The UK’s proposed exit from the European Union (EU) announced following a national referendum in June this year was greeting by joy and despair in (nearly) equal measure. 52% of the country celebrated a victory for the common man or women against the will of the political establishment (‘we want to take back control . . ‘ being their cry), while the remainder shuddered at the prospect closed borders, protectionism, and isolation – the very antithesis of Westminster logic, both sides of the political spectrum.
Donald Trump has just been elected the most unlikely president of the US in living memory on a similarly anti-establishment platform; to use his own words ‘Brexit time three . . .’ has arrived. While his opponent, Hilary Clinton, styled herself as the most technically capable presidential candidate of all time, based on a lifetime of public service as First lady, Senator and Secretary of State, Trump’s pitch could be described as the antithesis of Washington logic.
Both winning campaigns are based on the same key premise . . . . start with the audience. The EU Leave campaign directly addressed the public’s concerns over immigration, the threat of being undercut by ‘low cost Eastern Europeans’, of gradually ceding control to ‘unaccountable and unelected’ bureaucrats in Brussels. Even the ‘Leave campaign’s’ victory speech was a built around the most basic of human sentiments:
“Funny, isn’t it. You know, when I came here 17 years ago, and I said that I wanted to lead a campaign to get Britain to leave the European Union, you all laughed at me. Well I have to say, you’re not laughing now are you?” Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP).
Trump’s campaign was grounded on a similar, nationalistic basis; immigration, unemployment, the opacity and venality of the political establishment. Both campaigns used ‘street vernacular’ to steal the agenda – ‘I’m going to build a wall . . . drain the swamp . . . send her to jail . .’ (Trump); ‘
In both cases, candidates won against campaigns that were technical in nature; the remain campaigned warned of the dark economic consequences that would follow a departure from Europe, reverse multipliers were employed to demonstrate the impact on unemployment, inflation, the currency and, even, national security (NATO’s General Secretary claiming that a departure from the EU would “give succour to the West’s enemies”).
Hilary Clinton’s campaign was based on her experience of public office, the technicalities of public office; from piloting her health reforms under husband Bill’s first mandate, to implementing counter-terrorist policies in the Middle East. The relationships with countless heads of state, her unrivaled network of the World’s movers and fixers.
The basis and starting point of both winning campaigns was the audience; what they cared about, the language that they use, the issues that they are discussing . . . . Where policies and programmes were proposed, they were positioned to address these concerns and issues. In addition, it is striking that neither of the winning campaigns focused, or even talked much about the central protagonist; Nigel Farange (a private school-educated politician of seventeen years’ standing), and Donald Trump (a billionaire son of a millionaire . . . ).
The above point represent a key learning for communicators and (in most cases) brands, it’s not about you, it’s all about your audience. This means finding out what they care about and making yourself relevant; it means finding where and how they engage and joining them. This means careful study, research, observation; an understanding of their priorities, concerns and interests; only then can brands authentically enter their conversations and win their trust.
The learning for brands from Brexit and ‘Brexit times three’, is that your target audiences’ hopes and fears are far more important to them than your latest offerings. Embedding the latter into the former is the secret that both the Leave EU campaign and Donald Trump have understood and mastered.