Donald Trump vs. Conan O’brien, Part I: What’s Your Style?

Last month, I was invited to give a short presentation at a Programmers Meeting that was attended by film festival leaders from across North America. Here is a reprise of the ideas I shared. I’ve partitioned what would have been a long essay into four parts for easier digestion and also, to allow for time for contemplation. Here goes Part I.

Do you know what these terms refer to – ground and pound, rear naked choke, superman punch, kimura? They’re common maneuvers in the world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), also known as Cage Fighting, which is quickly rivaling Boxing as the entertainment of choice among combat-sports fans. With crowd favorites having names like Jon “Bones” Jones and Anderson “The Spider” Silva, there’s a lot of momentum behind it and no signs of slowing.

Now, let’s talk about juggernauts of another breed – the business breed – namely Donald Trump. The guy is a multi-billionaire (yes, with a “B”, a whopping three decimal points above plain old millionaire). Trump is so wired for stacking paper, he can stand to lose all his money and gain it all back plus some! Which he did in the 90’s, filing for Chapter 11 twice and accumulating a personal debt of $900 MILLION. Who among us, regular folks, can say we have the financial skill to bounce back from that?

So, what would you predict would happen if the two were to combine? One, a wildly popular new pastime with tons of buzz, and the other, an undisputed heavyweight Boss. Surely an easy first round KO, yes? …However, no. In fact, Donald Trump did try to get in on the MMA action. And his deal was a dud! But how, and why?!

I’m sure analysts will have their theories. But I haven’t heard any good ones. So, I’ll venture to offer one of my own. I don’t believe Donald Trump can say he knows the heart, mind, and culture of the MMA fighter or fan. I don’t believe he watches the sport or cares much about it or cares enough to demonstrate how much he might care about it. As such, his foray into the arena would be akin to you interrupting a conversation already in progress and asking the people in the circle to follow you. Questions would immediately arise: Who are you? And why should I? Even with all his chips, there’s one critical piece he didn’t have in his pocket. He and this team hadn’t earned the trust.

On the flip side, we have Conan O’Brien who famously sold out his national tour within hours of a tweet! That’s impressive social networking prowess. But what newbies often fail to realize about social networking is the “social” part. There are still basic rules of “social” conduct. Twitter didn’t sell out the tour, Conan did. Too often, marketing and business rookies focus on the tools and not on the relationships. But relationships are where the transactions happen! Think of the merchants of old, before legal documents, when trades were done with handshakes, with an understanding, with a sense of kinship. While invisible, I would argue that these are the real mechanics – still entirely applicable today – of any successful exchange.

While it appears some marketing miracle occurred with the snap of his fingers, the reality is that Conan had cultivated a loyal following over many, many, MANY years – no instant brew there. Simply programming an event and expecting immediate excitement from your patrons is no different from asking someone to marry you on the first date. Again, “Who are you? And why should I?” It’s totally, socially out of sync. It’s obvious – we know this! – however, we have the ability to become social amnesiacs online or in print when calling out for the public’s participation, forgetting what would be painfully foolish in our real-time relationships. In classic business terminology, this may be known as rushing the sales cycle. The number one priority in marketing and selling must always be to establish client/consumer confidence FAR in advance of any pitch.

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3 responses to “Donald Trump vs. Conan O’brien, Part I: What’s Your Style?”

  1. bjr says:

    OK i’m leaving a comment even tho it always feels like it’s just me! and that you and i could easily discuss these things over brunch.

    i agree, re: the relationships, and knowing the scene/community, and prioritizing these over the networking tools. as i’ve recently caved in and joined FB, i can tell you the same people who already talk to me via email, blog, twitter, in person are the ones who interact with me on FB. the space there isn’t big enough to have the kinds of substantial discussions i always seem to need to have.

    so yes, i like your post because it’s a reminder that we and our work have to have integrity, rather than just be a cool new thing, or gimmick or current in-thing. i continue to be confused by folks who network like crazy but actually seem to have little by way of product.

  2. Hahaha, thank you Barbara! I’m always down for brunch too. Yes, I noticed your “caving in” to FB. And I to echo some of your observations, one of the advantages of you joining late is you’ve already done what I’m advocating more folks to do – create a community regardless what’s fashionable, communication-wise. In that way FB can do what it does best – enhance relationships, not replace them.

    And your note on networking and not having any product is hilarious because it’s true in so many instances. I have lots of thought on that, none of which I can spill in just a few sentences. I may have to write a post about it – or we can meet up for brunch. Hah. Thanks for chiming in!

  3. […] This is where you will first cultivate that sense of relationship that we talked about in Part I. (And if they aren’t your chief believers? Then you may need to seriously consider your priority […]

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