Marketers: Engage with the Real People – A Lesson from Brexit and Trump

Regardless of your politics, it seems to me that there is a common thread flowing through the momentous stories of today (Brexit, Trump or Corbyn); the turmoil of uncertainty created by surprise.

What’s on the mind of the people seems to have come as huge surprise, evidence of a disconnect between the people that make and talk about decisions (the politicians and media) and, well.. the people.

You can argue that Trumps rather alarming views represent a middle America that feel unrepresented, the same with Brexit/middle England and the leader of UK Labour party who the people of the party seem to love, but the political elite would rather resign.

All of which can be broadly defined as a result of a gap of engagement between a bubble of insiders and the masses, that has cultured a demand for a change in the status quo – perhaps even a protest vote.

Not that I would dismiss anyone as having made a protest vote, discussing politics isn’t really my thing, – however in Campaign magazine Zoe Harris (@MarketingZoe) has done a rather fine job of a more detailed analysis of these events and our industry – her article (Brexit: It’s time to get out of your London bubble and understand the nation)  clearly identifies the culprit as the media and establishment “bubble”.

My point is – what if the audience had been engaged earlier, could their decisions be different? And if so, is there a general lesson to be learned for brand communicators and marketers?

What if you are a big brand, planning how to engage with your audience. You are sitting in your campaign war room, sticky notes deck the window, flip-charts are posted around the walls, maybe a whiteboard has the “The Target Persona” writ large across it. The remnants of a lunch buffet litters the table and the tea and coffee has gone cold.

Someone suggests it’s a job well done and you retire to the pub.

But is it?

It is actually terribly easy to create a bubble.

To go back to the events of the day; imagine a different conference room in London, it seems whatever was written on their whiteboard the key attribute missed from The Target Persona was that they did not want to vote to remain in Europe.

Or perhaps The Target Persona was someone that looked, acted and thought like them, but they forgot about “The Persona That We Need to Engage”.

Or perhaps they didn’t forget about them, they simply didn’t know they were there, in such numbers.

I’m skating too close to politics here, but, hopefully you get my point – it’s easy to create your own bubble, to only consider the point of view of the people in the room like you and to either define a persona badly, miss the real target persona or fail to realise the size of a potential target audience.

There are plenty of examples of businesses that have lost their way in being relevant and engaged with the people throught their message, products or services – Kodak being an often used example. Consumers, as well as voters can demand a change in the status quo, make a protest vote.

I’ve worked with a B2B company who’s off-site marketing meetings had decided that the CMO was their buyer, but in the real world, they were constantly losing to their competitors through the decisions of lower level marketing folks and IT guys who were actually influencing the deal and the big bet on the message to the CMO was not relevant to them or the problems they were trying to solve.

Maybe you might feel that I’ve trivialised Brexit by applying it to marketing, but trust me, when the market tide turns against your products and services, it’s not trivial for the people that work in these shrinking organisations.

The secret, of course is to get the voice of the customer in the room, to burst the bubble with data, customer insight and simply asking them what they think through quantitive and qualitative research.

What can we, as marketers, learn from Brexit, Trump and Corbyn? – Engage with the real people, burst your bubbles.


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