Following Donald Trump’s election victory, we have seen the inevitable flood of blog posts suggesting the lessons marketers must learn from his success. While such a newsworthy event provides easy fodder for this sort of speculation, I remain unconvinced there is much marketers can or should consider as of yet. The real lessons lie ahead–Donald Trump has much to teach us about long-term brand health and customer experience in the years to come.
Simply put, Donald Trump hasn’t won the war–he’s earned the right to fight in it. In the language of marketing, the election “marketing funnel” is complete and the country has “acquired” Donald Trump, but he won’t get a chance to start “delivering on his brand promise” until after his inauguration on January 20, 2017. American citizens and history will not evaluate Trump based on his campaign or election win but on what he does next. Whether Trump delivers the “customer experience” citizens expect and earns “satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy” will determine if the “President Trump brand” is ultimately judged successful or not.
Too much can be made from Trump’s victory as a marketing lesson. Marketers all face unique challenges, but few must address ones as complex as a presidential election. There isn’t a brand in the world with an 18-month buying cycle that ends when 120 million consumers complete a transaction simultaneously. Few brands face as diverse and complex a set of decision criteria; this election included concerns of authenticity, trust, hacked data, ethics, legality, temperament, discrimination, and external interference, not to mention the actual issues at stake (which sadly went largely unmentioned during the campaign.) Moreover, what might we expect to learn from Trump’s victory considering he failed to earn more votes than his opponent? Had Clinton won 107,330 more votes in just three states, today we’d be reading blog posts telling us what we can learn from Clinton’s victory–and the lessons would be very different.
But no matter who won, the customer experience challenges would be the same, and that is the lesson marketers really should take away from this or any other election. Winning in the Buy cycle and acquiring a customer is essential, but your brand does not truly succeed until it delivers what customers want, earns their satisfaction, and creates loyal and vocal advocates willing to buy more and tell others. That is the true measure of success for a brand (or a president). Marketers who acquire customers but are unable to keep them or unleash their WOM will struggle to deliver the brand equity, marketing efficiency, and the financial outcomes they desire.
In recent years, we have seen many products and brands that have succeeded in gaining mindshare and acquisition only to stumble relatively quickly thereafter. Myspace, Flip Video, Vine, Nintendo Wii, Meerkat, Google+, and last year’s big Christmas hit, hoverboards, were all successful for periods ranging from a few months to a couple years. These brands enjoyed strong acquisition but were unable to convert and retain those newly acquired customers into loyal advocates within their competitive marketplaces. They won the acquisition battle but lost the customer experience war.
Meanwhile, we have also seen many products and brands that have succeeded not merely with the Buy Cycle but also through the Use and Advocate cycles. Brands like Uber, Facebook, iPhone, Starbucks, Android, Airbnb, Amazon, and Tesla demonstrate that brand success comes not from one step in the journey but from the entire customer journey–earning not just acquisition but satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy. These brands not only win the acquisition battle but turn customers into an advocate army that feeds more attention, inbound traffic, trust, and sales.
Donald Trump won the election, but will he be the Myspace or Facebook of presidents? We cannot know today because that depends on what happens next. Trump’s popularity, influence, reelection chances and legacy won’t be shaped by what happened leading up to his election victory but what he now does for his customers–the American people. And that’s the real lesson marketers should learn from the 2016 election.