Did Donald Trump use growth hacking to win the US elections?
We are sure you’ve heard the big news already: Donald Trump just won the US elections 2016. He will become the 45th American president. I am not going to talk too much about politics here (But more about growth hacking) as I am sure there will thousands of political articles in the coming days, weeks and months all around the world talking about Trump’s success and Clinton’s failure. I will not take any party here and will try to be as neutral as possible.
<">It doesn't matter if you love or hate Trump, I am sure you have your opinion about it but this is not the subject of the post. What I want to do is showing you how and why Donald Trump won the elections. What strategy did he use? There is no doubt that Donald Trump has entrepreneurial DNA and I believe Trump used growth hacking & marketing to win the US elections 2016. If you don’t know what growth hacking is, I invite you to read the growth hacking definition. Growth hacking is a strategy mostly used by startups (Which is ironic as most of the Silicon Valley, except Peter Thiel, was against Trump) in order to grow their product and users’ base fast and with limited resources.
To sum-up, growth hacking is a process where you need to define a target, select marketing channels where to market your product, then test your product with your target audience in order to get data and users’ feedback. Thanks to the data collected, a startup will be able to priotize the channels, optimize the channels and the product to grow faster. Finally, the startup will be able to scale. Companies like Hotmail, AirBnb, DropBox or Paypal have used growth hacking to be where they are now.
We are going to show you that growth hacking can be used in industries other than startups and in this case: politics.
Having a specific target / Identifying your audience
For a startup launching a new product, it’s important to start small. Your startup doesn’t have to appeal to everyone. The goal is to prove there is a market by validating the concept or idea. In order to do that, you need to have a specific target: not everyone should be your target.
For Trump, before campaigning to become the American president, he first had to convince Republicans that he was the best possible Republican candidate. Therefore, his first target was members of the Republican party. Trump didn’t need to be liked by democrats or democrats’ media. His goal was to win the Republican Party presidential primaries 2016 by getting votes from the Party’s members. So, his target were Republicans.
Study your target / Knowing your audience
Now that Trump knew his target, he had to study it in order to find the problem. Indeed, a startup to be successful needs to answer and solve a problem. The main problem was that many Republicans don’t trust politics and politicians anymore. They believe that it doesn’t matter if a Republican or a Democrat is elected, they are all part of the “establishment”. Lots of Republican primary voters want to take back the White House from politicians. Trump is giving a voice to them.
Define your message / Find your value proposition
Trump had to define a message addressing to his potential voters. His message was clear: he is not a politician per say and is not part of the “Establishment”. What differentiates him from his competitors was obvious: he is different because he is not a politician. He was the Anti-Establishment candidate.
Trump doesn’t care to be loved by everyone. His marketing strategy is targeting a very selected group of people who believe in his message. Most political candidates are so trained and programmed that it is hard to tell the difference from one another. With Trump, there really is a difference. What matters is engaging with your target audience, not everyone. Trump understood that.
Define your metrics or KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)
When applying growth hacking, it’s crucial to choose which metrics to focus on. You need to choose metrics that are important. You don’t want to choose “vanity” metrics, metrics that don’t actually matter. A vanity metric in this case would be the number of positive reviews in democrats’ newspapers. Of course, Trump didn’t have much (If not 0) positive feedback in the democrats’ media. But, does it actually matter? No.
His metric was the polls and the number of Republicans that will actually vote for him during the primaries. This is the metric he used and the metric he focused on.
Define your channels
To promote himself, Donald Trump could do it in many ways. He could use SEO, social media, PR (Public Relations), video marketing, offline marketing, building partnerships, email marketing… In growth hacking, it’s better to select the channels you are going to use instead of using them all.
Trump chose 4 main channels to promote his campaign:
- Social media
- Offline Marketing (Conventions)
- Video Marketing
A/B testing these channels
A/B testing is a key element of growth hacking. You need to test one thing against another; one containing a distinctly different element. The goal is to find which option (Option A or Option B) works the best to grow the metric we defined (Number of votes from Republicans).
