Trump and the brand gap

In times of change, a brand gap can form between where you were and where you need to be. If you can’t close the gap, it invites consumers to question your relevance.

There’s no arguing Donald Trump the candidate had a distinct brand. But now that he’s president, Trump’s brand needs to shift. Can he cross the brand gap?

I went on the radio to talk about the Brand Gap, and which elements of the Trump brand should remain consistent, which elements need to be retooled, and what will happen if he can’t make the transition.

You can check out our conversation by pressing play, or jump to the notes below. Enjoy!

Solving the brand gap – pointers

Brands are two things. What you – the provider – promise to me, and what I – the consumer – expect from you. Brands thrive when their promise aligns with what consumers expect from them. This is where brand trust happens.

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Brands have been with us over 5,000 years. Face paint, jewelry, the songs we sing and the animals we hunt – these were all part of our brands. They’ve become shorthand for identification and affiliation – like/hate, belong/reject, buy/don’t buy, believe/don’t believe.

Brands may feel ethereal and be tough for numbers thinkers to wrap their heads around, but they’re extremely valuable. Coke, the company, has a market cap of $120 billion. Not including the brand value, the market cap is $50 billion. That’s $70 billion worth of ‘ethereal’.

In The Brand Gap, Marty Neumeier describes five things you need to build an effective brand:

  1. Differentiate – You need to create something unique that people want.
  2. Collaborate– You need to build that brand with the input of your colleagues, and your consumers. Branding is a team sport.
  3. Innovate – Creating a brand isn’t enough. You need to re-create it again and again to stay fresh and relevant – all while remaining consistent with your core brand values.
  4. Validate – You need to constantly prove your brand’s worth. Do people want it? Can they see your ‘proof’ of legitimacy?
  5. Cultivate – You need to keep reinforcing the promise and cultivating your relationships to keep your audience loving your brand.

Now what happens when we lay Neumeier’s Brand Gap template over Donald Trump’s brand? Or even more interesting, what happens when we use the Brand Gap to juxtapose the brand of Trump the candidate with Trump the president?

Differentiate – The candidate brand

Trump set himself apart from the political class. Witness his inaugural speech – the entire speech was about rejecting Washington insiders and handing power back to the people.

He also set himself apart as a non-politician and vowed to surround himself with non-politicians.

On the dark side, he differentiated himself as a brand that can solve all problems – single-handed. No togetherness, no we… it was ‘only I can fix this’.

All things considered, on the differentiation scale, Trump did very well. He truly struck a chord with his fans. Even if some of his differentiating qualities were worrying.

Differentiate – The presidential brand

Even in the early days of this presidency, we’ve seen continued differentiation – but on a whole new spectrum. I believe Trump is differentiating himself from other presidents – simply by appearing unpresidential.

With the inaugural crowd fuss, the CIA/media bafflegab, the ‘no intent to lock up Hillary’, the confusion around the lack of replacement plans for “Obamacare”, we’re seeing record-setting promise breaking and petty behavior.

This is a new, not very promising differentiation. And it has led to record low approval in Trump’s honeymoon period.

Collaborate – The candidate brand

We saw only a handful of collaborators – Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, perhaps Ivanka. Certainly no ‘Yes We Can’ spirit of collaboration that we saw in Obama’s campaign. Perhaps there were others, but given Trump’s narcissistic character, it seems unlikely.

Collaborate – The presidential brand

We’ve seen Trump bring in collaborators from both the political establishment and outsiders. From Rex Tillerson and Ben Carson to Rick Perry.

From early news, there seem to be mixed messages. Are these collaborators really collaborators,  or is there only one person allowed in the brand aura? Or perhaps it’s a family brand. Beware the echo chamber.

Also, the war on media cuts off one key area for collaboration – bringing the American populace along for the ride. This may or may not be replaced by twitter as a tool for dialogue. My bet is we’re in for a monologue, not a dialogue.

Innovate – The candidate brand

Trump certainly had his share of differentiating ideas on the campaign trail. Building the wall, locking up Hillary, partnering with Russia.

Not sure if these, and other promises, counted as innovations, or steps back. But much like a brand that promises simpler things, Trump seemed to create excitement promising things that were big and brash.

Innovate – The presidential brand

The first big innovation was an executive order banning immigrants. It has set off demonstrations at airports across the US and created enmity across the globe. Not promising.

Validate – The candidate brand

Definitely validated by his fans. Not validated by the media. And vociferously opposed by half the population.

Validate – The presidential brand

Judging from the massive global women’s march, I’d say the brand of Trump is not going to be validated by a broad swath of Americans any time soon.

A niche audience is fine for winning the battle. The problem is, he now has to represent everyone to earn a license to operate. He needs to move from early adopters to the mainstream. I personally don’t see it happening. Ever.

Cultivate – The candidate brand

During the campaign, it was a war zone. Trump turned people against each other, broke the ground rules, and left disarray and confusion in his battles. He didn’t cultivate a strong foundation among Republicans, the media, or the political establishment.

However, this created gleeful schadenfreude among the disenfranchised – his core following. So it could be argued he cultivated a terrific relationship with the people he needed.

Cultivate – The presidential brand

I see the world up in arms with each new Trump action. This is no way to cultivate a long-term relationship needed to govern, and grow.

Quotable brand gap quotes

“I think Trump is going to do incredible damage to the brand trust of the US in areas like open dialogue, freedom of the press, equality. Created an anti-government brand worked in the campaign, but it isn’t going to work if he wants to create a country that supports him.”

“I don’t think Trump is capable of collaborating to build a bigger brand. Branding is a team sport. “Only I can fix this” is the anathema to creating a solid brand.”

“Brands that make promises they can’t keep are dead brands. In fact, there’s no better way to kill a brand than to set up big expectations that aren’t fulfilled.”

“If Trump were a brand, I don’t think it would be bought. It may appeal to a niche segment, but it will never cross over to the mainstream – which it needs to do in order to remain viable.”

Honorable brand gap mentions

Marty Neumeier’s The Brand Gap

Coca Cola

 Jared Kushner

Steve Bannon

Ben Carson

Rex Tillerson

Rick Perry

Women’s march

Immigration ban

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