Why Marketing was the Real Winner of the Scottish Referendum
By Pete Winter

Why Marketing was the Real Winner of the Scottish Referendum

Perfect your marketing effectiveness by following three simple steps that the Scottish Referendum taught us.

scottish referendum 2

The Scottish Independence vote was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was a triumph of democracy. 97% of Scotland’s citizens are now on the electoral roll. This means that there are two real winners from the referendum, the people who organise the jury service (97% of people are now eligible for jury duty) and marketers. Not only do we have almost all of Scotland’s population’s data available to access on the electoral roll, but we also get to examine a marketing case study which had over three quarters of it’s target demographic engaged, and provided some meaningful takeaways that we can all learn from. 

The key to marketing success is combining the rational with the emotional.

The referendum was an example of two very different styles of marketing. The ‘Yes’ campaign, headed up by Alex Salmond, was all about the Emotional. The ‘Better Together’ campaign, headed by Alistair Darling, was all about the Rational.

Despite the victory for the ‘Better Together’ campaign, it’s not a clear cut case that they ran the better campaign. The reality is that both campaigns were a bit lacklustre in multiple ways.

internal blog 1a yes campaign

The ‘Yes’ campaign was a prime example of one of the basic marketing mistakes. All spin, no substance. You might think that’s a bit unfair, but when your campaign is basically the marketing equivalent of trying to re-create the “They cannae take our freedom” speech from Braveheart and chanting “Alba gu Brath!” and you get accused of lying about things, then it’s a sign that on some level you have failed to do the due diligence your campaign requires.

In the end, accusations of lying and not being able to easily answer questions about the economy meant that their campaign lacked solid foundations and cost them victory.

What can you learn from the ‘Yes’ campaign?

Emotional appeals aren’t everything. Make sure you’ve done the groundwork and back your campaign up with facts and figures.

internal blog 1b no campaign

The ‘Better Together’ Campaign was about the rational. Alistair Darling spent the debates quizzing Alex Salmond about the economy, what currency we would use, what the impact on jobs would be. This is all important stuff, but it’s boring. There wasn’t really an emotional appeal at all. I’d love to be able to spend the rest of this paragraph laying into the ‘Better Together’ campaign but I can’t. The truth is they did do their homework, they laid the foundations, but they presented it in a largely boring way which failed to reach out to the electorate on an emotional level. It was a total snoozefest. This failure meant that polls started to show leads for the ‘Yes’ Campaign and caused the ‘Better Together’ campaign to panic.

What can you learn from the ‘No’ campaign?

Combine evidence with a narrative to reach your prospects on a rational and an emotional level

internal blog takeaway

No matter what YouGov says, quantitative surveys aren’t as useful as people often make out. Presenting people with a series of options and then asking them to choose between them can be useful a way of getting a snapshot into people’s minds, but in reality the results aren’t as valid as people often think.

Dan Hodges put it best during the referendum when he pointed out that the poll which showed ‘Yes’ had it’s first lead was the result of just 13 people saying they would be voting yes. If you’d asked them on a different day, got them in a different mood, or indeed not got through to those people and ended up asking others, the results could have changed drastically, and the entire narrative of the campaign would have been very different.

Ok, so maybe marketing research isn’t quite so transient as political polling, but the risks are still there. Just because your quantitative research shows something doesn’t mean that it’s as accurate as you’re portraying it.

To make sure you aren’t making a fool of yourself you need to try and backup the data. You can do this in various ways such as looking at search trends, or looking at what topics media outlets are looking for pieces on. Combine this with some qualitative analysis from interviews and focus groups and you’ll end up with a much stronger idea of what your results mean and you won’t run the risk of having 13 people changing the entire narrative of your campaign because they answered a question one way rather than the other.

Quantitative analysis action points:

  • Delve into your quantitative analysis and make sure it’s meaningful.
  • Corroborate your findings from other sources where possible.
  • Go deeper by conducting qualitative analysis as well.

describe the imageThe turnout for Scotland in the 2010 General Election was 63.8%. For the Independence Referendum it was 84.9%. That’s a big difference, but what’s even more shocking is that 97% of Scottish citizens registered to vote. In marketing speak, 97% of Scotland entered the sales funnel, and 84.9% of them went to the bottom of the funnel and took the final action required by the campaigns targeting them. I’d kill for those sorts of stats.

So, what’s the difference between the referendum and the general election? It wasn’t the campaigns, which as I said before were hardly case studies of solid marketing. it was that general elections are seen as not as important because “all political parties are the same, they’re all out of touch”, whilst the referendum was important. It would have a tangible and obvious effect on people’s lives.

internal blog takeaway v2

Find out what matters to your target audience and use it as a hook to solve their pains.

Gather more data on your prospects so that your sales team can tailor their message to have bespoke discussions with each prospect.

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