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Top marketers on how Budget 2015 fared as a product launch

We asked marketing experts to evaluate Joe Oliver’s budget as a product launch. Here’s what they said

Finance Minister Joe Oliver

Finance Minister Joe Oliver. (Justin Tang/CP)

We asked some of Canada’s finest marketing minds to evaluate 2015’s Federal Budget as if it were a product launch (which, in many ways, it is). How well did Finance Minister Joe Oliver do as a pitchman? Is the brand creating the right feelings for the voters/customers? And will anyone buy it? Here’s what they said:

Bruce Philp, brand strategist & Canadian Business columnist

“Anticlimax is inevitable when an obscure, nerdy, bespectacled leader steps out of the shadow of the great departed. Worse yet, when that leader can’t make a defining moment out of his debut. Watching Joe Oliver deliver the budget this afternoon, I was reminded of nobody more than Apple’s Tim Cook (work with me, here). With little charisma and nothing but minor incremental improvements to announce in his first months as boss, Cook sloshed around in impossibly big, empty shoes, leaving pundits to wonder at the time if he would ever have what it took to fill them.

For Joe Oliver, Jim Flaherty surely casts the same kind of shadow. Smart, pragmatic, highly-regarded internationally and widely mourned, if you believe government had any hand in Canada’s relatively easy ride through the last recession, that hand was Jim Flaherty’s.

Notwithstanding the chants of “Joe! Joe! Joe!” and the new sneakers, Flaherty’s ghost could only have added to the burden of a rookie finance minister delivering the last budget before a key election. Especially a budget so short on vision and so long on constituency-pandering. With no bold new product to offer and skeptics all around, he must have dreaded standing up this afternoon.

But that doesn’t mean he blew it. Today’s budget did what the Conservatives needed it to do, and Joe Oliver managed to avoid getting branded personally with any of it. With an election nearing, the thing Joe needed to sell most this afternoon was Joe, and so far he might just be reading from Tim Cook’s playbook: Don’t break anything. Reassure the faithful. Consolidate, wait, and your moment will come.”

MORE: What Joe Oliver could learn from Steve Jobs

Steve Carli, president, RedUrban

“Even before the official broadcast begins, it’s appropriate to acknowledge the effective tactic of leaking tenets of the budget 24 hours prior. It allows the Minister to see what resonates with the press & the public and gives him a chance to massage the launch one last time before it becomes official.

I don’t think the Minister is a great speaker, but he delivered what he needed to do in a concise manner. He hammered a few key points (although he flubbed his lines when he delivered his big line, ‘This balance is budget…’). ‘Promise made, promise kept’ and ‘This budget is written in black ink’ were both strong lines.

If you accept that the average voter isn’t going to get into the detail, they did well from the messaging: balanced budget, kept the contingency, increased tax breaks, Canada is the envy of the world from a fiscal security standpoint, etc.

However, I think he didn’t do a good enough sell job on the overall vision of the budget. It became about the details, and the details (just like advertising features in a car), leaves you open to competition and a disputing of the facts.

In my opinion, the overall content opens up several key points that the opposition should be able to hammer them on, reinforcing the potential negative perception that people have of the current Conservative government. That is, overly secretive, duplicitous, and in the pockets of the rich.”

Joe Jackman, CEO, Jackman

“To be clear, I am not a political analyst nor an expert on the workings of government. I can only offer the perspective of someone who helps to reinvent brands and their underlying business models, applying a few of our key principles to the world of budget-making:

Brand-Led: There are several brands involved here—namely, the Conservative Party of Canada, and of course the Canada brand itself. To be a good brand you must provide a useful and compelling value proposition, stand out in some meaningful way so as to be regularly chosen over other options, and consistently deliver on your promises.

To join the ranks of great brands you must exceed expectations—usually through continuous innovation and deep customer engagement—and provide an emotional benefit often rooted in a higher-order purpose; for example, ‘creating magical experiences for the child in all of us,’ as Disney does, or ‘enabling the athlete in all of us’ as Nike does. Paraphrasing Jerry Garcia, great brands are considered to be ‘the only ones who do what they do.’ Not only do they make you feel something, they encourage you to believe in something and hold it up as worthy of affinity and even loyalty. What was it that was announced today that truly sets Canada apart while at the same time bringing us together?

On these measures, both the Party and the Country are good brands, not great ones. In the case of the Conservatives they generally deliver on their promises—you get what you expect—and arguably provide value in their ability to manage the day-to-day affairs of government. They do not, however, inspire. They may be the beneficiary of what we in the commercial world rarely see any longer: winning by default. In business today, loyalty is truly the absence of a better option.

In the case of our country, Canada the brand falls a bit short. In terms of both hard and soft assets we have all the makings of a great brand on the global stage, yet we have not defined ourselves beyond resources and general reliability. What do we believe in, and therefore what is our purpose in the world? Which leads to another question and principle of reinvention: what is the outcome we desire over the mid to long term?

Outcome Focused: Great brands and businesses know where they are going and excel at bringing stakeholders—whether they be customers or employees or shareholders—along with them. In this case, there is no long-term outcome, only the short-term goal of winning an election. To truly be outcome-focused leadership must be able to clearly define and articulate the destination over the long haul, get people heading toward it at a pace, each of them knowing and excited about their role in getting there. This collective movement is what creates the golden competitive advantage for leaders, countries or businesses: momentum.

Making Momentum: Once brand belief and purpose are defined and the desired outcome made clear, and these are articulated in a compelling enough way to guide and inspire everyone and everything, the goal is to make momentum. Remember that speed is an ally in this regard, as velocity times mass is what creates momentum. Here I would give both the Country and the Party a mark of zero. To me the budget presents incremental change at best, and does little to ignite momentum and inspire Canadians to move toward something better. A case in point is the transit agenda. Most of the money doesn’t land until 2017. Making momentum in the business world means taking action, not making promises.”