A poll today predicts 278 seats each for Labour and Conservative in the UK general election. The only certainty is that it will be style, and not substance, which will swing the needle on 7th May.
The various Parties have been working hard on their “Positioning” this week with the release of their Manifestos for the UK election.
This post does not debate the merits of their various policies, and sadly, the vast majority of UK voters will make their decisions not by considering the substance of the Manifestos, but by which leader they trust the most. So, it is interesting to see the efforts which have gone into “Presentation style” of the major party launches.
David Cameron (Conservative) was clearly making efforts to look “Presidential”, speaking very seriously from his Union Flag adorned stage. Camera angles had clearly been considered carefully, so that he’s looking down on his audience… symbolising authority and leadership. – the very claim he is making.
Ed Miliband (Labour) similarly chose the security of a podium on a business-like stage, and was not averse to the odd Union Flag. However, he was noticeably more at ease with himself and his audience than of late. Ed is known to be working with American Advisor David Axelrod, and there is a definite American style in some of his recent presentation. (eg “Hell, Yes…”, and speaking directly to camera). Allowing himself to relax, smile and laugh with his audience a little is a positive strategy if you want people to trust you.
The most interesting presentation though was from Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrats). Claiming a very clear position… “More heart than the Tories, More Brain than Labour”, their staging and style was consistent with this positioning:-
Eschewing a high stage for a low platform in a warehouse setting, with children’s hand-prints on the backdrop. Nick is a very personable speaker, speaking off-the-cuff using every-day language, and he has removed the barrier that a podium represents. Positioning themselves as the “friendly” “human” centrist party to protect the country against the evil extremes of the other players is a good ploy to achieve tactical votes in marginal seats.
Of course, the presentation styles have been carefully thought through by each party, and when looking at them, we should consider also the key audience each party is targeting.
Conservatives are openly targeting Pensioners, who are more prone to vote than younger audiences, and generally more (small ‘c’) conservative. They are hoped to be more comfortable with traditional authoritarian styles, and the need for leadership, which will be why this style was chosen. The risk for David is that this could be perceived as pompous and aloof, reinforcing the perception that his party is elitist and “out of touch”.
Labour is targeting a broader working age audience. It needs to present itself as “Business-like” in its approach, to overcome suspicions that it was the guilty party behind the global recession for deregulating the banks (normally a Tory policy). While the inevitable comparisons with Wallace and Grommet persist,the more Ed comes across as “business-like, but human too” the more likely he is to gain the trust of the electorate.
As part of the current coalition, the LibDems can present themselves as economically-literate, – part of the solution to the global economic crisis rather than the cause. This allows them to present a more relaxed style – “Business Casual”, and focus on a very human positioning. Their target is unashamedly middle-ground, appealing to educated middle-class voters who recognise the importance of a balance between fiscal responsibility and a caring society.
– Able to work with other parties to create a better government which avoids the spectre of “[a Tory Party taken hostage by Nigel Farage or Labour by Alex Salmond]”.
However, so close to the election, The LibDems may have left it too late to reverse the self-inflicted dent in trust from too-closely aligning themselves with the Tories and abandoning some key pledges, notably on University fees, since 2010.
Cameron’s decision not to take part in the forthcoming TV debates may come back to haunt him as he will certainly be mocked for being “too self-important” . Miliband’s performance as the only other Prime-Ministerial hopeful will also be closely watched in tonight’s debate where he is likely to be pressed hard and potentially ambushed by other party representatives.
A Sky poll of polls today predicts 278 seats each for Labour and Conservative, with LibDems pushed to 4th place by SNP, so there’s all to play for. The only certainty, sadly, is that it will be style, and not substance, which will swing the needle on 7th May.
Other parties are available.
The author is not associated with any political party in the forthcoming election, but is available for discussion on strategic positioning and how best to present your business to consumers, to customers, and to stake-holders.
Chris Collis is an award winning Chartered Marketer and Director of independent consultancy Marketing Walk.