I still remember the moment on the eve of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election when I watched a news program covering both candidates’ rallies. The coverage of Hillary’s Clinton’s rally in Philadelphia flashed across the crowd in front of Independence Hall and then lingered on the stage where Secretary Clinton was joined by her husband, Bill, daughter and son-in-law, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to close out the event.
Next, the news program shifted to Donald Trump’s evening. The camera jumped from his earlier rallies to pictures of a crowd queued up in a long line that wound across a field, down a hill, behind a grove of trees, and off into the distance. The commentator said that the people had been waiting for hours as the camera showed them in the darkness, sporting hats and gloves, eager to wait as long as it would take to see their candidate speak.
Which was the more powerful story?
The one about the people, of course. Ironically, Donald Trump, who built his career on self-promotion, managed to shine the spotlight on the disenfranchised people he wanted to serve. He provided a target for their pent up emotions by bashing Nafta, immigration, and other policies. Sure, he commandeered the spotlight plenty himself, but his slogan, “Make America Great Again,” was about the country and its people. The people were the story and they won Trump the election.
The reason is simple: We see ourselves in stories that reflect our own journeys. A massive hoard of people across much of the United States saw themselves in Donald’s Trump story about the country and specific groups’ emotions, passions and plights. Hillary Clinton’s message, on the other hand, was about her capability, her experience, her stronger qualifications for the job.
When you shape your marketing messages and content, do you start with a story about the audience you are trying to reach? Do you use details to describe their goals or challenges? I often refer to the Story Comes First method as a simple yet powerful concept for turning a brand’s message into moments that matter to its audience. It’s a matter of flipping your traditional message on its head. While it may be most comfortable to describe your product, service and solution to a problem, turn it around and pinpoint the audience problem, need or goal that your product or services solves.
This recipe works for corporate brands, non-profits, leaders and political candidates. The risk for brands that don’t point the spotlight on their audiences is that a competitor may tell their audience a story that captures their hearts and minds and votes. Donald Trump’s lack of political experience may have forced him to focus on the audience he wanted to serve and the country he wanted to save. By describing their problems, he set the stage to share his solutions.
In the end, most people think about themselves first and they look to stories that reflect their conditions. One brand lesson to remember from the election: If you’re spending time shaping, crafting and telling your brand’s story, you’re not spending enough time telling your target audience’s story – the message they really want to hear.