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Good policy doesn’t sell itself and Labor hasn’t risen to the challenge … yet

The Labor party needs to remember it’s the brand leader. AAP/Eddie Safarik

Andrew Wilkie is correct when he says that the government needs to sell things better. Developing good policy is not enough in today’s consumer driven world. The government also needs to clearly communicate the benefits of its policies and the value it provides to voters.

Selling policy is the same as selling a product; you need to convince the consumer that your offer has superior value to your competitors.

At the moment, the Gillard government is struggling to convince voters of the value of its’ polices. The Labor brand is out of favour in the marketplace and a miracle is needed to turn this around.

In many regards the government is its own worst enemy. Good policy points are lost in its inability to sell the benefits.

Branding your policies

Take for instance the super profits tax on the mining industry. Regardless of the policy’s fundamentals, selling anything with the words “super” and “tax” is always going to be a difficult proposition.

Think of what might have been had this tax been positioned as a “mining readjustment tax” or an “infrastructure building tax.” There was a reason John Howard labeled the GST as a “fairer tax” and not a “reclaiming money from small business” tax.

Labor needs to understand that good policy does not sell itself. Benefits need to be communicated to voters and concerns put to rest. Like selling a product, all aspects that provide superior value over your competitor need to be placed upfront.

Be the market leader

The best salespeople are the leaders in the marketplace. Labor needs to stop acting like a minority government and reassert its status as the market leader irrespective of how many seats they hold in the government.

Importantly, market leaders set the tone of the marketplace regardless of their competitors’ activities. Companies like Apple and Google are able to push their industries in new directions for this very reason.

The government needs to drop its focus on the opposition and set the agenda. While it may be true that the carbon tax is less than what was proposed by the Howard era, this is not going to convince voters to accept it.

Again it comes back to knowing your product and how it provides value to your consumers. Regardless of the oppositions’ response, the value of your product should not change. Just because Abbott calls your carbon policy a “great big tax” does not mean it provides any less value for the environment.

Companies can survive poor product choices as long as their brand remains strong. With falling polls and low approval ratings for Julia Gillard it is clear the government’s brand is on the nose.

A failing brand

In many ways Labor’s woes compare to those of Qantas. It is a strong Australian brand that has lost credibility through a series of badly handled missteps. The removal of Rudd, the perceived back flip on the carbon tax and the alliance with the Greens have all damaged Labor’s image. Like Qantas, each Labor misstep is now heavily analysed and used as confirmation of the party’s incompetence.

Both the Labor and Qantas brands are too strong to completely disappear from the marketplace. However both have greatly lost their marketplace appeal and consumers are looking to their competitors in greater detail than they had previously.

Has the Labor brand reached the point of no return? For this government, the likely answer is yes. When a generally good budget leads to a drop in the polls, it suggests that consumers have switched off to your message. The Labor brand can claw its way back but it is likely to take longer than the two years left until the next election.

Move forward with the voters

I agree with Andrew Wilkie that the government needs to sell things better. For all the negativity that surrounds the Labor brand, there was a core set of values that resonated with the Australian people back in 2007. The government needs to remind voters of the excitement they felt then, and get back to basics: define their brand, promote themselves as leaders and “move forward.”

Good policy does not sell itself. Value and benefits need to be communicated with every product offering. This begins from the naming of the policy to every media release around the issue. Labor needs to stop acting like a minority government and reclaim its market leader status. Focus needs to be moved from the opposition and back to their own benefits and contributions.

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