Here in the UK we’re witnessing incredible political times as we contemplate what to do after the results of our EU Referendum (nicknamed Brexit). 51.9% of the electorate voted to leave the EU.
Within hours our Prime Minister had resigned and the main political parties were in meltdown, as were the 48.1% of Remain voters and a financial shock reverberated around the globe.
The country has never been so divided in recent times. 62% of Scottish voters backed Remain, as did 56% of voters in Northern Ireland, with both countries voicing their refusal to be torn out of Europe against their will. How much longer the United Kingdom stays united remains to be seen (no pun intended).
As large businesses are weighing up their assets and politicians speculate about global trade deals, the UK are coming to terms with the fact they may no longer be the gateway to the European single market within just two years.
But more than 70% of businesses in the US and UK are sole proprietors – solopreneurs are the backbone of world economies, so what can we learn from Brexit?
What can the analysis of the campaigns, sociological aspects and aftermath teach small business owners who want to build stronger connections with their audiences?
1. Give your audience a voice
One major issue all parties agreed on after the vote, is that MPs (Members of Parliament) are “out of touch” with the “ordinary people” they’re supposed to represent. From patronising adverts attempting to win favour with young voters, to whole regions feeling disenfranchised for decades, many people across the UK felt powerless to influence parliament until the 2016 EU Referendum vote.
Conversely, the leader of the government’s opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, is the most left-wing, anti-establishment, socialist leader Labour has had in its history. He won the leadership contest by a landslide victory in September 2015, yet within six days of the EU referendum 172 vs 40 Labour MPs gave him a vote of no confidence . By then most of his shadow cabinet had resigned, with rumours of a pre-planned parliamentary coup. But evidence of strong party member support, confirms that most of parliament does not understand or relate to their audience, the general public.
Immigration appeared to dominate the Leave campaign, however results showed that many English and Welsh towns with low numbers of migrants voted Leave, as did several areas which had actually received the most EU structural and regeneration funding.
So, how can this analysis help business owners?
Giving your audience a voice generates community and mutual respect. Here’s how to choose conversation over monologue:
- Connect in a deeper way by listening to your followers:
- Show your listening skills by engaging in meaningful conversations;
- Find out what their deepest pains and desires are;
- Ask them what they’d love you to create;
- Demonstrate how you understand them through genuine stories they can relate to.
- Generate a sense of community for your whole audience and make your clients or customers feel part of the process:
- Ask questions that matter to them and take action on their answers;
- Host or take part in community-style events;
- Create a participatory club, group or forum;
- Share the results of your charitable donations and sponsorship, which wouldn’t have been possible without your customers;
- Use a collaborative approach where possible.
- Let your audience decide if you deserve the title of “expert” or “best product”.
2. Pick your side and fight to stand out
By electing an outwardly anti-establishment leader, the Labour party members were crying out for change from “politics as normal” (meaning privately-educated Westminster elite). But on the complex subject of the EU, Corbyn was criticised by his colleagues for his “lukewarm stance” by the resigning MPs.
However, Corbyn refused to step down because of party member support outside of parliament, demonstrating serious resolve in the face of extreme fractures within his party.
During the campaigns, the official cross-party Leave and Remain teams were doggedly passionate, but one person dominated the news: Eurosceptic UKIP leader, Nigel Farage.
As a mixed-race, Scottish-born woman who voted Remain (after serious deliberation), I’d never utter a favourable word about UKIP, who’ve been heavily criticised for their xenophobia. But as a businesswoman, the fact Farage became the face of #VoteLeave despite not being part of the official campaign speaks volumes.
He’s a shameless, contentious figure, who’s even fallen out with prominent members of his own party. He often makes a fool of himself – he’s a cartoonist’s dream and the media love his entertainment factor. The most controversial moment of his career so far was unveiling a poster of Syrian refugees with “echoes of Nazi propaganda ”.
Despite their opposing world views, both Corbyn and Farage appealed to people across the UK who felt like the underdog (albeit people with profoundly different beliefs), who were angry at Westminster and wanted more control.
What can we learn from these two leaders? Unlike much of life, being divisive in business can be a good thing – it helps you stand out from the crowd. Here are some ways you can target more of your ideal customers:
- Stop trying to please everyone. In fact, when it comes to your branding and messaging, deliberately don’t try to please everyone.
- Inject personality into your brand by showing your true values and flaws, not what you presume a wider audience wants.
- Take a strong, defiant stance on a subject you’re passionate about and don’t back down.
- Analyse your favourite thought-leaders, musicians, politicians – how do they stand out from the crowd?
- Consider the public figures you can’t stand – why do you find them so vile? Why do others love them?
- How can you stop doing business as usual? How can you disrupt or challenge the status quo?
- Don’t court controversy for the sake of it but, as your audience grows, if you gather a few social media trolls or “haters” it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” ~ Winston Churchill
3. Develop trust by following through
The Leave campaign delivered, but at what cost?
Misinformation was rife on both sides during the referendum debate. Bias, stereotypes, inflammatory and scaremongering rhetoric proliferated each argument, particularly the Leave campaign.
