Donald Trump Isn’t Marketer of the Year


December 21, 2016

Let me start by saying I don’t want to get political. Yes, Donald Trump won the presidential election. Honestly, I wish him well. To do otherwise would be to hope that the pilot crashes the plane you’re on. What I take issue with is the rush to crown him “marketer of the year” as well. Many peers I respect are quick to retcon his campaign tactics, recasting him as a branding and marketing genius. 

The problem? I wouldn’t in good conscience recommend any of his tactics to the clients I consult or the students I teach. Trump tactics just don’t make for great marketing communications advice. Here are a few reasons why.

Making Outrageous Claims

Donald Trump gained a lot of attention and free media for making outrageous statements. From claiming his book, The Art of the Deal, is “the No. 1 selling business book of all time” (it is not) or claims that the United States is the highest taxed country in the world (also untrue), Trump’s campaign rhetoric was flagged with 113 false and 61 “pants-on-fire” statements from the non-partisan site Politifact. Despite their lack of veracity, these claims got attention and, ultimately, drove people to the polls.

But could you employ this tactic as a marketing professional? Saying what people want to hear even if it’s not true? An occasional exaggeration may get you occasional attention. But if you go to that well consistently, you will ruin your brand’s integrity. It’s worth noting here that, according to Gallup, Trump has an approval rating lower than any president-elect in modern history.

You may run a lot of attention-getting ads with misleading offers but that doesn’t translate to customer satisfaction — a better long-term metric for brand health and longevity.

Sharing Questionable Content

Your brand’s integrity also comes into question when you share incorrect content from others. The president-elect has shared fake news stories with bogus claims of millions experiencing voter fraud. He’s also retweeted white supremacists.

Can you use this tactic as a marketer? You are what you share. When you’re queuing up your tweets for the week you shouldn’t just blindly share the headlines you like. You owe it to your community to dig deeper. Is this from a trusted source? Is the data reliable? Are the experts credentialed?

Sharing content is a powerful way to build authority. If practiced irresponsibly, you risk tarnishing your reputation based on questionable ties.

Fighting with Your Online Community

As marketers, most of us have it easy. Our online community is simply our customers and potential customers. When you’re the president, your community is … well, everyone. Even those you disagree with. President-Elect Trump regularly gets into caustic exchanges on Twitter. Most recently with Chuck Jones of the Indiana Steelworkers union.

Aside from the fact that Mr. Jones has received several death threats since the president-elect’s “mean tweets,” is arguing with customers online something you should be doing as a marketer? From a business perspective, one of the most popular uses of Twitter is customer service. Even when customers are agitated, common sense (and scores of expert insight) tells us to reply with empathy and offer to amend the situation as possible. You don’t build customer relationships by belittling and fighting.

Yeah. But Trump Won …

In the 2017 release of his ongoing book series Non-Obvious, trend curator Rohit Bhargava, talks about “anti-trends.” Simply put, when something is identified as a trend, it’s easy to do the opposite and see success by bucking conventional wisdom.

You may get attention through contrarian behavior, but it’s not a solid foundation to build an ongoing relationship upon. And that’s what all of us in branding, marketing, and communications are trying to do. Serve our organizations by communicating effectively with our target audience and building solid relationships in the process.

Lying, manipulating, and belittling will never be long-term means to this end.

Photo via Flickr user Gage Skidmore
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Nick Westergaard
Email Brand Driven Digital

is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.


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