The presidential election is three weeks out, and it’s still anyone’s game.
It’s been one of the strangest campaigns the United States has ever seen, stretching back over the last year and a half, striking for both its acrimonious tone and the surprise ascension of Donald Trump, of all people, to the Republican nomination. And there are certainly marketing lessons to be learned from Trump’s primary success – lessons about controlling the conversation, reaching untapped markets, building your audience, brash ambition, and defying expectations – but instead, let’s think about what we can learn from a much more sober-minded and far less flashy figure: Hillary Clinton.
Because, despite not having Trump’s “braggadocious” volume and bravado, Hilz does demonstrate a lot about marketing that’s worth learning. Here are four of the Clinton campaign's best lessons.
1 – The Value of Repositioning
Hillary’s been in the national spotlight for almost twenty-five years, ever since her husband’s campaign in 1992. And in that time, she’s had many pantsuits, many haircuts – and many different public perceptions. She’s gone from First Lady to White House health czar to United States Senator to Secretary of State, reinventing herself like a chameleon every time. But instead of playing the role of elder statesperson (something she has certainly earned with her years of public service), this time around she’s occupying a very different space: regular human being.
It’s essentially an exercise in rebranding; who is Hillary Clinton? Who does she appeal to, and why? And it’s something she has a lot of experience with, digging into local politics once she became a senator instead of forcing herself into the spotlight. For someone often accused of being overly ambitious, her commitment to doing the real in-the-trenches work is precisely what gave her the gravitas to mount her 2008 campaign to begin with.
In 2016, she knew she was never going to recapture Obama’s 2008 “Hope & Change” messaging; politics had gotten too fraught, and she herself too closely associated with the political establishment. So her message became, essentially, “competence, compassion, and authenticity,” underlining a progressivism and commitment to liberal causes (which she has often been thought of as not holding sincerely), and a down-to-earth vibe.
2 – Being Clear and Confident
80 million people watched the first presidential debate, and what they saw was critical: while Trump stumbled, stuttered, and blustered his way through the night, Clinton – like her or not – was calm, collected, and in control. Regardless of how one feels about her message, Clinton held her own, projected confidence in her message and clarity in her language. She avoided getting aggressive, getting hype-y, and kept her positioning on point the entire night.
That’s something we all need to remember to do. Had she faltered here, her entire “brand positioning” would have fallen apart; instead of competent, she could have come off as unprepared, frantic, and temperamental. But by keeping cool, and not letting herself get frustrated by Trump’s interruptions, she reinforced her primary value proposition – and won herself a big bump in the polls for it.
3 – Contrast
Deliberate or not, inevitable or not, Hillary is the anti-Trump, providing a very clear distinction for everyone making a choice. And while Hillary is certainly not the product being shopped for by the 30-40% of the population that’s in the tank for Trump (and vice versa), she has increasingly emphasized her distinctiveness to the 15%-20% that hasn’t actually made up their mind yet by making the case for her experience, temperament, and decency.
And it’s a real contrast to make; for many, Trump’s outsider status, braggadocio, and no-holds-barred willingness to say whatever pops into his head is exactly why they support him, so the more she emphasizes that disconnect, the more she clarifies her major selling points.
It’s very difficult to establish a market position by aping your competition; we saw that with Coke 2, and we saw that during the acrimonious Republican primaries. It’s vital to give people a reason to go with you over the alternative, and the best way to do that – especially in as un-crowded a marketplace as presidential elections – is to know what makes you special, and make that the key of your campaign.
4 – Social Media is About Connection (More Than Anything Else)
Hillary Clinton has had a pretty killer social media presence since she was still SecState, embracing a photo meme that was making the rounds back in 2012 and claiming it as her own. Since then, she’s really taken charge. Her social media profiles have their share of anti-Trump attack messaging – but just as often, she’s joking, posting throwback photos, andretweeting sharable (or often just downright entertaining) content related to her interests. Her Pinterest is full of gift ideas for her grandchild. Following her social media profiles, it’s easy to see her as an actual person, and that her profiles aren’t entirely staffed by campaign workers. In other words – you kinda feel like you get to know her a little.
And when presidential campaigns have been won and lost based on the “could you grab a beer with this person?” factor, that’s not a small thing.
Social media is, ultimately, social. Nobody is there to be talked at or sold to, and the businesses that make the best use of social media are the ones who build a personality for it – essentially a “person” for your customers to “get to know.” Focusing on connection over selling allows you to earn positive mindshare and to really grow in your audience’s opinion, and to make sure you’re the first person they think of when it comes time to buy.
Remember, campaigns are just marketing campaigns ratcheted way past all reason and sensibility – and they’re full of lessons to learn for the savvy marketer. So keep an eye out; you don’t know what the campaign might teach you.