| November 09, 2016
As I am sure you have heard by now, Donald Trump has won the U.S. Presidency. As Jim Rutenberg notes in the New York Times the news media and polls once again fundamentally misread the true feelings of the American electorate. If we learn anything from this surprise result, it is that salience and difference matter as much in politics as they do in branding.
In his article Rutenberg states that the media failed to capture,
“the boiling anger of a large portion of the American electorate that feels left behind by a selective recovery, betrayed by trade deals that they see as threats to their jobs and disrespected by establishment Washington, Wall Street and the mainstream media.”
Superficially Trump’s win is a tribute to salience and his ability to dominate social and traditional media. However, just as many iconic brands draw their power from a deep seated cultural tension, so too did Trump. Back in July of this year when Kantar Millward Brown assessed the standing of the two Presidential candidates, we found huge concern among Trump supporters over the threat newcomers posed to traditional American culture and values and over the size of government.
When it came to the face-off between Trump and Clinton it was a case of the uncandidate versus the establishment. Salience was no longer the advantage it had been because Clinton was equally strong, but Trump dominated when it came to difference. With Cruz and Sanders out of the race, Trump became the anti-establishment choice, and between April and July the perception that Trump would ‘limit the role of government’ nearly doubled. Looking for an outlet for their frustration the disillusioned among the electorate gave their vote to the outsider.
Beyond the ability to tap into a cultural tension three things helped Trump win:
- Trump knew his audience; he knew what his supporters cared about and preached to the choir, tapping into a cultural tension and clearly catering his message to appeal to his audience’s strongly-held personal and political beliefs.
- He also kept it simple, knowing that it’s the impression that counts, drawing upon his appearance as the anti-establishment candidate in order to drive perception that he was able to effect change, and limit the role of government.
- Trump also acted like a winner. According to Kantar Millward Brown research, Trump was intuitively and deliberatively associated with being confident, due in part to his bullish public statements. When people reflected on the subject, they realized that Clinton must be confident too, but it is on intuitive associations that Trump clearly won out. It has to be noted that neither candidate was strongly liked or trusted, so this intuitive associations were clearly a vital part in Trump’s success.
Of course, all of this is 20/20 hindsight. I did not expect to wake up in an alternative reality. But what is done is done and there are lessons aplenty in what has happened. But what do you think? Please share your thoughts.