A Marketer’s Lessons from Brexit

Ever failed to gain support for a smart, admirable product or campaign that seemed like a no-brainer?  Something like conserving water?  Attracting technical talent? Remote storage (until it became the “cloud”)?  Saving for retirement?

So it was with Brexit, a seeming no-brainer turned on its head by lackluster messaging, a failure to get voters to the polls and a strong political environment.

1. “Want to Make Sure No One Listens? Deliver a Boring Message

“One of the things that went terribly wrong with those who were campaigning for Remain was to find a passionate way to defend the European Union,” the English historian, commentator and Columbia University professor Simon Schama, told NPR when the vote to leave the European Union was announced.  “The point of the European Union was to be dull and boring rather than violent and aggressive and bellicose, which it have been for most of its history,”

A successful real estate saleswoman once told me that people buy by emotion, not reason. For Britons, the message of peace, protection and prosperity was drowned out a strong wave of  nationalism stoked by fears of uncontrolled immigration a remote central bureaucracy.   Emotion ruled.

2.  Apply the “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM) test

“A slogan and a message must be aspirational — either give people hope things will get better or that the bad stuff will stop — both, said Ruth Sherman, a political communications analyst, told The New York Times.  “I remember thinking when I first saw [one of Hillary Clinton’s taglines], ‘I’m with her’ — when I saw it, [I thought] ‘Really?’ It’s not my job to be with her. She should be with me.”

The message also has to be strong enough to move people to action. Although 75% of  British 18-29 year olds voted to remain in the EU, these voters did not turn out in sufficient numbers to make a difference in the final result.  And showing up, as Woody Allen reminds us, is 80% of success.

3.  Pay attention

Be it data, news reports or eating lunch with the troops, it’s important to keep you finger on pulse. The ‘Remain’ camp’s ‘Stronger Together’ slogan “failed to ‘personalize, individualize or humanize their campaign,” Frank Luntz, an expert on political messaging told The New York Times.  “The problem with the concept of ‘together’ is that it promotes groupthink…We are in an age of individual action, not collective responsibility.”

4.  We are doing business in an increasingly protectionist environment.

I hope by now you’ve read GE Chairman Jeff Immelt’s graduation speech to NYU’s Stern School of Business.)  Every company is on its own, he warns as “globalization is being attacked as never before. In the face of a protectionist global environment, companies must navigate the world on their own,” he said. “We must level the playing field, without government engagement.”

5.  Yes, it can happen.  Have a plan

The quote I remember most from my first interview with Fred Schmidt of the Capitol Factory was, “Only the economists and realists are planning.”  Everyone thought it was a done deal: Britain would stay in the EU.  Today, United States’ seventh largest trading partner is paralyzed, rocked by what could never happen.

Pay special attention, technology companies.  As Immelt reminds us, the Internet has connected us, but it has not created jobs. Many are questioning the value of globalization and business interests as “elite” and subject to distrust. Stay informed and participate. Organizations like the American Electronics Assoc., the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, many of which cluster around universities, educate elected officials and lobby business interests.  Be active, there is strength in common interest.

 

 

 

 

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