What Donald Trump, Stephen Harper, and, Shit, Even Rob Ford Can Teach Us About Product Marketing

With the Canadian election mere days away, and the comparatively-loud and ever-amplifying American election drawing ever closer, there’s a…

What Donald Trump, Stephen Harper, and, Shit, Even Rob Ford Can Teach Us About Product Marketing

With the Canadian election mere days away, and the comparatively-loud and ever-amplifying American election drawing ever closer, there’s a ton of both interest in and rhetoric around politics flooding the airwaves and bit-streams of North America.

And in spite of the fact that neither I nor the majority of the people I know identify as capital “C” conservatives or dark red Republicans, I find myself remembering only three key things:

For rarely better and often worse, our collective horde of evil, political super villains are much, much better at distilling the entirety of their platforms, however weak they may or may not be, into soundbytes which are not just memorable but frustratingly more effective than their competitors’.

Image courtesy of The Guardian.

Their sound bytes are far more effective at “winning” arguments during debates, far more effective at staying in the collective consciousness, and, most importantly, nigh-infinitely more effective at galvanizing supporters to answer the call to action.

That’s scary, sure, but it’s super, super important to recognize, appreciate, and sometimes emulate.

Indeed, though many of us may vastly prefer the measured and balanced policies that (sometimes) characterize the middle and left-of-center parties, too often do their stewards fail to execute on even the most basic aspects of successful Product Marketing.

After all, that’s what political showmanship and campaigning is really all about: marketing a product, where that product is both a leader and a team of people, policies, and beliefs that will sculpt the determinate period to come.

That’s why, for all their faults, our Republic and Conservative Darth Vaders can teach us all about Product Marketing.

So what exactly do Stephen Harper, Donald Trump, and Rob Ford all nail that we should learn from?

Clarity of Focus

My wife, who is both actively engaged in and employed by the political machine, simply can’t stand my opinion on this first point, and I think that holds true for a lot of Liberals, Dippers, and Dems.

She believes that reductionism, which is exactly what the Republicans and the Conservatives are so wont to do, hurts more than it helps.

I disagree. Complicated marketing, convoluted advertising, is the anathema of action-oriented results. Yes, reductionism makes far too simple what are often complicated issues, but it does have one benefit: people understand and remember the result of it far more clearly.

The fact of the matter is that most of us, myself included, are far too preoccupied with our day-to-day lives, with our Snapchat DMs, our Periscope casts, and our Netflix & Chill to bother with digesting, discussing, and deliberating on complicated political issues which, for the most part, don’t have an immediate impact on our individual lives.

We want to make quick decisions based on simple, straight-forward information. We’re an impatient species growing forever less patient. We want bullet points not books, actions not advocacy, outcomes not outrage.

And so reductionism provides us with exactly what we crave: a simple sentence or sentiment that we can choose to either identify with or reject — a sentence that becomes the foundation for our decision to act.

Boil down the Liberal or Democratic platforms into a single sentence. Chances are you’ll maybe try something like “non-crazy hope for an era of improvement” or “fair, balanced, and measured for all peoples at all pay bands” or something similar or somewhere in between. Something tantamount to “blah, blah, blah”.

That struggle you’re having to articulate the platform in one sentence? That’s the problem.

Reductionism plays an essential role in both politics and Product Marketing: it gives you a clarity of focus. It hones your “elevator pitch” into a single, easily-conveyed and easily-understood message that people can walk away with and identify you by.

That’s important, and our evil villains are way, way better at it than the purported heroes.

It’s why Apple is a better “brand” than Microsoft. What’s Microsoft’s focus? Who knows? It changes every few quarters.

“It just works” remains as core to Apple’s positioning and marketing as superlatives like “magical” are. It doesn’t even matter that the products themselves don’t perform that way anymore; the original clarity of focus remains clear, strong, and galvanizing to average consumers.


Following that “train” of thought, consider Rob Ford’s “stop the gravy train” slogan. Torontonian voters were simply inundated with this message for months. Every time he spoke, every article written about him, every newscast mentioning him: gravy train, gravy train, gravy train. Stop the gravy train.

It was, almost entirely, Ford’s platform.

And he won the election for mayor. And even after countless scandals and making a farce of the city worldwide, he’s now still a fucking City Councillor, arguing against Uber in public office wearing an Adidas tracksuit!

