Of course, the personality game is played out every election, but the leaders of the main political parties were put on the spot this year with the first-ever televised debates. What they demonstrated was not what their party was advocating, rather the style in which each of the leaders adopted to present themselves.
Personal branding isn’t a new thing, but if not handled with care, it can work for you or against you just as easily. Tony Blair played it beautifully and became the face of New Labour, while Winston Churchill lost power, not because of his policies, but because the public viewed him as a great wartime leader, but not as an innovator and conciliatory figure after World War II. But what was interesting, or worrying, this year was that politics appears to have changed from having the credentials to do the job to having the right personality – and style – to lead.
Rather than appoint someone as leader of a party because they are the most qualified and experienced to do the job, it appears that a key element of the decision-making process is whether the candidate has the right personality and credibility in the public eye.
It hasn’t helped that the three main parties appear to have positioned themselves in the middle of the political landscape, making it difficult for the voter to elect a party based on its manifesto. Nor has a general lack of public knowledge about who their local MP is and what they pledge to do for an area.
But all the attention around who performs the best in front of the camera has led to voters pledging allegiance to the brand of Gordon Brown, David Cameron or Nick Clegg, rather than what the individual parties actually stand for.
There seems to be a trend appearing in our political system whereby we’re moving more towards a presidential structure, where personal branding will take an ever-increasing role in the country’s political agenda and the broader policies will take a back seat. If this happens there’s a danger that style will become more important than substance.
What has been made clear to me in all this is that politics and political leaders need to heed the advice of a brand consultant and differentiate better. They need to target key audiences with key messages that are not littered with ambiguity. Just as with all good brands, political parties need to focus more on substance and communicate exactly what that substance is with flair. They need to deliver the values that their brand promises and not rely on talking a good game and hoping the public are too stupid or ignorant to notice the difference.
Jane Hughes, Business director, Tayburn, Manchester M1 2JW