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Mere days after the launch of the Tories’ ill-fated election campaign, the phrase had morphed from a snappy soundbite into a kind of linguistic water torture, each additional mention hammering into our skulls with a crash that was almost physically painful.
Worse, Theresa May’s actions emphatically failed to live up to her words. Her aversion to public debate undermined any claims to strength, while the u-turn on social care costs showed an administration that, when push comes to shove, looked anything but stable.
Then, more unexpectedly, consider the case of the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Rather than crowbarring Labour’s soundbite of choice – “for the many, not the few” – into every second sentence, Corbyn put himself in the public eye at increasingly large public rallies and, after some vacillation, at the leaders’ debate.
Although these rallies may have been “safe spaces” for Corbyn, their sheer size hammered home his catchphrase far more effectively than May’s robotic repetition.
One of the oldest imperatives of communications is that you should show, not tell. Telling, after all, is one of the easiest things you can do. For me to tell you that I am an inspirational character, blessed with rare insight, integrity and wisdom, is simple. For me to show you those things is, sadly, a taller order.
Finance shares many of the reputational issues that bedevil politics
I was reminded of these basic lessons during a recent conference on marketing in my own sector, financial services. Though different in many ways, finance shares many of the reputational issues that bedevil politics.
At least since the last financial crisis, for instance, the finance industry has suffered from a profound lack of public trust. It is also frequently perceived as being self-serving, and solely concerned with preserving the interests of a monied elite.
While not addressing these issues directly, the delegates at the conference repeatedly stressed just how difficult it is to formulate, adopt and then consistently convey positive values. The battle, especially at big companies, is applying these values to everything the company does.
So if an insurance company wants to embrace the value of transparency, this requires not just openness from management, but from marketing, operations, accounting, even receptionists. Needless to say, it also requires openness in communications, through the adoption of accessible, inclusive and clear language that is designed to be understood.
Asset management, in particular, stands to benefit from effectively “showing” its values. This is an industry where products can be very hard to differentiate, and so distinctiveness will often emanate from fund managers themselves or the way the business conducts itself.
The difficulty facing such companies is that they all want to be known for broadly similar values: trust, say, or transparency and being “customer-centric”. And again, while parroting these traits is easy, behaving in line with them is much harder.
The power of showing, not telling, remains as potent as ever
But, in fields from wealth management to politics, it can be done. Take Woodford Investment Management, which bases its entire brand around the notion that as investments belong to investors, not managers, the company is duty-bound to be as transparent as possible.
While many asset managers might consider “transparency” to mean a quarterly PDF newsletter, Woodford shows its seriousness by hosting a blog, open to anyone, on which they frankly discuss investments, successful and otherwise, and provide meaningful responses to sometimes quite irate questions.
Or American Express’s OPENForum, which eschews product push in favour of impartial, expert advice. In essence, this site is attempting to help its customers make more money, and what could more powerfully show being “customer-centric” than that?
Whatever other changes have swept communications and marketing in recent years, the power of showing, not telling, remains as potent as ever. But judging from post-election talk of “certainty” from Theresa May, it also remains just as elusive.
Niels Footman is Head of Marketing at Copylab, an international communications agency based in Scotland.
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