This article first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.
This is The Monday Line
by Denis G. Campbell
In the ’70s a dog food company created a new product full of nutrients, vitamins and superb ingredients. They launched it with massive fanfare. Sales skyrocketed. Everyone celebrated. Three weeks into the launch, sales fell off a cliff. The feedback was simple: as good as the formula was, “the dogs didn’t like it.”
The Welsh election was similar. We Liberal Democrats tried to appeal to rational, thinking minds. The electorate though was angry and emotional about EU membership, immigration and the economy’s lack of jobs for British workers. And our stated positions were not in their favour for two out of those three issues. We worked hard and patted ourselves on the back for a job well done communicating our point of view. Voters let us know that it was their point of view that mattered most. They were livid we went into government with the Tories and did not live up to our promises.
For the ten months I was a party member, the Federal Party message was a constant, out-of-touch, “be thankful we were the hand brake on the Tories. We kept them from doing even worse. Just look at what they are passing into law now, when no one is looking.”
Like President Obama in the USA says, “it’s tough to sell the public on the idea we saved the country from an even worse financial collapse.” Our party can’t admit we enabled the Tories by breaking our promises on tuition fees and NHS privatization. “Group-think” is a powerful narcotic. Too many local campaigns featured us, talking to us, about us. We worked ourselves into a frenzy doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result (textbook definition of insanity). We just never checked to see if the ‘dogs’ liked the food and were eating it.
The result? We lost 39 of 40 direct contests and in all but four languished in fifth place or worse of six to seven parties. We lost every top-up seat, meaning the party went a combined 1 win and 59 losses.
So toxic was the LibDems brand compared to Ukip and Plaid Cymru, the only person returned was the party leader who performed well in the debates and has since resigned the leadership.
That is the backdrop for saying: the operation was a success, but the patient died.
Social Media vs. 1980s Era Paper
For six months I railed against the average £4,000 cost per mailing, the money required to be raised, the focus on pushing items through mail slots, the hidebound traditions burned into the party and their refusal (until near the end) to more extensively and expertly use video and social media to reach out to and engage with voters. The philosophy was the more paper the better. Too many only engaged face-to-face when caught by an opening door.
My goal was to knock personally every door in The Vale. I hit 15K in four months’ time. If I had more time and money I would have started in November and sent one postal mailing. We have 70K voters in my constituency. I know I reached a huge percentage of them several times with 20 boosted Facebook posts and 2 adverts over the last two months of the campaign. Total campaign Facebook cost was less than £400 and we were able to engage via comments and other follow-on items.
The problem was, if you need to appeal to the gut or heart, a brochure was a steep lift. The more words and thoughts worked in, the faster it ended up in the recycling bin.
But no one, including me, saw the size of the tidal wave crashing down on us in Wales.
We lost the election. As a business case, we also failed. There were many promising tools used that if given attention in any other campaign season would have helped. The tidal wave was all-consuming and nothing we did or said could counter the freshness of that year-old wound.
While we reached voters on their digital devices in massive numbers, we needed to message in a way that appealed to the gut or emotions first. We failed to understand the level of betrayal and rage felt towards us.
Had we focused part of our effort on surveying the market instead of relying on anecdotal impressions from friends of friends, we would have seen this in advance.
These are valuable lessons for business as well. Getting the dogs to like your food is critical. Listening only internally and hearing only what you want to hear?
That is deadly in both politics AND business.