As we all know at this point, the 2016 presidential election cycle is unlike any other. The two main candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, have massive differences in their ideology and vision for America, but also in the way they promote and market themselves to the voting public. But as a marketer, I'm especially fascinated by the dramatic differences in how the two candidates go about capturing the hearts, minds, attention and, ultimately, votes of the American people. In a marketing sense, it looks like something straight out of Silicon Valley: the difference between a startup and an established Fortune 500 company.
How so? If we just look through the marketing lens, on the one hand you have the disruptive, divisive Donald Trump who runs his campaign like a high growth startup -- act now, ask questions (and, occasionally, for forgiveness later). For the Trump camp, each day presents a new challenge and the entirely unexpected is expected.
In the other corner is Hillary Clinton, an experienced politician with the bona fide credentials to back it up. Throughout her storied career, Clinton has earned the respect of politicians and leaders across the globe. But her proclivity for secrecy also draws criticism from her opponents and accusations of ongoing conspiracies -- her camp, often referred to as "The Clinton Machine," operates more like a Fortune 500 company.
Marketers of all stripes can learn a great deal from the way both candidates are running their campaigns. Let's dive in and take a closer look at the strategies Trump and Clinton are using:
Trump the Startup
Let's start with the guy who has his name written on a 757 and just about every building he's ever constructed. His actions and views aside, he is a marketer's enigma. Trump's shock and awe techniques have garnered attention throughout his campaign. Much of that attention coming from earned media, a valuable resource. But his general disregard for the facts and his tendency to make bold statements that he cannot back up have hurt his credibility in the public eye. Consider his infamous plan to destroy ISIS followed shortly by his refusal to share any details because it might "tip the bad-guys off."
In relation to marketing, it's about being prepared. Early on in your marketing efforts, remember to have a well stocked repository of content to share with customers and prospects. Content related to the subjects you are promoting like blog posts, infographics or webinars create a network of support. You have to be bold in your marketing approach as a startup, but you also must provide the substance to back it up -- interested customers must have access to information that substantiates your claims. Without it, you run the risk of losing legitimacy, having made statements you fail to support.
Another interesting lesson to draw from Trump's campaign is his ability to disrupt other established candidates. Remember Jeb? I don't. Trump's anti-establishment approach has earned the praises of his supporters. It's comparable to disruptive startups like Uber and Lyft taking down the taxi industry. He's been able to, whether accurate or not, brand his competitors with monikers they were unable to shake -- calling his Republican rivals as "Lyin' Ted" and Jeb Bush as "Low Energy." He's labeled others "career politicians" to show himself as an outsider set to disrupt the old way of doing things.
Undoubtedly, this strategy captures attention and lots earned media, but as a marketer, you have to be sure you're not sacrificing short-term buzz for long-term trust and staying power. Sure, it's possible to get the attention of anyone, but is it the right attention? Are you positioning your company for long-term success? Why is it the right positioning? These are the questions marketers should ask themselves and are easily overlooked by startups desperate for coverage.
Clinton the Fortune 500 Juggernaut
Clinton is like a huge market cap fortune 500 company with deep cash reserves. For Clinton, the bar is higher because of her experience -- it's counter-intuitive, but unlike a startup, a Fortune 500 company can be too big to fail. Her campaign has played things pretty close to the chest, unwilling to make large claims that are subject to unwanted criticism. The campaign is calculated; it's strategy was clear from the beginning and has wavered little.
If you're a front-runner like Clinton (a large brand or market dominator), you need to deploy a safer, more conservative strategy. Think Microsoft, IBM, or Apple. A smart, defensive strategy will help maintain the status-quo, which if you are a market leader, is something you want.
Like other modern Fortune 500 companies, Clinton's even acquired startups in the past. Remember Bernie? As part of their eventual truce, Clinton made policy concessions to attract Bernie's supporters. It was a lesson in change. Marketer's should stay true to their company's core offerings, but be willing to make amendments as public opinion shifts and new trends emerge.
As we come into the final stretch of the election, our candidates will put their strategies to the test. Of course, as recent events continue to play out, there is a temptation by parties to race to the bottom. Both candidates are guilty of this. It's easy to fall victim to public bickering with your competitor. But don't take the bait. As the first lady recently quoted, "when they go low, we go high" - a great lesson for all marketers in today's especially competitive landscape.