Branding a political party
“Change we can believe in…Yes We Can” Very few people will forget Barak Obama’s first presidential campaign in 2008. Regardless of your political leanings, he electrified the world and heightened political...
“change we can believe in…yes we can”
very few people will forget barak obama’s first presidential campaign in 2008. regardless of your political leanings, he electrified the world and heightened political awareness to levels not seen since john f kennedy’s campaign.
and it was all about the brand. arguably one of the most successful political brands in history. it was simple, reassuring and centred on a clear message of ‘hope’. supported by a sophisticated marketing campaign that was straight out of the business playbook, obama became one of the world’s most recognised people. seemingly overnight.
last year, i remembered all this watching the television news one evening. act’s mp and party leader, david seymour, was giving a speech saying that his party was rebranding. as a voter who sits in the middle of the political spectrum, it got me wondering about what was the act brand? what did they stand for and why, with polls having them at 1%, was this twenty-year plus old party not resonating with the electorate?
naturally, this curiosity led me to call david and so insight creative’s association with rebranding act began.
as i suspected, act had found themselves in a position where the electorate was indeed not sure what act stood for. and even if they did, people were just not listening to the messages. our challenge was pretty clear and not dissimilar to the business and government agency challenges we regularly worked on. it was about discovering a clear expression of what act stood for, define who that would appeal to (and why) and then finally, work out how that would translate to electoral success.
much like any brand to succeed, we knew that act had to be genuine. without that, it couldn’t be trusted. our research uncovered consistent messages and actions over their entire political existence. nearly all of those originated from a position of profoundly caring about new zealand and its people. the findings were also at odds with the perception that act was a party ‘for grumpy old white, rich men’.
the overarching message though, was that act stood for personal freedom. this was the founding principle that their brand promise was built upon, but had been lost at some stage. it was also a position that would resonate with people who wanted less government intrusion in their lives and who took responsibility for their futures – in their family, their workplace and communities.
knowing that, we also considered changing the party’s name. but this is as sensitive a debate in political branding as in any commercial activity. would the new name get enough recognition widely and quickly enough? will the party lose all the brand equity it had built up over 20-plus years? would a new name isolate those faithful to the brand, causing them to move elsewhere?
these were all considered questions as we then designed the options that would bring the act brand promise of freedom back to the fore. each iteration was then sense-checked against our criteria for a what a successful political brand had to do:
was the message simple and clear?
was the brand promise unique?
would the electorate be reassured by the brand?
does the brand create aspiration among voters?
would the brand be credible and genuine by delivering?
the end result was a modern, impactful reiteration of what act have always stood for. we were also able to shift ‘act’ from being an acronym to a dynamic verb able to carry a myriad of policy positions. again, in a simple, unique way that would be credible with their brand promise.
in a time when political deliverables and transparency were promised but are absent, it will be intriguing to see how act’s brand promise will resonate with the electorate in 2020.act, act party, political branding, insight creative
Is authenticity real?
I recently attended the Digital Day Out (DDO) and noted that pretty much every speaker spoke about the need to be authentic. Speakers included a Google exec, a panel of social influencers, an AR/VR specialist and an...
i recently attended the digital day out (ddo) and noted that pretty much every speaker spoke about the need to be authentic. speakers included a google exec, a panel of social influencers, an ar/vr specialist and an online e-sports gaming marketer. i couldn’t help but laugh at the irony of a whole bunch of people making money by distorting reality espousing the virtues of authenticity. it made me question my own interpretation of what authenticity is.
i’d forgotten all about it until a couple of days ago when i saw ecostore was awarded nz’s most authentic brand. they are a company i admire – and genuinely think are authentic. and that’s not just because we were part of the team that launched the brand from niche category to mass marketing.
for me, being authentic is about being clear about what you stand for (beyond making money) and consistently speaking and acting in a way that reinforces this position. i find brands like whitaker’s, kathmandu and air new zealand highly authentic because every experience i have with them reinforces what i know they believe in. it’s not just about supporting good causes but delivering consistent brand experiences.
