April 20, 2017
What if I told you that you could learn something about communicating from President Donald Trump? I’m guessing a few of you are laughing right now. Some of you might be rolling your eyes and calling me crazy. And I’m OK with that. Because after spending the past two years studying every communication in this election cycle, I’ve found that Trump tapped into a few universal communicator truths that we should all be reminded of. So stick with me here. Suspend emotion for a moment and get curious. No matter what industry your business is in, you can learn something from Trump’s victory and his first 60 days in office (seriously).
1. Don’t be afraid to think big.
By the time we set pen to paper, we have often talked ourselves out of thinking big. We are risk-averse. We overthink things. We complicate things. We want to be certain that we sound as smart as possible. I’m begging you to stop. Because we end up being afraid to say what needs to be said, we filter it so much that by the time we get the message out, it’s watered down, forgettable, and ineffective.
Do you know who doesn’t shy away from thinking big? That’s right — Trump. In his ’80s hit book “The Art of the Deal,” he says: “I’m unafraid to think big. So I’m not just going to think about building a building. I’m going to think about building the biggest most beautiful building on Fifth Avenue.”
He did the same thing when he ran for president. He thought big. He was running for the highest office in our country. And he told everyone who would listen what he was going to do to "Make America Great Again." And guess what? He thought big, and now he’s sitting in the biggest office in the United States.
2. Authenticity still matters.
Who are you really? What do you stand for? What are your faults? Why do people like your company? Find your center. Find your core. Find your true north. And never, ever walk away from it. You know what kills communication faster than anything else? Inauthenticity.
You work at a bank? Be the best bank you can be; don’t try to be as cool as a Silicon Valley startup. Should Target be Neiman Marcus? Should Burger King try to be Mario Batali? No! Be who you are. Embrace your strengths. Embrace your weaknesses. And turn them into the best story you can.
Say what you will about Trump, but he is who he is, and he never apologizes or tries to hide it. Ask any of his supporters what they like about him, and they’ll likely mention his authenticity. Does he lack experience? Heck yes. But that lack of experience is just what this country needed: a businessman at the helm. And he was going to make deals like you have never seen. He was going to negotiate. Make us win again. You get the picture.
3. Know your market.
The role of marketers and communicators used to be to fall in love with our target audience. We would intimately know our customers, what they did when they woke up. What kind of coffee they drank (or didn’t drink), and so on. We knew everything about them, and we loved every bit of them.
Fast-forward to today. We know more about our customers than we ever have before, and we love them less. The more data we have, the less intimate we have become. I urge you all to do this — know your customers better than they know themselves. Then, speak to them and only to them.
You know who did this? President Trump. He knew who his voters were and who his voters weren’t. And he knew exactly what they wanted. This isn’t a new approach from our president — he talked about it in his book. When he wanted to erect a building on the Upper West Side, he talked to the people in the neighborhood to understand what they needed and what they liked about the area. He did everything he could to build the perfect place for them.
But he also said, “I don’t take my critics seriously.” He knew who he needed to ignore. You can see this reflected in his campaign. He didn’t get distracted by Clinton voters. Rather, he knew his audience and his market, and that’s where he kept his focus.
Many communicators get so tied up in trying to win consumers over that they lose sight of who exactly their customers are. By trying to appeal to everyone, they’re reaching no one. Decide who your market is, and keep your eye on the prize.
4. Sometimes, you must pivot.
Tough questions are coming at you. You’ve had a recall. You've had to increase prices. You've just plain messed up. What do you do? Sometimes, we ignore the criticism and say nothing, hoping it will go away. But when we remain silent, the vacuum of nothingness often gets filled with negativity.
When faced with criticism, Trump usually pivots. Let’s go back for a second to his towers. In “The Art of the Deal,” he talks about people questioning whether his scheme would ruin the landscape of the Upper West Side.
His response? “No, because you know what? The Upper West Side is now going to have the most beautiful, grandest, tallest buildings they’ve ever seen. And New Yorkers deserve that…We’re going to put people back to work, we’re going to have tax income.” Characteristically, he doesn’t even flinch and instead pivots and reframes the entire narrative.
So what should you do when criticism strikes? Don’t run for cover. Don’t fight back with a slew of facts. Address the criticism. When you do, reframe it, answer it head-on, and position it as a positive.
There's no doubt that we’ll continue to see some controversies and bumps in the road. But so long as we can remain curious, there just might be a few valuable lessons from Trump that we can learn along the way. Maslansky+partners will be paying attention. We’re experts in helping the world’s leading companies find the right language and messages to address strategic challenges like crisis management and rebuilding brand trust. If you’re looking to elevate your communication strategy, give us a call.