The Press, November 2011

Phew! Tea-tapes, mass poster defacement and the inevitable Winston comeback. Thankfully another agonising period of electioneering is over, but we are left with some interesting insights into ‘real’ marketing from the campaigns.

More than any other realm, political marketing shows starkly how consumers are ‘imprisoned’ in a world view that drives their decision making. We are all conditioned by our upbringing, our job, level of wealth, friends, the area we live in and so on to see things in a certain way.

While one person will see a John Key speech as inspiring and visionary, another will consider it weasel words designed to manipulate. The same goes for Phil Goff, Russell Norman and any other politico.

Political leaders are very disciplined these days in delivering their specific messages, but those are received entirely differently by us ‘consumers’ as we filter them through the prison bars of our mind. We can be a bit like poor old Brooks in The Shawshank Redemption, so comfortable in our jail we are terrified to leave, to change our views.

This is not so obvious when selling goods rather than political slogans, but the same rules apply. Most people don’t want to listen to your advert, read your brochure, receive your phone call or get an email.

Many will reject your messages, filter them out completely or maybe file them away for later reflection. A small few will respond, as you connect with their view of the world.

For example, Kiwi software companies have sometimes found it harder to sell their wares domestically than overseas. Local buyers’ worldview often sees local products as too high-risk, even if they are cheaper, preferring more expensive, lower risk software products. It’s a safe and comfortable prison they have no interest in leaving.

And like any institutionalised person, it is never their fault. It is your fault as a marketer in not being able to release them.

So how do you help people escape this prison?

Emotion is a key. The Latin word at the root of emotion is “to move”. In marketing terms that is why emotion is all important – it’s gets people to take action.

Political parties are classic at this approach. They will relentlessly use issues they think connect with voters’ emotions. Often it is law and order (you are going to get robbed!), health (nobody will care for you!) or education (your child will end up stupid!) that are rolled out, but this campaign it was more about the economy.

Labour ran a very aggressive campaign around the sale of state assets, something they perceived voters to have strong emotions about. They hammered away relentlessly on it.

I’m sure when Mrs Goff asked Phil what he had for breakfast, he replied “A big fry-up, but at least I didn’t consume a whole lot of state assets.”

Rationally, the proposed partial sale of state assets was a relatively insignificant issue in economic terms, with strong arguments for either selling or retaining. Emotionally it was seen as a strong lever.

Using emotion is made possible by having a deep understanding of your customers.

After all marketing is simply about finding and penetrating a ‘market’, a group of consumers with a particular need. You need to know who they are, where they are and what motivates them.

You need to understand what helps build their views about products and make decisions. For example, in the medical technology field often respected clinicians endorsing your products is much more effective than lots of other promotional activities, while using social media works in reaching technical audiences like computer programmers.

Speaking their language is the other critical factor. One of John Key’s enduring appeals is that he speaks in a straightforward and typically Kiwi way, until he reads an autocue on TV and sounds like any other politician.

When you don’t have all of these fundamentals in place your promotional activity can fall flat, or even worse backfire on you, as it did with Qantas last week.

Qantas launched a Twitter competition offering people some pyjamas and a ‘luxury Qantas amenity kit’ for the best tweets about what luxury meant to them inflight. Entrants had to tag their Twitter post with #Qantasluxury.

Reflecting the recent issues Qantas has had in Australia, they were swamped with people tweeting, but using the tag to criticise the airline. “Getting from A to B without the plane being grounded or an engine catching fire. #QantasLuxury”, “#QantasLuxury would be not having 5 flights in a row delayed on one trip” were two of hundreds of negative comments.

Much like Phil Goff, Qantas will now just want to keep their head down and get on with life.

For the rest of us we are thankful that another election campaign is over, and can remain happily imprisoned in our view of the political word for another three years.

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