What can startups learn from the Trump Campaign? Yes, we are serious… ;)

Vani Kola
16th Dec 2016
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2016 has been a year of surprises for me. Brexit, US elections, and Prime Minister Modi’s demonetization announcements that have stirred international markets and global citizens alike. I was intrigued, even distraught, by the US elections, a true wake up call that many didn’t see coming. But, the seeker in me is looking for lessons and learnings in everything. So focussing on the positive side what are the key takeaways from this election?

Trump’s campaign was by no means the best practice guidebook on “How to run for President” and many of his antics “Crooked Hillary”, unprepared approach to National debates and naming and shaming people are clearly not something we advocate. The one thing that stands out for me, the drill we have each entrepreneur goes through — what is the product market fit? — is what Trump got right. He knew his audience and went after them with a hard hitting message consistently.

Source — Getty images North America/ Mark Wallheiser
Source — Getty images North America/ Mark Wallheiser

The same question applies to startups everyday how well do you know your customer?

The Trump customer — Long before the election, Trump’s data analytics team, Cambridge Analytica, understood that his voters were different. These Trump supporters also known as “disenfranchised new Republicans”, were working-class white people, particularly ones without college education — men and women living mostly in rural America, who felt let down by elitist politicians. They cared about three big issues: law and order, immigrants taking away jobs, and wages.

Trump’s team nailed it! This is a very potent example on the use of data analytics to draw up the target customer. This was the key competitive advantage of the Trump campaign.

Looking at our own startup ecosystem, There are some examples of startups getting their customer profile right — redBus targeted the “mobile only” customer wanting to buy bus tickets easily, discarding the B2B sales channel that wasn’t working. They fine tuned their product strategy to meet the needs of their customer. That kind of clarity leads to a great customer experience, a testament to customer focus.

More recently, I was intrigued by Rivigo’s empathetic approach to understanding the key pain points of their user base — the truck drivers. Their operating model innovations can enhance the lifestyle of truck drivers and take the Indian logistics industry to the next level.

Messaging — Trump’s communication was strategically made, politically incorrect, contrary to traditional elitist campaign promises. This struck a chord with his conservative voters, it was plain simple Americanisms that he dished out at his rallies. The result — the Trump tsunami conquered the masses.

Messaging around your product offering should really be driven by your target customer and their problem. That said, the messaging should be respectful and not just sensational with the objective of driving a million eyeballs.

The recent Jack and Jones (a global brand part of the Bestseller group from Denmark) ad campaign with Ranveer Singh (‘Don’t Hold Back. Take your work home’) is a good example of sensational messaging gone wrong. It is one thing to exercise “creative freedom” and another to take the attention away from the brand’s core offering and offend a large population of women.

Focus on your Target Group — Trump segmented the market, he ignored the immigrants and minorities; as they were never his target group. An excellent example of de-marketing. Which meant more time and resources to go after his target audience.

While I hope startups do not make inflammatory statements with reference to non-customers, the key takeaway is your core group of customers should get your undivided attention.

I like how teabox.com has built a clear understanding of their customer, the global premium tea consumer. Their international focus and experiential approach validates the fact that they are not trying to please and reach every tea drinker there is.

Focus on your strengths — Trump played to his strengths, he is no statesman, he’s a showman. He leveraged his businessman and “CEO” image to demonstrate he was an outsider and could cut down the political inefficiencies of the system, which made him a viable alternate candidate. His repulsive statements earned him free ‘air-time’ on prime time news without spending too much. Overall Hillary Clinton’s campaign spent a whopping $1.3 billion in comparison to Trump campaign’s $647 million, the lowest for any major party presidential nominee since John McCain in 2008.

The same can be applied to any startup, when you focus on your strengths you allow your business to take advantage of your existing skill set to optimize your returns immediately instead of relying on the learning process to succeed.

Use data and act quickly The Trump campaign analyzed early voting data and identified that there was a significant increase in voters 65 and older. Based on this, they updated their data models and drove adjustments to digital and campaign messaging as well as plans for rallies and last-minute persuasion efforts. Online ads placed by the firm were viewed a staggering 1.5 billion times by millions of Americans, after the company ran 4,000 individual digital ad campaigns in the last few weeks!

Acting quickly with data has helped one edtech company take a lead position. Byju’s has a great content but it also uses data analytics to offer personalized lessons to students. While Byju’s has definitely benefited from quick smartphone penetration and cheaper internet, their approach to content and their ability to personalize the experience based on data is what hooks their customers and keeps bringing them back.

The key underlying success factor for any startup is identifying its customer, communicating effectively and building a long term sticky relationship with them.

A happy customer can mobilize other customers, become a shareholder or a partner or a collaborator and of course your pipeline to valuable product feedback and insights.

No matter how much you might disagree with Trump and his politics, ideas and learnings can come from anywhere. I hope you agree? If you have an interesting take on how you nailed your customer messaging, would love to hear more from you!

Acknowledging Divya Hegde, a contributor to this article. Divya is a Kstartfellow

Note - Kalaari or Kstart is not an investor in the above-mentioned startups.

Disclaimer : This article is strictly an independent opinion of the writer, not representative of Kstart or Kalaari.

This article first appeared on Medium

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