For corporations and associations on the cusp of their own campaigns in 2020 – take note.
Regardless of where you stand on Brexit, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn (or, indeed, David Cameron), last Friday’s UK Election results teach us many things, not least of which the profound necessity of a singular message during any campaign.
We are all acutely aware of political campaigns. Why one leader wins and another loses is the subject of endless debate and discussions around boardrooms, bars, and dining room tables. But campaigns have also long been a central activity and desire of companies. And, lessons can be learned from both sides.
Looking to the corporate world for a moment, what are campaigns?
Campaigns are driven by defining a specific outcome, over a known time, where that goal is measurable. This could be a change of opinion or behavior.
Influencing a regulatory outcome, changing the behavior of a specific cohort or demographic, getting people to do a particular action in advance of a decision – these are all campaigns.
When we try to move people toward a goal or change their position in the corporate world, we’re following the same intelligence that has been amassed from political campaigns for centuries. And, we get to use the same amazing tools and tactics. We may have to play by more ethical standards, but we play all the same.
But campaigns also fail. There can, after all, only be one winner. Canada’s recent Federal election is an excellent example of how “winning” might be defined in many different ways. The Liberals won power but lost a majority; the Conservatives won the most seats but lost leadership and, just last week, its leader; the New Democrats won public hearts, but the votes didn’t follow, and so on. All, I will argue, lost in many and profound ways – all lost the trust of the Canadian public. All suffered significant brand damage from which they will need to invest and rebuild. All lost security in their ability to secure their traditional base voter.
All lost because none had a clear message which the public understood to be true or relevant to them.
Enter the magnificent Boris Johnson Election Campaign. A simple message was used: “Get Brexit Done.” C’est tout. Clear and emotionally relevant to each and every Briton regardless of how they felt during the initial secession vote or the painful years to follow. One core message, one vote, one win. That is what Johnson’s team gave and promised.
And this should be a reminder to what we all know in communications. Our arguments are often too complex and muddied with context to communicate in any pithy or campaign-like way. But the win can always be defined. It is driven by what the win means to the voter. This lesson is as true for corporate campaigns as it was in the UK and as it was during the recent Canadian election.