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Is Donald Trump a Marketing Genius?


Is Donald Trump a Marketing Genius

Written by: Danielle Stitt

Nineteen thousand marketers and I converged at Inbound16 in Boston last week to learn all things marketing.

This year’s conference just happened to coincide with the US Presidential elections has left many Americans on the street shell-shocked and angry. Protest marches in the streets, anyone?

Certainly a headline like “Trump’s a marketing genius” is divisive. Yet that’s what one presenter just posted.

Wisely avoiding the politics of the election campaign (#tricky), marketing author and guru, David Meerman Scott, unpacked the pre-election and election campaigns from a marketing perspective. After 18 months attending rallies, opting into campaign text messages and eDMs, visiting candidates’ websites and following the candidates’ social profiles, his key takeout was that while no-one excelled at applying an integrated marketing approach, Donald Trump is a marketing genius. That’s a big call so let’s see how he came to that conclusion and how we can apply this to marketing in the financial services sector. 

Know your audience

We’ve talked before about developing buyer personas. Trump did this in spades. Clearly he appeals to a certain type of American. In fact, only 1 in 8 Americans voted for Trump but of those that did, many were first time voters. Trump achieved what most financial services brands dream of: customer activation. Unlike Australia’s compulsory voting system, Trump not only had to sell an offer (himself) but also to sell a category (voting).

As a brand, this means you don’t need to target everyone, you just need to really know and understand who you’re talking to. Then tell them what they want to know.

Respond in real time

Arguably the 3am tweets weren’t always helpful but they were timely. He was also tweeting throughout the Vice President live debates, something we’ve not seen before and that marks a significant change from even eight years ago. However, it allowed Trump to insert his messages in real time, as the social network conversations were happening.

Meerman Scott challenged brands to think about how to operate effectively in the present. He believes most companies are proficient at looking back at what happened in the past and looking forward to plan for the future but aren’t able to execute in the now.


A great example of operating in the now is newsjacking, i.e. inserting your message into a story that is at the start of its ascension in terms of media coverage. Trump was great at this and after a few months Clinton became equally proficient, even sparring off each other in social media.

This resulted in significant earned media coverage that put Trump (and Clinton) at the top of MediaQuant’s Earned Media List (yes, that half a billion dollars’ worth of earned media coverage each Presidential candidate received as part of their PR campaigns!).

Look for advantages everywhere

Gawker, the blog network, published Trump’s mobile phone number in what they hoped would be a “gotcha” move.

Not one to let an opportunity pass by, Trump recorded a message on that mobile’s voicemail so that anyone that did phone heard Trump outline his key platform and encourage them to vote. Rather than go on a tirade at Gawker, Trump turned a negative into a positive.

Don’t be old school

Finally, Meerman Scott outlined how old school tactics employed by the likes of Jeb Bush, tactics that had worked for his father and brother, no longer worked. This included:

  1. Spending large budgets on advertising (in the 2015 Primary season, Trump spent US$49,891 per delegate, Clinton spent US$105,566 per delegate and Bush spent a staggering US$43M per delegate!);
  2. Not aligning your offline and online marketing (Bernie Sanders gathered millions of followers online but never leveraged his online community into the physical world);
  3. Not understanding your target audience (Meerman Scott said Clinton was one of the better candidates at integrated marketing but was influenced by the traditional approaches of poll and research feedback to dictate her reaction rather than truly energising her supporters to vote).

Perhaps there will be more to learn from Trump the genius marketer over the next 4 years. Regardless, he certainly has our attention.

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