Whether you are a Scot or not, whether you live and work in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK, you cannot fail to have noticed that the SNP won the recent election and now forms a majority government at Holyrood for the next five years. Nothing particularly remarkable, perhaps: ‘party wins election’. It would be easy to ignore it and carry on regardless. What could a marketer possibly learn from a political campaign?
But wait. So many aspects of this are historic that it is worth pausing and reading on. Firstly, the simple word ‘majority’. The Scottish parliament was established with a voting system specifically introduced to prevent majority government. Does your business operate in a market designed to stop you succeeding as you’d like?
As someone who was closely involved in both the creation and implementation of the campaign, I believe there are at least five lessons that are worth considering, whatever market sector you inhabit or consumer behaviour you want to influence.
1. THE IMPORTANCE OF STRATEGY
I’ve been involved in hundreds of marketing campaigns over the last 25 years, across all business sectors, in both the public and private sectors. In that time I encountered very few that actually had a clear marketing strategy. Not a plan, not tactics: a strategy. As robust as any military strategy, as carefully thought out and as detailed. A strategy that took five times as long to develop as it did to implement, a strategy that covered every aspect of the ‘battlefield’, every ‘weapon’ at one’s disposal, and every eventuality; a strategy that was delivered consistently and in detail to, and through, every participant. The strategy was created over four years ago. It has been honed and refined since and came to fruition in 2011.
Have a think: does your company have what could be held up and described as a strategy?
2. COHESION, AS MUCH AS CONSISTENCY, OF MESSAGE
A political party is a complex organisation: full of hierarchies, regional and personal differences and ideological interpretations. The SNP appears to me, as an interested observer and marketing communications partner, to be no different. But what seems to mark them out is an understanding that everyone in the party, and particularly candidates standing for election, need to know and feel and support the communication messages.
And so presentation of campaign materials within the organisation was just as important as any external messaging. And it wasn’t just the finished campaign materials, as you might get at the launch of most marketing campaigns. Briefings across the last six months have featured the social insights behind the campaign, the emotional and psychological context of messaging (specifically the belief in positive campaigns) and the importance of integrated campaigning (particularly the power of online activities).
This gave the team confidence that in even the furthest reaches of the campaign, it would be cohesive in both delivery and outtake: the absolute measure of a ‘brand’ in marketing terms.
3. AUDIENCE INSIGHT
Long before the campaign launch, the SNP had been undertaking audience research. Masterminded by the brilliant Mark Cuthbert, who has been working with the SNP for over a decade (that’s another lesson: find good people and stick with them), focus groups and community days had allowed the party to get under the skin of voters, understanding their fears and aspirations, their propensity to vote and the clues as to what was needed from any campaign to achieve success. We did not use research to ‘mark’ creative work: we used it to determine tone of voice, messaging and detail. From this research, brilliant creative work could then be developed. Our advice to the SNP was: let the media do the opinion polls; spend your money on gaining insight and advantage.
How many marketing teams undertake research separate from evaluating creative work or measuring awareness?
Contrast the SNP campaign with those undertaken by the other parties. Every aspect of the SNP’s campaign was positive. Not just in message, but in delivery too: whether it was spoken, published, broadcast, tweeted or blogged. Both officially and unofficially, by candidates and supporters alike. That’s pretty amazing. Most companies are scared stiff about employee tweets, customer reviews and other ‘uncontrolled’ aspects of, mostly, online activity. But if you have a committed organisation, that understands the intellectual and emotional power of positivity, then it becomes second nature.
Is there a positive ethos within your organisation that permeates everything and everyone? If there isn’t, I know someone who can help you get it.
At a meeting in January 2011 there was general acceptance inside the SNP that the mainstream media would continue the incredible negativity that had blighted the four years of minority government. True integration of the campaign, starting with an understanding of the potential role of EVERY media channel was a key element of the campaign’s success.
How could we ensure our message got through, even in press titles hostile to our message? Projecting the words ’RE-ELECT’ in 50-foot high letters behind Alex Salmond at the manifesto launch, for instance, ensured that even the Daily Telegraph spread the word!
By the end of that weekend in January each minister was on-line: tweeting his or her day-to-day activities and thoughts. Since then the Cabinet Secretaries have tweeted over 2,900 times.
Empower yourself and your organisation through grabbing the potential of online channels, direct communication, events, and even traditional media: you can do it if you have an integrated plan.
It’s wonderful to look back on a successful outcome but the real pleasure was in being part of the planning, the thinking and the creative process that was so beautifully directed by SNP Chief Executive, Peter Murrell. I saw the campaign as a race. We had a race plan, we knew our speed, our tactics, how to compete, when to hit the front, when to sprint and most importantly, what victory would look like.
As the American Football coach ‘Bear’ Bryant said: “It’s not the will to win but the will to prepare to win that makes the difference”.
The Cor Agency team
Project Director: Ian Dommett; Research Director: Mark Cuthbert; Art Director: Jim Downie; Copywriter: Will Atkinson; Designer: Sam Hinks; Artworkers: Frank Brown, Claire Lovie, Steve Johnstone, Matt Armstrong; Online Director: Ewan Macintosh; Broadcast Production: Greenroom Films; Radio Production: Red Facilities; Media Planning and Buying: The Media Shop.