3 things catalogers can learn from Donald Trump

Love him, or hate him, Trump has captured the spotlight and is changing politics forever. Many of the tactics he is using can also be harnessed by catalogers to get their customer’s attention.

Connect first, sell second

Trump didn’t start out as a politician. America knew him first as a gruff real estate mogul who sometimes won, sometimes lost, but always had a soundbite. He was entertaining. Then came The Apprentice and he become familiar and more entertaining. “Your Fired!” became part of our culture. America connected with Trump. We cared about who he fired, we cared about him. We listened when he talked because we had an emotional connection and he was entertaining. Other politicians, those who focus on selling their platform first, don’t have the emotional connection that Trump has with his audience. They start out selling, so we don’t start out listening. Catalogers who focus on selling first, miss creating that connection. Gary Vaynerchuck in his book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook talks about the power of connecting before selling. Catalogs who give back, like Toms shoes, or who entertain, like Duluth Trading, have their own tribe. How can you connect with your audience?

Shrug off mistakes

When Trump gets it wrong he doesn’t even blink, never mind backtrack. He never gets bogged down by the past, he just moves forward. That was then, this is now. I’m not advocating ignoring mistakes, or changing course willy nilly, but making mistakes is part of life. Know who you are and what you stand for, and if you blunder, just move on. Recently Lands’ End did an editorial piece with Gloria Steinem in their catalog. I’m a feminist who admired Steinem’s work on women’s equality, ending gender bias, and promoting equal pay. I loved it. Others despised Steinem’s pro-choice stance and blasted the company. Lands’ End apologized and dropped the piece from other catalogs it had been slated for. They had already offended those customers who disagreed with Steinem’s pro-choice position, but rather than shrugging it off and just moving forward, they offended those who admired Steinem by apologizing. Lose—Lose and they look like they’re asleep at the wheel. Trump would have just said something like “I don’t know what you’re talking about. She’s a great lady, did lots of great things” and moved on.


Trump was once a democrat. He became a republican and, perhaps because he was new, he was able to hear the discontent within the party. (Just another great example of the power of beginner mind.) He is tapping that discontent to power his campaign. The thought of Trump telling congress “You’re fired!” while not practical, is oddly delicious. Had the republican establishment listened to their discontented constituents earlier, they would have known that 1. they were REALLY discontent, 2. They were more concerned about jobs and safety than taxes, big government and the standard republican platform. The republican party wasn’t listening to their base. Catalogers can also get caught up in big data (our equivalent of polling) and forget to just talk to customers and ask for their thoughts. When L.L. Bean sponsored the world series with a giant logo on the the tarp covering the field they listened to their nature loving, recycling happy, ecologically friendly customers and turned that tarp into Boat and Tote Bags. They sold out in minutes. What do your customers love? What do your customers hate? What are the things keeping them up at night? What would they like to see in a perfect world? Do you have a mechanism for talking to your customers? Do they know you’re listening?

Whatever your political affiliation, or thoughts about the candidates, the only thing I know for sure is that this is going to be an interesting election.

All the best,

Sarah Fletcher

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