when dove began its campaign for real beauty in 2004 it transformed from a commercial soap-seller to a company with a strong social vision - “beauty should be a source of confidence and not anxiety.” by consistently aligning its marketing efforts with this vision, dove has truly championed women’s empowerment. the sustained effort and resources dove have consistently put into changing the advertising industry’s view of beauty has made them genuine and credible. as a result, people listen, believe and buy from them with confidence.
one of the ddo speakers referenced patagonia, a company i’d heard of but wasn’t fully up to speed with. patagonia is committed to building the best products, causing no unnecessary harm, using business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. this informs everything they do. it comes through in their product design, manufacturing practices, culture, company fleet, energy choices, labour policies and their communications. so when we see it in their ad campaigns we know they really mean it. they’ve become my new favourite company to follow.
i’ve worked with the mercury team for about seven years now and they are another company who said the right things but didn’t always act in a consistent way. the rebrand three years ago created a new mission and a shared vision. we see it in everything they do now. from the focus on renewable generation, to the promotion of electric vehicles, to customer offers, to staff engagement programmes, right through to their new office environment and creating wonderful experiences for their customers. they’re a company who are quickly moving up my list of authentic brands and will, without a doubt, be up with ecostore in the awards in the next year or two.
on the other side, while everyone is pointing to nike’s applauded colin kaepernick ad as an example of authentic, i find it somewhat disingenuous (though i support colin’s stand). firstly, because they are using the cause so blatantly for commercial gain and secondly because it still doesn’t align with my perception of their global practices. i know the underage child sweatshops are gone but i still need to see a string of ‘good behaviour’ stories before i start believing in a genuine social purpose behind their messages.
'authentic' is fundamentally walking the talk. so if this is all about being true to what you stand for, then the ddo influencers, the kardashians and even donald trump can be as authentic as ecostore, dove and patagonia. who cares how manufactured what they stand for is, as long as they do it consistently! i get that but i also suspect that it’s more than just my interpretation of authenticity that is a little bit fake here.
so if this is all about being true to what you stand for, then the ddo influencers, the kardashians and even donald trump can be as authentic as ecostore, dove and patagonia.
is authenticity just about being true to yourself, consistently? or is it about genuinely thinking good thoughts and being true to that in your behaviour and communication?
can you manufacture authenticity and call that authenticity?
is authenticity an admirable quality when you really think about it?authenticity, authentic brands
The strategy of design
We describe ourselves as a strategic-creative agency. This leads to the obvious question, what is it? You just design stuff, right? Strategic-creative is about how we go about making sure that the stuff we create is...
we describe ourselves as a strategic-creative agency. this leads to the obvious question, what is it? you just design stuff, right? strategic-creative is about how we go about making sure that the stuff we create is fit for purpose and delivers results for our clients.
strategy in the design world is very different to strategy in a military, corporate or even advertising world. what they have in common is that sense of thinking about where we are now, where we want to be and making a plan to get there. here’s a quick run-down on how a design agency strategist fits into the design process.
understanding of the brief
finding a great solution starts by understanding the real problem to be solved. a strategist engages the client, asks lots of why questions and listens in order to really understand what is needed. how does this brief align with the value drivers and the business, brand and marketing plans? what will success look like and how will we measure it? a well-defined problem is critical to helping the team come up with a well-conceived solution.
- audiences. a strategist defines the target audience, their needs and motivators and what their current behaviours and perceptions are. this clarity helps everyone on a project focus on what journey we need to take the audience on. audience insights mostly come from research – either directly by talking to them or through secondary sources. often it comes from a long-held appreciation of human psychology, group dynamics and organisational behaviour.
- frameworks. there are a number of proven best-practice models that define core communication processes like engagement, decision-making and purchase. a good strategist knows when and how to apply these frameworks to different briefs in order to move audiences towards the desired outcomes.
- positioning. working closely with the designer, the strategist helps define how something should be positioned in the eyes of audiences through its messaging, tone and visual language. this positioning allows a differentiated market offer that aligns closely with the audience needs and motivators.
- channel/medium selection. good thinking and design is pointless if it doesn’t reach and/or register with audiences. the strategist works with the designer to identify the best way to get to audiences, and what mediums work best.
- creative development. as we move into design, the designer takes lead on the creative process. the strategist plays a supporting role, helping identify and evaluate design ideas and approaches. they review designs and provide feedback to help improve single-mindedness, effectiveness and strategic alignment with the brief and audience needs.