This is what Trump did. For instance, with his Twitter account, Donald J. Trump made a lot of testing. Some tweets were positive about bringing America together, some were violent and insulting or some were controversial about Mexicans, women or immigrants. He quickly found that when he was rough and controversial, his tweets had much more exposure.
Growth hacking is nothing without data. This is why A/B testing is so important. The goal is to get data and learn from it.
Thanks to the tweets he sent, Trump was able to get a lot of data. When he was sending controversial tweets, not only he would get more retweets, he would also get a lot of PR. Many news outlets (Republicans and Democrats) started to report about his violence or lack of empathy. These gave him more exposure than any other Republican candidates in history... and this with no budget. This large exposure brought Trump way up on the polls.
Optimization and Prioritization
Now that Trump knew how to grow, he had to optimize his message and his marketing campaign. This is what he did. Not only, he would send controversial tweets, he would do the same at conventions, when giving interviews or making videos.
For instance, here are 2 Donald Trump quotes that gave him great exposure:
- About Mexicans: “They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists”
- About his wife: “You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young, and beautiful, piece of ass.”
Trump had to optimize his channels but he also had to prioritize them. The objective of prioritization in growth hacking is focusing on what works and stop wasting time or money on what doesn’t. What worked for Trump? Getting PR without spending money on it. Just being controversial would give him so much exposure and that was enough to get the Republicans’ votes.
There were hundreds of articles every day just for saying a statement or sending a tweet. You might tell me that these articles were not good PR because the articles were mostly negative. I like to quote the wife of Jordan Belfort (Played by Leonardo Di Caprio) in the movie The Wolf of Wall Street. In the movie, Forbes published a negative article about M. Belfort and she says: “There is no such thing as bad publicity”. Even if I don’t totally agree with this statement (e.g. Volkswagen scandal about the company cheating pollution controls definitely had a negative effect on the company), Trump proved that statement to be right.
What happened next? With all this PR, Trump gained even more exposure and won the Republican primaries with 45% of the votes when his first contender (Ted Cruz) only had 25% of the votes.
Once you proved that your product or service works, you need to scale. Scalability is an important part of growth hacking.
Trump won the Republican Party primaries, he is now the Republican candidate to become the next American president. In order to scale, you need to redefine your target. Your target needs to be broader… but again not too broad. And then, you restart the growth hacking process.
Restart the growth hacking approach
Trump had to redefine his target. One more time, not all Americans were his target. People that belonged to the Democrat Party will not vote for him. The American elections depend only on a few “swing states”. States that can be won by one party or the other. A state like Texas is always Republican and a state like California is always democrat. There is no need for Trump to try to get votes from states that are sure to vote democrats. Trump’s new target are states like Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina and Iowa.
Again, in these states, not everyone is his target. For example, Hispanics or Afro-Americans were not his target. His target were the people that were still indecisive.
To reach this new target, Trump used a very similar approach: a growth hacking & marketing approach. He communicated on the fact that he was not part of the establishment. He also used the fact that Clinton is not really appreciated by many people. When communicating on Twitter, he used many times the hashtag #CrookedHillary to show her previous failures.
He used a lot of data, especially the fact that many Americans don’t trust Clinton and that she was part of an email controversy..
Because Trump’s previous strategy worked for the primaries, he kept the same strategy: consistency was key in his success. He was violent in his speeches and very controversial. He also made many misogynistic statements that just brought him even more exposure.
Trump gained exposure with an actor like Robert de Niro who attacked Donald Trump on a video, most of Silicon Valley tech founders who pledged against him and journalists who reported about Trump every day. More exposure Trump got, stronger he became. So, we can easily say that Hollywood, the Silicon Valley and the media contributed in making Trump win the elections.
By using growth hacking principles, Donald J. Trump is now the new American president
Surprise or not, Donald Trump won the US elections 2016 and is the new American president. In this post, I wanted to show you how growth hacking can be used outside of the startup ecosystem. Trump defined a target, addressed the right message, chose the right marketing channels to promote his campaign, made some A/B testing, analyzed data, optimized his message, prioritized his channels and then scale.
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