Friday 7 May 2010

What can politics learn from marketing?


Am I the only one surprised that the pre-election polls were actually accurate for once?  They predicted a hung parliament and now here we are with no single party having a majority.

It's still early days, but it looks like the LibDems may actually hold the keys to number 10, even if they themselves don't reside in it - and the price for that will probably be a vote at least on proportional representation.

I'm not going to comment on the rights and wrongs of this (phew! I hear you say), but what is interesting is that we have a political system which is based on at best the needs and desires of around a third of the voters.  For example, back in 2005 the Conservatives had a 32% total share of the votes, won the largest share of the vote in England and yet had less seats than the majority Labour government.

Worse still, policy is largely dictated by those who shout the loudest and unfortunately the majority of people are so busy living their own lives that the minority who care passionately about a minority cause tend to get a listening ear through effective lobbying.  The House of Commons Public Administration Selection Committee says:-

"The practice of lobbying in order to influence political decisions is a legitimate and necessary part of the democratic process. Individuals and organisations reasonably want to influence decisions that may affect them, those around them, and their environment. Government in turn needs access to the knowledge and views that lobbying can bring"

Lobbying may be necessary and the first past the post system may be the best of a bad bunch when it comes to ways of measuring the popular vote - but if government was a business, and voters were customers, it would have gone bust a long time ago.

Henry Ford famously said in his biography that

"Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black".

Essentially a one size fits all approach.  That may have worked back then - and was actually used because it was the fastest drying paint so kept prices low by speeding up production -  but time and competition have moved on.

Look at Ford now and their popular model, the Focus has 100's of different configuration options including 8 upholstery types, 12 body colours (with or without ST stripes), 13 wheel types, spoilers and body kits.  No longer is the customer "free to choose as long as it's what you're given" - customers actually have a choice.  Better still, if you don't like the Focus there are 14 other models to choose from!

If a retailer like Tesco worked like our government then they wouldn't worry about what customers actually wanted, they wouldn't provide choice. The products on offer would be just the Tesco Value range - essentially a selection of the cheapest, least attractive options that serve the masses - just.  In addition there would be a large selection of organic, vegan and soya based foods, because those customers shouted loud enough.

Want some Gruyère cheese - it's not going to happen.  Why would you want more than one choice of cheese - it's all the same.


Government is not normally subject to competitive pressures.  Other than once every 4-5 years, they don't have to worry too much about whether their customers are frustrated - they don't have a choice.  Until now.

With a hung parliament, there is no single mandate - no one size fits all.

Admittedly hung parliments don't have a great track record of success and there is no guarantee that the Tories and Liberals will be able to get an agreement. But with representation of almost 60% of the population, it will be interesting if they actually manage to form a government of the people, by the people which for once can represent the wants, needs and desires of the majority of the people.

If marketing shows us one thing, there is no success with one size fits all - it requires choice, flexibility and relevance.  Now there's manifesto i'd actually vote for.


Photo credit -Cuban Store -


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