Actually, Twitter won the 2016 Election.

twitter_politicsI know what you’re thinking. How can Twitter win anything, with its paltry 317 million users and its lame sub-$15 stock price? Compared to the giants like Facebook (1.87 billion users,) WhatsApp (1 billion,) and WeChat (846 million,) you could fit Twitter in the garage of their respective CEOs’ second mansions. Heck, even Instagram – the Etch-a-Sketch of social media platforms – has 600 million users. (Source: statista.)

So on what metric, exactly, could Twitter be outperforming all these titans of social chatter?

In a word, politics.

Trump tweets. Pence tweets. Anthony Weiner tweeted his ass off (and other parts.) And the world reads Merkel tweets. And Putin tweets. And May Tweets. And the usually-epic JK Rowling tweets.

Politics has reinvigorated the in-the-moment DNA of Twitter in a way that perhaps no other sector could. And perhaps no other social media platform could so readily respond to the challenge.

Part of it is the “gotcha” nature of American politics in particular. We’re all taken back to hear one party or one candidate say something that’s very damning in nature, and then double-shocked to hear those words come back to bite them on the ass when someone digs out a tweet from six or twelve months ago. Consider this telling headline from Mashable about Mike Pence as a classic case in point: “This old Mike Pence tweet on Hillary Clinton emails is coming back to haunt him.”

In it, we learn that Vice President Mike Pence used his personal email address (yes, still using AOL,) for official business while governor of Indiana.

The facts are what they are, and I have no intention of arguing whether it’s better, worse, or same as when the former Secretary of State did the same thing. But what’s interesting is where the hearings are taking place: not on television. Not in newspapers. Not on Facebook.  But on Twitter.

Pence’s boss is no stranger to the daily-death-by-Twitter phenomenon. Trump’s tweets are so varied and so erratic that CNN has a live website tracking every one of his tweets.

And because he’s President, every tweet becomes part of the official record of his tenure. In case you’re scoring at home, they could become evidence of any number of things in the event of any criminal investigations that may arise. (And, you know, they may arise.)  And based on certain tweets regarding certain former US presidents conducting unauthorized wiretapping, investigations are already en route, and with a motorcade, to be sure.

No other social media platform, no matter how cool, or how many fun filters it offers, could offer such a perfect distribution channel for the gotcha fodder: nasty things said, declarative things said, and all that darn fact-checking.  Why is that?

A few possibilities include the content-capping.  140 characters are just enough to say something really pithy.  Or really dopey.  Also, the in-the-moment-ness of Twitter makes it a “now” social media platform, whereas Facebook or Pinterest, as examples, are excellent “linger with it later” platforms.  And of course, the fact that Tweets.  Stay.  Alive.  Forever.  (Sorry, Snapchat.)

You don’t need to go far to see how the Twitter-back-and-forth-and-back-again is playing out. But pay careful attention to how only one platform is invited into this A-list party, while all the others huddle outside trying to sweet-talk the bouncer with their pleas of “have you seen how many registered users I have?”

Facebook, please.

In marketing terms, Twitter has a highly defensible point of differentiation, and it should seriously consider exploiting it for its own gains. How that manifests is yet to be seen, but if I were the agency of record, I would seriously be trying to strike while the iron is hot and while 45 is tweeting away.

How to get control of your brand. Now.

It’s tough for brands these days. All the competition. All the change. And all that damn marketing! And perhaps most difficult is getting consumers to know you, then like you, and finally, to trust you.

Brands – and I’m talking about brands of all sizes, really – invest a lot of money in so many areas – it might be research and development, or operations, offices, showrooms or retail stores, or even the “perfect” ingredients for their recipes. These are all things that are relatively controllable for the brand.

But once they’re born, brands are basically out of control. Because, ultimately, consumers decide if the brand is good or bad, cool or “over,” worth the money or not. And in the age of social media, the lack of control can really get scary.

Consider the recent tweet by the then-President-elect Donald Trump:

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On the surface, it sounds like another one of the Donald’s weirdly-supportive and overly generalized ramblings. But there’s something really telling about this. The account of @realDonaldTrump has about 22 million followers. That’s a really lot. All of whom now have this “advice” about supporting and patronizing L.L. Bean.

We’ll stay out of the politics of this exchange, and whether or not it’s ethical for a candidate to receive a donation from an individual, and then use his massive influence to issue a sales pitch for her company after winning. Because eeeewww.

But what happens if that brand DOESN’T WANT that endorsement?

After the tweet, a group called Grab Your Wallet added L.L. Bean to a boycott list of any companies associated with Donald Trump. What if thousands, or even millions of L.L. Bean consumers got wind of that and decided to protest the man by dropping the brand? That has real consequences for the brand – especially if it’s publicly traded.  L.L. Bean quickly issued a statement on their Facebook page (that reaches just slightly over 750,000 followers – see the disparity there?) distancing themselves from alignment with any candidate and asking Grab Your Wallet to reconsider their position. [They haven’t.]

And if you’re a brand that’s invested time, and money, and millions of dollars and hired people all over the country and have supply chains in place and employees who count on your continued success for their livelihoods, it’s a little disconcerting to know that equity can all disappear – or at least be seriously compromised – with 140 characters or less. In this hyper-polarized age, it’s certainly possible that bonds are being formed and broken in more and more capricious circumstances.

So what’s a brand to do?

Well, it’s simple. Advertise.

While there are many ways to develop and grow a brand, advertising remains the most direct route to establishing your own position, and forwarding your point of view.

So, if you’re an apparel company, and someone does or says something terrible while wearing your clothing, advertise. If you’re a food brand that gets protested by a fringe group who claims you’re not environmentally responsible enough, advertise. If you’re a retailer and you’re losing share because some influencer tells millions of followers that she overpaid for your wares, advertise.

At the very least, you’ll have had your say. You’ll have run commercials and ads and said to the world: “this is what we stand for.” “This is who we stand for.” “This is who we are.” Otherwise, you might get hijacked by someone’s wayward ramblings…even if they may have had good intentions in the process.

TRUMP: the brand that never was

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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 winery.
A beauty pageant.
A mortgage company (okay, that might be sort of adjacent.)
The oft-vilified university.
Clothing.
Fragrances.

(Should I keep going?)

Okay.

An airline.
A vodka.
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.