I admit it: I was a skeptic. I was one of those people who was sure that by the end of 2015, Donald Trump would not still be in the running for president of the Unites States.
Obviously, I was wrong.
Like many others, I am mystified… mystified… by the appeal of this man. I think his candidacy and the public reaction says a lot about the inner psyche of our nation right now. His candidacy can also teach us a lot about communicating. As I was doing my usual round of new year content for my recipe and health blog, I began to think about how The Donald communicates.
This is a time of year when many people are frustrated. The excess of the holidays tends to make most people feel like they need a change. The beginning of a new year begs reflection on the year past. For those who didn’t achieve what they wanted to, this can be a bitter time.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized I could borrow a few of Mr. Trump’s most effective tactics to capitalize on this sentiment to create action. Here are a few nuggets I borrowed from his playbook.
Be a straight shooter
When you’re in the business of discussing health or self-image, there is the tendency to be very gentle. It’s not hard to understand why. In my niche, people struggling with obesity who have had weight-loss surgery, life itself is marginalizing enough. Why make it worse by being blunt?
Answer: At the end of the day, people don’t need to tell you there is a problem — they already know that. Most people want an answer that makes sense and seems possible.
Whether I agree with Trump or not, he tends to offer simple solutions — some might say oversimplified solutions — to some of the most common frustrations America has. While we could argue all day about the actual helpfulness of this type of rhetoric, we can’t argue with its effectiveness. When this man talks, many people listen. But more importantly, many people understand what he’s saying. That’s because he’s being a straight shooter. He says exactly what he thinks the problem is and offers a solution that seems to directly address it.
So, as I went to write my content, I sought to do the same. I didn’t ease into it. I put out there what I see as my audience’s biggest problems — which I know because I spend a good deal of time asking them. Try being a straight shooter in your posts. The worst that can happen is you get a lot of pushback. But, guess what? Pushback means you’re communicating with your audience!
Don’t sugarcoat things
This sort of goes along with being a straight shooter, but I would argue it’s possible to clearly and simply identify a problem, then proceed to sugarcoat what it will take to solve it.
That’s not what The Donald does!
Say what you want, but Trump didn’t get to where he is by being an idiot. He knows his messages are provocative. By not sugarcoating his words — and probably more importantly, not being apologetic for doing so — he knows he exudes a sense of authority.
Many times, a blogger’s audience looks to them as a source of authority. Sugarcoating your words can water down that authority, and thus erode your audience’s confidence in you.
Now, it’s a tricky thing to tell hard truths, but for my website, I figured out that the solution is to know my audience. I constantly ask them questions and engage in conversation. I know their struggles and I know what they respond well to and what would offend them. I would never intentionally offend my audience. Knowing what I know about them, I tailor my advice to what I know they are going through, but I don’t water it down. If they need to change, I say they need to change. Most of the time, they agree with me!
Don’t get so bogged down in facts you forget human experiences
This one is really tricky. Mr. Trump sometimes seems to throw facts completely out the window! In my estimation, it seems to be in favor of recognizing the collective feeling of his audience. His audience feels frustrated, disempowered and infringed upon — if his words are to be believed. For his purposes, it doesn’t really matter why they feel that way, they just do. So, he speaks their language.
Now… if he gets elected, will he do half the things he’s said to his audiences? There’s no way to know that just yet, but my money is on “no” — after all, there is that thing called “checks and balances” in our government. Still, Trump knows how to speak to his audience’s feelings and make them feel like he understands them.
In my communications, I don’t get so bogged down in health science and facts that I forget the process of getting healthy is hard. I know for a fact that experts recommend logging your food intake to stay mindful of your eating. Does that make it easy? No! I recognize that. I recognize that sometimes forming healthy habits sucks.
I don’t sell my audience the narrative that they should just “buck up and do the right thing.” I realize that they have feelings and that those feelings are valid. More importantly, I recognize that their actions are driven by their feelings, so if I want to inspire real change, I first have to get them to listen. By acknowledging their feelings, I earn trust, which works toward that goal.
So… thank you, Mr. Trump! I have no idea where your candidacy will go, but I do know one thing for sure: You’ve taught us all a lot about how to connect to the innermost thoughts and feelings of audiences and how to leverage those thoughts and feelings to make seemingly impossible things happen.