Get this Message to Garcia:

A Plea to the DNC

Written by Craig Wilson

Published — January, 2017


Whose fault was it? Was it white women, voters not showing up, over confidence from the Pantsuit Nation, the Russians, Bernie being ignored, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Obama, who is to blame, where do we point a finger, who, who, who? The barrage of opinion regarding what went wrong is inescapable and with each new day comes another expert putting their stamp on the cause. However, to date, we are left without a palpable strategic principle that rolls up the many causes into a reasoned answer. Without a clear understanding of the governing principles of cause and effect the DNC will persist grasping for answers and will struggle netting a bona fide solution.

My colleagues, at whatever stage of grieving has enabled them to rise above their despondence about the election, have persuaded me to consider what happened this cycle through the lens of brand loyalty as a means to begin the process of devising a meaningful, viable, strategy that will end the divide and liberate our country from its invited tyranny embodied in Donald Trump.

Lofty request, but my colleague’s faith is not in me, nor in the empty calls for change, but in a model of advocacy called The Customer Activation Cycle, a model the Democratic party sorely needs to understand, embrace, and implement as soon as possible. A model that defines how companies, governments, and institutions relate to their end users, their constituencies, by illuminating the phenomenon of “following.” The tectonic shift in power due to consumers’ access to information and choice that has been afoot for nearly two decades in the world of commerce has fully metastasized in the politics of Donald Trump. Brands have had to transform the way they communicate and connect with consumers and now so must politicians, especially the Democrats.

From the unique perspective afforded me by this model it’s understandable that Trump executed a plan that was more calculated than presupposed and less the unbridled ramblings of a narcissist and more the work of a master marketer.

And, from this same perspective it is clear that if the democrats are going to solve their problem (and it’s a big problem), not only do they need to understand the methodology, they need to accept that it isn’t a messiah the party needs, but an organizing principle that will serve to both govern its behavior as a party and provide the marketing fuel to compete in a vastly changed political arena.

The crux of the democratic failure—the liberal media, satirists, past and sitting Presidents, party leaders, Hillary’s brain trust, the Hollywood faithful, Bernie, and especially Hillary herself—was the inability to recruit new minds to their cause, which is where Trump excelled. The collective list of blue voices spent the vast majority of their intellectual capacity navel-gazing in awe at the absurdity of the notion of Donald Trump. Mesmerized by the early inklings of the Trump phenomenon during the primaries, this well-to-do clan learned nothing of what was happening to them as they slowly came to burn standing unawares in the frying pan, the efficacy of Trump’s methods evident early in the process, yet somehow opaque to the Dems.

Even to this day as the “contest of ideas” commences and the scrum for power within the Democratic leadership escalates, there remains no definitive understanding of a representative point of view regarding where to even begin to level the playing field. Former CIA ops officer Bryan Dean Wright penned the conundrum in a recent Fox News article, noting “Democrats now have a critical task: showing the American people that our (The DNC) vision for the country is worth considering. But what vision? And who will lead this effort?” Exactly. The entirety of the Democratic Party is confounded.

The reason Trump wrested control is he paid much more close attention to the populace (and I mean everyone) than the Democrats, much more attention than the media, and amazingly, much more attention than even his own party. In a statement Trump made on Larry King Live way back in 1999 he shared a keen observance loud and clear, “I don’t think anyone’s hitting the chord, not the chord that I want to hear, and not the chord that other people want to hear, and I’ve seen it.” What is the chord? That life sucks in these United States of America; i.e. there is fear, consternation, and pain in the lives of almost every faction and demographic segment one can possibly slice in America. It sucks across the board. Not just for the poor and uneducated. Sure, definitely this is true, but life sucks for everyone, the poor, white men, black women, black men, white women, Latinos, Asian Americans, immigrants, cops, members of the military, veterans, small business owners, the LGBT community, recent college graduates, elderly, uninsured, working moms, single moms, stay-at-home moms, and the list goes on. The sentiment captured by one anonymous interviewee in a Chris Arnade article in The Guardian published on November 3rd, describes the ire, “There’s no American dream for anyone who isn’t a lawyer or banker.” Sure, this is from the heart of the Trump supporting militia, but don’t fool yourself thinking it isn’t true for everyone else as well. Life also sucks here in America for the well educated, well to do, coastal dwellers, just in different ways. Everyone is far from living the American dream, that being the pursuit of happiness: Range Rover driving moms, scientists, teachers, atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Jews, environmentalists, executive women (their scalps bruised from bumping into the glass ceiling and their femininity compromised for sexuality), parents with kids in college, parents with kids that are going to be going to college. This list goes on and on as well. And, this is all just on an individual basis. There also looms a general sense of dread and pending doom that the populace lives with every day in the form of global warming, terrorism, cyber wars, and the newly minted cold war with Russia, and nuclear weapons proliferation on the horizon in Iran, North Korea, Japan and China.

