His policies are questionable, his behaviour is despicable, and he isn’t seen as a traditionally likeable character, yet despite this, Donald Trump’s brand somehow got him elected as the 45th President of the United States of America.
Outside of alleged Russian collusion, or controversial use of Cambridge Analytica’s ad targeting strategy, there is one thing that won Mr. Trump the election and that is his personal brand and communications strategy.
In this piece we take a look at what all businesses can learn and implement from the 2016 presidential election campaign.
If a man with no political experience can pave his way to arguably the highest political office in the world with a handful of marketing strategies, what do you think your business could accomplish using similar tactics?
The Business of Politics
Firstly, it’s important to know that politicians essentially become brands when campaigns begin, and this isn’t a new concept. You can see the parallels between corporate brands and political candidates clearly:
Logos – Irish politics is a bit different to a bit different to American politics as they generally adopt the logo of their political party. American presidential candidates effectively become brands of their own and use a specific set of logos and brand guidelines
Slogans – Slogans and taglines have been a part of politics and business for generations, while Barack Obama and his supporters chanted ‘Yes We Can’, Nike told us to ‘Just Do It’. Both are simple messages that convey what the brand is all about.
Image, Voice and Reputation Management – Most importantly, candidates spend time perfecting their image, their voice and how they’re seen by the voting public. This was the most crucial area developed by ‘The Donald’.
So, how did Trump manage to create such a powerful brand from a cartoonish and politically inexperienced past personality?
He Created a Powerful Brand Story
We spoke in our recent blog on Irish football club Bohemian F.C, about how important it is to see your brand as more than just something that popped up as a vehicle to sell things to people and to create an enduring and inspiring story about who you are and why you do what you do. This is something that Trump did better than anyone else in the race.
If there is no story, there is no brand. It’s really that simple. Mr. Trump identified a specific pain point for his voting pool and then positioned himself as the man to solve this problem through his brand story as a successful and experienced businessman.
The Problem? America was stretched out and paying more than it was receiving. American corporations were outsourcing to Mexico, India and even Ireland amongst various other countries. That outsourcing included importing manufactured goods that Americans could have produced at home at a higher cost and people from towns and cities that were affected by this were not happy.
How his Brand Story Made people believe he would solve it? Trump positioned himself as a successful business man who was not afraid to take on these large multinationals and force them to bring jobs and infrastructure back to America.
“America was once great. America is no longer great. I will make America great again,”
He Identified & Understood His Specific Target Audiences
We all know how important it is to identify your target audience and deeply understand their likes, dislikes and buying patterns but one thing that under-performing brands tend to do is have too broad an idea of who their target audience is. How many times have you heard a brand owner say they are targeting “men and women, from all areas of Ireland, between the ages of 20 – 65”. It’s more common than you think!
First and foremost, Trump wasn’t trying to win over “America.” He was sharply focused on working-class white males, which is a large, but specific demographic. His messaging became laser-focused and highly relevant to this audience, which led to greater brand affinity and rapid expansion of his supporter base. This supporter base then served to spread his message and create a movement which is the ultimate goal for any brand.
He Segmented This Audience & Tailored The Message To Suit
In politics there are generally three specific overall audience segments. You have supporters who will generally always vote your way, opposition who will most likely never vote for you, and then there is the undecided who you need to fight tooth and nail with your competitors to get them on your side. This is very much the same in a congested brand marketplace.
Each of these segments needed their own specific communications strategy which is the same with your business:
Supporter: The communication is designed to make sure these people actually go out and vote on the day and make it as simple as possible to do so. This is why it is always important to drive your brand advocates to the point of purchase through creative calls to action.
Pic: Billboard ad that was specifically geo-targeted to supported strongholds showing where the nearest voting station is located
Opposition: Trump didn’t waste too much time trying to convert people who were staunchly opposed to his brand but he did identify areas where he could turn perceived opposers into supporters. This is no more evident when we see that, somehow, more than 40% of women who went to the polls on Election Day voted Trump!
