Brands in the News

Marketing Observations on the Trump Victory

9 Nov 2016  

Donald Trump stunned Hillary Clinton and the world by winning the election. Here are four observations on his victory and what it means for marketers.

Don’t trust the research data

Few people expected a Trump victory. The most sophisticated researchers, using the most advanced techniques, were quite confident in their projections. In recent days the experts said Clinton had a 90% chance of winning. It was a near certainty.

The data was so clear that the Clinton campaign cut advertising support in safe markets and redirected the money to stretch markets and helping other candidates, hoping to win not just the presidency but also the Senate.

The information was wrong.

It isn’t clear what happened. Perhaps the surveys didn’t reach large portions of the population. I know I avoid pollsters when I can. Perhaps people didn’t respond honestly. Perhaps researchers simply ignored the signs.

The lesson is that market research data isn’t always accurate. Use the information with care.

Focus on the benefit

Donald Trump communicated a benefit. He argued that the country is on the wrong track and that he would improve things. He would restructure trade deals, limit immigration and abandon Obamacare. He would Make America Great Again.

Hillary Clinton didn’t communicate as tight a benefit. How would she change things? She didn’t say. Instead, she attacked Trump’s character and promised continuity with Obama policies, so more of the same. This was not a motivating platform for many people. Why continue with policies that don’t seem to be working very well?

People seek powerful benefits.

Values are nice but secondary

Values based marketing is a popular concept in the world of marketing, the idea that people will support firms that are honorable and do important work in the world.

Trump’s victory shows that for most people values are secondary.

Clinton won the values battle. She came across as inclusive, open, honorable and elegant. She counted on this platform to carry the election; her final ad focused on character, not policies.

Trump was a bully, a fighter, a jerk. He mocked the disabled and disparaged women.

In the end, people went with Trump.

The results show that while people care about values, they are secondary to benefits. Ultimately people make decisions on the overall value proposition. What is the benefit? What is the price? An honorable firm that tries to sell an inferior product at a high price isn’t going to do well.

Keep it simple

Trump had a simple, focused message. He stood for change and a new approach to trade, immigration and healthcare.

Clinton lacked this tight focus. In her campaign, she said she was for the environment, free college, accessible healthcare, choice, equality, higher taxes on the wealthy, more regulation all around.

When people stepped up to vote, there was a clear reason to vote for Trump and it resonated.

5 Responses

  1. Brandon says:

    Tim – Well put. Trying to be all things to too many people dilutes the message and is often a recipe for mediocrity.

    While I agree that “values-driven” has become a popular marketing concept, I disagree that Trump’s victory empirically showed that most people view values as secondary.

    First, Clinton won the popular vote. In absolute terms more people actually did perceive and vote for her values as described. However, her inclusive, open, honorable and elegant rhetoric likely came off as intimidating, unapproachable and elitist to many of the non-college educated to whom Trump’s simplicity had great appeal.

    Second, while Trump’s values may not fit the classical definition of “honorable”, his values and subsequent “benefits” – no matter how dishonorable they may seem – resonated with enough people in key demographics to win.

    In the end, the benefits and costs of a Presidential candidate are often unknown until years after the person is out of office. Values, character and promises (packaging) are sometimes all we’ve got to go on when choosing our representatives. As I read this morning about the inaccuracy of the prediction polls, “It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.”

  2. Kat says:

    Professor Calkins,
    I really appreciate you sharing your marketing perspective on the election results. However, I think you’re missing one additional key factor–the Electoral College system! As a result of this system, sometimes the final outcome may not align with the popular vote (which may be the case in this election).

  3. davetuchler says:

    Tim – I think you nailed it here, particularly about values vs benefits as a motivator. Clinton campaign had sort of a feel-good, I’m with her, we’re on this bus together sort of feel but didn’t seem to have at its core a cause/benefit that people really were passionate about and willing to make a stand on. It was almost literally, vote for no change.

    Trump campaign (and Sanders’s, for that matter), had at its core a group of people who were feeling disenfranchised, mad as hell, pitchforks and torches handy, skin in the game, and willing to hold their noses and vote for change. (hmm…sounds a little familiar…)

    In the end, seemed like a much higher level of passion, frustration and motivation (and maybe desperation) among Trump voters. They acted on it.

  4. emita Hill says:

    So what do we do now? We’ve all heard his thoughts about women, minorities, people with disabilities, people who are LGBT, immigrants . . . How do we help and protect them?

  5. Bob Schieffer says:

    As usual, Tim, you put your finger on the importance of a clear marketing strategy to success! Hillary should have hired you for guidance.

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