Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Does Labour Need To Realise That 'Labour' Is A Brand?

I realised today that Labour is a brand.

I had not realised it fully before, because I naturally see Labour as a political party, representing (or failing to represent) my political ideals.
And yes, Labour is an organisation, with a political credo … but what we activists have to realise is that to most people it is simply a branded product.
Most of the people who vote Labour do so having little clue about what Labour ‘believes’, and I would like to bet that 95% of Labour voters don’t have even the most basic understanding of the party organisation.

And it is only when you realise that Labour is not an ideology or an organisation, but a BRAND, that you are able to explain, not only why certain people choose Labour for their vote (and not, say, the LibDems, or UKIP), but also a lot else about Labour politics that is otherwise incomprehensible.

The power of a ‘brand’

In the world of commerce, ‘brand’ is hugely powerful.
When my wife goes round the supermarket, she will not touch the ‘Tesco Value’ goods, even when they are clearly the brand product repackaged in almost identical packaging; she buys the much more expensive branded product.  She really believes that the mere name ensures that it is better quality … she’s familiar with it, and she trusts it, so she goes with it.
This certainly explains why so many people who vote Labour do so without knowing anything about Labour’s manifesto or corporate structures.  They don’t need to.  They just know that they enjoy a Guinness, support Bradford City, always buy Hovis … and always vote Labour.  It is brand loyalty pure and simple.
In the north-east – where everyone has always voted Labour – you will meet people whose personal opinions are in actual fact archetypal Tory… but who vote Labour, always have, and always will.  Start advancing some of the proposals in the Labour manifesto and they will become quite angry at the ‘rubbish’ you are talking.  They are not Labour because they have considered Labour’s politics and decided to support the party.  Instead, they conceptualise the party in their own image – they ARE Labour, and therefore by deduction what Labour stands for must be what they believe. Anybody who has been out on the #labourdoorstep has met these people, who tell you the most dreadful fascist nonsense, but assure you they’ll be voting Labour ‘and always have’.  (And I bet you didn’t disabuse them, either.)

Brand loyalty
People become comfortable with a certain brand.  You get people who will go to MacDonald’s but would never set foot in a Burger King.  Pepsi recently admitted defeat in their attempt to rival CocaCola.  People develop a loyalty to a certain brand, and will refuse to leave it, even when you demonstrate that they are disadvantaging themselves by doing so – I can remember getting quite stressed with the school secretary, who refused to stop buying Nurofen (at £1.90), even though I proved to her that they were the same drug as the generic Ibuprofen caplets (at 28p).  All she would say was: ‘No, they must be better’.
Thus political branding explains why so many working class people down south vote Tory.  It explains why – on a recent trip to Kendal – the place was still festooned with LibDem posters … after ALL that the LibDems have done. Like the girl who kept on buying Nurofen, they keep on loyally voting for a party which damages them.
It warns us that we need to be cynical about the positive opinion polls. Yes they show that many LibDems appear to have abandoned their party and joined Labour; but, when it comes to it, when it really matters – in a general election – will they be able to bring themselves to put a cross against the red rosette?  Or will brand loyalty reassert itself?

A brand abandoned is a brand hated
Equally, there is nothing so hated as a brand abandoned.  When I had a young family, I bought a Fiat Amigo camper van; it caused us so much trouble, danger, disruption and financial damage that I swore I would never have a Fiat
– any Fiat again. To be honest, I actually drove a Fiat, many years later, for a while as a courtesy car, and I have to admit that it seemed quite nice.  But I will still never touch a Fiat with a barge pole again; mere facts don’t even begin to moderate the prejudice.
Thus, the notion of ‘branding’ explains why those who have abandoned Labour rage against us with such venom.  There is a lovely man in the opposition on our Town Council – he is gentle, polite, left-wing in his views, and I keep asking him why on earth he hasn’t had the sense to join the majority group … but Gordon Brown ruined his pension, and (like me and my Fiat Amigo) he will NEVER forgive Gordon, or Labour.
This, more than any other point, helps to explain the difficulty facing Ed Miliband and Labour at the moment.  During a period in government, a Party usually manages to build up large numbers of apostates, who have been angered enough to abandon the party brand.  I (for example) am of a generation which remembers Thatcher and could never ever again consider voting Tory; it was the closure of the mines which finally turned me Labour, and that die is cast now … I will NEVER relent.
But, of course, any young person over 20 has grown up and become disillusioned, not with brand Thatcher, but with brand Labour.  Blair and Iraq, bad-tempered Brown, the expenses scandal – over 13 years, Labour created brand-enemies, and those people no longer trust the brand, and it is NOT just a matter of saying the right things … there is a real possibility that many twenty-somethings are a lost generation for Labour.

The ultimate message – a Danger of Death
And the very real danger?
Is it not true, as well, that brands ‘have their day’?  Woolworths revolutionised retailing, but decades later they got a kind of fleamarket feel about them, and the brand withered and died.  When do you see an Artic Roll nowadays, or Camay, or Izal, or Babycham? 
And is it not also a danger that Labour, if it is not careful, could become the Woolworths of the political world?
Woolworths did not go down without trying to turn around its fortunes, and in many ways they were good stores – there were all kinds of things that you could only get in Woolworths, and I used to shop there … but there were just, obviously, not enough of us to form a critical mass big enough to keep the firm going.
How well does this describe your local Labour branch?

