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Category archive for: Political Strategy Book Summaries

Summaries and reviews of some of the many political campaigning and strategy books I have read recently.

Summary – Win Bigly – Persuasion in a world where facts don’t matter by Scott Adams

Dilbert creator Scott Adams gives his take on why Donald Trump is President.  In Adams view, Trump is a “Master Persuader” and through this lens, it is easier to see why he won the Republican nomination and beat Clinton.

The popular interpretation is that Trump understood the American people and devised policies they wanted. Adams argues Trump convinced people his policies were the ones they should care about most.

Adams sees Trump as a classic “deal-maker” who starts with an outrageous position, but is willing, and expects to moderate that position.  But people remember the outrageous position.   Trump was never going to build a “Wall” but people saw that Trump agreed with them on an emotional level, and that immigration was a big problem that needs fixing. That is all they needed to remember.

Adams argues that in debates and interviews, Trump was a master of the High Ground Maneuver, which takes the discussion out of the weeds, and elevates it to the high ground where no one can disagree.  Say something that is absolutely true while changing the context at the same time.  Once the move has been executed, others risk looking small minded if they drag the debate back down.

In contrast, Clinton had success when she effectively tagged Trump as “Dark”.  However, most of her communications attempts missed the mark.  Trump branded his campaign as something for all Americans and successfully tagged the “Deplorables” comment as “Contempt”.

Facts and reason?

Adams challenges the common world view is that we can understand reality through facts and reason.  We think we are the enlightened ones and people who disagree just need better facts because this view makes us happy.  But we all have movies in our heads that we believe are accurate views of reality.  And all those movies are very different.

People don’t change opinions about emotional topics just because some information proved their opinion non-sense.  The worst thing your brain could do is reinterpret your reality into a whole new movie with each bit of information.  That would be exhausting.  Instead, your brain takes new information and puts it into your existing worldview.

Thus, it is not easy to change someone’s aspirations, but you can improve the power of your persuasion by grafting your story onto people’s existing aspirations.

Adams weaves together familiar themes from Cialdini’s Influence and Pre-suasion, findings of Behavioral Economics Thinking Fast and Slow, and Made to Stick and other top books on psychology and persuasion to argue Trump just had a better understanding of human nature than the other candidates.  Concepts like anchors, cognitive dissonance, filters, imagination, pacing, and confirmation bias, are all discussed as persuasion tools, often using examples from Trump’s campaign.

Some other ideas Adams puts forward:

  • When there is confusion, people gravitate towards the strongest, most confident voice. We don’t like uncertainty, so we are attracted to those who offer clarity and simple answers.
  • People gravitate towards the future that they are imagining most vividly, even if they don’t want the future they are seeing.
  • Humans need contrast in order to make solid decisions and turn to action. People make decisions in the context of alternatives.  If you are not framing the alternatives as bad, you are not persuading at all.
  • People may not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.
  • You need to surprise the brain or make it work a bit harder to form memories. We more easily remember things that violate our expectations.
  • In general, people are more influenced by visual persuasion, emotion, repetition, and simplicity than they are by details and facts.
  • Cognitive Dissonance – people rationalize why their actions are inconsistent with their thoughts and beliefs. It is a common delusion, but we can only see it in other people.  Having lots of reasons why something did not go your way is a sign of cognitive dissonance.

Of course, Adams has the benefit of 2020 hindsight, and can fit his narrative to reflect Trump’s victory, but there is a lot to chew on here as we increasingly communicate in a world where “Facts Don’t Matter”.

Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner

Fear sells. It is a marketing tool.  It is a funding tool.

Risk Science and Politics of fearThis book is the best compact summary of the challenges faced by communications professionals who need to decrease “fear” around a project or idea.   People are pre-disposed to fear the unknown due to a number of biases built into our brains – which were engineered more for living a hunter gatherer lifestyle than modern life.

Gardner first discusses the Fast/Slow-System1/System2-Gut/Head systems in our brain, and how “Gut” is dominant, and easily influenced.

