The Trump brand
In my last article (“Huge branding lessons from Donald Trump,” April 22), I listed two of six marketing principles that are helping Trump achieve “consumer” appeal. “The Blue Collar Billionaire” is the presumptive Republican nominee. The principles that are helping Trump rise also help other brands and corporations rise – I see it every day in my business.
Say what you believe is the truth even if it is not popular or in keeping with the style of your industry.
This is a delicate issue, isn’t it? There are plenty of Americans who don’t like what Trump is saying, and don’t like the way he says it. So they won’t be voting for him. Others absolutely love what he’s saying and how he’s saying it – and they’ll be voting for him.
From a larger perspective I believe that, just as consumers are dissatisfied with the “political industry” and ready for a revolutionary brand, they are also weary of “corporate speak” that is as bland and inoffensive as possible. Often we read to the end of a news release and think, “What did this just say?”
In my business we call Mr. Trump’s distinctive style a strong “brand tone” – the development of an authentic, sincere voice that says the truth as the brand leaders see it. Such a brand tone doesn’t have to sound as brash as Trump’s, but it may still offend some. Such a tone will also appeal to many others, in part for its honesty and frankness. From a marketing perspective, that trade-off is generally worth it.
Donald Trump has always been who he is – an extroverted guy from Queens who has very few filters on his speech. One may object to or approve of his speech, but we know what The Trump brand represents – big, winning (however he defines it), blustering, grandiose and assertive. That brand existed long before he ran for office — back in the days when he was the host of “The Apprentice” — and further back when he was a real estate developer with a flair for the opulent and dramatic.
As it happens, we also know who the much more understated Bernie Sanders is – he has a distinctive “brand tone” also. People know exactly what he stands for, whether they agree or not, and we know he is sincere – depending on one’s politics, sincerely wrong or sincerely right. Further, neither Trump nor Sanders particularly care about what the political industry, their competitors or even those who won’t be voting for them think about them. They say what they want to say and what they think their “customers” need to hear. Straightforward, honest speech is a valuable service that brands offer their customers.
Know and identify with your audience – know the needs and longings of your market so that you can speak directly to them.
This is different from changing your brand principles in order to attract a new audience. This is about knowing what kind of person is already attracted to your brand, identifying with them and speaking to them directly. In political terms, this is about your “base” – that core of people who are naturally attracted to your message and policies and will share your story with enthusiasm with their friends, generating word-of-mouth marketing.
Whether his naysayers like it or not, Trump’s supporters identify with him; he seems like the outsider that they believe themselves to be. Trump’s persona is similar to one of the guys working the line at a manufacturing plant. Perhaps he’s at the next station down, and he’s the extrovert who’s always talking. Sometimes he says things you don’t understand. Sometimes he says things you think are a little over the top or with which you don’t agree. But he’s your buddy – he’s one of “us.” And you know that when he gets a little wild, that’s just him mouthing off – saying the kinds of things you might say around the family table, or think but not say out loud. Trump’s language is approachable, too.
The main difference between Trump and the rest of the guys on the line is that Trump has actually accomplished something in business – he’s developed real estate and built a personal brand and made a lot of money. But unlike, for instance, with Mitt Romney, the guys on the line are happy for Trump’s success, and hope that such success bodes well for their futures.
Regardless, Trump knows these people – the core market for his brand – very well. Though it may seem ironic and incredible, Trump and his base identify with one another.
Funding sources matter insofar as they tell your markets who you are.
While Sanders asks for $20 at a time from grassroots, Trump says “I don’t need your money; I’ve got plenty.” Who owns either of them? That autonomy that both candidates project lends a shine to their brand. Voters feel more secure knowing that Trump’s not “owned” by anybody, because he exudes the aura of being independent of everybody’s money.
Further, because Trump’s already made his money, he’s able to comment on issues that could lose other candidates their political careers. Trump doesn’t need the nomination, he has very little to lose – and that makes him uniquely free, and more attractive.
The capacity to respond “in the moment” to events allows your brand to supply unique, custom, relevant substance that is attractive to consumers.
Rather than having to wait for days for the staff to craft a suitable response to something Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz or a media personality with whom Trump is feuding says, the campaign can release a video within hours, and a tweet, photo or Facebook post within minutes. Instant relevant response keeps the brand newsworthy, generates more earned media, creates the appearance of substance and offers unique, custom, flexible communication that is responsive to the things people are noticing that very day, hour or minute.
Along with that kind of near-immediate response comes a few more tools for brand promotion – not merely the old-fashioned (and still useful) yard signs, stickers and door to door visits, but more social graphics, content sharing and even selfies of the candidate with his supporters. The personal immediacy of that kind of response is golden, not simply for Trump but for all brands.
Regardless of whether we agree with Trump’s politics, or approve of his style, it’s clear that Trump’s brand management is effectively luring consumers to his brand in the form of votes. His success as the GOP presumptive nominee – in a new industry (for him) – has shocked the world, and he has accomplished something that very few predicted 12 months ago. We can all learn something from the things he’s doing right.
- As you consider your largest and most frequent customers, are you able to envision their problems, needs and dreams? Do you identify with them?
- How immediate, personal and unique is your response to industry or product news? To customers? Do your messages sound like the messages from competitors, or are they distinctively your brand’s?
For further conversation, contact Tina Zwolinski at firstname.lastname@example.org or at linkedin.com/in/tinazwolinski.