Donald Trump, love him or hate him, is a sensation in the U.S. right now. He launched his campaign on his own and was almost immediately written off by the Republican establishment and most pundits.
But Trump used some clever, although controversial, strategies to gain free public relations and an incredible amount of face time on the major television networks to climb from an initial 4 percent to a leading 35 percent in the polls.
MediaQuant, as reported in the New York Times, estimates the value of the free media Trump has enjoyed so far at approximately $1.9 billion. For a candidate that only spent 10 million of his own money on paid media, he’s getting an incredible return on investment that should grab the attention of every marketing firm in the country.
For businesses -- and especially startups -- there’s a huge lesson to be learned. Trump’s approach to media is like Steve Jobs’ techniques on steroids. Where Jobs gained influence in the media through personal relationships and well-produced “Keynotes," Trump uses something Jobs didn’t have in his arsenal: social media and inflammatory rhetoric.
1. Chaos to some, showmanship to others
Part of the charm in Trump, if you want to call it that, is his ability to come off as someone speaking off the top of his head. Where most politicians seeking the highest office in the land practice sound bites and statements vetted by polling experts and / or political consultants, Trump has forgone much of the traditional campaign staff.
Instead, Trump falls back on a muscle he’s been developing since his show, The Apprentice, aired in 2008 (and probably long before that). He’s an entertainer. He understands what people want to hear, and while that skill has gotten him into hot water in the past (Trump University), in the world of politics, it can be a Godsend.
Takeaway: In marketing a project or idea, the entertainment value of what you have to say is equally as important as the substance of your presentation.
2. Intense targeting of a target-rich environment
Trump has chosen an easy, poor-performing bureaucratic machine as the target of his campaign’s assault: the U.S. government. Whether it’s trade deals that have damaged our domestic economy or U.S. policies on illegal immigration that have hurt the economy and enraged “law and order” voters, Trump understands a few universal truths.
Every branch of the U.S. government, according to Gallup Polling, has lost the confidence of the American voter. Talk to anyone in the street, and you’ll hear a range of complaints across the political spectrum lambasting the government’s failures to do what we want it to do.
The genius in turning the government into a punching bag is that it’s impossible for the government to be successful in the eyes of all Americans at the same time. We’re diverse and have varying demands, expectations and political philosophies.
Trump has focused his attacks on the government, illegal immigrants, protestors and the media. He can point to the sexual assault and murder of a woman in San Francisco by an illegal immigrant. In the government, if Trump gets tired of hammering away at President Obama’s policies, he can move onto a gridlocked Congress that has proven to be incredibly polarized and dysfunctional. On the national security front, Trump can point to the increasing threat that radical Islam poses, as highlighted in Politico.
And, when all else fails, Trump can simply go back to turning an unpopular Rosie O’Donnell into a punch line.
Takeaway: When launching a business and / or a new advertising campaign, choose the problem that you want to solve carefully. It needs to be widespread, nearly universal and easy to communicate.
3. Understanding the power of 140 characters or less
Trump is a voracious Twitter user. He tweets at least 10 times per day. Amber Phillips pointed out in The Washington Post that there’s a "surprising genius to Donald Trump’s Twitter account.”
From his #ASKTRUMP Twitter chats to the endless attacks launched on his rivals at all hours of the day and night, Trump is like the bombastic, witty kid at the lunch table that always has a comeback for everything.
By December of last year, barely six months into his candidacy, Trump had tweeted more than 6,000 times. The high-point was on Oct. 31 with 59 tweets. The real-estate billionaire has managed to turn a free, instantly viral and unfiltered communication medium with his followers into a political force.
Takeaway: Treat social media as an endless opportunity to communicate freely and passionately with your target audience. Even poorly conceived posts will generate their own buzz, hopefully from the competition, increasing your message’s reach.
Business owners need to sit up and pay attention to Trump’s strategies. Regardless of politics, ignoring the guy that got an 1,800-percent return on paid media would be a mistake. Understand the power of showmanship and practice your own style of entertaining and delighting audiences -- or work with an agency that can.
Carefully select the targets of your efforts. If your company solves a problem, find one who’s solution will have the broadest impact possible. If your competition is slow, indecisive and poorly executing, unload both barrels on them as you point out your brand’s superiority. And, above all else, never pass up free media.