How Donald Trump’s digital profile got him to the White House

It's the early hours of November 9th, 2016 and the Democrat party is left stunned at the announcement that Donald Trump has won the 270 electoral votes required to ensure that he will be the 45th president of the United States.

Every major poll and mainstream media outlet pointed towards a comfortable victory for Clinton. So what happened?

The Republican and Democrat campaigns were distinct in many ways but there was one fundamental difference that ensured Trump won: Data and digital marketing.

Rewind to the start of the campaign. Nobody believed that a reality TV star with zero political experience could beat many of the candidates, let alone the former first lady and career politician Hilary Clinton. It was a slam dunk, a sure thing.

Right up to the end confidence was still high, Paddy Power even paid out 1m euros on the 8th November to bettors with money on Clinton to win.

They were wrong. As were the majority of the existing political measures.

What the two different US presidential campaigns represent is a fundamental shift; from the old way of reaching, engaging and influencing people to the new, digital way.

If you were in any doubt, what is now abundantly clear, not just in politics (US presidential election, Brexit etc.) but across all aspects of modern life, the world is digital. The old systems, processes and measures are becoming less accurate and if you don't embrace it you lose the vote, you lose the customers, you lose the money. You lose.

So what did Trump do and how does this help your business?

Target your profitable niche

Trump's Digital Director, Brad Pascale, was smart. He knew that in order to win, they didn't need to win everywhere they needed to win where it mattered so Trump could get the minimum 270 electoral votes. He then defined a path that could best get them to that goal.

Pascale used data to understand how and where he could best target voters that had the highest likelihood of turning towards Trump and shifting the overall vote in that area.
By focussing on these key segments in critical states and cities and essentially ignoring the rest, Trump's campaign was significantly more effective at reaching people that could fundamentally impact the outcome of the overall vote and because it was done through non-traditional digital media, nobody saw it coming.

Like Trump's campaign, the success or otherwise of your own business objectives comes down to the types of customers you can best serve. How much do they cost to acquire, how often do they buy, do they buy profitable products and services? Bearing down on the types of customers you serve will help identify where the profit exists in your business and therefore how you can then create a plan and navigate a path towards your objective.

While you should focus on defining the path that is most likely to deliver success, it also needs to be flexible because inevitably things change and you need to react. Trump's digital strategy allowed him to reach his target audience at scale but in a highly leveraged manner. He could back out of any area or type of activity incredibly quickly as he twisted and turned his way towards the White House.

Pick your channels

Pascale's digital campaign for Trump was written off as 'amateurish and comically bad' early in the campaign, however, the choice of digital channels and focused investment in targeted online, social media and TV advertising meant they got the Trump message seen more often by their specific target audience at a significantly lower cost than other candidates relying on traditional broadcast channels and door knocking.

In the early phase, the Trump campaign was much less reliant on expensive on the ground campaign offices. Their highly leveraged online campaigns could be switched quickly from one area to the next, reacting almost immediately to news stories, changes in the campaign strategy or simply when the data told them that they could be more effective elsewhere.

Assuming you don't completely dominate your market once you've identified your profitable segment you can focus on understanding where these people spend their time.

Everybody is online today, at work, at home, on the bus, while socialising. So you need to be where they are when they need you. Is your audience searching online? Are they using social media? Do they read blogs? When you know that you can provide answers to their questions, when you add value to your target audience they will reward you with their custom.

If your digital marketing doesn't work as you expected. Stop.

By focusing on a niche and choosing your channels carefully, you can quickly pause, evaluate, adjust and try again. You won't get it right the first time but learn quickly and fail fast to avoid unnecessary waste.

Before embarking on any new marketing or advertising activity check who else is already operating in your niche on those channels. While you might have some rivalry with another local business, double check for other competitors. As Hilary Clinton found out, your biggest competitors can be the ones you never see coming.

Digital saves you money

Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump has been notable for his (relative) lack of spending. In total, the Trump campaign raised $340 million dollars including $66 million dollars from Trump's own pocket. In comparison, Clinton raised $581 million with a significant weight of that spend $78 million going to TV advertising, a channel much more heavily utilised by the Clinton campaign than Trump.

In the final few days where both campaigns returned to 'Get out the vote' (GOTV) activity, involving on the ground campaigners, Trump's campaign was notable again for its investment in digital advertising $29 million vs. Clintons $16 million dollars.

Trump was also able to augment his GOTV activity with real-time data. His on the ground team had a mobile app to record when and where they had knocked on doors and who they had spoken to, which immediately updated their database. This meant they knew immediately they didn't need to reach that person through other channels, which drove ongoing efficiency across all channels, maximising future advertising spend and further refining targeting. The republicans recorded their GOTV activity on paper for future scanning and databasing which has fairly obvious limitations.

While Trump's campaign cost is still utterly eye-watering, the scalability and precision of his activity plus the ability to change direction and location so quickly is exactly the sort of flexibility that small businesses need with their own marketing activity.
Having the ability to monitor, manage and adjust how your business is found and understood is critical for businesses looking to grow in the next 12 months. You don't need to be the expert either. There are free tools like Google Analytics, Facebook and Twitter insights that can give you insight plus a plethora of agencies and experts that can help you out.

To help you keep an eye on your entire digital profile and the performance of your agencies, Handle can help centralise your business's digital profile into one place so you can understand if people can find your business, if they get what they want when they get there and whether they trust your business enough to buy from you.

Opinions are currency

Donald Trump is the embodiment of the statement that 'There is no such thing as bad PR'.
Trump always has an opinion and whether you agree or are horrified by it, the fact he elicits a response of any kind increases the awareness of him and his position.

Total media coverage for Trump has outstripped Clinton throughout the whole of 2016, with the gulf between the two simply getting wider as the election approached.

media coverage

Obviously, that coverage was not all positive but estimates have put a total value of that media exposure at $5 billion which just added oxygen to the Donald Trump wildfire, keeping him very much front of mind for the voting populace and all completely free of charge.

Before being elected president in November, Trump hadn't held a press conference since July. His use of social media needs little introduction, it has always been a significant part of the Donald Trump brand but he fundamentally understands and embraces how the digital world now operates. Using social media to speak directly to his audience and rail against those that he considers are standing against him.

Social media for your business is no longer something you can just pay lip service too. The businesses that are growing today are using social media to reach and talk to their prospects, customers and equally importantly detractors.

Customer complaints or online reviews of your business on Facebook, Google, Trip Advisor or Trustpilot could be harming your business. It's no longer acceptable to be passive, modern customers demand an always-on approach to customer service and will use online information about your business to make a judgement about you, way before they speak to you. Your newly targeted, highly profitable prospects could be slipping away before you even see them if you don't have complete control of your entire digital profile.

Customer feedback shouldn't be scary either, embrace it, particularly the complaints, they tell you how to make more money. Success is a poor tutor.

2017 is the year to take control of your business's digital profile, understand how you stack up today, where and how you can improve and what steps you should take to get there. Your digital profile can take you anywhere, even the white house.


Handle helps you put your business's digital profile to work. Reach more customers, get more sales, save money and get better payment terms.