Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Let's hope the conference is better than the slogan

"A new politics for Britain", the official slogan for the Liberal Democrats’ spring conference, has been bugging me for weeks.

A slogan is supposed to leave the brand’s key message in the mind of the target audience. But this one breaks nearly all the rules. It isn’t memorable. Nor is it campaignable. How many FOCUS leaflets will this appear on?!

It doesn’t impart positive feelings for the party. One reason is that it uses the dreaded word “politics”.

This slogan isn’t particularly original: I’m sure I’ve heard it somewhere before and David Cameron is saying it too, though not as a slogan. Many voters, if they every see it, will say “so what” or “oh yeah”?

Then we have to ask ourselves, what does “a new politics for Britain” really mean? It may be about the Liberal Democrats’ proposals for reforming UK governance. But we worked out years ago that while those may be right, they don’t have much political impact.

Promising a better sort of politics slams into a big wall: you are talking about how you do politics rather than the results; means not ends. We know what most people are more interested in. As the American pollster and strategist Frank Luntz says:

“Political messages should emphasise bottom line results, not process.”
[Words that Work (2007)]

I can’t see how the slogan fits into a strategy to strengthen the Lib Dem brand or tell a story about us. The party does not seem to be majoring on political reform as a big issue (see above). Maybe that will change at the conference. And yet the main policy paper to be discussed is about health.

My real concern though is about the party may still be stuck trying to sell a “product” rather than engaging with what the voters are thinking about and feeling and, in big, almost emotional terms, what they want and expect from the Liberal Democrats. If we’re serious about having a political narrative that works, we need to listen to Stephen Denning, the guru of storytelling.

If leaders are going to have any success in prompting the audience to discover [a] new story and imagine a different kind of future, they first need to understand the current story that their listeners are living.
[The Secret Language of Leadership (2007)]

By this standard, a conference slogan of years past, “putting people first”, might be a better bet. So might “free, fair and green”, which is saying something.

Or have I missed something?

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