Can we talk our way back to black?
When it comes to high profile communications, it doesn’t get much bigger than the Budget. Whether you side with the so-called ‘austerity jihadists’ or the ‘fiscally irresponsible’, there is much to learn from red box day.
The first of these lessons is delivery. The embattled Chancellor, George Osborne, stepped into the House with a defensive demeanour, more akin to a junior executive telling his boss he hadn’t hit the numbers than a competent Chief Financial Officer (CFO) projecting his vision for the future of UK PLC. Reading from shuffled papers made our nation look quaintly antiquated when compared with slick celebrity politicians across the pond. Passion comes without notes.
For the Chancellor, like a CFO, trust is hugely important. In this context, Osborne’s use of rhetorical tricks can come across like cooking the books: “We’ve now cut the deficit not by a quarter, but by a third,” implied a slight slipperiness to the figures. “This is a budget for people who aspire to work hard and get on,” raised the question of who exactly this budget isn’t for. “Ask the British people and they’ll tell you,” undermined the speech-makers’ authority.
Impact is all about what the audience takes away with them. The sledgehammer repetition of “aspiration nation” suggested the Chancellor failed to understand his own notion of “big society”. Repetition doesn’t result in reality. For a branded concept to be memorable it must be both substantial and meaningful. To gain traction for an idea you need to build participation and consensus over the long term from the bottom up – not just impose a label.
Know your purpose. It’s important to remember the Budget should arouse national confidence - inspiration can be more important than content.
The Budget is essential mood music to the economy and sets the rhythm we all dance to. The Chancellor’s tendency to ‘awful-ize’ the UK’s “exposure” to “economic storms” paints a far more visceral picture than his talk of “brighter spots” or vision of any positive future to be gained from holding to the austerity plan. All stick and no carrot does not make for an engaged audience.
The big question is whether consumers and business leaders feel more or less confident after the Budget – a truly unique communications event because it is, in many ways, a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Let’s hope the Chancellor is feeling more aspirational next year.