Tag Archives: trump campaign strategy

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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Trump, Clinton and the Psychology of Fear

2 Aug

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     A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, George Lucas created one of the greatest narratives of good vs. evil.  In a curious twist of art imitates life, the archetype is very much alive in the 2016 presidential race.  Darth Vader vs. the Jedi.  The dark side vs. light.  Fear vs. unity.

     The deep political divides in America skew the perception of who is Darth Vader.   To the significant number of voters who don’t trust the Clintons, it’s definitely ‘Crooked Hillary.’  Likewise, to  a majority of immigrants and highly educated Americans, it’s ‘Demagogue Donald.’

     However, the campaign strategies now cast in the nomination acceptance speeches of both candidates paint a stark electoral narrative based on fear.  And Trump has doubled down. Trump Clinton Fear.003

     “America is far less safe and the world is far less stable,” Trump told the Republican delegates and the nation.

     Trump painted a picture of lawlessness and rampant terrorism with the clock set at midnight and an illegal immigrant hiding in every closet.  “Nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records, ordered deported from our country, are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens,” said Trump.

     As a campaign strategy, Trump’s politics of fear is grounded in well-established psychological and economic theory.  Psychologist Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University established in 1979 that people when presented with a set of known risks are more motivated by loss than gain.  The resulting research is called Prospect Theory and it won Kahneman the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2002 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.  In short, Prospect Theory holds we are motivated by fear.

     Trump’s campaign strategy is clearly to use fear as a factor in the complex decision making process that voters will go through in deciding whether they can commit to him in the voting booth.  His strategy is well grounded in the fact that the vast majority of Americans believe the country is heading in the wrong direction.  When combined with the consumer behavior Theory of Trying by Richard Bagozzi, it establishes a clear framework for leading voters on the path toward supporting Trump.

     In the Theory of Trying model, there are three dimensions of attitude. (Figure 1)   One is toward success, one is toward failure and the other is toward trying.   In Trump’s case the attitudes toward success include better pay, secure jobs and safer streets.  In other words—attitudes framed as personal and social gains.  

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Figure 1

     The attitudes toward failure include stagnant income, job insecurity, fear of crime and terrorism—Prospect Theory’s framing of loss.   All of those are balanced against the efficacy of trying supporting Trump based upon his reputation as a successful businessman, and the perception that he’s not a quitter and on our side.  All three of those attitudes combine to influence the behavior on whether to vote for Trump.

   Hillary Clinton has taken a different approach based not on fear, but the social norms of rejecting fear. Trump Clinton Fear.004

     In her speech accepting the Democratic Party nomination, Clinton exclaimed, “We are not afraid!”

     She spent considerable time reinforcing universally held social truths that America is not a nation of bullies, and that “we are stronger together.”   In supporting her central thesis, she quoted FDR in saying, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”

     In forging such a strategy, Clinton is employing the Theory of Reasoned Action as advanced by Martin Fishbein and Icek Azjen.   This too, is a psychological consumer research theory based upon behavioral intentions and attitudes toward social norms and expectations.   In this model, the consumer/voter is weighing their behavior based on their attitudes toward Clinton, and their attitudes toward societal pressure. (Figure 2) 

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Figure 2

 

     The attitudes toward Clinton range from her experience and competence for the presidency, to her trustworthiness (or lack of) as a public figure.  The attitudes toward social norms include the notions that Americans stand up to bullies, that they don’t ban religions, and that Americans are stronger when they stand together.

     To be clear, Clinton is using her own fear factor.  One of the more striking passages from her acceptance speech implored voters to consider the risk of Donald Trump as president.

   “Imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis,” Clinton said.  “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”

     The tactic was stolen straight from the playbook of LBJ in 1964.  In that presidential campaign, President Johnson exploited the fears of a nation still jittery from the near apocalypse of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Republican nominee, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, had famously campaigned on the notion that “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!”   The Johnson campaign responded with an advertisement called “Daisy.”   The ad aired just once–so powerfully based in Prospect Theory that it never needed to air again.  LBJ won in a landslide.

     Both the Trump and Clinton campaigns have laid out their archetypal strategies both grounded in solid behavioral theory.  Fear of loss is a strong psychological motivator and one that Trump clearly hopes is a message he can ride to the White House.  Clinton’s arguments based upon established social norms of working together and rejecting fear are equally as accessible in the minds of voters.  The wild card in all of this may come down to individual personalities.  In other words, do the powerful negative attitudes toward either Clinton or Trump actually swamp the attitudes towards loss and social expectations?

     We’ll find out on Election Day which theory “Trumps.”

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