What marketers can learn from Liz Truss’s first month as Prime Minister
Liz Truss became Prime Minister on the 6th of September with one of the most daunting in-trays of any incoming leader in living memory. It’s fair to say she’s had a rocky start – and so, taking a step back and leaving politics entirely to one side, what can marketers learn from her first month in office? I believe there are four key lessons:
#1: Rational product features aren’t enough – you need to appeal to emotion too
Truss’s agenda is all about growth – or, as she puts it, growth, growth, growth. She’s told us that the guiding purpose of her government will be to increase Britain’s rate of GDP growth. The difficulty is that, to the average voter, the headline GDP growth rate feels abstract and not necessarily something that’s directly relevant to their daily lives.
Right now, people are concerned about the effect of inflation on their cost of living, the price of energy, their ability to see a doctor or dentist etc – not whether Britain’s annualised GDP growth rate is 1.5% or 2%. It may well be that the GDP growth rate affects the daily concerns that people have but Truss hasn’t made that case. Instead, she’s couched her argument in abstract economic terms.
It’s become a cliché that in the EU referendum, the Remain side was mostly rational, focusing their campaign on economic benefits, whereas the Leave side appealed more to emotional concerns, such as community, belonging, identity, control and so on. By focusing on the rational and ignoring the emotional, Truss is in danger of making the same mistake that Remain did.
Lesson for marketers? Don’t rely solely on rational product features to build your brand. Appeal to people’s emotions – give them reasons to believe in you. Create a broader narrative about what problems in people’s lives your brand exists to solve. Make them believe you’re on their side. This leads to the next point, which is…
#2: Find a language or register that resonates with your audience
Truss said repeatedly in this summer’s Tory leadership campaign that she wasn’t a polished media performer. It’s not easy for any leader in today’s relentless media-driven age and not everyone can be a performer (or should be a performer if it doesn’t come naturally to them). But Truss hasn’t helped herself by using language that, so far, feels either remote or tired to her audience. For example, she’s spoken a lot about the need for “supply-side reforms” – but this doesn’t mean much to the average person. Her conference speech contained phrases like “unleashing potential”, “the value of hard work”, “hopes and dreams” and “our great country”. Worthy stuff, but all stuff that’s been said innumerable times before by politicians across the political spectrum.
Politicians who win elections – such as Thatcher or Blair – find a language that feels fresh and original to voters (even when they disagree with it) and speaks to people’s everyday concerns. For example, Thatcher’s homilies which likened Britain’s finances to a household budget were derided by economists but resonated with voters – as they provided a relatable way to understand a complex topic.
Lesson for marketers? Use language and a tone of voice that avoids jargon and feels human to your audience. Avoid clichés which every other brand in your space uses. Find ways to dramatise your brand story so it feels understandable (and interesting!) to your target audience. In order to do this, you need to…
#3: Understand your audience
Having just said to avoid clichés, I’ve written the words ‘understand your audience’ which must be the biggest cliché in marketing. Nonetheless, it’s a cliché for a reason. Boris was ditched by the Tory party because they were fed up with chaos and dysfunction. A weary electorate battered by 15 years of rolling crises – the financial crisis, Brexit, Covid and now Ukraine – is desperate for a period of peace and stability. Against this backdrop, Truss has positioned herself as a disruptor – someone who will challenge orthodoxy and isn’t afraid to break things to ‘get Britain moving’.
Whether or not this is the right thing to do, politically or economically, it’s in conflict with a tired electorate that wants an end to drama and chaos. To hark back to the EU referendum again, the reason the slogan ‘take back control’ was so effective is because it appealed to a sense amongst ordinary people that the pace of change was too great and left them feeling powerless. Truss’s promise of radical reform and disruption clashes with the public desire for peace and quiet.
Lesson for marketers? Use empathy mapping to understand what your audience is thinking and feeling. Use these insights to design messaging and user journeys that show your audience you understand them. Bear in mind that your audience will vary across cultures, so tailor messages accordingly.
#4: Roll the pitch
The biggest mistake Truss has made so far is attempting to make a number of seismic, headline-grabbing changes all at once, without preparing the ground ahead of time. That is, without explaining to people what changes were coming and why she felt they were needed.
Thatcher was Leader of the Opposition for four years before becoming Prime Minister, during which time she worked with others to develop the core elements of her proposals which formed the 1979 manifesto. She then introduced her programme in stages. By contrast, Truss hasn’t fought a general election on a manifesto of her own, and some of her plans – such as abolishing the 45% rate of tax – weren’t announced during her leadership campaign. Her cabinet weren’t consulted on the key elements of the mini-budget before it was announced. Usually, governments (and large organisations) trail elements from big announcements ahead of time, to prepare the public (and markets) for what’s coming. Truss opted for a shock-and-awe approach instead, which panicked markets and created an early impression amongst the public that she was causing chaos and instability. Once early impressions are formed, they can be hard to dislodge.
Lesson for marketers? This is not so much a lesson for marketers and more a lesson for any business leader. If you’re about to make big changes which affect people – customers, staff, partners, suppliers etc – you are mostly better off preparing the ground ahead of time. That is, explaining in advance what changes are likely to take place, why they are needed, how they will be managed, and how they will affect people. Sometimes, the power to surprise is good – but most of the time, people dislike big changes being thrust upon them, and it’s better to prepare them where possible.
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Disclaimer: None of the above is intended to be a commentary on the rights or wrongs of Liz Truss’s political programme. It is solely a commentary on what marketing lessons can be drawn from the PM’s first month in office and is not intended to convey any political viewpoint.
Oban International is the digital marketing agency specialising in international expansion. Our LIME (Local In-Market Expert) Network provides up to date cultural input and insights from over 80 markets around the world, helping clients realise the best marketing opportunities and avoid the costliest mistakes.