Politics is, or should be, a serious business and, as we all know, branding is too. Yet, for some reason, our major political parties have treated their own branding as something of a side issue, creating confusion rather than cohesion. What lessons could they, and should they learn from the commercial sector?
If you take even a cursory glance at the logos for our three leading political parties, you may easily conclude that they have never placed branding at the top of their election manifestos. You can well imagine the party line to be that this branding stuff is far too manipulative for the idealistic world of politics.
So what did they come up with for their current branding? Strangely, all three parties adopted a nature theme. But what is that meant to tell us?
- Will tree surgeons and tree huggers be the deciding voters in key Tory marginals?
- Has Labour devised a fiendish plan to target the Gardeners’ Question Time audience? (Maybe that’s not such a bad strategy, if you think about it.)
- Did the LibDems have the foresight to predict the invention of Twitter?
In fact, together the three logos harmonise to make quite a pretty picture, which tells its own story.
If the major parties have all gone ‘green’ with their logos, where does that leave the Green Party? Possibly aiming for global domination. At least it looks as if it intends to set the world on fire.
And then there are the new political kids on the block. A lot of research must have been done on the typical Ukip voter but a logo resembling an alternative to Poundland is probably taking that research too literally.
When I dig deeper into these brands, the message I get is that all the parties have left gaps in their branding strategy. Brands are all about building a relationship of trust with consumers, and trust is an essential element of voter confidence. A well-defined, accessible vision, set of values and mission statement are as fundamental to a successful brand as they are to improving the prospects of electoral victory.
What puzzles me is that not only have the main parties failed to offer any real sense of vision, values or mission through their branding but the messages they do send out are confusing and blurred around the edges. There is little to differentiate them.
Is this because as a society we are now so homogenous and/or apathetic that we no longer require political parties that offer distinct, differentiated views? Or has each party invested so much time and energy researching public opinion, listening to focus groups and chasing swing voters that it has lost sight of its own original objectives?
Consumer research can only give a snapshot of current opinion; it will never provide a lasting ideology. As Henry Ford is said to have observed, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘Faster horses’.”
For conventional brands, the combination of vision and values with a differentiating proposition and positioning makes the crucial difference in what is often a homogenous product landscape. Shouldn’t political parties be looking above all to underscore their core values? In the current climate, it seems only the Green Party, from its name onwards, unashamedly and unequivocally reinforces the values and principles it was founded on. What happened to people – and politicians – standing up for what they believe in?
Across the Atlantic, politics seems to be significantly more brand savvy. When Barack Obama first ran for election in 2008, he embraced brand methodology by commissioning leading US designers to create a strong, well-managed brand identity, and he was a pioneer in incorporating the power of social media, something that all of today’s leading brands have harnessed. As a result, his vision was precise, differentiated, articulate – and triumphant. He set a new standard for political brand identity.
As proof, the beaten Republican candidate in 2008, John McCain, learned from his defeat and commissioned a branding agency to reinvent his brand identity for his 2010 campaign for re-election as senator of Arizona, a contest he won easily.
Whatever our political leaning, it would be reassuring to think that, for the forthcoming general election, each party will take the time to evolve a proper Brand Positioning Statement (BPS) by:
- Identifying the target audience
- Defining the context
- Conceiving a credible brand promise and point of difference
- Providing a reason to believe and convincing proof that the brand promise will be successfully delivered.
The BPS needs to be unique, credible and differentiating, delivering something that is not interchangeable with any of the other parties’ statements. It needs to be articulated through an engaging, well-managed brand identity. Maybe then we can anticipate a reinvigorated political agenda that rises above the tired old round of sleaze, scandal and sniping – re-motivating people and reducing the alarmingly high level of voter apathy.
Maybe, too, we would not face the slurry of visual pollution created by badly branded political flyers cluttering every high street and letterbox at election time. The message it delivers is that the thinking of today’s politicians is equally muddled, uncoordinated and, ultimately, disposable.
The business of politics is not easy, but it needs to be recognised that brands play a key role in the political agenda. They require continuous TLC, not just a quick gloss-over at election time.
Remember: in brands we trust – or not, as the case may be.