Ottawa View: Marketing and the Reform party

This column, serving as Strategy's window on Ottawa, looks at emerging issues, practices and trends in federal government communications.The only things missing were those funny purple tassled hats and a few tricycles.Otherwise, I would've sworn that I was at a Shriners'...

This column, serving as Strategy’s window on Ottawa, looks at emerging issues, practices and trends in federal government communications.

The only things missing were those funny purple tassled hats and a few tricycles.

Otherwise, I would’ve sworn that I was at a Shriners’ convention, instead of the Reform party’s first big post-election get-together.

Last weekend’s gathering, from my limited observation of the final evening’s activities, boasted two things: a lot of grey-haired white guys, and a collection of Reform mps that bore striking resemblance to a team of old-time Chicago Bear football players.

40% female delegates

When I spoke to Lucille Hodgins, Reform party communications director, after the event, she was quick to tell me that 40% of delegates were women, and 10% were under the age of 25.

Perhaps it was only the men who decided to turn out the night I was there.

Anyhow, the soiree had everything from a pretty little girl on stage tut-tutting about how her parents never let her overspend her allowance, to a sea of fluttering Maple Leafs, David Fosteresque motivational melodies, Reform party leader Preston Manning delivering a rousing speech on home renovation (something to do with rebuilding the national house), and the national anthem in, count ‘em, both official languages.

Given this display of choreographed inspiration, emotion, patriotism and plain ol’ good sense, it is clear someone behind the scenes knows their marketing.

So, let’s talk about the Reform party product.

Sitting comfortably in the growth stage of the product lifecycle, sales have increased dramatically (one to 52 seats) over the past several years.

Trying the product

Success has, in the main, been due to healthy numbers of consumers (about 2.5 million), who, after searching the market, have chosen to buy, or, at least try, the product, and are now telling others.

In the growth stage, revenues typically increase rapidly, and profits start to appear.

As a result, competitors try to introduce their own versions of the original, which forces the innovative company to promote its brand more aggressively, emphasizing its leadership in product quality.

Repositioned

As more firms penetrate the market, profits reach a peak. At this point, the product is usually repositioned in order to capture a larger audience.

Since the Reform party needs to triple its market share in order to gain a majority in the House of Commons, the question is, how far can it tamper with its product without alienating a hardcore, loyal customer base?

A core, incidentally, that is at once the party’s greatest asset – because of the 52 seats it delivered – and its greatest liability – because it resembles, from what I can tell, the kind of ultra-conservative (some might call it redneck) element that party officials are trying to downplay.

Or, does the product need to be changed at all?

Maybe it’s the miserable, left-leaning media that’s to blame for the questionable image, and the solution is to leapfrog ‘em, a la Ross Perot, and go the Larry King Live route.

These questions are best put to Lucille Hodgins.

Model of car

So, continuing in our marketing mode, I started off by asking her to name the model of car she thought Reform most resembled.

While diplomatically declining to cite a brand name, she did say Reform was a new kind of car: first, it was economical; second, it was paid for, and, third, it had lots of power to take us away from the status quo.

As for marketing, Hodgins mentioned there were no plans to reposition the product; that she was happy with the growth and diversification which was occurring, and that product spokesperson Preston Manning would continue to promote the same, pure, undiluted message that has been responsible for the recent, impressive market gains.

Room for growth

In other words, still lots of room for increasing revenues.

Since competing federal products have done little to capitalize on the popularity of Reform, this focussed approach seems sound.

The less other brands do, the more respectable Reform’s image becomes as more and more customers are won over.

Reform’s hope is that profits will peak in about three years.

Nigel Beale is president of Nigel Beale and Associates, a communications firm, and operates the Ottawa offices of News Canada, a news distribution service. Reader feedback is encouraged and Beale can be contacted at (613) 241-9900 (phone); (613) 241-9477 (fax.)