Empathy Maps, Emotional Selling, and Donald Trump

Regardless of your politics, as marketers or lobbyists or salespeople the key to success is finding that emotional pain point and addressing it.

I was recently working on a display campaign that was targeted to Republican Electoral College members (a.k.a. “electors”) to get them to NOT vote for Donald Trump. If you haven’t been following the news, there’s a tiny chance that 37 electors to the Electoral College could choose to disobey the popular vote from their state and NOT vote for Trump on December 19th, 2016. This would technically and legally prevent the Donald from taking office in January. Google “Hamilton Electors” if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

The display campaign was all wrong. In fact, it was so wrong it was likely to have the opposite effect of what was intended. It was probably going to convince those Republican party officials who are the electors to get behind Trump.

Clearly, the designer of the campaign had no idea how to use empathy maps and emotional selling.

Let me describe the display ads. Picture Trump’s head wearing his signature red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap and sporting an angry expression. Then in bold letters is the tag line “Donald Trump is a Russian Stooge”. There were variations on that theme, but you get the idea of the tone of the display ads.

Now that you have that image in your head I’m going to repeat to you who the audience is: Republican party officials who are members of the Electoral College.

I can’t speak for your family but I think we can all relate to that Thanksgiving or Christmas where the Fox News watchers at the dinner table yell at the MSNBC watchers and vice versa. Neither side is capable of convincing the other side of anything and even the most rational and logical of arguments on either side, brimming with factual evidence, cannot make a dent in the armor of steadfast belief that their side is the right side. In fact, many studies show that when someone has a false belief the more evidence you present to them that their belief is in fact not true, the stronger they believe it. This is called cognitive dissonance.

So when you tell someone who cares about the Republican party enough to devote their time and effort to represent that party as members of the Republican Electoral College that their President elect is a “Russian stooge” you’re not going to influence them. You’re going to evoke the exact opposite response. You will tap into the emotion of anger at such an accusation and drive them further into the belief bunker away from your goal of sewing doubt that Trump is qualified to be President.

What this lobbying group should have done is create an empathy map for those Republican electors specifically around the controversial President elect and figured out emotional touch points that would be more appealing. An empathy map is where you profile your audience by getting into their head, walking a mile in their shoes and then mapping out what that target audience is feeling, saying, thinking and doing. 

Here’s what a super simplified empathy map outline might have looked like for a Republican member of the Electoral College having doubts about Trump.

  • Feeling: uncertainty, apprehension, moral queasiness, concern, worry, patriotism, faith.
  • Saying: “I love the GOP, but…”, “Trump is too much of a hot head to be an effective leader”, “His actions don’t reflect Christian values”.
  • Thinking: “Is it right to disobey the will of my state’s voters?”, “This would be unprecedented in history”, “There will be consequences if I choose to pull my vote”.
  • Doing: Taking long walks and thinking, exercising rigorously to de-stress, engaging in a favorite hobby, working hard on unrelated projects.
  • Now that you understand your audience better you can use emotion better to appeal to those troubled electors. A better display campaign might have patriotic imagery (an American flag, the Statue of Liberty, etc.) and include tag lines like “Do you love your party but doubt the qualities of the man? On December 19th vote for what’s best for America.”

One thing was abundantly clear this past election and it was that Donald Trump clearly understood empathy and emotional selling and Hillary Clinton did not. Trump tapped into a vein of discontent among working class and middle class voters and mined it rigorously for electoral gold. Hillary positioned herself as the smart choice and the rational choice. She should have taken a note from her husband who was excellent at connecting with voters and “feel(ing) your pain”.

Regardless of your politics, as marketers or lobbyists or salespeople the key to success is finding that emotional pain point and addressing it.