A Marketing Approach to the Trump Dilemma

Five Best Practices that can help Democrats win in 2020

With Trump’s visit to my hometown of Minneapolis and the coinciding movement to impeach him, there were more stories than usual popping up in my social media feed and on the news about Trump last week. And every post was accompanied by a litany of impassioned and inflammatory comments from people both for and against. 

As someone who believes Trump is a threat to the Constitution and should be removed from office, I attended the protest demonstration outside of the Target Center. I was temporarily buoyed by being around so many like-minded people, but disappointed when media reporting later that evening focused on a rowdy minority vs. the larger gathering of peaceful demonstrators. 

While I deeply oppose Trump’s divisive policies, you may be surprised to learn that I’m not a lifelong Democrat. I actually identify as fiscally conservative, socially liberal—a moderate Independent who voted Republican up until John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. By choosing to put someone like Sarah Palin so close to the Oval Office (a move that John McCain himself regretted) it became clear to me that the Republican Party was more interested in winning votes than a candidate’s fitness for office. This revelation was further validated by the GOP’s endorsement of Trump. 

Reflecting on all of this over the past week, I’ve come to the conclusion that what the Democrats are facing is largely a marketing problem. Note, I’ve been in marketing for about 30 years, most recently as VP of Marketing Communications for a technology company, so I tend to view everything through the eyes of a marketer.

My conclusion: Trump is a masterful marketer. (An Idiot Savant, if you will.) Marketing is a discipline that is informed by both sociology and science (not liquor and guessing as Dilbert creator Scott Adams attests). Like any discipline there are “best practices” that have been proven to increase effectiveness at marketing, and Trump has an innate sense of how to employ those best practices for his personal benefit. 

After studying the Trump campaign and the DNC’s counter efforts, it has become clear to me that by making a few small but crucial tweaks to the Democrats’ “branding” could help them more effectively compete for voters (i.e., market share). 

What the Democrats are facing is largely a marketing problem…a few small but crucial tweaks to the Democrats’ “branding” could help them more effectively compete for voters.

Best Practice 1: Define your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

What the Trump campaign does right – Trump’s USP is ultra-simple…His promise is that he will “Make America Great Again/Keep America Great” and always put “America First.” His voters eagerly glom onto this promise and enthusiastically wave their ubiquitous red MAGA hats at his rallies. 

What Democrats do wrong – Democrats have trouble articulating their USP in a succinct manner. In fact, the average Democrat has so many legitimate concerns against Trump that when someone asks why they oppose him, they don’t know where to begin. To my point: while at the Trump protest in Minneapolis I saw one sign that simply read, “Too many things to list.” 

Overwhelm/distraction is at the heart of Trump’s strategy and it’s an effective tactic. Here’s another example of Democratic messaging, captured in a popular sign:

This message—which lists seven distinct issues—hardly puts a dent in the average Democrat’s grievances against Trump. And that’s the problem. By trying to represent every injustice, we are diluting the overall message that Trump is Bad. 

This was abundantly clear in Minneapolis. Standing in one spot outside the rally, I probably saw 30 unique, important issues represented. As protesters, my husband and I each brought signs to the demonstration. His sign, carefully researched and worded, listed nine different reasons Trump should be impeached:

My husband, a banker, zeroed in on facts. In his defense, this sign looked better before being rained on all evening.

Mine was a spin on the popular notion of “Minnesota Nice” and simply read:

Supplementing a catchy slogan with cute illustrations also helps (for the uninitiated, that’s a Pronto Pup in the Minnesotan’s hand)

Guess which sign people were reading, giving a thumb’s up to, and photographing? If you’re in marketing, you’ve probably correctly guessed the latter. The sad truth is, in our soundbite world, a simple, memorable message will win out over the more complicated facts, every single time. 

I don’t know if it’s possible for the DNC to land on a Unique Selling Proposition that summarizes the diversity of opinions it represents. But I think something like Paul Wellstone’s “We all do better when we all do better” could be a strong, unifying message that would appeal to those who realize we are global citizens dependent on our relationship with other countries to solve the big problems of society, like global warming and economic disparity. 

Best Practice 2: Develop key messages 

I’m not saying that Democrats should abandon the many worthy causes they are supporting. However, as a marketer, I firmly believe that it’s important for Democrats to distill their arguments into one or two key statements that are elevated above all others to form an overarching, simple-to-grasp message. What these key messages should be is arguably open to debate, but I strongly believe that we should focus on these two:

Trump is Unfit to Lead – The arguments that would fall into this bucket include Trump’s mental instability, loose-cannon temperament, business record of bankruptcy and cheating others, refusal to release his tax returns, ignorance of and disregard for the Constitution, fraternizing with despots, saying he’s above the law, ignoring security protocols, appointing incompetent people to his cabinet, refusing to listen to military and economic experts, wasting taxpayer money on golf, pathological lying, etc. It also implicates Pence and other leaders in the administration who are neglecting their obligation to remove someone who is unfit from office.

