6 Marketing Lessons From The 2016 US Election

By the time I publish this, the topic would have been beaten to death by entrepreneur.com et al. but I do think there are important marketing lessons to take away from Donald Trump’s win. Putting political beliefs aside let’s take a look:

  1. Focus on what people do, not what they say

How much of the polling/surveys were totally wrong?! When someone says something, it doesn’t mean they will do it. Leading questions, fear of being judged and selection bias are just a few reasons that likely made the ‘expert’ political pundits predictions so wrong.

Trump was able to tap into an underlying frustration, anger and resentment toward the political class held by a large percentage of middle-class Americans, who were likely ‘silent’ Trump voters. I bet if you drove around the swing states and observed first-hand the everyday lives of these Americans, the tension would have been palpable.

The same is true for any business collecting feedback – sure, questionnaires and surveys provide some useful data, but placing more of an emphasis on consumer behaviour and the raw data will usually serve as a more accurate barometer. For instance, the Net Promoter Score is a commonly used tool to gauge user satisfaction with your product. However, since not every user will answer it, you may only hear from the really satisfied, while the others will likely churn without telling you anything. I would be much more focused on metrics such as retention rate, as this is unbiased and you can tell exactly how well every user is engaging with your product.

2. Standing for something is better than nothing

Even though, what Trump stood for might not have gone down well and pissed off a number of people, at least you knew he positioned himself as the ‘anti-status quo’. Hillary was content just riding out and staying quiet, hoping the electorate would turn on Trump.  Hillary was trying too hard to please everyone, just like in business if you aim to please everyone, you’ll please no one.

There are a number of hostile brands that have considerable market share because they stand for one thing and don’t give a shit if you disagree. The discount supermarket chain Aldi is all about high-quality items and the lowest possible price. To achieve this mission Aldi makes sacrifices in other departments, for example requiring consumers required to pack their own bags which can lead to often stressful check-out experience. BUT if you don’t like it – shop somewhere else. Ikea is another example of a hostile brand that gets the customers to haul furniture around a warehouse and assemble it by themselves. This isn’t because Aldi or Ikea are cruel, but rather they are sticking to their mission and satisfying a segment of the market who will happily overlook the inconvenience for savings.

Like a high-pressure hose, you are able to burst through a wall easily when you target a segment, rather than be concerned about making sure everyone gets water. And once you burst through that wall (pun not intended, seriously…), you begin to unlock other segments of the market.

Get noticed and be a high-pressure hose instead

3. The advocates and fanatics are essential for building momentum

This well-known article by Michael Moore correctly predicted the results a months before election day. The premise was that Trump had more passionate supporters than Clinton did. These supporters would have no doubt dragged all their friends and family into the polling booths.

Like in business, if you can create an environment that fosters and appeals to these advocates, or gatekeepers are crucial in unlocking the rest of the market. They will become your disciples and word of mouth will help spread the word about your product like wild-fire.

4. Convention isn’t always the way to the top

As I’ve previously mentioned – following a pre-determined path won’t always get you what you want. Trump has had no white house experience, said very controversial statements about women and immigration but ultimately this had little effect.

He used authority as a real-estate/business mogul to play up his credentials, whether or not these skills are transferable when running a country as president is beside the point. Trump was perceived by his followers in the vein that ‘if he could make it as a billionaire, he could make it anywhere’. 

In the same vein, it doesn’t matter how many ‘how-to’s or books you’ve read about running great marketing campaigns. Some of the best tech companies now, make absolutely no sense when seen through a conventional lens. Just look at Snapchat’s meteoric rise – who five years ago would have thought disappearing, 10 sec videos that can only be shared with a select few friends would have exploded?

Snapchat flips traditional and conventional marketing thinking on it's head
Snapchat flips traditional and conventional thinking on its head

5. People aren’t persuaded by logic

It might seem like Hilliary was the logical choice for next president – extensive career in Politics, good negotiator, ‘won’ all three debates, stays on the side of political correctness. But guess what? Logic doesn’t sway people. And it particularly doesn’t sway people if you are perceived as being untrustworthy.

Emotion and targeting pain points will trump logical arguments.

Trump could detect a huge level of angst, frustration and hatred for issues like job security, immigration, political elite benefiting the most. The fact he told the electorate he would help with these issues overrode any politically incorrect statements he made. The same is true for marketing. You really listen to what irritates people the most, drive your campaigns around those pain points and you’ll be onto a winning strategy. Focusing on staying politically correct and walking on egg shells won’t win you market share, but effectively targeting your

You really listen to what irritates people the most, drive your campaigns around those pain points and you’ll be onto a winning strategy. Focusing on staying politically correct and walking on egg shells won’t win you market share, but effectively targeting your consumer’s pain points will.

6. Get out of your bubble and talk to the people

If you stay in your bubble you never really get proper feedback. Hilary was likely surrounded by people who thought the same way as her, came from similar backgrounds to her and reassured her that she was going to win. So when the result came out, it was like the rug was pulled right underneath. Being completely shielded from the underlying resentment of middle-class America was perhaps why Trump’s victory came as such a shock to her.

This is like being a business owner and never really talking in depth to your customers about why they are leaving/churning. Step outside your bubble, start answering the phone, start responding to customer service complaints – that’s the only you can gauge what people are really feeling.

Despite the result, the world will not come to an end. In life, you have to play the cards you’re dealt. We have control over our future, and Trump being elected will not change this.

Author: Allan Manuel

Allan is a Digital Marketing Consultant who specialises in startups. Get in touch with Allan here.

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