Re-branding Labour
Faced with a terminally declining market-share, a company will sometimes attempt to ‘rebrand’ – by which is meant changing the name, the product, the image, the appeal … trying, in fact, to bring the product into line with the needs and demands of the changed market which it has failed to track.  An obvious recent example is Marks and Spencer, with its successful appeal to quality and its ‘this is not just…; it’s M&S…’ adverts.
Similarly, there are examples of political rebranding – the most famous and spectacular being Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ brand with his ‘Clause 4’ moment.  Like the M&S adverts, the rebrand ‘hit the moment’, and ‘New Labour’ (for a time) cornered the market.
A decade later, David Cameron realised he needed to ‘detoxify’ the Tories, which he did through a series of stunts which – crass as they were (e.g. ‘hugging a hoodie’) did indeed successfully rebrand the Tory product for its electorate market.

When you begin to analyse politics in this, quasi-commercial way – rather than (as most activists) seeing it in terms of getting across a ‘message’ – the question facing Ed Miliband becomes quite clear: has the time come, again, to rebrand Labour?
Actually, when he became leader in 2010, a small marketing firm did indeed release a prospectus outlining ten ways in which Ed Miliband might, indeed, ‘rebrand’ the Labour Party.  

Its ideas included:
* jettisoning old baggage,
* redefining the target market,
* ‘movement marketing’ (letting the consumers create the brand),
* a new logo,
* a single ‘brandheart’ campaignable idea, relentlessly repeated, and
* a leader with vision and charisma.

But it was a failed message, and (clearly) nothing was done.  There was a long period when nothing happened at all, and what we are seeing now – although it is sometimes erroneously called a ‘rebranding’ – is not a true rebranding, but merely a rehashing of the message … a repackaging.

We live at a time when there is huge disillusionment – even hatred – of the established political parties.  Political mavericks such as George Galloway and the BNP can attract significant numbers of voters.  The Tories and their policies are hated, but Labour is not reliably picking up their votes – even the ‘New’ Labour brand is (to quote the 2010 blog) ‘looking tired and out of ideas and lacking credibility’.

So is there an argument for a significant rebranding?  Not simply to trick the voters into voting Labour, but to re-align the party to the needs of modern electors – a give them a brand they can trust and which (to quote the Ronseal advert) ‘does what it says on the tin’. 
Labour at the moment is torn between the left-wing who want to reassert the pre-Blair Socialist principles of ‘Old Labour’, and a ‘New Labour’ rump, who want to move right, seeking what they perceive to be the electoral centre.
Perhaps the answer is neither.
Perhaps the answer is a new position – a rebranding for the 21st century.

Rebranding: lessons from industry
Just what such a rebranding might involve, I cannot say (if I could, I would be a lot richer and more famous than I am).

But – when I was researching this Rant – I came across this useful list of things NOT to do when you are rebranding.

If you read them, you will see that the final point advises strategists to 'cross-pollinate' ideas with other disciplines.  There is an argument which would advise party leaders to spend some time reflecting on the Party's performance not in terms of politics or political wisdombut in terms of marketing a brand.

Anyway, here they are and
– as you read them I wonder whether they will strike you (as they struck me) as being directly applicable to the Labour Party.

The Top 20 Mistakes Marketers Make When Rebranding
1. Clinging to history
Rebranding well means staying relevant. Assumptions made when the brand was established may no longer hold true. Analyze changes in target markets when exploring opportunities for brand expansion, repositioning and revitalization.

2. Thinking the brand is the logo, stationery or corporate colors
Brands encompass everything from customer perception and experience to quality, look and feel, customer care, retail and web environments, the tone and voice of communications, and more.

5. Not leveraging existing brand equity and goodwill
Dismissing brand equity when rebranding alienates established customers, while unnecessary overhauls can irreparably damage a brand’s perception…
6. Not trying on your customer’s shoes
Simply calling your own 800-number or receptionist may reveal challenges customers face and inform your rebranding strategy. Take the time to navigate your own website, buy your products and return something. Better yet, ask a friend or family member to do so and learn from their experiences.
7. The rebrand lacks credibility or is a superficial facelift
The rebrand’s story must be believable given the existing brand experience and customer perception.  It must also hold credibility internally. If employees who live the brand day-to-day don’t believe, the target audience won't either.

13. Forgetting that people don’t do what they say (they do what they do)
Use caution when basing rebranding strategies on focus group-type research. Unless you’re physically in the customer’s environment observing them using your product or service, you’re not getting the full story. Actual observation, while not perfect, will get you a lot closer to the right solution.

17. Rebranding without research
There’s a lot of lip service about customers, but in brand strategy sessions they’re often forgotten. Current and prospective customers should be front and center when creating solutions. After all, the customer will be your ultimate test…
18. Basing a rebrand on advertising
An ad campaign and a slogan do not equal brand positioning. Brand strategy should lead advertising – not the other way around. Sometimes the most effective rebrands don’t include traditional advertising.
19. Tunnel focus
Focusing solely on your own industry can be limiting. When rebranding, cross-pollinate your thinking with what leaders in other industries are doing in regard to customer experience, retail experience and customer care.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting indeed and something I have mulled over quite a lot. I think its a facinating science. Branding was a very big part of my early training with the Party. Inside, the Party thinks in pictures and branding. That is not to say they are not passionate about policy-they are.
    The basic requirement for good marketing which is illusive is actually knowing what people want from politics. How many times have we asked people on the doorstep-what is bothering you what is on your mind? Only to be told -Nothing that I can think of.Frustrating but I did get a very clear picture in Fishburn on one session that a group of people living on the same new estate hated the unemployed. How can Labour brand that? Yet we have to know what people are thinking or we can never get anywhere near twanging their voting wire.I have believed for a long time that Labours message has to vary from place to place. I think the latest slant about living standards will hit the jackpot-in some areas more than others. One total message does not fit completely everywhere.