The big thing that the advertising people understand (that the PR’s don’t often) is that success comes from the long view. Tactics will not be enough to win- you need long term strategy too. The branding game is all about trying to occupy a position for a brand in the mind of consumers (or citizens) and then maintaining it.
It is difficult to create such a position but once created, it can be gold dust.
PR’s ( often ex tabloid Journalists) tend to see success as winning that days news agenda. That of course has it place but the big question is not really “how did todays coverage go” but “what do all these daily media battles add up to in the minds of citizens?” Or in the parlance of political types- “what is our narrative?”
I think we can take a lesson here from Lord Saatchi, one of Margaret Thatcher’s close advisers. Here is what he says ( I have edited his words a bit).
Nowadays only brutally simple ideas get through. They travel lighter, they travel faster.
Here is a new business model for marketing, appropriate to the digital age. In this model, companies compete for global ownership of one word in the public mind.
This is “one word equity”.
Companies seek to build one word equity – to define the one characteristic they most want instantly associated with their brand around the world, and then own it.
It is the modern equivalent of the best location in the high street, except the location is in the mind.
You could easily substitute the word party for company.
Labour’s one word
Blair was lucky- he had money to spend. But he did also have one word – Modernisation-and fought various battles that expressed and acted as evidence of this – starting off with the symbolically important removal of clause 4. ( To be fair to Alistair Campbell- he was that rare exception – an ex tabloid journalist who also thought strategically. He “lost it” of course when he go too caught up in daily battles)
So what is current Conservative party key word ?
It is not one that they have chosen but rather has had forced upon them – it is Austerity. And one of the reasons it is so prominent in the Tory narrative is the high profile of the Chancellor whose job it is to deliver “cuts”- which is the key reason to believe that the whole mission of the party is Austerity.
But that is a losing position in the long term. Austerity may deliver growth – but the chances are that another political party will benefit from it. Just as Blair profited from the successful economic policy of the Major administration.
So what is the answer? Well don’t think about policy. Think about the mental models that we (citizens) use to navigate the world. We are very binary in our approach.
There is yin and yang. There is good and bad. There is winter and summer. There is man and woman (mostly). There is left and right brain. There is emotion and reason. There is wet and dry. There are two teams in most sports. And so on.
So if Austerity is the Yin – what is the corollary Yang ? (Yin and Yang are of course interdependent as are all the binary examples above)
We do all hold an image in our minds, drawn from nature, of what follows inevitably from “cuts” or “winter” (Austerity is nothing if not wintery). Cuts are seen as positive when they are positioned as pruning.The corollary of pruning is renewal or regrowth. You only have to watch Monty Don to know that cutting back hard can be a good thing in promoting growth. Now that is something that all the swivel eyed looms can understand.They don’t want to be modernised, thank you very much. But they have watched enough Gardener’s World to know that renewal must follow pruning or cuts as sure as spring follows winter.
So my modest suggestion is that that the Conservatives should switch from Austerity to Renewal in everything they do.
Chancellor Osborne needs to do more that photo calls besides big infrastructure projects. That is about renewal but he is not being explicit or obvious enough.
Policy wonks might dismiss this as a shallow metaphor and an inaccurate description of how economies really work- they are altogether more complex.True.
But that never bothered Margaret Thatcher. She used the metaphor of the housewife running a household budget as a way of explaining what her policies were aiming to do. And she did this simple story over and over again. That metaphor gave her a rich store of language to use in promoting her policies. Renewal does likewise. And it is not age specific. Swivel eyed looms can understand it as can the young person emerging into the ( very tough) jobs market.
So back to my theme-Cameron needs to bring back the ad people. They understand that the positioning battle for political parties takes place in the minds of citizens and they understand the power of metaphor and story telling to bring that positioning alive.