Silence is golden?
Perhaps David Cameron's reticence to share a platform with other politicians in the 'countdown to Number 10' televised debates is informed by the famous phrase from Mahatma Gandhi "speak only if it improves the silence".
The stakes are high, failing to get the message across in an authentic and convincing manner may jeopardise the incumbent more than the challengers.
50 years ago the USA witnessed the first TV debates, which have become a mainstay feature in the run up to presidential elections in the States. In the first of these, people listening on radio were convinced that Nixon had won over Kennedy; those viewing on TV thought the exact opposite, citing the spectacle of Nixon's shifty mannerisms as the problem.
Pundits have claimed that whist the PM is citing the omission of the Greens as his rationale, he is also worried about the crowding out of the rest of the election campaign, giving him less time to recover from the fall out of such big events so close to the election date.
This has some parallels with the business environment in the retail world where the traditional Christmas shopping flow was condensed into Black Friday, a phenomenon criticised by Andy Street, CEO of John Lewis, as being a net negative in terms of problematic logistic issues and reduced margins. In other words each of these events, election debates and Black Friday can be described as sucking the lifeblood out of the ' normal' flow of events.
Getting big campaign messages out in today's always on and preoccupied world is getting increasingly difficult. One of the consequences of our adoption of tablets and smartphones is that we can block our listening ears with headphones and become cocooned from the physical world, able to chose exactly what, how and when (or not) to tune in. From a personal perspective I rarely watch TV, but managed to clock up 15 hours of House of Cards; a guilty pleasure courtesy of Netflix and my iPad during the Christmas break - an equivalent to that bygone, can't put down novel.
Given this scenario, we can understand the appeal of initiatives that coral the masses into action at a particular time, in a controlled way. It's the antithesis of the trends in our evolving society where we make contact and absorb content when, how, if and where we choose, and in turn demand that organisations respond in a complimentary fashion.
So, in a world where organisations no longer control and cascade communication to us, we are likely to see greater attempts and investments to get us to listen and respond at a set point in time. Successful execution of big launches require a continuous feed of great consumer engagement and insight to feed into the 'Big Debate' whether political or commercial, to make sure that it becomes the pinnacle of a successful campaign, rather than the Achilles heel which will bring the whole house down. In other words, relentlessly striving for a balanced, well researched analysis of what your market believes about your offering, so that they are in step with you, and might even forgive you the odd one-off slip up.
Most of our research shows that consumers don't like surprises, in an uncertain world they like the reassurance that those they choose to engage with understand and empathise with their needs. To do this we need to listen and translate more rather than fill silences with assumptions.
In the words of another philosopher, the Hatter in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland:
"I don't think....then you shouldn't talk' said the Hatter .