When Donald Trump entered the U.S. presidential race, many of us scoffed.
“Well, at least this will be entertaining,” I recall saying.
And it most certainly has been.
But few of us predicted Trump would become the standout leader for the Republican nomination. Most expected he would soon hang himself with his brash, outspoken ways.
Well, that hasn’t happened yet. Even Muslims, Latinos and women are supporting Trump in significant numbers, despite his offensive statements and organized marketing campaigns labeling him a xenophobe and misogynist.
The jury is still out on whether Trump is as dangerous as his detractors say, or if he is a dark knight who can “Make America Great Again.” But one thing is for sure.
He is still every single bit the great marketer that created and has sustained his billions, through four bankruptcies and numerous other business mishaps. His wins are all people seem to remember when they hear the name Trump.
To the extent that it'd be foolish for anyone in marketing to miss the take-aways from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign (so far) and how he’s built such a successful brand. Fortunately, you don’t need to be very much like The Donald to learn from his many victories.
Here are 5 lessons from the Donald Trump Playbook that apply to almost anyone in business and marketing.
It's a word that's been used to death in social media marketing, because being genuine is so incredibly important. Most people don’t deliberately measure authenticity in a brand or political candidate. They just know it when they see it.
And it’s probably Donald Trump's number one strength. His you-know-what card. Supporters hardly see him as a politician, but rather an outsider committed to bringing America back to the people. When we hear Donald saying things that make us cringe, it is the diametric opposite of the scripted posturing we've always known from politicians. We may strongly disagree, but his words have a ring of sincerity that resonates with millions. And no amount of political correctness can hold a candle to that.
Not to say that marketers should ever set out to be offensive, but taking calculated risks and standing behind your true beliefs is not only brave, but honourable. It's what has made Bernie Sanders (another political outsider with a high level of authenticity) a legitimate challenger to Hillary Clinton, despite his socialist leanings.
Trump didn't become such a powerhouse overnight, nor did he craft his persona for the presidential race. It was his style for many decades. And despite all the video and voice clips that have been dredged up of Donald making lewd or otherwise offensive statements over the course of his vocal public life, people seem generally unsurprised.
Many have proven more likely to identify with (and possibly be moved to action by) content like this video:
If I were to ask you what Hillary's specialty is, how would you answer? She did a good job as Secretary of State (at least probably not the worst ever, as Trump charges), talks believably about gun control and helping middle class wage-earners, and handled Bill’s affairs very well?
But with Trump, it's clear. He is a business rock star who may even hold the key to getting America out of the abyss dug by generations of career politicians. Finance is not the only subject Trump knows well, but it is his standout specialty, and there is a clear and urgent need in the White House for someone who knows how to put money to work.
It's still the economy, stupid.
Just as specialization serves to differentiate a political candidate, it is an important part of marketing any brand. The generalists are left to fight amongst themselves for the crumbs while the specialist stands alone at his or her core strength. Supporters seem confident Trump would have plenty of help with other inner workings of the world's most powerful nation, while he focuses on fixing the economy.
What special capabilities or experience sets your business apart from all the generalist lookalikes?
Donald Trump is a juggernaut among brands.
A few years ago, my company developed a global online lottery for a client. It was an awesome game: easy to play, great features and huge prizes. In additon to the mobile-friendly web design we built apps for iOS and Android, and the lotto had many truly original, groundbreaking benefits. The chief problem was credibility. I said at the time and still believe that had it been Trump Lotto, the game would have been a massive success. When it comes to trust, branding can be the single most important factor.
As we’ve seen, people will get behind a strong brand in droves. The Trump name is on skyscrapers, casinos and golf courses around the world. Trump has also lent (or licensed) his name to a magazine, two colognes, a board game, home furnishings, chocolates, steakhouses, bottled water, coffees, vodka, a university and much more. And Trump is possibly even better known for his reality TV work and hundreds of media appearances spanning decades.
As with any great brand, Trump may not be beloved to all, but his name is known to all.
Donald Trump has a knack for getting attention. His antics have netted far more than a single candidate's share of the media's (and the Internet's) bandwidth. Record numbers of Americans tune in to the debates in giddy anticipation of what Trump will say next. His social media impressions and Google search statistics blow all the other candidates away. It's quite a phenomenon.
Being fearlessly audacious has risks, but is how Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey and Donald Trump rose to such rare heights. It's something very few humans ever do. In marketing, our job is to spark interest, which requires creative risk-taking. Fear of embarrassment and of failure is usually what holds us back.
Trump has never given a damn what critics say of his beliefs, his choice of words or his hair. He is on another level entirely, and it's hard not to occasionally be envious of the freedom such courage must bring.
There are other factors in Trump's political success that marketers should study.
He uses social media, in particular Twitter, to grand (if sometimes horrifying) effect, is a seasoned master of publicity, always gives dynamic, entertaining media interviews, and is gloriously unpredictable.
Would I vote for Trump if I lived in America?
Of course not. I have many times shaken my head in awe at his latest offensive comment, then watched in amazement as his popularity soared higher still.
All the more reason why I can appreciate his marketing ability: it's like watching the ridiculous clown who is in reality a brilliant magician. We all love to be surprised once in a while, and few have ever been less predictable than Trump.
The only sure thing is that when Donald John Trump is on, it's showtime.
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