Donald Trump’s reality TV show, The Apprentice, was designed to offer lessons about business. His most recent reality show, The Election Candidate, which won something bigger than an Emmy, also offers messages for the workplace.
John Quelch, a professor at Harvard Business School, picks these six:
– Give consumers a job: The best marketing campaigns always call on consumers to do something, such as United’s “Fly the Friendly Skies” and Nike’s “Just Do It” prescription. These days, as well, companies are inviting consumers to co-create brand meaning.
“ ‘Let’s Make America Great Again’ is an inclusive call to arms with a powerful goal that each voter can interpret for himself. It embraces passion and purpose,” he notes on the university website. Of course, most candidates make such appeals. Hillary Clinton’s message was “Stronger Together.” While inclusive, he suggests it evokes process more than outcome.
– Showing the past as prologue: It can be tricky to offer consumers an uncertain future if your brand is new. But Mr. Trump, the novice politician, won by recalling a better yesterday and promising to recreate a better tomorrow. His use of the word “again” is reminiscent of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes attempt to regain lost purchasers with the slogan “Taste them again, for the first time.” And for many Americans, the desire to bring back the old days was powerful.
– Pursue forgotten consumers: Too often, companies fight over the same customers. He notes that most financial firms chase the same high-net-worth prospects, ignoring or taking for granted modestly prosperous people. Mr. Trump went after lunch-bucket Democrats that the party seemed to be ignoring as well as energizing rural voters. “Good marketers always know how to balance new customer acquisition with customer retention,” he says.
– Sizzle beats steak: Ms. Clinton had the steak of experience and policy knowledge. But in the end Mr. Trump’s sizzle, light on policy but strong on personality, triumphed. Of course, now he has to deliver the steak. “If not, the consumer won’t repurchase four years from now,” Prof. Quelch says.
– Build enthusiasm: The pundits questioned whether the enthusiasm Mr. Trump was building with his Twitter messages and rallies would amount to anything, compared to his opponent’s better organization and superior ad buy. “Good marketers know that brand enthusiasm rings the cash register. It did for Trump,” he declares.
– Close the sale: Mr. Trump peaked at the right time, refining his message and reducing the ad hominem insults near the end. He also confidently would assert which states he intended to win. “Consumers not only want to back a winner, they want to back a brand that sees itself as a winner. And they want to back a brand that other people similar to themselves see as a winner. That’s when a brand becomes a movement,” Prof. Quelch notes.
But the brand – today’s new thing – must continue to connect. “New is easy. Good is hard. Time will tell whether Brand Trump can deliver on its promises,” he says.
2. Neuromarketing lessons from the Trump campaign
Roger Dooley, an expert on applying brain science and behaviour research to marketing, starts his lessons with the difficulties pollsters faced in the election and – before you get smug – what it may suggest about your own marketing surveys.
“Advocates of neuromarketing have pointed out for years that conducting market research by asking people questions is seriously flawed. People can’t (or won’t) predict future behavior with accuracy, even with simple binary choices. They have even more difficulty with ‘why’ questions that seek to understand their behavior and choices,” he writes on his blog,
That being said, he admits presidential pollsters have some unique challenges. He suggests a national survey doesn’t mean much when the candidates are relatively close. And the pollsters have to predict outcomes on a state-by-state basis, greatly increasing complexity and sample sizes.
To that extent, he points out “a percentage difference that would look like a rounding error in commercial market research can determine the outcome of a state and, indeed, the entire election. Commercial market research has no need for the sort of precision where 49 per cent is an entirely different outcome than 51 per cent.” Still, the business takeaway is that human behavior is hard to predict, particularly by asking small numbers of people what they will do in the future.
Mr. Trump’s message fared well because it tapped into the fear and anxiety many Americans have. “He tapped into human tribalism by focusing on differences between people and an emphasis on immigration as a threat,” Mr. Dooley points out.
