This is not an endorsement or indictment of any political candidate but since we are seeing unprecedented candidates have unprecedented political success, it is worth a look into why. Why a man with no political experience is
not only leading the Republican primaries as of this writing but running away with it now The President of the United States. Regardless of your thoughts on the man, interest in politics or political affiliation, this is about how to get noticed and using correct channels to spread your message.
EDIT: This was originally published on March 7, 2016.
Honesty is Always Better — is this about honesty or about being who you are?
Or the PERCEPTION of honesty, at least. Donald Trump is never going to be accused of being the most honest person in the world. However, in the world of politics, people see Trump’s bombastic nature as refreshing. Rather than a sometimes robotic answer-machine, Trump seems to speak off the cuff and from his heart (even if it is a heart of evil). When questioned on things he has said in the past he either jokes about it, owns up to it in his own way or he is belligerent about seeing things that almost certainly did not happen.
Owning up works. Denial causes more questions. When you see a headline that says “Jimmy Fallon doesn’t have a drinking problem” the first thing you think is “Wow, I didn’t know Jimmy Fallon has a drinking problem.” It’s just the way it works. True or not. Too much denial in the world leads to that type of thinking.
It is like announcing the side effects in a pharmaceutical ad. Companies do so because they are required by law to do so but it shows the other side of the story. The more you reveal, good or bad, the less it seems you have to hide. That’s refreshing in politics. It’s like the famous Bill Clinton denial (no, not that one). Saying he had smoked marijuana, but he did not inhale. Okay, Bill. A statement like that wouldn’t play well in 2016.
When Hillary Clinton says “That’s what they offered.” In regards to accepting $675,000 to speak at Goldman Sachs, she is not lying but it seems disingenuous or off brand to Clinton’s public perception.
Think of an insult, it’s been levied in Trump’s direction. But he is genuine about being who he is and, evidently, that is what matters to voters.
Avoid Guilt by Association
It used to be that the politicians who raised the most money in elections would typically be the ones to win – and still may be the case in 2016 – but that is changing. What people see when political campaigns are raising $156 million in a losing cause, or $188 million and counting is not . (i.e. Why would someone invest so much in a candidate if not to see a return on investment later?) The maximum amount an individual can contribute to a candidate is $2,700. However, anyone can donate an unlimited amount to Super PACs where contributions can get as high as 8 figures.
It has been reported that Trump has received and spent very little money on his campaign relative to his competitors, he says he is self-funding aside from donations that come in from individuals. Again, it is about the image Trump portrays. Some candidates need $156 million to lose while Trump can steam ahead with 1/6th of the money. He has the money but he doesn’t need it. That means more now than ever before. The perception being that the less money there is going his way, the less influence others have over him.
It’s 2016 – Reach is Cheaper than Ever
Everything changed in 2008 when Barack Obama and his team innovated political campaigning in 2008 with a huge social media outreach – that was the first time Social Media was a difference-maker in a Presidential election. Probably the biggest media swing since the first televised debate in 1960 between Nixon and Kennedy.
Yes, Donald Trump is an established billionaire who literally puts his names on skyscrapers, has his own catchphrase and a TV show that he ran for 16 seasons. He was a household name well before he decided to run for President and he’s not even the first billionaire to run for President. However, one does not need to be a billionaire to reach millions of people. You can advertise on Facebook or you could create a post and have it seen by your 6 million+ fans on Facebook or your 6.6 million Twitter Followers. Late monologues and sketches that were seen once and then disappeared now get a second life through millions of views on YouTube. No need to pay for pre-roll ads.
Not much has changed from 2008 and 2012 in terms of media’s impact on elections. Social media, the 24-hour news cycle, debates, are all strong contributors but they are now experiencing churn more than ever before. Because of the constant need to create new content for Twitter feeds, air time, Facebook pages, column inches and web articles, there is more demand for content than ever before. It does not take much to reach a lot of people. It’s not about spending the most money to get the most votes, it’s about reaching the most people with your message any way you can.
Find a way to get noticed. How you get noticed matters but not as much as you think. For a recent example in my neck of the woods, an Ikea store coming to Nova Scotia Canada was front page news. Not only the day of the announcement but the day before and the days following. Ikea spent little to no money in print or media advertising because they did not have to – everyone else did it for them. An IKEA ad beside an article on IKEA would have been redundant.
The case is the same for Trump, what is the point of piggybacking on content with advertisements when he IS the content? Good or bad. That article shows Donald Trump blowing away the competition in the summer in terms of media coverage. A short spike, or so everyone thought. You spend less on your campaign than others, you receive more votes, because of this you receive more press and in that press, you note, again, how little you have spent. It snowballs. It is all complimentary. By being the content, by being forward facing and top of mind every day, Trump reduces the amount he needs to spend – which further enhances one of his selling points.
Sorry, Competitive Mudslinging Works
Being Canadian, insulting others goes against my core, but insulting one’s competition has long been an effective business strategy. From the Cola wars, or Wendy’s “Where’s the beef?” campaign, in numerous cases brands have had huge success directly disparaging their competitors while elevating themselves.
In politics, there has been always mud-slinging involved, a subtle example from Hillary Clinton’s 2008 run comes to mind. However, to do this effectively you must have a leg on which to stand. Wendy’s could not say “Where’s the beef?” in regards to their competitors’ products without establishing what made their product different, what made is better. The same in the case of Trump or any business or product as you will see below.
Back it up with Proof
Who better to say “Let’s make America Great Again” than a successful billionaire? It came out that Ted Cruz borrowed money to fund his senatorial run in 2012. Was he the first candidate to do so? Probably not, but compared to Trump he looks like the fiscally weaker of the two. Every president runs on their ideals of how to improve their country but when that ideal is supported with previous business success, people are more likely to listen and believe. He is not a career politician, he does not need $150 million in support and regardless of bankruptcies or “small loans” he has the business success which he believes can lead to political success.
Ultimately, the reason all of these things work for Trump is that he is being true to himself. He can insult his competitors because he has the resume to back up what he says. His lack of political background enhances this. It allows him to say whatever he wants, which further enhances his outsider status. Once again, it snowballs.
Again, this is not an endorsement or detraction of Trump.
It is simply about looking at success and ways to use other’s strategies to your advantage. Even if you will never wage war on a nation that would not stop you from gleaning ideas or strategies from Sun Tzu’s Art of War, right?
Success is success – learn any way you can from whoever you can, just remember to stay true to yourself and your brand.