The intrigue of the abortive Democratic Alliance-Agang merger is still playing out and there is still much more mud to fling and more egg to land on faces. But even now, as accusations and denials fly about at grim back-peddling news conferences and on social media, the marketing community might take a moment to digest a lesson or two from this communications catastrophe which has destroyed one political brand and seriously torpedoed another.
So here goes: if big life altering, career changing brand decisions are going to be made it’s not a bad idea to consult not only with those who are working for or managing the brand but more importantly also those who use it; in other words consumers or in this case supporters. Consumer brands do this with comprehensive market research usually involving hours of focus groups debating change behind a one way mirror and expertly facilitated.
I don’t believe for one moment this merger was ever tactically and strategically debated at multi-levels across both parties. It was a decision driven by ego and hubris and both political leaders and their parties are paying the price. If brands make a change, make sure the change is not open to interpretation; that the new strategy or direction is watertight and emphatically clear. This was never the case in the DA/Agang marriage. Confusion reigned from the get-go. Brands should also learn that big decisions are as one premium beer marque tells its consumers – slow brewed and extra-matured.
While an election clock is ticking and finalising game-plans is vital, there is no doubt even to the most casual observer this rushed joining of forces was naked political expediency at its ugliest. That brands make huge share price altering clangers happen all the time. The list is endless, but it’s also how the brand recovers from the mistake that is even more important and critical to survival. This is certainly not the case right now with both parties sniping at each other and the DA saying Agang’s leader cannot be trusted. Instead of shooting from the hip, both brands now need to manage long term collateral damage; at least try and be gracious and offer some form of apology to their respective constituents who they have betrayed and sold down the river.
Brands also need to know it’s ultimately the image that defines the story. The contrived pursed-lip kiss by both party leaders at a news conference announcing their merger will no doubt come back to haunt them during this election season. It’s also worth reflecting that brand decisions should be piloted by brand experts along with company/party leaders. As we can see from this debacle, it clear both parties have a paucity of skills in this respect. Hear that cackling? The cries of points scoring derision from Luthuli House.