Franchising lessons from the general election... and mistakes to avoid
Posted on 13th December 2019 at 15:36
Whether you're cheering or sneering at the result, the election once again contained important communications lessons for franchisors...
After the shock results of the 2017 election, I wrote about the things franchisors could learn from the parties’ respective approaches to communications. Today, more lessons have been delivered as the dust settles on another surprising outcome at Westminster, with comms strategy once again at the heart of the result.
Simple messages cut through noise – Get Brexit Done follows on from Make America Great Again in delivering a sweeping majority for a polarising politician.
But it wasn’t just Brexit positions where there was a contrast in simplicity: clarity was the name of the game throughout for those in blue. The Tories offered a straightforward, slimline manifesto in contrast to Labour’s complex set of policies covering a multitude of topics, which voters struggled to get to grips with.
The Conservatives adopted a much more cautious approach whereas rivals went for eye-catching headline policies. But in not promising the earth, it was obvious what they stood for from the off.
Lesson: to attract the attention of potential franchisees, simplicity matters. Someone from outside your business must quickly be able to understand your franchise, what you’re offering and what it will mean to them. Run your franchise marketing or website past someone who doesn’t know your business well; do they understand it instantly and almost effortlessly?
Using a slogan or company value to sum up you, your culture and your franchise can provide a good starting point for people wading through perhaps hundreds of different franchise opportunities, before you hit them with the finer details.
Consistency, consistency, consistency
Inconsistency confuses; uniformity sticks.
The Conservative campaign was a model of communication mantras. Almost regardless of what was being asked, Boris Johnson trotted out his favourite three words to ram home the key Tory message time and time again – and much more effectively than Theresa May had done two years previously.
That was backed by consistent messages on the NHS, taxes, and Labour’s perceived Brexit ambiguity & antisemitism issues. It didn’t matter if the details were challenged or shown to be false – more on that below – they were simply repeated often enough that they stuck. Voters knew what they stood for.
In contrast, Labour’s communications were frequently muddled and the variety of them made them much less memorable; even ardent supporters might struggle to recall all the industries being nationalised. And ‘For the many, not the few’ was not universal, in comparison to GBD.
Consistency was such a central theme of the Tory campaign that any public appearances outside their direct control, such as the leaders’ debates, were approached with one thing in mind: don’t make any slip-ups. That’s a lot easier even for gaffe-prone politicians when you have a set of messages to stand behind.
Lesson: ensure all your communications sing from the same hymn sheet. That covers everything from online profiles providing accurate information (not details or costings from three years ago on that channel you never check any more), through to your prospectus, PR and emails all being on message at all times. Find your voice, and stick to it.
It’s no secret that Brexit has polarised the country and its political parties, but Johnson had a big advantage going into the campaign and he used it undeniably well. While Labour was (is) rife with in-fighting when it comes to Brexit policy, with a new leader the Conservative party was united behind a single position – even to the extent of the whip being removed from its naysayer MPs.
That was backed by a clear tactic to sideline prominent figures who ran the risk of deflecting attention from the campaign mantras above through their mistakes or unpopularity with the public. You can bet we’ll be seeing a lot more of Jacob Rees-Mogg, Iain Duncan Smith et al now the votes have been counted.
The best example? In an election utterly consumed by Brexit, when was the last time you heard from the Brexit Secretary?! (Stephen Barclay, since you ask.)
Lesson: teamwork matters more in franchising than most walks of business. From your recruitment people to your support staff to your franchisees themselves, the best networks in the country display a togetherness that makes them stronger. There must be a unity of thinking, which comes from the top, and a passion for the business, brand and network.
...and the mistakes to avoid
Each of the three main parties, even the winning one, also highlighted things franchisors should avoid:
Don’t shy away from tough questions, and definitely don’t go and hide in a fridge. Avoiding scrutiny isn’t in the playbook of any good franchisor, which instead welcomes inspection by its prospects and seeks a transparent relationship from the outset, for the good of its long-term health. Get your numbers right and avoid situations like this!
Don’t have delusions of grandeur, as Jo Swinson discovered early in the campaign. Goals and big plans are essential; self-aggrandisement is generally off-putting. You don’t need to try and be something you’re not. Authenticity is what your prospects are looking for.
Take nothing for granted. For the first time in more than 100 years in some cases, Labour lost several of its core constituencies, the so-called Red Wall across the Midlands and north of England. Having focused so hard on marginal seats, there will be questions to answer on the strategy in its heartland.
Photo source: UK Government, from the gov.uk website
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