Back to the Basics: Lessons from The Donald

By Deb Hodgson-Lyons

I have been reflecting on the provocations in Anne McCarthy’s post “Business Lessons from the 2016 Election,” ( along with other recent discussions in the media on the same subject. Commenting in a non-political manner, while the Trump campaign’s approach to engaging his constituents may indeed be a challenge to the norm in communications, from a marketing perspective, it may have actually been a call to get “back to basics.” From what I witnessed, the communications strategy was so effective because the Trump campaign started with marketing fundamentals, beginning with insights/segmentation, positioning/value proposition and branding.

Insights/Segmentation: Mr. Trump and his team listened to the “market” of voters, identifying numerous segments. This exercise generated insights that then allowed the team to identify segments considered to be under-served (for example, white males, the “fly overs”) whose needs matched solutions that Mr. Trump believed he could deliver successfully.

Positioning/Value Proposition: Based on what he understood about the voters in these under-served segments, Trump took stances that positioned him as the candidate to put America back on top (articulated in the campaign slogan “Make America Great Again”). Important aspects of this positioning to make it tangible were: “Outsider vs Washington Insider;” “Consummate businessman;” “Love of the American Dream.” He also understood the value that he needed to deliver to his target voters: “Job creation;” “Economic stability;” “Lower deficit by clamping down on wasteful spending;” “Beat terrorism.” In this way he “captured” the hearts and minds of voters and created a groundswell.

Branding: “The Donald” is an existing household brand. In keeping with the brand’s singularity and consistency, rather than try to change it (or even adapt it slightly) to conform to what is expected of an experienced politico, the Trump team capitalized on this brand to give credibility to the positioning. A brand house might have words and phrases like “alpha competitor;” “take charge leader;” “brash;” “tell it like it is;” “American Dream;” “suffer no fools;” “self-made;” etc. Anything less would have belied the candidate’s ability to deliver on the promises of his positioning and value prop. And regardless of how unlikeable that brand could sometimes be to some constituents, it proved to be highly effective at grabbing the targeted voters at an emotional level, which, at the end of the day, is what iconic brands do.

In summary, as a voter who is also a long-time marketer, I have been fascinated by the way in which President-elect Trump uses technology, new channels and provocative messaging to connect and engage with his stakeholders. While we should take advantage of the new tools in our collective portfolios, it’s about fundamentals and the lessons can be applied even in a B2B environment.

The call to action to action as marketing and communications professionals? Let’s get back to basics!

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