Business Lessons from the 2016 Presidential Election

Business Lessons from the
Presidential Election

The election that ended on November 8th with a result that shocked the world provides some valuable insights to operating a business.

2016 presidential electionDon’t worry, this is not going to be a political article.  I’ve made it very clear how I feel on my personal Facebook page but politics and business – just as politics and religion – should never mix.

If we look back over the past year and try to keep personalities in the background, we can learn much.

Here are some things that I’ve learned:

  • When everybody zigs, you zag. You will stand out either in a good way or a bad way. But you will be noticed if you don't copy what everybody else is already doing and are different.This is the same thing that Seth Godin was saying in his famous book, Purple Cow. You're either a Purple Cow or you're not. The essence of the Purple Cow is that you must be remarkable or you're invisible.But being noticed is not the same thing as being remarkable and being remarkable and amazing isn’t enough. People will notice you if you say or do shocking things.  It is easy to pull a stunt to get noticed.  But if it doesn’t strike a chord in what people really care about, it makes no difference.Marketing has gone through many transitions since the days when it was all done by word of mouth. In his book, Seth Godin tells the story of the invention of a machine that sliced bread in 1912.  It was amazing that a machine could slice a loaf of bread but the machine was a complete failure.Until. . .Wonder bread came along.  A new brand “Wonder” introduced sliced bread to the public around 20 years after the machine was invented and it was the packaging and the advertising campaign, including the slogan “Wonder Bread builds strong bodies 12 ways”  that made the difference.There is another problem with being the purple cow in a field of brown ones. When you do discover something that people respond to, you’ll soon find yourself in the middle of a field of other purple cows who are painting themselves the same color.

    And your purple cow isn’t remarkable anymore.

    This happens all the time.

    Twenty-five years ago, the idea of gift baskets wasn’t new. They date back centuries. The settlers on the prairies took baskets of canned fruit, fresh eggs, and a loaf of bread to their new neighbors to welcome them. Even the almost forgotten “Welcome Wagon” delivered a basket of information about the community and gifts from local merchants to newcomers as their business model.

    Then 30 or so years ago, the idea of beautifully-decorated and cleverly themed gift baskets being the ideal gift for anyone resulted in women (and a few men) all over the country starting home based gift basket businesses.

    The idea mushroomed until just about every retail industry from bookstores to hardware stores tossed stuff into a basket and promoted them as gifts.

    Suddenly, there were lots of fields filled with purple gift basket cows.

    Then the fattest and strongest cows started pushing the smaller cows out of the field until they dominated the market. The clever themes began disappearing until most of them looked alike with the primary difference being a few different products in the baskets and a different colored ribbon tied around them.

    So now that the bigger companies are zigging, how do you zag?

    It’s not easy. It will be frustrating and many will fail at it. But it can be done.

    As smaller companies, we know our audience.  We know what they want because we are them. We know what worries them when they are looking for a special gift.

    We need to figure out a bull’s-eye solution that our customers will remember for a long time. We need to become amazing and remarkable once again.

    But it will take even more than that.

    Just as the bread slicing machine was amazing and remarkable, it wasn’t successful until Wonder Bread came along and knew how to convince housewives that sliced bread was the best thing to come along in years. And then delivered it to them.

  • That takes us to emotions. The winner of this election appealed to the emotions of the people he spoke to (in other words the heart) while the loser appealed to the intellect and reasoning.He knew his audience. He knew what kept them up at night and worried them. And he zeroed in on that.Even though some of us don’t like the way it was done, we have to admit that humans react to their heart and strong feelings even if,  in their head, they know relying on emotions can lead to problems.I knew this as a Realtor.  I knew that when I showed a prospective buyer a home, my job was to make the buyer picture him or herself living in that home. Enjoying the cool breezes from the shade trees as they barbecued in the back yard. Or sitting around the dining room table with the family on Thanksgiving as they carved the hot turkey from the oven and shared it with each other.Even though we may know how important emotions are to our buyers, we frequently feel that we should be telling them all the benefits they are going to get from giving one of our gifts. We forget to guide them through an emotional experience when we try to sell our gifts and products.  One very effective way to do this--even with an e-commerce business--is stories.  Tell a story and readers will picture themselves in the midst of the story.Sliced Wonder Bread appealed to their customer's desire to have a strong body with the slogan "builds strong bodies in 12 ways."  But they didn't stop there.  In their advertising, they showed examples of people with strong bodies -- people who ate Wonder Bread.  Read more and learn about Wonder Bread's advertising campaign here.Why do you think romance novels are so popular?  And why are the most moral people the biggest readers of mysteries?  The happy endings in the romance novels and seeing the murderer get his just punishment are the reasons.Don't know how to use a story in a product description?

