Knowledge Bank Blog, Shopper Communication

The Trump Effect – Listen Up or Lose Out

Do you really understand what matters to shoppers?

So, 10 days ago what couldn’t happen, happened.  The orange faced, crazy haired, billionaire Donald Trump is going to be the 45th President of America.

For those of you who had just made it through the 5 stages of post Brexit grief, to acceptance, you might be back at stage 1 (denial) with this one!  It has certainly got all the media commentators in a spin.  Millions of words have already been written and said about what happened, why it happened, and why most people failed to predict it happening.

It seems everyone has a take on it.  Some have drawn deep conclusions about the political environment.  Others… have been slightly more parochial.

For instance, the Falkirk Herald (a local newspaper in Scotland) went with “Falkirk plays an unexpected role in the historic US election”.  The unexpected role?  Err…an American woman working in Falkirk for the local MP posted her ballot paper from the local post office.

Or, our particular favourite, a front page headline in the Buchan Observer from Aberdeen – “Aberdeenshire business owner wins presidential election”.  A reference, of course, to the fact that Donald Trump owns a couple of hotels and golf courses in the area, not that Dave the Butcher made a late bid for the White House.

So, if the local papers in Scotland can give you their angle on the Trump victory, then surely we can as well?  So, what are the learnings that can be applied to the FMCG world?

Well, we suggest 3 things;

1. The importance of properly understanding what shoppers think and do. Most of the media and political commentators couldn’t see how people could vote for Trump. Just like they couldn’t see how people could vote for Brexit.  Whereas, if you spoke to people in the mid west, most people couldn’t see how you couldn’t vote for Trump.

We wrote a blog a few months ago titled ‘We’re Not Typical’.  What we said then, stands now.  The people reading this blog are typically younger, more affluent, better educated and more time poor than the average shopper.  It is easiest for us to think in the way that people like us think.  It means we can often focus on the things that matter to us, not necessarily the things that matter to the majority of shoppers.

We need to challenge ourselves.  Do we really understand what current and potential shoppers think?  What really matters to them?  And are the things that we are planning – the new product launch, the brand positioning tweak, the pack refresh – really going to make a difference?  Or are they going to add to the noise that a shopper will try to shut out?

Whether you like them or not, Trump and Farage had an insight into the way that a lot of people were feeling.  That the competition didn’t have.  They properly understood and played to it.  And it worked.

2. The importance of message clarity. Obama had it in 2008 – “Yes We Can”. Vote Leave had it in June – “Take Back Control”.  Trump had it with “Make America Great Again”.  Each of them simple, memorable and positive.  Short words, few syllables, everyday language.

The temptation in our industry is to say something new.  It  is more interesting.  So, we often move on to the next message before we’ve given the current one a chance to land and succeed.  Most shoppers haven’t had time to get used to it – for it to properly resonate with them – let alone to become bored by it.

When we think we have a problem it is rarely the message that is the problem.  It is more often the execution – the product or experience not living up to the message.  As Tesco recognised, it wasn’t “every little helps” that needed fixing.  It was the delivery of that promise through the shopper experience.

3. The importance of breaking the rules. This is not to say that many of the things Trump was saying were right.  Clearly, a lot of them weren’t.  But what he did, was break most of the rules in the electioneering book.  The more rules he broke, the more it made him stand out.  He was the outsider.  Hilary was the establishment.

This is a big challenge in our industry.  Often brand leaders have to follow the rules.  Or think they have to.  They have processes – annual planning, innovation development – that are designed to minimise the risk of failure.  But these processes can smooth the edges too much and mean that you lose differentiation.  Meaning the risk of failure can actually increase.

In contrast, smaller, more entrepreneurial brands don’t have a set process to follow.  They don’t have a big budget.  They have to make things work.  They break some rules and do things differently.

So, pay less attention to what happened in the US election last week and pay more attention to why it happened.  We can all learn from it.

And, anyway, is there that much to worry about?  Donald said it’s all going to be beautiful, right?