4 Lessons Marketers Can Learn from Clinton vs. Trump

Nov 10, 2016


The election is over. Finally. Often I’ve heard it was the nastiest campaign in history. I assume this is more of a hyperbolic statement than a factual one. The Andrew Jackson/John Quincy Adams contest of 1828 has to take the prize since an Adams newspaper said this, “General Jackson’s mother was a common prostitute, brought to this country by the British soldiers!” Now THAT’S nasty! And that’s just one example.

Rather than cursing the darkness, let’s see if we can’t light a candle in the wake of it. What can we learn from the past year that will make us better marketers?

1. Win at all cost is too expensive

Let’s face it, business can be brutal. Just like politics, you get attacked and you want to respond. Sure, the competition is tough and nowhere is that more evident than in the consumer electronics category. We should be strategic and nimble adjusting our strategy based on emerging realities. However, brands must be able to establish their strategy and live with their decisions.

No recent event more clearly illustrates this than the Samsung Note 7 release. The idownloadblog making reference to a Bloomberg article said this.

“After they began hearing earlier this year that the iPhone 7 would look just like the previous two models, the top brass at Samsung Electronics, including its mobile chief D.J. Koh, have made the decision to outmaneuver Apple and move up the launch of the Note 7 to early August. In hindsight, it was a risky, ill-fated move that has backfired and damaged Samsung’s brand and reputation.”

The few months that would have transpired between the iPhone 7 release and the original date for the Note 7 release would have only accounted for a minor missed opportunity. Now the stock price has plunged but, far more importantly, respect, intent to purchase and net promoter scores have bottomed out. They focused on the battle and may have lost the war.

2. Transparency and trust matter

What does your brand and maybe even your company stand for? A relationship is a sacred trust built on brand transparency. This sounds so obvious but, nonetheless, it’s still true. While we often talk about candidates as if they were brands, the truth is, brands could never violate the trust placed in them as often as the candidates have without putting the brand at risk.

What if there were a brand that had value statements like the ones below?

RESPECT: We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves.  We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment. Ruthlessness, callousness, and arrogance don’t belong here.

INTEGRITY: We work with customers and prospects openly, honestly and sincerely. When we say we will do something, we will do it; when we say we cannot or will not do something, we won’t do it.

COMMUNICATION: We have an obligation to communicate. Here, we take the time to talk with one another…and to listen. We believe that information is meant to move and that information moves people.

EXCELLENCE: We are satisfied with nothing less than the very best in everything we do. We will continue to raise the bar for everyone. The great fun here will be for all of us to discover just how good we can really be.

Wouldn’t that be great? But before you adopt the above as your value statements as yours, let me remind you of something. The list above appeared in Enron’s 1998 Annual Report, and we know the end of that story. It doesn’t matter what your values say; to the consumer, it matters what you do. Building a brand on nice statements means you’re building it on sand

How to respond?

3. Take the high road

This year’s campaign seems to be marked by more attacks than usual. The result: according to a Pew Research Poll, 57% of voters are frustrated and 53% are disgusted. I don’t know if that’s accurate, but I do know this; if you can’t clearly establish in the mind of the consumer what you stand for, assumptions will be made that are most often inaccurate.

Every brand or product has a higher level purpose. Let me give you a few examples.

Sherwin-Williams paint

Higher-level purpose: Sherwin-Williams doesn’t sell paint. They sell self-expression.

Higher-level position: If our homes are truly our castles, then the ColorSnap app which they offer for free helps ensure our home reflects our personal style and becomes a comfortable haven. This has far-reaching implications since our homes are where we create family memories and launch the next generation.

Dixie plates

Higher-level purpose: Dixie paper plates can be a tool for human connection. Paper plates are used to bring people to the table, including the cook, who is often a mother. What often stands in the way of human connection is digital devices.

Higher-level position: Dixie calls for their consumers to disconnect in order to reconnect. They call all of us to set aside our phones and connect with one another.

So, how do you find your higher level purpose?

Do “jobs to be done” research and analysis. Every time someone buys a product, they are hiring that product to do a job for them. This job covers three areas of their lives: functional, emotional and social. Too often we stop after we believe we understand the functional job. For example, when you buy a product like wrinkle release, of course, you want it to minimize wrinkles. But perhaps you also are hiring that product to give you more confidence. That’s the emotional hire. And maybe you are hiring it to maintain or gain the respect of your peers. That’s the social hire.

By gaining this kind of understanding, you begin to uncover the higher-level purpose of your brand.

4. Lose with dignity

Perhaps I’m being a little Pollyanna here, but I certainly hope the vitriol will end soon. The election is over and we have a new president. Although, I have to say, the likelihood of that happening is slim.

However, we as marketers can still lose with dignity. That means not trying to win the last battle hanging on to the frustration and emotion of previous activity but learning and growing as we move forward. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s just crazy enough to work.

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