What Trump’s Triumph can teach marketers about buyer personas 8 years ago

What Trump’s Triumph can teach marketers about buyer personas

Note: This is my observation of the campaign as a marketer, not an opinion on either candidate, their supporters, or any political issue.

The New York Times headline called it a “Shocking Upset”. The Washington Post said “Stunning Upset”. The world financial markets are in panic. I wasn’t surprised by the election outcome one bit.

Organizations that win their battle for the “buyer” – whether they’re a company, non-profit, or political campaign – are the ones that gain a complete understanding of their buyer personas, uncover the questions, fears, and doubts (QFDs) of those personas, and earn the trust of the “buyers” by crushing those QFDs with their own voice and the voice of their current followers.

And that’s exactly what Trump did. Brilliantly. Trump won because he knew his buyer personas, picked the right ones to target, and earned their trust by convincing them he was the one who will crush their QFDs. He was even willing to do and say things that alienate the personas that didn’t matter to him in order to cement the commitment from the ones who do.

He was smart enough to know he only needed to win the vote of one massive target persona to swing a close election – the white, working class, rural male with a chip on his shoulder. He already had the vote of the people who for whatever reason aren’t ready to have a woman president. Those who always vote for anyone with an R after their name were his. He had no chance to win over minorities (though he tried at the end) or immigrants. He wasn’t going to win over people who prioritize the greater good. He had no chance with people who treasure “equality for all”.

His ticket to the White House was the white, working class, rural male with a chip on his shoulder. Like any persona, buyer insights are formed from patterns, and don’t necessarily describe every last one of them, but I’ve interviewed many men who fit this persona and saw this pattern in the profile:

  • He is middle-aged or older
  • He didn’t attend college
  • He worked in the same lower-skilled job or field his whole working life and expected it to take him to retirement
  • He’s disillusioned with how his life has turned out
  • He’s not shy about expressing his views to anyone who will listen

I asked these men how they learn about the candidates and their positions, and make voting decisions, and I found that:

  • He doesn’t pay much attention to the details of public policy, economics, or history
  • He puts a lot of trust in people who give a soundbite that reinforces his world view, even if it is nonsensical or factually inaccurate (this is not unique to this persona)
  • He wants someone who will get rid of the things and people who he perceives as threats to improving his life
  • He influences his wife to have the same views and vote for his candidates

Trump gave this persona everything he wanted, and fed into every question fear and doubt to get him to the polls in record numbers.

Every story needs an antagonist and Trump created the enemy – the crooked career politicians who have rigged the system. He played into his persona’s dissatisfaction with their own life by convincing them that everything about this country, and the role our country plays on the world stage is “a disaster”. He convinced them to blame the government, and specifically blame Obama and the Clintons, for everything that’s wrong with their lives. All this to get them angry. Angry as hell. Scary angry.

Then he made promises that everyone knows are nonsensical but those promises appealed to the fears and wants of this persona. In fact, not one of the folks I talked to truly believes that Trump will build The Wall, but that promise brought them deeper into his fold because it was a symbol that reinforced their “distaste” for foreigners from south of the border and the perceived threat they pose to their way of live.

The most brilliant part is that once he got this core angry as hell and firmly in his clutches, he unleashed their voice by issuing a steady stream of misinformed public statements and tweets that allowed these men to spread the memes and tell their stories on top of them. And they did. It became entertainment. And these men got their spouses to dismiss moral questions that surfaced during the campaign and vote for Trump.

There are very few companies I’m aware of who’s marketing and sales teams know their buyer personas the way the Trump team knows theirs, and plays to them the way the Trump campaign did. If you did, you’d truly understand their questions, fears and doubts. You’d know how to rub salt in the wound. And you’d know how to get your customers to unleash their voice to validate and reinforce your claims. If you can think of a company that does this well, please let me know in the comments.

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