Jeremy Corbyn has a problem. His second coronation as Labour leader has confirmed his popularity with Labour party members, and a barnstorming conference speech has even brought a good few of his previously rebellious MPs back into the fold. But nevertheless, he remains stubbornly unpopular with the wider electorate.
This situation mirrors the position many marketing directors find themselves in, so can Corbyn learn some lessons from the world of marketing and advertising in creating a winning proposition for the next election?
The commitment of Corbyn’s followers is clear. It is a loyal following, sometimes excessively so. For some, he truly rides a unicorn shooting rainbow rays to wash away everything which is foul about the British political system.
But the trouble is, no matter how devout his core following, Corbyn’s current vision for Labour doesn’t wash particularly well with British voters.
A recent poll shows 40% of people who voted Labour just 18 months ago preferring a May/Hammond leadership to Corbyn/McDonnell, and in another, Theresa May was not only seen as more trusted than Jeremy Corbyn to tackle the most urgent problems facing Britain, but more trusted than Corbyn to deliver “a well-funded and efficient NHS”.
When Labour’s strongest area of policy is under fire, you realise quite how much work Corbyn has ahead of him.
One of the things these numbers demonstrate is that there is a massive middle ground of voters who aren't *that* interested in politics and effectively sway between parties. This middle ground make up a large volume of voters and who can swing the balance of power one way or another.
This is a situation that will be a familiar situation to many marketing directors of FMCG brands.
In the world of cornflakes, deodorant and fizzy pop, consumers who are super-loyal to a brand don't have a big impact on sales. They might care about and buy the product a lot. They might make a lot of noise when you change the formulation or packaging or when you revamp the website, but there just aren't that many of them to add up to significant sales.
Instead, the majority of sales come from 'light buyers' who only buy a product once or twice a year.
These light buyers actually don't care that much about your brand, but there are lots of them so they make the difference if you can just get to them regularly and get them to remember you – hence the popularity of high-reach, rich-media marketing channels like TV and now online social/video.
To quote Martin Weigel, "The people LEAST likely to engage deeply are the MOST important for growth."
So what could Corbyn learn from this and turn his current situation into a win?
From a marketing perspective, Corbyn may not ride unicorns but he has strong points of difference – a sense that he is unlike other politicians, that he doesn’t play the game, that he is genuine and follows his convictions. He also has considerable experience and, as mentioned, a very strong following. All of these could be very strong pulls in an era when so much is in flux.
At iris we believe four factors need to come together to create the best chance of success:
Insight – Corbyn and Labour should use insight and data to develop rich, motivating, authentic, culturally relevant positioning. Perhaps if they had done more of this listening they wouldn't have been quite as caught out by how their voters have drifted to UKIP and the Leave campaign (and perhaps Corbyn would have even campaigned for Brexit). What they don’t need to do is just listen to their existing loyalists.
Influencers – They should identify and leverage influencers to deliver engagement. This is all about building a coalition of the willing. Influencers aren’t just ‘famous people’ they are the collaborators who have common ground with you and who will give you access bigger networks. Again, this requires looking outward and building bridges to the swing voters, not inward to ‘brand fans’.
Channels – Labour need to have their communications in the right channels and optimise them on an ongoing basis. If the traditional media won’t get on board with your story there are plenty of other ways to get to your voters. The risk here, again, is in only speaking only to your loyalists. Get out of the social media echo chamber and have the debate with real people. If you’re not a natural tweeter, empower your lieutenants and allies. Think about how Obama motivated thousands of people to make phone calls during his election.
Measurement – Labour, like any brand, need to track what they can do to drive improvements for next time. Which channels and messages worked best with which audiences? This doesn’t mean flip-flopping around on policies or beliefs, but it is about refining how the core propositions are best delivered.
Jeremy Corbyn is firmly in control of the Labour party and unlikely to see any more leadership threats in the near term.
But the real test wasn't the leadership vote. The real test will come when they conduct that great national market research survey with 'light buyers' known as a general election. If Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t reach out to this wider audience with a message that resonates, the future looks very blue.
Matthew Kershaw is managing director of Content That POPS at iris