Both Democrats and Republicans could be pardoned for feeling shell-shocked at the Trump upset win of the US presidential race. Few of the pundits saw it coming; indeed, as recently as a few weeks ago, just about everyone here in the US was predicting a big Clinton victory.
But with the benefit of perfect storytelling hindsight, the Trump win is not so surprising. Indeed, it’s inevitable, if you apply a couple of the ideas that I’m always insisting my clients think about when they’re creating their speeches, messages, branding, marketing campaigns and even books.
Start with the idea that, after eight years of one party in the White House, the presumption is that the other party has the edge – unless everyone is so happy that the entire country is thinking laissez les bon temps rouler!
I don’t think so. Bring on the change. That’s the starting point.
Now, to that mindset, apply Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. You remember Maslow? He’s the psychologist that opined that we all take care of a predictable set of needs in a predictable order. We start with physiological needs – food and shelter – and work our way up the list to safety, then love, then esteem, and finally self-actualization.
Maslow’s huge insight was that if we’re worried about a need lower on the list, it completely overshadows the needs higher up. So, if we’re hungry, we’re not worried about perfecting our French accent in French class (self-actualization, or perhaps esteem).
If the people are worried about jobs, economic security, and that sort of thing, that’s safety, and they’re not going to be able to think seriously about anything higher up on the list, like love, esteem, or self-actualization.
What does that mean for Trump and Clinton? “Make America Great Again,” reminds us of our economic insecurity, and perhaps our political insecurity, and so those safety issues override love or esteem.
On the other hand, “Stronger Together” comes in at the level of love or esteem. That’s getting pretty high on Maslow’s Hierarchy, and Trump’s safety message will completely override Stronger Together.
One point for Trump.
Now, I’ve blogged before about the power of storytelling and revenge stories in particular. A revenge story tells us about a hero whose job it is to restore a prior state of justice, fair play, prosperity, or order. Seen in this light, “Make America Great Again,” is about the pithiest expression of a revenge story I’ve seen.
It’s brilliant. It tells us that America was once great, that it’s something we’ve lost, and that we can bring it back. “Great” implies both power and economic success, so we’ve got a revenge story aimed at the safety level. That’s so powerful that Clinton’s love story, positioned at the love level, can’t possibly compete.
Two points for Trump, and game.
If you want to create a powerful marketing message, then pitch it at the safety level in Maslow’s terms, and give us a revenge story. We jump at the idea of a former ordered, glorious era that our hero might restore. Therein lies a tale, and in this case, a tale of victory for Mr. Trump.
Of course, politics and campaigns are not just about Maslow and stories, but don’t underestimate their power either. If you do so, you’ll find yourself trying to explain a loss everything thought you would win.