6 lessons startups can learn from Donald Trump

As an American living in Australia, I get asked about Donald Trump a lot.

No matter where I was in the world, I couldn’t escape the U.S. presidential election. From New Zealand to Bali to Australia, it followed me everywhere I went. When I landed in Australia and began working with startups at Pitchblak, I couldn’t help but notice Trump’s tactics could work well for a startup.

All politics aside, there’s a reason Trump won. He was different, unabashedly himself, and downright unforgettable.

Here are a few important lessons startups can learn from Donald Trump’s tactics for winning the election:

1. Find your audience and ‘woo’ them.

Trump is the master of speaking to his audience. He found their pain points and came up with extreme solutions for their problems. The more extreme he became, the more his audience grew.

Rather than the typical response of ‘reforming policies’, Trump claimed he’d build an actual wall to keep out illegal immigrants from Mexico. Once he realised he could get a strong reaction from being extreme, there was no turning back.

Lesson for startups:

In the early stage of your startup, you’ll need to find your niche customer and woo them. Figure out what they need and how you’re going to solve this dire problem they’re experiencing.

You will never appeal to everyone. Find the audience who truly loves your company or product and be the best you can be for them.

Don’t worry about the haters. When you do something big, there will always be people trying to bring you down. Do you think Trump let his haters get him down? No way.

Remember, don’t mistake negative feedback as haters. Listen to your audience. If your product sucks or you aren’t actually solving a problem with your idea, it may be time to reconsider.

2. Social media is imperative.

Trump absolutely dominated social media during his campaign. He had six million more followers than Clinton on both Facebook and Twitter combined and often significantly more engagement than her. Here is a fascinating breakdown of how each candidate did on Twitter. Trump tweeted whatever came to his mind (often without filter) and it was usually a comment to stir the pot.

Clinton always seems scripted and robotic in her social media presence. In an unsuccessful (and somewhat embarrassing) attempt to relate to millennials, Clinton once asked her audience to respond to her tweet with emojis. Whereas Trump never failed to be himself on Twitter and always said exactly what was on his mind.

Lesson for startups:

Social media is CRUCIAL. If you don’t have a presence, you don’t exist. Investing time and resources to create an appealing profile and engaging posts is important for connecting with your audience and establishing yourself in the market.

Don’t be afraid to be yourself. The brand voice should be similar to your own so you’re being authentic. As long as you’re appropriate and respectful, don’t shy away from being cheeky at times. People usually prefer a little humour and companies who don’t take themselves too seriously. As a startup, you have the advantage of trying out different styles and voices without any controlling overheads as in large corporations.

3. Strong branding is essential.

Right from the beginning, Trump’s slogan, ‘Make America Great Again’ was established (and caused quite the stir). People were immediately sporting the infamous red hats or t-shirts with the slogan printed in white.

The phrase spoke to his audience’s emotions.

Clinton’s slogans, ‘Stronger Together’ or ‘I’m With Her’ don’t elicit emotion. It’s boring and doesn’t tell me anything. I actually had to Google what her slogans were because I couldn’t remember…not a good sign.

Lesson for startups:

Keep your branding simple, memorable, and appeal to your customer’s emotions.

How are you going to establish yourself in the market and showcase your point of difference?

One of the best ways to do this is with content marketing. Create unique content (e.g. blogs, videos, or other resources) that offers value to your customers. This shows you know what you’re talking about and builds trust. Make sure everything revolves around who you are as a brand.

4. The media is a powerful tool. Use it and use it wisely.

With a background in PR, the phrase, “Any PR is good PR,” makes me involuntarily cringe. But in this case, I can’t necessarily disagree. The more the media reported on Trump, the more power he gained.

Trump was consistently in the media for the latest things he said or did. Like I said before, no matter what country I was in, I couldn’t escape him. The whole world was reporting on this tanned character.

Lesson for startups:

Coverage in the media can be powerful in building trust and creating familiarity with customers.

Do something worth talking about. Just existing isn’t enough to get coverage. What are you doing that’s different? Who are you helping? How are you making a difference in your industry? Wrap a unique story around your brand.

Make sure you write out your story and become extremely familiar with it. Unless you’re doing something incredibly interesting, no one will care about your story.

Don’t have a unique story? What knowledge can you tell the world? Share your expertise to gain even more credibility.

5. Be confident in everything you do.

Trump is always confident and without a doubt believes in himself (or so it seems). He told everyone he would win, and he did.

I could argue Trump went way past confident and into arrogance, but can you get to that stature and not be arrogant?

Lesson for startups:

Be confident and own your space. If you’ve created something amazing, don’t be afraid to tell people about it. Remember, it is possible to be honest about your strengths and abilities while also being humble.

Confidence, not arrogance or cockiness.

6. Screw failure.

Trump has filed for bankruptcy six times and he has built his wealth back up again. The media continually pummels him but that never stopped his insatiable desire to win. He doesn’t give up. Not that any presidential candidate would just give up, but he had a fire in him unlike other candidates. He wasn’t in it for the learning experience, he would do or say anything to win. And he did.

He risked it all to run in this election. During the process his skeletons were pulled from the closet and many of his secrets or opinions have cost him. He was forced to let go of The Apprentice, the Miss America Pageant, and many people boycotted his businesses. If he had lost the election, what would he have done next? The world may never know.

Failure isn’t an option for Trump. He continued to charge forward.

Lesson for startups:

Failure isn’t an option for you.

You’ll make mistakes, sometimes awful ones. Don’t let that stop you. Learn from every mistake and keep pushing through.

Pitchblak was created was to make sure entrepreneurs get it right the first time. Pitchblak’s CEO, Adrian Osman, often tells startup founders to quit glorifying failure. “You don’t have to fail at your first attempt at building a startup. We’ve already done that for you.”

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Orginally published on the Pitchblak website.