The Donald Trump brand has clearly captivated America, dominated the media, polarized the electorate and rallied those who hate politics. And it’s now rallying those who hate Trump.
It has confused the political pundits and media experts, who are in shock that he’s leading the polls. Trump’s performance raises lots of questions: Can Trump keep up his controversial voice over the next 16 months, without self-destructing or wearing out his audience? Can Trump increase his following from that of a niche “challenger” type brand to being a mass “leader” type brand? While Trump now has a following, can he overcome his huge negatives and actually win?
At Beloved Brands, we look at all types of brands and see what we can learn. This is our first politician we’ve covered, so bear with us. If you can’t see straight when reading a branding article about Trump, I suggest you stop reading. I’m just a marketer so this article will only talk about the Trump brand, not about the Trump politics. Plus, I’m Canadian so I’m not even a voter.
Love him or hate him. Trump 2016 is fascinating and offers plenty of lessons for brand leaders either running a brand or trying to create their own personal brand.
As Marketers, what can we learn from Trump?
- Trump has a focused and clearly defined target market and he is not afraid to alienate those not in his target. We will call Trump’s core target market the “grumpy old men”, who are mad at all the changes over the years that have weakened America. But Trump is now connecting with a broader group of “disenfranchised Americans” that have struggled over the past 15 years. Trump has shown no fear of going after the enemy of his target: illegal immigration. It’s a hot button with the “grumpy old men” but also for those “disenfranchised”. But the immigration policy is highly risky, potentially alienated many hispanic voters, who are approximately 22% of voters. While the issue reduces the size of “where will Trump play” to 78% of voters, his calculation likely assumes he’d be no where without that issue. The lesson for marketers: never be afraid to alienate consumers as long as you are passionately connecting with your core consumers. I once had a Brand Leader tell me that their target market was, “18-65, new potential customers, current customers and employees”. My sarcastic response was, “you’ve left out tourists and prisoners?” Every brand has limited resources (financial, people, time, partners) and spreading those limited resources across an entire population is resource prohibitive. While targeting everyone “just in case” might safe at first, it’s actually less safe because you never get to see the full impact. Realizing not everyone can like you is the first step to focusing all your attention on those that can love you. Trying to be everything to anyone ends up being nothing to everyone. Be honest in assessing your brand’s assets and then match those assets up to who is most likely to be motivated enough to buy your brand.
- Trump is “different”. While every politician takes the “I’m an outsider to Washington” strategy, normally it’s said by a Governor or Senator–who are just as bad as those inside the beltway of DC. Trump is the only true outsider–never having ventured into politics in his life. When people lay claim to come from industry, Trump can own this, since he truly is industry. Beyond the classification, Trump comes across as the anti-politician, almost saying and doing everything “wrong”, but that’s part of his “charm”. The lesson for marketers: Brands have four choices: better, different, cheaper or not around for very long. You have to take a stand on finding what makes you unique. Unless you have a true technical advantage, being different is a much more powerful space to own than trying to be better, especially when it’s difficult to prove that you are better. When I look at market research, one number I love to look at is “made the brand seem different”.
- Trump has a focused 7-second Big Idea brand message, that’s easily explained and understood. “Make America great again” speaks to the idea that he wants to turn back the clock to a different time–likely to the 80s and 90s when American capitalism of Ronald Regan and Bill Clinton made America the one super power in the world. It’s an idea and not just a slogan. What’s Jeb’s brand in 7-seconds? His website say “I’m Jeb Bush and I’m asking for your support”. There’s not even a benefit in that statement. Trump’s idea stands out as it will alienate the liberal left that organized and supported the Occupy movement a few years ago. Heck, Trump is the 0.000001% and makes no apologies for it. The lesson for marketers: are you able to describe your brand’s big idea in 7 seconds? And then, do you live up to it? Here’s when you need a 7 second pitch: a) In your advertising, it should be the idea line at the end of the TV ad, the billboard ad in Times Square or the button on Facebook. b) Internally, this is the rallying cry to R&D to focus their innovation, to HR on building the culture and to Senior Leaders for how to define the brand to everyone in the company. c) In sales, this is your opening line to the buyer or store manager or the dentist you’re trying to get to recommend your product. d) Even personally, at the start of the job interview, you should lead off with a 7 second pitch that describes yourself (e.g. I’m a marketer that finds growth where others can’t) At Beloved Brands, we believe that you should build everything on your brand around a Big Idea. Consumers want consistency from the brand. Constant changes to the advertising, packaging or delivery can be frustrating to consumers. Leverage a Brand Story and a Big Idea that balances rational and emotional benefits to help establish and build a much tighter relationship. Once you establish your big idea, line up everything under it, including your brand positioning, communication, innovation, in-store and the overall experience you create. So, what is your 7-second big idea for your brand?
