This is why Trump won
Written by: Emily Tuohy, Design: Monika Monko
Merely days after the presidential election of the United States, this is not just another article claiming who should’ve, would’ve or could’ve won the presidential elections, nor is it a political article. No matter where your political preferences lie, one cannot disagree that both parties have developed intriguing techniques to sell themselves to the public. That’s what we’ll be focussing on here.
It is not a hidden fact that the presidential campaigns are big business – billions of dollars are spent on steering you towards choosing the perfect candidate. You as a citizen may see the media influences to push you in a certain direction, but that is only the surface level of the micro-targeting used to manipulate your choice, similar to daily marketing campaigns that target your movement through SEO to steer you towards a preferred product. Politicians sending out e-mails to potential voters are no different than brands e-mailing their potential customers, the same rules apply (Newman, 2010).
Presidents as Products
So how can a political campaign be compared to daily marketing? The presidential campaign period can be seen as a test market; it is the period in which ideas are researched, promises are made and then repeatedly tested in the marketplace (Newman, 2010). Seeing a president as a product, it is similar to a durable good. It entails more complex decision making, so the development of relationship and experience matters a lot more than with fast moving consumer goods (FMCG). Nevertheless, it is challenging when (re)branding a person because you are working with exactly that – a person – who makes mistakes or says the wrong things (just thinking back to this campaign alone?!). To brand a presidential candidate, it is thus of high importance to understand his or her strengths and weaknesses, much higher than on the FMCG market. Creating advantage is rooted in communicating the true strengths of the candidate, but that is not all. It is impossible to communicate the strengths of a person and reach an entire country.
The essence of a strong political campaign all comes down to what happens behind the scenes, or should I say, screens. It’s about translating good consumer insight, or in this case, voter insight, into tactical communication and strategic positioning. The identification of their needs is not enough, it goes beyond that, one needs to anticipate the voter needs. Similar to a brand creating the need for a product, a presidential candidate needs to know that voters are concerned with a certain issue before even addressing it (Newman, 2010).
Clinton vs. Trump
So, now that we’ve broken down the requirements for a presidential campaigning, disregarding who actually won the election, how would Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump do on the Marketing scoreboard?
Let’s take Trump for instance – how does one with no political experience whatsoever, gain the position of president? Love him or hate him, the answer is good marketing. He has created a recognizable brand by, like any other top brand, communicating a unique claim. “Make America Great Again,” is a positive and uplifting slogan which played into the hands of the unsatisfied middle class of America – for what is a middle class without continuous dissatisfaction? By spreading his idea of making America better than it is today, he focussed on this demographic and practically ignored any other group. He spoke to the majority of the country, which is made up of middle-aged, white, working – and especially in this case, taking up the fight against a woman in the election – men. Anticipating the fact that this large demographic wanted change, he created hope. The previous president, Barack Obama, took a very similar approach in his Presidential race, using the words “Change” in his first run, and “Forward” in his second, to speak to the dissatisfied citizens of the middle class.
Controversy and making headlines is what makes-or-breaks a brand, and Trump succeeded in this by addressing topics that grabbed attention, starting with his classic ranting against immigrants. He was constantly present on social media (look him up on Twitter) and reacted to the voter’s and their questions. He successfully changed their behavior into voting for him by doing so.
Clinton, on the other hand, played the jack of all trades, master of none by trying to appeal to many voters. At first, she communicated various different slogans with completely different approaches, such as “In to Win”. “Big challenges, real solutions,” and “Countdown to change” (playing off Obama’s successful approach). Her last and final slogan “Stronger together, I’m with her” was an explicit communication towards the female citizens of the U.S. This claim was enforced to create a community-level of engagement, but this is not possible if a basic product claim is non-existent. “I’m with her” – yes, but why? Because “we” as females are stronger together? Or “we” as a nation? Either way, automatic support of the slogan does not occur due to the lack of both clarity and controversy. One could argue that her addressing of issues such as raising middle-class incomes, expanding women’s rights and improving the Affordable Care Act would already make her the better president, but it was her focus on these local, non-controversial issues that made her campaign die down in the media buzz. It was her lack of reacting to the voters that broke her strength in the election.
The better product doesn’t necessarily sell better, nor does the better person necessarily win the political polls. What wins is the better marketing strategy. The lack thereof leads to the loss of market share and loss in votes. Trump was the winner of marketing in this election, making headlines by taking a clear stand on controversial issues and communicating a clear claim, this is most likely what made him win votes to become America’s next president. Similar to brands with a bland marketing strategy, Clinton lost her share in the market. Sorry Clinton, “you’ve been Trumped!”