3 Branding Lessons to Learn from Donald Trump

Oh yeah, I’m going there.

In the last couple of weeks, Donald Trump has gotten a (disproportionately) huge amount of attention from just about every major media network. He’s gone from an outspoken millionaire, reality TV star, and property mogul to a political candidate that some of the electorate is taking quite seriously. The key to this? His unique personal brand has allowed him to break from the election norm and stand out among the candidates. Here are the top 3 takeaways from watching how he’s done this.

Full disclosure: I think the man’s beliefs/politics are perfectly crazypants and would never in a million years vote for him. Just so we’re clear.

1. Know Your Targets

Much to the dismay of the Republican party leadership, Donald Trump has become their numero uno guy for comments that are sexist, classist, racist, and just about every other negative -ist out there. To them, it’s a PR nightmare (and rightly so.) But what Trump is doing is actually spot-on from a personal branding standpoint: he’s tailoring his speeches to say exactly what a lot of people want to be hearing. Although I personally disagree with everything he says, he’s gaining popularity because, to his supporters, he’s the only candidate being honest and upfront. Since his earlier days in the public eye on the Apprentice, Trump has always played the part of the business-savvy but tactless “tell it like it is” guy, and he’s playing that up in his campaigning to appeal to his target demographic. I’m not about to recommend that you go out ranting against women or Mexicans (please don’t do that!) but what you should learn from this is the importance of tailoring your voice to those people you want to work with and who can eventually be huge cheerleaders for your brand.

2. Get Clear on Your Core Beliefs

This goes hand-in-hand with the way Trump panders to his audience. He leverages his unapologetic and unfiltered persona to share his core beliefs: he knows what he believes in and he wants everyone else to know it too. Every brand should have a set of core beliefs, whether it’s Amazon’s value of embracing failure or Toms’ belief in always giving back, having a set of core brand beliefs/values is key to being consistent and creating a solid brand and business. Donald Trump, similarly, has talked about his own core beliefs and his goal to “make America great again,” and leverages those core beliefs to try to find common ground with his audience and make himself seem more relatable.

3. Tread Carefully

The key problem (and maybe the biggest personal branding lesson to be learned here) is that Trump has taken the ideas of marketing to your target demographic and embracing core values to an extreme. As a result, he’s created an interesting situation for himself: he’s getting plenty of press and voter support, but he’s also damaging his once business-minded brand and turning it into a political one that has turned off many of those who previously thought of him as only a businessman. As a brand, it’s key to know who you’re targeting and being crystal clear on your values, but when you take it to an extreme as Trump has, negative consequences (in his case, losing multiple sponsors and business deals) are almost guaranteed to occur. So while he’s doing extremely well in the polls, and his new personal brand is working for him politically, he’s seeing some economic fallout. In sum? Know who you’re talking to and what you stand for, but be aware of people’s reactions to you, and be conscious of that if your messages may be seen as extreme or polarizing!

What do you think? Has he damaged his brand beyond repair or is this a successful pivot for Trump’s personal brand? Would you ever embrace this kind of “no holds barred, give no fucks” attitude or is “The Trump” simply rich enough that he can afford to do this, consequences be damned?