The Marketing Strategy Behind Donald Trump

In the past few weeks, most of the candidates running for the President of the United States have stopped through Reno, including but not limited to Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton (and Bill Clinton), Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Ben Carson. Along with those visits has come a prominent flurry of direct mail pieces, television commercials, online advertisements, phone calls, and doorbell rings, to which, as primarily a watcher of Netflix, listener of Pandora, non-landline owner, I was certainly not immune!

Despite all of this noise, however, the one thing that has stood out to me throughout this campaign period is the fact that Donald Trump’s messaging is consistently continuing to cut through all of the clutter. In fact, many people across the globe are asking this question: “Why is Donald Trump so popular?” His rants, insults, and off-the-wall statements are managing to lead to consistent prime-time media coverage, trending topics on Twitter, front page articles across newspapers, as well as plenty of Saturday Night Live spoofs including this Sarah Palin endorsement with nearly 7 million views (from a marketing perspective, not a bad way to extend your brand reach):

While Donald Trump may have the most followers on Twitter of any candidate, and his Facebook page may have more than twice as much as activity (likes, comments, shares and posts) than any other candidate, does this necessarily equate to support or just fanfare?

Politicians as Brands

If politicians are in fact their own brands, then how are these brands performing amidst the landscape of ad spend, social media, and customer engagement? Are they meeting their marketing campaign goals? What’s the sentiment? The return on ROI? And are these even the right questions to be asking? (Hint: this is where the theme of “holistic marketing concepts” comes into play.) What’s the secret sauce behind this million dollar marketing question?

As I began to analyze the various advertising campaigns among the candidates, I wondered: could there be a deeper reason behind Donald Trump’s success at cutting through all this noise that has nothing to do with marketing? Put another way, are Trump’s marketing tactics simply fuel to a fire that already started burning long ago? Or, has marketing created the man? Was it reality tv, serving as the Miss Universe pageant owner and an American real estate industry personality that served as key building blocks for his marketing empire?

According to a New York Times analysis of money raised and spent among the political candidates, Donald Trump ranks #6 in terms of money spent:

Campaign Spending

However, over the past 100 days Trump has seen 56 percent more media mentions than the next closest candidate, Hillary Clinton (per this Atlantic article and interactive chart that tracks media mentions by candidate.)

Because overall ad spend doesn’t simply translate to a higher instance of media mentions, we have to look deeper into the philosophical, psychological underpinnings of why he’s seeing such popularity among the masses. What is he doing differently to stand out and attract coverage? Does he have a better content strategy? A stronger message? Is he more successful at connecting with his target audience?

The Crux of the Issue?

In an article from the New York Times, author David Brooks writes:

People say that Trump is an unconventional candidate and that he represents a break from politics as usual. That’s not true. Trump is the culmination of the trends we have been seeing for the last 30 years: the desire for outsiders; the bashing style of rhetoric that makes conversation impossible; the decline of coherent political parties; the declining importance of policy; the tendency to fight cultural battles and identity wars through political means. Trump represents the path the founders rejected … Trump’s supporters aren’t looking for a political process to address their needs. They are looking for a superhero.

Should this be true, there may be greater forces at work fueling Trump’s popularity than might otherwise be immediately relevant. Hence, as marketers, here’s what we can learn:

  1. Understand the trends in your industry, and capitalize on them
  2. As with buyer personas, consider the psychographic profile of the people who will support you (buy your product/service)
  3. Tap into the emotions of your supporters through advertising, tell a story positioning yourself/product as the “hero” in the “hero’s journey”
  4. Find ways to effectively connect with and engage those brand advocates along the way (i.e. say the things no one else is saying in this case, no matter how offensive they may be)
  5. Moblize your supporters through calls to action

More than having created “just” a successful marketing campaign, Trump seems to inherently understand what it takes to make headlines through pushing all of the right emotional buttons, and get people talking.

Time Out: Being Popular Doesn’t Necessarily Equate to Support 

While Trump’s popularity may be surging, however, it doesn’t necessarily mean he has the support to win an election. And this step is key for any marketing campaign to be fundamentally successful, because if you can’t convert, then you ultimately did not convince your buyer that your product or service was worth purchasing.

According to this Pew Research study that surveyed 2,009 adults in January of 2016, 52% felt that Trump would make a poor or terrible president compared to 44% who felt the same for Clinton, 35% for Sanders, and just 28% for Cruz or Rubio.

To summarize, marketing has to do with much more than just goals, campaigns, or tactics. A good marketing approach not only captializes on strategic positioning, but taps emotions and mobilizes supporters along the way. A great marketing approach, however, leads to conversions.  In the case of the U.S. political race, these results remain yet to be seen.

What do you think about all of the marketing strategies and tactics you’ve noticed this past year? What’s working, what’s not?

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