Donald Trump Is Getting It Right by Doing It All Wrong

Ironically, breaking all the rules can sometimes get you way ahead. We all remember those kids who did things differently … dressed to represent themselves instead of the latest trends, took the nerdy classes, or engaged in other behavior that exponentially lowered their cool score. More often than not,

Ironically, breaking all the rules can sometimes get you way ahead. We all remember those kids who did things differently … dressed to represent themselves instead of the latest trends, took the nerdy classes, or engaged in other behavior that exponentially lowered their cool score. More often than not, these were the same kids who went on to become thought leaders in their fields, and pretty much out-achieved the “cool “ kids at the game of life.

Nothing seems to have changed; especially when it comes to this year’s GOP primary race, at least for now. Breaking all the rules seems to have landed Donald Trump around 39 percent of the predicted GOP vote in key states during the week of Sept. 14, the biggest percentage ever earned by a candidate in any primary race in history, says CNN. Amazingly, this same week, a New York Times/CBS News poll showed Trump with the lowest rating for honesty and trustworthiness among the top six key candidates from either party.

So if no one trusts him, why does he have so many supporters? Historically, there might not be many explanations; psychologically, there are plenty. Here’s just a few.

Freedom to Be Politically Incorrect
For years, people have been shamed for intolerance of any kind. With jobs, reputations, political futures and even Facebook friends on the line, many people have feared expressing their true beliefs and opinions. So Trump is doing it for them. Expressing attitudes, opinions and insults society labels politically incorrect and thus giving others permission to do the same is just one aspect of Trump’s brilliant strategy that is defying all odds, all expectations and every political pundit’s imagination.

People seek to be part of a hive that thinks and feels like they do, and Trump’s followers are no exception. Just days before the second GOP debate, Trump drew a crowd of 20,000 in Dallas that cheered and clapped at nearly every breath he took. His position of feeling “just like you do,” seems to be securing a base of people whose so-called “wrong” feelings are suddenly being made “right.”

Real Winners vs. Phony Losers
While we might root for the underdog in a sports game, when it comes to our values, lifestyle, community and ability to control our destiny, we align with winners. Quite often in politics, we do so without even knowing what the current winner stands for and how he or she will really impact our lives. And we align even more with winners who we believe are real, “just like us” and transparent.

Here, Trump again is brilliant. The entire hour I watched of his Sept. 14 speech had two main themes: He is a real person with no canned persona or teleprompter speech, and he is winning the race. Unprovoked, he told how much money he makes and how much he pays in taxes. He showed he was real and had nothing to hide. But most importantly, he raged on about his place in the polls. I am winning here, there and everywhere was and still is his recurrent theme, and voters seem to be buying this line more than any position on any issue.

Winning the Attention Game
Trump has mastered the ability to get his name in headlines — a lot of them. Insulting any opponent who gets a headline seems to be furthering his strategy quite well. Google “Trump insults Fiorina” and see what I mean. The media and his victims support that strategy quite well by reporting and responding, both of which give him more headlines than even he would pay for. And I, too, fell for it, as I couldn’t resist writing about the psychological marketing tactics he uses quite well.

Regardless of what you think of Trump, his persona or his politics, there’s a lot we can learn from how he has risen from an “unlikely” status to the GOP contender who has succeeded more than any other politician this early in a presidential campaign, regardless of party.

Takeaways from Trump include:

  • Validate your customers’ feelings, not yours, and show them you are just like them when it comes to fears, hopes and values. This works in politics and in business. I helped a client change his rosy sales pitch for real estate investment to one of caution in order to validate how prospective investors felt. Once we got their trust by talking about their feelings and not ours, we got their business.
  • Be real and be transparent. Share your revenues, your profits, and contributions to causes and political campaigns. Open your books and hide nothing. Customers will forgive you for a mistake you apologize for but never for hiding a truth or a lie you crafted.
  • Brag up your victories, humbly, and let the world know you are winning at all that matters to them. Show customers and prospects that you are winning the game for customer satisfaction, loyalty, industry reviews, quality and more. Use customers and industry experts to help validate your successes.
  • Finally, create headlines beyond your website and social media pages. Do something others will write about, be it the media or customers. Take on a local cause, take a stand on a social issue and support it, highlight your exceptional talent, or do what Coca-Cola does on its site and just share tips on living a happy life. To be newsworthy, keep it real and valuable to others, not just your brand.

