Ok. Maybe “beautifully” is an exaggeration, but he sure is smartly wrapped even if it doesn’t always seem that way. The sad reality is that we marketers could learn a thing or two from Trump. And we might as well make him somewhat useful while he’s still around… for just another couple months… I write hopefully.
Politics are confusing as hell. It’s difficult enough for politicians to keep everything straight; it’s nearly impossible for the average American citizen – yes, even for those friends of ours who claim to know everything about everything. Much like brands are short-cuts that help us narrow otherwise time-consuming decisions in the grocery store, party affiliation is a short-cut that helps people narrow otherwise time-consuming decisions at the polls. And it’s so powerful that it isn’t terribly often people don’t vote for their party, even when that party is represented by someone they don’t especially like. Let’s face it, both Hillary and Donald will benefit from this. But for the first time in at least my 42-year history, neither will benefit from it as fully as normal, as consumer distaste for these two candidates has seemingly risen to a level above the typical, blind “vote the party” behavior of decades past. So the race will come down to how well each has branded himself and herself, and how strongly that brand resonates with those on the fence. And it pains me to say this, but Donald is doing a better job.
As marketers, we know that focus is a key to success. What is the single thing we want consumers to think about the product and brand we are selling? How do we want this brand positioned in people’s minds when they think about it? Once we’ve identified that, it’s then up to us to determine how to bring it to life creatively so that it’s believed, internalized and recalled at the point-of-purchase. Despite the fact that focus is much easier said than done, many brands have done it well over the years:
Snickers: hunger satisfaction
Liberty Mutual: responsibility
Red Bull: energy
Some of the above examples are BS when you really break them down. (I’ll just take the opportunity to get on my healthy high horse to tear Coke apart for a second. Friendship? Really? Brown-colored, artificial sugar fizzy water? I’d argue Coke has destroyed more friendships than it’s created given its ingredients are scientifically proven to slowly kill people. But, nonetheless, Coke is a brilliant marketer who has focused on friendship forever, and has consistently come up with creatively interesting ways of bringing it to life over several years.) The reality is, it unfortunately doesn’t matter as much what’s inside as we’d like to believe it does, as long as the wrapping is compelling. In this time-starved world, most people don’t stop to investigate everything, so brands that focus, remain consistent in message and creative in execution, despite internal flaws, win.
Trump gets this.
Trump developed his brand position off of a very simple insight: the American public is tired of politics. They still want what Obama promised, but didn’t completely deliver: change. So while Trump the person is unfit to be President of the United States, Trump the brand is the “anti-politician” who, at this point, has as good a chance to win the nomination as his highly-credentialed opponent. It was his brand, and only his brand, that got him through 90 minutes of a deplorable performance at last night’s first presidential debate, relatively unscathed.
Here’s the other thing a strong brand does – it forces your competition to establish a strong brand itself, or it flusters them into positioning themselves against you, which can end up helping you solidify your own position even more. I’d argue this is the unenviable position in which Clinton finds herself these days. Not only has Clinton failed to create a compelling brand for herself, Trump has turned her strongest competitive selling point, the fact that she’s a highly-credentialed politician, into a disadvantage. Brilliant. Scary as hell. But brilliant.
Trump is a weak product. To survive, he had no other choice to fabricate a strong, focused brand. What makes brand focus hard for good products is that it’s soooooo tempting to talk about all of the wonderful things that make you better than the competition. Don’t fall into that trap. Whether you’re marketing a strong product, a weak product or a mediocre one, wrap it simply, and beautifully.
In other words: emulate Trump. But only this once.