If Republican nominee Donald Trump loses the race for the White House, there will be plenty of reasons offered up to explain why. To start, there are his verbal attacks on just about every voter demographic a candidate needs to court.
Political scientists and pundits will also explore other causes ranging from an amateurish campaign machine to policy flaccidity.
But beyond the personality and political analyses, there’s another way to consider the Trump candidacy – from a brand perspective.
Despite being a guy who made money through marketing – at least for himself, if not always for investors – Mr. Trump has made multiple marketing mistakes this year. It’s unlikely that his “brand” will overtake the strength of the dominant player, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
In fact, Mr. Trump’s mistakes may only reinforce Ms. Clinton’s brand advantage – as the safe choice, rather than the reckless one.
To understand this dynamic, consider advice from Al Ries and Jack Trout, whose 1990s-era books on marketing contain a few timeless insights.
One piece of advice was that if a company finds itself in second place against a top brand, it is best not to try to overtake the leader with an appeal based on their category. That only reminds people why your competitor’s product might be preferable. Instead, carve out a new brand category in which you might be more credible.
For example, in the 1980s cola wars, Pepsi invented a new category that they might dominate – the preferences of the youth: “Pepsi, the choice of a new generation.” Pepsi never did overtake Coca-Cola, but it was a valiant attempt.
Mr. Trump followed this strategy in his run for the Republican nomination, ignoring the leaders who had political experience. He overthrew conventional wisdom and sold himself as an outsider, a businessman who gets things done, a frank communicator. He won the nomination by carving out a category distinct from the other Republican contenders.
But in the general election, his combination of verbal recklessness, narcissism and almost deliberate ignorance about every major policy file is not likely to grow Mr. Trump’s political brand. It alienates more voters than it courts.
That reality is why Mr. Trump is now tacking back to a marketing strategy where he tries to convince the public that his (reformed) product is superior to the brand leader, Ms. Clinton, who leads in the polls despite substantial negatives.
Problematically, Mr. Trump’s pitch that he can now be trusted as the steadier hand of state may only reinforce his opponent’s strengths, even if hers are marginal.
To use two examples, it was Mr. Trump, not Ms. Clinton, who recklessly criticized the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It was Mr. Trump who was unaware Russia had actually invaded Ukraine. Any attempt on his part to overtake Ms. Clinton on the national security “brand” will likely remind voters that she might be the least worst option.
That brings up Mr. Trump’s worst marketing error, the one that underlies the rest: extending a brand too far and into areas in which one is not known for expertise or perceived quality.
It was one thing for him to expand his personal, gaudy brand beyond New York skyscrapers and into casinos, hotels, golf courses and reality television, among other products. It is another to move that consumer brand into presidential politics, a field where Mr. Trump’s statements on everything from torture and veterans to economics and foreign policy reveal a dearth of thought and judgment.
From a marketing perspective, Mr. Trump is attempting to dominate a category in which he has no demonstrable strength, and little of quality to offer the public.
Given that the U.S. presidency is rather more critical than mere branding games, Mr. Trump’s latest attempt at brand extension may quite properly fail in November.Report Typo/Error
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