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The last thing you want is more stuff in your inbox. But it's sometimes good to read about new thoughts and ideas. Brand Matters aims to communicate a few ideas about Brand in the shortest possible time. It will come out occasionally, when we have something worthwhile to share. We hope you like it and find it useful. Let us know (either way).


Lessons from the election

Everyone appears to have been surprised by the election result, including the pollsters. But it’s interesting to reflect on some of the classic rules of branding that appear, in retrospect, to have been played out.

The power of a single-minded message repeated again and again and not abandoned even when everyone in the party is bored by it. Lynton Crosby appears to have got that one right for the Tories.

The importance of clear brand positioning, regardless of the degree of campaigning noise. Clear for UKIP and the SNP. Less so for Labour and the Lib Dems.

How long it takes to build brand trust and how quickly and effectively it can be destroyed. Witness the tainted Lib Dem brand and its fall from 57 to just 8 seats in one night.

But the biggest surprise for me was how small a role was played by Values throughout the election campaign.

One might expect Values to be at the heart of all political party messaging. A way of creating a clear and sustainable platform on which policies can be based. A powerful tool for differentiation.

But this election seemed to be more about each party trying to outdo the others in what it offered particular groups of voters. In the leadership debates, Nick Clegg attempted to position the Lib Dems as standing for fairness and Nicola Bennett made a half decent effort to explain her policies in terms of people’s lives, the community and the planet. But on the whole, the messaging was tactical and short term.

Politicians have to tread a line between conviction and consent. People want leaders who believe in something as well as leaders who listen to them. Values are surely core to conviction.

Beliefs versus Boasts

Linking to the theme of “conviction”, I’ve been working with a number of clients recently where there has been a marked reluctance to bring their lights out from behind the bushel and tell everyone how good they are. They have generally been rather understated by nature. So attempts to focus their attention on what’s really good about them and express that as a customer or brand proposition have been met with understandable discomfort.

What has also become clear is that they are much more comfortable talking about what they believe than about what’s special about them. And when they express what they believe, they do so with impressive passion and authenticity.

So, rather than “We provide the best technology solutions”, the belief might be “We believe that the time is right for this industry to be reinvented”. Shows conviction. Intrigues the listener. Starts a conversation. In short, much more effective.

Which reminds me of Simon Sinek and the “Golden Circle”. I’ve mentioned this before, so briefly…. He argues “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Start with WHY in the centre of the circle. Progress to HOW in the next ring and then to WHAT in the outer ring. But how many organisations start with WHAT rather than WHY?

So instead of straining for differentiation by thinking about what’s special about your organisation, think about the core belief that drives it.


The Circle of Safety

And while we’re talking about circles, I have also been struck by how many organisations I have worked with have significant issues with their culture. I find this worrying because I regard strength of culture as central to strength of brand.

In Sinek’s latest book, “The leaders eat last”, he describes how the best leaders create a “Circle of Safety” around their people, so that they are enabled to focus all their attention on warding off any potential dangers in the outside world.

He says, “When people have to manage dangers from inside the organisation, the organisation itself becomes less able to face the dangers from outside.”

He refers to the US Marines, where, when they are eating, the leaders always queue up to eat last. A powerful symbol of the philosophy that underpins their culture, where the belief is that the prime purpose of a leader is to protect his or her people. And when people know and trust that that is the case, they will follow that leader to the ends of the earth.

Back to politicians. I wonder if that’s why they are so little trusted…?