In recent years, brain research has highlighted the difference between system 1 thinking, which is fast, intuitive, emotional and easy, and system 2 thinking, which is slow, logical, rational and hard work. He notes that Ms. Clinton’s immigration policy had nine complicated bullet points in her detailed explanation. It was system 2, but for many voters was an invitation to tune out. Donald Trump’s “I’ll build a wall” was system 1 – simple and emotional.
Mr. Dooley’s business takeaway: “All too often, marketers have a tendency to focus on product features, specifications, prices, and other factual details. To resonate with customers, the appeal should be simple and, if possible, focused on a pain point. Make the boring details available for those who need them, but keep them out of view for most customers.”
His final message is that in coming years the ability to study consumer (and voter) behaviour will improve with biometric sensors and other technology. He urges you to prepare for when neuromarketing studies aren’t just a few dozen subjects in a lab but can be expanded to massive levels at reasonable cost. That will, in turn, allow personalization of messages.
3. A letter to young women in the age of Trump
When Sallie Kracheck was young, she thought the battle for women was over. But in the wake of the U.S. election, the well-known investment banker, who now heads Ellevest, a digital investment platform for women, writes on LinkedIn that the battle against sexism is not over.
In her letter to young women, she apologizes for not acting when she should have. “I thought we had left sexism behind us by the time I was in more senior roles. After all, we had complaint hotlines and diversity plans and requirements for diverse slates of candidates for every job. But now I’m remembering one of the members of the senior leadership team who would kiss younger women on the cheek at the beginning of meetings. Creepy, right? I now wonder what was being said when I wasn’t in that room,” she says.
Indeed, that led her to ask her best guy friend: “Do guys really talk like Donald Trump and Billy Bush behind closed doors?” His response was “No, but…” And the “but” was that the conversations are more like “Boy, she has great legs,” or “she’s a looker” or “Whew. Wouldn’t touch her with a ten-foot pole.” When she asked him how he responded to this, he said he didn’t say anything since he has to work with these folks. She appeals to women to ask tough questions and call the guys out when necessary.
She advises that if you’re in a bad work situation, it’s fine to quit. “I know not everyone is in the position to quit; I wasn’t earlier in my career. So the onus is also on those of us who are more senior to be more supportive of women who leave these situations. I am hopeful that an outcome of this election will be greater understanding of this,” she says.
She is going out of her way to support other women: “It’s clear now: we can’t do this alone. Another woman who is promoted or celebrated or funded clears the way for another. I am actively looking to buy from women-owned businesses, which is much easier these days – Glossier, Outdoor Voice, and Project September are just a few of a new wave of startups led by women – and avoid companies that remain all-men. I’m just so over supporting them.”
4. Quick hits
– Mr. Trump’s brand message was consistent during the campaign. But now he may need to remake his brand, something companies can face. Americus Reed, a professor at The Wharton School, says his base wants the populist thrust to continue while others prefer another approach. But the professor believes his brand will fail if he tries to speak to everyone or serve two different audiences.
– But Trump already had two brands, one populist from politics and the other posh from his hotels. Wharton’s Samir Nurmohamed says it won’t be easy to re-establish himself with the people visiting his hotels who want to be associated with wealth: “Until he actually brings through outcomes that can benefit those individuals, it’s going to take some time.”
– Mr. Trump was viewed as more trustworthy than Ms. Clinton, even though fact checkers documented many untruths. But Mr. Trump at times was very blunt and candid. Harvard Business School Professor Leslie John says research shows that people who reveal information are always seen as more trustworthy than people who decline to disclose information, even if they admit to wrongdoing. One paper found that job candidates who disclose the fact that they committed a crime when they are asked on a form are viewed as more trustworthy than people who opt not to answer the question on the form.
– And that blunt talk is something to consider if working with or marketing to blue-collar workers, Joan C. Williams, a professor at the University of California notes. It’s a working-class norm, whereas talking one way in private and another in public – as Ms. Clinton admitted to – turns you into being a two-faced phoney.
– A Twitter marketing tip drawn by Internet marketer Larry Kim from Mr. Trump that many businesses will have trouble following: Boring = Bad.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey SchachterReport Typo/Error
Follow us on Twitter: