Donald Trump has been ahead in the polls for the Republican presidential nomination since July.
It doesn’t matter whether you love him or hate him, it’s hard to deny the man is a master of communication. His style simply resonates with many people.
Although Trump’s candidacy will undoubtedly change how future politicians approach communication, the implications of his success are much broader: What lessons can we as PR leaders learn from Trump when it comes to connecting and engaging with our own skeptical consumers?
A man for our time
We live in a post-trust era when the public looks at every institution—government to business—with incredible skepticism. Voters are anxious, angry and open to alternatives.
Trump has worked to fill this void. Gaffes aside, Trump has used these five strategies to shift his image from billionaire blowhard to influential man of the people:
1. He has a clear narrative, a master story that he sticks to.
2. He understands and taps into simple, emotional truths.
3. He speaks the language of his audience.
4. He reframes every debate question into language he prefers.
5. He is deliberately, decidedly different from his peers in both his style and approach.
Although most politicians repeat the same refrains, Trump works to offer an alternative approach to communication. Here’s are a few keys to his success.
Honing the concept of a master story
Trump consistently relates all of his ideas back to a master slogan: “Make America great again.”
For example, GOP candidate Jeb Bush has yet to clarify to the public just what he stands for—beyond being anti-Trump. Bush is not offering a consistent narrative or tone, and he struggles to present an idea or story for voters to embrace.
By practicing consistency and discipline in his message, Trump ensures his campaign carries momentum.
Swaying voters with emotional truths, not rational arguments.
Elections aren’t fought using reason; they’re fought using emotion.
Trump recognizes this, and while his rivals focus on debating various issues, Trump is busy leading an emotional movement. Sen. Lindsay Graham had the best technical understanding of any of the candidates, but he dropped out of the GOP race because he couldn’t convey his message in a captivating way.
Often, the way to persuade people is to tap into what matters to them emotionally. Trump offers that by persistently raising issues that strike emotional chords with voters.
Using the language of the people
He might be the wealthiest of all the candidates, but Trump comes across to many as deeply human by using the vernacular.
Trump cuts through the complexity of political conversations and talks as he would every day. For example, Sen. Rand Paul might have more populist ideas, but his language is often academic and sophisticated. Paul comes across as though he’s speaking only to an intellectual elite; Trump aims to speak to everyone.
Reframing negativity instead of defending against it
In 2013, it was widely believed that Mitt Romney’s 47 percent comment derailed his campaign. Although he had many of the same vulnerabilities that Trump has in the current election, Trump has dealt with his problems more effectively.
If voters accuse him of being racist, he says he’s for security. When he’s accused of being sexist, he’s reframes the argument—and says he’s not sexist, but simply against imposed political correctness.
Whatever the issue, Trump reframes the question of his character and puts things into more favorable terms.
Showing he’s different from his fellow candidates
Though his peers fight to be better than one another, Trump focuses his time on a simpler task: being different.
Most voters can predict what will come out of the mouths of most politicians, but Trump keeps people interested with the possibility that he’ll say something unexpected. Every other GOP candidate sounds similar, but there’s only one Trump.
From his style to his message, he’s set himself apart.
PR pros and politicians often face the same challenges. If an organization is struggling to stand out from the crowd, fighting issue advocacy battles and critics, or at a loss for translating engineering and technological prowess into an emotional response, Trump’s unique style could provide the answer.