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The Conservatives Don't Need A New Leader, They Need A New 'Brand Essence'

06/10/2017 11:45

I invite you to pop into your local pub, purely for research purposes of course.

Ask any of the locals to play a game of word association with you. What is the first word that comes to mind when they hear the name, 'Theresa May'? The answers will include the downright hostile, a mix of time-based words highlighting the PM's precarious future, as well as an assortment of sympathy words, and just a few respectful descriptors. It's likely that very few of the replies will relate to her policies or political priorities.

For 'Corbyn', aside from the negative associations, you will likely hear 'Glastonbury' and 'integrity' - to the short-term delight of Corbyn's spin doctors, but not necessarily the Labour Party as a whole.

Now ask the audience for their associations with the name 'Nigel Farage'. Amid the hostility, and the context-influenced 'pub / beer' replies, you will also get a lot of responders offering 'Brexit' as their associated word. The key here is that Farage is associated with his political policy and achievement as much as his character.

The many journalists and conservative politicians speculating about Theresa May's possible successor are losing sight of the very real and present problem - and opportunity - for the Conservative Party: their need for a 'Brand Essence'.

A Brand Essence is the single unifying word that influences a brand's entire belief and behaviour. If asked to name the word that comes to mind when you hear 'Volvo', you will likely reply 'safety'. There is a reason for this. In fact, there are many small reasons over many years. From the Volvo logo that depicts the seat belt technology they invented, to the crash test dummy adverts of the past - and to the Jean Claude Van Damme advert in which he does the splits between two moving Volvo trucks.

Volvo has identified and 'owned' the single word that matches their core audience's primary concerns and purchase driver: I want a safe car, therefore I want a Volvo. They have protected and reiterated the word 'safety' for years; knowing and trusting what their audience wants to buy, and letting that guide what they have to sell. The same is true of 'taste' for Coca Cola. Not even the Pepsi Challenge could topple Coke's ownership of taste. Even today, in their most recent adverts, Coke invites you to 'taste the feeling': an updated manifestation of the brand's core Brand Essence.

Arguably, the Conservatives were in fact on the right track when they tried to own 'strong and stable' - although, the words they selected were wrong and their actions didn't in any way match the words. How the free vote on fox hunting (in their election manifesto) was in any way a demonstration of strong and stable escapes me. The Conservatives missed an opportunity to present a Brand Essence and a policy portfolio that not only cut through, but also walked the talk.

The Tories need to define their Brand Essence and use this single-minded proposition to direct their entire thinking - and all of their policies. Whether applied to healthcare, fiscal planning, education or culture, what is the single word that makes their policies uniquely Conservative? It is this word that needs to be manifested by the leader, whoever that may be (excuse the pun).

Rather than spend any effort conspiring to topple the current leader, I would suggest that the Conservative ministers spend some time deep-listening to the voters, and identifying the one-word expression of Conservatism that excites, challenges and justifies their actions. They should especially listen to younger voters.

The Labour Party, although unarguably in the ascendency, doesn't as yet own a unifying Brand Essence. The Conservatives have a window of opportunity. If they recognise this fact, and do the necessary Verbalisation research and strategic thinking, they could just win the nation's hearts and minds in entirely unexpected ways.

The right Conservative Brand Essence can help to provide a tangible plan as we navigate the process of leaving the EU. It can help the current 'anxiety audience' to cope with the everyday volatility and the screaming press headlines. It can help them to regroup, as a country, around a political party with a core belief and vision.

'The British dream' is not the answer. The Conservatives need a single word. And whoever identifies this Conservative Brand Essence is the deserving leader of the party and the country.

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