Yesterday’s post from Mat talked about how the parties and their leaders have used brand to influence the electorate. For the second post in our series, I have decided to look at loyalty, how customer loyalty and political loyalty are related, and what the parties can learn from the concepts of loyalty and customer retention. What can David Cameron do in the future to ensure that his recently gained voters stay with the Conservatives?

It is regularly said that ‘It costs as much as six times more to get a new customer than to keep an old one’ – can the same be said of a voter? Is the contrast even more stark perhaps? The amounts raised by the big parties this year may indicate an awareness of this idea as they search for the voters they need
So how is loyalty a useful concept for a party?

When we discuss customer loyalty, we often talk about how loyalty is an illusion – difficult to define, and as a result not as useful a concept as customer experience. But many of the issues facing corporations and political parties around the topic of loyalty are strikingly similar. For example, how does a party encourage its supporters to be more active? How do you promote and make the most of positive word-of-mouth? And perhaps most importantly, how do you retain supporters who may well be about to ‘churn’ to your competitors?
It’s true that voting is a highly emotional decision, and some have argued that the traditional boundaries and loyalties are still in place. However, with the lower turnouts in recent elections, and new, younger voters entering the system, there are a huge number of voters who don’t have a voting history. The fallout from the TV debates showed that not only are the votes of these new voters up for grabs, but they have not yet developed a loyalty to any party.
All parties use a variety of focus groups and surveys in order to develop their manifesto – particularly to appeal to voters in key marginal seats. However, is that just one part of the battle? As we’ve shown with customer loyalty, it’s more important to develop and implement a consistent customer experience across all channels than to focus on loyalty per se. Should parties therefore be thinking along the same lines? By developing a core vision for what it is that the party stands for, implemented over a period, consistently adhered-to by all candidates, they may be able to grow a new base of loyal voters for the future. Political loyalty is, in fact, an extreme form of customer loyalty – not built in a day, or even a month of campaigning, but day by day over the course of years.
In this respect, all of the parties seem to fall short. The “mad rush” of a British election contrasts sharply with American Presidential elections which last over a year, and perhaps for this reason we saw much more effective ongoing strategies for attracting and maintaining support across the pond. True, the Conservative party has gone some way to present a clear vision of ‘Big Society’, 16 promises to adhere to this over time, and most importantly a strong commitment that if they don’t keep their promises, then they should be voted out. But there are many ideas and concepts (remember the Age of Austerity?) which have been picked up and then dropped in a short period of time. The resulting dash to the polls is therefore hectic and inconsistent.
Perhaps the greatest opportunity is now for Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats. While the electoral gains may not have been significant, the Liberal Democrats have increased their profile, and now have a tremendous opportunity to build on their vision and show the public that they can adhere to their vision over time.
My final point refers to customer information. The experience of Tesco – and particularly the use of the Clubcard loyalty scheme – over the past twenty years has shown that loyalty schemes can be a powerful way to understand customers better and then use that information to build further loyalty. Pepsi are currently using the latest technology to take loyalty schemes even further. The Conservatives have dabbled in similar schemes before, but perhaps it’s worth investigating more in the aftermath how the parties can use social media or other communities to develop insights about potential supporters and use that to drive the way they interact and build loyalty.
The results are now almost in, and the hung parliament, coupled with a lack of impact for the Liberal Democrats has perhaps shown us that political loyalties – even to a party with low approval ratings – are deep-seated and difficult to break. As an example, just look to Middlesbrough, where the Conservative candidate failed to win over a constituency where the sitting Labour MP hasn’t held a surgery for over 15 years. How much more important, then, is it for a party to take the long term view. It’s clear that the parties need an ongoing strategy over the next five years to attract and retain support so that the next election is the culmination, rather than the ‘mad dash’.
Ultimately, however, nothing builds customer or political loyalty quite like honesty. And if you believe Merv King’s comments, then whoever forms a government may need to be very careful. But with an approach that looks long term and delivers against a vision consistently, they may find that every little step helps.