. How many brands and marketers commit this act on a daily basis and develop a sense of an inevitable win because of their current leadership positions? Progress, growth and staying ahead require brands to constantly sweat things out.
While there must be more comprehensive and deeper analysis of last year’s political developments, I particularly appreciate these basic thoughts as I feel they are immutable. One thing is clear though, a lesson learnt in one area can certainly be effectively applied elsewhere.