Copywriting Lessons from Donald Trump
A (mostly moderate) exploration of what we can learn from Donald’s campaign
Following the US political circus from a safe distance (via my laptop in South America) has an uncanny way of easing homesickness while upping my resolve to stay away for a few more years. Like you, I’m equal parts horrified and hypnotized by the campaigns, blunders, and bad taste emanating from one candidate in particular. He’s a strawberry blond tycoon with a single, mind-numbing mantra: “Make America Great Again.”
Countries around the world suffer from astronomical inflation, violent dictatorships, and terrorist threats, yet still The Donald is front page news around the world and I simply couldn’t resist finding a spot for him (and his comb-over) on my own copywriting blog.
If you’re skeptical that Donald Trump’s campaign can inspire greatness in your own business venture…well, I’m skeptical that Orange Julius is his natural skin color. So, let’s both agree to suspend our disbelief for just a moment and imagine Donald could very well be the latest crossover sensation, billionaire to politician to … copywriting guru.
Set your political fervor aside and simply enjoy the top 5 lessons of “A Crash Course in Copywriting, by THE Donald.”
Copywriting Crash Course: Lessons from Donald Trump
1. Recalibrate Your Reading Level (or, just dumb it down)
At times, Trump’s uncensored style causes even his most loyal supporters to cringe in discomfort. But his remarkable popularity – and undeniable success in the polls – suggests that he must be doing something right.
But how is he pulling this off? A popular theory is that Trump uses incredibly simplistic language to climb down from his gilded and attempt to rub shoulders with the common man…the “Joe the plumbers” whose votes have the power to make or break elections.
In fact, the Boston Globe article For Presidential Hopefuls, Simpler Language Resonates ranked the candidates based on their speeches’ level of difficulty (using the Flesch-Kincaid readability test equation) and the results are nothing short of illuminating. Here is what they found:
According to the study, Trump’s speech clocked in at a fourth grade reading level and it’s really not a surprise when you analyze his speech patterns with a fine-tooth comb.
Trump’s speech patterns include:
- Simple sentence structure
We have a real problem.
- Second person voice to address listeners directly and assume their agreement off the back
Look at Paris. Look at what happened in Paris.… and you watch last night, and you see people talking.
- Ending sentences in strong words, leaving the audience with punchy sound-bits of evocative language
A week ago it was like bedlam.
We have to figure out what’s the problem.
As a life-long salesman, Trump has a huckster’s knack for selling a feeling. Even if the ideas and facts he states, are wrong, racist, or incomprehensible.
When most politicians speak in public, their words are polished, scripted, focus-group-tested, and teleprompt-ed out for all to hear (sorry, Obama). And the result is a cheap bit of literature that plucks the right heart strings and does little to convey the speaker’s authenticity, humanity, and professional craft.
Donald Trump doesn’t care to impress his competition or to treat reporters with anything more than mild respect. He wants to win an election and he wants to do so by relating to the average Joes of America. In fact, Trump’s core supporters respect him for speaking his truth, even if he’s not saying it in a polite, politically correct way.
This is a branding principle in play: to connect with your target audience, you’ve got to break down the barriers and begin thinking like/ acting like/ talking like the people you seek to influence.
Nothing sabotages success faster than a marketing message that your target audience can’t understand and/ or can’t relate to.
Successful copywriting eavesdrops on the lives of readers, plucks words right out of their mouths and feeds it back to them in messaging. It leaves people feeling understood, represented, and compelled to have more.
2. Think Huuuuuge and Don’t Let Your Critics Slow You Down
Watch a snippet of the republican debates or any on-camera interview and you’ll see that Trump is remarkably impermeable to hard-hitting criticism. In fact, it seems that no amount of negativity is enough to slow him down.
Megyn Kelly tries to corner him his misogynist remarks and Donald sides steps her attack with a laugh. Trump retweets an anonymous Nazi sympathizer and white supremacist who goes by the not-so-subtle handle @WhiteGenocideTM and when critics (Bill O’Reilly) corner him for an explanation of this and other racist retweets, he responds glibly “am I going to check every statistic? I have millions and millions of people [following me]…all it was is a retweet, it wasn’t from me.”
By pointing to his success – large following, high ranking polls etc. – he is able to quickly move past the snares and negativity, and has yet to face an obstacle that truly slows him down – though many have tried. Trump clearly embodies an old-school, bold approach to business and his indestructible self-confidence is what often keeps his campaign afloat and his supporters loyal through the toughest media storms. It’s grit that gets him through and keeps him going, and while it’s not always pretty it certainly seems to be effective.
