Tag Archives: Donald Trump

How Strategic Communication Positioning Won for Donald Trump

13 Nov

trump-positioned-to-win-002     Donald Trump didn’t just win the war for the Electoral College, he won the messaging war for an important segment of disaffected Americans.  He did it by strategically positioning his brand, his message, and perhaps by complete accident, his marketing drivers.

     Trump paid attention to the one data set we now know mattered most—dissatisfaction with the direction of the country.  The Humphrey School of Public Affairs’ Dr. Larry Jacobs told a group of journalists and producers during the political conventions (myself included) that this was a political insight that couldn’t be ignored.  Jacobs warned that it would be extremely difficult for an incumbent or someone closely tied to an incumbent or the perceived establishment to win. 

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Figure 1

      In this respect, the polling was convincing.  In the aggregate tracking compiled by Real Clear Politics, the margins couldn’t be more stark. (Figure 1)  For nearly all of 2016 Americans believed with a nearly two to one margin that the country was heading in the wrong direction.  Donald Trump focused like a laser beam on that insight and the people behind it. 

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Figure 2

     In speaking to those voters, he positioned himself in their minds as the candidate who represented change.  Quite frankly, he stole a page from the strategic marketing playbooks of major brands and products in carving out a point of differentiation.   Consumers tend to build perceptual maps in their minds about how products compare to each other when they make a purchasing decision.  I would argue they make the same set of comparisons between political candidates.  In the case of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton the dominant perceptual map came down to a choice of who represented true change and who would be better for the economy. (Figure 2)  As a brand, you want to occupy the upper right region of the axis points on the perceptual map.  Trump didn’t just occupy this position, he owned it with the majority of voters in the critical swing states who tipped the Electoral College. 

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Figure 3

     In many respects he did it through branding and messaging.  In a previous post, I established how Trump personified the Rebel archetype. (Figure 3) His break-all-the-rules brand spoke directly to disaffected voters who felt that the country wasn’t just heading in the wrong direction, but that no one was listening to them.  Clinton’s Ruler archetype was too closely aligned with the establishment that Trump’s voters felt alienated from.  To be sure, Trump also successfully deployed the fear factor.  By exploiting voter anxiety on crime, immigration, jobs, and health care insurance he banked on well-established economic theory that people are more motivated by loss than they are by gain.

     But Trump also helped his candidacy by how he marketed himself.  Former Campbell Mithun advertising agency CEO and University of Minnesota Strategic Communication Program Director Steve Wehrenberg argues that there are seven irrefutable marketing drivers.   Whether by pure luck or shrewd planning, Trump succeeded at nearly every one of these drivers.

Brand Awareness.   Real estate, hotels and casinos made Donald Trump a business brand and best selling author, but the NBC television show “The Apprentice” made him a star. By the time Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president in 2015, he was already a household name having built his brand as a savvy business expert and larger-that-life personality.  Trump was able to leverage his brand awareness to get free airplay on cable news channels and largely bypass expensive television advertising.

Emotional Bond.  Trump’s brash personality and shoot-from-the-hip style caused people to love him or hate him.  But those who loved Donald Trump, really loved him. Trump famously said during the campaign “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”  Even when the video emerged of Trump making lewd remarks about women on the “Access Hollywood” bus, it only had a temporary effect on his polling numbers.  We now know that the emotional bond to Trump’s economic message simply swamped whatever misgivings his voters had about the messenger.

Product News.   Trump’s pension for outrageousness and unpredictability made both his supporters and enemies follow his every move and statement during the campaign.  Quite simply, he was a Los Angeles car chase no one could stop watching.  His use of Twitter as a means to directly communicate with his followers kept them constantly informed of his every thought and move.

Activation.  In the marketing and advertising world, activation is getting the customer to make the immediate decision to buy your product through a sale, coupon, or incentive.  In politics, activation is about getting people to vote for you on Election Day. For all of her superior organization, fund raising, and GOTV, Hillary Clinton lost the activation battle in several critical battleground states.  Trump won it in part by his message and his personal social media appeals on November 8th.

Loyalty.   This is all about providing exclusive offerings to loyal followers.  The Best Buy’s and Amazon’s of the world build loyalty by offering discounts and free shipping if you join their rewards program.  Similarly, politicians reward loyalty by providing exclusive access and one-on-one pictures for followers at donor events.  Donald Trump attempted to build loyalty in reverse by making disaffected workers believe that he was the only candidate who believed in them. 

