Trump’s Brand

I know a few things about brand.

Very simply put, a brand is a promise that a company makes to its customers or clients. The difficulty with brand is less about articulating a brand – what a company stands for and the promises made to customers – the most challenging part of brand is consistently delivering on those promises. Ask a restaurant owner or manager how difficult it is to hire and train staff to make sure the restaurant experience is consistently outstanding. Between janitorial services, food suppliers, prep cooks, chefs, hosts, and waitstaff there are dozens of ways brand promises can fall short every single day. Actually, every hour things can go wrong and the manager or owner is charged with rallying her employees to understand and live the brand in every single possible interaction with the customer.

I had a bacon cheeseburger with fries and a double Glenlivet at the DJT bar off the lobby of the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas this spring. I was there to quietly ask

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patrons how they felt the president was doing so far, but to blend in I had to spend a little money. The fries were very good, the burger was pretty good, and the service was great. My bartender, Joe, was adept at avoiding political conversation, sidestepping subtle question with ease. He did acknowledge that business had picked up – maybe as much as 25% – since the election. The promise of the Trump brand was definitely fulfilled in this limited interaction I had in an establishment emblazoned with the Trump name.

Trump’s brand outside of the world of hospitality, however, is another matter entirely.

Trump’s brand during the campaign and in the early months of his presidency identified most strongly with the following motifs:

  • job creator
  • disruptor
  • deal-maker
  • champion of forgotten Americans

While he made many other promises (i.e. the wall) these were among his most important and he successfully convinced enough voters in enough Congressional districts to believe in his brand.

In the traditional world of brand, a brand begins to falter when it consistently fails to deliver on its promises to its customers or clients. Successful brands know that they have to do what they say they are going to do and that they alone are responsible for success or failure. If Mercedes tries to increase profits by cutting corners on suppliers, for example, they can’t blame sub-standard suppliers for subsequent recalls or declining sales. They own the decisions they make and face the consequences of the marketplace.

Despite his vociferous defense of his legislative record, by most accounts Donald Trump has not delivered on the promises of his brand as a politician and President of the United States. As he heads to Youngstown, Ohio tonight, we’ll begin to see if Trump is able to sustain his brand absent the deliverables one would expect.

Trump famously promised that he, alone, could fix what’s wrong with Washington, D.C. and our current political situation. It’s less important what I think about how his fixing and winning are going – I didn’t believe his promises during the campaign and think his brand is a sham. It matters very much, however, what his supporters think. Will they accept his assertions that he is among the most productive presidents ever, that he is an expert deal maker, that health care will soon be more affordable and more Americans will be covered?