Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
Rebranding can be an important exercise for companies: seeking to move away from the past, and show customers their vision of the future. Political branding has become increasingly more salient, as public perception of parties determines how voters make their decision.
Rowan Emslie wrote his Masters thesis on rebranding the Labour party in modern Britain, asking :
How do voters conceptualize the brand of a mainstream political party? Can a political party rebrand in the eyes of the voter? Can political branding give any insight into the wider disaffection of democratic citizens?
As political parties have become ideologically closer, at least in terms of economic governance, politics is reshaped as a managerial exercise. Mr Emslie considers the decline of trust in political institutions and the rise of disaffection in liberal democracies.
Perceptions are prime:
The actual performance of politicians is of relatively limited performance – it is how the electorate perceives their behaviour and character that matters.
This disparity in perceptions has been exacerbated by the digital revolution:
The ability of modern citizens to act without any central organising body has been greatly enhanced by digital communications. This has, in turn, disrupted the power balance in democratic systems. As Anthony Giddens put it, “politics looks different when you have a supercomputer in your pocket” (The Hertie School of Governance, 2015).
In Brand Concept Mapping, there are three stages: elicitation, mapping and aggregation. In the first phase, Mr Emslie asks questions such as “when you think of The Labour Party, what comes to mind?” to respondents. The responses are listed, include “Benefits”, “NHS”, and “Ed Miliband”.
In the second phase, respondents are asked to take a prescribed list of terms and map their relationships to the core brand.
In the third phase, these maps are aggregated to provide a single consensus map. This final phase is somewhat complicated, and involves determining the core associations, determining first-order associations, selecting core association links, and then non-association links, finding the average strength of those links, and selecting the sign (positive, neutral, or negative) of those links.
The 2016 consensus map is certainly more chaotic. In the case of both maps, only leaders are considered important enough to be commonly associated with the party. Whilst Tony Blair has declined in the strength in association, the former leader is mainly remembered for the Iraq War, rather than more positive associations of strong leadership and good education policy. As Mr Emslie writes:
The current Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has close links to ‘Left’, ‘Socialism’ and ‘Working class’, indicating that he has captured different parts of Labour’s brand than Blair or Brown either in 2007 or this year. French and Smith note that current and former party leaders tend to be paired (p468) – Corbyn’s separation from Ed Miliband indicates another break from the past.
This qualitative map is then buttressed by an quantitative analysis of the associations.
The degree of centrality is the count of associations linked to each association. The measure of “betweenness” is what proportion of shortest paths link through each association. The closeness centrality is how close associations are to other associations in the map. In terms of degree, Tony Blair – despite ceasing to be Prime Minister and Labour leader in 2007 – is still considered central to Labour’s image.
This thesis concludes:
It is often quipped that a week is a long time in politics. From analysing how voters understand and conceptualise the central institution of representative democracy – it would seem that this is a misguided notion.
The thesis offers the application of Brand Concept Mapping to political parties, from which we see that past leaders linger long after they have left their office, like ghosts in the political machine. A repetition with a larger sample size may be beneficial for confirmation. It is recognised that the BCM exercise was limited by costs, and it is another lens which can be compared to public polling and other data sources.
The broader topics also instigate questions: if economic governance is not (or perhaps with Jeremy Corbyn’s ascension, was not) the cleavage between political parties in Britain, what is?
 Emslie, R., 2016. Rebranding the Labour party in modern Britain. Hertie School of Governance. Masters thesis.
Note: this thesis has been publicly held on WordPress with permission of the author.