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The front pages, the billboards, the TV debates… as the election race heats up, it’s become almost impossible to avoid thinking about where your vote might go on 6 May. As in all the best marketing campaigns, each political party is employing different tactics over a broad range of media to get their message to the electorate. Can we learn anything from the way the politicians and the party marketing machines are doing things?
The major voter engagement tactic being used by one of the parties in my area is direct mail. Unfortunately for them, it's not really engaging this voter. Every evening I come home and sort through the post piled up on the table in the entrance hall. Every evening I feel a glimmer of excitement at discovering several envelopes addressed to me.
With the post under one arm and fumbling with my keys, I manage to get the door of the flat unlocked, race into the kitchen, tear open the envelopes, and… it’s yet another letter from this particular candidate. And it's probably about potholes or ‘unacceptable’ engineering work on the Northern Line. Some evenings I'm even lucky enough to have a ‘personal’ letter from the head of the party. What’s personal about a mass mailing that happens to bear my name?
The mysterious thing is that none of the other parties locally appear to be using direct mail – or if they have, their leaflets and letters have been swallowed by the vast amount sent by their opponent. One of the parties has encouraged local businesses to put up posters, while the other main party is barely to be seen. Apparently the seat is a critical one, which could explain the sheer quantity of letters I've received, but it would be interesting to see all three major parties using a wider range of methods to get voters' attention.
Why? Because the direct mail campaign just isn’t working. There’s too much of it, for a start, so any pertinent message is crowded out by so many other ‘important’ things I need to know. And it’s badly designed, badly written and just…annoying. The sheer volume of wasted paper also makes me wonder whether this party has any kind of environmental policy – something that could, actually, influence my vote.
The biggest shame, though, is that when used effectively, direct mail is a powerful marketing tool. I was recently handed an excellent flyer for a new café that has opened nearby. It was eye-catching, well designed and briefly identified what it offers that none of the other local cafes do, such as a quiz night and acoustic music at the weekends. The people handing out the flyers were friendly and were only planning to be campaigning like this for two days – they were there simply to raise awareness about the recently-opened café, not to remind passers-by about it every day for the next six weeks. Compared to the political leaflets, which are repetitive, lengthy and visually unappealing, the café flyer wins hands-down.
When I get home this evening, no doubt one of the first things I'll do is put some more of the leaflets in the recycling. Once a week would have been interesting and informative. Letters once, or even twice, a day is getting tiresome.
My view of the UK democratic process has changed almost overnight. Having sat through the excruciating second and third readings of the Digital Economy Bill, along with half of the Internet, it would seem my faith has been rocked.
I must admit this is the first time I had ever paid this level of attention to the passing of a law, and while the process is highly confusing, it was the ineptitude of those taking part that was so flabbergasting. While the Digital Economy Bill was highly contentious, it’s the manner it was passed that’s brought me to a startling conclusion: Westminster is full of people debating things they don’t understand. The truth of the matter is this, if we ran our businesses this way we wouldn’t last very long.
While many of the ideas appearing in party manifestos are admirable and most have merit, it all pales into complete insignificance against Parliamentary reform, the single biggest issue facing the UK democracy today. My vote has swung, both professionally and personally; I won’t tell you which way though - you’ll have to follow me on Twitter for that.
If you cast your mind back to the Budget in late March, you’ll remember there was a particularly unpopular proposal to raise the tax duty on cider by 10 per cent. In Bristol (where at least part of the Marketing Donut is based), the response to this suggestion almost amounted to civil disorder - and we celebrated mightily when the motion wasn’t passed.
Whether it was the result of people power or the simple fact that there wasn’t time to push the proposal through Parliament, we west country types considered this a major victory. Cider is a way of life in these parts and the threat to make it more costly is not something that will be forgotten quickly, as this picture taken on the day of the leaders’ debate in the city last week demonstrates.
There’s a lot more life in cider than you might think. We’re not just rural hayseeds up this way, but a surprisingly inventive bunch. Take local cider producer, Brothers Cider, who allow their customers to drive their brand through crowdsourced products.
