His campaign has been mired in controversy and much of what he says and does is reprehensible.
However, if we step away from the what and consider the how, there’s no denying it: Donald Trump has managed to power up a coalition of supporters, bigger than even he could have imagined.
His ascension is at odds with everything we know about populist politics, and begs the question: how did a billionaire with an elite education and a high society family become a “man of the people”?
Most blame underhand techniques, and maybe they’re right, in some respects. But Trump hasn’t exclusively relied on psychological “tricks” and manipulation to get to where he is. So, what are the core lessons that business leaders can take from the Trump campaign?
Trump has used language as a tool to connect. While it’s sometimes crude, his messaging is crystal clear, easily understood, and couched in words people would themselves use.
It is punchy, has a strange lyricism and is eminently re-tweetable. It connects him to his audience, fills them with confidence in his ability and energises his supporters.
The power of language is too often ignored in big business. Connection, confidence and clarity are fundamental to creating momentum behind a message – leaders need to put themselves in the shoes of their people and consider how they would talk about the subject at hand.
Trump also understands that emotions matter. Politics, at its heart, has always been emotional but increasingly emotions play a greater role than logic in the way votes are cast.
It’s surprising that a man like Trump, so often accused of narcissism and sociopathy, has managed to tap into the emotional heart of millions of people.
He has been able to understand what’s being felt by his audience and use that to multiply engagement with his campaign.
Similarly, in business, emotions matter more than many realise or act upon. Employers shouldn’t approach their workers as if they’re entirely rational. Instead emotionally engaging with your staff can help to drive momentum.
You can’t please everyone
Trump also knows that, if you try to appeal to everyone, you appeal to no one. He understands who his audience is and doesn’t waste time trying to convert the unconvertible.
By not watering down his message to suit the collective “Everyman”, his supporters become increasingly fervent – and do his conversion work for him.
Like too many politicians, businesses too often try to please everyone, and in the process please no one. Instead take a leaf out of Trump’s book, and strive to satisfy your customers, rather than all customers.
Moments that matter
Some of the most memorable aspects of the campaign have been the remarkable moments the Donald has created.
Think how many times the word Trump has appeared on the front pages of newspapers, associated with an edgy or unmistakably Trump-ish sound bite – proving that these edgy moments get cut-through.
In an increasingly busy and competitive world business leaders have to understand that cut-through matters – and have the courage to use soundbites that have personality and edge to create their own remarkable moments.
Trump provides far more lessons in what not to do, but no matter how divisive, his efforts certainly shouldn’t be dismissed.
If you’re going to take four positive lessons from his campaign, they should be to understand the importance of language, don’t forget emotions, focus on satisfying your customer (rather than all customers) and create moments with a bit of edge.