Donald Trump’s rise to the American presidency is a lesson in marketing all on its own. Like him or hate him, it’s clear Trump had a bead on what his voters wanted. His campaign spoke to those voters and convinced them he had their best interests at heart.
Not everyone can have a brand as weighty as the American dream itself. Not everyone can spin a marketing yarn so profoundly effective and powerful that it gives voice to a population’s deeply rooted ideologies. But every brand and every marketer—and every person who seeks public buy-in to an idea or a product—can learn something from this presidency, whether it’s something to borrow or something to transcend.
Here, we’ll look at a few of the classic tactics that Trump employed in his campaign—and continues to employ on a daily basis—and explore how modern marketers can crack these qualities open for their own success, either by mimicking or determining not to repeat what’s happening in the U.S. government’s executive branch.
Trump says things a lot of people don’t like, but he also has people who cheer and “like” every word he says (or tweets).
In a time where political correctness has grown more and more common, President Trump is defined by his willingness to throw caution to the wind. To be fair, this sometimes comes back to bite him, leaving the media (and social media) pouring over his latest covfefe. But if there’s one thing we can take away from this presidency, it’s boldness for boldness’ sake.
Other media outlets have called Trump an “outspoken outsider.” Not everyone can be an outsider...then where would the inside be? But if we have an opportunity to have a decisive impact, to make people think, to raise questions even when we don’t necessarily have answers, the willingness to do so demonstrates a certain moxy, and it’s clear that there’s an appetite for moxy in this particular political moment.
The learning, in short: Be outrageous! (Obama called this audacity—and showed that it can take a lot of forms.)
Transcend by: Being outrageous when it’s called for, not just for the sake of it. Don’t be rude or hurtful. Keep it real (AKA honest).
Be willing to alienate
The best users and the right audience for you are often far more valuable than broad-scale appeal that leads to dabbling and passing interest. Not only don’t you need to appeal to everyone and anyone, you empirically should not. This means that there’s a case to make for (nicely) nudging users who aren’t a good fit toward the door, should the need arise.
This is a divisive moment in American (perhaps even human) history. Creating more division is probably not the answer. We want to maintain a degree of compassion, open-mindedness, a willingness to think outside of our own dogma, whenever possible. It’s often in our best interest to maintain equilibrium, if even just to model these behaviors for the people who haven’t yet mastered them.
That said, sometimes there’s space to leave part of your potential audience behind. Appeal to everyone and you’ll appeal to no one.
The learning, in short: Be willing to lose users you don’t want or need; it’s called cutting your losses and it’s a key lesson to learn.
Transcend by: Do so without harming anyone, by remaining true to and honest with your base.
Appeal to people’s emotions
Customer engagement is all about relationship-building. How does a brand do that successfully? By learning the pain points of users’ lives and seeking to ease them or touch on them in some helpful and useful way—and by having a two-way conversation that invites feedback, listening, and adjustments. This is relationship marketing 101.
We know from Trump’s successful presidential campaign that emotion can win over reason. So as a marketer, you can take a page from that book. Get in there, and get in there good.
The learning, in short: Find out where people are struggling, and empathize. Tell people how you’re able to ease those pain points.
Transcend by: Only offer solutions where you really have them, and truly intend to see the thing through, without subterfuge. Live up to your company’s values.
Stand for something
Research shows that users prefer a brand that has a compelling story and point of view on more than just the product or service being sold. Modern consumers like clearly defined and confident points of view. Similarly, Trump’s rhetoric demonstrates an ability to hone in on the fears and concerns of a certain demographic, and to speak to them effectively.
So here, the research and the presidency agree.
Public trust in institutions and brands is lower than ever. Many consumers believe that they can’t possibly be a priority when profit motive is at the top of a company’s list of concerns. So maybe it’s time to consider shifting the priority from selling to enlightening. Not through smoke and mirrors, but through actual intention. Dove has done this beautifully, for example, in their self esteem project. They’re a cosmetics brand who built an entire campaign focused on the crisis of poor body image and low self-esteem in young girls and women. The side-effect was that people have developed a real connection to the brand, but the value-centered campaign was focused on a serious social issue.
The learning, in short: Have values and share them with your customers
Transcend by: Being sincere. Figure out what really matters and throw your heart into it. Don’t jump into a fight for the sake of it.
All these qualities, when applied to marketing and brands and businesses, come with a certain amount of risk. But as human beings, the individuals we gravitate toward—and who gravitate toward us—are people who we relate to and identify with. The same can be true for brands. The stakes are obviously high, but brands have shown that taking risks, saying something forceful, and laying bare their values can result in big wins.