This election day is a tension-filled affair. While we wait for the votes to be counted (and if you haven't voted yet, get out there!), we thought we’d try to attain a comforting critical distance from the emotions of the day by asking in the abstract: what might we learn from the marketing strategies employed by the 2016 presidential candidates?

Marketing is both science and art, but there are certainly approaches that lean more strongly toward one or the other. Sophie-Charlotte Moatti from The Harvard Business Review writes:

Clinton’s use of digital marketing in the 2016 presidential race is similar to the approach used by corporate brands. Brands typically approach digital marketing like a science. They create a digital strategy, develop assets such as websites, emails, ads, and mobile apps, and then continuously monitor performance to optimize user engagement.

What we learn from Clinton’s strategy is the effectiveness—nay, the necessity—of analytics tools in a solid campaign. Online materials of all kinds can be monitored to a degree that no print or physical marketing method can, and what’s most important is that they can be edited mid-stream. Great digital campaigns use their data to strengthen their messages as they go, as they see what people are respond to, what they care about. Analytics, in this sense, is a form of listening.

Trump’s strategy, on the other hand, is less about listening and more about offering an emotional connection. Moatti writes:

Trump’s use of digital marketing...is closer to the approach used by celebrities. Celebrities use their emotional connection with fans to create engaging campaigns, a more artistic approach. Consider: Trump’s website prominently features a picture of him; visitors need to look closely to find a link that lets them volunteer or donate. He doesn’t have a mobile app and doesn’t seem to use any of the most common tracking tools. But he has garnered more Twitter followers, Facebook fans, and airtime on mass media like TV and radio than Clinton [ed. note: reported as of July 2016]. His celebrity status helps make his content widely popular on social media.

Now, let’s be clear: creating effective content or messaging is not the same thing as the hate speech Trump has peddled, and you can absolutely create viral campaigns without it. (In fact, our educational program works ethical questions about marketing into the curriculum so that our students become more familiar with their own ethical boundaries.) But in terms of reaching and connecting with audiences, what can we learn from this campaign marketing strategy?

We're reminded that no matter how abstract digital marketing may seem, it’s ultimately about real people reading and experiencing another person through a persona. Trump has made himself seem available to his followers, barely separated by their smartphone screens, and that has given many people a sense of being listened to. (Interesting that analytics tools help us do real listening and yet can still create very little sense of that for the reader, right?) When we work to promote our own brands or products, we should work to fully imagine the people we’re “speaking” with and do everything we can to make them feel heard.

These are just a couple of examples, but there are many more lessons we could draw about what one should and shouldn't do in a digital marketing campaign. We look forward to many interesting discussions on the finer points of these things in class! If you're interested in learning more, sign up for our email newsletter below.

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