Were you really surprised that Donald Trump won the American election? Or that Justin Trudeau won the Canadian one? Or that Brexit happened?
While Americans may eventually rue their choice of president, these three results have much in common:
- Insiders and politicians who were perceived as privileged and thought they knew better.
- An enormous group of pundits, intelligentsia, entertainers, media and other so-called experts, many of who were also disconnected from the person on the street and who also thought they knew best.
- The echo chamber of social media, which has effectively replaced mainstream journalism with individual "bubbles" where individuals are not exposed to dissenting views (or corroborating facts).
- Individuals who actually know best... even if "everyone" from the first three groups thinks that they are dead wrong.
Putting aside the debate performances, the health issues, the size of the rallies and the television commercials, it is these four fundamental factors that opened the door to outsiders. People don't want to be told how to think and they want to hear ideas that personally resonate.
At the same time, people do have problems with politicians who are sexist, vulgar, lying buffoons (of course, former Mayor of Toronto Rob Ford comes to mind -- another outsider), and there are many intelligent voters who never would vote for politicians who are this way. But at this point in time, it seems the number who don't want to be told how to think "trumps" the number who have bona fide concerns.
People don't want to be told how to think and they want to hear ideas that personally resonate.
Interestingly, all of these outsiders are really just following a basic marketing 101 approach, albeit with their own unique angles:
- Define the needs of your target. For Trump, this was jobs, immigration, security. For Trudeau, this was jobs through spending and political transparency.
- Use branding to encapsulate and represent your service or product. Trump's "Make American Great Again" slogan, as well as his personal brand as a successful businessman, helped. Trudeau's brand was in the legacy of his name and in his youth.
- Differentiate your offering. For Trump, this was his outrageously politically incorrect statements, which served only to ingratiate himself with people on the street. For Trudeau, it was the message of hope, which was completely different than his competitor's message of doom.
- Exploit your competitor's weaknesses. For Trump and Trudeau, this was the insider nature of their competitors, and their connection to scandal (Hillary's emails and Mike Duffy/Senate.)
The most important lesson these elections hold is even more fundamental: markets are in the midst of one of the most significant transformations around. Did the taxi industry (or taxi regulators) think about Uber a few short years ago? Or the hotel industry about Airbnb? Or the Republican party about Donald Trump? New players, new technologies and new ways of thinking are rocking traditional players to the core.
A warning for the complacent:
Do you really think that you "know best" what's right for those around you? Do you really think that what you see, hear and read provides balanced input for your decisions? And do you really think that each year, business (and life) will continue on its incremental journey, step-by-step without disruption? If so, your version of Donald Trump (or Justin Trudeau) is just around the corner.
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