It is up to the communicator to communicate
You may have noticed that the UK has a new Prime Minister.
This is not the place to make any comment about Liz Truss’ politics or her economics. Instead, I want to look at her communications skills. Or, more accurately, her lack of them, not to deride her but to seek to learn from her mistakes, of which she has made two.
Last summer, I wrote about the onus being on the communicator to communicate. And, funnily enough, that was also about a failure in UK government communications, specifically around Covid messaging. My point then was that the government didn’t explain its policies clearly because the thinking around the policies was muddled. To give them some leeway, handling Covid was complex, with a lot of constantly moving parts.
Back to now. Truss has said the negative reaction to her economic policies is because people have failed to understand those policies. What she is trying to achieve is a major step away from standard economic thinking. It could be described as bold, as in ‘bungee jumping from that high-altitude balloon is bold’. Or it could be seen as necessary, if you think the UK economy will benefit from major disruption. Either way, it is a big change. And that requires careful explanation and persuasion, which hasn’t happened. It’s no wonder we don’t understand: how can we? No one has laid it out in simple terms.
The second mistake is her focus on features not benefits. When you buy a toy with batteries included, you know there will batteries inside. But what it actually means is that you know you won’t have an upset child because they’ll be able to play with their new toy immediately. The batteries are the feature and the happiness is the benefit.
Truss has focused heavily on growth. In fact, in her big speech yesterday, she used the good old rhetorical tripartite: ‘Growth, growth, growth’, she said. Of course growth is good. Everyone wants growth. It’s a positive word. (It was a distraction when she talked about pies growing, as in we all get a bigger piece when the pie is bigger. As one food critic said, you can’t grow a pie. But that’s for her speechwriter.)
What she failed to do is explain why growth is good. What are the benefits? It’s not even that hard: more pay equals more spending power equals higher standard of living, and all the positives that brings. Her failure is that she did not make it easy for her audience to understand what she is trying to do and, therefore, why they should support her.
What she failed to do is explain why growth is good.
She’s made two fundamental communications mistakes, teaching us one key point. If you want to persuade people to buy your products or services, or to donate money to your cause, or to support your philosophy, you have to explain to them very clearly why they should and make it easy to understand what’s in it for them.
This isn’t complicated and I’m actually a little ashamed that the UK government can’t do better. So I’m going to conclude with exactly the same words I used last summer: I really shouldn’t have had to write this.
Senior Advisor, International Communications, based in London
Charlie is an experienced communications consultant who started Leidar UK in 2010. He is responsible for developing and implementing communications strategies for companies and organisations of all sizes and in many different sectors.