CLP Beacon - Business Issues and Solutions

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Real Story of Trump's Brand Success – 5 Important Lessons

I have watched the campaign and investigated the career of Donald Trump for insights into his marketing and branding strategy. While some would call him a demagogue, bombastic, embarrassing and rude, there is no doubt he has built a successful business brand and media career and has attracted millions of people, across all demographics, to his campaign for president. He shows energy, confidence and enthusiasm, essential elements in any world-class brand. As I watched him speak and tracked his growing popularity and presidential campaign, I was left with the notion that Donald Trump understands and uses many successful brand marketing rules and techniques that should be in the playbook of any aspiring brand. Here is my list of lessons in no particular order.

BTW, this is neither an endorsement nor a negative on the brand of Trump, but merely a timely example of personal and corporate branding.

Signature Look

Whether it is a company or personal brand, all successful brands visually evoke immediate recognition of that brand's products and services. The visual identity serves as a touchstone for a brand's essence, personality and identity. Strong visual identity is meant to evoke an emotional response. While business brands typically use a logo, brands based on people are often built on a particular look that comes to represent that person. Think of Bono's sunglasses, Fidel Castro's beard, Michael Jackson's glove or Queen Elizabeth's hats. Almost any element of your clothing or appearance can be part of your unique trademarked look. This includes hairstyles. Think of Albert Einstein's crazy hair or Donald Trump's mysterious auburn hair comb over with his trademark Trump branded suit and tie. Love it or hate it, it has become a visual identity symbol uniquely attached to Trump's brand.

You can find a link to the entire history (yes ... really) of Donald Trump's hair styles in this Vanity Fair article.

Earned Media/PR

According to some reports Donald Trump has received up to $2B in free or earned media. This is in contrast to owned media (content you own or produced that gets readership) or paid media (advertising for eyeballs). Earned media is media that comes organically through websites, TV interviews and social media. The idea is the more earned media you get the less paid media you have to buy. How does he do it? By making himself totally available to be interviewed, through his raucous rallies and by continuing to provide new, weekly content that gets media to cover and report on the latest thing he said or did.

The chart below, by the New York Times and ASG Media, shows how the Donald is killing it:


Donald Trump has also been successful because he licenses his brand. Trump hotels, Trump golf courses, Trump TV shows, Trump ties and many others. The Trump name is licensed for a fee and/or a cut of the revenue. Trump's licensing strategy is extremely important to his overall success and wealth. According to the Washington Post, "a one-page financial summary he issued when he launched his campaign last month valued his “real estate licensing deal, brand and branded developments” at more than $3.3 billion, which would make it the largest single source of Trump’s claimed $8.7 billion total net worth as of 2014." What does the Trump brand mean? The same article said, "full meaning of the brand: He is a world famous real estate developer. Famous for his endeavors not just in real estate but in sports, gambling, entertainment and recreation.” His name, they argued, had “developed significant goodwill and trademark significance.”
This doesn't mean that all brand licensing agreements are successful. The legal issues he is facing with Trump University and the questionable licensing and failure of the brand to create Trump Steaks, shows what can happen to brands that are in legal disputes or are overly extended. To make things even more complicated, not all of Trump's buildings are Trump owned as failed licensed name developments in Panama (Trump Ocean Club) and Baja (Trump Ocean Resort) illustrate.


Compelling brands tell stories. Stories evoke imagery and meaning that help us learn about who we are and the concept they teach us. “It has been said that next to hunger and thirst, our most basic human need is for storytelling.” -Khalil Gibran.
There is real neuroscience behind storytelling as well. Science says that our brains are more activated when we listen to stories vs. being told facts.

Storytelling makes facts come alive. They make conceptual ideas real and tangible. Stories help us understand why a person is unique. Trump's stories are about how he took a "modest" $1M loan from his father and turned it into a multibillion-dollar enterprise and how he raised a great family. Stories are also told in the campaign promises he makes.
Who could forget “I will build a great wall—and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me.” Stories are also told when he creates labels for his competitors. This is called “de-positioning.” Jeb Bush was "low energy" and Ted Cruz became "Lyin' Ted". Trump keeps his stories simple and "black and white" to appeal to the masses who are tired of political rhetoric. There are no ambiguities or complex narratives in his storytelling.


All successful brands have built strong archetypes and have woven them into the personality, identity and storytelling of their brands. Archetypes have their basis in Jungian psychology and represent a stereotype of a universal character that frequently showed up in literature and dreams. In other words, an archetype is a pattern of a character – the images, symbols and behaviors that create a character in literature. The idea links people's passion and needs in the form of a character they identify with. For example, Dracula and Frankenstein represent archetypes of horror movie characters. A strong archetype combined with a great brand story, identity and personality is the stuff that makes brands great. World class brands do this well and Donald Trump is no different. Common archetypes are depicted in the graphic below.

In addition, you can break down these archetypes into specific behaviors, motivations and attitudes. Scholarly research has linked these archetypes to specific brands.

So what is Donald Trump's archetype? There have been many examples of what it could be. For example, he has been characterized as a Political Authoritarian (North Korea's Kim Jong-un) or a peaceful Revolutionary (like Martin Luther King or Gandhi). And I believe there are some elements of each; however, I think Donald Trump's primary archetype falls in the Hero category (like Nike) and looks something like this.

This leads me to my final point that brands can fit in more than one archetype. There can be primary and secondary dynamics occurring. Great brands that have survived over time have a signature look,  garner strong earned media, presence through public relations, expand through licensing of their brands (where applicable), tell stories and ensure their brand essence and identity is firmly rooted in a strong archetype. There are many other elements of a brand to consider, but this list is a good start.

What do you think? Let me know your thoughts at And we, at C-Level Partners, are here to help you identify, solidify and create your company's unique brand strategy. Feel free to contact me directly for a checklist of branding activities, a copy of my newly minted “Brand to Sell” book, and also set up a one-hour, complimentary discussion.

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