First, let me get something out of the way. I am not voting for Donald Trump and I think he is a megalomaniacal buffoon. That said, I think he is a brilliant marketer. As I observe the inexplicable phenomenon of the Trump campaign, I believe there are important marketing lessons to be learned from him.
Be Authentic: One Trump 60 year old factory worker, when asked why she supported Trump, put it simply – “He tells it like it is. A lot of politicians jut lie.” One thing you have to grant Donald Trump – what you see is what you get. You might not like what you see, but at he is the only WYSIWIG candidate in the race. In a sea of poll-driven, focus group tested and think-tank vetted candidate positions, people find it refreshing to hear a candidate who says whatever he wants and sticks to his guns, polls and media be damned. The branding lesson – be yourself. Don’t be a candle in the wind, swayed by market research and fickle consumer preferences. If you see yourself in the mirror of other people’s perceptions, you will get a very distorted image.
Heart, not Mind: Media pundits and political analysts have criticized Donald Trump for having illogical or contradictory positions on issues like immigration and abortion. They are missing the point. You can’t fight emotion with logic. The Trump brand relies on charisma and emotional appeal. It has nothing to do with logic. People don’t expect him to have a nuanced understanding of the economic, geopolitical or social issues that confront the next President. Trump wears his ignorance as a badge of honor. While all other candidates pore over policy papers and briefing documents, Trump strides onto the debate stage with his million dollar smile and billion dollar hairstyle. He’s like the annoying kid we all knew in school who didn’t study a single day and somehow still managed to ace the tests.
Keep it Simple: Can you describe in a few words what Hillary stands for? Or Jeb Bush? Or the parade of clowns on the Republican side? Except perhaps for Bernie Sanders, I’m not sure I know what the brand essence of any of the candidates really is. But I know what Trump stands for, just as I know what I’m going to get when I go to an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Trump stands for success, fame and fortune. He kicked ass in business and he will kick ass as President. Oversimplified? Perhaps. But the lesson I have learned in branding – simplify your message. Then simplify it some more. We dramatically over-estimate the ability of consumers (or voters) to understand complex value propositions. Trump Keeps It Simple, even if he is Stupid!
Stay in the News: After every appalling utterance that comes out of the Donald’s mouth, the media proclaims his demise as a candidate. When he called Mexicans rapists, we thought he was done. When he ripped into Kelly from Fox News, we thought this was definitely the end. Any candidate who dared make such outrageous comments should have imploded. Yet the polls continue to confound the experts. Trump understands that, like the Kardashians, he needs to constantly be in the headlines. It doesn’t matter what the headlines say. Ask poor Rick Perry or Chris Christie how it hurts when they aren’t newsworthy any more. Trump is like a train wreck in slow motion. You hate watching it, but you can’t take your eyes off it.
I still believe Donald Trump will eventually fade away. For the sake of our democracy and our sanity, I sure hope people don’t vote him into the Oval Office. But I can guarantee you that if he did end up in the White House, he would be the most entertaining and newsworthy President ever. And we would have the only First Lady to have appeared in the Swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated.
In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the Donald Trump show. And learn the marketing lessons he is teaching us.