Learning from a political example

The measures that political parties are taking to tackle voter mistrust should be noted by those companies experiencing similar problems among their consumers

As the General Election approaches and political fervour mounts, so too does the level of mistrust and disloyalty among voters. While brand marketers may breath a sigh of relief that it is not their job to convince voters, new research shows they may be facing very similar problems with their consumers.

The research, commissioned by below-the-line agency Tequila/ Manchester and carried out by Quickwise, shows that the way in which political parties are increasing their focus on customer relationship management (CRM) demonstrates an acknowledgement of the importance of rewarding customer loyalty (MW April 7).

This election has seen the major political parties turn to direct mail and more targeted communications such as e-mail in a bid to speak to voters on a more personal level. It is understood that the parties and their marketers increasingly believe that the days where one campaign would suit all voters no longer exist. This strategy has been used to speak to voters in marginal seats who in the past may have felt overlooked, but it is also hoped that it will inspire more long-term loyalty.

With consumers becoming disillusioned and mistrustful of “big brands”, marketers should look to the methods used by politicians for this year’s election and draw lessons about keeping existing customers satisfied while attracting new ones.

Many comparisons can be drawn between political parties and sectors such as financial services and mobile phone operators, as consumers believe that they are the worst offenders when it comes to chasing new customers rather than serving existing ones. The research found that 83 per cent of respondents believe that banks, insurers and mobile operators are the worst offenders.

It is a lesson that marketers in the political world have already learnt. The increase in disillusioned voters has been a long-term problem for political parties and support has been in decline across all parties since 1964. According to figures from polling company Populus, support hit an all-time low in the 2001 General Election, which clearly demonstrated the level of apathy toward the parties and their policies. Despite this, it is claimed that every election is won by winning over new voters.

The decision by political parties to supplement their existing marketing with more targeted campaigns shows that they have learned valuable lessons about the importance of voter loyalty by looking to consumer-focused sectors, such as retail, to see where they are getting it right.

The importance placed on consumers by retailers, through loyalty schemes and targeted promotions, has paid off as the respondents have a far higher opinion of them and their services. Just under half of respondents believe that supermarkets “look after them” and 38 per cent believe the same about clothing and food brands. In comparison, just six per cent of respondents believe that political parties look after them, which puts them at the bottom of the table, and 61 per cent would switch allegiances if they were unhappy with the party that they had previously voted for.

The problem faced by sectors such as financial services, telecoms and political parties is that their relentless pursuit of new customers (or voters) means that they do not focus on communicating their brand values to the public. But this is vital when it comes to recruiting new business, as any new customer will be buying into the values of the brand as well as the product.

This point is crucial to political parties and it will be increasingly necessary for them to adopt CRM tactics so that they can acknowledge and reward voter loyalty. It will also help parties to talk to people on a localised basis rather than on a more national scale. On this basis, the parties can begin to earn loyalty through delivering positive experiences to their customers every day and not just when their vote counts. This should lead to the growth of long-term voter loyalty and may help to reduce the number of floating voters.

Unsurprisingly, the research found that 46 per cent of consumers believe they should be a brand’s priority, but 35 per cent also think that emphasis should be placed on a brand’s values. Respondents rated both of these far above the profitability of the brand, which just three per cent felt was important. But it highlights an important point: consumers want to feel that the brand or political party values them above all else and that it should not be seen to be chasing bigger profits at their expense.

As political parties increasingly focus on their principles and value, so too should brands operating in sectors that inspire the same level of consumer mistrust and disloyalty. Brands that fail to inspire loyalty in their customers will face the kind of long-term decline experienced by political parties.

The past decade has seen a growing feeling of isolation in both the political and corporate landscapes. Companies that take an avid interest in this year’s General Election and use those insights to better understand consumer opinion should remain one step ahead of their competition.

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