By all accounts, this has been the strangest Presidential election season ever; the competent but distrusted former First Lady (not to mention U.S. Senator and Secretary of State) versus the blunt, narcissistic, racist and misogynist TV personality/real estate developer with outlandish ideas and a serious lack of policy knowledge. Oh, by the way, they happen to be the two most unpopular candidates ever to run for President – by a wide margin! What are the odds?
Given that there’s a lot of marketing that goes into politics and campaigning, it has always been a little odd to me that political campaigning is somewhat walled off from the rest of the advertising/marketing industry. Aside from the relatively famous Tuesday Team – including Hal Riney, Phil Dusenberry, Jerry Della Famina and others- I can’t say I recall big name ad agency people crossing over to work on Presidential elections. The Tuesday Team, by the way, is heralded primarily for doing Reagan’s ”It’s Morning in America,” one of the most famous Presidential campaign spots ever -see it here.
Fast forwarding a bit to 2016, here are recent spots from Team Hillary and Team Trump:
The message is basically together we’ll go far. If we are divided we are less successful and less safe. The images are mostly of the faces of voters that form Hillary’s coalition – minorities and women.
The message from Trump is that he will bring back manufacturing jobs. The return of these jobs – particularly in the steel industry- will ”make America great again.” Like Hillary, the imagery is of the base -white, working class men.
The irony is that both of these spots are speaking to the fears and aspirations of the working and middle-class. In other words, this election is basically between two similar but sort of different brands -Coke versus Pepsi or Home Depot versus Lowes or Costco versus Sams Club. As many as 20% of voters are still undecided in this election. This high percentage, after over a year of campaigning, speaks to how, through the lens of the voter, these two candidates are not all that different. In short, the working and middle-class are not entirely convinced which horse may ultimately pull them across the finish line. Trump is a master showman and promoter. His skills may well win him the Presidency.
Given Trump’s lack of experience in politics and lack of policy knowledge, and that his target audience is not all that different (at least in terms of class) from Hillary’s, Trump’s success points to a few solid sales and marketing lessons to be learned:
- Customers value competence and they want to know your product or service is trustworthy but they don’t want to be preached to or patronized. Believe it or not, competence has been getting equated with ”more of the same” and ”part of the system” in this election. Know your stuff but respect your buyers intelligence. In Hillary’s case, many often feel like she’s condescending (although this probably says more about the voter than Hillary.)
- Unfortunately, style does often beat substance. If you don’t have confidence and a belief in yourself, your customer will not have confidence and belief in what your selling. Trump often makes statements that are complete nonsense but he says them confidently and doesn’t back down. I’m not suggesting one be dishonest but confidence is important.
- Somehow, at all costs, try to make a connection. People want to do business with people they like. Trump is a billionaire who got his start with a million dollar loan from his father. He’s hardly a self-made man and he literally lives the ”Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Yet, working-class guys that have led very hard lives feel like Trump speaks their language. Trump has described himself as the working-class billionaire. He’s made the connection and they’re buying.
What do you think about these lessons? If you have others, please share.
Post by Jim Jinks