This blog first appeared as Steve Wunker's piece for Forbes
By Steve Wunker
The shock of Donald Trump's upset win is settling in, and we look forward to innumerable post-mortems on how forecast models went astray. The assumption is that next time we'll have more precise predictions. But what if that faith is misplaced? After all, missing forecasts happens all the time in the private sector, whether companies end up with a runaway hit or a total bust. What can we learn from Trump's stunner that won't just tweak our prediction models, but cause us to fundamentally re-think them? Here are four lessons that marketers can take away:
1. Demography Is Not Destiny: While people's choices may correlate with their demographics, there is no direct causation at work. Election models assumed a high percentage of certain demographics would vote in a specific way, but these numbers were based on historical polls and not on a real understanding about how people make their decisions. Because people with graduate degrees might break at a high rate for Clinton doesn't mean that all did, and indeed demographics let Clinton down in many must-win neighborhoods.
2. Dig Beyond The Choices To The Motivations: It's so easy just to poll people about their choice between a couple options, but those numbers can be volatile unless the purchase is habitual (Coke vs. Pepsi). The secret to understanding how people really make choices is to understand their "jobs to be done," in other words what they're trying to get done in their lives that a product (or candidate) can help them achieve. Trump, for all his controversies, delivered squarely on at least three critical jobs that Clinton addressed much more obliquely: feel hope for a better future, believe that my choice is going to make a difference, and feel empowered to change my life. These kinds of motivations are the root causes of decision-making, and understanding them thoroughly enables people to position their solutions with great clarity.
3. Determine Triggers And Obstacles: There are lots of good candidates out there, just as there are many excellent books and rock bands, and only a few really get noticed. What triggers people to pay close attention, and for new solutions to circumvent obstacles to be considered and adopted? Clinton was a Presidential candidate receiving scant attention, and that wasn't due solely to Trump sucking airtime away due to his personality. Beyond consideration, what triggers people to actually go out and vote? Trump was able to fashion his followers into a sort of movement, where belonging was asserted through the ballot box. That's a powerful call to action.
4. Understand Context First, Then Provide Solutions: Our companies, like our politicians, often lead with the idea first. We are supposed to get excited about a product or a policy proposal without setting it in our personal context. And therefore things fall flat. The Segway was undeniably a neat way to get around a city, but it didn't fit with how people live their lives. Tax credits for working families are a laudable goal, but they don't motivate massive number of votes without being related to jobs to be done. Rather than providing a long list of policy ideas (or product features), hoping that something registers with a narrowly-defined community, understand common jobs to be done and then position a handful of key solutions directly on those jobs. This doesn't preclude having other policies, or features, but it's essential to focus people's attention.
Taken together, these steps force people out of their own skins and make them see the world as others do. Many people consider choices scantly, whether they're shopping for a new car or a new President, and decisions get made on a handful of criteria determined by jobs to be done. It's essential to go beyond your own world to meet people on their ground, with solutions responding directly to what matters most to them. This is the marketing strategy that enables brands to engage people and compel action. It's how companies, and candidates, make the sale.