- selling ideas. rarely do clients buy into an idea just because it’s a thing of beauty. mostly they chose it because they can see its potential to solve their problem or realise an opportunity. the strategist works closely with the design team to sell-in an idea to the client by highlighting how it will deliver the results they need.
strategic-creative is both a mindset and a process, ensuring that the discipline of being creative to a brief is geared towards achieving the right outcomes. strategy-creative equals better design – but i would say that, i’m a strategist.creative, strategy, strategic creative, insight creative
Learning in disruption
As our first significant piece of work with Victoria University of Wellington – the undergraduate recruitment campaign for 2019 – hits the market, I have a chance to reflect on everything I’ve learnt about the...
as our first significant piece of work with victoria university of wellington – the undergraduate recruitment campaign for 2019 – hits the market, i have a chance to reflect on everything i’ve learnt about the higher-education sector in the last six months.
i knew it was a sector in change but hadn’t fully realised the extent of the disruption that universities face and how it will fundamentally change everything they say, do and stand for. building long-lasting communication programmes in this dynamic environment requires bravery, a desire to keep adapting and the on-going questioning of your reason for being.
the rear view mirror
historically, universities have been the centre of knowledge and exploration. the place for critical thinkers to advance their wisdom and understanding for the benefit of all mankind. like the church and government, universities have held a central role in society as a voice for what is right, and what direction we should take. as a pillar of modern civilisation, it’s not a coincidence that the traditional university is characterised by large, solid, classically inspired buildings erected on stable foundations.
for centuries a university education has been seen as the pinnacle of higher learning. despite being free for many, it’s always been seen as highly valuable. parents worked hard to send their kids to university, believing they were setting them up for life. a degree enhanced your social standing, perception of your worth and desirability and was (almost) a guarantee of employment.
in a rapidly changing world, the role of the university has also evolved. most universities, including those in new zealand, have experienced declining numbers, particularly at undergraduate level. primarily, this is a demographic shift with lower post-baby boomer birth rates and the delay in having children. each year the pool of year 13s available is declining, meaning the competition to attract them is growing.
there is also a plethora of other higher-learning options available to students. historically, a university degree was the primary option, with polytechnics and other skills-based institutions seen as lesser alternatives. with new accredited learning organisations, and more diverse qualifications being credited as degrees, a world of study possibilities is now available to students.
and affordability has moved to the forefront of student thinking as the cost of a degree, and the university lifestyle, have skyrocketed. without the certainty of gaining employment, coupled with the change in long-term employment patterns, students are questioning the wisdom of taking on student debt. the financial burden of repayment and the impact on lifestyle, has made the roi debatable for many, although the new government's free year of study may readdress this equation.
maybe the single biggest change though is relevance. students don’t see a university education as necessary as it once was. with technology, all the knowledge in the world is at their finger-tips and being lectured on it seems pointless. their perception of success and career also differs from previous generations and today’s students don’t see a degree as the only way to succeed. entrepreneurial mindsets and innovation are the new career currency as students think more about how to change the past than how to apply it.
maybe the single biggest change though is relevance. students don’t see a university education as necessary as it once was
even employers are placing less value on university qualifications. a degree represented a ‘quality mark’ that helped weed out the good prospects. it now signifies an ability to learn knowledge rather than an ability to think and apply. employers are looking for skills that align with the dynamic reality they face. they seek employees ready to challenge convention, adapt, collaborate and work more flexibly.
to be fair, universities haven’t sat back and done nothing. they’ve felt the water heating around them and have looked to change, albeit slowly. local universities have successfully leveraged new zealand’s ‘safe, clean and livable’ reputation and our standing as having many of the world’s top 1% of learning institutions to attract international students. this has helped boost student numbers and helped plug the funding gap.
reaching a wider and more diverse audience through technology has also seen most universities embrace online learning. massive open online courses (moocs) are now common across the sector, offered by new and traditional players. just last year, coventry university launched 50 online degrees which are equivalent to the courses they offer on campus. harvard launched their remote learning extension school in partnerships with a number of international universities.
