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Win in Business with Political — Not Marketing — Campaigns

The following is adapted from Brands Don’t Win.

Want to know the primary reason Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election? He forced his rival Hillary Clinton to play his game. Trump consistently and concisely communicated his four-word campaign agenda of “Make America Great Again”. In stark contrast, Clinton communicated multiple agendas during her campaign.

Trump was strategic about the platforms he used to promote his agenda as well. He focused primarily on Twitter. In 2017, Trump acknowledged the role social media played in his victory when he tweeted, “I won the 2016 election with interviews, speeches and social media… We will continue to WIN! My use of social media is not Presidential — it’s MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL. Make America Great Again!”

Trump’s unconventional, Twitter-based campaign generated billions of dollars in free advertising — over $3 billion during the first half of 2016 alone. Trump spent dramatically less per vote and per electoral delegate than any other Republican or Democratic presidential candidate, including less than one-third ($4.62/vote) what Hillary Clinton spent ($14.55/vote).
Unlike Trump’s campaign agenda, nobody could remember Clinton’s. Why? Because she had at least seven different campaign slogans: “Four Fights for America,” to “Breaking Down Barriers,” to “Make America Whole” and “I’m With Her,” and more.

Hillary Clinton had so many slogans that she confused voters. In fact, her own husband, former President Bill Clinton, misstated her final 2016 slogan while campaigning for her in North Carolina just two weeks before the presidential election. “This campaign slogan of Hillary’s, ‘Growing Together,’ is more than just two words that sound good,” Bill Clinton told the crowd. The real campaign slogan was “Stronger Together.”

Why all this talk about political campaigns? Because the same principle that helped Trump win the election in 2016 — sticking to one memorable, repeatable agenda — will help you create a winning marketing campaign.
On the other hand, if you have more than one campaign agenda — like Clinton — then you have none. In fact, multiple campaign agendas compete against each other. Because Clinton had so many campaign agendas and messages, she was tuned out by many voters, while many voters responded to Trump’s singular campaign agenda of Make America Great Again.

This concept of a single campaign agenda has profound implications for products and branding. Traditionally, companies have communicated numerous brand messages, supported by extensive advertising, promotions, and often sales representatives or account managers. In that paradigm, more is considered more.

But to be truly effective, you have to embrace the idea that less is more. You need one overarching campaign agenda supported by (at most) two or three short campaign messages.

Presidential candidate Trump was so successful in communicating and convincing voters of his single, simple campaign agenda of “Make America Great Again” because he used the “framing effect.” The framing effect is a form of cognitive bias where people select an option based on whether it is presented in a positive or a negative light, as a loss or as a gain. Frames are essentially the lens through which we see the world.

The framing effect can also be used to change belief systems. For example, if I took you to an Iowa farmhouse and asked you to look out the window frame, you would likely see a flat field and believe the earth is flat (assuming you did not know otherwise). However, if I then took you up to the International Space Station and asked you to look out the station’s window frame, you would clearly see that the world is round. The key takeaway is that the specific frame through which you look at the world will dictate what you see, think, and believe.

Keep in mind that a person cannot hear or see frames. They are part of your unconscious mental state, so that an individual is not aware of its effects. Furthermore, frames are more effective and lasting the more times they are deployed. This was what made Trump’s constant repetition of his campaign agenda “Make America Great Again” so influential. Trump wanted voters to see his version of a greater America through his lens.

Trump’s followers more readily bought into his ideas because Trump had already created the frame of reference — the belief system — of “Make America Great Again.” President Trump’s successful 2016 presidential campaign supports ongoing psychological research that demonstrates the power of framing, not only on presidential elections but also on everyday choices, such as product preferences.

Like politicians, some of the world’s most successful companies lead with a campaign agenda and follow with their brand. For over thirty years, Nike has dominated the sport apparel market with its concise campaign agenda of “Just Do It.” In 1997, Apple was on the verge of bankruptcy before Steve Jobs propelled the company to become the world’s most valuable with his two-word campaign agenda of “Think Different.” Jeff Bezos led Amazon to become the earth’s dominant retailer by implementing his two-word campaign agenda of “Customer Obsession,” while tiny Halo Top Ice Cream surpassed brand behemoth Unilever with its “Guilt-Free Ice Cream” game.

The best political campaigns — and companies — stick to one powerful, concise campaign and framing to convince people to see their candidacy or product in precisely the way they want them to see it. In so doing, they create winning campaigns that reach the hearts and minds of their target audiences.

For more advice on how to create your own winning marketing campaign, you can find Brands Don’t Win on Amazon.

Stan Bernard, MD, MBA, is an internationally recognized, award-winning global competition consultant, keynote speaker, and published author. He is the president of Bernard Associates, LLC, and the creator of the Transcender System. A former senior fellow at the Wharton School of Business, Dr. Bernard has been a consultant to leading businesses around the world for nearly four decades, working with more than 150 companies across six continents.

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