THE world is still recovering from the shock of Donald Trump becoming the 45th president of the United States of America.
Undeniably, Mr Trump has disrupted the entire American political system. So how did this unthinkable scenario unfold? Irrespective of the controversy Mr Trump has created, one can look on the positive side of things, and an analysis of his disruptive phenomenon can yield some useful lessons on marketing strategy for our SMEs.
It has been said that Mr Trump drummed up US$5 billion in free media. This comes as no surprise as he is not one to shy away from controversy. He rides on the belief that controversial publicity is good publicity.
According to NBC News, Mr Trump spent half of what Hillary Clinton did on ads (US$58.8 million versus US$141.7 million) during the US presidency election campaign. And why should he spend more, when media is drawn to his every word? His publicity went viral and he need not pay for the marketing.
SMEs can generate content that attracts people's attention to sit up and take notice, instead of spending heavily on advertising as a traditional means to push out campaigns or marketing messages. In this age of disruption, SMEs must similarly be innovative if not savvy in terms of promoting their products or services with minimal monetary investment.
While I am not advocating that our SMEs hop on the bandwagon and generate controversial or bad press, I am calling for our local businessmen to study the business landscape, identify their target audience, and formulate a suitable marketing strategy to work with the various platforms already available to them. And there are various platforms that can be harnessed depending on the nature of their business model.
An example of the use of viral marketing is Uber, which has become famous and popular thanks to viral marketing. As some regulatory authorities try to ban Uber and taxi drivers went on demonstration against the Uber operating in their countries, more consumers got to know about Uber.
Social media presence
Twitter has been a social platform for Mr Trump to express his views since the start of his campaign. With 21 million followers on Twitter and 18 million Facebook fans, Mr Trump rightfully describes his position as "It's like owning your own newspaper - without the losses."
The outreach is almost instant on social media platforms. With the touch of a button, Mr Trump's message reaches a larger user base in the shortest time taken. "He has used social media to replace the traditional apparatus of a political campaign," said a digital marketing campaign manager.
With much information going around the Internet these days, messages must be presented in a simple manner for consumers to easily lap up. And Mr Trump did exactly that - even in his criticisms - short, simple, to the point, yet impactful messages are driven across.
For example, Airbnb, a travel accommodation marketplace, actively uses Facebook and Twitter to directly engage with its clients. With frequent posts on its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on content relevant to its business, it encourages engagement through shares and comments with its target audience of a few million people across the globe. The message it thus drives across is that it is a reliable and trustworthy service, and the company has grown exponentially in just a few years.
Coming out to campaign for deindustrialisation, deportation of immigrants and dis-engagement from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Mr Trump polarises himself from the rest.
Standing clearly apart from Mrs Clinton, he constantly reinforced his views and was not afraid to compare himself to her. This succeeded in drawing the attention of voters and they continued to hang onto his every word.
Furthermore, repeated mentions that he is America's first billionaire politician drives home the impression that he is independent and money was not why he ran for presidency. Instead, he was doing so out of patriotism.
In a similar fashion, SMEs must know how they can set themselves apart from their competitors in challenging the existing industry norms. Apple, for example, positions itself as an innovator which creates products and services that are unique. Therefore, customers have no qualms paying a premium price for its products.
Strong image amplification
Ultimately, Mr Trump's marketing tactic was to break all the rules, to differentiate himself from his opponents, and to deliver his message succinctly to a mass audience in a short time frame.
As a successful businessman, Mr Trump's name and brand is well known in the USA especially with the reality TV series The Apprentice. People became familiar with his decisive, no-nonsense style and strong leadership.
Whether on social media or on TV, Mr Trump was consistent in his authoritative delivery. Voters eventually chose him, not for his arrogance, but for the confidence he inspired through his messages.
Most importantly, he used his confidence and brand to win voters over, and did not give up even when polls forecasted a Clinton win. Not only can SMEs learn from the marketing tactics of Mr Trump, but they can also take a leaf from the tenacity he displayed.
Amazon.com is an example of a brand owner's confidence in his product. Jeffery Bezos, the founder of the e-commerce company, saw an opportunity during the dot-com boom and left his well-paying job on Wall Street to start the online retail service. The company made its widest loss in 2012, but Mr Bezos never lost sight of his business strategy, which is to place value on customer service. A valuable piece of advice he has for startups: "If you're not stubborn, you'll give up on experiments too soon. And if you're not flexible, you'll pound your head against the wall and you won't see a different solution to the problem you're trying to solve."
Eventually, the vote for Mr Trump was not an acceptance of his values or a snub for Mrs Clinton's, but the embracement of a fresh leadership style and a rejection of traditional politics.
At this point in time what we are seeing is a global economic slowdown. SMEs can take advantage of this downtime to take stock and review their business models, identify the niche in the market, and reposition their businesses. And when the upturn comes, they will be well poised to reap the opportunities.
- The writer is CEO of Singapore Innovation & Productivity Institute (SiPi) and assistant secretary-general of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation.