The power of Trump’s brand will depend on his ability to deliver
The enduring power of Trump’s brand will depend on his ability to deliver
On January 20th, the U.S. will swear in the country’s 45th President: Donald Trump. That is shocking to many people. How was a political neophyte with little support from his own party able to win a general election for the most powerful office on the planet? A complete answer to that question is complicated, but there is no denying that the personal brand of Donald Trump played a central role. Not the brand he built as a real estate developer or reality TV star, but the brand he invented as his political persona.
Personal branding is an idea that has become increasingly popular in recent years. Historically, branding was about selling products. Marketers quickly realized, however, that it was also important and powerful in many other endeavors. From government services to employee recruiting to charity fundraising – brands matter!
At the core of a great brand is a value proposition that is compelling to the target audience. Trump’s success in this regard holds lessons for anyone interested in personal branding. As a starting point consider how Trump clearly and concisely promised to “Make America Great Again.” By doing so, he established how selecting him would benefit the voter. Explaining the benefits of whatever you are selling is the first stage of a strong value proposition. It is relatively easy to do, requiring only that you identify the value you plan to deliver.
The second stage is differentiation. What is different and better about the benefits you are offering as compared to the competition? This is a little more challenging, as it requires not only that you understand what you are going to do, but also what your competitors are up to. Trump, for example, was faced with a lineup of competitors who were predominately experienced politicians. In response, he turned his neophyte status to his advantage and focused on his success in business to differentiate himself. He consistently talked about his wealth, pointed out that he was paying for his own campaign, and explained how being a tough negotiator meant he could bring back jobs and prosperity. Facing Hillary Clinton in the general election, he reinforced his outsider status, but also adopted a few traditional Republican positions that further differentiated him as fiscally and socially conservative. Throughout the campaign, Trump consistently and clearly established that he was unlike other presidential candidates.
The third stage of a strong value proposition – by far the most important and difficult – is ensuring that what is different about you is relevant to your audience. It also helps if you can be relevant to a large group of people whom others have overlooked. This is hard to do in a competitive environment because everyone is trying to connect with the segments that they believe are most important. Trump excelled at this and he found an eager audience: one that felt mistreated, underappreciated and underserved. He then made sure that he differentiated himself in a way that would resonate. Although many people strongly oppose Trump as president, many others saw him as the best available choice and more than 61 million Americans voted for him. Strong brands – from Apple to Harley Davidson to Marvel comics – can be successful without appealing to everyone.
In describing the value proposition, I may have made the process sound entirely rational. It is not. In fact, it is critically important that your brand connects on an emotional level. Many great brands are defined by the ability to bond with their target audience. That’s why we talk about the cult of Apple or the Harley Davidson community or Marvel’s fandom. What Trump accomplished was not driven by an intellectual argument for a better America; it was a promise to make the country great again. That is a powerful emotional appeal.
But this all comes with a big caveat: brands weaken and eventually break when behaviour consistently fails to meet expectations. You can promise greatness – whether that is exceeding your quarterly key performance indicators, turning your app into the next Facebook or growing your local coffee shop into the next Starbucks – but then you must deliver. It is much easier for Trump to talk about making America great again than it is to fix the complex problems facing the country. It is one thing to claim you are a strong negotiator who will build a wall and get Mexico to pay for it, and another to make that happen. Going forward, the power of Trump’s brand will depend on his ability to deliver as president. He doesn’t need to be perfect, but he will need to produce results. When it comes to personal branding, you can say whatever you want, but ultimately it’s what you do that matters.
When it comes to personal branding, you can say whatever you want, but ultimately it’s what you do that matters.