For the last month, we have been speaking to 400 people in the UK to develop a more human perspective on the challenges facing the British public in the run up to the UK General Election.
Through our Speak Up Britain community, we heard that British politicians & political parties are akin to utility providers. Much like with a mobile phone provider or an energy network, as long as things are working well enough we tend to ignore the how’s & when’s & why’s of it all. We only truly engage when something goes seriously wrong – or when we can grasp that opportunity to find a new supplier.
In this election, voters are aligning themselves with the parties who provide the greatest levels of utility – not necessarily the parties who are most ideologically aligned to their beliefs. Because ultimately, the electorate are looking for reassurance & security. This conflict of ideologies is driving indecision.
We’re taught to believe that the parties with the strongest policies wins – the candidate who best represents ‘people like me’ wins. Customers like to buy from brands who make them feel smart & proud. But from what we have seen and heard, this sense of emotional validation hasn’t materialized at scale, for British voters in this election. At a national level, each party comes with a compromise. There’s no ‘best’ choice.
In the shadows of Brexit, we want to know that everything is going to be okay (regardless of whether we voted leave or remain). We want to know that things won’t go wrong – and we’re struggling to determine which party offers the greatest security.
As Dave from Southampton puts it: “In all honesty, I don't feel that I connect with the leader or spirit of any of the major parties this time around. I see this election as being all about voting for the ‘least worst’ when it should be about getting behind the candidate who I feel is ‘the best.’”
A big part of the challenge is that the electorate aren’t sure who to trust.
Britons understand that the media have an agenda & trust is low – but we rely almost exclusively on this channel to form our opinions, turning to the publications that are most likely to reaffirm our existing views. And at the same time, we don’t trust the politicians either. A whole range of challenging issues, from duck house expenses, through to Junior Doctor strikes have undermined our belief in the abilities of the individuals in power.
So, trust is low and stakes are high.
This is compounded by a sense that our engagement with politics is momentary. On the streets in Plymouth, one non-voter explained: “They promise you everything when they want you to vote. They say what they’re going to do – but when they’re in, they don’t do it… When do you see them? From Exeter down they forget that we exist.”
This is expressed in different ways nationwide, regardless of how far you live from Exeter. This is a poor customer experience. It’s a one-way transaction: it’s not genuinely engaging. The same pain point is expressed by voters & non-voters alike.
So what can British politics learn from the world’s leading brands?
As our research, CQ, has shown repeatedly, the brands who succeed, engage customers in an open and genuinely interesting dialogue. Open engagement isn’t momentary - it has to be on going for it to become meaningful. When it does become meaningful, we know that engagement drives trust, loyalty and ultimately, advocacy. This is as true for prospective parliamentary candidates as it is for brands.
Turns out, the way you choose your energy provider, and the way you choose your government might be more similar than you think.