Politics is just sales
Here we are in another run-up to a Manx election.
Just like with all elections the propaganda, sorry, information begins to flow.
Much as we might like to think these people are speaking from the heart, especially as being the Isle of Man we probably know them, what they are really doing is trying to make a sale.
The first thing they are selling is their ideas in exchange for your time & effort to read them.
Can they give you something which is interesting, engaging, & relevant enough for you to spend your time reading it?
The second thing they are selling is their potential as a politician.
Can they convince you that they are suitable & will achieve the things you want them to?
The final thing they are selling, & this is where politics globally falls down, is the idea that voting is worth your time & effort to do.
After all, no matter how great you think they are, if you don't then cast your vote they have failed.
But Manx politics is a rare beast because we don't have (many) political parties.
That means we get an insight into the mindset of the individual, horrifying though it might be, rather than regurgitated party politics with the odd minor change.
It also means they have limited budget caps. On average around £3-£5k.
Used wisely this is a HUGE amount for the small population areas in the Isle of Man.
Used poorly they can burn through it very quickly with little to show.
This gives an interesting opportunity.
As a copywriter one of the things I do is read & analyse other peoples' copy daily.
The goal is to break it down, understand what is effective & what isn't, how it could be improved & so on.
There are a number of structures copywriters use, & as a direct response specialist I have to know who my audience is, plus what their goals & visions of the future are. Once I know that I can pick & choose from the structures I know & have developed for specific audiences.
- Will any of the candidates have studied copywriting structures before putting pen to paper (well, hand to keyboard)?
- Will any of them have proofed or had their marketing proofed before sending it out?
- Will any of them have done surveys to judge the relevant voter's priorities?
Frankly, it doesn't matter. This isn't a school exam where you get points for showing your work!
All that matters is the end result & how likely it is to get you, dear reader, off the couch & to vote for them.
Because, if you don't vote for them, no matter how hard they fought or how proud they are of what they achieved, they have failed.
So we have a group of people, vying for your attention, with no party pinning them to certain branding, limited budgets, but with direct access to understanding their communities like rarely seen.
I'm looking for innovation, creativity, & unique & exciting marketing from them.
I'm going to be disappointed, aren't I?
How will they be judged?
First off, let's be 100% completely unambiguously clear about something.
I will in NO WAY be judging their politics.
This isn't about who is right or wrong, or how much good I think they might do the Island.
It is purely about how well they portray themselves as a candidate towards getting you to vote for them.
For most candidates over here, their main marketing piece will be a printed flyer or manifesto, so that's primarily what I will be looking at.
But, you never know.
Some might use social media. They might even use it properly...
Maybe someone will run digital adverts, or even make a video they can promote online.
There are a lot of options out there they can leverage, here's hoping some of them think out of the standard political box.
So what criteria will I be using from high on my pedestal of almighty judgmentalism?
Graphic design & Imagery
Graphic design can be used in 1 of 3 ways.
The first is the "I think this looks nice" way.
It's done because they like it, they've seen it done that way before, or they need to make it "more interesting". This appraoch can produce good results but rarely does.
The second is the deliberate distraction approach.
They know their message has no meat, or they know it is unpalatable, so they try to hide that with flashy designs & personal branding.
The third is the "enhancement" approach.
This is the goal. Where the design enhances their message, helps you to understand it, encourages you to keep working through it.
In short, think of design like salt in a recipe.
Not enough & it is bland so you'll only eat it if there is nothing better.
Too much & it kills all the other flavours making the entire meal inedible.
But get it right & it enhances the entire dish.
Spelling, punctuation & grammar.
For a direct response copywriter, this is one of the least important things.
This seems counter intuitive & entry-level copywriters always get hung up on it.
For a professional, it matters because we like breaking those rules. A deliberate misspelling here to catch your eye, the odd sentence fragment thrown in to break up your rhythm.
But, the dirty truth is we have spellcheckers & grammar checkers galore out there on the web & even us professionals use them.
Match that with the fact that some people have conditions such as dyslexia which make these skills exponentially harder, & the ability to get it right yourself every time becomes less relevant.
