Sunday, June 26, 2016

12 Strategic Lessons to Learn From Brexit

Now that I've had a day or so to get over the shock and anger that the British people made such an absolutely stupid decision, I thought I'd take a look with a bit more detail at some of the important things that we can learn from the last few months of madness - the most emotional and cognitive dissonance filled event I've ever seen.

Some of it is perhaps obvious, but I think all of it is important.

  • Gambling on the short term is a big riskThe only reason this vote ever happened is because David Cameron decided to take a big future risk, gambling on a Leave vote in order to prevent UKIP from splitting his votes and Tory MP's from defecting at the last general election. It's pretty clear now that the gamble failed.
    Another good point I heard raised was the strategic mistake of the Prime Minister declaring a vote on something he wanted to stay the same, which immediately put him in a negative position. If you are pro-something, why state a vote against it as a key policy?
    We always tell brands it's wrong to get hooked on short termism, and that has played out here too.
  • Always remember the bigger pictureA number of people did genuinely vote leave because they wanted to see reform of the EU, some on the left wing also voted leave because they wanted to avoid things like TTIP and get trade deals with other places such as Africa. The problem was, that they failed to see the bigger picture until it was too late - that the key outcome of a Leave vote was always going to be a boost and insurgence for right wing nationalists and nationalist parties in other European countries. Within 48 hours of the vote, there is already a dangerous atmosphere of fear and intimidation as Europeans and people of non-white descent are facing insults and cries of "go home" on the streets. The vote has legitimised vocal racism again.
  • Clarity, clarity, clarity
    They may have been complete lies, and retracted as "mistakes" less than TWO hours after the result was announced - but the clear numbers and clear statements of fear used by the Leave campaign were easily remembered. The £350m a week figure was used everywhere, and constantly referenced by Leave voters, even though it had been clearly and repeatedly debunked by every neutral source. Likewise the fear of immigration, sparked by Nazi-esque posters, were clear and simple messages that kept the leave community engaged and ready to use their vote.
  • Authority doesn't mean anything without trust
    He may be the single most useless and ineffectual waste of political space since the Tub of Lard that once replaced an MP on a TV panel show, but Michael Gove was sadly absolutely correct when he said that people had 'had enough of experts'. Even though 85-90% of expert think tanks, economists and groups said that remaining was a safer option, and that leaving would result in a recession and severe impacts to the economy... people did not want to hear it. They were happy in the below...
  • People are emotional, not rational
    The emotional perception of Britain as the global power, the big island that could, kept people
    I can't even think of a caption that needs to be added here.
    Image from:
    believing that no matter what the data or analysis said - the country would be ok. It didn't matter to them that this notion is totally dated in the global world, that belief overrode any facts. This to me is one of the clear reasons why older people were massively more likely to vote to leave, whereas younger people with experience and understanding of the modern world voted overwhelmingly to stay. Likewise the emotional dislike of the EU, drip fed over many years by the media.
  • People don't always take the safe route
    Many people, including most betting companies, were expecting that Remain would win. Even though the vote was always likely to be close, they believed that (just like in the Alternative Vote referendum and last general election) people would gravitate towards the status quo when they got to the voting booth. Indeed we often talk about this as an element of behavioural understanding in marketing... but this didn't happen at all, in fact the opposite did. I think this is largely down to the above emotional responses, they were so powerful and so long ingrained that actually for many leave voters, they felt the safest, least risky route was to change things.
  • People don't always act in their own self interest, or even know what that is
    Today I saw a very clear chart which showed a very strong correlation between the percentage of regional GDP that relies on the EU and how likely people in that region were to vote to leave. Similarly some of the regions with strongest support for leaving were those with very high instances of EU funding for social and community infrastructure projects. It's pretty clear that the messages about the importance of the EU to these communities did not get across, or were not strong or nuanced enough to get past emotions and other reasons. See Cornwall, who are now demanding that the government match the EU funding that they were getting for local projects!
    Also, there was a massive spike post result in google searches for 'what is the EU?'... which
    Graphic from
    shows people weren't informed enough. The fault of both campaigns, but also I think a sense that Remain would win, and that many could Vote Leave as a protest and not have to see the outcome. To me this strongly shows the frustration with the First Past the Post voting system, people are used to their vote not counting, and are almost surprised when it does.
  • Post purchase regret doesn't just apply to purchases..!
    I'd say I was amazed to see interviews with people saying they already (within 48 hours) regret voting Leave, and would change their mind if another referendum were held... but I'm not. Likewise the shocked and angry responses when the Daily Mail (who were adamantly pro-leave) published details of what it would actually mean for their readers. Including the gem: "Looks like the remain camp were telling the truth."
  • People can tell when you don't have passion
    I've defended Jeremy Corbyn a lot, I think he is an honest and caring politician. That said, he did not do a good job at all in this campaign. He felt absent, and his previous anti-EU sentiments were repeatedly dragged up and not rebutted. This may have had a direct influence given that most of the areas where there were 'surprise' Leave wins, or bigger than expected majorities were strong Labour areas. If you don't truly believe in what you are saying, or lack a genuine passion, people can tell.
  • The traditional news media still has power
    As stated above, people were actually genuinely surprised to learnt the real meaning of Brexit after they had already voted. The constant bombardment of lies and misleading claims from the media was surely the single biggest reason for this. Over the last 30 years there has been a never ending stream of anti-EU sentiment, mostly from media owned by ogliarchs who stand to get more power and make more money from dismantling it. The deafening cries of headlines over the last few months has no doubt made it impossible for anyone who sees them to get a real rational or honest perspective.
    On the plus side for marketers though, there's still value in these publications, even in their decline phase.
  • The universe always descends towards chaos
    This is perhaps more a scientific point than anything else... but given the universe and everything within it will gradually head towards a state of entropy and chaos, we should maybe not be so surprised when things like this, or Donald Trump happen. Likewise, no matter how well planned or executed a campaign is, there is never any guarantee of success. Anything can happen.
  • Everyone is a hypocrite sometimesI've noticed this over the last few days. People who spent months complaining about the EU are now complaining at people complaining about leaving... people who said they would protest a close remain win are now telling those protesting a close leave win to 'shut up and accept it'.
    Similarly there are plenty of us who have very very vocally insulted leave voters, having previously criticised them for doing the same. As we well know, emotion is very powerful... anger and disappointment especially. Everyone who wins thinks they would be a good loser, but most are always bad losers... kind of how 100% of drivers think they are above average!

1 comment:

QBP said...

I'd like to add:
Have a contingency plan!

Neither the Treasury or the Government had a contingency plan. This caused the pound to almost collapse. It did recover somewhat. And David Cameron to resign... quickly.