He George W. Bush’d a whole metropolitan area that largely identifies as anti-him in percentages far more hostile towards Ford than were those of 2001 America towards Bush.

Why? Because his clear focus was reiterated consistently. He never deviated. He never wavered. He knew what he was, and what he stood for, and he made sure you knew it too, like him or hate him. And his voters knew, and his voters voted, and he was elected largely on the back of that sentiment.

Consistency is essential in Product Marketing. Just as you grow to remember your favourite song lyrics with each additional play, so too do consumers walk away better understanding your unique value prop if you are consistently messaging it.

No, you shouldn’t beat your target market over the head with it, but with the first two lessons learned here, your prospects will know, and remember, what it is that makes your Product the right choice.

The only things I can consistently recall from the Liberals and Dems? Justin Trudeau doesn’t like Stephen Harper, Hillary Clinton is chillin’ in Cedar Rapids, and black people don’t like Bernie Sanders.

The same affliction is one of the things that is contributing to the eventual death of Evernote. Sure, there’s partly an issue therein with clarity of focus, but its messaging is now murkier than ever.

Once upon a time, the value prop was clear and consistently communicated: notes, anywhere, anytime.

Today? “For everything you do” on the web; “the modern workspace” in the Android app; “effortlessly organize notes” in the iPhone app.

The Product’s positioning is no longer consistent.


With clarity of focus and consistency, a specific takeaway about your Product can be imbued into those who come across it. And, indeed, a great soundbyte and core message can do the same for a political party.

But a deadpan “America sure is swell” isn’t going to win you support. There’s still a third, final element of good Product Marketing required to succeed: conviction.

Conviction is essential to staying top of mind in both politics and Product Marketing. Constituents and consumers alike need to believe you believe if they’re to believe, too.

Image courtesy of Huffington Post.

Trump is convicted in his beliefs. Harper is, too. And so is Ford. And, for all three, the success on the first two aspects combined with this conviction is what’s driving adoption of their platforms.

Admittedly, Trudeau and Sanders both have equal parts conviction, the former sometimes to a fault, but without the clarity of focus and the consistency of the message, they’re left without the same efficacy as their opposition.

Uber has conviction in its plight. In the fight(s) around legality, they’re standing firm, and while theirs is an uphill battle, no one can really question how convicted they are to their mission. And their convicted positioning is a big part of what is driving bottom-up support for their brand and their business admist bureaucratic bombardment.

Call To Action

Lastly, the divisiveness and galvanization born by the aforementioned message would be wasted without a clear call to action.

In both politics and Product Marketing, the call to action is, ultimately, the main purpose of any messaging. You’re trying to get people to vote, to try or buy.

This is where both Trump and Ford, but also to a lesser degree Harper, really excel. Their politics of fear and division are indeed polarizing, but that polarization creates an incredible sense of urgency and payout for those who do decide to participate.

Slack is a great example of how this type of strong, clear-cut, and divisive positioning can make a world of difference. Slack is an enterprise tool, but it positions itself firmly in a contradictory manner: it’s hip, it’s cool, you’re a slacker, hang out, share GIFs, talk Twitter and gaming — it is in that complete and extreme subversion of the expected, it is in that taking a firm stance in one polarizing direction, that it has found its success.

Trump, Ford, and Harper do the same thing. They stand firm, both feet planted, in a direction. It’s not the direction a lot of us like, or want, or respect, but it is on the dark, ultimate end of a spectrum, of a gradient, for which there simply is no room for grayness. It makes it super clear to those less engaged, those taking only a cursory glance, what they stand for and what you get should you answer the call.

Just like Slack. It’s clear within seconds what you’re going to get when you click “Sign Up For Free”: a hip, modern workplace where “slacking” is good for morale and productivity.

And so therein lies the final point of consideration: having such a call to action paired with a clear cut message, even if it divides the audience and divides your potential customer base, and even if it denies you some sales from those who would want a more even-keeled positioning, is actually for the best.

Clarifying the call to action, and embracing “what you see is what you get, so if this what you want, let’s do this”, is key to galvanizing the action you’re calling for.

Then again, I suppose the fact that I’m not voting Conservative nor would vote for Trump if I could undermines my whole argument, but let’s just conveniently ignore that.

No article espousing the virtues of the mad could do so without firmly ignoring some key facts, amirite?

All I’m saying is, let’s stop this gravy train and Make Product Marketing Great Again ™.