In her recent article in the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin writes an impassioned article about how, in the “Irony of Ironies,” Trump has destroyed his own brand right in the middle of perhaps the most popular and most saturated stretch of his career. She’s kind of pissed.
I agree with this article on only one point: that Donald Trump likely entered the presidential race as a publicity stunt, something I’ve been crowing about for more than a year. My guess is that he thought he had no shot at winning, but would gain widespread popularity during the primaries – and leverage that popularity to launch a newer, bigger, huger reality show about something or other.
However, that’s about all we agree on, and likely because Ms. Rubin and I have very different ideas of what “brand” actually means.
Donald Trump built – literally and figuratively – his name on real estate development. That was his bread and butter, and (aside from a little head start from his father,) how he made, and lost, and made, his enormous fortunes. He put the Trump name name on every building, every hotel and every DBA he launched.
He then (pretty successfully) associated that name “TRUMP” with wealth and opulence. The gold finishing on all the buildings. The gawdy furnishings in the hotels. The “you-can’t-afford-it” pricing. And the brand actually stood on something fairly cohesive in its earliest form. This was a real estate/building/developing/fancy-finished kind of brand. Even when TRUMP extended the line into other types of properties, like resorts, and casinos, and golf courses, and a skating rink, it kinda sorta held together. (After all, those are all developed and built on property.)
Pretty straightforward. And for those who wanted to associate with that big-money, big-ego promise, the brand was there for the hefty asking price. And it commanded a limited, but interestingly dedicated, audience.
But then TRUMP derailed. It made the classic hubris mistake of any brand that thinks it’s soooo good at one thing, that it can be equally good at lots of other things.
He extended the brand.
And from there, the TRUMP brand got hazy, and extended into a weird and wide array of categories. Through the years, the TRUMP name has appeared on a host of enterprises:
A beauty pageant.
A mortgage company (okay, that might be sort of adjacent.)
The oft-vilified university.
(Should I keep going?)
A model management company.
A steakhouse – later extended to online steak delivery.
A catering company.
(And I’m leaving out a bunch.)
As it turns out, almost all of those ventures have failed, some more magnificently than others. And the reason was, in almost all cases where the concern was dependent upon consumer interaction, the price point (always set at the ultra premium level) did not consistently match what was delivered.
Which, itself, is the rub. The “promise,” the central pillar of the TRUMP brand was that you’d PAY a lot to interact with it. But time and time again, with greater frequency than we might care to agree on, the quality and commitment to excellence delivered to the consumer was not commensurate with the price commanded.
Which proves that the TRUMP “brand” is only a brand in that those five capital letters are emblazoned on just about everything the organization has ever produced. But not a delivery against his core promise. (We assume, as consumers, to GET a lot when we PAY a lot.) Instead, the sum of all the experiences in all the categories over all the years is this: the TRUMP brand is extremely shiny and impressive on the surface, and anywhere from meh to virtually invisible right after your platinum credit card transaction goes through.
Which means, and I say this quite politely to Ms. Rubin, that Mr. Trump’s behavior in recent months hasn’t done anything to “damage” the TRUMP brand. Because the brand is a disembodied disaster in pure marketing terms. (Let’s not confuse the TRUMP brand with Donald’s celebrity persona…if his celebrity persona is the brand, then he’s trending like mad and gaining in popularity.)
The TRUMP brand’s only verifiable track record has been to over promise and under deliver on matters of substance in all the categories outside of real estate properties. It has done that quite consistently for decades. And in light of its founder’s recent press, it’s continuing magnificently. Terrific. Huge. Tremendous.