Personally, I believe this single message is the one that has motivated so many Trump voters to renounce him, and I think it’s the most effective message for convincing others to abandon the party leading up to the 2020 election. However, I’m advocating a second key message only because I know that it would be impossible to get all Democrats to embrace a single statement that ignores all the legal but unethical positions he’s taken. Therefore, I would add a second key message to address those remaining issues: 

Love Trumps Hate – This would include all human rights violations (women, LGBTQ, minorities, Muslims, Jews, Native Americans, immigrants/refugees, etc.), economic disparity, healthcare, climate change and gun control. The challenge with this slogan is many Trump supporters regard it as hypocritical because so many Democrats hate Trump. Apparently, they never learned that a double negative cancels itself out and that “hating hate” is actually the opposite of “hate” itself. 

By forming a marketing campaign around these two simple core messages, I believe Democrats can more effectively communicate their brand to those who may be wavering in their support of Trump. 

Best Practice 3: Tailor supporting messages to marketing personas

In individual conversations, you’ll have to eventually move beyond the key messages. So in marketing, we also create something called “personas.” This attempts to break down a prospective audience into distinct segments comprised of specific demographics, personality traits and attitudes. While Trump supporters cross gender and race, with some people fitting into multiple personas and others none, understanding general persona types enables the marketer to more easily create targeted messaging that addresses each segment’s unique concerns (aka “pain points” in marketing-speak). 

Here is my take on the three main “personas” of Trump supporters: 

Fiscal Frank – This person is all about the money. Their focus is employment, tax rates and how good Trump is for their personal pocketbook. (Motivator: economic stability/growth) 

How to appeal to this persona: Use logic. Argue with facts about the true economic impact of tariffs, trade wars, and restrictions on immigration. Appeal to them with the devasting economic affects that could result from alienating our allies or starting an imprudent war.

Dogmatic Deb – This person is the average middle-class white American and “Religious Right.” These individuals see the country becoming more and more diverse and their White Privilege being threatened. It also includes the rural voter who disdains the “coastal elite” because they are more affluent, successful and educated than they are. (Motivators: xenophobia, economic fear, racial fear, religious fear)

How to appeal to this persona: Use emotion. Introduce them to the people they are hurting. Tell your stories of oppression. Appeal to universal human rights: food, healthcare, safety, freedom of religion, etc. This is the group that includes people like my mother, who has been wary of Minnesota’s immigrant Asian population while simultaneously adoring her also-Asian granddaughter. The difference being simply that she personally knows the latter and not the former. Make the faceless “other” personal to them so they see their support of Trump as harming a neighbor vs. battling an unknown threat. Let your child explain to Aunt Betty what it’s like to participate in an active shooter drill. If you’re a Christian speaking to another Christian, point out that Jesus didn’t command us to ensure a conservative Supreme Court, but he did command us to care for each other and the oppressed, making specific pleas on behalf of women and children, the sick, the stranger (immigrants and people of other countries) and the poor.

Militia Mitch – This is the troublemaker. The white supremacist, the conspiracy theorist stockpiling assault rifles, the mentally unstable who see Trump as their voice and savior. This is the most frightening segment because they are the most delusional and also the most inclined toward violence. Unfortunately, they also are gaining a dangerous degree of validation through Trump’s tacit endorsement. (Motivators: acceptance, camaraderie, respect, legitimacy)

How to appeal to this persona: You can’t. Don’t waste your time or energy. Giving them attention is interpreted as respect and feeds their sense of legitimacy. Let them crawl back into the shadows and don’t engage them. Advocate for services for those who are truly mentally ill, but don’t try to reason with them. 

Best Practice 4: Consistency

It’s critical that everyone is singing from the same hymnbook. Advocating for one Democrat over another can be a secondary objective up until the primary, but once the party’s candidate is decided, Democrats need to back that person as passionately as they would have their own personal choice. 

Best Practice 5: Repetition

Everyone knows the three things that matter most in real estate. However, there’s a corollary in marketing messaging: “Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.” This requires Democrats to make defeating Trump their highest priority and to beat that drum relentlessly until all the votes are counted.

Bringing it home in 2020

We all know the popular definition of insanity. It’s time that Democrats take a different approach to politics in order to achieve their objectives. It’s not necessary to stoop to the level of Trump to defeat him, but I believe that using some of the same marketing tactics he intuitively employs will give Democrats a better chance of success in 2020. 

2020 Copyright MB Mohn Consulting – All rights reserved.