Despite all the polls and predictions, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. How did this happen? It’s a complex answer but one thing is clear: He used superior marketing to get Boomers to pull him over the line. His campaign saw an underserved audience and directed the campaign at them knowing it exploited a weakness in his competitor.
Over the past 30 years, our world has been transformed by strong and unstoppable forces: the globalization of labor, technological and demographic changes. The first two have radically changed the notion of work in the United States. Success now often depends on a college education and a job in a knowledge-based industry. These changes have benefited tens of millions around the globe and lifted them out of poverty. However, in capitalism, winners often create losers. Many of those losers are the non-college-educated people living throughout America, especially in the so-called Rust Belt.
The loss of manufacturing and other good-paying jobs to automation and offshoring have put these workers in a bleak place. They soured on the Republicans during the George W. Bush administration; and places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin came out strong for President Obama’s message of hope and change, electing him twice. Now, after eight years of slow economic and income growth, they have fallen further behind. Many of these white working-class citizens are over 50 and facing grim long-term economic prospects. Neither party really addressed their needs until this year when the populist economic messages of Trump and Bernie Sanders shook up both nominating races.
Trump saw the opening and geared his campaign around this economic anxiety. His tag line, “Make America Great Again,” was a direct shot at people who felt left behind by our modern economy. I’m not here to argue the politics of it, but as marketing, it works. It directly speaks to the 50+ voter and their financial concerns, not to mention the demographics changing around them. He spoke about bringing jobs back, conducting trade wars and building a wall to keep out immigrants. Trump claimed he didn’t need anyone’s money and didn’t owe the Republican party anything. He called himself “their voice” as he told it straight without a hint of political correctness. The campaign held daily packed events full of enthusiasm. Social media (15 million followers on both Twitter and Facebook) and earned media were the fires that fueled the movement.
In contrast, the Clinton campaign was more about her experience and focused a lot on cultural issues vs. economic. And, she spent a lot of time demonizing and trying to delegitimize Trump with a traditional TV paid ad campaign. She didn’t give working-class whites much to grasp onto in terms of policy or hope. Ironically, she forgot her husband’s mantra, “It’s the Economy, Stupid.”
Tag lines like “I’m with her” and “Stronger Together” don’t speak to the desires or fears of the working class voter. Clinton held lots of fundraisers and events with wealthy celebrities, which held no relevance to the working-class voter. Her persona was cautious, scripted, a bit inauthentic and screamed “establishment.”
In the social era, having a direct emotional connection to the customer is more effective than blasting paid ads. Trump was able to turn his followers into advocates for what he called a “movement”; he created a tribe who amplified his story. They embraced just about everything that works in modern marketing: real-time communication, authentic content, data-targeted outreach and less reliance on paid media. Trump knew how to get himself billions in free media impressions by being provocative. The story he told was simple, direct and had a meaningful benefit to the target audience — working-class America.
Conversely, the Clinton campaign felt 10 years out of date. She used her enormous financial advantage to run the same ads on TV day after day to a country that has shown an aversion to interruptive advertising. Social media was written by committee and had no passion or unique voice. Her message was more about her than the voters, and the celebrity endorsements were preaching to the converted.
According to exit polls:
The targeted success with white working-class voters he called forgotten Americans helped Trump win close races in Florida, Ohio, Iowa and North Carolina. And, then he broke down the blue wall of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin and turned them red. His success in these states also helped re-elect vulnerable Republican Senators. Can he deliver for this group and slow down these unstoppable forces? All we can do is give him a chance and hope prosperity can find everyone.