Digital Marketing Lessons From Donald Trump? Best of the Worst

Digital marketing lessons from Donald Trump? Why not. He’s proven polls and pundits wrong, dominated online media and spent less than his opponent in doing so – but that’s not the full story.

Marketers are in a hurry to capitalise on Trump’s shock win (including me, clearly) and that’s fine.

However – the determination with which some are trying to present his campaign as a masterclass of marketing is both unappealing and unconvincing.

Let’s go through the ‘best of the worst’ bits of inspiration you could take from the Make America Great Again campaign.

1. Know and expand your audience

Many have pointed out that Trump’s campaign was able to strike an authentic chord, the cliché that he unlocked and mobilised a previously-apathetic section of the population that were sick of polished career politicians.

That’s a nice story but it’s not borne out by the figures. Exit poll data shows that –

“Despite Mr Trump’s support from the working class, over half of voters on incomes below $30,000 a year supported for Ms Clinton. Meanwhile, half of voters earning between $50,000 and $99,000 a year supported Mr Trump and he was favoured more by voters in higher income brackets”

There’s good reason to think that the Trump campaign in reality had mixed success when it comes to engaging audiences who were less likely to vote for a Republican candidate, or even not at all. Trump actually won fewer votes than John McCain or Mitt Romney, but many commentators are breathlessly talking about his superior capacity to engage, relate and get out the vote.

Being proactive and intelligent about expanding your addressable market to acquire new types of customer should be part of any marketer’s remit – but the Trump model is not the best example.

2. All publicity is good publicity

….except when it isn’t.

Much has been made of Trump’s ability to generate high volumes of free media coverage simply by being his controversial self – and the relative spend is compelling –

…but it’s naïve at best to present the Trump model as a model to follow. 

The erratic shifts that characterised the Trump campaign have been retrospectively described by some as an example of how to keep people interested, win media coverage and differentiate from the competition.
Did alleging that Ted Cruz’s father was connected with the Kennedy assassination help his campaign? Did the notorious ‘grab’ recording?  The 4am tweets?

I’d contend that is in spite of these odd shifts that his campaign succeeded.

Had Donald Trump lost, the same marketers who are praising his wildcard theatrics would be using him as an example of what not to do with your personal or business brand.

Businesses should not be casual about their brand – and the real risks that comes with straying so far into the leftfield without a plan.

3. Take advantage of opportunity

Trump has won praise for redirecting Jeb Bush’s website to his own, identifying it as a savvy move that illustrates a keen eye for an opportunity.

The situation arose due to the Bush team not renewing the site in time, with the Trump campaign sweeping in to grab the address.

Much like the other aspects of the campaign discussed in this blog, this is an example that has been held up as a smart move because Trump was victorious, but would just as likely be identified as one of many missteps had he lost.

There are similar opportunities open to marketers every day from domain squatting to placing text adverts on competitor’s Youtube videos, ‘negative SEO’ and the like.

Very often this type of playing dirty alienates a potential ally, or turns a competitor from someone who respects you as a peer to someone who actively wants to utterly bury your brand.

It’s important to weigh up the ultimate value of your strategy and consider what type of company you want to be, and what the long term repercussions could be.

Lessons from Donald Trump – or just lessons?

A lot of the advice that marketers have been talking about in the past couple of days doesn’t need to be hung on the Donald Trump campaign to be effective.

As an industry we owe it to our clients and ourselves to be honest about why strategies are important on their own merits – and not create ill-fitting examples for the sake of a seeming a bit more relevant.

I’m not opposed to some clever news-jacking but when marketers make easily-challenged claims, it makes me wonder about their understanding of the issues, and their commitment to accuracy – both essential traits in an agency partner.

If your company could benefit from grounded and data-driven digital campaigns, just get in touch – no Trump required.

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