Undecided: This is where your skill as a marketer will be put to the test. How do you get people to pick your brand over your competitors. This is where Trump excelled over Clinton and as the piece goes on, we will show you why.
Pic: Billboard ad that was specifically geo-targeted to undecided areas showcasing wide range of celebrity endorsers
He Created a Simple Defined Brand Message
Once this target audience is defined, brands must become a reflection of their customer. You must understand deeply how they like to be communicated with and convey a simple message in a language that they understand and use in their own daily lives. Is your brand messaging simple enough for a 5 year old to understand? If not, you may be losing business.
This is the area where Trump’s campaign really began to take off. His messaging was simple and he shaped all of his communications around these key messages.
In comparison, while his direct competitor in the race, Hillary Clinton, had an array of different policies and reforms that were much more important, Trump simplified his whole campaign into two key messages that allowed his supporters understand exactly what he stood for and share that message within their own peer groups.
“Make America Great Again”
As a campaign slogan, it wasn’t new. But by taking ‘Make America Great Again’ – previously used in campaigns like Ronald Reagan’s – and making it his own, Donald Trump helped to reflect his supporters’ desires and move towards this unexpected victory.
His target voter wanted a return to the past glory days, to employment, to stability, to working together to realise the American dream. Those who felt that the America of 2016 held nothing for them could look to Trump as someone who promised a return to the ideals they held dear.
“We Will Build a Wall”
With this message he identified a massive pain point for Americans which isn’t necessarily politically correct to talk about and drove home his support for stopping it. The problem is illegal immigration and the answer was building a wall. Trump doesn’t ever have to build the wall but by presenting this solution he mobilised masses of disenfranchised Americans to become advocates.
The Message Was Clear, But How Did He Get it Out There?
Ok, so we’ve identified our target audience, we’ve devised a simple message that even a 5 year old can understand but now we need to get that message out there. That can be easier said than done but brands are now focusing on similar vehicles as what Trump used. Earned Media Generation, Online Content Marketing and Brand Consumer Experiences.
Earned Media Vs Paid Media
Donald Trump didn’t spend nearly as much on advertising as typical presidential candidates, and he didn’t have to — he relied on billions of dollars of free mentions in media ranging from major TV news networks to Buzzfeed and Twitter instead.
The real estate magnate got $4.96 billion in free earned media in the year leading up to the presidential election, according to data from tracking firm mediaQuant. He received $5.6 billion throughout the entirety of his campaign, more than Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio combined.
During the election, Trump got about 50% more coverage than Clinton across all media but outdid her by 150% on Twitter. The platform delivered $402 million in free attention for Trump and $166 million for Clinton.
These numbers seem astronomical but it is certainly possible to generate massive amounts of earned media at a smaller scale for your own business.
Online Content Marketing
It’s not taken long for marketers in the US to point to Trump’s success as further evidence of the power of content marketing and social media over traditional forms of communication. Clearly they have a point. Trump achieved infeasible success from an incredibly small investment. He is the perma-tanned poster boy for everything that the new media revolutionaries have been telling us for the past decade.
Yes, your brand might be fundamentally tedious but with clever content we can create traction and earn untold media value. That might be true in theory, but it’s much harder in practice than it might sound. For this to be successful however brands must not be risk averse or boring, if your content is not interesting, informative and different it will come and go with a whimper.
Brand Consumer Experiences
Brands are now focusing on creating experiences for their customers which are not only making them happy but also giving them real time access to their product or service. This might be a property expo, a wellness festival, or an interactive consumer competition like we ran for Sports Direct earlier this year.
Trump’s version of this was his rallies, some of the biggest and most frequent in American political history. Trump had the ability to fill arenas in multiple states on the same day and as one prominent supporter says “If people stand out in the rain and sun for hours, camp out overnight and take off work to attend a rally, then they’ll certainly show up to vote,”
He Was Unapologetically Authentic
For all of Trump’s faults, you can’t argue that he isn’t authentic. It is very clear that what you see is what you get. Authenticity may be one of the most underdeveloped traits of business leaders, but when it comes to creating a following and aligning people to what you believe in, it is critical because it creates trust.