Consumers usually vote with their hard-earned cash. Here, they’ve designed a product themselves. At last year’s Glastonbury festival, revellers mixed all the flavours sold by Brothers - Festival Pear Cider; Strawberry, Lemon and Toffee Apple — into an exotic cocktail.
Sensing an opportunity, Brothers turned to Eric — their ‘doctor of yeasts and fermentation’— and asked him to create a more refined and commercially viable version. In the same week that Tesco launched the curious chilli-flavoured cola as a summer beverage, Brothers unveiled Tutti Frutti Pear Cider.
We caught up with Matthew from Brothers to find out more about what makes them tick.
You’ve used surveys in the past to gather information on what customers think of your products. Have the results led to any tweaks in the recipes or suggested future flavour possibilities?
“Fortunately, there were no tweaks required in any of the recipes following our annual survey. Though it did show our consumer base is open to new ideas and flavours.”
Are there any other flavour suggestions from your customers that you have discounted for being just that little bit too ‘out there’?
“We welcome suggestions on our website and collate them together for our customers to judge in our annual survey. Understandably, Bubblegum flavour was not a popular suggestion at all!”
Do you think the ‘cider tax’ will rear its ugly head again at the next Budget, irrespective of which party is elected?
“It’s clear cider duty has now become an election issue and it is good that the associated issues are now being debated so openly and passionately. Whoever has the keys to 11 Downing Street after 6 May will have to address the cider duty structure.”
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned about marketing activity since Brothers began?
“The advent of social media has turned the traditional marketing communications model on its head. Now the consumer owns the brand.”
Thanks, Matthew – and good luck with the Tutti Frutti!
Here’s an insight into how things work on the Marketing Donut:
Simon: What are we doing on election day, James?
James: I was thinking we should set up the live blog.
Simon: And tweet?
James: And tweet, yes.
Simon: Are we going to do anything in the evening? Or the next morning?
James: Yes, sure, though a lot of the results will be coming through quite late. And if it’s a hung Parliament it’s likely to go on for a bit.
Simon: How would you feel about working late? I mean, really late?
Simon: And then quite early?
James: Are you asking me to work all night?
Simon: Sort of, yeah.
James: You mean a blogathon?
Simon: And a Twitterthon. A TWITTERBLOGATHON. What do you think?
James: Ok. But only if you do it, too.
Simon (shrugs): All right then.
And so it was decided. Between Thursday 6 and Friday 7 May, James and I will be doing a marathon round-the-clock, hour-by-hour, all-night-and-into-the-next-day never-before-attempted 24-hour general election Twitterblogathon. Just for you. It’s a madcap scheme, but it might just work.
The thing is, we’ve got a touch of election fever here on the Donuts. This week the second leadership debate was held in Bristol (where one half of the Donut lives) and we were there, shouting at the big screen and enjoying the heckling by assorted special interest groups.
We’re trying not to go overboard, but we’ve created Election central, your guide to all things election on the Donut websites. It’s got blogs, news, features, a poll - you name it. On the Marketing Donut, we’re keeping an eye on the way the election campaigns are being run; on the Start Up Donut, we’re looking at the issues from a small business point of view. I reckon we’ve got some good stuff going on, and I especially recommend our MD Rory MccGwire’s series of blogs on key election issues for small firms and our straightforward breakdown of what each of the parties is promising small firms.
UPDATE 28 April: We're now going to make it a sponsored Twitterblogathon on behalf of The Children's Trust, which is holing its annual National Doughnut Week from 8-15 May. Please sponsor us!
Jam leg emails?
After having lots of fun on Twitter in James’s absence last week, I twisted his arm to let me have the Marketing Donut Twitter account every Wednesday. This week, I posed the question: “What’s the collective noun for people who work in marketing?”. The responses, as you can imagine, ranged from the satirical to the downright insulting. Here are the printable ones.
I also posted a picture of my to-do list and asked you to do the same. We got some great responses, including James’s own roundabout request for a lighter workload, Jake Johnson’s amusing guide to avoiding work, a Spanish to-do list from Venezuelan journalist Mito Dona Cruces and a description of a day in the life of an African rodent from our special friend the Meerkating Donut.
