It’s Time To Think Like Brands

It’s Time To Think Like Brands
B&T Magazine
Edited by B&T Magazine

In this guest article, Kate Smither (aka the Tall Planner) dives into political campaigns, and why our current political campaigns could serve to think a little more like brands.

It’s time, two little words that reflected everything that was happening in the Australian psyche, the Australian economy and the Australian society in 1972. Two little words that summed up the mind and mood of the nation and two little words that helped Whitlam get elected. Two words that sold a different kind of leader and a different kind of future. That is the power of two little words that as the Dude from the Big Lebowski says can really “tie the whole room together”

Love Labor or love Liberals, you have to love great political slogans and the political campaigns that go with them. They are possibly the purest form of advertising there is. And in a quick soundbite they relay a clear positioning and they brand the leadership on offer.

Political campaigns let advertising do what it always aims to do, to simplify, to communicate and to motivate behaviour. There is an immediacy to the impact and it is the one time where what we do really does influence culture. They are the perfect combination of short and long term

It makes me wonder why pollical parties in Australia don’t think like brands more.

The brilliance of an “it’s time” or a “yes we can” for Obama, of even a “Make America Great again” for Trump is that they are effectively positioning lines. They give voters clarity about what they are being sold and what they choose to buy into. In the world of multichannel, micro targeting and multiple messages they also connect everything around a core difference and principle. By connecting everything it makes sure that people always see ne message and that the campaign stays “on” that message however voters discover it.

In Simon Sinek’s Golden Circles, he sets out a model for inspired leaders, using brands as clear example. Sinek shows how most leaders ( as people business or brands) work from the outside in, from the easiest thing to the “fuzziest thing”, Typically brand and businesses will know what tiny do and ( and the words of Sinek) they might even know how they do it, but they don’t know why they do. The inspired leaders, Sinek goes on to point out, start at the inside out.

They don’t start with what they make, they start with why they do it, and more importantly they understand why people should care.

That because it is the “Why” that connects all the dots for people and creates critical context and reasoning. It also drives preference and relevance

I would argue more political advertising and political parties need start with what their “Why” is. Before they start scrapping around in the scare campaigns, tactics and mud slinging. They need to tell us why they are proposing what they are proposing,. We are half way into the campaigns and we are yet to know why we should care. If a great idea can be summed up in a print ad, then we need to understand what the campaign vision is on a cap, a t shirt, a poster… in a line. We need to know what the why is.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is much written about as a tool for political planning. In fact the late great Neil Lawrence was a fan and he was the brains behind Kevin 07, or very own and very successful equivalent to “I Like Ike” from the US.

In a chapter of “the Best of Australian Political Writing” Lawrence’s creation of a political pyramid that corresponds to Maslow is explained.. “He (Lawrence) contended that the most basic need for voters was a stable government, free from the threat of coup or revolution. The next level of need was for a government that exhibited sound economic management. The third

level of need was for physical safety – strong law and order, safe immigration policies, and freedom from terrorism. Only after a political party was able to satisfy these basic needs would the electorate be interested in whether the party could satisfy higher order needs, such as a need for an equitable society and the fairness and decency of the Australian way of life”

As a framework it works because it covers the key areas of what motivates, what reassures and what creates action in people. It works because it also takes a wider view across the whole campaign not just one ad or speech or visit within it.

It also works ideologically if you look at our two party system. The parties tend to try and split the pyramid. Labor delivers the top – the big social reform, the big cultural changes. The Liberal party tends to argue they deliver the bottom of the pyramid, the more basic economic needs. The real challenge for both parties is that the bottom with no top is a road to nowhere and the top with no anchor is too. You need (as Lawrence showed) to prove stability and trustworthiness across all levels.

In this election, I would argue the most interesting part is actually going to be the middle of the pyramid. The layer that tips from the basic needs and makes the transition into the layer that focuses on belonging and safety. It’s this middle layer of needs that is the personal one, where basics become meaningful and trust can start or stop.

The middle layer is the one where the parties typically crossover and the key to unlocking it lies in trust. It is where people step in and start to “back” one side of the other, this is where they start to choose who they believe and trust will keep them safe and help move them to the better future promised at the top of the pyramid.

So, at the half way point, it feels like it should be time for both parties to really connect the dots and think of themselves as brands. To tell us not just what they want to do but why it matters

When you teach school aged kids debating (which I did in a past life) you teach them a simple structure that is very similar to advertising and what it does when it’s great. Say what you are going to tell people, then tell them and finally, tell them why you’ve told them. It’s a simple rule of three that connects vision to proof points and the bottom of the pyramid to the top. It’s a simple rule that brands do well and leaders should learn from.

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