Plus, everyone makes mistakes that get missed & tpyos can sneak in anywhere.
The odd mistake doesn't mean someone can't do the job or you shouldn't trust them, particularly when it comes to the more nuanced & technical aspects of writing.
What it does help do is show the level of care they have taken.
- Did they rush it out last minute, or did they spend the time to get it checked?
- Do they have the self-awareness (I know, I'm asking about wannabe politicians but hey ho) to know they have a weakness & to prevent it from creating an issue?
- Do they really think about how you, their prospect, the potential voter, understand & engage with your message?
In short, is there a lot wrong which would have been picked up by anyone taking care, or are there a couple of minor ones which most people wouldn't notice?
Is it about the reader, or is it about the writer?
People like to talk about themselves.
People who like power & authority like to talk about themselves more than most.
But, getting a vote isn't about the candidate, it's about how the potential voter feels the candidate could improve their life.
In these pieces, I will be looking heavily at how much the candidate talks about themselves vs how much they talk about the voter, specifically the voter reading the piece.
This part also covers how well they tailor it to the demographic they are talking to.
Do they have a niche audience with which they can engage at a personal level, or do they go for the generic policies that everyone agrees with, but don't create much connection.
The easiest way to spot this is how often they use "I" vs how often they use "we" & "you".
Features vs Benefits Vs Emotion
In sales, everyone starts off talking about features. Some always stay that way.
They feature dump every possible fact about the thing they are selling.
In this case, it might be "I've asked X questions in Keys, raised Y changes to Bills, had 20 letters of recommendation from people that I should stand".
That kind of thing.
If you find yourself reading it & asking "So what? Why does it matter to me?" then chances are it's a feature.
In short, it's boring & doesn't encourage you to keep reading or to care about the person writing it.
Then comes benefits.
This is a bit better & focuses on why a person would want a feature.
"You want Y to happen, I've done X to try & make it."
This helps you understand why what they are doing might matter to you, but it still doesn't drive you to take action.
Emotions drive you to take an action.
If a writer or speaker can trigger your emotions, your logical brain will rationalise it after the fact.
This is what we are looking for from the candidates.
Understanding the emotions of their potential voters, their fears & desires, then speaking to that directly.
This is the most challenging part of any piece of copy, & it is the part that far & away matters more than any other.
If they can trigger your emotions correctly you will feel compelled to vote for them &, just as importantly, you will feel compelled to try & get others to vote for them.
One key area this shows in, is when an individual is a member of a group they are trying to appeal to, particularly within a group that faces oppression or bigotry.
They have felt those emotions themselves, so this is one of the times they can speak from the heart so that other people within that group will have empathy with their experience.
That's not to say you can't use emotion while talking to people outside of your own "group", it just means that doing so requires a lot of finesses & control.
As an example, with the IOM's first Pride festival (finally) happening over here this year, LGBTQ+ rights are likely to be a common topic.
How candidates outside of that group handle the topic should be very different to how candidates inside it handle it, & I wouldn't be surprised to see some get the tone wrong.
The call to action.
How they get you to do the thing they want you to do.
If they have done everything else right the CTA is relatively simple, it just has to be obvious enough.
But the weaker the rest of the message, the stronger the CTA has to be.
Either way, getting the CTA wrong can completely undo all the hard work put in up to that point.
The final aspect is how well the entire piece of sales/marketing/copy flows.
There's a saying in copywriting
The purpose of the first line is to get you to read the second. The purpose of the second line is to get you to read the third.
All the way down, until the final line where the only point is to get you to click the CTA.
So, does it read well overall?
Do you want to keep reading or are there breaks that force you to stop & look around, or think what to do next, creating points for you to get distracted?
This is particularly true in digital media as the internet is a damn distracting place & there are always other tabs to open or other things to scroll to.
There you go, that's the basics of how to analyse a piece of marketing copy.
Rather than pick a single piece of candidate marketing (& so to avoid showing favour for/against anyone in particular) I will do them in sets as I find them.
If you are a candidate reading this & I've said something you disagree with, feel free to comment on LinkedIn or Facebook under the relevant post!