So, the UK has narrowly voted to leave the EU. Pandora’s Box is blown wide open.
The markets are in turmoil. The Prime Minister and half the shadow cabinet have resigned. Scotland is set to leave the UK. Non-white British people are being told to “Go Home”. The EU is on the brink of disintegration. And Donald Trump has hailed the result a “great victory”.
On their side, the Remainers had all the banks, almost every world leader, business leader & economist.
The Leavers had a motley, disunited leadership. No vision, no strategy and no plan for what would happen if they won. We were urged to Leave, but given no clue as to the destination.
So, why did the Leaver Campaign win, and how can that help your startup?
Emotions create movement and action
Of course there are many factors but there’s one fundamental reason the Leavers won in my opinion.
“In persuasion, your message has to focus on emotions, all the while maintaining a balance between logic and feelings. Logic and emotion are the two elements that make for perfect persuasion.” 
“We are persuaded by reason, but we are moved by emotion. Several studies conclude that up to 90 percent of the decisions we make are based on emotion. We use logic to justify our actions to ourselves and to others. Take note that emotion will always win over logic and that imagination will always win over reality. Think about talking to children about their fear of the dark, or to someone about their phobia of snakes. You know it is useless to use logic to persuade them that their thoughts and actions don’t make sense. They are still convinced that there is a problem.” 
From Levers to Leavers
Knowingly or not, the Leave Campaign understood and tapped into the underlying emotions of a tightly targeted segment of the electorate.
Will Davies writes, “Brexit-voters perhaps crave the most: the dignity of being self-sufficient, not necessarily in a neoliberal sense, but certainly in a communal, familial and fraternal sense.” 
“In this context, the slogan ‘take back control’ was a piece of political genius. It worked on every level between the macroeconomic and the psychoanalytic. Think of what it means on an individual level to rediscover control. To be a person without control (for instance to suffer incontinence or a facial tick) is to be the butt of cruel jokes, to be potentially embarrassed in public. It potentially reduces one’s independence. What was so clever about the language of the Leave campaign was that it spoke directly to this feeling of inadequacy and embarrassment, then promised to eradicate it. The promise had nothing to do with economics or policy, but everything to do with the psychological allure of autonomy and self-respect. Farrage’s political strategy was to take seriously communities who’d otherwise been taken for granted for much of the past 50 years.” 
Time after time, Leave-voters said they were fed up with the government, the banks, big business, oh yeah, and the EU. They wanted Britain to take back control of its laws and its borders. For many, the EU was a scapegoat. A punchbag. For many, this was a protest vote and now they’re experiencing Buyer’s Remorse.
Most voters had their minds set from the start and were merely looking for confirmation of their beliefs. Victory depends on winning the hearts and minds of the relatively few who are ready and willing to listen to what you have to say.
The Leave Campaign however knew who they were targeting, and understood how they felt. What pissed them off, and what they wanted. The target Leave-voter was older, white, and felt financially and/or socially excluded, powerless and with nothing to lose.
Why the Leavers won
I believe the Leave Campaign won because they did a more effective job of using emotion. What’s more, they converted that emotion into victory by combining with ‘facts’ (£350 million pounds a week) and testimonials (James Dyson and some other guy).
Meanwhile, the Remainers failed to identify a target audience. A cursory look at polling data would have shown that 18 to 24s were consistently leaning to Remain. Yet their turnout was low. (Of the 180,000 at Glastonbury how many organised a postal vote?) Large numbers of Leaver-voters have since said that if only they’d known what was really at stake they’d have voted to stay. Areas with some of the highest Leaver votes were in areas most economically dependent on the EU.
So much scope for building a case based on a combination of emotion and logic!
Yet the Remainer Campaign simply scatter-gunned the electorate with mere ‘facts’ and ‘figures’. They presented an endless geek parade of ever more qualified ‘experts’ (the IMF, World Bank, Bank of England, 10 Nobel Prize Winning Economists).
While perhaps grist to the mill for already-committed Remainers, all those ‘facts’ and ‘figures’ failed to move the electorate. To some of the floating voters they most needed to convince, this may even have come across as patronising and driven them further away by reinforcing their sense of disconnect and powerlessness.
They failed to work in convincing analogies and examples of how Brexit could affect us as individuals.
They failed to put the Leave Campaign on the back-foot by demanding a post-Brexit strategy and plan.
They failed to excite with a positive vision.
But most of all they failed to tap into any kind of emotion, except one. Fear. This allowed the Leavers to get away with accusing them of being Project Fear. Too much fear triggers resistance and acceptance decreases.
So while the Remainers made increasingly desperate attempts to whip up fear based on all those facts and figures, they failed to convert that fear into positive emotion.
I’m not arguing the Leavers ran a perfect campaign. Far from it. But, the Leavers incorporated a bigger and more effective dose of emotion than did the Remainers. And that’s why they won.
What’s all this got to do my startup?
Imagine one startup droning on and on about features, facts and figures to whoever happens to be unfortunate enough to be within earshot. Devoid of emotion, connection and instantly forgettable.
Meanwhile, another startup speaks to the challenges, hopes and dreams of a clearly defined and well-understood audience. It then backs this up with well judged evidence, testimonials, analogies and examples.
Which approach do you think works best?
In order to succeed in today’s busy, noisy, ‘fact-filled’ world, we startups need to be crystal clear about who our ideal audience, users and customers are and why they should care. What they’re trying to get done. What in their minds is holding them back. And what it is they really want.
The right combination of both emotion and logic leads to connection, movement and action.
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