You thought it was politics? It was really MARKETING 101
Lessons in business and marketing strategy from Trump’s campaign
Many were surprised by Trump’s victory- I know I certainly was. In this day in age and in this society, how can one who ostracized so many, used so much hateful rhetoric, and wasn’t even accepted by many from his own party become the president elect? It was truly beyond belief! That is until it suddenly dawned on me. As I was chatting with friend, she casually mentioned that she always thought he was running his campaign like a business. Right then I was finally enlightened to his strategy: He harnessed tried and true tactics that were used by many successful products in business. We can’t forget after all, he went to Wharton — an institution renown not only for finance but also for marketing. It isn’t too farfetched to believe the tactics he utilized in his campaign were the same ageless methods the biggest brands use. He understood the game and he played to win. I wrote him off — but boy was I wrong!
As I was contemplating this, I identified five simple steps his campaign consistently followed. I’m convinced that these steps led him to a sure victory.
1. Select a target market
Are you really offended by his remarks towards blacks, hispanics, women, and immigrants? Well it really didn’t matter — because those groups were not his target market. Early on, Trump identified two groups that were well over the size he needed to win 270 electoral votes: the rural white working class and the evangelicals. His target was specific enough to have commonalities that reach deep down to their core desires and emotions. Yet this group was large enough to achieve success. You can’t ever win over everyone- choose your target market methodically and do whatever it takes to cater to that group specifically.
2. Understand your target market
In order to unanimously win your selected group, you must really understand their deepest desires, emotions and beliefs. You have to tap into what is missing: what do they deeply want? Even brand marketers don’t expect their product to sell itself. They too dig deep to find a way to connect with their target at an emotional level. Cigarette marketers for example, tapped into young people’s desire to belong, fit-in, and be cool.
Trump knew what the white middle class and evangelicals wanted. They had a palpable fear of the future. There was a deep satisfaction about their current state.
The rural white working class was unhappy with the economy. They were fearful of systemic shifts sparked by globalization, immigration, and the end of industrialization. People that didn’t look like them were coming from behind and passing them by. They were getting educated, meeting the new demands of the economy and taking the jobs that the white working class believed they deserved. They were even getting special treatments and handouts. The rural white working class deserved to be included in the economy. However, right now, they were the voiceless, forgotten, silent majority.
Evangelicals weren’t happy about the liberal policies being passed. They felt like they didn’t have a voice anymore in this nation. The conservatism that was at the core of this republic’s foundation was being chipped away. They were tired of being powerless and watching their nation be overtaken by the liberal voice. They want schools and public places to acknowledge God again. They wanted to set some boundaries on social norms and what is acceptable in America.
Now this is where the rubber meets the road: it is not enough to understand your target market at a deeper level. To be successful, it is important to truly capture and tap into their emotions in a methodical way. Which brings me to step 3:
3. Create an effective yet simple slogan
Having a witty, cute or catchy phrase doesn’t cut it. Your slogan must capture the EMOTIONS and DESIRES of your target market. It must connect your understanding of their deepest fears to something you can offer. Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” is really everything. It perfectly captures the beliefs, emotions and desires of Trump’s target market. This slogan offers a vision to combat his target market’s fears and give them power over that which they lacked. For the rural white working class, it was the economy: making America great again by reversing the negative impacts of free trade. Invest in America not in those other countries, not those other people.
The slogan hit home with evangelicals too. America’s moral fibers were deteriorating. We were allowing abortion, liberalizing gay marriage, changing the definition of family and attacking the sanctity of marriage. We don’t acknowledge God in our schools and public courts. Make America great again by bringing back conservative regulations and giving church leaders a voice.
Clinton’s campaign really failed to have a specific target market or connect to their core in a meaningful way. Her target wasn’t clear. Her slogan, “stronger together,” really had no ties to emotion or desire. It had no promise or vision to combat fears or inspire dreams. Also there was another slogan, “I’m with her,” which really didn’t do much more than cloud her message. Bernie, on the other hand, had a clear target market and he effectively captured their core desires — he almost had a movement going.
4. Be laser focused on catering to your target market
Don’t cloud your message and targeting: consistently connect to your specific group. Continue to ignite those emotional sparks, exploit those fears, and say what they couldn’t articulate while connecting them to your slogan. In product marketing for example, if the emotion is a desire to belong, ads consistently display the users of their product belonging and having fun.
Trump was focused. He went to specific locations where his target market was and tailored his message to them. He reached Minnesota’s working whites by addressing their fears of Somali immigrants. He went to rural America, addressed their specific fears and sparked an emotional passionate response. He told evangelicals he accepted Jesus Christ. He got the most influential evangelical leaders as his circle of advisors.
If the people are hungry enough for what you offer, they will overlook side effects, faults, dramas, and baggage. When the video of him saying unspeakable things about women surfaced, the white middle class brushed it of as ‘locker room talk.’ He put out fires with evangelicals by having them pray for him and asking for forgiveness. Damage control with other groups wasn’t as necessary — his target market was over it and that was all that mattered.
Additionally, he always had a finger on the pulse of his groups. He knew where they were, where the momentum was growing and where the fire needed a little re-kindling. Somehow, the polls were missing them, but Trump did not. That is why his campaign knew they had a chance of winning even when everyone else doubted.
5. Be in it to win it
This is decided in the very beginning but will really count towards the end. You have to continuously and consistently apply the strategy and not loose focus. Trump was in it to win it. He went to multiple states — even in just one day — and made sure people were fired up. You haven’t reached the finish line until it is over. He focused on his target market at all times even at the expense of others. He didn’t need the other groups to win. He needed his targeted group to show up and carry him to victory.
These steps require consistent focus, a keen understanding of the audience, and an ability to connect. In politics, one would like to think that we make decisions by consciously considering qualifications and using critical thinking to sift through policies and facts. However, unfortunately, things are not like that anymore. We live in the age of show business, brands, and marketing. We are easily influenced in ways we don’t ever realize. It may have been at the expense of dividing the nation, but Trump played the game and he played it to win. He got the position and even got a republican senate and house. I doubt he’ll act on most of those hateful things he said. Now that he is in office, winning will require different tactics.