The last week’s media has, unsurprisingly, been dominated by politics and the local elections but most significant perhaps was the lack of interest in the whole scene. Here in Wick fewer than one in three of those eligible to vote actually made the effort to do so.
It is not unusual for council elections to have low turnout and Wick is not remarkable in having such a poor level of engagement between the politicians and the electorate. Yet we all feel that we have a right to commentate and complain about the activities undertaken by our elected representatives.
You may have seen the 1985 remake of Brewster’s Millions where Richard Pryor plays the part of the potential beneficiary Montague and spends a fortune running a campaign as New York Mayor under the ticket of None of The Above.
The campaign, in the movie, becomes hugely popular and results in a re-run of the election with the original candidates barred from running for the coveted role.
If there were a box on the ballot paper where voters could officially register their dissatisfaction with all of the candidates would the turnout at elections would increase dramatically?
In reality, I doubt it.
It is far more likely that those who do not bother to vote feel that it is just not worth the effort of doing so for the difference that it will make to their day to day lives. The fact is that councillors do indeed make a difference to all our everyday lives from deciding on the frequency of bin collections to planning strategy for property development and business growth in our communities.
As small business owners we face the same challenge that our politicians face at election time but for us it is an ever present battle to persuade people that our products and services will bring value and benefit to their lives.
It is at election time that politicians come closest to understanding the issues we face in communicating our message and the frustration that many of us suffer knowing that we can really help others with our skills but they are just not concerned enough to listen.
So taking the results from the Wick ward, I wondered if there is anything that we can learn as how to measure success in our sales process. The runaway winner here was the Scottish Nationalist Party representative who achieved over 46% of the first preference votes, followed by the Labour candidate (25%) and then by an Independent (with just over 14% of the first preference vote).
The Independent candidate has been a councillor for nearly a decade so is pretty well known in the area through his presence in the local papers and elsewhere. Yet even with that profile he managed to persuade fewer than one in twenty of his potential customers to back him.
This shows perhaps the strength of branding. The current brand leader in this market goes under the label SNP and it gives considerable strength to the product’s saleability. While many potential purchasers in this particular market will have merited the candidates on their individual qualities and record I suggest that quite a number were also backing the brand leader.
I am sure that all three of the successfully elected councillors will do their best at a difficult job that is the administration of local services, their records all speak of much good work and involvement in the community. It is not really the politics that I am thinking about here but the marketing.
As an independent business we cannot hope to have the resources of a national brand leader but, like Mr Fernie, by concentrating on our strengths and message we can deem ourselves successful if we only achieve a sale with one in twenty of the potential clients we target in our marketing efforts.
On the other hand, it also suggests that, like politicians, we need to develop a thick skin and be prepared for the nineteen of twenty rejections that we are likely to receive from those who could benefit from our services but just cannot be persuaded.
Also, we sole proprietors need to focus our marketing efforts where they will be best received. Political campaigners have limited resources too so they examine the profile of the electorate and concentrate canvassing to those streets where they are more likely to garner support. Similarly we need to focus our efforts on potential clients and customers who will be receptive to our message.
And like politicians we can learn from our existing clients. What sort of people are they and how do they use our services. In looking for more customers, we can focus our efforts looking for people who are similar to those who have already taken advantage of our services.
What is more we can also consider the markets we would like to appeal to but just are not picking up clients and, again like those in public service, we might consider adapting our services appropriately to meet their needs.
But most of all we need to remember that we have to provide value and service that our clients appreciate continually. For when we fail to deliver, our clients will drop us without a qualm. Just ask our local Liberal Democrat candidate!
Photo: The Smithsonian Museum