Strategic Marketing: Lessons from Donald Trump
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last several months, you’ve doubtless fallen victim to the tsunami of media coverage surrounding the most outrageous, bizarre, disturbing, and entertaining personality in recent political history – the star and frontrunner of the Republican primary race for the presidency – Donald Trump.
If you’re like me, you remember Trump as the cartoonish character from NBC’s The Apprentice, known for his real estate company and for crushing the entrepreneurial dreams of The Apprentice contestants with a stern “you’re fired.” His outspoken demeanor, net worth of billions, orange skin, and funny hair all made him a compelling television star.
When Trump announced his entry into the presidential race in June of 2015, I, along with most of the media, chuckled and dismissed him. Certainly, few predicted he could channel his business prowess and celebrity spotlight into a successful political campaign.
Today’s consumer economy is at work everywhere, including in most Americans’ process for choosing their preferred candidate for public office. Similar to choosing a cereal at the grocery store, voters survey the choices, evaluate their merits, decide which one aligns with their tastes and current mood, and declare support. Much of Trump’s massive success in gaining support can be attributed to his adherence to a few core marketing principles.
A strong populist sentiment is alive in the American electorate. Many Americans today are fed up with the political system. They see elections being bought and sold by large corporations and political elites who are out for their own personal gain rather than the people’s interest. Trump has successfully marketed himself as an outsider to that political establishment. Not only is he just stepping into politics, but as the only completely self-funding candidate, voters feel they can believe him when he says he represents them alone.
Much of this populism is also a product of the growing threat of terrorism. The threat has heightened skepticism on issues of immigration and national security. By asserting the urgent need for a massive wall along the southern border of the US to keep illegal immigrants out, and a temporary ban on Muslims from entering the country, Trump is provoking the fears of the portion of the electorate he targets. Though his proposals could be accurately described as prejudiced, inhumane, and unconstitutional, his fear-mongering strategy is nonetheless effective in rallying support.
Work the brand:
The Trump name was already associated with wealth and success. Throughout the campaign, Trump has dismissed his lack of political experience and knowledge on foreign policy issues and has instead cited his brand as proof that he will unconditionally “win” as president. Supporters seem unconcerned with his limited policy details, but rather, associate “Trump” with competence, riches and success.
Stand out from competitors:
Usually it spells disaster when a politician speaks his or her mind, especially when that includes a number of offensive and controversial statements. While blunt and unapologetic rhetoric seems to be in Trump’s nature, he might have toned it down while running for president. However, much of Trump’s target audience is sick of the seemingly rehearsed and robotic political speech. In a stroke of strategic genius, he has consistently said highly controversial things. In addition to his background in the private sector, this has set him apart from a field of candidates who generally try to speak civilly and non-offensively.
Publicity is essential to marketing any product, including a future-president. As a result of his other strategies, Trump has attracted attention almost effortlessly. His background, big personality, and bold rhetoric are the perfect ingredients for the sensationalism that the modern media loves to produce. The excessive media coverage also serves to legitimize him as a candidate. As the media continues to emphasize his rise, people might consider that, if so many others support him, perhaps they should too.
While Trump’s merits for the position of US President are questionable, he continues to execute a flawless branding strategy, which, by the looks of it, could ultimately lead him to the White House. I guess I shouldn’t have expected anything less from a billionaire businessman.