They are the first governing party to increase its vote share after a full term in office for more than a century. Whatever your political views, you can be impressed by and learn from their marketing campaign.
These are some of the key elements. “At its absolute simplest, a campaign is simply finding out who will decide the outcome… what are they, what matters to them, and how do you reach them?” Those are the words of the Conservative Party’s election strategist Lynton Crosby.
So the Tories identified the marginal seats they wanted to win from Labour and the Lib Dems and those of their own that they might lose. They then bombarded the people they had identified with post, visits and even personal phone calls. The result was that while the swing to the Conservatives nationally was 1%, in the marginals it was 4%.
To be fair, Labour attempted a similar tactic but that only highlights another lesson. In a battle, superior forces nearly always win– and the Tories had a lot more funds at their disposal.
It is possible that the Conservatives would have won anyway because of other aspects of their campaign. For example, it is a truism that Governments lose elections, opposition parties don’t win them and the Tories made sure they didn’t expose themselves too much. Cameron avoided direct confrontation both by other leaders and the public. Also, by focusing on the shortcomings of the Labour leadership, their involvement with the economic failings of the previous Labour government and the ‘threat’ of the Scottish Nationalist Party, the Conservatives distracted voters from the party’s own vulnerabilities. Fear is a powerful marketing tool.
Crosby is known to be keen on exploiting marginal parties who can undermine the opposition. Let’s assume the Conservatives recognised that they had next to no chance in Scotland because of the huge anti-Tory sentiment but that Labour were likely to lose seats to the SNP. It could be that their anti-SNP campaign was designed to encourage anti-Tory voters in Scotland to vote SNP, as they appeared to be the opposition more feared by the Tories. Is it just coincidence that while the English version of The Sun described Nicola Sturgeon as the most dangerous person in the country, its Scottish counterpart was supporting her?
On the positive side, the Conservatives banged on about their success with the economy, reminding us of the famous phrase “The economy, stupid” used by Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist to describe what was most important. The single message worked better than Labour’s incoherent campaign.
What lessons can we in business learn from the Conservative campaign? Firstly and most importantly, target your marketing. Identify your best prospects and point your resources on them, preferably in a personalised way.
Secondly, much as you might like to think it’s the quality of your campaign or product that’s most important (and we love examples of viral campaigns that cost nothing), the truth is, the size of your budget makes a huge difference. So, if you’re a small business, it’s better to look for a niche than take on larger competition directly.
Thirdly a single message is best. Decide on the one big thing you want your customers to remember about your product then tell a simple story to put that message across.
Finally, fear is at least as powerful a tool as greed. Talk up the advantages of your own product by all means but you may find it more effective to analyse and exploit your competition’s weaknesses. It’s a jungle in politics and business.