This is the third in a series of blogs on why Political Parties should have Marketers run their campaign. My last blog on this topic is Why Political Parties should have Marketers run their Campaigns Part 2: The US election
First let me say, that I have no partisan interest in any political party but am writing this blog as a marketing professional and someone who writes on marketing topics which deal with public sector organizations.
My key point in my blogs so far is that most people who run political campaigns are adept at communications and community outreach tactics but have probably never read a marketing book and think that tactics and strategy is the same thing. They’re not. Even the media when they refer to political marketing strategies are usually talking about tactics not strategy.
My blogs discussed the Marketing Warfare approach to strategic marketing which was developed by Al Ries and Jack Trout. After all elections are a form of warfare.
To illustrate their point, Ries and Trout compare marketing to a football game. If a team simply identifies the goal line and moves the ball toward it without regard to the competing team, they most likely will be blocked in their efforts. To win the game, the team must focus its efforts on outwitting, outflanking, or over-powering the other side. This is the case in football, war, and marketing, according to Marketing Warfare.
Let`s look at the most recent election in British Columbia (BC) . Sometimes known as the left coast.
According to Ries and Trout, the main competitor is the market leader that holds the majority of the market share i.e. the government in power (Liberals). The best strategy for a leader or in this case the incumbent is a defensive one. The Premier did not run on her record, but simply contrasted her party with the NDP. Until the dying days of the campaign, the NDP remained stubbornly on the high road, while the Liberals ran an expensive and relentless campaign of TV advertising that framed the ballot-box question – the economy – and prevented Adrian Dix the NDP leader from rising above Ms. Clark the Liberal leader on the key metric of who would make the best premier according to Angus Reid .
Then the NDP made the classic mistake in marketing strategy.
A weakness in the leader’s i.e. the Liberals strength must be found. Simply attacking any weakness is insufficient. For example, the leader may develop policies or programs which are similar to the challenger. The leader usually has the resources to defend against an attack against its weaknesses, whereas there may be weaknesses inherent in the leader’s strengths that cannot be defended.
The challenger ( NDP) had to attack on as narrow a front as possible. Generally, this means focusing on programs and policies where the leader is weak and cannot adopt as it would destroy their overall strategy. The reason for keeping the attack narrow is the principle of force; a narrow attack allows the challenger to concentrate their resources in the narrow area. They could have focussed on the Liberal record , e.g. the Economy which has been struggling in BC in the past few years. However the NDP campaign was scattered and not focused. Frankly they were all over the place and did not run a disciplined campaign. Not sure why but maybe the polls told them they had it in the bag so they loss their focus.
The big issue in this election was the economy and voters were concerned that the NDP would wreck the economy if elected (they also had a legacy of being in power during the nineties when the economy was in the dumps). Clearly, the NDP had to make a strong case that if elected they would be strong economic managers and their focus for the next 4 years would be to create jobs and overall prosperity . This had to be there mantra . ( I hope the NDP in Ottawa are paying attention)
The NDP had to know that economc management was their big weakness, Also, the NDP according to Marketing Warfare theory has to focus on the leader i.e. Liberals and not worry about the other parties who were fighting for a few percent of the vote ( i.e. Greens & Conservatives) but the NDP took their eye off the ball. Worried about an emerging Green threat, Mr. Dix the NDP leader sought to pre-empt the party by going greenier-than-thou, specifically by promising to ban significantly greater tanker traffic out of the port of Vancouver, which would doom the export of Alberta oil to the Pacific. This was a stunning turnabout on a clear promise to withhold judgement until the pipeline application had been filed with details made available according to Gordon Gibson.
Why the significance of this change in policy? It crystallized a number of fears in the minds of voters. The Liberals had run a brutal campaign based on fear. Fear of the NDP economic record in the last government. Fear of Adrian Dix and what he might do.
The Liberals were relentlessly on message. It was all about the economy, and the ability to pay the bills for health care and such. They recognized the NDP weakness and like a good warrior attacked their weak link. The Liberals realized that families in BC are concerned about the economy and jobs. The Kinder Morgan flip-flop sent a message that the NDP would prefer the enviro-left to the development-right. The voters got the message, judged that the economy would suffer and made their choice.
The fact that the NDP would develop a position to take on the Green Party flanker and not the leader i.e. Liberals was a crucial mistake in Marketing Warfare and one that someone who is skilled in marketing would probably not make. (obviously I have a bias )
Another mistake was the NDP decided to run a polite campaign while at the same time their major competitor went very negative, now I am not advocating negative campaigns but when the competition is throwing bombs at you, you don’t throw flowers; nice guys don’t win ball games.