Put simply, authenticity means that the things you say, and the things you do, you actually believe and you don’t just do them in order to further your own agenda.
In an era where consumer trust has plummeted across all industries, honesty and authenticity have emerged as the attributes that matter most. Consumers, more than ever before, are holding brands to a higher standard. They are looking for more than price, quality and convenience. Sure, they want value for their money. But they also want to believe in the brands they support.
One of the most important people in getting Trump elected was his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and again he used simplicity in designing his strategy. The whole strategy was built around four simple words “Let Trump be Trump”.
In a world of managed political identities and leaders that change opinion with the daily polls, Lewandowski had the guts and smarts to realise that the only way his candidate could win was by being himself, especially when all his adversaries were being anything but.
If being authentic can make people even trust someone like Donald Trump, just imagine what it can do for your brand!
He Built an Emotional Attachment to his Brand
“Ours was not a campaign, but rather an incredible movement of people who want a better future for themselves and their family.”
Even though we consider ourselves logical and modern human beings, the majority of our decisions are made through emotion.
Trump created an emotional reaction in both his supporters and his detractors which allowed him to bypass the media and connect directly with the voting pool, while simultaneously benefiting from the media to spread his message. Supporters and opponents became the media themselves, spreading and amplifying subjective and emotional effective news – news designed to provoke passion, not inform.
This level of emotion generated mass amounts of coverage for Trump, both positive and negative, across the media, social media, and at the water cooler. It got to the stage where his supporters were talking about how great he was, his detractors were talking about how bad he was, but most importantly nobody was talking about his competition!
He Also Branded The Opposition
Trump didn’t just brand himself, however. A major point of his campaign involved branding the competition so he could illustrate his own brand as superior – as a “winner.” Even in the primaries, Trump steamrolled over his opponents by casting them in specific negative lights. The name “Lyin’ Ted” caught on quickly, and certainly aided Trump’s victory over his more conventional candidate, Ted Cruz.
And of course, “Crooked Hillary” was a standby in Trump’s speeches and overall campaign, as he worked to illustrate the Clinton brand as deceptive and criminal.
Don’t forget the “Fake News” media, instead of getting drawn into a back and forth over every allegation, accusation and opinion he labelled them all as fake news which set a dangerous precedent for future campaigns (we do not suggest you do this).
This strategy is a bit more out there and doesn’t suit every brand but one person who is executing this to perfection at the moment is Ben Dunne with his series of radio ads detracting his main competitor Flyefit and more specifically their prices, which has certainly caused a stir and got the brand talked about.
So, what are the key lessons for brands to learn from all of this?
Who are you targeting and why? Don’t try to be everything to everybody. Instead, narrow your focus to one key demographic. It’s better to have your target market think you’re absolutely the best than have many groups of people think you’re just “okay.”
What’s the story? Always create an inspiring narrative around your brand, where it came from and what it stands for.
Would a child understand the message? The simpler your message is, the more memorable it will be. Remain clear, concise and as simple as possible.
Do you believe in your brand? Always be authentic and believe in what you say and do. Consumers will forgive your faults if it is believed that you are being yourself and not a reflection of what you think they want.
Can you evoke an emotional response? Emotion creates action, so trigger emotion in your target audience. If your audience is afraid, or feels neglected or forgotten, use that to your advantage by speaking to their pain points, fears and needs. Mobilise your audience by appealing to emotion within your content strategy.
How can you stand out from the crowd? Stand out from the competition by being different, and shape your brand to reinforce these key differences. Don’t be afraid to compare your brand to your competition’s, to point out how you differ.
This post is not meant to endorse Donald Trump or condone his policies. It’s simply meant as an illustration of the marketing tactics he used to secure victory in one of the strangest elections of our time.