By Allan Fromen
When Donald Trump first announced his presidential ambitions, I was sure he had no chance. In fact, I believed he did not even want to be President, but was rather engaging in some sort of ego-enhancing exercise to create headlines and maybe stir up some business for his hotel properties.
Needless to say I was wrong. Donald Trump is about to do very well – predicted to win the early primary states, and maybe even the Republican nomination. The irony of a once liberal New York billionaire doing so well has been covered elsewhere by political writers across the country and won’t be repeated here.
However, there are important brand and marketing lessons we can learn from the Trump phenomenon. Here are a few:
The power of passion: Freud described how every person has an id (our base desires), superego (our moral conscience) and an ego to modulate between the two. Every candidate out there is talking about what they’ve accomplished and what they will do once in office. They are all playing to the superego of voters – the part Freud identified as the highest type of thinking. But voters, and consumers, are mostly id – base level beings who can’t accurately weigh pros and cons. Donald Trump has embraced this fact. I recently watched a Trump rally and could not find a single specific policy description. But his speech was littered with id driven statements.
Implication: Don’t message your features. Remind consumers how they will feel. Lose the product descriptions and embrace base level passions that buyers will attach to your brand.
Create an out-group: A psychological phenomenon that been widely replicated demonstrates that we look more favorably upon those that are like us (our in-group), and look down upon those that are different from us (the out-group). This is true even when the in-group is completely random, and consists of something as meaningless as eye color or a coin toss. Trump is constantly saying things like “we can make America great again (“we” helps create the in-group) and dismissing typical politicians as feckless outgroup members, full of weaklings and dummies.
Implication: Create an out-group. Apple marvelously exhibited this understanding, back to their classic 1984 ad, and with the Mac vs. PC commercials. In the latter, Mac users were seen as cool and tech savvy, while PC users were portrayed as behind-the-curve neophytes. Whether it was true or not was irrelevant – it created a sense of community and superiority around the Mac that the PC could not match.
Embrace a stereotype: After 8 years of Barack Obama, a Harvard educated thinker, who speaks slowly and deliberately – as if weighing each word – Republican voters are looking for the opposite. Donald Trump understands this and had embodied the shoot-from-the-hip John Wayne cowboy stereotype. Because this stereotype is associated with positive outcomes – the good guys win in the end – voters give him a pass for lacking specifics or saying something controversial. After all, cowboys don’t think before they speak, they just do, and always triumph over the bad guys.
Implication: Stereotypes are not a bad thing. They are cognitive shortcuts for consumers who can’t process an endless amount of information. Think of your product or brand as a stereotype. What do you want to stand for? Zappos maintains a maniacal focus on service, while Subaru is all about safety. These brands thrive by regularly emphasizing their core differentiating attribute. Conversely, when JC Penny tried to move away from its well established stereotype of huge discounts, they were rejected by customers. Find the stereotype you want to own and reinforce it regularly.
Emotions rule: If behavioral economics has taught us anything, it is that we humans are subject to a litany of cognitive biases, and make decisions that are illogical. Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman claims that 95% of all cognition occurs in the subconscious mind. Even if this number is somewhat over-stated, it is clear that logical, deliberate processing takes a backseat to fast, emotional, System 1 type thinking when consumers make purchase decisions.
Think of Starbucks. Incredibly, Starbucks doesn’t emphasize the taste of its product, and I don’t know anyone who thinks their coffee is superior to competitors. But the company has found a way to make us feel cool. They have created what Jonah Berger calls social currency – those distinctive cups make us feel good about ourselves.
Remember, emotion outmaneuvers logic every time. If nothing else, Trump has demonstrated the impressive power of emotion, and it is a lesson marketers would do well to remember.