Political parties need to talk our dreams and address our fears


It always amazes me how much time political parties devote to other parties. It is not as if we would think that they support or admire their competitor, and it’s not as if their view of their nemesis is likely to convince us of anything.

What would convince us, however, is if they would remember that we are in the room and that we are very concerned about our future. If they could talk our dreams, address our fears and our aspirations, if they focused on us rather than themselves or their competitors, they would increase their chances of success.

If I were asked to create a marketing plan for our political parties, this is what I would do. I would begin by encouraging them to accept that they are not the hero of the story. I would do my best to persuade them that they are the guide to the hero. And that they exist to fulfil the dreams of their voters.

It sounds so simple, obvious and logical. Yet it is one of the most difficult things to achieve, not only with political parties, but also with companies who are trying to market a product or service. The reason is that it is often assumed that the customers “need” to be shown how brilliant the company is. It is assumed that the “target” needs to have a deep understanding of the company, their journey and their approach to everything, including fossil fuel. But they don’t.

Consider this well-known example. A person is looking for a ride from Johannesburg to Cape Town. He is willing to pay his share. Several travelers who are about to take on the drive in any event, would like him to ride with them to save costs.

Car number one drives up to the curb to convince him and says: “Let me tell you how I learned to drive.” and then proceeds to recount a story from 1993. Driver two chooses to talk about his car, where he bought it and how fast it goes; and driver three spends 15 minutes talking about his Spotify play list. Finally, driver four pulls up to the curb. He rolls down his window, leans out and says: “I am going to Cape Town. Leaving now. Will get there by dinner. Join me?” And so, he does.

Because none of the drivers had even mentioned where they were going. They did not address the basic need of the traveler.

In many cases a customer is spoiled for choice. If for example, someone needs to purchase a smart phone, their basic need, namely to make calls, surf the internet and load their “apps”, can easily be met by multiple products. This is why Apple very early on, adopted a strategy to sell us status. Many phones might do what the iPhone does, but people choose the iPhone over and over because it talks to an internal need that talks to the aspiration of social status.

Apple sells us a dream of something better. They don’t devote time with us to saying disparaging things about Samsung. They sell us hope, positivity and the dream of better.

What does this have to do with political parties ahead of the elections? The mistake that they are making, is not uncommon. The temptation for any company or party trying to market themselves, is to make themselves the hero of the story. They elevate themselves by pointing out the fault in others and they give us way more information than we need.

Much like the traveler looking for a lift, South Africans need to be told by the political parties where they are going and when they intend getting there. They need to hear their vision of what can be and they need to establish a fan base that will replace their current phone with a new model of the same brand.

Political parties looking to gain support, need to reduce the noise and the negativity. They need to stop squabbling with each other and need to remember that we are in the room. Talk to us. Invite us on the journey. And make us excited to travel together. Because the destination is well worth the effort.