Regardless of the politics surrounding the man, Donald Trump built a real estate empire and then, against almost all the odds, catapulted to the most powerful job in the world, thanks in large part to his exceptional ability to market his brand and himself.
1. There’s no such thing as bad publicity
While it’s certainly a cliché and definitely not true in all cases, Trump showed that in some instances bad publicity and bad PR can be a boom to one’s notoriety, specifically brand awareness, without crashing their reputation.
During his presidential run, Trump continuously made the news for all the wrong reasons, at least according to conventional campaign wisdom, by repeatedly saying things that were shocking or potentially insensitive and by constantly breaking with presidential decorum.
Yes, Trump received lots of scorn for these things, but more importantly, he gobbled up $5 billion worth of free media while spending only one-third on advertising as his main competitor, Hillary Clinton. Trump’s face and voice being seen and heard on TVs across America at all times must have certainly helped his successful presidential campaign.
So while brands surely don’t want to make a splash in the media or on social media often for the wrong reasons, as long as the content doesn’t alienate and turn off the targeted audience, then the consequences might be negligible.
2. Know the image you want and push it confidently
Perhaps the biggest reason for Trump’s success as a candidate was his embrace of being an outsider. Trump knew he had an advantage over other vanilla politicians with his perceived status as a “businessman,” a “non-politician,” and “politically incorrect.”
And Trump saw this edge written in the tea leaves or by just simply looking at about any poll on Americans’ distrust of their elected politicians.
Brands who know their desired image down to a T, and more specifically, knowing why their brand is unique, makes marketing in an authentic way miles simpler.
And, as it turns out, consumers rank authenticity and honesty above both unique product offerings and great customer service.
3. Break the rules
Echoing the above points, Donald Trump’s habit of spitting in the face of conventional campaign wisdom is something that every marketer could learn from.
His willingness to break the standard rules of politicking was refreshing to many people. And many times, even if people didn’t technically agree with what Trump was saying, they found it a breath of fresh air that he would speak his mind and be outside the box — at least in terms of the political sphere.
And sure, there are a lot of traditional marketing strategies and techniques that are tried and true and will inevitably pay dividends in the long run, but ditching the marketing manual every now and then can make your brand stand out from the pack in a world where many younger consumers are very skeptical about advertisers.
Rather than throwing out the same old marketing content as other brands have done for years, pushing bold and innovative advertising that speaks to customers in new, relatable ways is exactly what Trump did for his voters.
4. Have an enemy
One wildly successful aspect of Donald Trump’s election run was his ability to find and exploit a huge number of enemies — enemies of both himself and his would-be voters.
Whether it be the media and their “fake news,” the Washington elites, the big-money interests, Crooked Hillary, Rosie O’Donnell, illegal immigrants, or Islamic terrorists, Trump knew that having enemies creates a conflict and storyline that will rally people. Trump supporters stood with him based on his beliefs and attitudes, but probably more so, because of what he stood against: business as usual in Washington.
Having or creating an enemy is also a priceless marketing technique, just ask T-Mobile, who was struggling to keep up with other mobile carriers until the company launched its “Un-carrier” campaign, which essentially painted AT&T and Verizon Wireless as the enemies of carrier freedom.
The campaign was a huge success and rallied many young, dissatisfied mobile phone users to make the switch to T-Mobile. Now T-Mobile is the fastest growing mobile phone carrier in the US.
5. Speak Like Us
Trump’s social media presence, especially on Twitter, is a great example of how he knows what will resonate with his audience.
Rather than coming off as fake and superficial like most politicians who opt to have social media managers do their posting, Trump offers wholly unfiltered hot takes on his Twitter timeline on a regular basis, which not only amplifies his brand but makes him seem more like an authentic person.
On top of this, you might have heard that Trump speaks at a 4th-grade level, tending to repeat things over and over again, use primarily one-syllable words, and simple sentences in his speech.
You could draw many conclusions from this, but the most important is that his speech is easy to understand, more memorable, and is much closer to how the average person talks than an in-the-weeds politician.
For marketers, speaking like an average person and coming across as authentic can be a huge challenge. It often times feels fake and forced.
A great and increasingly popular way to remedy this is by building a network of trusted social media influencers to market your message. Influencers, unlike brands, are much more trusted by consumers because they are like us in our eyes and we relate to them in ways we could never relate to an impersonal brand.
6. Simple messaging
If you asked people what Trump’s campaign, or Bernie Sanders’ for that matter, stood for in just one or two sentences you would get a tight and quick answer. If you asked that same question of Hillary Clinton’s campaign or any of Trump’s main Republican primary challengers, you would probably get a lot of “uh’s” and “um’s.”
The reason for this is simple messaging. In Trump’s case, he stuck to simple, easy to remember phrases like “Make America Great Again” and “build the wall.” Sanders, likewise, often repeated “Medicare for All” and “free college.”
In marketing, this is invaluable. Consumers should know a brand’s message and identity and be able to say it in a one or two sentences or a few short phrases.
This can be achieved by utilizing highly-focused ads and audience targeting. Spreading content too thin can often times lead to vague and forgettable messaging.
Rather than buying loads of TV ads and hoping to attract a energized base, Trump built a relevant, consistent, concise, and simple message that easily resonated.
7. Know your audience
Trump’s clear understanding of his audience was a key reason he succeeded in getting to the White House.
He knew that many Americans had been forgotten by their politicians and left to fend for themselves and used this to market his campaign with laser-focus targeting. Even more, his underlying populist messaging was simple and ultimately what they wanted to hear, that the system isn’t looking out for them and that he was going to shake things up.
Furthermore, he was acutely aware of the beliefs and demographics of his audience and, for that reason, didn’t care to burn bridges with say, Hispanic-Americans or Muslim-Americans to build support and to rally his targeted audience.
Marketers too must sharply know their audience in order to mobilize them to purchase their goods or services, especially in the digital age when consumers expect heavily personalized advertising that speaks directly to them.