The Power of Influence

What Marketers Can Learn from Donald Trump’s Hold on His Base

A bloke asked me the other day what I do for a living. When I said I was a marketer, he replied, “So you go to markets and sell there?”

I tried to explain my profession, and he concluded, “Oh, you’re in the brainwashing game!”

I laughed because that’s what my wife thinks I do too.

So, I said to him:

“If I was dealing with business, it’s called marketing.
If I were working in politics, it would be called propaganda.
If I was dealing with faith, it would be called religion.”

This time, the bloke laughed and smiled. I think he finally understood what marketers do.

Marketing isn’t about manipulation; it’s about understanding and connecting. It’s about creating value and communicating it effectively to the right audience. When done right, marketing can inspire, educate, and build lasting relationships.

Recently, I referenced this conversation in my LinkedIn post.

It’s intriguing how the practice of marketing, when applied to politics, starts to enter the realm of propaganda.

While I don’t support or admire Donald Trump—in fact, I find him to be racist and a terrible influence on our world—it’s undeniable that he’s managed to garner a cult-like following. Trump has sadly captivated my aunties and uncles in the US, my best mate in Melbourne, and my sister and her husband here in Sydney.

It’s fascinating to dissect how a narcissistic, rambling fool can wield such power and command such loyalty.

Trump’s ability to command loyalty from his supporters is nothing short of remarkable. His power over his base has often been compared to that of a cult leader over their followers.

This exemplifies the power of influence in its most potent form. While politics and marketing are different arenas, the principles of power, influence, and persuasion are universal.

By examining Trump’s strategies, marketers can glean valuable insights into building a loyal customer base. Here are some key tactics and how they can be applied to marketing.

1. Charismatic Leadership

Lesson for Marketers: Cultivate a strong brand personality.

Trump’s charismatic leadership style is a cornerstone of his influence. He exudes confidence, defies conventions, and presents himself as a strong leader. Beyond his rhetoric, Trump’s physical appearance is instantly recognisable. That crazy hair, the uniform suit, and the red tie – he understands branding deeply. Even his silhouette is iconic. The bold, red “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) hat, although he borrowed the slogan from Ronald Reagan, has become a symbol of his movement.

For marketers, this demonstrates the power of a strong brand personality. It’s not just about what you say, but how you present yourself. Be confident in your messaging, embrace your unique qualities, and stand out from the crowd. Develop a distinctive brand voice that captures and retains your audience’s attention. Here are some ways to cultivate a strong brand personality:

  • Visual Identity: Ensure your brand’s visual elements are instantly recognisable, like Trump’s red hat or distinctive look.
  • Consistency: Keep your brand elements consistent across all platforms and interactions.
  • Confidence: Communicate with authority and confidence, showing belief in your brand’s mission and values.
  • Authenticity: Be true to your brand’s unique qualities and values. Authenticity resonates with audiences and builds trust.
  • Memorability: Create memorable experiences and touchpoints that make your brand stand out in your audience’s mind.

2. Simple, Repetitive Messaging

Lesson for Marketers: Use clear, consistent, and memorable messaging.

Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, borrowed from Ronald Reagan, is a masterclass in simple, repetitive messaging. This approach is powerful because it’s easy to remember, understand, and associate with his brand. The repetition reinforces the message, embedding it in the public consciousness.

Trump is a massive narcissistic liar. He doesn’t care about facts and the truth. He will repeat his key message again and again, expecting his enablers to repeat those lies too as a sign of loyalty to him. This unyielding repetition ensures that his message stays at the forefront of his supporters’ minds, regardless of its veracity.

In Australia, we’ve seen a similar, albeit less intense, use of this strategy with Tony Abbott. His conservative and often controversial stance mirrored Trump’s in some ways. Abbott’s slogans, like “jobs and growth,” “lifters not leaners,” “debt and deficits,” “prudent, frugal, and responsible,” “axe the tax,” “repay the debt,” “stop the boats,” “a stronger Australia,” “stop the waste,” and “open for business,” were simple and repeated often. However, not all of them resonated equally. “Team Australia,” for instance, didn’t have the same impact.

For marketers, the lesson is clear: develop a concise, compelling message and stick to it. Here’s how to implement simple, repetitive messaging effectively:

  • Clarity: Ensure your message is clear and easy to understand. Avoid jargon and complex language.
  • Consistency: Repeat your key message across all platforms and campaigns to reinforce it in your audience’s mind.
  • Memorability: Craft slogans or taglines that are catchy and easy to remember. The simpler, the better.
  • Relevance: Make sure your message resonates with your audience’s values and needs.
  • Visual Reinforcement: Pair your message with strong visual elements to enhance recall and recognition.

