Trump’s victory delivers 5 key business lessons for all of us

Summary: Know your customers, differentiate yourself and play to your strengths.


This is not going to be a political post. I strongly disagree with what Donald Trump stands for, however I believe that his shocking (is it shocking, though? It’s a mirror image of the Brexit vote) victory has some key lessons for all of us – for entrepreneurs, people interested in business or all of those who want to be successful (who doesn’t). I’ve selected five points that I think have the most value:

Start with a vision

Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump wasn’t selling a coherent set of policies, a holistic view on how the country should work or what exactly needs fixing and how this is going to happen. Of course, he made specific statements here and there about what he actually wanted to achieve (build a wall, kill families of terrorists, run state-funded infrastructure projects etc.) – but his key message was a vision. It was his vision of ‘making America great again’ that motivated his audience, that fired up those who felt like their country had once been a fantastic place to live in, but lost that somewhere along the way and needed to be rescued. The details of how Trump’s going to make America great again weren’t important to the actual outcome of the vote – actually, even his notorious ‘mistakes’, silly statements, constant controversies and blunders did not undermine people’s belief in his vision that they identified with. I think that’s one of the keys to understanding this victory – the vision was so strong that it essentially couldn’t be harmed.

Simon Sinek’s theory of the Golden Circle explains Trump’s communications success. Sinek states that great companies / people communicate by starting with a why – their purpose, the simplest explanation of why they’re doing what they’re doing. Trump wanted to make America great again and that’s his why that people believed in, as he rarely went to the other parts of the circle, i.e. how and what.

What can we learn from this? Firstly, know your why and when someone asks you what you do, answer with why you do it, then how you do it and at the end, what you are actually doing. An unforgettable impression guaranteed, because people don’t tend to talk this way – many of us see our jobs just as ways of making money, not as our passions or purpose in life. Secondly, if you design a product / sell a service, think about what vision are you selling to your customers. If they believe in your vision, purchase decisions and loyalty will follow, as long as your offerings correlate with that vision. Finally, practise it as it’s that good old habit no 2 from Steven Covey’s book – starting with an end in mind. That will impact your long-term motivation, as well as the motivation of your followers.

Know your product and your target audience

Donald Trump’s product consisted of two elements – the above mentioned vision and Donald Trump as the embodiment of it and the only person who can deliver on it. And he knew that project inside out, sold it hard, through multiple channels and in ways that elicited emotional responses from people, both negative and positive – but rarely indifferent.

Notice also that he had a well-defined target audience (putting aside the beliefs of that audience). He directed his messages to that audience constantly and consistently, keeping them engaged with his vision. His critics and external advisors were suggesting that he needed to appeal to other social groups as well, but those appeals didn’t have an effect on Trump’s strategy. He / his entourage determined the target audience in a wide enough way to achieve the final success, even though it meant that his product would not appeal to everybody.

So if you’re trying to sell something, remember: you need to know your offering inside out. Second lesson is that not everybody on the market needs to be your client for you to be successful. If you pick your target audience correctly, get them on board with your vision and hook them on your products / services, you almost can forget about non-clients. It’s almost like with the Pareto rule – you should focus on the 20% of clients who generate 80% of your revenue. And I think that’s what happened with Trump’s victory – he concentrated on the audience that got him the presidency.

Be flexible

If you look at Hillary Clinton, you see a strong determined, intelligent, experienced woman who seems to be predictable as per her decades’ long participation in different governmental bodies across the US. And exactly because of that, she was deemed the symbol of the ‘establishment’, of the status quo. If America chose her, it would most likely have a fierce, yet a consistent and measured president with a Democratic agenda.

Now let’s take a glance at Donald Trump. One year he’s a Democrat, another a devoted Republican. He makes a balanced, non-controversial speech at 5 PM and goes on a Twitter rant at 3 AM. He states how much he loves kids and minutes later he shames the mother and asks for the crying child to leave. And the list goes on and on and on.

I think a big factor in Trump’s victory was that lack of predictability, that flexibility of behaviours and opinions and the fact that you just couldn’t categorise him in a definite way without him eventually surprising you. In my opinion, the Americans who didn’t want Hillary to become president more than wanted Trump to reside in the Oval Office could justify it to themselves by saying ‘he’s shown me that he can be presidential, hopefully that will be his style in the White House’. Whereas the solid, known position and character of Hillary worked to her detriment in those Americans’ eyes, as they could think ‘I know who she is, she will not change, I don’t like her’.

The lesson from this point is: be able to flex your style. Know when to be predictable, when to be spontaneous, when to have more energy, when to hold back. Have a whole palette of behaviours that you can access whenever you want to in an aware way to ensure you’re getting the results that you want through the usage of the right approach.

Differentiate yourself

He spent more on hats than on pollsters. He travelled to states like Wisconsin and Michigan that pundits said were out of reach. He held massive rallies instead of focusing on door-knocking and get-out-the-vote operations. He had a disjointed, sometimes chaotic national political convention that was capped by an acceptance speech that was more doom-and-gloom than any in modern US political history. He was vastly outspent by the Clinton campaign, just as he was during the Republican primaries. He turned consensus wisdom about how to win the presidency on its head.

All of these decisions – and many more – were roundly ridiculed in “knowledgeable” circles.

– wrote the BBC about Trump’s win (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-us-2016-37918303).

What Trump did rather remarkably was that he ‘disrupted‘ the way people thought presidential campaigns should be carried out in order to win. You surely have heard that quote attributed to Henry Ford (although there is no evidence that he actually said it): ‘if I asked people what they wanted, they would say faster horses’. To paraphrase, ‘if I asked people how to become the President of the USofA, they would say x’, where x is the ‘conventional wisdom’ on how to run a successful campaign. Donald Trump didn’t want to play the game in the way it had been played before. He decided to do it his way and doubled down on it on every occasion he had.

Call it Blue Ocean Campaigning, call it disrupting, call it thinking outside-the-box – the bottom line learning here is that if you want to achieve a stunning success and shape the future of a sector (however big or small it is, it might be just your work life), you need to differentiate yourself from the crowd. You can do it through customer service (as I wrote here) or in general accomplish it by questioning the ‘status quo way-of-doing-things’. Just because everybody’s doing it this way, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the right / effective / efficient way!

Play to your strengths

If Donald Trump had decided to play the game as it had been played for years and years before him, he would have lost. I am utterly sure of it and I think he knows it as well. Talking politics, facts, numbers, policies, details, truth – that’s not what he’s used to and that’s not what he feels competent to talk about or utilise in his speeches. He prefers appealing to feelings, talking on a high level and pointing to a direction that is attractive to his audience (see points 1 & 2).

So the main final lesson is leverage your strengths. If you’re great at presenting, put yourself forward for big events to make a lasting impression with your performance. If you’re a networking superstar, look for opportunities / events where you can employ those skills. Et cetera, et cetera – basically make sure that people know what you’re good at.

Two caveats:
1. Remember about the danger of labels.
2. Leveraging your strengths doesn’t mean stopping working on the ‘weaknesses’ or acquiring new skills! This is even more essential in today’s competitive world.

Let’s make the best out of this situation, learn from it and make our little worlds great (again?).

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