Trump’s marketing strategist

Tuesday, 29 November 2016 00:02 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Every time the world turns to elections I personally take the learning mode, given that the best techniques in marketing comes into play, challenging conventional procedures. On this perspective, the US election 2016 was a case study. It sure shook the world and baffled the top notch research agencies in the world. 

Almost all pre-polls surveys predicted a narrow win for Clinton but the reality was different. Whilst Clinton drove a structured marketing campaign, Trump practiced a knife fight marketing strategy. The latter worked and the world is yet grappling to conceptualise the marketing programmes so that they can be tested in other situations. 

22Jared Kushner drove the knife fight marketing campaign for Trump

Whilst people are yet questioning the pre-election research indications on voter behaviour, in my view the results tilting to Clinton can be termed right. The logic being that Clinton in fact has secured two million votes over Trump with a 64.2 million performance as against the 62.2 registered for Trump. However, research failed to capture the two tier US election system that skewed the result to Trump. A tough decision for the loser but from a marketing point of view it’s interesting to understand the pickups to marketing from the Trump campaign. 

The strategist – Kushner

Just like any other world event the inside stories are coming to light over a period of time and on this one, a name coming out as the strategist of the Trump campaign is a personality called Jared Kushner. Professionally a real estate agent, Kushner made his presence felt was when he purchased the ‹ New York Observer›. Thereafter he went on setting up an online market place ‹cadre› for untitled-4701big deal real estate. 

Jared incidentally is the son-in-law of Donald Trump and tends to know the right people in Fifth Avenue, New York. His co-investors include the billionaire Thiel and Alibaba›s Jack Ma, whilst his younger brother Josh is a top venture capitalist who owns the 2.7 billion dollar Oscar Health entity in the US.

Henry Kissinger, the former Secretary of State, once commented: “Every president is to have one or two people he intuitively and structurally trusts.” Jared Kushner ideally fits this role to Donald Trump, states the latest reports on the nail-biting victory. Let me pick up the key insights from the Trump campaign.

Kushner pickups 

1) Zero resources 

The former CEO of Google Eric Schmidt, who helped design the Clinton technology system, commented: “Jared ran the campaign with essentially no resources.” There were no desks, chairs or campaign staffers. Jared ran the campaign on a startup business model with a secret data operation out of his office in the skyscraper down Fifth Avenue. Initially it was essentially a tactical campaign to survive on a daily basis 

2) Catchy headlines

Whilst Clinton was pursuing a structured, segmented and targeted campaign state to state, Trump’s campaign was on to gorilla strategies with tactics like message tailoring, sentiment manipulation and machine learning but on the positioning ‘Make America Great Again’. 

There was a time when Trump would call a TV station which was in the midst of a talk show and he would give a razor sharp message that caught the attention of a viewer but upset the equilibrium in the mind. This is why Trump was referred to as unpredictable but to the ‹average American› it sure instilled the lost pride of being American. 

Kushner supplemented these bursts with cutting-edge messages during one to two rallies a week whilst also keeping the share of voice on traditional media. The poll results moved voter behaviour and Kushner saw the opening in the market place.

3) Worked on relationships

In the early days Kushner played the advisor on tax policy and trade but he realised that the campaign was a bit scrappy. When the Trump brand began to gather steam, Kushner brought in professionals. He worked the market to get the best talent on board just like any startup business which can afford the talent. 

For instance on tax and policy an expert was hired and he joined under two conditions – he would remain anonymous and he would charge double the price. Kushner saw the results coming with the statements made by Trump getting credibility. Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel from the inception backed Trump but by November we saw even the clergy endorsing brand Trump which was beautifully architected by Kushner.

4) Traction 

As the Trump ticket started getting traction, Kushner realised by this time that with a share of 34% there was chance to get into White House with some external pressure changing the confidence towards Clinton. This is exactly what happened, given that when Trump’s market share picked up to 44% by the first week of November, the FBI Directors’ revelation on the private server emails sure dented Clinton’s campaign. However, it is not clear if there was a link between the Trump camp and the timing of the email saga from the FBI but it sure had an impact on the result is what analysts voice.

5) Hope on the product 

Given the personality of the brand it was a tough task to build hope on the product Trump but Kushner realised that when the Springfield, Illinois arena was packed on a crucial convention meeting, “People really saw hope in the message that Trump delivered on a daily basis.”

