How to Sell the Labour Brand

Inauthentic, patronising and guaranteed to alienate everyone. Labour’s leaked strategy shows they don’t understand the basics of selling.

British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer speaks to members of the media, in London, Britain January 10, 2021. REUTERS/Simon Dawson
British Labour Party leader Keir Starmer speaks to members of the media, in London, Britain January 10, 2021. REUTERS/Simon Dawson
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LONDON (Labour Buzz) - A leaked strategy presentation has caused embarrassment for Starmer this week. Labour supporters are busy tearing each other to pieces on Twitter and Tories are having a right old giggle. The news that Starmer plans to win back disaffected voters by hugging the union jack has seen him take flak from every direction. 

For many, this is a question of idealism. They want a Labour leader who embraces their values. Fair enough. However, Starmer’s team would reply they are in the cold hard business of winning votes. However, even from that cynical perspective, this sucks. 

As a content writer, I often find myself working on sales copy for all sorts of companies (don’t look at me like that, the kids need shoes). One of the first things you’d tell your clients is that good sales copy fulfils the following criteria. First, identify their pain points; second, show how you’ll solve them and third, be authentic. 

The vision set out in that leaked meeting falls down on every point. It’s bland, says nothing about challenges people face and is about as authentic as Donald Trump’s tan. Worse still, it ignores a basic truth: Labour have a product people buy. They just aren’t selling it very well. 

Hit the pain points

To sell your product you need to show your customers that it’s going to solve their problems and cure their pain. The good news from a marketer’s perspective is that there’s a lot of pain to go around, and most of it is the fault of the government. 

As Britons, most of us are in a similar boat. We may come from the north or south, lean left or right; vote remain or vote Brexit, we are all united by the same mess. 

Work is less secure. The cost of living is rising and rent is going up faster than wages. We are worried about whether our jobs will be there this time next month, let alone this time next year.  

The figures are stark. One in three children are in poverty. Two-thirds of people struggle to make ends meet. The vast majority of us are one missed paycheque away from disaster. 

All of this is making people angry and they are right to be. The economy is rigged. They play by the rules and still pay the penalty. Being employed is not always enough to stay out of poverty. This is the world the Tories have built and it’s not pleasant.  

Show them how you’ll solve it

Labour should be showing people that they understand those challenges and have the policies to five them. By accident or design, they did this very well during the 2017 election. Every morning, people taking their kids on the school run would hear news bulletins detailing a new Labour policy which would make their lives a little bit better. 

They energised the young and brought people to the polls who usually stayed away. Then they lost the plot. 

In 2019 they had plenty of policies. Some of them were good, but they had little connection to those ‘pain points’ people were feeling. Rebecca Long-Bailey hit the nail on the head in an interview with LBC’s Iain Dale. 

“One of the things we fell down on during the election,” she explained. “Was that inability to articulate what our policies would do for people’s lives…. When we go into another general election, we’ve got to have that message talk to the people and show them that we are the party which is about raising their aspiration their aspirations.”

The Tories understood many of the pain points too. They did what establishment parties always do when they want to distract from their own failings: they lied, divided and scapegoated. What those focus groups show is that it worked. People were parroting messaging almost verbatim messaging which had been piped from the Daily Mail and the Sun. Labour were not patriotic, they were concerned about immigrants and not ordinary people. If you’re a Conservative spin doctor, you should be looking at those and feeling very pleased with yourself.

Selling socialism 

Starmer’s response has been to try and articulate a more positive version of patriotism. He wants Britain to be the ‘best place to be born and the best place to grow up in’. That’s fine, but it has to be followed up with something concrete. So far that’s been missing. On racism, healthcare, austerity, Brexit, poverty and justice he’s gone missing. Abstain has become the watchword of the day.

He is, in the words of one Twitter user, like someone who has been asked if he ‘would f*** the Queen but is terrified of both answers.’

He shouldn’t be so nervous. The current market should be pretty ripe for Labour. Most people want urgent action on climate change; they want help for the poor and believe the rich should pay more tax. We are, in other words, becoming a nation of closet Corbynites. We just don’t realise it. Even a majority of conservatives would like to nationalise the railway. Labour’s policies are, whisper it, popular.

America shows the way forward. Despite adopting the most moderate of candidates, the Democrats failed to persuade many Republicans to jump the fence. Trump secured an even higher proportion of registered Republicans than he did in 2016. 

Instead, he won by adopting policies which were both progressive and popular. A massive ground campaign helped him maximise the vote among people who hadn’t turned up before. Never before has any candidate attracted more votes. The result is one of the most left-leaning US administrations in history.

Labour are currently doing the opposite. They are ignoring their own base in the hope of appealing to people who, the experience of America shows, are unlikely to vote for them. In marketing, this never works. It’s like a vegan restaurant trying to promote itself at a game fair. 

The leaked proposal shows Starmer’s team don’t really understand the people they are trying to sell to. They feel that pandering to their prejudice and clutching a flag will score them points. However, it makes them look indecisive, patronising and insincere. 

Instead, he needs a bit more faith in his product. If he can show them that Labour understands their challenges, and has policies to solve them, he will have more luck. 

The product is good. Labour, as ever, just aren’t selling it very well.

(Written by Tom Cropper, edited by Klaudia Fior)

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