PR-olitics: 5 Things Donald Trump Teaches Brands Today
As a PR and marketing person, I have found the presidential race reveals a fascinating case study in branding, storytelling, and how to effectively “sell” an agenda/person. There is a lot you can learn from Donald Trump about what to do and what not to do. Tabling my political affiliations for this exercise (and I request you do the same), let’s take a closer look at the observed strategies in place for Trump that you can consider in your respective marketing efforts:
1. Create a Recognisable Image. The hair. A simple attribute so highly debated that it’s as infamous as the man himself. For Trump, his ‘do afforded familiarity with the man—an accessible, widely talked about touch point that established a relatable connection between one person and the masses. But no need to stress if you weren’t born with memorable locks. The point is that something makes you/your company/your product unique, which serves as a starting point to image creation. Many successful brands have effectively parlayed market differentiators into a distinct, ownable image—an immediate representation of the brand for which it would be difficult to swap out with any close competitors. Engage your key internal stakeholders or trusted partners to go through exercises that help you identify what that is. For anyone getting ready to rebrand, first assess whether any part of your current image carries strong brand equity (i.e., a logo, tagline, the company or product name). Recognise what elements within that image can be translated into the next iteration (i.e., colour, font type, symbols, tone, word choice, etc.) to build upon what’s already been established.
2. Identify and Embrace Your Identity. As a serial businessman, entrepreneur and entertainer with a celebrity persona, Trump’s behaviour is surprisingly consistent—consistently polarising and borderline offensive, but consistent nonetheless. I would argue that the Trump standing behind a podium today pointing at various rally audience members is undeniably consistent with the man previously sitting behind a table, pointing and saying, “You’re fired.” Anything but his direct (and off-the-wall) commentary would actually create more distrust among the public because it would present an entirely new identity to wrap our heads around. This is a lesson in consistency for brands. Consumers trust (and buy from) brands they feel they know. Acting out of character causes confusion (or, worse yet, distrust), thus jeopardising that loyalty. We traditionally counsel our clients on picking one or no more than two of Carl Jung’s archetypes—or public personas—to serve as the filter for any and all brand behaviour, thus ensuring a clear identity in the marketplace. Having a reference point for what’s “on brand” can ease otherwise time-consuming decisions, such as evaluating campaign partnerships, event sponsorships, launch strategies, etc.
3. Declare (and Share) a POV. Trump has walked and crossed the line of political correctness when sharing his viewpoints, but regardless of what he says, the point is that he has opinions and he isn’t afraid to voice them. More so, he actually convinces viewers that he truly believes what he’s saying, no matter what that may be. Not only does this make him memorable (an important attribute when you’re trying to earn votes), it gives the public a reason to continue checking in to see what he’ll do next, driven by pure curiosity. Similarly, if media is going to take the time to tune in and speak with a brand, they want an interesting interview—an impactful story for their readers. They will seek out the brand spokespersons (albeit a role typically enabled by a PR team/partner) who they know will give them a scoop or at least information that’s timely and relevant to their readers. I’m not counseling you to say inflammatory remarks simply to incite interest, but it is up to your brand spokesperson(s) to optimise any time in front of a reporter or blogger. Go beyond what’s available in a press release or on your company site and share a solid point of view that supports your brand’s agenda.
4. Shake Hands and Kiss Babies. There’s a reason why candidates turn to the grassroots efforts of national appearances, roadshow tours and pep rallies. The intention behind these best-practice activities is a core desire to not just talk at audiences, but to actually engage and interact face-to-face with them. Keep in mind, Trump doesn’t address Californians the same way he talks to Texans. Furthermore, he knows exactly how and when he is offending target audiences. He often deploys that eyebrow-raising strategy to spur chatter. The onus is on you (and your PR team) to understand what your target customers care about (the psychographics), so you can make these connections meaningful and personal. Whether you enlist a partner to be your boots on the ground or you coordinate the efforts yourself, there is infinite value in connecting with your decision makers based on informed findings from focus groups, consumer research/surveys, beta testing programs, etc. in order to relate your agenda to theirs.
5. Stay Cool in the Hot Seat. Though Trump’s comments may seem off-the-cuff, rest assured all actions are calculated—and strategically designed to grab the attention of potential voters. Trump has had years in front of cameras and in the public eye to architect his behaviour. It takes practice to get comfortable in the hot seat, whether on or off camera. I highly recommend that anyone in a media-facing role participate in a media training session if it’s been more than two years since your last one, or certainly if you’ve never gone through formal training. Your PR team or agency should be able to facilitate this for you. Understanding there is a purpose for every media interaction (Question = Answer + Agenda), even if it’s a reactive statement, this training will equip you with the tips and tricks to influence the conversation and expertly communicate your POV to bolster brand awareness.
As a final observation, Trump is his own biggest fan and acts accordingly. While this can be respected (you want people to believe you stand by what you’re marketing), he often falls short in the delivery of his own endorsement because emotions take over. And he can get aggressive when faced with opposition. One thing to definitely avoid when championing your brand story is getting defensive. Instead of engaging in a debate with naysayers, try finding common ground and create a more open dialogue around relevant facts that specifically address the other person’s pain points. There is no one-size-fits-all message. And remember, you are the biggest advocate of your brand story. So if you’re not out there talking about it, how can you expect others to be?
Taryn Unruh is Vice President of Havas Formula’s Sports and Entertainment PR division