Though radical in nature, the nationalistic sentiments were garnering momentum and among core voters – thoroughbred Americans – Trump was getting popular though the world was ruffled from Putin to Germany›s Merkel, from the President of China to the Head of State of Mexico on the 3,000 km wall. But the core voter ratings to Trump were moving up and Kushner stuck with the strategy.

6) Trump’s advise 

Given that Jared Kushner was his son-in-law and he jelled with him on his psyche the advice from Trump to the campaign team was: «I don›t want people getting rich off the campaign, I want to make sure that we are watching every dollar just like we would do in business.»

A very interesting insight as I yet remember one of my bosses from the multinational circuit saying that the best marketing is done when the marketing budget is tight. Kushner did not argue even though he was a son of a wealthy real estate entrepreneur. Kushner called the marketing strategy baseline driven. It is said that Trump, once returning from a campaign meeting on his Trump Force One, handed over the Facebook/digital marketing initiative to his son-in-law and advised him to generate funding for the marketing programme.

7) Start up

Given that Kushner had a background of developing new business, especially in the digital space, he got help from the best technology experts and with simple messaging they started generating business by selling $ 8,000 worth of hats a day and traded up to a limit of $ 80,000 by the end of the campaign that included human billboards and low-tech policy videos talking directly to the camera that generated 74 million views. Trump ended the election at 62 million votes which may have a relationship. 

8) ROI

Kushner always worked on the ROI model where for any investment he wanted the highest return. Sometimes he played money ball and the states that gave him the best return is where marketing instrument was directed. Some say that the swing states results and the overall share of money to share of results was the best towards Trump. In fact the money spent totally by Clinton was way higher than Trump on top-line media billing. 

An interesting point to note is that TV and radio billing is getting smaller whilst monies invested on Twitter and Facebook were stronger, which is a parallel pickup we see even in other businesses across the world.

9) Not afraid to fail

Given that Trump was the fighter brand to the pedigree brand of Clinton in the political arena, Kushner was not scared to fail. His ethos was to do a million things that were cheap and quick and if it was not working, kill it and go with the ones that bring in the results. Given the data-driven operation that he was running, he kept repeating the strategies that got traction so that scaling was happening during the campaign. An interesting move given the digital age that is throwing out so many opportunities for communication.

10) Data mining 

Kushner being a tech-savvy individual developed a customer geo-location tool that plotted the location density of about 20 voter types over a live Google Maps interface so that any campaign would be dictated by data linking travel, rally locations and topics of the speeches so that a synergy approach to marketing was used. 

Kushner was using micro marketing at its smallest rather than the holistic campaigns run by competitor Clinton who by mid-October was on a roll even picking the shadow cabinet, according to the latest information coming in.

11) Testing 

Given Kushner’s attitude, coming from a real estate background, he would test an advertisement and ineffective ads were killed in minutes whilst the impactful ones were scaled up. At the height of the campaign nearing the voting day, almost 100,000 tweaked ads were being targeted to voters each day. Hence, whilst traditional media was used to drive brand imagery and presence on media, it was digital media that was driving voters towards Trump, which is why I believe most of the pre-poll data was not picking up the vibes.

12) Last minute draw

When Kushner saw that in stores like Michigan and Pennsylvania the momentum was strongly on to Trump, he unleashed tailor-made last minute ads on rallies whilst thousands of volunteers started a door-to-door operation backed by telephone Ellington that sure closed the numbers at 62.4 million votes but crossing the 271 magical number. 


An interesting insight is that whilst Kushner is said to have given the backbone to the campaign with Trump’s Twitter garnering 15.5 million followers, Jared had never tweeted in life as at end June 2009. 

Kushner’s conflicts with the reality were never a distraction because he had unflagging faith in the brand Donald Trump and he used the data to drive his strategy: «America first and to be a nationalist as opposed to a globalist». It worked from a marketing strategy perspective but now we need to see if the product lives up to the promises made.


   - The New York Times

   - Business Insider

   - Los Angeles Times

   - Forbes Magazine





(The author is a marketer by professional, winning twice the Best Marketer Award in Sri Lanka. Nationally he has chaired Sri Lanka Exports and Sri Lanka Tourism and is today driving the Lanka Sathosa brand. He is also on many private and public sector boards in Sri Lanka.)

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