How could Donald Trump, an outsider to government and political service, win the presidency of the United States?
I believe it was his masterful marketing—whether he knew it or not.
First, Trump had to win the Republican nomination in a field of 17. This was easier than it appeared. Why? Simply put, Trump was different. In a divided political theater, Trump stood out from the crowd and garnered tremendous news attention. And, most importantly, he tapped into a key demographic: a large percentage of white, rural, working people who felt left out of political priorities and fed up with Washington gridlock.
By winning these forgotten and disgruntled conservatives, Trump found himself capturing around 25-35% of this Republican demographic. The other 16 candidates were left to divide the other 65-75%, and none of them could ever break through with a message as memorable, compelling and provocative (and that’s being kind) as Trump’s.
With Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee, it appeared in early polling that she was a shoe-in for president and would easily defeat Trump.
Why? She was following a popular president in Barak Obama and had his support. The Clinton “brand” was world famous. She had the political credentials and vast sums of money needed to be president. Hillary would also be the first woman president. Most importantly, she had the votes: minority votes, women votes, millennial votes, and urban votes—in fact, majorities in every major demographic except white working class voters.
But, Clinton would break four rules in marketing: 1) Not having a strategy to win, 2) Not having a clear, compelling message, 3) Not addressing a key audience, and 4) Underestimating the competition.
Calling Trump’s raving fans “a basket of deplorables” was a major mistake, too.
As it turned out, both Trump and Clinton were deeply flawed candidates; both very disliked except with their die-hard fans. Trump was caught many times making offensive comments. Clinton was constantly under suspicion for being dishonest.
So, how did Trump ultimately win, especially when he was down in the polls by almost 10% weeks before the election?
FBI director James Comey brought Clinton’s email security problem back under scrutiny only ten days before the election. The timing and optics were troubling, even though Comey seemed to clear her a few days before the election. Yet, it planted doubt in voters’ minds and polls tightened a bit.
However, the primary reason Trump won was because of his marketing strategy.
He knew it was going to be difficult, if not impossible to win the popular vote, as Hillary had the numbers. But she had a flaw in being overconfident, especially in her “blue wall” of rust belt states—Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania—and stopped campaigning in those “Democratic” states.
Trump recognized this, and also knew that to win the election, he needed 272 electoral votes. He felt he could win these traditional democratic states, if he turned to and turned out the forgotten white male demographic.
So, from a marketing perspective, he focused his energy and resources there. It was his only real shot at winning, and he knew it.
He won the media exposure war by tirelessly working the campaign trail, getting his focused message out, consistently and with a repetition of brand messaging that would make any marketing firm blush. “Make American Great Again” was the perfect slogan for these blue wall white male voters. “Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.” was stated over and over again. Even his secondary messages supported his main messages.
Trumpisms, like, “Trust me, you’ll be proud again,” or “It’s a beautiful thing,” or the very memorable, “We’re going to win big-league,” captured the imagination of his audiences, many who haven’t won much in a long time.
Trump, with all his miscues, name-calling, errant rants and distasteful comments, was waging a marketing war with Clinton. And since both brands were equally damaged, voters were left to pick the one they disliked the least.
He took advantage of “free” news media, and exploited social media. Clinton outspent the billionaire, using around $2 billion bashing Trump with over-used traditional TV advertising, but not offering a clear or compelling alternative.
Donald Trump had a strategy to win—and Hillary Clinton didn’t. Her team’s strategy seemed to be, “just don’t do anything stupid and you’ll win.” Trump had a simple, clear and repetitive message—and Hillary Clinton didn’t really have a message. Ultimately, she underestimated the forgotten white male voters in the all-important, electoral-rich blue wall states. And Donald Trump didn’t.
That is why he will be our next president.