Campaigning and the human condition: what the election tells us about marketing
In light of last weekend’s unanticipated federal election result, Carlos Jonmundsson outlines why a single-minded proposition is crucial to marketing success.
The phrase ‘single-minded proposition’ is thrown about a lot in marketing. It sounds fancy, but all it means is the defining of a clear and accessible message that communicates the single most important point about a brand or product. And, reflecting on the outcome of the recent Australian federal election, it occurred to me just how important this is when it comes to marketing.
Without wishing to oversimplify six years of Australian politics, Labor have just lost an election that data suggested they could not lose. Opinion polls from the last few years – up to and including exit polls during election day itself – had Labor winning a mandate thanks to an electorate tired of the Liberal government. Yet, the Liberals came out on top, winning even more seats than they had before the election. Why? The power of the single-minded proposition.
The interesting thing about the election is that both major parties broadly agreed that no single issue would decide the outcome. The more interesting thing is how Bill Shorten and Scott Morrison’s contrasting campaign strategies navigated this insight.
Labor had what many considered a strong platform of policies. A commitment to renewable energy, boosting apprenticeships and youth employment, improving mental health services, and closing tax loopholes to invest in schools and hospitals – to name a few.
The Liberals, by contrast, communicated more of a ‘business as usual’ approach with no new policies. They simply pit themselves as the party of strength, stability and prosperity against the opposition.
To the surprise of pollsters, the Liberals pulled through. Could it be that Labor was simply trying to say too much?
Often in reviewing briefs we receive from clients, defining the core message is the first challenge. Brands spend a lot of money innovating and developing products and services to stand out from the competition, so it’s natural they want all these unique selling propositions (USPs) put across in communications to their customers. But overloading them with everything at once can actually be counter-productive.
In the case of the election, Bill Shorten learned this the hard way. The Labor party took something of a risk in campaigning with a bold, big-target policy agenda. It wasn’t just that the opposition’s ideas were bold (making them vulnerable to constant Liberal attack), but that they were numerous. The campaign dialogue drifted from the environment to health, from the economy to education. And for an electorate endlessly looking for a compelling answer to the question ‘what’s in it for me?’, this multi-faceted platform ultimately proved unappealing – despite the considered policy agenda and consistently pro-Labor polls.
By contrast, the Liberal strategy was simple: clearly and fiercely demolish the Labor agenda. Aside from the fact that Scott Morrison successfully mitigated the issues of disunity and disarray in the Liberal party of late by making the campaign about him, his message remained sharp, focused and unwavering on the central claim that Labor was ‘the Bill Australia couldn’t afford’. Brutal, consistent, and ultimately victorious beyond even his own expectations. No new policies? No problem.
How does this extrapolate to our work? In a cluttered communications environment, consumers are exposed to hundreds of marketing messages a day. In order to have an impact within the few precious seconds of consumer attention afforded us, we need to communicate snappily.
A strong single-minded proposition (wrapped up, of course, in a striking creative execution) allows a brand to begin a conversation with a consumer. If your message is understood and is compelling, you have the chance to continue that story, delivering further chapters to consumers when they are ready – rather than giving them an entire synopsis upfront. It isn’t that the whole offering isn’t valuable, but that it has a time and a place. Time-poor, comms-saturated consumers (usually resistant to change, as us humans tend to be) crave, and are more likely to engage with, a simple message that resonates with them.
To be clear, I’m not exactly advocating the Liberals’ approach to the election when it comes to marketing. Running a smear campaign against competitors is unlikely to yield a loyal brand following. There is also, of course, huge value in innovation and responding to market needs, rather than perpetually relying on ‘business as usual’ products and services to carry you. All I’m saying is that brands need to deliver a clear, compelling proposition as a catalyst for change – then jump at the opportunity to nurture the relationship with further information when consumers are engaged.
Would Labor have pulled through at the polls if they’d honed in on just one or two hero policies? Maybe, maybe not. But being able to articulate their core beliefs in 10 words or less would perhaps have made them more accessible. It would have made it easier for them to educate the electorate, and easier for the electorate to educate themselves and their friends and family.
So, return to your brief, ensure the single most important message you want to communicate is central, then review additional messaging along the customer journey accordingly. Good luck at the polls.
Carlos Jonmundsson is the owner of Focus Creative, an independent creative agency based in Ultimo, Sydney.