However you feel about the result, in terms of big media, social media, branding and marketing, the upset win by Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election is loaded with implications for how to approach the entire media industry in the coming years. The most dramatic conclusion we have come to is this: Trump’s surprise win finishes the perennial, “What’s more important, Branding or Marketing?“ debate for good.
If marketing and endorsements were all that was needed to close the deal in 2017, Hillary Clinton would be president today. The Clinton campaign had an amazing marketing infrastructure and outspent Trump 2:1, mostly in paid advertising. A strong marketing operation is exactly what the Clinton campaign was betting on, except the Clinton campaign made exactly the right bet in exactly the wrong era. It’s been said before, but it’s worth saying again as it is true now more than ever: Without a strong brand, marketing just doesn’t work.
Paid advertisements increasingly look phony. Why? Because of course your paid advertisements say you’re great. In the eyes of the consumer, particularly millennials, it is far more important what your social group says is great.
In what we are going to declare, right here, right now, as the “universal media environment,” the public has the ability to produce, disribute and consume media on on its own terms and in its own way. This is a world in which production of and access to media is virtually limitless
This means a marketing agent’s value isn’t in their ability to purchase advertisements and gain access to TV shows (marketing). The value of a primary marketing agent (politician) is in their ability to compel other people – including the establishment media – to create media for them.
Both Bernie Sanders, whose followers created a parallel media news organization on Facebook, and Donald Trump, whose outlandish speeches baited traditional media organizations into granting him millions of dollars worth of free air time, offered very tangible ideas and plans.
Both of their plans for execution seemed hardly considered, but that did not affect the ‘sales process.’ In fact, the lack of foresight came off as more authentic, showing a lack of contrivance that resonates with the social media public. No establishment media interpretation necessary.
A compelling brand offers people a way to interact with an organization. A brand invites anyone who is interested in adopting an idea to make it their own. You can just feel the the implication that hats are stupid and advertising is vital in this very telling June 2016 article headline in CNN Money:
Donald Trump spent $207,868 on hats and $120,174 on ads last month
From what was practically a Trump campaign press release, many articles came out openly mocking the campaign for this hat expense. (Note: At the the time, the campaign was nearly penniless. I believe at the least they made no effort to hide all the specifics of this apparently ill-advised expenditure. The campaign wanted it to become a talking point.)
The Make America Great Again hats are pure branding, and the brand aesthetic is Joe average to the extreme. The red color is too intense. The lettering is blocky. The shape is old-fashioned. These hats are built to be mocked by people who understand fashion and design principles. Yet every single hat wearer is boldly staking out their claim to Trump’s brand. No matter how you feel about Trump within the family or friend network, a strong statement is memorable. And this statement is conveyed across each Trump supporter’s social network. Each hat becomes a broadcasting node for the Trump brand. The stronger the brand, the stronger all these thousands of small broadcasting signals.
And regarding the media mockery the campaign set itself up for with its press release about spending a huge percentage of its budget on hats? That is targeted to people who have the hats, or just like the hats. The mockery cements forever in the minds of the men and women wearing the hat that Trump is their man, and that the media is their enemy. In the minds of MAGA hat owners, the media just don’t get the Trump brand, so they’re making it everyone else’s problem.
We live in a world where everyone is already watching what public entities like your business are doing. Media airtime is unlimited. The question is: Do you have a brand that is compelling enough; relevant enough; and messaging enough to inhabit the ‘universal media environment?’
by Edward Hooper
January 20, 2017
Phrase coined in this article: Universal media environment
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