Theresa May’s campaign offers learning for any marketer carefully crafting a winning concept for an important launch. No doubt informed by surveys and focus groups her team were crystal clear on their winning benefit (the best Brexit outcome) and why they were believable (the strong, proven leadership of Teresa May). They ended up with this ‘strong and stable’ concept:
At the start of the campaign polls indicated the Conservatives could gain twice the Labour vote and were set for a historic victory.
The election result that removed a Conservative majority represents an utterly spectacular failure given earlier projections for their ‘concept’.
It is a result that offers a lot of learning for marketers (and others) and I have picked out 4 factors that I believe are influential. They are factors that can’t be ignored as you develop your launch concept…
1. The context for choices matters and can change dramatically.
The result is a reminder that a good concept research score may have a short shelf life. Consumer concerns, economic developments or environmental issues can quickly change what is most important and motivating.
Terrorist attacks shifted attention away from Brexit. Our assessment of alternatives became framed by immediate concerns on security where May’s track record (given reduced police numbers) was much more questionable.
2. Appeal depends on the strength and saliency of the alternatives.
The decision to call the election was based on a complete confidence that May’s leadership credentials were stronger than Labour leader Corbyn.
Corbyn’s confident campaign and participation in debates appears to have reduced the leadership differential Vs May. Alongside personality, the policy differential was also strengthened. Eye-catching policies for railways, students, police and NHS staff were expensive but also distinctly positive in comparison to the Conservatives.
3. Actions did not match the concept words
The days of controlled, one-way communication have gone. Brands need to be open to scrutiny, willing to engage and able to visibly live up to promises
May’s avoidance of debates and preference for scripted presentations made her look less accessible and authentic. The rapid manifesto U-turn on social care raised questions on decision-making and resilience. The net result is the Conservative promise of strong and stable leadership was far from demonstrated and became a viral vulnerability.
4. Corbyn appeared to be more popular and gaining greater momentum
Perhaps the biggest and simplest factor was Corbyn looked more popular than May. People don’t want to make bad choices and look to others for reassurance. Images of large crowds told undecided voters that Corbyn was a credible, supported and increasingly popular choice. The small audiences of loyal supporters gathered for May’s speeches communicated the opposite.
Marketers carefully crafting their written concepts can learn from Theresa May.
They need to invest time considering the context for choices, changing comparisons and behavioural barriers that can impact in the real world. They should worry a little less about words or phrases and be ready to act and react in a way that amplifies their promises.