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Lessons from the General Election

Lessons from the General Election
Ben Essen, Head of Planning at iris Worldwide, reflects on the surprise Tory election majority and looks forward to our latest IPA 44 Club.

Remember the General Election?

It seems a long time since the surprise result that shocked the nation, but this coming Monday the IPA 44 Club will be convening for what should be a fascinating reflection with smart thinkers like Tom Edmonds, Creative Director for the Conservatives.

More than any other, this was an election won not by policy but planning. The winners were the team better able to understand and connect with their audience's core needs and concerns. So, politics aside, what can we strategic lessons can we learn?

The power of qual over quant

We're all familiar with the collective failure of the polling system. A whole handful of national surveys misunderstood the mood of the nation and wrongly placed Labour neck and neck with the Conservatives, and gave Labour a poor steer on strategy in the process.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, found many of their most powerful messages in more anecdotal insights out of qualitative research. One such insight, that voters feared a coalition government would put Labour 'in the pocket' of the SNP, proved a campaign game changer for them.

Get out of London

That's not to say that Labour didn't also embark in dialogue with the Britsh people. Who can forget the man called 'Gareth' who was trending on Twitter after Ed Miliband met him on a walk.

For Miliband, Gareth quickly became representative of the British people at large. The only problem was that they met on Hampstead Heath - and Gareth became symptomatic of Labour's greatest issue - an inability to escape the idealist, intellectual London bubble and connect with the British public at large.

Meanwhile Conservative strategists, Lynton Crosby in particular, focused on heading north to canvas the opinion of 'Derby mum'.

How many planners, like Miliband, might be accused of being 'North London geeks'? How many planners spend enough time in Derby?

Throw a dead cat on the table

Speaking of Crosby, here is a man who can teach us all a few tricks on becoming more modern, agile planners.

He's a master of how to combine long-term strategy with short-term tactics to create the outcome you are seeking. One such example is his way of responding to an unfavourable news agenda, when the public are talking about something you'd rather they didn't: the 'dead cat'.

Boris Johnson describes it as: “There is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant. The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout, ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’

If the conversation is going against you, don't try and argue your way out of it. Simply start a new conversation that's even more interesting. I've heard this tactic is particularly useful in client meetings.

Tell a story with multiple layers of interaction

What does it take for a story to stick?

People need to hear about it in different ways from different people. If an issue is simultaneously splashed across billboards as appearing in the editorial sections of the Telegraph and the Sun, just as a minister is making the point live on TV, alongside campaigners at your front door, then the issue feels like part of culture.

It's not enough to introduce an issue in a speech, and then hope that it will take hold. Modern media planning means letting people consume different versions of your story. Of course it helps if your 'owned' media includes the majority of newspapers in the country, but the lesson stands.

Connect at a personal level

Perhaps the greatest lesson we can take from the Conservative success, and indeed the four million people who voted for UKIP, was the importance of addressing people's needs at an individual level.

Labour's grand narrative of equality and cost of living was too detached, too future-orientated, and everyday people struggled to work out what it meant for them. Voters (like all people) are psychologically biased towards the here and now, and will always respond most to messages that feel personal.

Touch a nerve

Indeed, what's interesting when you look at the issues that won the election was that they were driven not by tangible messages, but emotive issues.

We're well drilled on the importance of emotion in advertising - this was an election victory achieved by pressing the buttons of people's core human feelings and fears.

The feeling of being threatened by a Scottish-led government coalition, the feeling of confidence in the status quo.

This was an election voted on primal, emotional instincts - and the successful strategy was the one that anticipated the audience's deepest fears and needs. And the issues that landed came from planning with empathy and insight.

The London mayoral election is in 11 months and counting. Who will heed of the lessons of 2015?

And who will be the first to throw a dead cat into their next client meeting?

Ben Essen is Head of Planning at iris Worldwide.

Find the answers to these questions and more next Monday. Book here!

Last updated 11/06/2015

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