Stretching the message and shock drama – what marketers can learn from Donald Trump

Ditching the single message to a mass audience in favour of a ‘stretched message’ tailored to micro-audiences could be the future of marketing in the wake of Donald Trump’s election – a public relations leader has claimed.

Trump: “He tapped into something not a lot of brand marketers are doing. He stretched his brand.”

Group managing director of public relations agency Spectrum Group Ben Shipley called for lessons to be learned from Trump’s use of online echo chambers as well as the former business mogul’s adoption of shock narratives to attract attention.

The recently elected Republican United States president was able to connect better with a “ridiculous parade of opinions” on “tightly-connected media groups” more so than his Democrat rival Hillary Clinton did with a clear single message in the mainstream media, Shipley said.

Speaking at a media roundtable in Singapore, he added that Trump’s understanding of the changing media landscape, in particular, users’ narrowing social media newsfeeds, helped him win over audiences with “hyper relevant” – if often contradictory – messaging,

“Trump understood better than most how algorithmic media has fragmented the audience,” he said. “Most marketers have a bunch of core thoughts that link back to the idea that their audience is a large group of people in a room waiting for a message. But Facebook has changed that: and we’re now surrounded by a group of people who largely share the same opinion as us. Trump got that in a very interesting way.

“Hillary tried to focus on those big overarching messages and the big overarching media certainly pointed to her having communicated well, and should have shifted the audience. But on election day we got a very different result.

“That’s because the [mainstream] media does not have the same impact as those tight little [social media] groups that agree with a point of view and will share that sense of outrage.”

Recently, the South East Asia director of digital marketing agency RadiumOne Charlie Baillie also said that marketers needed to capitalise on the ‘dark social’ content sharing seen on apps like Whats App and WeChat as a way of tapping into “word-of-mouth” potential.

“There needs to be a rebalancing act of how marketers go about reaching their audience in the most efficient way,” said Baillie. “We all know that word-of-mouth is much more powerful than any marketing, and in a digital sense instant messaging apps are the most pronounced word-of-mouth out there because of how it’s sharing content in a one-to-one basis.”

But Shipley focused on the importance of social media echo chambers, rather than messaging apps, as a key resource.

He said :“From a communications perspective, we have spent so long talking about the ‘single message’. And Trump just buffed that straight out of the window. He went to different people with a ridiculous parade of opinions and spoke to them on their terms with a message that was often contradictory to the one he delivered the day before.

“Potentially Trump tapped into something not a lot of brand marketers are doing. He stretched his brand. And the brands that are going to mean something are the ones go beyond just meaning one or two things, but are brave enough to stretch to mean 1,000 things for these micro-audiences across the board. Marketers need to think of their audiences as being separated by the algorithmic media into these little boxes.”

He added: “You still need to have that core, overall thought over a long term. But there needs to be that hyper-targeted stretching. There is probably more stretch needed in many brands that marketers cannot get their heads round.”

In addition, Trump’s extreme messaging – dubbed the “business of outrage” by The Economist – also provides a number of takeaways for brands, Shipley argued.

Ben Shipley

“Trump understood that the media isn’t biased towards the left or the right, it is biased towards drama, and he gave them drama in spades,” he said. “Whenever someone else was getting more attention, he would draw the spotlight back with a shocking story. If he was losing control of a story, then there was another narrative and another.

“From a marketing perspective, we have to look for the drama and the emotion in our own stories. It’s not enough to have a brand that’s respected and not have that level of emotional connection. It doesn’t have to be about shock and aggression, but potentially Trump tapped into an outrage that people had been feeling for a long time.”

He added: “As much as I dislike his politics, there is plenty we as marketers and brands can put into practise.”


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