This is however Trump’s genius, that he took issue with the underperformance of almost every facet of our lives, pointing out how bad everything is comprehensively. No stone was left unturned in Trump’s polemic on the quality of life in America today.

The election was absolutely not about the issues of the day, the economy, border management, globalism, prosperity, blah, blah. Electorally speaking, we voted against life sucking not whether we “believe” in climate change or not, not whether the Supreme Court should be liberal or conservative, not about the ultimate design of healthcare in America, and certainly not about Isis. Down to the individual we couldn’t understand the implications of Trump versus Clinton on these issues well enough to discern who would truly serve us best one way or another. Admit it. What we do know is that generally life is hard, seemingly harder than it was yesterday and yesteryear.

By listening, Trump realized that regardless of who you are, and regardless of what your religious affiliation is or your circumstance in life, more likely than not you’re feeling ill at ease. Hillary did not listen and rather than ground her policy in the realities of people’s daily lives she pursued a platform based on a set of intangible ideas. Hillary appealed to our intellect, Donald appealed to our emotions, our emotional responses to stress. This is the cornerstone of advocacy. We as “buyers,” aka voters, form an emotional connection to purpose and then, most interestingly, we rationalize our choices. Donald gets this as all great marketers do. Hillary and the Democrats don’t. A better world for children and the empowerment of women were admirable ideals, but those are big ideas. Big ideas for people that already believe in what Hillary believed. By example, these are the first mover, empowered women and enlightened men in our country of all races, creeds and religions that promote and live by a code of tolerance, love, and mutual understanding. Where Hillary went awry is by not speaking empathetically to those that have yet to get to that place.

“To all the women, and especially the young women, who put their faith in this campaign and in me, I want you to know that nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion.”
— Hillary Clinton

In terms of advocacy creation, brand product and service customers go through a stepwise progression on their path to loyalty. The path is marked by milestone experiences; milestones customers come to believe are unique and unmatched by other brands. These milestones are also marked by significant increases in buying behavior. The Customer Activation Cycle is the model that tracks this behavior. It’s the only model that predicts why, when, and how a customer will buy based on what you do as a brand. By understanding this behavior, loyalty can be designed, or architected, into a brand’s user experience. It’s called “Loyalty Architecture.”

Figure 1. The Customer Activation Cycle


The Customer Activation Cycle as described is used in the context of brand advocacy to track how a long-term sustainable (aka loyal) buying relationship is established between a customer and a service or product provider. However, it’s also a construct that explains very much how Trump secured his following and Hillary, although garnering the majority popular vote, did not recruit enough new supporters to transcend the base she began her campaign with extending all the way back to 2012.

The difference shouldn’t be attributed to a “whitelash” as Trevor Noah has surmised, or a “divide between cultural elites” as Nate Sliver notes, or simply that white women undermined Hillary. The difference maker harkens back to that summary statement Trump uttered in 1999 during an interview on Larry King Live:

“I'm a registered Republican. I'm a pretty conservative guy. I'm somewhat liberal on social issues, especially health care, et cetera, but I'd be leaving another party, and I've been close to that party ... I think that nobody is really hitting it right. The Democrats are too far left. I mean, Bill Bradley, this is seriously left; he's trying to come a little more center, but he's seriously left. The Republicans are too far right. And I don't think anybody's hitting the chord, not the chord that I want to hear, and not the chord that other people want to hear, and I've seen it.”
— Donald Trump

What everyone is missing is that both parties were, and remain, tone deaf to the needs of we the people. I’ll say it again: BOTH PARTIES WERE, AND REMAIN, TONE DEAF TO THE NEEDS OF WE THE PEOPLE.

But not Donald Trump the campaigner. As a starting point he related to a broad audience inclusive of anyone and everyone struggling within this American life, aka “Prospects.” And in that relating he employed empathy. Yes, empathy, shockingly, empathy. For an individual described by columnist Mark Singer in the late 90’s as a man “leading an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul,” what Trump did is remarkable. He listened. Then he spoke back an understanding of the collective circumstance.

