Breaking Down the 2016 Presidential Marketing Campaigns – Why the Outliers are on Top

Breaking Down the 2016 Presidential Marketing Campaigns

Here in New Hampshire, it’s been one of the most exciting, frustrating, and surprising political primary seasons we’ve ever seen. Depending on which side of the fence(s) you’re on, you’re either happy, upset, or completely shocked by the outcomes – and it’s safe to say that we’re all wondering just what is going to happen in November.

The week before the primary vote in New Hampshire, the first in the nation, downtown Manchester was quite a sight. Normally my drive to the office is pretty routine, with nothing of particular interest to notice. But that week revealed a new surprise every day.

From the tents in front of the Radisson hotel, and UHaul trucks in a parking lot on the corner, each filled with reporters from CNN, MSNBC and every major news outlet, to the protestors and sign holders in the street for every possible cause and campaign, to the glimpses of celebrities and candidates in our local cafes, every day was something new.

As the debates raged on and the voting date loomed closer, one thing became obvious: the outcome of this primary was going to be unlike any other.

In the end, it was clear that the system was going to be turned on its head in 2016: the two outliers in both parties won by a landslide. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, the two candidates that most of the country couldn’t even fathom getting to this point just a few months ago, had overtaken their opponents by massive numbers.

For purposes of this blog, I’m not going to take a side and tell you who I’m supporting. It’s quite humbling for BOTH parties that this happened, and it evens out the playing field for us to analyze what is happening here.


The role of digital marketing.

According to eMarketer, online advertising for political campaigns in the US will surpass $1 billion for the 2016 election. Compare that to the $159 million spent during the last election in 2012, and you can see where campaigns are shifting their advertising dollars.

Thanks to digital marketing and social media, campaigns have realized they can raise a huge amount of money from many small donations, and along with that money, they can raise support from likely voters at the same time.

They can also actively develop a targeted marketing list of those prospective voters to use in future follow-up campaigns. Even more importantly, they can see in real-time which messages are working and which ones aren’t, and they can change the messaging to fit the moment.

To be honest, we haven’t seen any campaign take full advantage of this particular opportunity, but hope they catch on soon and start changing their messages based on the current conversations.

For instance, capitalizing on the previous night’s debate with messaging tied to the clear advantages their candidate had over their opponent, and reinforcing their arguments.


The messages.

Regardless of your position, most people can agree that what we’re hearing from Trump and Sanders is unique. They are saying things that most candidates at this level have never said, at least not into a microphone. They are the outliers, and this makes their messages memorable.

When our team analyzes our clients’ brand messaging and website content, one of the first things we do is picture a competitor’s logo in place of our client’s logo. If you changed the name on the website, would you recognize the company, or would it look like any of their competitors?

Creating a unique and memorable message will help you stand out, and it will get people to pay attention. It may also garner some strong opponents, which is why people and businesses are often terrified to take a stand and say something blunt and completely unique.


Appealing to the audience and creating a vision.

Say what you want about their messages, Sanders and Trump both know their audiences well. Beyond the same-old, same-old rhetoric and canned speeches, they know the things that will incite their audiences, get under the skin of their opponents, and most importantly, gain highly valuable media attention and social media conversations the following day.

For Trump, this comes down to finding the topics that his supporters talk about with their friends, the topics that no candidate has dared speak about in public for fear of turning millions against them. From cursing on stage to boasting about how he’s going to ‘make Mexico pay to build a wall along our border’, he has managed to gain a groundswell following among a large group of supporters who feel they are not being represented well by other candidates.

For Sanders, it’s focusing on the sole topic of economic unbalance, the 99% vs 1% conversation that drives millions to examine the other candidates based on where their funding comes from.

As for a vision, the storyline we hear from many Trump supporters is that he ‘knows business and has been hugely successful’, so that in turn means he’ll help drive the US to economic success.

For Sanders, the vision is of a more balanced economy, where middle and lower-income workers can achieve wealth by forcing change in our economic policies, especially on Wall Street.

Both of these arguments appeal to the goals of their base of supporters, and both are unique in a sea of the same-old campaign rhetoric.


Getting prospects to take action.

No longer is it acceptable for candidates to expect their supporters to passively absorb their messages and then go out and vote months from now.

Today, campaigns are asking you to donate $10, sign your name to a petition, post an image on your social media profile, and share requests with friends.

With digital marketing, it’s easy for supporters to take some kind of action, and the campaign managers can see which requests are working and which are falling flat in real-time. They can raise millions in the weeks leading up to a debate by requesting a few dollars at a time, and then engage with those supporters to continue spreading their message.


Where to from here?

As of today, I have no clue how this election is going to go, but I can safely say that this year anything is possible.

Based on what we’re seeing, the candidates who are lagging beyond should go all-in at this point and take a stand for something. Put their stake in the ground and own a unique position. Track and measure the reactions to their messages online, and use that information to make improvements.

If nothing else, at least they’d have taken a big risk that could lead to a big reward.