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How “outlandish” won the US presidency: The art of being on message.

November 30, 2016
by Chris Ward

The Oxford dictionary defines being ‘on message’ as stating the official party line. I’d like to propose a somewhat different meaning... reaffirming what you stand for in thoughts, words, and deeds. In other words, being true to your value proposition.

This occurred to me when I was watching Morning Joe on MSNBC, a political talk show that I've become addicted to in the last 18 months. Not surprisingly, Donald Trump is almost always one of the show’s major topics. So is the inevitable analysis of how he won.

I don’t want to debate the “how” or “why.” There’s enough of that going on. But I do want to comment on what is behind his win.

Some think he was completely scattered, shooting from the hip with no clear idea of what he was shooting at. That he was out of control, careening from one crisis to another.

I beg to differ.

Trump is always on message. Believe me!

From the very beginning, Mr. Trump has been bombastic, insulting, underhanded, and politically incorrect. His take-no-prisoners approach to debating left his Republican opponents in his dust. His message was and still is:

I’m not like those career politicians. I do and say things that no one else will.  I’m rich and successful which means I am beholden to no one, and will put my talents to work to make your life better. I am the only one who is capable of making your life better. Vote for me and you will see. Believe me!

Or something like that.

Consistency and ubiquity are key.

Every time he takes to the stage, or to social media, he reinforces his message. And he is using Twitter to reach out to his 16+ million followers.

There was never any doubt that he is different… unlike anyone to have ever run for high public office, let alone the Presidency. Even now, just weeks from his inauguration, he is Tweeting about subjects that most Presidents-elect would consider taboo. Like his current rant about illegal voting: “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” Twitter, November 27.

Outlandish? Yup! Effective? You bet.

Customers as voters.

It might seem a little strange to think of customers as voters. But when you get right down to it, isn’t that exactly what they are? They don’t vote at the ballot box on election day. They vote at our cash register, perhaps metaphorically, every time they decide to buy, or to pass on, what we’re offering.

If we’re going to win the grand prize ­– a new customer, loan, donor, student, promotion, member, contract, whatever – we’ve got to be just as on message as The Donald.

To be clear, being on message is not just about what you say in print, online, or in some other medium. It’s as much – maybe more – about how you deliver your message. And where you deliver it. In Mr. Trump’s case, the use of unconventional media like Twitter simply reinforces the fact that he is different.

The whole truth and nothing but…

What Mr. Trump has done notwithstanding, getting customers to vote for us is not about saying whatever it takes to win that vote. He has said many things that are, to be charitable, incorrect. In business, if not in politics, truthfulness and realism are fundamentals. Being clear about what we can and will do for anyone who chooses to “vote” for us is an essential. So, too, is being on message – not sometimes or often, but always. 


Chris Ward is a Principal with StrategicRetreats and founder of Riverhorse Strategic Advisors. Over the past 20 years he has facilitated dozens of meetings, workshops and retreats and conducted more than 1,000 key informant interviews for organizations of all types and sizes. An expert in strategic planning and branding, he helps clients develop very specific plans to achieve corporate goals and own their space. 


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