A week of mourning has passed and I’m ready to look at the US Presidential election with a little bit of professional dispassion.
The statistics will eventually point to some of the reasons why Trump beat Clinton, but the fact is that he communicated something that resonated. He wasn’t precise, he wasn’t polished, he said many stupid things.
But he understood that he could find 60 million people who wanted change, hadn’t had their lives improved under eight years of Democratic policies and didn’t need details.
Trump understood that after eight years, there was at the very least a fatigue factor. He didn’t need to say what he would do; he needed to say that he would do something different.
On the other hand, Clinton attempted to paint a picture of what a future would look like under her policies. She gave details, she was focused and she only faltered a few times. We progressives cheered her on and patted ourselves on our backs. Except the progressives who thought she didn’t go far enough.
Trump spoke about the very real hardships and concerns of a segment of the population. He then convinced another segment of the population that four more years of Democratic rule would put them in the same boat. Pretty concrete stuff.
Clinton- and all of us who supported her policies- thought that it was enough to let Trump hang himself with his words. Surely, he can’t say that and win.
What if she had fought- or better yet, gotten there first- Trump’s narrative? Play up the concrete benefits of Obamacare (no, it isn’t enough to say that 20 million people now have health care; that’s only concrete to 20 million people), immigration, international engagement. Show that four more years of Democratic rule will bring even more people into a healthy society.
What can we as business communicators learn?
Concrete beats abstract: Some audiences are excited by the abstract, but as a general rule, what we can see and touch is what impacts us. Or as Trump proved, what we think we can see and touch…
Passion does matter: If we don’t show our enthusiasm for a product or idea, we don’t stand a chance. That passion will flow to our readers and listeners.
Facts ain’t what they’re cracked up to be: Sure, it would be interesting to know how many gigawhatevers our computer has. But more important is whether or not I can play the latest games.
What’s obvious to me might not be obvious to my audience: Many of us thought that it was obvious that Mexico wasn’t going to pay for a wall, that all undocumented aliens couldn’t be deported, that all Muslims wouldn’t be kept out. Instead of pointing out the concrete problems with those plans, the Clinton campaign laughed and said that we would expand Obamacare and pay for college education for all.
What are the communication lessons that are not yet clear?
Does exaggeration work: Trump clearly played up problems. Will they become self-fulfilling prophecies or will they be forgotten? In business, can we get away with exaggeration in order to make an impression and then walk back as the relationship progresses?
The price of a lack of clarity: Voters chose change above all else, but how will they react when the change is not what they expected? If we want to make one sale, perhaps a lack of clarity will reach some low-level goals. But sooner or later, surely our customer will figure out why we were vague. Right?
Let’s think about this election as though it were a business deal. One product had a solid technical background and track record; the other was untested. One salesperson said the product would make life better; the other said that the competitor was no better than the product you’re using now.
One product made more sales.