In politics, as in business, communications isn’t everything. But it’s a big thing.
As Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders swept to victories in the New Hampshire primaries, The New York Times said:
The candidates who fared best in New Hampshire — Mr. Sanders, Mr. Trump and Mr. Kasich — all offered easily understood, well-communicated messages.
So love them or loathe them, we should learn from them.
Because Trump and Bernie don't just know how to tell a good story.
They know how to structure a good story.
All stories need a beginning, a middle, and an end
- The beginning, or back story, gives us context - where are we and how did we get here?
- The end is a prize worth fighting for - the bigger the prize, the more compelling the story.
The middle is where the action takes place, and the characters take center stage:
- A hero with a problem.
- The villains, out to thwart the hero.
- A mentor, or sidekick, who helps the hero outwit the villains.
The story is propelled forward by dramatic turning points:
- An inciting incident - the straw that breaks the camel’s back and compels the hero to act.
- A call to action - the final key to outwitting the villains and gaining the prize.
Despite his egotistic tendencies, Trump is careful to make his electorate - The Silent Majority - the hero of his story. And like Sanders, he positions himself as the mentor who can help his supporters achieve their goals.
The Trump Story Structure
- Back story: America doesn’t win any more. We have become a nation of losers
- A prize worth fighting for: Make America Great Again
- Inciting incident: The election of President Obama
- Hero with a problem: The Silent Majority
- Villains: The Washington Elite, Illegal Immigrants, ISIS
- Mentor: Donald Trump
- Call to action: Vote for Trump
The Trump Elevator Pitch
The Silent Majority is not winning any more.
By electing Obama we have become a nation of losers, undermined by the political correctness of the Washington Elite.
A vote for Trump will get rid of illegal immigrants, show China who’s boss and crush ISIS to Make America Great Again.
The Sanders Story Structure
- Back story: The system is rigged against ordinary people
- A prize worth fighting for: Make America Fair Again
- Inciting incident: The Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United
- Hero with a problem: The Working Middle Class
- Villains: Wall St., Billionaire Donors, Corporate Lobbyists
- Mentor: Bernie Sanders
- Call to action: Vote for Bernie
The Sanders Elevator Pitch
The American system is rigged against you.
Citizens United has corrupted the political system, giving control to a handful of billionaires and supporting an economy in which the rich get richer and the middle class gets screwed.
A vote for Bernie will get the money out of politics, and give every American free healthcare and education, which will level the playing field and Make America Fair Again.
The New York Times rightly points out that the winning candidates also came across as "authentic advocates of their positions."
Mainstream candidates will continue to struggle to make the case for their greater qualifications and experience, until they find their own authentic story that resonates with the electorate.