What Trump’s Campaign Trail Taught Me About Marketing to the Masses

12/12/2016 04:29 pm ET

It’s happened, we’ve entered a post-Trump world.

Post-Trump, post-truth call it what you like, the fact of the matter is that after a long election cycle, Trump has reinvented brand-building. Whether by design, instinct, or luck, he has become the ultimate brand marketer of recent memory. We are now living in a world where a few well-timed tweets can incite a movement powerful enough to make a reality television star the President Elect -- I know, I still can’t believe it either.

While the consequences of a President-Elect Trump administration have yet to materialize, it’s clear the rules of promotion have changed. Just as customers journey from prospects to purchase, Trump too led many of his supporters on the journey from skeptics to voters. Marketers can learn a great deal by deconstructing Trump’s path to victory and use those insights for good.

Personalization is no longer a nice-to-have. It's a necessity.

As the latest campaign post-mortems can tell you, Trump won on the backs of America’s rural working class. The long-held Blue Wall or Rust-Belt was won over by Trump’s populist message which resonated deeply with people in that state. He knew the extent of their hardships personalizing his message and policies around them. When it comes to customers, marketers can do the same.

In today’s marketing landscape personalization is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s business critical. With modern marketing platforms there’s really no excuse for using blanket pitches and watered down marketing efforts. Little things like using first names in emails go a long way and, if you feel up to it, personalize the subject line. Experian’s research shows personalized subject lines delivered 26% higher unique open rates overall. As for the content, rather than focusing on your product features and other factual details, stick to a simple appeal to your customers and focus on their pain point.  

Know Your Base (And Speak To Them)

As a marketer you’ll never be everything to everyone, but you can be to some. If Trump did one thing well, it was knowing his base to a tee. He knew who his most fervent supporters were and exactly the buttons to press to goad them to action. He differentiated himself from competitors by developing a story aligned with his base’s worldview favoring simplicity and emotion to sell his message over facts and rational.

In translation, it’s about applying focus on your base of support. Identify your primary customer base and center your attention there. All it takes is a quick analysis of your website visitors and paying special attention to their demographics, what browsers and devices they use, and their web behaviors. Modify accordingly, then let word of mouth and user actions work to your advantage. A few zealous users ready to spread the good word can do far more than a hundred prospects viewing your latest whitepaper.

Social Media’s Ability to Create a Direct Line of Conversation is Unmatched

Compared to Clinton’s social campaign, Trump’s felt disorganized and unpredictable, but every tweet churned up a firestorm of media coverage and free press for Trump’s campaign. MediaQuant’s study of Trump’s social media mentions estimated that he benefited about $4.96 billion in free media. His organic, off-the-cuff approach sparked discussion and conversation across the world. It felt - if nothing else - authentic. And authenticism can go a long ways.

It’s that same element of authenticity that make social media so compelling -  recent research shows 70% of marketers rank it as their top performing non-email channel. People respond to being true to yourself -- as a marketer, your brand should be the same way. Participate in moments and milestones that matter to you and relate to your audience (never forget). Social media has never been more powerful for connecting people 1:many and sparking conversation. Trump leveraged this social reach at key points along the campaign, voicing unfounded concerns over voter fraud and distaste for the establishment many of his supporters echoed. He in essence became a megaphone for his supporters and they lauded him.

As the dust of Election 2016 continues to settle, it’s clear we’ve witnessed one of the most unique brand-builders in the last decade at work. It’s true marketers can learn a great deal from this campaign; about how a divisive upstart overthrew the sure bet incumbent through an alternative campaign. Though, there is a word of caution. Trump’s campaign may have rewritten the rules of brand building, in turn we welcomed a future in which emotion and populism can overpower truths. As marketers, it’s important we do not undermine our ethics in favor of mass appeal. Focus on authenticity and your base of support -- they’ll never steer your wrong.

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