30th April 2015

What’s Your Communication Style: Political or Commercial?

So the election is almost upon us and all parties have been tramping the campaign trail hard right across the country for the past five weeks. Some of you will have been avidly following leaders’ debates, manifesto announcements and campaign speeches, as well as the recent #millifandom vs #cameronettes spectacle. Others, fed up of the political white noise, will be desperate for it to be over.

From a communications point of view it’s been an interesting, if not at times frustrating few weeks. Trumping the circus of the last election, the 2015 race has gone up a notch, with even more parties getting some high profile traction with the media. While I’m all for moving away from the 2.5 party system, the communications melee that has ensued has arguably been more successful at bringing about confusion than real choice.

For every solid pledge and promise, there are multiple retorts from other parties quick to dismiss them as gimmicks or even outright lies. And as the respective campaigns ramp up, every day seems to bring another claim of an opponent’s ‘secret plans’ to cut this or that if they get into power.

For voters, sifting through the constant diversion tactics and bad-mouthing to get to the truth about what each party stands for is not an easy business.

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Staying the Course

Communication strategies that are overly aggressive and critical of the competition are not typical. Politics is of course very unique and the race to power is a relatively brief, highly pressured and personal experience for the party leaders. But is there anything they can take from the way businesses and organisations communicate in other sectors?

Successful brands know the importance of being clear about what they stand for and using sustained, consistent communication to make a meaningful long-term connection with target audiences. This takes work and investment, but when you’ve achieved it, your loyal audiences will rally to your cause when you most need them – whether you’re launching a new product or managing a crisis situation.

But what do brands do when an ambitious challenger enters the market with a strong new offer that threatens this positioning? Every situation is different, but all things being equal, the best advice is to stay the course, stick to your values and give your target audiences even more genuine reasons to believe in you and your product or service.

Keeping your Edge

This takes mettle though and many self-respecting and successful brands have flinched in the face of this situation. The temptation to lash out and directly tackle the ‘mistruths’ can be too much, particularly when you feel affronted, but this rarely ends well. At best you’re generating awareness for the competitor, which can backfire if you’re exposing your own established audiences to a potentially – on the face of it – well packaged alternative.

This happened last June when black cabs went on strike, bringing central London to a standstill over the threat from the Uber minicab mobile app. The strike was widely seen as an impressive own goal that gave national publicity to the app, which is among several that offer a ‘normally cheaper and often faster’ way to get from A to B.

You can’t stop new technologies and offers entering your market, but you can make sure that you have a clear and unique positioning that gives your brand the edge – without having to resort to pooh pooh-ing the competition. Black cabs have many strong and established brand characteristics to build on that the likes of apps like Uber just cannot compete with – whether it’s the brand’s heritage, iconic vehicles or the Knowledge.

Maintaining Trust

Of course, brands never know what the future will hold. The business of mergers and acquisitions mean that one day you may want your arch enemy to be your potential bedfellow for solid business reasons. This cPolling_Station_2008an be a difficult sell to your target audiences who you’ve convinced to trust in you and what you stand for, so getting the communication right is essential if you’re going to bring your loyal following on the journey with you.

This is something that the parties vying for power are gearing up for ahead of next Friday. After a period of standing resolute in their beliefs – and being rather critical of their opponents, we are starting to see rumblings of tactical partnerships emerge as the polls show no clear front runner.

So it is very likely that once the votes are in, next Friday just becomes the beginning of the end as the coalition bed-hop begins. I will be watching with great interest how the parties manage the message to the electorate and keep face as they carve up their square peg so it fits in a round hole.

 By Sam Gregory, Managing Director (B2B)