3. Appeal to Emotions

Lesson for Marketers: Connect emotionally with your audience.

Trump effectively taps into the emotions of his supporters, particularly fear, anger, and hope. These emotional triggers are potent tools for building a loyal following. Emotional marketing can create strong connections with your audience. Understand the emotions that drive your customers’ decisions and craft your campaigns to evoke those feelings. Whether it’s joy, nostalgia, or a sense of belonging, emotional connections foster brand loyalty.

For marketers, this means delving deep into the emotional drivers of your target audience:

  • Identify Emotional Triggers: Conduct research to understand what emotions drive your audience’s decisions. Is it fear of missing out (FOMO), a desire for security, or the pursuit of happiness?
  • Craft Emotional Stories: Use storytelling to evoke these emotions. Narratives that resonate on a personal level can be incredibly powerful. Share customer testimonials, success stories, and user-generated content that highlight the emotional benefits of your product or service.
  • Use Visual and Sensory Elements: Visuals, music, and even colours can evoke emotions. Use these elements strategically in your marketing campaigns to enhance emotional impact.
  • Engage Through Empathy: Show that you understand and care about your audience’s feelings and experiences. Empathy builds trust and deepens emotional connections.

4. Us vs. Them Narrative

Lesson for Marketers: Create a sense of community and shared purpose.

Trump often positions himself and his supporters against a common enemy, fostering group cohesion. This “Us vs. Them” narrative is a powerful way to create a sense of belonging and shared purpose among his followers.

Hermann Göring’s quote from the Nuremberg Trials is a chilling testament to the power of fear in manipulating people:

“It was very easy, it has nothing to do with Nazism, it has something to do with human nature. You can do it in a Nazi, socialist, communist regime, in a monarchy and even in a democracy. The only thing that needs to be done to enslave people is to scare them. If you manage to find a way to scare people, you can make them do what you want.”

He also added:

“Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

For marketers, while using fear is a delicate and often unethical approach, the underlying principle of creating a strong sense of community and purpose remains valuable:

  • Define Common Goals: Establish what unites your audience. This could be a shared interest, a common problem, or a collective goal. Make it clear how your brand aligns with these commonalities.
  • Create a Narrative: Develop a compelling story that positions your brand and your customers against a common challenge or enemy. This could be an industry norm, a societal issue, or a competing brand.
  • Foster Community: Use platforms like social media, forums, and events to bring your audience together. Encourage interaction and build a community where your customers can share their experiences and support each other.
  • Highlight Values: Emphasise the values that your brand and your customers share. This strengthens the emotional bond and reinforces the sense of belonging.

5. Media Savvy

Lesson for Marketers: Master the art of media and content marketing.

Trump’s power over the media comes from his obsessive need for attention, which keeps him in the spotlight and maintains his relevance. For marketers, this translates to the power of effective content marketing and media engagement. Utilise various media channels to share your brand’s story, engage with your audience, and stay relevant in their minds. Create compelling content that captures attention and harnesses the power of sharing.

Here are a few strategies to enhance your media savvy:

  • Multichannel Presence: Ensure your brand is visible across multiple media platforms, including social media, blogs, podcasts, and videos.
  • Engage with Trends: Stay updated with current trends and integrate them into your content to keep it relevant and engaging.
  • Interactive Content: Create interactive content such as polls, quizzes, and live Q&A sessions to engage your audience actively.
  • Influencer Collaborations: Partner with influencers to extend your reach and build credibility within your target market.
  • Content Consistency: Maintain a consistent posting schedule to keep your audience engaged and anticipating your content.

6. Echo Chambers and Confirmation Bias

Lesson for Marketers: Leverage social proof and user-generated content.

Trump’s supporters often operate within echo chambers that reinforce their beliefs. These echo chambers are powered by media outlets that align with their views, often labelling any opposing viewpoints as “Fake News”. This tactic strengthens their convictions and deepens the power of their loyalty.