There are a number of built in biases that can also boost risk once there is a tendency to it.  The better the “Fearmonger” is at drawing a detailed picture (verbal or real), the more effective they will be.   Confirmation bias can help after that.   There are a number of well-established biases/fallacies that can exacerbate things.  (The example rule and the rule of typical things, the good-bad rule ).  Understanding the real fear can be a challenge as “head” rationalizes how “gut” feels and why.  They may “make up”  reasons, or grab handy stats or studies without scrutiny.  It’s not that they are being deceitful. Answers are, to some degree, a conscious rationalization of an unconscious judgment.

Confirmation Bias + group polarization, + culture= Problems.

Paul Slovic’s research points to a number of things that increase perceived risk:

  • Dread (correlates with catastrophic, involuntary, & inequitable.)
  • Those with the risk do not get the benefits
  • Large fatalities in one event
  • Unfamiliar risks
  • Not Understanding
  • Lack of personal control
  • children/future generations at risk
  • Identifying with victims
  • Untrusted institutions
  • Media attention
  • Recallable accidents
  • Irreversible
  • Personal risk
  • Man made risks
  • Close in time

Ideas that may help to decrease Risk Perception

  • Habituation (Nuclear in France or Ontario)
  • “Head” can overcome “Gut” but it is hard
  • There is a large cultural/political predisposition component
  • People choose their risks.  They are influenced by friends, media, neighbours.
  • Trusting the source of info is essential. Trust is hard to gain, easy to lose. Even trusted sources have a hard time getting past strong public feelings.
  • Presenting numbers as more concrete, positive  can help.
  • Experts are wrong to think they can decrease fear by “getting the facts out”.
  • If people think the risk of something is high, they see the benefits as low, and if benefits are high, they can see the risk as low.  (Good-Bad Rule)
  • There is a low fear subgroup. They track as “Individualist”, heirarchist, (vs. Egalitarian, communitarian).  They tend to have better numeracy skills. 




Book Summary: All Marketers are Liars/Tell Stories* – By Seth Godin


The power of telling authentic stories in a low trust worldAll Marketers

* Godin changed the title from “All Marketers are Liars” to “All Marketers Tell Stories” a few years after it was published.  He said it was a bad idea to call your target customer a “liar”, even if the title is memorable.

“Successful Marketers don’t talk about features, ambulance or even benefits.  Instead they tell a story.  A story we want to believe.”


This book lays out the strategy behind storytelling –  Godin argues that when you look at any company, product, church, or job seeker, what you believe is much different from what is actually there.  Once you know this, everything looks different.

Focus on what people believe, and tell them a story that adds to their worldview.  Starting with the story of a guy who sells wine glasses at $20.00 each because they “make the wine taste better”, Godin outlines the essentials of telling authentic stories and gives numerous examples.  Telling stories is essential if you are going to sell people something they want, instead of a commodity they need.

Of great value in this book is that Godin moves well beyond product marketing and covers politics, charities, and issues.

Tips on creating great stories:

Great Stories make a promise – usually bold – it can be fun, or money, or safety, or a shortcut.  People buy things because of the way it makes them feel.

Don’t tell the whole story – the less you spell out, the more powerful the story can become.

Great stories do not appeal to logic, but they will appeal to our senses.  They do not contradict themselves.

Do not try and change someone’s worldview. Do not use facts to prove your case and insist that people change their biases.

To succeed, stories much fit the target’s worldview.  A frame is how you hang your story on a consumer’s existing worldview.

First impressions are essential – they start the story.

Tell stories that spread, or you will become irrelevant

Voting, or buying a product is a statement about the voter, not the candidate or product.

Underlying the importance of telling authentic stories are permission marketing, so you can tell your story, and Viral Marketing – so other people tell your story for you.

Human’s make decisions on almost no data, and then stick with those decisions regardless of information that might prove them wrong.

The first to tell the story has an advantage. Those who follow will not overcome that story.

Google Adwords is an excellent way to find specific people whose worldview, you know.

Book Summary: A New Brand World By Scott Bedbury

8 Principles for Achieving Brand Leadership in the 21st Century.New Brand World

 “Companies that present a clear, adiposity cohesive, distinctive, and relevant brand identity can create a presence in the marketplace, add value to their products, and may command a price premium”

 As an alumni of Nike and Starbucks in their brand formative years, Bedbury is as authoritative as anyone on the planet on the ‘often mysterious’ process of branding.  In an increasingly competitive product market, brands can define your products and give you an enormous competitive advantage.