massive open online courses are now common across the sector
universities are also starting to promote the experience of going to university alongside the quality of the programme or the qualifications students can gain. university learning is more than academic, it's a life-changing rite of passage. this is an advantage on-line offerings struggle to compete with and a proposition that appeals to both international and domestic students. this focus on intangible ‘life value’ continues to attract students and has seen a positive impact on student numbers for many universities, otago university being the obvious example.
being ‘employment ready’ is probably the single biggest mind-shift that universities have made. students want this, so do employers, and tertiary institutions have responded. at one extreme this means incorporating technology like google glass, virtual reality and ai into the curriculum to help student learn the tools of their future jobs. at the other end, it means making the learning more hands-on, vocational based, by working with industry to create job-skills and real problem-solving experiences.
the disruption we’ve experienced over the 25 years since i was at university is nothing compared to the changes that will happen in the next 25. universities need to think about how they will continue to adapt and evolve as their role changes. and that’s difficult to do given the rate of change and the uncertainty of what the future holds.
we hear a lot about the acceleration of technology and universities will feel the full impact of this. automation and the rise of artificial intelligence will lead this transformation. a study completed by pwc called how ready is university to embrace the future? highlights the urgency of the situation – raising the possibility that the organisations many see as dinosaurs will end up extinct unless they evolve.
a university of oxford report on the future of employment argued that 50% of us jobs are at risk of technological advancement that will severely impact the need for them. already machines are running production lines, solving complex engineering challenges, providing legal advice and diagnosing medical conditions. universities taught people to do this work, but the future may mean teaching them to intelligent machines or, at the very least, teaching a small number of people how to programme and populate the machines.
this once dominant role of universities will be further depleted as the digital-era further pervades all aspects of life. but technology will also be an enabler for universities by removing the physical and geographic boundaries that once constrained them. those universities that embrace technology can reach anyone, anywhere in the world, not just those who live nearby or have the means and willingness to move to the same location as the university.
those universities that embrace technology can reach anyone, anywhere in the world
this global reach of education requires universities to think and act more globally, trading on the quality of their programme offer. already we see universities offering course from other universities, creating the possibility of an institution becoming a gateway for students to create their own learning programme and qualifications, choosing from a variety of the best courses and schools offered anywhere in the world.
a new model
beyond technology there are a number of social, demographic and environment changes expected to further impact the university offer. the traditional university model that has remained unchanged for hundreds of years will become radically different. the obvious move is a shift away from fixed time and process to a ‘fixed outcomes’ approach favoured by our information economy. this will drive new funding models, with ‘pay for performance’ structures already becoming even more prevalent, especially in research.
institutions will need to become much more agile to appeal to the needs of a hugely diverse target audience wanting a personalised and inclusive experience. this may see many more new courses and support services offered and a more holistic approach to student life and well-being.
the distinction between physical and digital will become blurred as the educational experience incorporates both. students who have the money and access will be able to make active decisions about what, how and when they move between online and physical interaction with a learning institution. this requires a repositioning of the physical offer, delivering a higher-value experience, that incorporates a strong sense of place.
the distinction between physical and digital will become blurred as the educational experience incorporates both
many large global organisations are already creating their own in-house universities, populating them with courses from some of the best schools in the world. the expectation is that this trend towards skills and vocation will continue, with employers asking universities to tailor specific programmes to them. this requires a significant focus shift, away from supply-side – what we teach – to demand-side outcomes - what students need to learn and be able to do.
another trend that’s already emerging is cross- and inter-disciplinary programmes. traditionally the different faculties within a university didn’t work well together. the new model, tailored to a wider audience who want tailored choices, will see programmes that span across faculties, allowing students to combine the things they are passionate about with the career-learning they require.
up for the challenge
with all these drivers of change, i see the university of the future as being global, 24/7, focused on learning rather than teaching, offering students a completely tailored and holistic experience as and where they want it – on-line, physical and a combination of both.
i love a challenge and the dynamic universities environment definitely offers this. like many organisations, victoria is having to revisit how they position themselves and how they speak to the changing make-up and needs of their audience. they’re ready to adapt and well-placed to do things differently. it’s an exciting time and i am excited to be able to make my small contribution to their thinking, their positioning and their communications.universities, education, disruption, tertiary education, changes in tertiary education