The Weakness of “Better Together”

Lessons from Scotland



Last month, I was invited to speak at a Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) conference in Nanaimo. They asked me to speak about the challenges of creating a compelling value proposition for a very diverse membership. It seems that they are experiencing some internal friction about how well or not the CREA is serving various types of members. They wanted to learn from the experiences of other organizations, and to creatively think about how to do better at serving disaffected segments of their membership.

The CBA has had cycles of dealing with this issue, when one group or another threatens to take their membership dollars elsewhere, or when a segment of the Bar decides that more autonomy is important for them to better meet their own specialized needs. In reality, the CBA is actually dealing with some version of this challenge daily – every time a member looks at a membership invoice and decides whether there is real value in belonging to the CBA.

During the recent independence vote in Scotland, the marketing battle for votes came down to two sides presenting their version of a value proposition. You could choose to “buy” a new independent Scotland or continue to “buy” the brand of nationalism that you’d been buying for hundreds of years. Despite the fact that it’s human nature to lean toward the status quo over risk-taking behaviour, the pro-independence campaign actually did the best job of expressing the value of its ideas and connecting them to the things that mattered to the people they were trying to influence.

Which brings me to the “Better Together” campaign, and its lessons for membership organizations with distinctly different groups of members within them. First, the campaign itself was mediocre. From a marketing perspective it was boring, and when it wasn’t boring it was negative. “Say ‘No Thanks’ to Separation” was the banal tagline, with photos of average people saying why they were intending to avoid risk and stick with the UK. There wasn’t a heartstring tugged anywhere – the arguments were economic and security-based (both personal and societal), and basically built on fear. Contrast that to the powerful messages of creating a nation, of righting hundreds of years of slights and wrongs, and of being heard around the world. The positivity was over-the-top in some ways, riding roughshod over some inconvenient facts, but there is no question that the pro-independence campaign created the more powerful and positive value proposition.

So what could the anti-separation side have done better? Three key things: listening, respecting and delivering. Listening: they didn’t take the separation threat seriously enough, so they didn’t take the time to understand who they were dealing with and what really mattered to them. Respecting: they were selling “a better UK” versus the other side’s “a better Scotland.” They focussed on why it was vitally important to Scotland that it stay part of the UK. They missed a chance to emotionally connect with the Scots about how important Scotland was to the UK, and to reflect back to its people their own pride and importance. Scottish people – like association member groups – want to know that their specialness is seen, understood and truly valued. And finally, delivering: if the UK had listened to and respected Scottish concerns and needs, there would already have been reforms and action taken that made separation a less attractive choice.

At the CBA, we work hard to listen, respect and deliver every day. We believe that if we do that well, your choice of staying or joining will be an easy one – say “yes” to being part of a better CBA!

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