By tuning into the pain of the American psyche Donald progressed people onto a simple platform captured in the idea of making America great again. Sure, the pushback from the blue voters was America is great. But, it’s not really great for everyone. It’s great for some. The tenor is it’s not necessarily great for “me.” Donald heard that refrain and that was what he reached out to the masses with and introduced himself as a possible solution. It wasn’t an evangelical platform, or a conservative platform, or a protectionist platform, it wasn’t Paul Ryan’s and it certainly wasn’t the RNC’s, or Reince Priebus’ platform. It was solely and uniquely Donald’s because he was the only one listening. He presented that idea as a possibility and slowly but surely massaged it into shape. Late in the game, post the third debate he finally presented his more fully fleshed out plan, but only after he’d secured Prospects and Casuals. Once they uttered, “You get me,” he was almost assured his victory.

His missteps along the way spun many of his Casuals and Loyalists off as undecided voters. In the vernacular of advocacy, they are called Lost Souls. However, Trump continued to matriculate and progress enough around the Customer Activation Cycle that by November 8th he had on boarded just enough Cheerleaders to seal the deal.

On the other hand the bellwether of how the Democrats strategize in terms of advocacy creation came the moment Hillary referred to Trump’s supporters as “deplorables.” Not because it alienated people, as was the criticism, but because it’s what a lot of bad brands do. They speak exclusively to Cheerleaders. Relationships take root with a very basic first impression. In Hillary’s case if you didn’t already get her platform you were largely repelled on the first date. Love doesn’t happen upon first blush, as Hollywood likes us to believe, it forms. Understanding how resonance, the connection between us, happens is the foundation to understanding how to engender a following. It is the key to how relationships form: a relationship between two people, a company and a customer, or an organization and its constituents. Every human relationship happens in simple steps. A first impression leads to validation of that first impression, which leads to deeper understanding and an alignment of beliefs: Blink, Test, Bond, Love. We move from a superficial introduction to a deep state of resonance. This is how loyalty works. It’s a Progression of Resonance.

Figure 2. The Progression of Resonance

The Democrats’ blunder is that they preach only to the choir. The Democratic platform, strategy, and communication did not recruit a constituency beyond what was already aligned with Hillary back in 2012. Hillary appealed to those that want a better world for the sake of having a better world defined by tolerance and human rights. Ignored in the strategy however is that in order to have a better world for everyone, not just the ideologues, you have to start with making a better world for individuals disaffected presently. Somehow Hillary’s message was about combating evils disassociated with the immediate, tangible, every day evils that plague our nation’s citizenry, which is a puzzler, because it’s been the plight of the less advantaged lacking a voice that she’s been the champion of throughout her career in service. Hillary Clinton is a servant of the people. She is the compassionate candidate. Empathy is her mainstay. Yet, her campaign was overwhelmingly dis-compassionate. Rather than enlist an army of supporters, it repelled nearly everyone other than her already established Cheerleaders. Hillary’s thinking is ideological. Her vision for the world is utopian. Not pragmatic. It’s not about paying the bills next month. It’s about creating a grand society. Concept versus reality created a chasm that quite frankly looked elitist, especially when Donald Trump was painting everything in terms a fourth grader could discern. Trump on Obamacare, “It’s a disaster. I’m going to replace it with something much better.” Trump on Isis, “We cannot let this evil continue.” Trump on the economy, “I’ll bring the jobs back home.” In contrast, just a small snippet from Hillary’s speech at the Al Smith charity dinner exemplifies the difference.

“In the end, what makes this dinner important are not the jokes we tell, but the legacy we carry forward. It is often easy to forget how far this country has come. And there are a lot of people in this room tonight who themselves, or their parents or grandparents, came here as immigrants, made a life for yourselves, took advantage of the American dream and the greatest system that has ever been created in the history of the world, to unleash the individual talent, energy, and ambition of everyone willing to work hard.”
— Hillary Clinton

I remember listening to the remainder of this speech and noted how moving it was at the time. But then on November 9th an entirely new light shone on the error. Hard work is not all that it takes. Not for everyone, not for most of us. Most of us can’t just roll up our shirtsleeves and put our nose to the grindstone and make a better life. Too much stands in our way, too many glass ceilings, too many prejudices, too few educational pathways, too little resources, too many outside threats to our lives and our livelihoods, and too many politicians uttering too many insensitive platitudes. This is what Donald Trump studied back in 1999, what he’s observed since, and it’s what he began talking about early in his campaign. As result, along with him came just enough Prospects that stayed with him to become Cheerleaders. Hillary and her band of Cheerleaders started out together and went down in abject defeat together. A choir the same size at the end of her campaign as it was at the beginning.

If the Democrats wish to defeat a great marketing prowess it won’t get done by playing old school politics or picking the right horse, it’ll be the result of enacting a deliberate communication strategy that matriculates a new constituency to advocacy.

To learn more about the Customer Activation Cycle and how it is applied read The Compass and the Nail, which tells the story of its origin, shares case studies, and walks through the actual methodology of architecting loyalty in any setting.