Learning from the election: Lynton Crosby, David Cameron and importance of a core message

Posted on

Anyone who followed the interminable general election campaign cannot fail to respect, if not admire, the sheer bloodymindedness of the Conservative strategy.

It was effective, to say the least. Labour lost an election they had no right to lose; Ed Miliband did worse than Gordon Brown. The Tories, seemingly, snatched a majority the way a magician plucks a rabbit from his hat.

The central strategy for the Conservatives, devised by veteran political strategist Lynton Crosby, was to focus in two key areas: economic competence and leadership. They never strayed from this brief and it is to their credit that despite all the noise from the polls, they stuck to the plan resolutely.

Elections are fought on policy, but messaging - marketing the party to a broad base of the electorate - is essential. Miliband’s belief that Labour lost the election but won the argument is simply wrong and misses the point.

The Conservatives got their message across clearly and succinctly. Labour’s was muddied, only really speaking to the few thousand people on zero-hours contracts.

As marketers in financial services, there are some important lessons to be drawn.

Strategy

If you recall 2012, the Conservatives were hardly set up to win a majority. The ‘omnishambles’ Budget of that year left the leadership looking all at sea. The messaging was unclear. David Cameron wisely chose to draft in Crosby, “cut the green crap” and focus on the two key areas where he could display his superiority.

True, it helped that Ed Miliband was a weak leader; that a lacklustre economy sparked into life 18 months before the election; that wages finally overtook inflation this year; that the SNP would wipe out Labour in Scotland.

All this was good luck for the Conservatives. But they capitalised on it and drove the message home time and time again until the campaign felt like Groundhog Day with fewer laughs. 'Long term economic plan' is a phrase seared in the memory like no other.

A boring campaign, as Crosby pointed out in the Telegraph, is no bad thing if you win. “For the voters, it’s not entertainment”, he told the newspaper.  Economic credibility and the stability of a known leader were messages that while not terribly exciting, were tremendously effective.


The point is not to advocate a ‘boring’ message- far from it - but one that can be easily understood. The lesson about a core message that cuts through all the noise is clear; focus on what you’re good at and stick to it, no matter what the polls say. In terms of marketing, define your strategy and follow it through.

Data

Which takes us to the second key lesson from the campaign; data. Measuring and tracking analytics is part and parcel of a good marketing strategy. It tells you what works, where you’re going wrong and in large part tells you what to fix and how.

Again the Conservatives played their hand perfectly.

Their strategy - economy, leader - was not going down well with voters, if you believed the myriad of public polls. The arithmetic of the House of Commons, so everyone thought, was in Miliband’s favour.

For many, even the famously chillaxed prime minister, this would have been enough to change tack, alter the message to suit tastes.

But the Tories had their own polling that was more sophisticated. Jim Messina, an Obama campaign veteran working with Crosby, predicted they’d take 312 seats on the day of polling, while every other poll had Labour and the Conservative neck and neck around 270. The Tories’ own polling used larger samples than the public firms and they used more channels to speak to voters. They also made sure that the right questions (candidate and party, not just party) were being asked.

Better data was a crucial advantage in the ground war, allowing the Conservatives to allocate resources in key constituencies. It also meant that the Tories knew they were cutting through in the key marginals, backing up their pre-election strategy and giving them the confidence to follow it through.

Marketing campaigns in financial services are of course different beasts to running an election campaign, but when it comes to winning people over, the Conservative party can teach marketers a thing or two about strategy and the use of data.

Learn more about marketing strategy in 2015

Read More