Political pundits seem to constantly marvel over how well Trump is doing against Clinton. According to conventional wisdom, Clinton should be on the way to a landslide and Trump positioned to crash and burn.
Needless to say, that's not what the polls are saying. While politics, demographics and personalities obviously play a huge role in presidential elections, I think that a major reason for Trump's surprising success is a superior marketing strategy.
Before reading any further, though, I need you to be willing to think about the candidates' respective strategies without getting involved in the specifics of their policies. I'm discussing marketing not politics.
To help make this clear, in this column I'll be using the concept of "Bizarro World," a fictional location from DC comics where everything is "weirdly inverted or opposite to expectations." I'll ask you to imagine if their marketing strategies were reversed.
This thought exercise doesn't just help separate the marketing from the product, it also makes it easier for me to explain what entrepreneurs and marketers can learn from comparing the candidate's respective strategies.
I should probably note that I have a free weekly newsletter that provides examples of strong business writing and marketing messages. Meanwhile, here are three important lessons to be learned from this campaign:
1. Be Concrete Rather Than Abstract
Trump's tag line is "Make America Great Again" while Clinton's tag line is "Stronger Together." Regardless of what you think of the sentiments behind the tags, Trump's tag is stronger from a marketing perspective.
Trump's tag line is a story. It contains a verb ("make") which implies action. It defines who will benefit ("America") and how it will benefit ("Great"). Finally, the tag places the story in a time sequence, with a back story and a future outcome ("Again").
By contrast, Clinton's tag line is abstract. It consists of two vague adjectives that are intended to be inspirational. Even with the implied "we are," it raises more questions than it answers. Why is "stronger" important? What does "together" actually mean?
Again, I'm not arguing the merits of the products being marketed (the candidates), but merely the merits of how those products are being marketed and messaged. Which leads me to our Bizarro World thought experiment.
Imagine we're on Bizarro world and Trump is marketing like Clinton and vice versa. In this case, Trump's tag might be "A Greater Tomorrow" while Clinton's tag might be "Level the Playing Field."
Bizarro Trump's abstract, static tag line falls as flat as real-world Clinton's tag, while Bizarro Clinton's tag tells a story as vivid and action-oriented as real-world Trump's tag.
The lesson for entrepreneurs is that your message should tell a story about your customer (like "You Pay Less Here.") rather than abstractly attempt to define who you are (like "We Are the Best Value").
As an aside, I'd say that 99% of the sales message and email rewrites that I do for my clients (and discuss in my newsletter) consist of turning dry abstractions into vivid action-oriented stories.
2. Appeal to Emotion Rather Than Reason
Nowhere does the Trump campaign differ more greatly from Clinton's than in the way the two candidates "pitch" their candidacy. Trump's speeches (when not on teleprompter) are all about emotions; Clinton's are lists of policy proposals.
Trump expresses simple (some say simplistic) ideas that create intense emotions in his customer base (like "Build the Wall!"). He then repeats that message over and over which serves to intensify his customers' emotions.
One could argue that the emotions that Trump raises are not healthy for the Republic, but that's not the point. Think back on Obama's 2008 campaign. His speeches and public appearances were far more inspirational than intellectual.
Clinton, on the other hand, is a self-confessed policy wonk. She delights in laying out specific proposals for what she would do if elected, often in great detail.
As such, she often reminds me of a novice salesperson whose "spray and pray" pitch full of features and functions leaves his customers glassy-eyed. Clinton forces her audiences to think things through, which is the definition of weak marketing.
On Bizarro World, Trump's speeches would talk about (for instance) the size of the wall, what it would be made of, where it would have holes for migratory animals, how it would create jobs, and what the workers would be paid, etc.
Bizarro Clinton, on the other hand, would sound like, well, like real-world Bernie Sanders. She'd pick a couple of issues that get people emotional (like "Make the 1% pay their fair share.") and drive those same points home, over and over.
The lesson for entrepreneurs here is that your presentations and pitches should be built around your customer's emotions and desires. Only after you've captured their hearts, can you expect to capture their minds.
3. Use Simple Rather than Complex Words
Regardless of what you think about what comes out of Trump's mouth, it always comes out in short words packed into short sentences and phrases. Even when he rambles, each sentence fragment resembles a Tweet.
Clinton, on the other hand, tends to use $5 words when $.05 words would do better. Her oft-quoted gaffe "basket of deplorables" is an excellent example. "Deplorable" is itself an overly fancy adjective; turning it into a noun makes it even more high-fallutin'.
More recently, Trump's reaction to last weekend's NYC bombing was the simple statement that "this is only going to get worse." Clinton then reacted by calling Trump's remarks "demagogic."
I'm hard pressed to think how Clinton could imagine that most voters (even in her own party) would necessarily 1) know what a "demagogue" is and 2) be willing to parse that definition into an adjective.
On Bizarro World, Clinton would have said something like "On my first day as president, I'll tell the Justice department to stop screwing around and arresting pot dealers and spend their time catching terrorists."
Bizarro Trump then would have replied that "these regrettable acts will likely continue unabated and my opponent's unfortunate remarks upon this crucial subject could lead to a deplorable decimation of the right to privacy."
The lesson here for businesspeople in general and entrepreneurs in particular is to get off your high horse and talk like normal people. Even complex ideas become more powerful when expressed with everyday words.
Again, I emphasize that while Trump's marketing strategy is stronger that Clinton's, neither strategy necessarily reflects the value of their policies, parties or platforms. Strong marketing is strong marketing even if the product is weak.