Trump’s Personal Brand ‘Crisis’ a Lesson for Communicators

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Since announcing for president, Donald Trump has catapulted to first place as the Republican choice for president. The Trump Show has dominated the headlines and overshadowed the other candidates. Along the way he has angered Latinos by saying that illegal immigrants from Mexico were criminals. He angered veterans when he besmirched John McCain, claiming McCain was no war hero for being captured during the Vietnam War. He even gave out South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham’s cell phone number after Graham called him “a jackass.”

David Johnson
David Johnson

As entertaining as Trump has been, his brand has taken a hit. Trump’s remarks led Univision, which broadcasts his “Miss USA” pageant, to announce that it would no longer broadcast the pageant. The co-hosts of the Miss USA Spanish-language simulcast, Devious Maids actress Roselyn Sanchez and actor Cristian De La Fuente, announced that they also would no longer participate in the event.

NBC announced that it was severing ties with Trump. Macy’s stated it would no longer carry his clothing line. Serta opted not to renew its contract with Trump Home. The PGA, ESPN, and others all followed suit. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is saying New York City will no longer do business with him.

This has led some to say the Trump brand is damaged beyond repair. His political and professional demise are being written about daily. But to paraphrase Mark Twain, talk about the Trump brand’s demise is greatly exaggerated.

The Donald Trump brand can be seen as one part serious businessman, one part entertainer and one part buffoon. Over the years he has tangled with governments, insulted nearly everyone possible, even declared bankruptcy, yet still the brand has survived and prospered. People have bought into that brand and believe in it. People read about Trump and watch him on “Celebrity Apprentice” to see what off-the-wall remarks he might come out with.

Trump is the ultimate showman. The people who believe in the brand already know what they’re getting, and they are not going to change their viewing habits or purchases because of his remarks. If anything, their loyalty to the Trump brand is more likely to be reinforced by these comments (very much as we saw with "Duck Dynasty" and the furor over comments made by Phil Robertson). Consumers view this as just Trump being Trump.

Brands that appear authentic survive and even flourish after a crisis. And Trump is, if anything, being authentic to the bombastic brand he built over the years. His run is actually attracting new followers and that will mean new consumers for his line. Trump understands that brand loyalty will survive any crisis if the brand conveys a story and is true to itself.

Brands can rebound and even flourish after a crisis if they were true and authentic to their brand identity during that crisis. After Trump’s presidential race is over, it will be business as usual for the Trump brand. Indeed, he may have won even more followers with his rhetoric. That is why all the talk about the demise of the Trump brand is very premature. Next year after Republicans have nominated someone else for president, the news will be alive with stories about companies again partnering with Trump.

Today a brand must tell a story. It must be original, authentic, and share the values of its consumers. If it does this it will succeed and flourish even in the roughest of times as the Trump story shows, and that is a lesson that public relations professionals can learn. Just don’t try Trump’s antics on your own.

David E. Johnson is the CEO of Strategic Vision LLC (www.strategicvision.biz), a public relations and branding agency. He may be contacted at djohnson@strategicvision.biz. Follow David: @DavidJohnsonSV