    Here is an example of one that I used to sell a tea gift basket:

    My English friend, from Yorkshire, invited me to her back yard tea party. "No cream or sugar in your tea, if you don't like it," she promised.
    Good thing since I never liked tea until I had it without sugar.
    After the introductions to the other guests, we lounged in rose-sprigged deck chairs and waited as she poured tea in the proper English manner.
    Good tea, delicious scones, great conversation with friends, and an afternoon that flew by. A day to remember.
    The tea that my English friend served that day was Taylors of Harrogate Yorkshire tea, which we include in this tea gift basket along with assorted tea cookies and an Oneida tea pot.

    And another description for a completely different kind of gift:

    Remember that cuddly plush teddy bear you loved so much when you were a kid?
    You shared all your secrets with him and he never told a soul.
    That teddy bear was your trusted and true companion.
    He was your very best friend.
    Well, he's back! He lives at Grand Canyon Teddy Bear Village. And he's brought all his friends with him. One of our collectible teddy bears is the perfect answer for those times when only a hug will do. Our teddy bear friends give comfort and encouragement without saying a word.

  • Another lesson from this election year is to be yourself. Don’t try to pretend to be something you aren’t. Don’t hesitate to be controversial. Take sides and express what you don’t like. Be vocal about it. You will make some people upset, but you will also find your tribe, your hardcore fans who will follow you and support you.These are your core customers and your advocates.This lesson may not apply as much when you are operating an e-commerce website where your customers buy from you once and never visit your site again. But you aren’t just selling baskets.  You are also selling yourself. And the best place to do that is with your “about page” and with your blog.Open up in your blog posts and let your own unique personality shine through. I do this frequently, particularly in my blog at GiftBasketNetwork, in the magazine, and in our Facebook group. But my readers know who I am and what my values are and they follow me or not based on who I am.
  • Another lesson is that age-ism creates stereotypes. LOTS of 60, 70 and even 80 year olds can do anything a 40 year old can do. It's not about age. It's about health and opportunity to do something meaningful.I am absolutely convinced that if people over 50 could work at regular jobs, with promotions, responsibilities and raises, we would see more people like Donald, Hillary and Bernie out there. Gloria Steinem is going strong at 80.I'm 75 and still loving what I do.  I talked with the owner of Not Just Popcorn the other day and discovered that she's beat me by two years.  As she says, "I'll quit when they carry me out."And we are not alone.  There are others in this industry in their 60's and 70's and I wouldn't be surprised to find some in their 80's.

Each of us have probably learned lessons from this election that we don’t like and that we would never apply to our businesses. We wouldn’t call others names or turn off one group of customers in order to earn the business of other groups.

But the biggest lesson is to discover or decide who your target customer is, learn the pain that they are feeling and losing sleep over. Come up with your solution to that pain and then use stories or other emotion-provoking ways to show them how your solution can help them.

I invite you to share in the comments  what you learned from the Presidential Election that you can use in your own business -- just leave the personalities out of it.

2 thoughts on “Business Lessons from the 2016 Presidential Election”

  1. Heidi Cohen, owner of Actionable Marketing Guide sent me an email with ten lessons that she learned and could be applied to our marketing. They are so eye-opening that I want to share them with you. They are:

    1. Take the high ground. Build something bigger than a collection of people. You need a vision of where you’re going. People want to belong to something important, especially millennials. Listen to Michael J. Fox’s speech in The American President.

    2. Underestimate underlying feelings at your peril. Despite major improvements in the economy and other services, there’s real discontent with established systems. During the election, Bernie Sanders tapped into this need especially with millennials. Think about it—Sanders could be their grandfather!

    3. Worry about negative sentiment. It can sway your audience. Hillary Clinton gave her life to public service. BUT people were seriously upset about the special treatment she received.

    4. Use market research but seek other voices. Research isn’t always a true reflection of how your audience really feels. What people say and how they act can be different. Also, your target sample may not be representative, especially if you depend on landlines.

    5. Talk at your audience’s level. Hillary Clinton is a bright woman. But she speaks in paragraphs. The average person can’t grasp her meaning. By contrast, Donald Trump speaks in tweets. He’s finds the adjective that crystallizes his audience’s feelings. His words stick; people get a visual image and remember it.

    6. Learn how to present. Don’t underestimate how much Donald Trump learned on The Apprentice. “You’re fired!” By contrast, Hillary always seem to be shouting. As a woman, it’s her way of trying to be heard. If you’re going to present, get a coach!

    7. Tap into newsjacking. Donald Trump is a newsjacking master. Every television news outlet clamored for his input. Love him or hate him, Trump drove audience and revenues for the media entities. As a result, he got free airtime. Newsjacking was his true power tool!

    8. Fan the flames of your message on social media. Expand your reach. Use social media to connect with a broader audience. Be positive and transparent.

    9. Build a real community. It’s not about star power. You must make people feel they’re part of something bigger. Think about your MVA (aka your minimal viable audience.)

    10. Ensure your processes and systems work within existing constraints. While Hillary Clinton had a strong ground team and processes, they weren’t sufficient to master the intricacies of the Electoral College. Similarly, your marketing and sales teams as well as your mar-tech must be aligned to maximize results.


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