What can Marketeers learn from Jeremy Corbyn?

The Marketing Partners is definitely apolitical but as I have watched, as many others have in recent weeks, meteoric rise by Jeremy Corbyn from rebellious activist, seemingly confined to the backbenches for eternity, to Leader of the Labour Party, I have had one question: How on earth did he do that?

The distance he has travelled seems even more remarkable when you consider some of his well known, and much-slated-of-late, views, as well as the associations he has held in the past. How ironic is it then, that now as Leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition, he has privileged access to power, influence and state secrets?

There is much talk in the media of divides, compromise and coups within the PLP but if you read Daniel Finkelstein’s opinion piece of 30th September (http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/columnists/article4571387.ece) then Jeremy Corbyn could well be closer to No.10 then you might think:

“It’s possible to tell a story of how Mr Corbyn might fall. But the chances of him going are dwarfed by the chances he will stay. The moderates have to face the fact that it is overwhelmingly likely that in 2020 if they recommend voting Labour they will be recommending putting Jeremy Corbyn in No 10”

7 lessons we can learn from Jeremy Corbyn

Returning to the question of ‘what can Marketeers learn from Jeremy Corbyn?’, I think there are a few lessons that are applicable to brand and marketing strategies everywhere:

  1. Jeremy Corbyn stands for something – Mr Corbyn has spent a lifetime rebelling, being different and frankly being the odd one out in the Labour party, yet people know exactly what he stands for. Believe him or not, praise him or ridicule him, he has an absolutely clear identity. There is an African proverb that says ‘stand for something or fall for everything’.
  1. He is distinctive – Many believe that politics have become bland and generic, with politicians vying for similar centrist policies – a cautious playing field where arguments and policies are honed by focus groups, leaked to the media to test their waters in advance, and then tracked by opinion polls. The resulting perception is that there is little to differentiate the main political parties.

Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, oozes difference – from the views he holds, the organisations he supports even to clothes he wears.

  1. He is single-minded in his communication – when campaigning, Jeremy travelled the Country approaching debates with the same clear, distinct message time and time again – he and his team were absolutely unwavering in their message. In my opinion they gave us a masterclass in single-minded communication.
  1. What he says is meaningful – After years of perceived blandness, as people watched his campaigning, they saw a man not only arguing for something distinct but also providing a clear point of view. They responded positively – this ageing, rebellious activist’s words struck a chord, with many seeing purpose and significance. People associated with his message and thousands joined the party and continue to do so. He was and is driving brand advocacy.
  1. He got his tone right – He may not be a great orator but he is persuasive because he has passion, believes in what he says, and can point to what he has said and done on record as an MP – he is a conviction politician. He is also very clear in his opinion on how politics should run. He has values that he wants to see adopted by the political elite, and this appeals to those who have found today’s politics to be out of touch with their beliefs.
  1. Timing is everything – look at the context: a Labour Party that suffered significant losses at the last election; a Scottish revival on the back of anti-austerity; the near annihilation of the Liberal Democrats; and the Conservatives in power with a pretty slim majority. A confused picture. I don’t expect Jeremy Corbyn went looking for leadership, and indeed accounts suggest he was persuaded to run ‘just to have a meaningful debate’. Yet as support grew, so did his belief that he could win. We heard he would quit if elected. His support grew and so did his commitment to honouring the voters. And now he is a leader through timing and context, rather than desire and ambition.
  1. But is he relevant enough? Has he done his research? There is no denying that Jeremy Corbyn has done well but there is an argument that he continues to preach to the converted – his advocates, perhaps even his evangelists. If this is true (which it likely is), he may continue to have support of the grassroots but his share of the electoral vote will remain limited. This will present a false confidence in his positioning. His real challenge is to figure out how to be relevant to the nation without giving up on what has brought him this far. He needs to persuade the lost voters to come back and to do this he needs to understand them and then persuade them. He needs to build his market share through research. It might be that this particular brand of politics has a pre-determined market share ceiling that won’t deliver him to No.10, but then again maybe not. Only time will tell.

The above principles have been tried and tested by many brands in various guises over many decades. From a Marketeers perspective, it is interesting to observe that some of the World’s most successful brands (Apple, Airbnb, Virgin to name a few) have and do use them, and that other brands who have let them fall by the wayside are left struggling (Blackberry, Kodak).

You may or may not agree with these principles but I do believe they are worth reviewing in the context of your own business.

2 thoughts on “What can Marketeers learn from Jeremy Corbyn?

  • Remember the old adage: Oppositions don’t “win” elections, governments “lose” them.

    What the mainstream politicians have done over the last decades is to consistently lie, lie and lie a bit more.

    ‘Wot did it for Labour’: Tony Blaire’s dodgy dossier dragged us into a war nobody wanted and which, as evidence has shown in the meantime, was based on false ‘evidence’ (there were no WMD after all).

    Or for the Conservatives, David Cameron’s (too) many broken election promises. From “We’ll be the greenest government ever” to “We won’t scrap Child Tax Credits”, to “We’ll protect the NHS”. Take your pick. There are plenty more to chose from.

    People are equally sceptical about the friends our governments cosy up to: from the head-chopping Saudis to the Palestinian-bashing Israelis, to the job-destroying Chinese.

    This is what has created disillusioned voters.

    And it is not just the political mainstream that is under fire, but a wider range of organisations. Just look at the VW scandal, FIFA, drugs in athletics, or the tax evasion by big corporations like Amazon, Starbucks.

    Or, if you’ve been watching Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s War on Waste, you’ll have seen that on their website Waitrose promises to be ethical and give surplus food to charities rather than binning it. Yet Hugh and his crew found bins full of perfectly edible food at the back of the stores.

    This is a perfect example of companies breaking promises. Morrison’s say they work closely with their farmers… Yeah, right. Let’s get real. VW is not alone in fudging the truth. These companies, just like our politicians, are in danger of losing the trust of their customers.

    This is what has created disillusioned customers.

    People are discontent with what the mainstream is offering. And Corbyn turned up at the right time, right place.

    made his stand at the perfect moment, becoming a lightning rod for this discontent. 10 years ago he wouldn’t have got anywhere. But now is his moment. Right man at the right time. This is what makes him a potent opponent. No matter what smears the press throw at him, if he persists with displaying the attributes you mention, he is someone to watch out for.

    To get back to your point though: “What do marketeers have to learn from Corbyn”.

    In an attempt to break form the betrayal by the mainstream of politics, the electorate once turned to the Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage, but now has turned to the SNP (which is limited to Scotland but has broader appeal) and Corbyn.

    So if marketeers really, really want to learn a lesson here, they and their clients first need to look at what it is that they are doing wrong. And setting that to rights.

    Stand truthfully by what you are saying and doing. Don’t ‘greenwash’ your operation for example like Waitrose and Morrisons try and do. Practice what you preach. And be 100% committed – from the top down to the shop floor. No fudging. No: “we must watch or profit margin first”.

    By breaking away from the corporate ‘middle ground’ companies and organisations could really gain their own, distinct voice and identity, and above all, gain the trust of a wider range of customers.

    Corbynism is a simple brand to understand: be truthful and principled, and the rest will come to you when the moment is right and the other players fall by the wayside. If you just do what the others do because they appear to doing it right, you could get dragged tarred with the same brush as they will be at some point down the line.

    And here is one point not mentioned in Corbyn’s attributes: believe in what you do, think long-term, and stick to it.

    Note: Hugh’s War on Waste: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06nzl5q

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