Who cares what Ian from Congleton thinks?

There is a massive poster on my way to work now that shows a bloke called Ian from Congleton who says he’s going to vote Conservative for the first time in the next election.

Hands up if you know where Congleton is. As a southerner born and bred I had to search online. It turns out to be a town, founded by the Romans, in East Cheshire with a population of 25, 750 (according to Wikipedia anyway).

Putting aside why I would care particularly what Ian from Congleton’s voting intentions are, this strikes me as a massive missed opportunity for harnessing local influence.

Behavioural economist theories are big on using the behaviour of the crowd as a way of getting people to do as they are asked. There is a famous example (from Nudge) of tax compliance communications from Minnesota where of four techniques (education i.e. explaining what the taxes are used for; threat of punishment for non compliance; offer of help to fill in the form; and finally conformity – a statement that 90% of Minnesotans had already complied) the last one was the most effective.

The Conservative party poster is presumably based on this theory. That if Ian from Congleton is switching to vote Tory then so should I.

However it doesn’t have any local appeal (unlike of course the Minnesotan example… one doubts whether telling Minnesotans that most New Yorkers had complied would have had any value). In fact it rather ignores the fact that Britain is in fact made up of a large number of local communities… London itself is indeed just a huge number of individual villages squashed in and overlapping each other. I have some doubt as to whether even a statement that James from Clapham was considering switching his vote would have much impact north of the Thames.

I’ve just read an outstanding awards paper from Digital UK which demonstrates just how effective local campaigns are, not just as a way of generating a step change in behaviour, but also in delivering a better return on marketing investment than national activity. The real key to the success of the switchover programme was to run intense local ‘hot house’ communications and support programmes, from one area to the next. Partially a necessity as the digital switch over is rolling out in this way itself, the econometrics analysis and modelling has proved that it’s not only more efficient but also more effective than national activity would have been.

Sorry Ian from Congleton, I’m sure you’re a terrific bloke, but when I hear what Charlie from Childs Hill is doing I’ll pay a bit more attention.

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