Donald Trump and construction marketing: Can we learn some lessons from his success?

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donald trump
Can we learn lessons from Donald Trump's apparent political success. Marketer Mark Mitchell thinks so.
donald trump
Can we learn lessons from Donald Trump’s apparent political success. Marketer Mark Mitchell thinks so.

You may love him, you may hate him, but undoubtedly Donald Trump has proven his ability as a master self-promoting marketer. At least in the political sphere, he has broken virtually every political (and politically correct) rule, and — even if he doesn’t succeed in winning the Republican party nomination — he certainly has come closer to the White House than any political outsider that I know.

Trump, of course, bills himself as a successful entrepreneur and developer — and his name boldly (and for those who don’t like him, offensively) adorns many structures either recently built or under construction around the world. Developers pay him licensing fees to use the name “Trump Tower” — he doesn’t have to lift a shovel, or a cent of his own capital, to capitalize on the results.

Can we learn anything from his success?

Mark Mitchell, who provides consulting services to building products manufacturers, believes so, and he interprets Trump’s marketing success with these observations. (I’ll stretch Mitchell’s copyright to post this section of his recent blog/newsletter in full, because he says it better than I can.)

1. Throw out the “This is how it has always been done” rulebook.

Just like Trump doesn’t rely on big donors or spend a lot of money on tv, why do you do the same things year after year?  What if you didn’t go to that trade show?  What if you stopped those legacy marketing programs that have outlived their effectiveness?  What if you hired more salespeople instead of cutting back?

All the other candidates use similar, “this is how it’s done” advisors and now look lost.  Trump has mastered how to use the media to get free air time and dominate the air waves.  He does it inappropriately with his mouth.  A building materials company could dominate the free media of the online world.  With a shift in resources, a building materials company could dominate the internet, social media, SEO, and mobile by making a major commitment. I’m talking about using the online world as Free media just like Trump and not just a bunch of pay-per-click, banner ads or retargeting.  As I don’t see anyone, in building materials, using this strategy, the first company that does, will dominate their category just like Trump.

2. The OODA Loop

Donald Trump uses the strategy of one of the best fighter pilots, John Boyd.  He called it the OODA Loop which stands for  Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.  The idea is to confound opponents with a constantly shifting marketplace.

John Boyd would challenge any fighter pilot to a contest.  He claimed that he could get behind any pilot within forty seconds, and he did using the OODA Loop. When you get behind the other plane, he is now ready to be shot down.

On the surface, the OODA Loop can look like simple common sense but there is more to it. The OODA Loop can be summed up as:

  1. Observe – collect current information from as many sources as practically possible.
  2. Orient – analyze this information, and use it to update your current reality.
  3. Decide – determine a course of action.
  4. Act – follow through on your decision.

Here is a graphic of the OODA Loop

OODA Loop

The simplest way to think of this is to keep your competitor disoriented by what you do so he is spending time and resources trying to decide how to react to you.

The keys are your skill at observing and orienting and the ability to look beyond what you believe to be true.  The goal is to use this information to reach a decision that your competitor will not expect you to make.

Next is your ability to move faster than your competitor, a lot faster.

Finally is the ability to be fluid and keep modifying the plan as you go. No more annual marketing plan that is locked down for twelve months.

It may seem like a lot of what Trump does makes no sense and has no thought behind it.  As evidenced by the fact that nothing seems to hurt him, it makes me believe that he is observing and orienting on a constant basis, and we can all see how he uses speed. He makes what many people think is an outrageous statement.  This gets him on television.

His competitors go off their message to react to him.  Before they react, they have to take a little time to research what people will think of their response. By the time they are ready to respond, Trump has made his next outrageous statement so the others are always playing catch up and reacting to him instead of promoting themselves.

No one in building materials moves with this speed, ability to trust their gut and constantly change.  The closest company I see is GAF residential roofing.

Most building materials companies spend their time focused on how to keep up with the competition. Imagine what would happen if your goal was to confound and disorient the competition.  If you search online for OODA Loop you will find a lot more to read about this interesting strategy.

3. Targeting Abandoned Customers

Trump identified a group of customers (voters) who were unhappy and felt abandoned.  A large group who felt ignored and unimportant to Washington. He crafted his strategy to appeal to these people who no one else cared about.  The result was that he has no competition for their loyalty.

This frequently happens with building materials companies as they get larger and little full of themselves.

Everyone sits in awe of Kohler, yet they have customers who aren’t happy. Customers who a competitor could appeal to if they focused on them.

For example, some independent plumbing distributors have a passive-aggressive feeling about Kohler.  They have to carry Kohler because, it’s Kohler, but they don’t feel the love as Kohler has the leverage.  If it is up to them, they will frequently prefer to sell another brand.

I am amazed at how many times I talk to plumbers and ask them about Kohler.  Their response is, “If you want Kohler, I’ll use it, but if you ask for my opinion, I can tell you several reasons why you shouldn’t buy Kohler.”

If I were a competitor of Kohler, I’d let them have the “establishment” and go after the important but underappreciated independent distributors and plumbers, much as Trump has done.

James Hardie is another company that is so successful that there is a growing group of customers who no longer feel the love.  This creates an opportunity for competitive siding companies.

If you’ve read this far, you probably were able to separate your feelings about Trump and learn something from his strategies that you can apply to your business.

If someone as outrageous as Trump is doing this well in politics with these strategies, what could you do without being outrageous?

Well, that may be part of the challenge — Trump is outrageous — and he has pulled off something few of us can do — the extreme manifestation of his personal ego in a way that captivates the mass market and attracts millions of followers.

But we can certainly look at underserved markets, study our environment and respond quickly, and strategically take risks and go out on perceived limbs. I think the best way to do this is through ground-level knowledge and (if we are fortunate to have it), understanding the difference between perceived risk and real danger. I wish I could say I’ve been able to do this sort of thing more than I have — but thankfully have had some experiences where I’ve seen the magic that can occur when (because of solid knowledge) you appear to dive off the deep end into a murky pool, but you know — before you jump — that everything will be okay and the risk is more illusory than substantive.

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