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Picture 1 – Donald Trump at Minneapolis-St. Pau Intl. Airport on November 6, 2016

Product Experience.  Here too, Trump created the illusion that getting the chance to see him and hear him at a rally was a not-to-miss experience.  To be sure, every candidate does this.  But Trump’s rallies became a calling.  At the Minnesota rally hastily arranged within 24 hours at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, the Republican Party of Minnesota reported 17,000 people RSVP’d online.   Trump’s followers illegally parked on Hwy 77 and scaled chain link fences to race to the hangar to get inside for the rally.  Even then, more of his followers were left stranded outside of the hangar than the thousands who got inside to hear him speak. (Picture 1)

Buzz.   For better or worse, Trump dominated Internet search and chatter.  The final Google Trends metrics show how Trump (seen in red) commanded a large share of search queries all throughout the campaign. (Figure 4) 

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Figure 4

    Political scientists, strategists, and journalists alike will analyze the Trump electoral phenomena for months to come.  Many will focus on the flaws of Clinton herself, her State Department emails, and her abrasive personality.  Others will focus on her campaign’s failure to activate Obama Democrats.  The Washington Post has already examined misplaced ad buys in the final weekend that could have contributed to Clinton’s final downfall at the polls.  But perhaps none of that could overcome the headwinds of an electorate who believed in their core the country was heading in the wrong direction. Trump positioned himself to be the messenger change.  They may not have liked the messenger himself, but enough of them perceived his message was the only one they could identify with.

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The Archetype Branding of Trump and Clinton—The Rebel vs. The Ruler

5 Nov

rebel-ruler-2-002     Since the rise of modern consumerism, political campaigns have tried to market their candidates like soap.  The positioning and branding of a candidate, especially a presidential candidate, in many cases is now performed with the discipline of commercial product launch.  They are the ultimate consumer packaged goods.

     Joel McGinniss in his ground breaking book “The Selling of the President 1968” exposed the marketing strategy of Richard Nixon and how this advisors strategically used advertising and staged television town halls to craft an image of Nixon as a knowledgeable and caring candidate.  Even Nixon lamented, “It’s a shame a man has to use such gimmicks as this to get elected.”

     In 2016, the presidential campaigns have become increasing more strategic in how they market themselves.  Among the most effective of the strategies is the grounding of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in brand archetypes.   Trump is the Outlaw or Rebel, Clinton is the Ruler. 

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     Archetypes are essentially powerful symbols of meaning that our minds easily recognize.  They originated with the Greeks and Romans who created their Gods based upon powerful myths.   Marketers today still attach many of these metaphorical myths and archetypes to a brand or a product in order to make a psychological connection with the consumer.  They act as heuristics, or shortcuts for the consumer to build an emotional attachment with the brand.  For example, Nike is the Hero archetype, Hallmark is the Lover.  Johnson & Johnson is the Caregiver.  Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson in their book “The Hero and the Outlaw” establish the case for twelve brand archetypes based upon a quadrant of opposing psychological needs.  (Figure 1)

     It’s hard to know if the Rebel archetype was made for Donald Trump, or if Trump was made for the Rebel.  Either way, it fits.  The “rules were meant to be broken” motto of the Rebel is exemplified by one of Trump’s recent Twitter posts.

     For most of Trump’s career he’s been the Magician.   He’s the man who somehow overcomes all odds to create great deals and build great real estate properties.  In the process he has built for himself power and wealth.  For a while Trump re-branded himself as the Sage.   As the star of the NBC television show “The Apprentice,” Trump dispensed his business knowledge to would-be students and potential employees.  But with his presidential campaign, he morphed again into the Rebel.   So far he’s effectively and brilliantly used his take-no-prisoners and break-all-the-rules branding strategy to overcome every opponent that’s crossed his path—including the Republican establishment.

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Figure 2

 

     Trump’s entire career has shown how he has mastered the art of self-promotion.  And in this latest incarnation he’s created a powerful brand of an irreverent leader who will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. (Figure 2)   With his core value of putting America first, he’s crafted the brand promise of de-rigging this system—his way.  The Rebel or Outlaw archetype is a strong attractor for people who feel left out and left behind by society.   Following or identifying with the Rebel gives a feeling of liberation.   Our culture is filled with Rebel personalities such as Madonna, Niki Minaj, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly.  The archetype is also the core identity of many successful brands such as Harley Davidson, MTV, and Fox Television.

     In many respects Trump has become a California car chase—you know the outcome, but you can’t stop watching.  His unpredictability is a key part of his Rebel brand.  He doesn’t just attack and disrupt Hillary Clinton, but he shocks his audience and the media.  It’s a strategy he deployed in the third presidential debates when he promised to jail Clinton.

     For her part, Hillary Clinton with her experience as First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State brings to her brand expertise, power and control.  She is clearly the Ruler.

     Rulers are motivated by their desire to lead and consolidate power.  This is the archetype of CEO’s, kings, and yes, presidents.   Ronald Reagan, former New York Mayor Rudy Guilliani, and former Ford leader Alan Mulally  were all rulers.  Ruler brands include Goldman Sachs, Cadillac, IBM and The White House.

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Figure 3

 

     Clinton’s Ruler archetype mediates directly into her brand promise of experience to lead. (Figure 3)  Her core value may be competence and moral authority, but make no mistake, she also needs control.   That control is also the Ruler’s chief weakness, especially their fear of chaos and preoccupation with their enemies.  In nearly every instance those traits of the Ruler have become Clinton’s chief liabilities in the 2016 presidential campaign.

     So far, her campaign has tried to use the archetype to their electoral advantage.  Even with appealing to voters to “Stand with Hilary” they are inviting them to be the rulers of their own destiny.  By pitting the Ruler against the Rebel, Clinton’s campaign is betting experience will trump recklessness and unpredictability.   The strategy is clearly evident in this recent campaign video.

     The use of branding archetypes is all about strategically positioning an easily identifiable image in the mind of the consumer–in this case the voter.   But with both Trump and Clinton the archetypes also magnify critical flaws with each candidate.   Trump’s unleashed and undisciplined style expose him as a bully and sexist.  Clinton’s Nixon-like desire for command and control, especially in how she’s handled her State Department emails and the Benghazi attacks aftermath have made her simply untrustworthy to a significant portion of the electorate.   Come Election Day we’ll find out whether the dominant brand of each candidate is able to overcome their equally exposed flaws.

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Marco Rubio’s Words That Don’t Work

14 Mar

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     The gloves have come off. Except this isn’t a fistfight, it’s more like a middle school food fight. Welcome to the 2016 GOP presidential race.

     It’s an election cycle where virtually every known rule about political campaigns has been run through the shredder—several times. But the sudden shift by Senator Marco Rubio to complete with Donald Trump in his own sandbox defies established strategic positioning and communication logic.

    The shift in Senator Rubio’s tactics that began with the debates on February 25th, saw him sharply attack Donald Trump by trading personal insults before a CNN audience of millions. The attacks have continued on the campaign trail with the Rubio campaign even posting videos on its YouTube feed.  

     What’s puzzling is why Senator Rubio would go there. Yes, he is trailing in both the polls and delegate count to both Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz. And yes, he has to do something to spark his campaign and differentiate himself. But competing with Trump in the rhetoric of personal assaults only lowers himself to Trump’s level in an arena where he can’t win. It simply defies strategic thinking.

     Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter argues that effective strategy is not competing in the same race, but running a different race.

     “Competitive strategy is about being different,” says Porter. “It means deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver a unique mix of value.” 

Trump Rubio Perceptual Map

Figure 1

      What applies to business strategy, also applies to strategic communication. For the moment, Sen. Rubio has a strategic communication problem that is in part creating his electoral problem. The perceptual map below shows how the remaining four republican candidates are positioned on axis of personal attacks verses conservative values and voter empathy. (Figure 1) By occupying with Trump a similar position on the perceptual branding map, Rubio cannot differentiate himself.   He somehow has to figure out how to re-position himself in the sweet spot in the mind of the voters—that is, outside of the blue curve on the map. 

Effective strategy is more than positioning.  Porter argues that it is also equal parts operational efficiencies and competencies.  For example, Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 not just because of where he positioned himself in the mind of the voter, but also because his campaign had a core competency in social media engagement.  In 2012, the Obama campaign won again in part with its strategic superiority in using big data to mine the voter rolls.

     Time is clearly running out for Sen. Rubio and it may be already too late to for strategic changes to have any immediate impact.  If anyone is running a different race, it’s clearly Trump. Where the race is going, we don’t yet know.  Buckle up.

What Google Tells us About Who’s Ahead in Iowa

1 Feb

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         The latest polls from Iowa promise a potentially tight race for the first-in-the-nation caucuses.   The last poll from the Des Moines Register shows Donald Trump with a strong lead over Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton in a statistical dead heat with Bernie Sanders.

         Polling in general has come under increased scrutiny itself.  Whether for political races or consumer research, tried and true methodologies have been blown up by the abandonment of land-line telephones.   Many have researchers have switched to online surveys, but even those methods face questions for their reliability.

         One emerging tool is internet search.  The CDC now uses search as a “canary in the coal mine” to alert them of pockets of emerging illnesses such as the flu.   Google Trends has shown surprising reliability in showing the strength of candidates too.  

          The latest Google Trends data out of Iowa clearly show that Trump and Hillary have the momentum.  (Figure 1)

Google Trends Iowa 1-31-16

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         Search is not 100% reliable.  While Google Trends showed former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum with a strong upward trend going into Iowa in 2012 it didn’t necessarily indicate he would win—he did.

         But just as it showed Donald Trump picking up strong gains after the first republican debate in 2015 it does indicate social buzz and momentum and thereby provides a unique tool in measuring consumer, and in this case, political interests.

 

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