Donald Trump, businessman and celebrity personality, is now President-elect of the United States. This is a man, however, who needs no introduction.
Apart from being the biggest upset in the history of American politics, Trump’s unexpected rise to the White House is a testament to the power of branding, authenticity, storytelling and the declining influence of the mainstream media.
Say what you will about Trump’s character, but he is unfiltered and consistent in how he portrays himself. For all his testosterone-fuelled posturing, Trump understands that he appears self-aggrandising, super-confident and narcissistic. However he owns this persona and never apologises for it. This makes him appear genuine. And in a world of politics, notorious for its spin, it’s understandable that a ‘genuine’ personality would resonate.
Clinton, on the other hand, dogged by accusations of secret email servers, appeared untrustworthy, and was deemed insincere throughout the campaign. She simply didn’t connect with the electorate.
Lesson for brands and marketers: Always be authentic to the core personality and heritage of your brand. In this age of uncertainty, consumers love brands that are true to themselves without compromising.
The outsider taking it to “the man”
One of Donald’s trump cards (uninspired pun intended), was that he is an outsider. Despite his status as a billionaire businessman, Trump isn’t part of the political establishment and his campaign smartly emphasised this point. By being critical of the establishment - that many in America had already grown disillusioned by - Trump was able to create an “Us and Them” narrative that proved immensely powerful. Although Clinton was the first woman to have ever won the presidential nomination, as the wife of a former president and current Secretary of State, she is in no way a political outsider.
Lesson for brands and marketers: Brands must always align themselves with the value of their consumers, not the other way round.
“Make America Great Again”
Every great brand has a powerful slogan that encapsulates what that brand is about. Trump understood this but instead of creating his own message, he simply borrowed one from Ronald Reagan and made it his own. “Make America Great Again” was his slogan throughout the campaign and it worked brilliantly despite not really meaning anything. It offered nostalgia alongside positivity, and also gave Trump a sort of Messianic quality in contrast to Clinton’s uninspiring campaign slogans, “Stronger Together” and “I’m with Her”.
Lesson for brands and marketers: A brand’s message doesn’t need to be insightful. It is most effective when it is emotive. It is less about wording and more about a powerful delivery that strikes a chord with your audience.
The decline of mainstream media and celebrity endorsement
Mainstream and celebrity endorsement is not as potent a force as it once was and Donald Trump’s victory is proof of this truth. Clinton had the backing of some major celebrity powerhouses – Beyonce, Jay Z, Katy Perry and Madonna to name a few – but this merely reinforced the elitist nature of the Clinton world.
Other than Fox News and Breitbart, America’s mainstream media was vehemently against Donald Trump. Yet this did nothing to dent his appeal. If anything, it only enhanced Donald Trump’s narrative as an outsider fighting against the establishment for the good of the ordinary person.
Lesson for brands and marketers: The power of celebrity endorsement has waned. Brands are already aware of this. Now it‘s more effective be endorsed by social media influencers – those who are not part of mainstream media but still possess a huge sway over core consumers. The public give credence to social influencers because they see themselves in them and can relate to them.
Give the people what they want
Unlike Clinton, Trump knew exactly what the majority of ordinary, white working-class people in America wanted to hear and he gave it to them. Fearful of change, nostalgic of a mythic past and intimidated by globalisation, America’s working class wanted a saviour committed to taking on the perceived injustices thrust upon them. They were the forgotten Americans. Trump carefully constructed his brand narrative around reversing these developments to rebuild the fabled American dream.
Lesson for brands and marketers: Brands should never underestimate the power of storytelling. It was through a powerful narrative that Trump effectively sold his brand of presidency. The real test now is, having won the White House, will Trump’s brand be able to win over the millions of other voters who did not vote for him. Time will tell.