Unconventional Wisdom: Lessons from the 2016 Election

By Anne McCarthy
It’s been 45+ days since the results of the Presidential election were announced.

While many Americans are licking their wounds and others are licking their chops, I believe it’s time for our profession to move past the emotional aspects of this divisive Presidential campaign and take notice of the new rules of the road.

Regardless of whether you voted red, blue, independent (or not at all), we can all agree the 2016 Presidential campaign was a game changer. Step away from the political implications of the election and step into your shoes as a professional communicator or marketer.

I believe we’ve all witnessed a genuine challenge to ‘generally accepted communications principles.’ The election of 2016 pressure-tested tried and true communications and marketing practices. Simply put, this election shattered the conventional wisdom commonly associated with messaging, content, channels, analytics, measurement and budgets and our profession has essentially been put on notice.

Messaging. Identifying and tapping into a common sentiment clearly has merit. Successfully driving a unifying sentiment across party lines, socio-economics categories and racial boundaries can clearly create traction and break through the clutter.

Content. The adage of ‘Sticking to the script’ is also up for grabs. Has the US population grown tired of the pabulum and spoon-fed sound bites and migrated to a space characterized by straight talk and reality?

Channels. Many of us in the profession debate the effectiveness of relying on paid versus earned channels. Consider a world that disintermediates journalists and rejects traditional media. Citizens and other stakeholders prefer to hear it directly from ‘the horse’s mouth’ by creating 1-on-1 relationships in the social and digital space.

Analytics. There has been a lot of hoopla about big data. But what about polling? We live in an era with fewer land lines, more caller ids, increasing impatience, distrust of surveys and a demand for privacy. How do we effectively elicit feedback that reflects attitudes and beliefs without bias?

Measurement. Impressions and positive sentiment are supposed to drive performance. Can we be living in an age where the metrics we’ve institutionalized over the years are simply dead wrong? Is there a new formula for ROI that more accurately measures what’s working and what’s not?

Budgets. Technology and talent cost money. So, too, does legacy infrastructure. Can we do more with less in this age of innovation and do we have the courage to eliminate the traditional constructs that make us less nimble?

Was the 2016 election a ‘one-off’ or is this the ‘new normal?’ Can we apply some of these emerging principles to drive more effective marketing and communications strategies within our enterprises?

Perhaps it’s time to hit the pause button; reflect on what we just witnessed. As we approach the New Year, this is an ideal time to reconsider your 2017 plans and determine whether there is a better mouse trap — a new model that shatters conventional wisdom and, ultimately, generates better results.

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