The news that controversial candidate Donald Trump has all but clinched the GOP nomination got me thinking: what lessons can we draw from this as PR professionals? If Trump is a brand, and he certainly is, what are the brand management and marketing implications of his improbable ascent?
Earned media trumps paid media. The New York Times reported in March – 60 days ago – that Trump had earned nearly $2 billion in media coverage, according to mediaQuant, a firm that tracks coverage of each candidate and computes a dollar value based on ad rates. During the same period, the Trump campaign invested only $10 million in paid media – far less than his then-rivals for the GOP nomination and only about a third of the Clinton campaign’s paid media investment at that time.
Trump’s omnipresence in the news media obviously is driven in part by his reality-star reputation and penchant for controversial comments. His visibility comes at a cost, in terms of high negatives in public opinion polling. But he clearly is connecting with a plurality of voters on one side (or maybe both sides) of the political spectrum.
Authenticity matters. Trump is wildly inconsistent in his policy pronouncements, some of which border on incoherence. But he is completely consistent on the brand personality he projects – a brash, successful, tell-it-like-it-is businessman who knows how to get things done. For better or worse, Trump has tapped into the anxiety and anger of a segment of voters and has designed a brilliant political brand, probably instinctively, that speaks to them like no other candidate, without nuance or calculation. Brand Trump has a powerful connection with its target audience.
Have a simple message. “Make America great again!” How many times have we heard it, or seen the red ball cap, even if we’ve tried to avoid it? These four words, in imperative voice and often topped with an exclamation point, represent the brand promise of the Trump candidacy. Trump gets generally low marks from me on message discipline, but on his mental message map, all roads inexorably lead back to “Make America great again.” The Clinton campaign’s “Fighting for us” speaks to the candidate and not to her vision, and if the Sanders campaign has a succinct, consistent brand promise, I’m not aware of it.
Leverage social media. Brand Trump matches its earned media dominance with a relentless social presence. @BernieSanders has about 2 million Twitter followers and about 8,300 Tweets (slightly more followers and substantially fewer Tweets than the separate @SenSanders account). @HillaryClinton – former First Lady, senator, secretary of state and 2008 presidential candidate – has 6.15 million Twitter followers and fewer than 6,000 Tweets. @realDonaldTrump has 8 million Twitter followers and an almost unbelievable 32,000 Tweets – more than four times as many Tweets as Sanders, and more than five times as many as Clinton. Sad! Trump’s Twitter presence matches his brand personality to a T – aggressive, provocative – and he has seemingly numberless legions of ardent surrogates who spring instantly to his defense in 140 characters or less.
Donald Trump is not my preferred candidate. I never watched “The Apprentice” and didn’t like The Art of the Deal all that much. But the powerful political brand he has built has propelled him to the brink of the GOP nomination, so his marketing skills can’t be underestimated. Can he close the deal in November? Let me know what you think.