Two sides? Buddy Up to the Opposition
Trump’s uncensored remarks are responsible for what feels like a colossal amount of friendly fire, and yet even when it seems he’s caused irreparable insult, he quickly points to his so-called supporters coming from the group he’s currently offending.
“I am calling for a total and complete shutdown of all Muslims entering the country.”
“Many of [my Muslim friends] called me and said, ‘you know Donald, you’re right we have a problem. There is a problem.'”
“[Mexicans] are bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
“I love the Mexican people”
When Perseverance Meets Self-Awareness
Brands and businesses can learn a thing or two about grit and perseverance from Trump’s unique example of what it means to power through. Refocus negative conversations, counter criticism with hard evidence of your success (social following, poll support, etc.) but please try to temper the madness with at least a modicum of self-awareness.
Why? Because there’s a time and a place for humility (Mr. Trump, are you listening?).
In certain situations it is appropriate for a business owner – and a brand – to express regret and to offer up an apology. Thanks to Web 2.0, brand transparency has never been more important and people value brands with integrity. It’s simply a matter of learning how to steer your business through rocky waves of criticism without compromising your values in the process.
Be confident, be firm, but at the end of the day be human and act with integrity, admitting to missteps and course-correcting when necessary.
If you’re in business for any considerable length of time, it is inevitable that one or two bad outcomes will snag you up along the way. While everyone strives for a sterling track record it’s also important to keep in mind that spending all your energy on trying to make difficult customers happy is going to be a losing game and it will siphon your energy away from all the clients & projects who are positively huuuuuuuge (and tremendous).
3. “The Art of the Voice”
Donald Trump’s regularly references his best-selling book, The Art of the Deal, and a great deal of his success is owed to the unique voice he has created both on and off the page.
The darling of late night comedians and Fox News Channel’s beloved foe, Donald trump has made his voice heard across America and nearly every media outlet in the country – and it’s a unforgettable voice at that. I’d try to describe it myself, but hundreds of journalists already have and I much prefer their choice of words over my own.
Donald’s voice and written style have been described as:
- Bombastic rhetoric
- Free of politically correct speech
Such a style does not sit well with everyone but it does accomplish two critical brand principles: it is authentic to who Trump is and who his target audience is, and it is distinctive from all the other voices in the race.
4. Can’t do it better? Do it differently.
Donald trump wields the power of a popular, global brand with excellent recognition…but I would argue it’s more than that. Donald Trump is a business man – not a politician and he has leveraged that unique selling point more than any other trait during his campaign.
He constantly reminds the American public that his track record in business compensates for his lack of experience in the political arena and that his status as a Washington outsider is his greatest asset…not his greatest liability.
Essentially, trump is a non-traditional product in an arena drowning in conformity and repetition…dark blue suite and red tie club, anybody?
The ability to differentiate from competitors is a brand’s primary survival skill.
Find yourself lumped in with the competition and you might as well not be on the ticket at all.
5. Keep them Entertained.
Stand-up comedian and actor Louis CK in an email letter to fans wrote; “Trump is a messed up guy with a hole in his heart that he tries to fill with money and attention. He can never ever have enough of either and he’ll never stop trying. He’s sick. Which makes him really, really interesting. And he pulls you towards him which somehow feels good or fascinatingly bad.”
The nation can’t stop watching Trump and even the news media that tried to ignore him in the early days have had to cover his campaign given the huge demand from the public.
Mostly because Trump has an undeniable entertainment factor.
How you classify his campaign – comedy, tragedy, or family drama where the businessman finds his way home to the white house – is really irrelevant, because we’re all watching.
Most people utterly misunderstand who their online competitors are. Ask a business owner to define his online competition and she’ll conjure up a list of shops peddling similar products, or agencies with services at a comparable price point. Wrong. Online you’re competing with everything else people are doing online, everything from Ellen DeGeneres’ YouTube Channel to the New York Times and Facebook.
Provide irrefutable value, yes.
Avoid posting kitten-centric videos to your brand’s Facebook page, yes.
But be entertaining in your own right.
I’m talking about the kind of entertainment that is appropriate to your market space, authentic to your voice, and that softens people’s cravings to click away to some other webpage.
Take Trump with a Grain of Salt
Love him, hate him, or love to hate him, it’s clear that Donald Trump has made an incredible impact on the 2016 presidential election in the US.
But before you leave, it’s time to take trump with a grain of salt. Contrary to what the Donald may believe, not all attention is good attention. Speak freely, be smart, but always use tact.
What are your favorite lessons from Donald Trump? Tell us in the comments section below!