In short, brands that learn to appeal to consumers’ psychological needs, show they stand for the same values customers do, and find ways to be top-of-mind for not just great quality but for supporting great causes, will win much more than 39 percent of customers’ loyalty, and gain far longer-lasting results.

Author: Jeanette McMurtry

Jeanette McMurtry is a psychology-based marketing expert providing strategy, campaign development, and sales and marketing training to brands in all industries on how to achieve psychological relevance for all aspects of a customer's experience. She is the author of the recently released edition of “Marketing for Dummies” (Fifth Edition, Wiley) and “Big Business Marketing for Small Business Budgets” (McGraw Hill). She is a popular and engaging keynote speaker and workshop instructor on marketing psychology worldwide. Her blog will share insights and tactics for engaging B2B and B2C purchasers' unconscious minds which drive 90 percent of our thoughts, attitudes and behavior, and provide actionable and affordable tips for upping sales and ROI through emotional selling propositions. Her blog will share insights and tactics for engaging consumers' unconscious minds, which drive 90 percent of our thoughts and purchasing attitudes and behavior. She'll explore how color, images and social influences like scarcity, peer pressure and even religion affect consumers' interest in engaging with your brand, your message and buying from you. Reach her at

11 thoughts on “Donald Trump Is Getting It Right by Doing It All Wrong”

  1. Sometimes the best way to get someone’s attention in the marketing workplace, in marketing especially, is to show how some “bad guy” is doing something innovative, risky, bold –– and getting away with it!

    Thank you for pointing out what a showman The Donald is. Of course whether it’s sustainable in the real world of complicated issues is left for us to see.

    1. I meant to add that Bernie Sanders also offers a look at “doing it wrong” and breaking through the clutter — who knew an old self-described “socialist” would get this much attention?

      1. Thank you for the Sanders perspective. Per your suggestion, I am going to pay more attention to him. I have been too in awe of the GOP craziness to pay attention to the Dems so far.

  2. Great analysis!

    Donald Trump: By the Numbers

    Congress has 11% approval rating. Ergo, Congress has 89% disapproval rating. 89% of adults over age 18 equals 193 million pissed-off Americans. These are Donald Trump’s (and Bernie Sanders’) “base.”
    Latinos, minorities, party loyalists etc. no longer count. One of the two fire eaters—The Donald or Bernie—could win all the marbles.

    Denny Hatch,

    1. Thank you Denny for adding some great statistics to this message. We live in interesting times and these are definitely worth noting as we learn so much about the human mind. Donald got to 40% of the intended vote without ever talking about an issue. Last speech he ranted on about how sweaty Huckabee was in the debate and how water Mario drank. Again, psychologically brilliant as he inadvertently painted his opponents as nervous while he is calm and confident. My big question is does he realize how psychologically smart this is or is it totally by default? So much to learn here…as yes I agree. After watching him speak for an hour so I coudl write this story, I thought the same conclusion you just mentioned.

  3. Scott Adams of Dilbert fame has had a running series on his blog at called the Trump Persuasion Series, wherein he describes in detail the persuasion tactics Trump has been using as a Master Wizard.

    He calls this the Master Wizard Hypothesis or MWH for short.

    All of the posts are tagged with #Trump, so they’re easy to find and make for absolutely fascinating reading.

    1. Thank you Chris! I can;t wait to find those blogs by Scott Adams…so perhaps I’n not the only one that think his psychological appeal is brilliant…

  4. I’m assuming then, that you believe in the adage of “Any publicity is good publicity.” Basically most of the buzz Trump is garnering overall is negative regardless of how he is performing in pre-election votes. I understand your use of his marketing approach as credible and unique, I just feel you used a poor example to illustrate it. Personally, I wouldn’t want to cater to nor attract, customers that agree with asinine commentary such as “the Mexicans are coming over here and raping” and “sorry #HediKlum is no longer a 10.” Catering to the thoughts and ideals of the consumer that thinks so arrogantly and racist would in the long run inherently be bad for business. Perhaps a better option would be to use someone like the Pope to highlight profound, unique thinking that resonates with how others are thinking and feeling.

    1. Thank you for your good points. While people don’t agree with all that Trump is saying as he says some pretty bad things like you pointed out, he seems to be striking a chord down deep within some people’s psyche as he is getting supporters. We will see how long he keeps it up! Per the Pope, his message of love, tolerance and service is so profound it crosses all political boundaries and comes from the purity of righteous intent, not a need to win an election. So many lessons there that correlate with the power of CSR for all brands today. Thank you Melissa.

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