But my favourite response came from Ben Park at BJS Productions. Having looked at my to-do list, he asked me if it really said “Jam leg emails” in the top right. Of course, I said yes (in fact, it says “Jane Lee emails” – hi Jane). Within minutes, Ben came back with this brilliant spoof:
Ben, thank you. You’ve just earned a Donut voucher:
Well done! Just send a tweet to @marketingdonut to claim it.
I like collective nouns. I love the idea that a group of crows together is a “murder” of crows, as if they are plotting darkly to perform sinister acts. When you look at them, it feels right. I like it that bishops together are known as a “bench”, and picture them all sitting neatly in a row, dressed in identical vestments.
Collective nouns are picturesque, evocative and reveal something significant about the subject described that neutral terms like “group” do not. Some are very common - a swarm of bees, for example; others are reminders of a world and a way of describing it that we’ve almost forgotten. Who knew that a collection of pedlars is a “malapertness”?
There are hundreds of them. But, as far as I know, there’s no collective noun for people who work in marketing. So I figured we should invent one - after all, we’re creative types, right, and our job is to use language persuasively and picturesquely? On Wednesday, I asked our Twitter followers what they would call a group of marketing people in a room together.
“I’d be careful asking that!” warned Mags Halliday. And, unsurprisingly, there were a fair few satirical descriptions. Here are my favourites:
A melee of marketers Lucy Whittington
A buy of marketers Ian Blackford
A stunt of publicists and A broadcast of marketers David Buchanan
An engagement of social media gurus Gabrielle Laine Peters
A mystique of marketers Claire Dowdall
A fizz of PRs Emma Porter
An inspired Adrian Malpass had a stream of suggestions:
A focus of marketers
A hype of marketers
A smarm of salespeople
An invasion of PR execs
Adrian also suggested a snooze of HR people and the rather creepy feel of life coaches.
Some suggestions were less kind:
“I think it's the same as the collective name for a group of baboons,” smirked Ben Park.
For some reason we started talking about politicians and got calamity, spin, contradiction and, in the wake of the David Cameron egg-throwing incident, a scramble of politicians.
My own marketing suggestions including a meddle of marketers, an exaggeration of marketers and an evasion of PR execs. But here’s my final, somewhat more sensible, list:
A mix of marketers
A sample of salespeople
A press of PR executives
A persuasion of publicists
A subdivision of market researchers
Thanks for all your suggestions. I’d love to hear more, so feel free to add them below.
The general election attracts media and public attention on a greater scale than most small businesses could ever dream of. Nevertheless, there are a couple of lessons to be learned about the importance of being properly prepared when marketing your business.
Understand your business
When politicians step into any public forum, they can expect a grilling on their policies. If they can’t answer a question about how a proposal will work or offer evidence to support their claims, they’re in trouble. At the very least, they’re going to look evasive.
So, what does your business offer? What are your key services and policies? Before you can safely embark on any kind of marketing effort, you must know your business inside out and be prepared for any curveballs the media, or clients, could throw you.
Write yourself a Q&A, outlining every area of the business clients or the media might ask about. This will also help you weed out any awkward questions and work out how you’re going to address them so that you don’t get caught on the back foot.
Understand your market
You’ll often hear the media talking about which group of people a party is currently trying to win over. For example, earlier this year it was reported that Gordon Brown was targeting Mumsnet in an effort to woo female voters away from the Tories. Labour focused on George Osborne’s plans to cut tax credits for families with incomes over £50,000, warning Mumsnet-ers that they would “get less than they bargained for” under the Conservatives.
So, who are your target customers? Where can you find them? How is your product relevant to that specific market? Why do they need what you’re selling? How do you address those needs? How do those needs change, and how are you positioned to adapt to these changes? It might take some research, but the answers to these questions are vital.
To stand the best chance of being effective, every marketing message you put out must aim to address the needs and interests of your potential customers – after all, it’s their opinions that matter to your bottom line.