In today’s world of fragmented media and divided attention, the best way to get attention is to be interesting. What the current Presidential campaign has shown us is that simply being worthy of conversation will often beat being right or responsible.
To this end, I really have three key lessons that we can learn from the trump campaign (the one key lesson headline seemed more interesting so I led with that). Here are the top three marketing factors that have propelled Trump to his current spot atop the Republican pack:
- Be interesting: There is a lot of noise out there and media will flock to what gets people talking and tuning in. In today’s media world, nuance is less important than splash. The best way to get media coverage is to be controversial and salacious. For Trump, the innate ability to turn any sentence into a show has resulted in spectacular media attention. Through the critical early summer campaign months, research shows Trump received twice the coverage of his 16 rivals combined. In fact, Trump received an average of 36 minutes of coverage on the three major network’s nightly news programs (ABC, NBC, CBS) every day. During this period, for example, Marco Rubio received an average of 1 minute and 35 seconds of coverage, Ben Carson received 11 seconds of coverage, and Ted Cruz received an average of 3 seconds of nightly coverage. The same phenomena absolutely applies to brands: today we all know AirBNB which credits much of its current awareness to the observation that media is more likely to cover companies with interesting things to say. Brian Chesky, the founder of AirBNB, stated this clearly in a recent interview: “We found that with press the more absurd the idea — the better story it makes. Being provocative was good because people would tell other people about it.”
- Be distinctive: In a crowded marketplace, distinctiveness is essential to attracting a loyal following. This is true for political candidates and brands. Trump is a unique character that effectively makes all the other candidates look the same. His ubiquitous media exposure has led a large proportion of voters to think about whether they would vote for him. For many republicans, the first question they ask is whether they will vote for trump. If the answer is no, only then will they consider the other candidates.
- Let familiarity breed likability: Research shows that repeated exposure to a person (or brand) increases the likelihood of attraction, likability, or favorability. While we like to think otherwise, people really know very little about the brands and candidates that they choose. In reality, we choose from the very small subset of options that are most familiar with. When it comes to presidential politics or brand building, ubiquity provides an enormous advantage.
While being interesting, distinctive, and familiar has provided a big advantage to Trump during this election cycle, there are many examples of strong political and brand narratives rapidly changing. In the same way that new information can change the way we think about Volkswagen or Enron, political candidates rise and fall quickly with the narrative that surrounds them. In particular, the risk of being controversial is that the narrative turns against you as a candidate or brand. Being interesting is a double edged sword that can drive either growth or deterioration. But for those that are good at tapping into ideas and controversies that people want to endlessly discuss, the opportunities are enormous.