The Brexiteers made bold promises and invoked unreliable nostalgia. The Remainers presented experts claiming caution and disaster, but many disenfranchised communities were sick of experts and statistical manipulation.
Unfortunately for Leave voters, after the win those bold promises crumbled . Immigration can’t be greatly reduced and the “£350million per week sent to the EU” and promised to the NHS (National Health Service), which was a key visual and displayed on the campaign tour bus, was financially incorrect and afterwards claimed as a mistake.
The turmoil had begun.
Former Prime Minister and Remainer, David Cameron, who chose to have the EU Referendum (to quell his Eurosceptic backbenchers) and claimed he would not resign if the UK voted Leave, did indeed resign immediately, conceding defeat in an emotional speech .
In a House of Cards -style move, the favourite to replace the Prime Minister as leader of the Conservative party, Boris Johnson, was backstabbed by his campaign partner, Michael Gove . Then, days after achieving his 20-year goal, UKIP leader Farage, also resigned.
For weeks the British public braced themselves each morning for what on earth would happen next, but how can you use this knowledge in your business?
You’ve got the opportunity to generate a close, trusting relationship with your customers. But that only matters if you’re honest and you follow-through:
- Use clear, succinct language to educate and communicate. Keep the rhetoric out of it.
- Be careful how you present facts. People are sceptical nowadays and know statistics can get manipulated.
- Social proof is everything, so encourage online reviews and screenshot flattering comments (blocking out email addresses and surnames).
- Don’t promise what you’ll struggle to deliver – under promise, while still giving immense value, so you can over-deliver and delight.
- Serve with grace – expect your audience judge you on your actions and results.
4. Build adaptability into your business
On the day of the announcement, the British pound fell to a 30-year low and consequently wiped $3 trillion off the global stock markets within just 2 days – $2.08 trillion went on the first day, beating both the Black Monday stock market crash of 1987 and Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy in 2008.
Richard Branson said the Virgin Group lost a third of its value and had to cancel one “very big” deal which would have involved 3,000 jobs.
The Leave campaign produced a 16-page manifesto and had no Brexit plan, saying they expected the government to have one. Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, seemed to be the only person with a Brexit strategy in the wake of the vote, even though the Scots voted to Remain in the EU by 62%.
80,000 financial jobs may be moved to Europe (and more from other sectors) if the UK are unable to maintain access to the EU Single Market, but Brexit politicians are assuring the public that global trade opportunities will open up.
However, Cameron refused to trigger Article 50 (the formal notification to leave the EU), saying it’s a matter for the next Prime Minister. If and when it is triggered, the UK will have two years to negotiate its terms, with informal negotiations not permitted before that point. France and Germany’s heads of state, as well as numerous EU officials and some Brexiteers, have said the UK should move ahead as soon as possible.
You’ve already heard about the resignations and all the other unpredictable events, so what is the lesson here?
As a business owner, you’re already familiar with SWOT analyses and risk management, however building adaptability into your business is crucial for long-term success:
- Preparedness can usually help you handle most cyclones, but if not…
- Don’t run away when the wheels fall off – face the storm and figure out your way through to enable your business to survive;
- Analyse and refine your systems, processes and strategies on a regular basis;
- You’ve got this – adaptability is an entrepreneurial trait, stretching your creative muscles past their perceived limit through innovation and experimentation ;
- Learn how to be more adaptable – it can help a business tolerate failure and can reveal opportunities.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” ~ Charles Darwin
5. Resonate with emotional language
Which do you think has more impact?
From a copywriting point of view, the Leave campaign’s slogan “Vote Leave, take back control” is more powerful than “Britain Stronger In Europe”. It works because life is chaotic and craving control is a natural urge, particularly for people who feel marginalised . Control equals power, independence and influence.
It’s up for debate as to whether the Leave voters will actually get any real control from Brexit, especially with immigration – Britain is not a member of the Schengen passport-free area so already controls its borders. However, it won’t retain its special status of non-Schengen access to the single market when it leaves the EU.
The nostalgia-driven rhetoric convinced voters, particularly older ones, that a Great Britain of the past would return. “A nostalgic yearning for a simpler time that never really existed, and fading memories of the two world wars both contributed to the vote in favour of leaving the European Union.” – Michael Enright interviewing Professor of International History at Oxford University, Margaret MacMillan.
A “dream life” fantasy fuelled by emotional language is compelling and persuasive, but dangerous when based on deliberate ambiguity or falsehoods. How can you get under the skin of your ideal clients?
- How can you prove you’ll fulfil their deepest desires?
- How can you show you can ease the issues that lead up to their main struggles?
- How can you demonstrate your understanding of their strongest fears?
- What results can you guarantee?
- What case studies, tangible statistics and undebatable facts do you have to back your statements up?
- What relatable experiences, genuine customer stories and social proof can you provide to swing the sale?
Infusing your marketing and copywriting with honesty, clarity and emotion will help you forge deeper connections with your audience.
How will you give your audience a voice, build adaptability into your business, stand out, develop trust and resonate with emotional language?
What business lessons can you learn from your local or national politics? Share in the comments below.