Donald Trump’s Best/Worst Asset: His Brand

If you needed a reason to believe in the power of personal branding, just look to the 2016 presidential election to understand its influence. In this four-part series, we’ll take a look at how candidates (past and present) built their brands with content and the success – or failure – of their strategies. 

He came in like a wrecking ball.

Ever since business tycoon and orange person, Donald J. Trump (or Drumpf, as my browser knows him), made his boisterous entrance into the 2016 presidential race, no other term has defined him better. He’s been perceived as everything from laughing stock to a bully to “the greatest jobs president God ever created,” (his words, not mine). He has managed to turn the Republican nomination process on its head. But it’s not necessarily his recognizably weird hair or his less-than-large hands that are responsible for his success.

It’s his brand.

His brand exists on a very strict “know thy audience” platform, with the most common form of praise being “He’s says exactly what I’m thinking.” As terrifying as that may sound, it’s one thing he’s doing absolutely right.

The most impressive thing about Trump and his political and personal brand is that it follows the one guiding principle of branding: “You do not own it. Everyone else does, and it exists only in their minds,” says Kawika Maszak, wordologist and storyteller extraordinaire. And it seems like Trump is employing it masterfully.

Let’s look at a couple of his digital assets to see how — and more importantly, why — Trump’s unique political and personal brand is helping him grow into the only Republican candidate who will remain after the convention.

His website

This is, objectively, a pretty darn good website. Aside from the canned “Make America Great Again!” tagline in more places than it needs to be, it’s organized clearly and visually appealing with surprising attention to detail. I perused the “States” tab and clicked on Minnesota. There I was greeted with a generic sign-up form backed by a lovely parallax image of a pristine lake surrounded by towering pine trees and an empty canoe in the foreground.

Very Minnesotan, no?

A look at a few other states showed that similar thought was put into each state. For Massachusetts, there’s a regal image of Boston’s massive monument to Paul Revere with the North Church tower in the background. For Illinois, a beautiful shot of downtown Chicago over the Chicago River. Pretty sneaky, Mr. Trump.

This piece of digital collateral shows Trump and his cronies know their audience, and when you’re talking branding that’s the only game you need to play.

His social presence

This is, by far, the most entertaining part of Trump’s brand. Why? Because he’s doing it all himself.

At least that’s how it seems.

If you turn to the social media profiles of any other candidate, you’ll see a string of very well-presented, carefully thought-out social media posts that were almost certainly published by someone on their team.

Like this compelling, albeit slightly general tweet from Bernie Sanders:

Or even this one from Trump’s nemesis, Ted Cruz:

Compare those to one of Trump’s:

Donald Trump on Twitter sounds like your cousin or your co-worker, not someone running to be the President of the United States.

Here he just sounds like your favorite local band playing in your neck of the woods. And all the Twitter wars he gets into with the other candidates make it seem like he’s just writing his own playbook as he goes along.

And therein lies the true brilliance of Trump’s brand. He doesn’t talk to you as a politician. He talks to you as a person. An angry, bitter, self-centered person, yes. But a person nonetheless. One who echoes the fears, insecurities and complaints of thousands of Americans and bridges a fundamental disconnect many seem to feel with Washington’s usual outputs.

Like it or not, he knows his audience. He’s telling them exactly what they want to hear and being rewarded with a clear path (at least for now) to “his” party’s nomination in July. We can only wonder where Donald Trump’s audience will take his brand after that.

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