18 June 2001
29 July 1997
5 December 2007
5 May 2010
11 September 2000
8 May 2008
They promised it would be driven by spin. They promised it would be won and lost on the marketing field. They promised an election driven by style not substance.
In the end it wasn't. This was the election with no substance and precious little style - unless Calvin Klein counts as style.
The men in black in Blair's backroom who so infamously dictate the form and content of British politics were little in evidence. Aside from some feeble attempts at using text messaging to get the yoof out for Labour, there was little in the way of innovative marketing, or even innovative messages. For connoisseurs of the dark arts of spin, there was little to add to the collection.
One might think from this that politicians are turning their back on marketing, that they will depend on policies, politics and rhetoric, but the fallout on 8 June showed that when in crisis, a party's first refuge is marketing.
The swingometer had barely been put away before the great and the good in the Tory party were talking about the "failure to get the message across", "Hague's inability to sell the right story" and "a concentration on the wrong ideas". As Hague fell on his sword, the prescriptions increased. New Conservatism, talking to the public in ways they could understand, relating - it was all about communication and relationships. They were joined in this by the chattering classes who feared that the public was becoming disconnected from politics. The low turnout went deeper than apathy, this was a fundamental schism in the political fabric that needed to be mended. Politicians needed to talk the right talk.
It's all nonsense. Marketing has its place and communication is important in any relationship, but strong connections are based in the real world not the discursive. The Tory party lost, not because it couldn't get its message across or because it failed to market itself in the right way, but because its product (a Conservative government) was simply not wanted. And if it wants to make its product the one of choice next time, it needs to rethink the product, not the selling of it.
Now far be it from me to suggest parallels between the Conservative party and law firms, but the Tory fiasco offers a number of lessons.
Firstly, it's the product that counts. The public is not stupid and will decide on the quality of the product. If your firm is the market leader in cost-effective, fast and decisive M&A work, that's what counts with the customer not the brand you give it or the way you position it.
Secondly, marketing is important but it's not a panacea. You might be able to differentiate your product from a similar quality competitor's, but you'll be able to sell inferior goods for only a short time.
Thirdly, don't forget your constituencies of support. Don't try to sell yourselves to an audience that doesn't want you at the expense of those who historically do. If you are a media firm don't try and become a dotcom specialist.
Finally, when a crisis does hit, don't get sidetracked into a marketing autopsy. Look at what it is you're trying to sell before worrying about how you're selling it.
Whether it's economic choices, legislative programmes and political services, or legal skills and services that you own and want to sell, the relationships that will ensure the product continues to be the one chosen will depend on the relationship you have built up with the consumer. This is a relationship rooted in their day-to-day experience of those services. It is not rooted in, it cannot be fixed by three weeks of marketing.