What businesses need to learn from Nigel Farage*
I want to make it clear that I do not endorse any of UKIP’s policies (or those of any other political party) but I am fascinated by how this party was so successful in last week’s EU elections.
Targeting their market
Nigel Farage, the leader (I use the word very advisedly—it’s what other people call him) of UKIP (the United Kingdom Independence Party), understands that you need to identify your target market and then communicate with it in ways that the people in that market respond to. The messages have to be clear, unambiguous and compelling to their intended audience.
It doesn’t matter if people not in the target market don’t agree with the messages, don’t like them, possible even find them offensive. All the time that the messages are legally compliant, these are—obviously—the best messages.
Of course, you have to communicate these messages well. This is why other ‘one issue’ parties in the UK don’t have much success (as measured by the number of votes cast): they can’t communicate as well.
In the closing days of the UK EU elections, Mr Farage notoriously commented that he wouldn’t like to live next door to Romanians in Britain. When the media exploded in a fury of righteous indignation, we then had several days of Mr Farage apparently “backtracking” and admitting that he might have been a little “tired” when he said it [Guardian]. My suggestions are that:
(1) Farage know exactly what he was saying and how well it would go down with the people he wanted to stay in contact with
(2) On the principle that all publicity is good publicity, Farage then milked it for all it was worth, presumably for the amusement of his supporters and the added benefit of keeping his profile high in the eyes of undecided voters.
The larger parties may (and I’ll return to this below) be able to communicate well—or, at least, in a sophisticated way. But they are paralysed by the scarcity model in which, like all political parties, they are trapped.
These larger parties cannot bear the idea that there is even one citizen who, if only the politicians had communicated differently would have voted for them but, at the ballot box, didn’t. So they create messages which seek to appeal to every elector. As a result these messages are bland to the point of meaninglessness.
Lesson 1: Businesses need to let go of their fear that they might lose money if they are specific about what they do and who they are looking to help. Yes, they will lose the attention of some people but these people were never going to be clients, anyway.
Communicating with emotions
The second thing which UKIP did well, and which the major parties are completely hopeless at, is speak in emotional terms. This is very unfortunate because people make decisions when they are in their emotions.
The bigger parties don’t do this, I believe, because:
- an ignorance of basic psychology and an insistence that, because they are important politicians, if they believe something they must be right about it
- frankly, and based on every appearance that I have seen in the media of the “leaders” (I use the word very advisedly) and their immediate subordinates, the failure of Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband to express themselves emotionally or to engage with other people emotionally (and saying you are doing it is not doing it).
When Farage lamented that he “felt awkward” on a train journey because so many of the voices around him in the carriage were not speaking English he was (a) telling a story—always a good way to get the listeners into their emotions—and (b) recounting his feelings: he was being the ”man in the street”, a role which completely eludes those in charge of the bigger parties.
When Cameron or Clegg or whoever are telling their stories, there is an air of falseness: (a) it is usually about them (the politician) meeting the elector, not about them (the individual) and (b) the stories have an air of being manufactured by spin doctors.
I am not saying that Farage’s stories aren’t—I would put good money on a bet that the train story isn’t even true **—but he does it better.
Lesson 2: Businesses need to understand that rational discussion of what they do will not bring many clients on. It is necessary to tell stories about how you helped others resolve their problems (different stories to those of politicians, of course).
At the end of the day, I do urge small business to have the singleminded clarity that Farage clearly has.
It works. In 2014, UKIP had more votes (just) than any other party at 27.5%, and gained 24 seats. In 2009 UKIP had come a poor second to the Conservatives, gaining 16.5% of the votes and 13 seats, half those of the Conservatives.
* For my continental and international readers, Nigel Farage is the head of the UK Independence Party, a single interest political party (the single interest being the exit of the UK from the European Union), who seems to wield an autocratic hand over the party’s members. He is clearly a consummate politician, particularly good at playing the man in the street—and, do you know, I think to a degree he is that man; which, in itself, positions him advantageously against the “leaders” (once again, I use the term advisedly) of the bigger UK parties.
** website of a residents’ group local to Farage’s train journey.