- Trump has used a marketing strategy that started with the love of a few followers, and created a momentum to gather more followers. If we use the Brand Love Curve above, Trump entered the race at the Indifferent or Like It stage for most voters, but he had a very small group of core loyal supporters who loved him. He used the Immigration Issue to immediately separate himself from the pack, giving him a tight connection with the “grumpy old men” who love him. Once it created a news story, it allowed Trump to use the Immigration issue to reach others and connect with them–particularly the “disenfranchised Americans” who were indifferent to Trump at first, but have since moved to Like Him or Love Him. The lesson for Marketers: you can leverage your following from those that already love your brand to create an even bigger following. Line ups follow line ups. This has been the strategy for a few populous brands like Apple and Starbucks the past 5-10 years as they’ve shifted from a cool challenger type brand with a core base of artist-type users that love the brand to becoming a mass brand that any demographic or profession can love.
- Trump’s media execution and leverage of the media has been brilliant (so far). He’s dominated the news media every week. He’s consistently stayed on brand, with very few wobbles. Here’s how I would define the Trump brand character: Trump is that outspoken (loud mouth), strong-willed (over-bearing), highly accomplished (almost pompous) business leader from the opulent days of the 1980’s (the 1%). It will be a challenge for Trump to maintain this type of media execution–as most PR agencies tell you to “be careful”, yet Trump has to be the opposite. He had a post debate wobble when he attacked Fox’s announcer Megyn Kelly. It didn’t really do him any good, but he seems to have gotten past it without much damage. One thing Trump should never do is apologize as it would go against his brand. Voters who are connecting with Trump like his outspoken voice because he is saying what they wish they could say. And if he apologizes they’ll feel bad for thinking exactly what he has already said. Think of it as the “Andrew Dice Clay effect”: He was funny, until he told us he was sorry (and cried) then we felt bad for laughing and then he wasn’t funny anymore.
- Trump’s entry into the Presidential race has broken every normal rule. For instance, on his recent visit to Iowa, he landed at a state fair in a Helicopter, brought a huge entourage and wore a suit (mind you, he had his baseball cap on). Trump’s rhetoric and style are so different from the usual politicians that his competitors (Jeb Bush or Scott Walker) don’t know how to deal with him. The lesson for Marketers: when you enter a new category, being the rule breaker sets you up as different. The launch of the iPhone was so different that the CEO of Blackberry laughed. When Starbucks launched the $4 latte, coffee competitors had no idea how to react. The launches of Amazon, Netflix and Uber have created such confusion among the incumbent brands, they don’t even know what to do. As you enter a new category, what rules will you break and how will you use that to your advantage?
But can he actually win?
The only way he wins is if he goes mainstream. And if he goes mainstream, the Trump brand will die. Like everyone that enters the race, his obvious brand vision is to win the Presidential election. (Or is it?) As the challenger brand, he’s captured a significant niche of frustrated voters. But while owning a niche is a great brand strategy for gaining share and effectively destroying your competitors, it isn’t enough to achieve your vision of winning the race. At some point, Trump needs to shift to being a mass brand and I’m not yet sure that’s possible. The only way to become mass is to become more mainstream and that risks going completely against the controversial Trump brand he’s created. Won’t a mainstream Trump brand be so watered-down that it would die?
Trump is looking at the wrong data points. He needs to reduce the negatives before focusing on the positives. While Trump keeps telling everyone he’s winning, as his support numbers has grown to 25% of the Republican side of the race, the real number they have to manage is the high 62% of voters who reject Trump, saying they’d never vote for Trump. If he can’t get that number down below 50, he’ll never have a chance to go beyond a novelty act. The issue in this election is that both parties are burdened by high un-likability numbers, with Hillary’s un-approval ratings above 50%. With all these high negatives, maybe all parties might like the idea that they won’t need a voter majority to win.
Can Trump maintain this level of chaos or will the Trump brand eventually fizzle? Trump has shown no signs of reducing the chaos, no signs of going mainstream and no signs of apologizing. That just leaves one alternative: voters get tired of Trump before election day. It’s hard to keep up such a long tenure of organized chaos to stay in the news while avoiding being attacked by the news. Lots of celebrities have tried this and it ended up biting them eventually. The brash “shock humor” tends to wear out just as fast as it entered. Trump may finally say something so offensive that people want off the bandwagon for fear of association. Can Trump sustain this level of controlled chaos that connects with the disenfranchised voters? Election day is a long way away. My guess is he fizzles.
Will Trump go third party still? Every Republican beyond the voters seem to be against Trump, so let’s assume he’ll eventually lose the nomination. With Trump’s ego, he won’t be able to resist going as a third-party candidate.. And if we look to the 1992 results, it’s possible Trump could replicate Ross Perot’s support and get 18% of the vote. While that doesn’t win, it certainly changes the election as the other two will really be playing to see who can get over 41% instead of over 50%. So that brings us back to Trump’s real vision. Does he really want to be President or does he just want to disrupt the election?
Who will save this mess? And for everyone but Trump, this sure is a mess. The first two weeks of a campaign can make or break the candidate. Both Scott Walker and Jeb Bush must be disappointed with their performance, completely over-shadowed by Trump.They also bombed in the debate. Trump may not win the race, but he has possibly destroyed everyone else’s chances of winning. Maybe the next President isn’t even in the race yet?
Love him or hate him, the Trump brand is fascinating. Many of us are starting to ask “can he actually win?”
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