Key to this is “Brand Environmentalism” where your brand is reflected in everything your company, product, and workforce does.  A brand should be ubiquitous within the company.

This book is full of great case studies, which is very useful and effective, as every brand is different, from Harley Davidson to The Gap:  Brands that took commodities and made them into something much more – not just different, but better.

There is also excellent detail on implementing a brand strategy in your company or organization – Bedbury goes beyond just laying out great ideas.  He lays out in good detail the structure and policies that will help your company brand itself properly.

Brand is about tapping into the essence and ethos that defines you to the folks that matter – your core customers, your potential customers, and your employees.

 Insight & Ideas to Try

  •  A great brand starts with a great product or service that people want, need, and understand.  Without that, all of the branding and advertising will not help.  Advertising must create a proposition that your product or service delivers on consistently.
  •  Brand Awareness does not equal Brand Strength
  •  Branding is a balance and interaction between left-brain and right brain – process and creativity.
  •  Branding is an important part of attracting and retaining employees.
  •  You cannot build a brand if the company has no “Heart and Soul” It is “Like putting lipstick on a pig”
  •  Over time, your products will change, and you will target different segments, but your brand remains.
  •  Failing to build and maintain a strong brand will reduce your offering to a commodity.
  •  Market Research – polls & surveys, will only lead you to uninspired results.
  •  Brands have one chance to make a first impression.
  •  Growing a brand too fast can dilute it and undermine its value, particularly if a strong foundation has not been established.
  •  Aim higher in Maslowe’s ‘ hierarchy of needs: Esteem and Self-Actualization

In Online Branding, TRUST is much, much more important than price.

 “A genuine emotional connection must be intrinsically relevant  to what your brand stands for, to the unique physical and emotional needs you deliver, and to what you believe at your core to be your timeless values.”

Book Summary: Permission Marketing – By Seth Godin

Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into CustomersPermission Marketing

 “Permission Marketing encourages consumers to participate in a long-term, order interactive marketing campaign in which they are rewarded in some eay for paying attention to increasingly relevant messages…. Permission Marketing is anticipated, visit web personal, relevant”

 In a world with expanding media options and unlimited competition for a bit of you attention, how can a marketer break through?  In the well argued opinion of Seth Godin, it is only through building a “Permission Asset” and building a relationship with your customers.  In fact, businesses should increasingly expect to reward their potential customers in some way for their attention.  The internet is the best direct marketing system ever conceived.  u

5 steps:

  1. Offer the prospect an incentive to volunteer
  2. Offer a curriculum, over time, to educate the prospect about your product or service
  3. Reinforce the incentive to guarantee that the prospect maintains the permission
  4. Offer additional incentives to get more permission from the consumer
  5. Over time, leverage the permission to change consumer behavior towards profits.

Useful Info & Ideas to Try

  •  Make every communication interesting, personal, and relevant.
  •  When prospecting, getting an email or other contact info, particularly for an incentive, is much easier than getting a sale from a stranger.  The less you ask, and the bigger the incentive, the more you will get.
  •  An important part of permission marketing is to get your current customers to buy more from you.  Frequency is key to getting your message through.
  •  The ultimate goal is “intravenous permission”: the permission to take money from you every month.  Ie: Book of the Month Club. Many users sign up for this because they do not like to make a choice.
  •  Just about everyone wants to win something, and everyone wants to save a buck.
  •  Points passed promotions can be effective. Allow people to think they are ‘’gaming’ the system.
  •  Permission Marketing starts as an interruption, but becomes a dialogue.
  •  The “one Shot” anonymous user to you website is a sure route to failure.
  •  Test and measure – play your messages against each other, particularly your initial ‘offer’
  •  Godin recommends against buying lists, and definitely against spaming prospective customers.
  •  Godin points to Amazon and Radiohead as brands that have successfully built permission assets.
  • Despite being written back in 1999, this book still has excellent advice and case studies.

