Can marketeers learn anything from Brexit?
At Guerilla-Creative we are, like most of the nation, fascinated by the almighty cock up that is Brexit. Being political neutral neither in nor out we decided to shake it all about and see if there are lessons to be learned.
Lesson one – be clear with the brief – and stick to it.
What brief were our leaders working to? Was it to leave the EU at any cost or to leave at the lowest cost to the UK economy or even not to leave at all? Mrs May’s red lines seemed clear and no deal better than a bad deal seems well completely clear. But in reality it appears any deal was better than no deal. A case of shifting objectives over time. What is evident with the gift of hindsight is the brief was clear to the PM but not to her cabinet colleagues, either hard or soft. You need to get all stakeholders absolutely agreed on objectives and what success looks like. That’s definitely a lesson to be learned.
Lesson two – do your research and understand what it is telling you.
What better research can you have than a national vote to see what people want. The result was crystal clear Leave 51.9% Remain 48.1%. So that’s a clear mandate. Isn’t it? Well no not really 72.2% of the electorate voted. So the other 30% didn’t give a hoot, were too lazy, ill, disengaged or indisposed to vote. And don’t even start on the regional variations. Areas like London and Scotland clearly Remain and others equally clearly Leave (Stoke On Trent 72% leave, just what did the EU do to mess up the pottery industry?) with age variations equally split. You could conceivably argue that for such a fundamental change there should be a majority of the electorate not just those who turn out. Isn’t “not voting at all” actually a vote for the status quo? If I can not be bothered to vote I must be happy as things stand. Or you could take the view if you cant be bothered you deserve what you get. Fair enough but with a result this close any self-respecting marketeer will look for some qualitative evidence to support the quantitative. No need to look too far as nightly vox-pops on the news do that job for us, revealing a deeply divided nation and unlike our politics generally polarized extremes. So did the research ask the right questions – evidence suggests not. Maybe we should have had a series of indicative referendums to see if there was any agreement on a question to ask. Also the government failed to apply its research to the reality of the situation. The result was statistically 50/50 not clear. That is also reflected in parliament a hung minority government at the behest of two contrary views within its own ranks and an opposition afraid or unwilling to reveal its own hand. Again with hindsight its clear a compromise was going to be acceptable to no one. Given all of this the marketing response should be to do more research. Oh they did a general election after the referendum resulting in a hung parliament. At this point any self-respecting marketer would fire the agency and start again.
Lesson three – know your product.
Big product the UK but why did the brief (the campaigns) not mention some clear background facts.
• Northern Ireland peace could be endangered
• We actually have a good deal already negotiated by Mrs Thatcher in the 80s.
• The UK economy is so complex that no one can predict with any certainty if leaving will be positive or negative. We had the Treasury, the Bank of England and the establishment generally issuing dire warnings and Boris and Nigel saying ignore them they are the vested interest status quo.
• Therefore any claim – either way – was an opinion not a fact.
• The fact is like it or not we have been in the EU for over 30 years are deeply enmeshed and withdrawing will be the most painful divorce settlement of all time – well maybe not as bad as Anne Boleyn’s, then again several people do seem to have lost their heads.
Lesson 4 – communicate clearly and honestly.
The leavers were clear, leave and millions will go into the NHS, immigration will stop immediately and the USA will bail us out as they always do.
The remainers were woolly to say the least. They muttered about unproveable dire economic consequences and failed to mention that a leave vote would create a world of pain to our society, that actually we are tied in almost beyond extraction, that we have a good deal, that immigration is part of our DNA as a nation and that we were endangering the union by voting out.
I think the remainers did not credit their audience with sufficient intelligence. And the leavers were somewhat economical with the truth.
Lesson 5 – engage with stakeholders.
The deal was revealed to the nation and we assume to those not directly involved as a done deal. My deal or no deal. Surely the key principles should have been stress tested in parliament in advance. A series of indicative votes with two years to go not two weeks. In marketing terms a tissue session, first with the project team, then with staff (Tory party) then with the wider audience – parliament.
Lesson 6 – Allow sufficient time for planning and implementation.
No need to comment on this really, as marketeers circumstance often result in last minute campaigns. But this one had a clear runway, running out of time is actually quite pitiful.
In summary then its not all bad there are a few lessons we can learn.
To run a successful change campaign you should:
1. Be clear on the brief
2. do your research
3. know your product
4. communicate clearly and honestly
5. engage with stakeholders
6. allow sufficient time for planning and implementation.
Lessons learned – lets hope so.