Facts are not enough

Say what you like about Donald Trump but he is an exceedingly successful politician. For all his obvious faults (the management chaos helped boost the sales of newspapers and wrote material for comedians), the man inspired passions and somehow every issue in the world’s most significant nation became all about him.

Even with his criminally inept (the world’s most advanced country having significantly more Covid cases and deaths than India and Brazil – which are both developing nations. Incidentally, when someone wrote a Linkedin post about how Singapore needed to ban people from places like India and the Philippines, I replied that we needed to ban white Americans for spreading misinformation along with the disease – my comment was deleted by Linkedin for “bullying” – but apparently it was OK to talk about banning people from Indian and the Philippines even if White Americans are more likely to give you Covid than an Indian or Pilipino) management of Covid-19, he still managed to get more votes than anyone else in history and one can say that the 2020 election was not so much a case about Biden winning but Trump losing – a case of more people voted against him rather than for Joe Biden. Furthermore, one cannot rule out the possibility that should he run again in 2024, he may well be back in the White House.

I will undoubtedly come under fire for what I’ve just written and its worth understanding why people whom you might deem a rational and decent would cheer on a man who openly targeted an ethnic group (the one that actually does work in the USA – or as one Mexican guy said “the group that actually makes love to women”) and didn’t seem to find anything wrong with the fact that Neo-Nazis and members of the KKK felt so embolden during his stint in the White House.

So rather than talk about his policies, let’s look at why he’s managed to inspire so much passion. The answer lies in what the man is – which is a brilliant sales man. The Donald instinctively understands that humans are essentially emotional and when it comes to buying products and services, how feel about the said product or service is perhaps more important than the dry details of that product or service’s benefit. If you look at what Donald Trump did in 2016, you’ll notice that what he was doing was creating feelings about himself rather than reeling off product benefits. He made it such that his opponent, a known “policy wonk” turned out to be dry and well, the less said the better.

Sure, we live in an environment where marketing has become “left brained” where data analytics and research consultants have grown in stature at the expense of creative agencies. Whilst the more technical side of marketing communications may be on the rise, some of the best drivers of sales have come from advertising that brings out feelings.

David Ogilvy famously said “When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.”

Bill Bernbach, the legendary creative director of DDB went further and made the point that “Facts are not enough.” [LINK]

A great salesman needs to tell a story and Trump did tell stories that people wanted to hear. He was fact checked and for the most part found to be lying or to use his words “telling truthful hyperbole.” What fact checkers forgot was that Trump had made it such that facts were not really relevant.

When I was an intern in Citibank back in 1999, my then boss, Mr. Eddie Khoo would tell us that “there is no sale without a story.” Trump told stories and people could feel whatever he was saying, regardless of the facts.

Let’s look at the comparison in Singapore. Our ministers are good at reeling of statistics. If you talk about open door policies on immigration, they will inevitably reel of a bunch of statistics on how that benefits you, the voter.

However, even if those statistics are true, they don’t tell a believable story, especially if you’re talking to a forty something year old retrenched PMET who can’t get a job and has a mortgage to pay and all he notices is that the HR manager in ever company he’s applied to happens to be from a particular nationality.

Which tells a more believable story? One that reiterates statistics or the one that people can relate to from their gut?

Yes, facts are important. You have to be truthful and not lie and mislead people. However, just telling facts on their own won’t do the trick. You need to make the facts relevant.

Credit where credit is due. The Donald told stories that people could relate to and made it such that dry facts on their own didn’t matter.

This is something that people need to remember. Having data is good. Having facts on your side is good. However, you’re not going to get very far if you can’t make the data relevant to your audience.


Tang Li

*Although I’ve been based mainly in Singapore for nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of being able meet people who have crossed borders and cultures. I’ve befriended ministers and ambassadors and worked on projects involving a former head of state. Yet, at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of befriending migrant labourers and former convicts. All of them have a story to tell. All of them add to the fabric of life. I hope to express the stories that inspire us to create life as it should be.




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