In Mark Pack’s generally excellent piece the other day entitled Role reversal for the Liberal Democrats he suggested that, love it or hate it, we have a long term positioning strategy in place at the moment but we’re missing out on tactical battles. On the long term strategy bit, I beg to differ.
I worry we’re being taken to the brand cleaners at the moment.
In the commercial world, brand owners try to turn their ordinary everyday brands into brand icons. They do so for three reasons:
- Icon brands tend to have a huge range of appeal stretching far beyond their traditional consumer.
- They tend to command a premium.
- Most importantly, they set the benchmark and the agenda for all the other brands in their sector. They also tend to start out as challenger brands. Think of Apple or Virgin and you get the picture.
Back in May, we – finally, finally, finally – exhibited all the qualities of an icon brand. We’d stretched our appeal far beyond our traditional base, our MP’s votes in any potential coalition were certainly commanding a premium in the market place, and most significantly we were setting the political agenda. Has everyone forgotten ‘I agree with Nick’?
Why haven’t we been able to capitalise on this? It’s because we’ve stopped doing the most important part of the icon equation – setting the agenda. When brand leaders (and in the last election result, that was the Tories) spot someone is changing the rules, they can do one of two things. They can play the new game (which they know they won’t be as good at), or they can get the new challenger to play their game.
And that’s what happened to us. By not setting our own agenda within government, stating our own beliefs, or pushing the radical progressive policies that we have intellectual ownership of, we lose our identity, and are judged by the rules of the perceived brand leader in the sector. We’re seen as playing the Tories game.
Now, I am pro-coalition – I like having people who believe in the same things that I do in government. But as a branding and communication professional I hate this ‘not a cigarette paper between us’ approach. It’s only by retaining an individual, radical and heartfelt agenda of our own – and taking ownership of that agenda – that we can allow people to judge if they believe more in our values than anyone else’s. Otherwise, at the next election, we can have the most radical, progressive and liberal manifesto ever written – and we’ll still be called Diet Tory. And I don’t want to be anyone’s artificial sweetener.