For marketers, leveraging social proof and user-generated content can create a similar effect in a positive and ethical way:

  • Encourage Testimonials: Actively seek out and promote customer testimonials and reviews. Genuine feedback from real customers builds trust and credibility.
  • Highlight User Stories: Share user-generated content that showcases how your product or service has positively impacted your customers’ lives. This not only builds trust but also provides relatable stories that potential customers can connect with.
  • Create Community Platforms: Develop spaces where customers can share their experiences and support each other, reinforcing the positive aspects of your brand. This could be through social media groups, forums, or dedicated community sections on your website.
  • Amplify Positive Feedback: Regularly share positive reviews, case studies, and success stories. This not only reinforces your brand’s value but also leverages the psychological principle of social proof, where people are influenced by the actions and opinions of others.

7. The Power of Personal Identification

Lesson for Marketers: Align your brand with your audience’s identity.

Trump’s supporters often see him as one of their own, despite his elite status. Brands should strive to align themselves with their audience’s identity and values. Show that you understand their needs, wants, challenges, and aspirations. When customers see themselves in your brand, they are more likely to develop a strong, personal connection.

Authentic Representation: Ensure your brand messaging and visuals authentically represent your audience’s identity and values. Trump, however, is only genuine to himself. He will say whatever he wants to get his message across, often repeating the same things again and again. His loyalty lies only with his own narcissistic narrative. Unfortunately, yet effectively, he is always on brand – his personal brand.

Here’s how you can achieve this:

  • Deep Understanding: Conduct thorough research to understand your audience’s demographics, interests, and pain points.
  • Authentic Representation: Ensure your brand messaging and visuals authentically represent your audience’s identity and values. Show genuine empathy and understanding, even if Trump (only) uses his authenticity for himself and his narrative.
  • Engage Personally: Engage with your audience on a personal level through social media interactions, personalised emails, and tailored content.
  • Empathy: Show empathy and understanding towards your audience’s challenges and aspirations, positioning your brand as a supportive ally.
  • Community Building: Create platforms where your audience can connect and share their experiences, further aligning your brand with their identity.

8. Manipulation of Cognitive Dissonance

Lesson for Marketers: Address objections and reinforce positive beliefs.

Trump’s tactics often exploit cognitive dissonance by affirming his actions and discrediting critics. Marketers can address potential objections by reinforcing the positive aspects of their products or services. Provide clear, compelling reasons why your offering is the best choice and address any concerns directly. This helps customers resolve any doubts in favour of your brand.

To leverage this in marketing:

  • Acknowledge Concerns: Recognise potential objections and address them transparently in your messaging.
  • Highlight Benefits: Emphasise the positive aspects of your product or service that outweigh any potential drawbacks.
  • Provide Evidence: Use testimonials, case studies, and data to back up your claims and build credibility.
  • Reinforce Trust: Maintain a consistent, trustworthy presence that reassures customers and reduces cognitive dissonance.
  • Clear Communication: Ensure your messaging is clear and straightforward, reducing any ambiguity that could lead to doubt.

9. Social Identity Theory

Lesson for Marketers: Foster a strong brand community.

Trump’s supporters derive part of their identity from being part of his group. Brands can foster a strong sense of community by creating spaces for customers to connect and share their experiences. Whether it’s through social media groups, forums, or events, providing a platform for community interaction strengthens the bond between your brand and its customers.

Here’s how to build a strong brand community:

  • Interactive Platforms: Create social media groups, forums, and other interactive platforms where customers can engage with each other and with your brand.
  • Community Events: Host events, webinars, and live sessions that bring your community together and foster a sense of belonging.
  • Encourage Participation: Actively encourage customer participation and engagement through contests, challenges, and user-generated content.
  • Share Stories: Highlight community members’ stories and achievements to build a sense of pride and connection within the community.
  • Provide Value: Continuously offer value through educational content, exclusive offers, and support to keep your community engaged and loyal.

Before we conclude this article, let me remind you that we reap what we sow. You will harvest the same marketing that you plant. If your marketing is positive, you will get positive results. If your marketing is negative, you will get negative results.

Donald Trump’s grip on his base demonstrates the power of effective influence and persuasion. By understanding and applying these strategies, marketers can build a loyal and engaged customer base. Charismatic leadership, clear messaging, emotional connection, community building, media savvy, leveraging social proof, aligning with customer identity, addressing objections, and fostering a strong brand community are key tactics that can elevate your marketing efforts and drive long-term success.

Remember, marketing isn’t about manipulation; it’s about connection. It’s about creating value and communicating it effectively to the right audience. When done right, marketing can inspire, educate, and build lasting relationships. So, let’s use these lessons to become better, more ethical marketers, and build brands that truly connect with and serve their audiences.