Team Trudeau and the Winning Why

“Justin Trudeau speaks at the University of Waterloo in 2006” by Mohammad Jangda — Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons —

When parties “shop for votes” — to borrow the title of iPolitics columnist Susan Delacourt’s book — the cumulative noise of one micro-promise after another confuses any sense of an overall vision or message.

We live in an age of sales. People care less about what you do than your ability to sell it, or sell them. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best contractor or project manager, have developed the next Apple or Google or whatever — if you can’t convince people, on their time but your dime, that they need and/or want what you’ve got, you go nowhere.

Two key principles of sales — know who you’re selling to and know what you’re selling. If you’re selling a new App, for instance, make sure you know clearly the precise thing it does and who will benefit from that. If you can’t make your audience feel that one thing provides a solution to one problem of theirs, you’ll lose them and lose the sale.


From a strictly sales-oriented, free-markety perspective, all this makes sense. In politics, this means less lofty ideals and complex, confusing platforms but easy to communicate (read: sell) planks that can be further refined into simple messages that appeal to the various chunks of your desired coalition. If you have ten priorities you have no priorities, right? Working memory can only focus on four or five ideas at a time, so you ideally want to build your platform around five planks.

Oh — and sound really, really confident while you’re doing it. Make sure your desired audience knows that only your team/leader can deliver the goods, gets what matters, You have the best ideas delivered by the greatest team, full stop. Take a couple shots at the competition, throw in a couple differentiators and you have the ingredients of a winning campaign (if you hold up to scrutiny, which can be deflected by circled wagons and unwavering messaging).

That’s how politics is traditionally done. That’s how the sale is made, the coalition built and government formed. Know your audience, know your product, knock down your opposition. It’s the Lynton Crosby way.

Enter Team Trudeau.

While the Liberal campaign did all of the things outlined above — they had their products, their audience, their subtle jabs at opponents, they had more going for them than that.

Whereas Harper’s message as “you know I can do the job and the other guys are too risky” and Mulcair’s message was “Harper has failed, only I can do the job” Trudeau followed the advice of Simon Sinek and dug deeper.

Trudeau didn’t begin with what or how — he began with why.

“In order to know if someone is ready for this job, ask them what they want to do with this job. Why they want it in the first place.”

Simon Sinek describing Apples why:

“Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently.”

Trudeau on his why:

In our hearts, we’ve always known that better is always possible.

A country that is strong not in spite of our differences, but because of them.

Mulcair talked about change — the NDP, it was argued, is the party of change. While Team Trudeau stuck with the “real change” phrase, the underlying message was “We can do better. We’ve always known we can do better.”

Why did Trudeau run? He believes that Canada is more than the sum of its parts — we aren’t just provinces or stakeholder groups or demographic groups, we are a nation that “believes in our hearts that this country’s unique diversity is a blessing bestowed upon us by previous generations of Canadians, Canadians who stared down prejudice and fought discrimination in all its forms.” His plan and his team were committed to restoring this brand to the country we know and love.

Everything else flowed from that.

Harper could have and may even have thought he’d framed himself this way — he wants to stay in power to keep Canada safe, stay the course, whatever — but what was communicated was a sales pitch.

Harper had a product on offer. Mulcair had services on offer.

Trudeau, on the other hand, had a purpose.

Ultimately, that’s what made the difference.

“I didn’t make history tonight; you did. And don’t let anyone tell you any differently. I know that I am on stage tonight for one reason and one reason only: because you put me here,” he said.