The story that changed the course of Hillary Clinton's campaign

[January 2017 Update: Obviously along with a lot of people, my prediction for the Nov election was wrong! But the branding and story telling lessons are just as relevant whoever won the election] 

With campaign budgets of literally hundreds of millions of dollars and masters of spin and story telling behind the scenes, the presidential election is a masterclass in story telling, positioning, and content marketing in an anything goes, contest for peoples hearts and minds, in the highest stakes imaginable.  

A powerful vision starts with why you exist and who you speak to. 

Donald Trumps selected his target market with his campaign slogan ‘Make America Great Again’. The term was first used by Ronald Reagan in his 1980 presidential campaign and now under Trump’s campaign it appeals to the conservative-minded who reminisce to a time when things were far simpler for them. 

Harking back to times when gender roles were more clearly defined, jobs seemingly more stable, cultural diversity and ethnic tension was less complex, and political correctness was not so well, correct. Specifically Trump's key audience are people that are angry with the system, and demographically, his most avid supporters are white males without a college education outside of the major cities. 

 Donald Trump in his signature red cap. Image courtesy of Usmagazine.com

Donald Trump in his signature red cap. Image courtesy of Usmagazine.com

Whether or not in reality, things were actually greater in the past for this audience is largely irrelevant, it’s a  nostalgic perception that is irrefutable and the slogan, reinforced by Trump’s emblazoned red cap during his speeches, is a very effective story and it's probably not the last time this slogan will be used by a conservative party in a US election. 

Hillary struggled to find a position that stuck

 Hillary Clinton's campaign message is much less potent than Trump's. Image courtesy of Dailymail.co.uk

Hillary Clinton's campaign message is much less potent than Trump's. Image courtesy of Dailymail.co.uk

Hilary Clinton, coming from a more leftist, progressive position, is fighting for greater equality for an american population who doesn’t have a 'golden age’ to remember when things were simpler or greater than they are now, namely; women, african-americans, latinos, and other minorities. Her slogan, 'Stronger Together', signifies an emphasis on unity and tolerance but it’s relatively abstract compared to Trump’s message and doesn’t articulate the outcome of what being ‘Stronger’ and ‘Together’ is for. 

Bernie Sander’s 2016 'A Future to Believe In’ and Barack Obama’s 2008 slogan ‘Change We Can Believe In’ made a more specific call to actions and the rhetoric was more straight forward and emotionally charged. 

A self confessed policy wonk, Hillary Clinton has been plagued by difficulty articulating her vision in terms her voters could easily grasp in both her 2008, and 2016 campaigns, where she cycled through over 7 different slogans having never really found a unifying message that stuck.

A shift to go on the offensive paid off. 

 Average of national opinion polls from 3rd August to 15th September 2016. Graph courtesy of Realclearpolitics.com

Average of national opinion polls from 3rd August to 15th September 2016. Graph courtesy of Realclearpolitics.com

It was in the first presidential debate that Hillary Clinton really went on the offensive with her position and really started a new momentum in her campaign. Clinton presented an extensive list of accusations against Trump in a methodically polite onslaught, many of which he had no real response for. 

Trump had made many incendiary remarks offending large swaths of the population since his campaign began in 2015, but none of these comments had significantly impacted Trump’s popularity and he was on a trajectory to surpass Clinton in the polls in the critical months preceding the election.  

However, to end the debate, Hillary shrewdly waited till just before the final question to drop a well planned character bomb on Trump; his involvement in the public shaming of former miss universe, Alicia Machado.

This damning statement in the closing remarks of the election, clearly caught Trump off guard and the following day, Clinton released a short documentary illustrating the emotional ordeal Machado went through and her defiance to vote against Trump and stand for woman’s and latino’s equality. Clinton released this video through her YouTube news channel, the Briefing and media publications picked it up quickly and this clearly well planned and executed story stuck and become a rallying cry for Clinton. 

Clinton had changed her messaging in the mind of the American voter from an insipid Stronger Together to the offensive ‘Keep Donald Trump out of the Whitehouse’ while at the same time, keeping on message to her core supporters, women and minorities.  

Since the first debate the Washington Post publishes a now famous 2005 video of Trump bragging about groping women and several other women came forward with further sexual allegations which only served to further solidify the story in the public's mind.

 The Machado story contributed to a snowball effect that Trump's campaign hasn't recovered from. 

The Machado story contributed to a snowball effect that Trump's campaign hasn't recovered from. 

Fear is a powerful motivator

It may not be the most inspiring of visions but Clinton’s now consistent line of messaging that Donald Trump as president would be a disaster for America, and particularly for women, has truly rallied her supporters, from the public, democrats and the increasing numbers of defecting republicans.

This tipping of power wasn’t just caused by Trump self combusting, it was a carefully planned content and media strategy executed by Clinton's campaign designed to exploit her opponent’s weaknesses. 

By focusing on a simple, action focused message, with a clearly defined enemy,  Clinton tapped into an emotional centre that was previously missing from her campaign and she is now emerging as the clear winner in a previously uncertain race. 

Takeaway questions for businesses owners and content marketers: 

Does your vision for your business or organisation define and speak to your ideal community?

Does your vision define a clear enemy to rally against? Be is unfair industry practices, or poor eating habits. 

And how could you refine your message to call to a deeper emotional story that compels your audience into action? 

* Below is possibly the most effective opt out screens I've ever seen.