What political parties can learn from start-ups

Stop with the scaremongering and offer a clear choice, says Natalie Campbell.

by Natalie Campbell
Last Updated: 26 Aug 2015

I’ve never been into ‘politics’ per se. I’ve always taken an interest in how our country and my local services are run and I’ve campaigned for, and lobbied government about, entrepreneurship, young people and education, but I’ve never engaged with the ‘political game’. I couldn’t give a hoot who whipped who and the concept of ‘the left and ‘the right’ is too rigid for my liking. Most people are a mix of both liberal and conservative views depending on the topic. But this election changed everything.

Firstly, I predicted the Conservatives would win - had I been more into politics earlier I would have known it was worth betting on. Brits love to complain, but we don’t really like change. We’re also quite personality-led and poor Ed didn’t even get out of the gate on winning the confidence of the public.

I also knew the rhetoric around UKIP and ‘it’s now a four party race’ was hype and nothing but hype. My political friends said I was naive to think they didn’t have a hope in hell of making a dent in terms of seats. Anyone that runs a business will tell you that buzz is great, but doesn’t always convert to sales (in this case seats in the House of Commons). The SNP wasn’t really on my radar. A bit like Uber they came out of nowhere and have been pissing people off, particularly the Daily Mail.

The reason I could predict the outcome was because I wasn’t processing the election like it was a ‘political’ competition. I absorbed the coverage like I was watching a proposed business takeover or a competition between rival brands. What is the customer psychology, regardless of what the media says? Which way would customers go? How much confidence did the shareholders have in the chairman/CEO and executive team?

All of this rough mental analysis gave me an idea of who would ‘sell’ what and ultimately win or lose. Yes, it is a rudimentary analysis. I accept business and politics operate with different rules. Business is about products, services and profit. Politics and government tackle a myriad of issues. That said, I kept my thinking straightforward. In my mind it was Apple vs. Microsoft with players like Samsung, HDC and Blackberry in the mix.

A side note to Ed (poor Ed): Microsoft didn’t get particularly far in mobile technology without a merger with Nokia. The lesson here for the Labour party? Don’t knock the partnership options dead before you know if your product will hold up in the market alone.

Maybe I’m a good guesser, but I think the parties have something to learn from business and the way new products are launched. Challenger start-up brands in particular are great at capturing market share and converting interest and buzz into sales (i.e. votes) without all of the wasted paper pouring through doors, those estate agent-like signs plastered with faces saying, ‘Vote for me!’

Politics and political campaigning needs to enter a new paradigm to capture interest. There is still an air of patronising rhetoric, scare-mongering and presenting a choice that is clearly a non-choice. That is, ‘vote for us, we’re investing in Britain,’ with small print that says, ‘but we’re still cutting services if we win.‘

The reason people choose to buy one product over another is the distinct value proposition on offer. A clear choice. (Note: choice is a price difference, better features or unique design.) I can’t labour the point enough (see what I did there). Brands win customers because there is a clear choice, and the benefits of making that choice are presented on the packaging in no uncertain terms and felt immediately. Ask anyone that has gone from travelling economy to first class.

Not to give away all the good stuff (I should be charging for this), but I would also think about the customers no one is trying to reach in a real and meaningful way - women and young people. We all know the policies were targeted at older voters, as if anyone under 30 doesn’t exist, and 9.1 million women didn’t vote in the 2010 election.

Ignore this audience at your own peril. It’s not that they are apathetic, that’s lazy thinking. politics has just failed to inspire them. There are global brands built on their capacity to observe, engage and spend. Use the same brand thinking to speak to and create ‘products’ for them. That last point is a bit crude but you get the point.

Given my newfound political genius I might just apply it to a campaign of my own. There’s a little-known election coming up next year – Natalie Campbell for Mayor of London? Hmmm…

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