What marketers should not learn from the American election


Not all people who voted for Trump are gun-toting pro life anti-BLM folks. There is a scale, from the most right-wing extremists to people who may just think that Trumps low tax approach is so important to the growth of the economy it outweighs his character flaws.

Also, as almost half of Americans voted for Trump, few major brands can afford to alienate them all (as very well put by JP Castlin in a piece for Marketing Week ).

This leads to the realization that the American election – in combination with a bit of classic “How Brands Grow” by Byron Sharp – holds a lesson for marketers.

Admittedly, nothing is more cringe-worthy than yet another “[insert number] things marketers can learn from [insert current major event]”. Not only because of the farfetched constructs needed to link every single political, technological or societal development to selling FMCG wares, but also because these learnings always seem to validate the hype du jour.

Everything from urbanization and 5G through fake news and forest fires seems to support purpose driven, influencer amplified, omnichannel based d2c innovation. With AI on top.

With the risk of being eternally dubbed an old fart, it may be the most interesting to focus on when learnings go against the grain. I liked when twitter responded to Pfizers stock market success in the light of a potential Covid vaccine with the ironical “6 things marketers can learn from Pfizers vaccine success”. In actuality, there is one clear lesson: Staying humble to the fact that marketing is not just advertising. Product development is also crucial, as is distribution and pricing. And there’s a whole would outside that can turn any marketing effort on its head in a heartbeat.

So what is that twisted lesson from the American election? In short: avoid type casting segments of people, don’t overestimate their convictions or engagement levels, and don’t take stands that alienate people.

The polarized media view of the American election has portrayed society as a duality between sheltered urban educated goody-two-shoes and gun toting hillbilles, which is of course far from true. But marketers can be just as keen to find commonalities in segments.  One example is the surprisingly persistent idea that generations are characteristically different from each other. A recent bit of research   from BBH Labs showed that despite all the Millenial-obsession of late, our approach to eating nuts is a more relevant one than our generational bracket. Even “People who floss” are a more coherent group than Gen Z..

A mirror effect of the fact that people are not so easily segmented into coherent distinct groups is that segmenting tour marketing efforts to narrowly will cause problems. And this is where Byron Sharp and “How Brands Grow” come into play. If you want to grow your brand, your marketing and messaging should target all potential category buyers.

If we believe we can attribute the characteristics of our most frequent buyers to all of our buyers, and if we believe that different customer segments are really distinct and different, then it is easy to come to the conclusion we need to “take a stand” to clearly align with the opinions of our “brand followers”. If the people writing comments on our Instagram posts dislike Trump, surely all people buying our brand do so? And if “Trump Voters” as a group are so homogenous and extreme in opinion, they seem to stand so far from our brands position we would never be able to won them over anyway.

But the truth is most brand buyers are light buyers, who do not really appreciate what the brand stands for. And the segments out there are not so distinct, they are blurred and overlapping, meaning there is a risk part of your buyers are Trump supporters, even if your business is selling organic kale smoothies in urban areas.

So given this insight, what is the learning from the election for marketers? I would say most brands should avoid the tactics of big brands like Patagonia, whose “Vote the a**holes out”-initiative, was so celebrated.

Instead, they may take a cue from the last  and smallest entry into the ”brands involved in election  circus category”: Four Seasons Total Landscaping. Four Seasons became the focus of attention for the election after the GOP mistook Four Seasons Landscaping for Four Seasons Hotel and famously booked a landscaping firm parking lot for a major press conference. Four Seasons Landscaping, as you see above, responded in an inclusive, open, and generous manner many marketers could take a lead from.

On a personal level, one can hold strong opinions about the tangerine tinted man in Washington. But that does not mean a brand should alienate all those who could consider him an option. The world is just not that black and white.