A week after the most unpredictable election of my lifetime, many people will still be asking what happened and how the Conservatives pulled off such an unlikely victory. And everybody in the business world - and their communications teams in particular - should be asking what we can learn from the campaigns.
We need look no further than the Tory effort. The party identified two key messages that mattered to people then hammered them home relentlessly. Whatever one’s thoughts on the content of the messages, nobody can argue that Conservative campaign chief Lynton Crosby got it pretty much spot on.
Let’s rewind a bit to see where it all began.
A year out from the election, a Labour minority Government seemed the most likely outcome. Very few people were predicting a majority for either party.
Then came the Scottish referendum and the resulting SNP surge. As the impending nationalist success at the polls in Scotland became more and more certain, so did the uncertainty for the voters of middle England. Did they really want a Government propped up by the SNP?
The Tories seized on this question and relentlessly hammered home two key messages:
1. We’ll maintain a stable economy and secure our future (the fabled ‘long term economic plan’)
2. You can stop the chaos of a Labour Government propped up by the SNP
Voters in key swing seats across the country were bombarded with this stark choice in direct mail, phone calls and advertising billboards. They were told that regardless of the local picture, nationally this was a two-horse race and their constituency would make all the difference in stopping the threat of chaos.
The Conservative messaging also remorselessly portrayed Ed Miliband as a puppet of the SNP, who by now had assumed the role of bogeyman in middle England and large swathes of the media. Time and time again voters heard the same two lines from the Conservatives: we have a plan for stability and security; the only alternative is a Labour Government beholden to the SNP.
Other parties fought admirable campaigns, focusing on key issues from the cost of living and the rights and wrongs of austerity to education and mental health. But none of their messages resonated in homes up and down the country in the same way as the straight choice of stability and security or Labour/SNP chaos.
Local candidates of all parties were of course selling their own messages in constituency leaflets, building their personal reputations as community campaigners. But these classic tactics paled in comparison to the big issue of this election – an issue the Tories had made their own.
The result was significant swings in key seats from both the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats to the Conservatives – something almost unthinkable prior to the Scottish Referendum.
To borrow a phrase from the Liberal Democrat Director of Strategy Ryan Coetzee, the Conservatives were ‘on message, in volume, over time’.
Businesses and their communications teams everywhere should take note.
Max Wilkinson is an account manager at Camargue