Brexit, Trump… what does it all mean for marketers?

In the wake of Trump’s inauguration and impending Brexit, what does it all mean for marketers?

Following Donald Trump’s inauguration on 20 January and the vote for Brexit in June of last year, many of us are left feeling uncertain what the future holds. Last week’s CIM London event, “Brexit, Trump… whatever next”, attempted to shed some light on what recent events might mean specifically for domestic and global marketing through a lively discussion.

My first Professional Marketer Series event, the discussion was led by Paul Flatters, CEO of the Trajectory Partnership, with panellists made up of CIM course director and founder of Verve Brand Paul Hitchens, founder of The Foundation Charlie Dawson, and Associate Director at Teneo Blue Rubicon Andrew Lewin.

Here are my four key takeaways for marketers from the event.

1) One campaign doesn’t fit all

Both Brexit and Trump’s election clearly illustrate the increasing polarisation of views in Western society. Flatters pointed out that, in the UK, for instance, only London and the South East have experienced a real recovery since the financial crisis, with other areas still struggling. During a pre-Brexit debate in Newcastle, a university professor asked the audience to imagine the likely plunge in the UK’s GDP, to which one woman shouted back: “That’s your bloody GDP. Not ours.

With populations divided not only politically and economically, but also by generations, Flatters fairly concluded that there is no longer a national mood. For marketers, this means, now more than ever, that one campaign doesn’t fit all. Instead, segmentation and targeted messaging is key.

Lewin also highlighted the huge discrepancies in how people access the news across different groups. Many of us didn’t see Brexit or Trump’s victory coming because we are locked in an echo chamber full of like-minded people “liking” and sharing stories we agree with. Whereas in the past there was a common experience of the news, channels and publications now abound. For instance, social media now outstrips TV as a news source for 18–24 year-olds. Marketers must therefore carefully consider the channels they use according to their target market(s).

2) Keep it simple, stupid

The so-called KISS principle is still very relevant today, when people are often looking for simple answers to complex issues. As all of the panellists noted, both Trump and key Brexit campaigners like Nigel Farage played to this in their campaigns, with catchy slogans like “Make America great again” and “Take back control”.

The lesson for marketers here is to have simple, clear messaging. Tell a simple story through your marketing; make things easier for the customer. As Lewin pointed out, generation Z in particular is increasingly accessing the news and other information via social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, both of which also lend themselves to these shorter messages.

Lewin also highlighted the need to grab your audience’s attention. His colleague said, “the new scarcity is attention”, and there are great opportunities for marketers who understand this. Build out a memorable, consistent core message, and then tailor this to your various segments.

3) Choose your spokespeople carefully

What Brexit and Trump’s victory demonstrate more than anything is that there has been a breakdown in trust — of large corporations as much as of so-called career politicians. As Flatters pointed out, many people trust Trump and Farage more than their counterparts because of their apparent authenticity. Similarly, the public is becoming wary of large multinationals due to incidences such as the VW emissions scandal and supermarkets like Tesco using fake farm names.

As the Edelman Trust Barometer shows, there is also a gap emerging between the “elite” (the informed public) and the mass population. For instance, a much lower proportion of people from the mass population trust businesses. As a result, there is a trend towards the shop floor assistant being more credible than the CEO — something marketers should bear in mind when selecting spokespeople for their campaigns.

4) Stay true to your values

Hitchens highlighted the crisis of values that has been bubbling since 2008, citing numerous examples of the public feeling cheated by people or organisations they thought they knew — from Lance Armstrong to Jimmy Saville.

Dawson concurred, arguing that organisations are, in many ways, becoming better at operating, but losing sight of their original vision or purpose, much in the same way that politicians are becoming great at saying what people want to hear but getting disconnected from their values. As a result, customers are looking for “clues” around motivation, for signs that businesses care about the customer and not just about making money (think Patagonia’s don’t buy this jacket campaign). For marketers this highlights the importance of clearly articulating and staying true to your organisation’s values.