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The despatch box

We're you thinking what the Conservatives were thinking? Did you believe the Lib Dems were the real alternative? Is Labour moving forward not back? This blog will focus on all things political. It will be irritating, agitating and maybe just maybe it will get you thinking.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Are you being served?

Many commentators have written about the similarities and indeed differences between politics and business. I have long held a belief that parallels can be drawn between politics and retail. Well what exactly do I mean?

If you are a retailer you can go about things in a variety of ways. You may well spend millions of pounds developing a new product – and you are convinced that it’s the best thing since sliced bread. BUT if the consumer doesn’t want it – then it doesn’t sell. The successful retailers have realised that actually it’s not about telling customers what they should be – but more about providing the things they want (and sometimes didn’t realise they want). There is an argument that a successful political party needs to do the same. Instead of telling people – actually you want this – you need to look around and see what people are actually calling out for – and then look as though you are the best party who can deliver it.

Then of course there is the scenario where certain retailers believe they have a right to exist, solely because they always have. The fall from grace of Sainsburys has been well documented as have others. Why? – because they took their eye off the ball. The same is true in politics – historical success is no indicator of future success. Just because the Conservative party was the most successful election winning machine in the past doesn’t mean it will be again – unless changes are made.

There is the argument that all supermarkets are all the same – but of course they aren’t. One has market share approaching 30% with the next largest about half its size. They may sell similar products – but the most successful – Tesco is giving people what they want, where they want it and at a price they are prepared to pay.

Does this apply to politics – Well in some respect yes. The Labour party decided it would give people a version of centre left politics (sometimes centre right) packed in a style that they could live with and a brand that when it started – they had trust in.
Retailers have to understand their customers –and realise that people can be complex. Something that worked sixth months ago – may no longer work now. The cost of failing to understand the customer is going out of business. This lesson applies to politics. If you fail to understand the electorate then you are on the long road to electoral decline. I believe the 2005 election laid good foundations which can be built upon – but for me, the key to electoral success is understanding what voters want, not what we think they want – and then being perceived as the most capable party who can deliver.


  • At Friday, August 26, 2005 12:08:00 pm, Blogger Serf said…

    Your argument has a big danger in it.

    New Labour has run the country by poll numbers, which is an extreme form of what you are suggesting. The result is a mish mash of often contradictory policies, and a slow death of credibility.

    On the other hand, force feeding your favourite ideas onto a reluctant public is not an advised way to get elected.

    A Balance is needed I think between leading and following.

  • At Friday, August 26, 2005 1:29:00 pm, Blogger Jonathan Sheppard said…

    Absolutely serf - it is a fine balance.

    You will know more than me about how the EU thinks it knows best -0 and doesn't really consider what people want when considering which directive to come up with.

    The party needs to have a coherent agenda with core principles which takes into account what people want.

    In the 1980s the Conseravtives once the big ideological battle - the battleground has changed and we need to take this into account.

  • At Monday, August 29, 2005 5:52:00 pm, Blogger Wat Tyler said…

    Jonathan- interesting post, and like you I'm interested in the parallels between businesses and political parties.

    Of course, if we take Sainsburys, it seems to me it wasn't so much that they lost sight of what we wanted, but that they couldn't deliver it (empty shelves), and they were too expensive.

    More about operational efficency rather than customer research or branding.

    So what does that tell us about our situation? Ummm...not sure really. But it's ceratinly interesting stuff.


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