Love him or hate him, Donald Trump is an outstanding instinctive marketer. His campaign offers eight lessons in marketing and communications strategy; some troubling, others innovative.
Create a Character. Big, brash, loud, ugly, crass with a comb-over, “The Donald” created a persona — the strongman — that was consistent throughout the campaign. He set himself up as an outsider with the unique ability to assess and critique everything and everyone. He repeatedly and consistently claimed business expertise, practical wisdom and common sense regardless of the facts.
Flaunt Convention. Trump broke the mold for Presidential candidates. Courtesy, consideration, thoughtfulness, and decorum were ignored in favor of ego, bombast, and insults. Deviating from the norm drew spectacular unearned media and regularly hijacked media cycles. Trump was not concerned with being polarizing.
In fact, he consciously created OMG and WTF moments. Playing the gruff outsider untainted by political or military experience energized his core supporters who evidently ignored repeated accusations against him and some obvious facts. Trump routinely surprised and flanked his competitors with one outrage after another using tactics they wouldn’t follow and couldn’t stomach or counter.
Know Your Audience. Trump grasped and channeled the repressed anger and frustration alive throughout the country. Ironically, a billionaire positioned himself as the champion of the people. He rallied demographic groups at the other end of the economic spectrum and offered an alternative to a clueless GOP who failed to understand, anticipate, or respond to their primary constituency.
Keep it Simple. Trump’s wall, tax cuts, bad trade deals, claims of a rigged election, and opposition to Obamacare were clear unambiguous tent pole ideas. Slogans and catch phrases trumped nuance and subtlety. Everyone knew where Trump stood, regardless of their appreciation for his point of view. His secret plan to take down ISIS and “Make America Great Again” stood in contrast to the more carefully phrased and heavily calculated positions of his opponents.
Label the Competition. “Crooked Hillary,” “Little Marco,” “low-energy Jeb,” Lindsey Graham the “idiot,” and “Lyin’ Ted” positioned and poisoned the competitors and sowed fear, uncertainty, and doubt among voters. Trump carved out a positioning and sidetracked the policy conversation by demeaning others. His competitors were defined by Trump rather than by their own proactive marketing.
Tell the Big Lie. Unfortunately this age-old propaganda technique still works. Tell a whopper. Repeat it incessantly as loud as possible. Reinforce it with adjectives like “disaster,” “disgraceful,” “disgusting,” or “criminal” and sway a majority.
Frequency Counts. Say it loud. And say it over and over. Ignore facts, criticism, or correction. The constant repetition of themes, insults, and charges, regardless of their veracity, established a tone and an agenda for the campaign. Slogans and chants in simple language created a point of connection, affinity, and identification for angry voters.
Own a Channel. Trump’s virtual takeover of Twitter gave him a distinct voice and a real-time vehicle to incite, insult, and respond. His mastery of the channel and in timing his tweets forced media to cover him and forced other candidates to embrace his channel in defense and communicate on his terms.
Trump differentiated his brand, resonated with his target audiences, grabbed disproportionate media coverage, and forever changed the complexion of public discourse. Some of his tactics are applicable to brands seeking a competitive edge.
Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.