What can we learn from the Scottish Referendum?

It’s not over yet, but watching the Scottish referendum debate is educational about how communication of ideas requires a particular skill set which appears sadly lacking in elements of that discussion.

The two campaigns appear to have taken quite different approaches. The pro-independence team have gone for hearts, a passionate appeal to the emotions of independence and the joy of creating a truly independent nation, with a nod to the severe challenges of pulling out of a strong and successful country. The ‘no’ campaign has largely worked on the tough messages – economics, currency, challenge of change, difficult realities, with little effort at a vision of a United Kingdom and what that really means. Even the headline of the No campaign is negative. It is fair to say that the ‘No’ campaign is foundering on rocks during this week.

This is the same challenge faced by a whole group of purchasing folk who are often trying to sell quite dry ideas based on economics – selling the detail and the pain of change without a compelling overall vision of something good is really tough to do. “We can hold the price steady but we’ll have to get a lot smarter, with a list of changes to make in the business” is a tough place to be.

So, what do we need to do, and when? The first challenge is the point at which we start thinking about the marketing of the changes we will need to be making. Often, we’re looking at doing this quite late in the process ( and that is being kind – the selling of the needed change often seems an afterthought, not a core part of the process). Let’s swap this around, and continually look for positive, reinforceable messages about the excitement and potential of this category, right from the start of the process. We also need to find really strong, positive language to use around those changes, and even better if that language is clear and communicable.

As we progress throughout he development of the category strategy, we need to make sure that the positives and the overall vision are updates and brought to life in a compelling way; it is quite possible that this is more about a less central, but more visionary part of the process, from which other components hang.

The big issue is making sure we’re pushing the hot buttons of the people who have to go along with us. Too often, we get lost in the belief that the hot buttons for the business are the same as the targets we have ( get price down) but in reality, most of the business is driven on a day to day basis by entirely different issues.

Lets not forget that good quality communication of positive messages takes effort and practice. So, here’s today’s challenge: how much time have you spend identifying and working on a compelling message, with vision, for your category. If the answer is none, go to the back of the room and get it done. Otherwise you’ll be with the ‘No’ campaign, wishing you’d understood the challenge better.

Here’s the really sad part of the ‘No’ campaign – all their hard work about the vision of Great Britain has already been done – go watch Danny Boyle’s opening sequence for the London Olympics again, to get a sense of what a vision looks like.

Mark Hubbard thinks about Purchasing at SmartBrown Dog Ltd.




About Mark Hubbard

I set up a specialist purchasing consultancy and a business focussing on seeking innovation. I work all over the world with clients, helping purchasing teams develop new ways of delivering value for their businesses. I love thinking about how purchasing works, and how it can be better, and I'd love to share some of those thoughts with you
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