Election 2016: The Big Marketing Takeaways

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, January 25, 2017

Is the era of marketing arrogance coming to an end? 

The 2016 presidential election made it painfully clear that conventional tactics can spell doom. Politicians come and go, but the real losers are the marketing fools who helped Jeb with his exclamation mark and offered Hillary #ImWithHer. 

Blaming bad slogans is oversimplifying these foiled, expensive campaigns, but the fact remains: Antiestablishment marketing methodologies have officially bypassed “Mad Men”-era tactics. 

Consider these numbers: According to the Center for Competitive Politics, Clinton’s campaign outspent Trump’s by more than double. Pro-Clinton TV ads outnumbered pro-Trump ads by an even larger margin: 383,512 to 125,617. And at $159.3 million, more money was spent on Bush than Trump during the primaries. Yet he defeated both. 

To win in today’s environment, brands need to get closer to their audiences by leveraging the latest technology and social channels and offering up a steady stream of amazing, easily digestible content. Bernie Sanders’ Feel the Bern slogan, for instance, was completely user generated and crowdsourced — a far cry from traditional marketing, yet it managed to win the candidate a massive loyal following among young voters. 

Marketers, are you paying attention yet? 

Attacking the Root of the Problem 

Both Trump and Sanders understand something Madison Avenue clearly doesn’t: Passion can’t be bought. 

True, the two candidates couldn’t be more different: Sanders failed to make it on the national ballot, while Trump dominated every primary race. But both prove contextual relevancy and understanding your audience’s desires are everything. These tactics cultivate deep brand affinity and a solid foundation of super devotees that no brand, whether politician or otherwise, can ever hope to earn from clever and entertaining ad campaigns. 

Clinton’s and Bush’s campaigns sound another warning to marketers: A slick commercial no longer equals victory. Elite marketers, stuck in a bygone era, continue to ignore volumes of statistics pointing to a more evolved consumer. Case in point: Nearly three-quarters of 16- to 39-year-olds dislike being targeted by brands in their social media feeds. They hate advertising’s intrusion in social media so much, in fact, that more than half have limited social media or quit altogether.

Surviving in the New Era 

Yesterday’s marketing approach is a recipe for disaster, filled with inauthentic storytelling and one-way conversations that ignore the way people do things today. We need a new formula, and it starts with a solid foundation of fundamental beliefs. 

Adapt or die 

To remain on the cutting-edge, brands and agency execs need to operate at a sprint. Move away from annual planning and instead focus on 90-day sprints with specific goals around media placements. 

Once you’ve met your goals, it’s time to try something new. This is how successful companies remain successful. Take Apple, for instance. It isn’t known for creating a single product, rather it built its reputation on its adaptive, fluid approach to furthering technology. 

Never turn it off 

At all costs, your name needs to be out there 24/7. This may sound counterintuitive and risky because it contradicts long-held beliefs in advertising, but it’s necessary if you want to compete. Many brands are already doing exactly that. 

Brands need to be relentless in a round-the-clock, always-on approach to content marketing. We live in a 24-hour news and information cycle that’s only going to get more hectic. Every second you’re not in the public’s face gives your competitors a chance to make inroads. 

Transparency and authenticity are non-negotiable 

Forget the days of acting angelic. If the latest election cycle proved anything, it’s that we understand people aren’t perfect. Neither are brands — authenticity trumps (forgive the pun) a fantasy of perfection. 

Not only does authenticity deliver lasting loyalty, but it also means you can evolve bad news into good. Memories are short in today’s media-crazed society, and internet access makes everybody look like they know what they’re talking about. 

But Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders knew their audiences and used bombastic, anti-establishment methodologies to garner mass appeal. Smart brands would be wise to learn from these individuals who shaped 2016.




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