Book Summary: Words That Work – By Dr. Frank Luntz

It’s not what you say, It’s what people hear.  Words that Work

“You can have the best message in the world, cheapest but the person on the receiving end will always understand it through the prism of his or her own emotions, cost preconceptions, prejudices, and pre-existing beliefs.”

With years of work as a pollster behind him, Frank Luntz is in a position to offer empirically tested advice on the basics of crafting a message.  Whether you are marketing a product, an idea, or a candidate, there is a lot of excellent advice in this very interesting and readable book.

This book focuses on key messaging advice and strategies that can re-shape an idea or campaign –for example, the re-naming of “off-shore drilling” to “energy exploration” or “Gambling “ to “Gaming”

Words that Work also contains case studies and great lists like: “Ten rules for Effective Communicating”, and “21 words and Phrases for the 21st Century”, or “21 Political Words & Phrases You Should Never Say Again”

For any follower of US politics, the inside anecdotes and stories behind communications strategies, from Goldwater to Kerry, are well worth the read on their own.

 Useful Info & Ideas to Try

  •  Use short words and short sentences.  Use visuals if you can.  Inspire. Be Positive.
  •  Credibility, consistency, authenticity, and your reputation are important
  •  Speak Aspirationally, and beyond that, tap into people’s idealized self image – the place they want to be or can see themselves, preferably something they can visualize, or feel.
  •  It is essential to know what drives or motivates your target market.  Try to see the world through the eyes of your audience.  Build relevance and make sure you have the correct context.
  •  The order you present things in can be crucial – you can pre-dispose people to supporting your message.
  •  Getting people to use their imagination is one of the most powerful things you can do.  Your audience does the work, and it is relevant.
  •  Some Good Words: Hassle-free, Lifestyle, Innovation, Results, Renew, revitalize, Efficient, Investment, Certified, Peace of Mind, Prosperity, A Balanced Approach.
  •  Offer 3 facts to prove any point or assertion you make.

Book Summary: Unleashing the Idea Virus – By Seth Godin

Stop marketing AT people! Turn your ideas into epidemics by helping your customers do the marketing for youIdea Virus

This is a follow up to “Permission Marketing” – in answer to the question “How do we get attention to ask for permission in the first place?” It is another take on what Richard Dawkins defined as Meme’s in his 1976 classic “The Selfish Gene”.

There is excellent information, sildenafil suggestions, and ideas on almost every page of this very readable 225 page book.

According to Seth Godin, The 21st century will be about ideas.  Whether you are marketing a concept, product, or an issue, your ability to create ideas that travel easily, and use the tools that are available to travel is key to success.

Leveraging others to promote your message will be a key strategy in a world where mainstream media is expensive, and when “word of mouth or word of mouse messages are taken more credibly.


Underlying the idea virus world is often self-interest.  People will spread ideas if it puts them on the cutting edge, or profits them some way, including the benefit they get from helping someone else, or just makes them feel smart or show themselves as well informed.

You have to create an idea that one specific target market will get very excited an passionate about – “Target your Hive”. Trying to appeal to everyone will fail.

Idea-viruses have a life cycle: use it to extend the reach, or ignore it at your peril.

IMPORTANT: Idea-viruses abhor a vacuum: if your idea does not attach to something, someone else’s will, AND it will be twice as difficult to replace the ideavirus that has already occupied the place you want to be.

Viral ideas must be Smooth: they spread easily. A few words or a click of the mouse are ideal

Velocity: How fast an idea spreads.  If it is not fast enough, the idea will die.

Sneezers: Those special people who have an extra ability to really spread ideas: Bloggers, talk shoe hosts, people whose opinion is trusted.   Knowing and using sneezers is key to success.  There are powerful sneezers, promiscuous sneezers, and affiliates, who sneeze for money.

As pointed out in the “Tipping Point”, there are “Promiscuous Sneezers” – those who spread a lot of ideas quite readily.  These are important people to target.

True Viral Marketing means the product is the message: Hotmail or a Smart Car.

Fill your web site and marketing materials with tools that make it easy for people to spread your idea.

When it comes to digital content, and a lot of products or ideas, giving it away can help the ideavirus start to spread.

Get Permission to fully leverage your marketing message over time