Archie Heaton: why flagging Labour needs to take a leaf out of the marketing textbook

The UK’s Labour Party (12 years in opposition now) has something much worse than a policy problem; it has a marketing problem.

This week, one of the architects of New Labour – an unsurprisingly dissatisfied Lord Mandelson (left) – called for a policy review, hoping to rebuild the rather shaky platform upon which the party is currently perched. However, this well-intentioned call for action overlooks the most glaringly obvious issue that must be overcome first – Labour’s communication problem. In short, the message matters little if you can’t deliver it.

Currently, the party’s inability to express a point-of-view to the electorate means that any policies they develop, however well crafted, are likely to remain embarrassingly impotent. Until he has won back the ear of the British public, what leader Kier Starmer says will remain an irrelevance.

The situation is even more frustrating when the rudimental nature of what is being asked of Europe’s biggest political party is considered. At its heart, marketing is simply the distillation of a message, routed in a cultural context, and then repeated. Over, and over, and over again. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling shoes for Nike, phones for Apple, or Brexit for Domnic Cummings, the job of a marketer is to write and then repeat these rhythmic calls to action. Just Do It (and buy our trainers). Think Different (by working on a Mac). Take Back Control (and vote Leave).

Yet, in contrast to the New Labour gospel choir that Alistair Campbell conducted, the current party can’t even stick to the same message. Even the simple instruction to call the Prime Minster by his surname, rather than his media caricature ‘Boris,’ appears to be a step too far for most MPs. And, while Keir Starmer has managed to stay on message this week, he’s unfortunately chosen the least sexy message in British political history – a call for a public inquiry into Covid-19.

At a time when the government is seizing control of a Labour council for corruption whilst funnelling billions in Covid contracts through their ‘old boys’ network,’ and whose new anti-riot bill actually managed to incite a riot, this is far from the rallying war cry one would expect from a competent opposition.

If Labour want to win an election anytime soon, then policy – the political product so to speak – is the least of their worries. The world is full of countless companies selling inferior products and services, it’s full of very few doing so with inferior marketing and communications. Its full of even fewer political parties with this particular failing.

Archie Heaton is a brand consultant.

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