The Trump Effect: What Marketers Can Learn From Election 2016


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The U.S. Presidential election was supposed to be a landslide. Just about every pollster told us so. The numbers and the models pointed to a decisive outcome. So how did they all get it so wrong, and what does this teach us about marketing?

Note: This is not a partisan post - there are plenty of other places you can go to get your fill of what happened and why. Rather, I want to examine what I call the Trump Effect - an X-factor that created a blind spot for every major media outlet and led to one of the most improbable upsets in modern world history – one that turned conventional political punditry on its head.

So what was the Trump Effect - that extra something beyond rational, quantifiable data that created the advantage? Some say cult of personality and celebrity, but that's a red herring by itself. The Trump Effect was really an intersection of populist zeitgeist and authentic branding. Trump inherently knew that there was a silent, disenfranchised majority and he spoke to them in the "truths" that resonated with them (I put “truths” in quotations to acknowledge that many people dispute the reality of what he and his supporters believe). In spite of his seemingly endless stream of careless Twitter diversions, Trump figured out consistent core messaging and stuck to it, owning all-important emotional concepts like "Outsider", "Change Agent", "Fighter" and "Fearless Leader" despite his absolute lack of political experience.

Trump was able to pull off what we as marketers always want to have - the right product with the right message/offer marketed to the right people at the right moment. And at the end of the day, he succeeded in stirring new market segments into action, energized old ones, and overcame his competition in a way that few saw coming.

So want can we learn as marketers from all of this?

1) Data (in our case, customer/prospect/consumer data) is a critical tool but not the end-all, be-all solution. Audience - achieved through even the most sophisticated omni-channel/omni-device identity resolution and relevance algorithms will always only be a means, but never the end. This is because history still reinforces the truths of lessons learned in classic marketing that successful campaigns also need powerful offers presented in creative ways that resonate at exactly the right time. Creativity is not dead – it’s more important than ever.

2) Buying - no matter the level of the purchase - is an emotional endeavor. The purchase decision often defies logic (or is at least much less informed by it than we'd all care to admit) - and therefore, buying is much harder to predict. Under-estimate the power of emotion at your own risk. Land on language that appeals to emotion as much as logic and drive it home with consistency.

3) Movements create real power. Sure, it's easy to point to super brands like Apple and Uber as examples of real movements with true believers. But the potential for “movement brands” exist anywhere there is a market that has been taken for granted and under-served by large incumbents with dated paradigms. Tap into frustration with the status quo and ride the wave by showing a more appealing, alternative way to solve a problem.

4) Authenticity is infectious. Hillary Clinton focus-grouped to the tune of millions of dollars over many months before her presidential run to land on her "true" persona. Trump did things instinctively and it resonated. Love him or hate him, The Donald was true to himself. And in this world of polished posers and fallacious fabrications, raw authenticity is increasingly rare...and viscerally appealing to an appropriate target audience. It can even bleed into tangential audiences as well. Know thyself and speak your truth as a company or a product and others will want to get to know you, too. There is power is being confidently authentic.

Some of the best lessons in marketing come from outside our industry. The Trump Effect is a powerful reminder that the most effective marketing is still a wonderful, complicated amalgam of data, logic, and good old fashioned emotion. At least that’s what my latest polls seem to say.

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