Clinton vs. Trump: Who is the better storyteller? — 8-Point Arc

8-Point Arc has the data profiles to compare Clinton vs. Trump in their storytelling approach, use of persuasion and positioning focus

I recently saw an article that cited Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon strip, as labeling Donald Trump an expert in the use of persuasion techniques.  Apparently, Mr. Adams has more than a casual interest in the use of such techniques and has specifically called out Mr. Trump’s use of persuasion.

Persuasion techniques have been in use as long as people have been selling products. Robert Cialdini is one of the original pioneers in studying and defining persuasion. His book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, is a must read for any content marketer.  Persuasion and behavioral experts like Roger Dooley and BJ Fogg have carried the flag with Cialdini ever since.

So, Scott Adams got me to thinking. 8-Point Arc has a content evaluation engine, and part of that engine detects the use of persuasion techniques…why not run Trump’s RNC acceptance through and see what we get? And while we’re at it, let’s run Hillary Clinton’s DNC speech, as well. And why stop at persuasion? Let’s see how well they tell a story, compare tone and use other marketing techniques.

Well, the results are really interesting. First, Scott Adams is right. Mr. Trump does make use of persuasion and appears to be fairly adept. The interesting thing is, Mrs. Clinton appears to be just as strong a user, just in different ways.

Trump and Clinton position as a respected “authority”

Maybe the least surprising insight is that both candidates make use of the persuasion technique “authority.” Authority is attained by positioning oneself as an authority, attaching to industry experts or analysis, and promoting awards, accomplishments and certifications. Neither candidate is shy about his or her use of authority. Perhaps the biggest surprise is Mrs. Clinton’s higher use of authority by almost double by playing to her political experience.

Trump and Clinton both use “liking” in very different ways

“Liking” is a persuasion technique that either positions to an existing belief of a buyer (or in this case voter) or positions to a vision of who that voter wants to be or be associated with. Mrs. Clinton appeals to the existing belief of the voter as a show of empathy over 20 times more than Mr. Trump. Mrs. Clinton supplements this approach with a use of “Social Proof” (reference to the norm) as if to say, “I know what you’re thinking/feeling and everyone else is thinking/feeling the same thing.”

Yet, Mr. Trump speaks to a vision of who the voter wants to be almost 4 times more than Mrs. Clinton. As we’ll see later in storytelling, this is particularly effective when coupled with communication of a trigger event or a immediate need to act. So in contrast, it’s as if Mr. Trump is saying, “There is no time left, we have to act, let me show you what could be…”

Other Frameworks

Other than persuasion, we looked at other parts of our frameworks:

Trump uses data

Mr. Trump cites data and research 3.5 times more than Mrs. Clinton. Assuming the data cited is correct, Mr. Trump clearly took a fact-based approach in supporting his position.

Clinton is instructive

Mrs. Clinton, on the other hand, instructs the voter 24 times more than Mr. Trump.  This is a peripheral educating tactic that is related to authority. Heavy instruction is clearly a deliberate approach in her message.

Clinton tells a balanced story while Trump’s storytelling focus is locked in one area

As we see from the 8-Point Arc graph, Mrs. Clinton’s storytelling approach is almost perfectly balanced across several points on our 8-Point Arc. Mrs. Clinton puts almost equal weight on touching on trends/issues in the world at large, communicating empathy with the voter, pointing to a trigger event or time to act, making the voter the hero and inspiring voters to act. 

Mr. Trump , we see from the graph, is disproportionately focused on communicating a trigger event, or inflection point in our country that requires immediate action.  He places heavy emphasis on events our nation faces or will face in the near future.  

Scott Adams is Right

At the very least, we see our software has picked up the heavily contrasting styles, positioning and approaches of the two candidates.

Our conclusion is that Scott Adams is right; Donald Trump does make effective use of persuasion techniques…but so does Hillary Clinton. Perhaps most importantly, content marketers can learn from the approaches of these politicians. Because after all, political campaigns are just another type of marketing campaign.

What techniques are you using in your brand positioning? Is your positioning different or the same as your competitors? If it’s different, is it also effective?  Are you using the right approach at the right times in the customer’s journey?

It’s essential to be deliberate and purposeful as to which techniques you are using and, most importantly, WHY you are using them.


Brian Dames
8-Point Arc

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