- - Thursday, August 27, 2015


Having attracted an estimated crowd of 25,000–30,000 people in Mobile, Alabama this past week and a record 24 million viewers watching the first Republican debate, it’s hard to believe that Donald Trump is hurting the Republican party.

Those who adhere to this view are engaging in wishful thinking. They are missing the importance of branding and marketing within today’s political arena. These pundits see branding and marketing merely as “thesaurus alternatives” to words like “selling” and “communicating,” without understanding these two vital constructs.

By dismissing the importance of these two disciplines, they miss what a successful candidate—Barack Obama—did to win the presidency in 2008. It should be no secret that the robustness of both specialties has been proven and, to win, must be utilized by candidates and their respective political parties.

Branding is the reason Mr. Trump leads in the polls. He is a celebrity brand that people love presently but can be easily dismissed by a demanding public. Mr. Trump knows how to brand himself and implement this strategy within his promotional mix. This is good for Brand Trump and Republicans because this tactic is getting people who are not politically oriented to stop, look, and listen.

He is initiating a discussion where he engages the public on issues concerning immigration, American leadership in the world, and making America strong again. He answers questions in simple generalities without a policy statement to confuse (or bore) even the most sophisticated. Mr. Trump breaks through the clutter. He is a personality who loves television and whose audience loves him back.

His poll numbers are high because of his notoriety, and this is all good news for all Republican candidates in general but for no one in particular at this time. However, these Trump poll numbers should be put into perspective. As former chief strategist and media advisor for Mr. Obama, David Axelrod, recently said in terms that Mr. Trump, the beauty brand CEO, would appreciate: “We’re still in the swimsuit competition. It gets harder in the talent rounds”. And it is in the “talent rounds” where the other candidates can present their respective brand characteristics that got them to the show.

With that said, it is the corporate brand or the Republican Party that is presently benefiting from this Trump promotional machine. Why? Because many more potential voters are listening as a result of Mr. Trump’s genius, which is a good thing despite what many critics say.

But promotion alone doesn’t win elections. Marketing does. Barack Obama was a great speaker, cool candidate, and crowd getter, but it was his marketing tactics—voter segmentation analysis, organization (getting the vote out through volunteers, motivating students to work for the first time in politics) and his ability to understand retail politics—sitting down with the folks—that got him to the White House.

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, is a great promotor but not necessarily a great marketer. Marketing is the art and science of satisfying the needs of customers or, in this case, voters. Branding, on the other hand, is one component of the marketing whole. This means that Mr. Trump needs more than getting his name out to his target market.

Getting his supporters to vote (show up on Primary Day) is the next objective to win the nomination. Candidate Obama understood this, and the jury is out whether Mr. Trump does. High poll numbers have a strange effect on candidates, who and must always be reminded by their political team that polls don’t win elections, votes do. Mr. Trump should be retold that Harry Reid’s opponent, Sharron Angle, had poll numbers that predicted she would beat him in the 2010 Nevada Senate race. Senator Reid won the election.

What Mr. Trump must do is implement a marketing strategy that calculates how to get his primary voters to select him as their candidate. Even before that, he must get those who support him in the polls actually go to the polls on primary day. This means designing a retail political organization, and then listening to political professionals for whom he has little or no respect.

After the Republican candidate has been selected, the real marketing takes place. The Republican party elders should remember one simple marketing shibboleth: People buy brands, not companies.

This means that unless you they are brand-loyal Republicans or Democrats, people vote the person, not the party. Think in terms of whether one is a brand-loyal Pepsi or Coke drinker or is a shopper who waits for each week’s sale price to make a choice as to what brand he or she will buy. The same goes for political candidates.

In the end, it will be the candidate and not the party (despite what party activists feel) that the electorate believes will get the job done (or is the special of the week) who wins. If the Republican leadership remembers that it is what the voter wants in a candidate, whoever it is, then and only then will they benefit from the promotional acumen of Brand Trump.

Dr. John Tantillo is the President of the Branding and Marketing Group.

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