6 Branding Lessons From Trump, Clinton
Despite having the title of most unfavorable candidate pair of any major presidential candidates in U.S. history, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have outlasted their competitors — and one of them is going to become the leader of the free world. What does success in the face of such highly unfavorable ratings teach us about personal branding? And what can working professionals at every level learn from it?
I’ve detailed each dimension below, including exactly how each candidate fared therein, as well as the correlated business-brand takeaways, to help other enterprising professionals achieve in kind.
Develop Your Brand by Design, Not Default
Know precisely where you are so you can discern where you need to go.
- Clinton: Despite her best efforts to promote herself as “the qualified candidate,” many Americans have, by default, stamped Clinton with the brand of Matron — part of the old guard of Washington politics. Recently, she has begun to pivot and is trying to find her way to a brand-by-design, based on straight-talking thoughtfulness.
- Trump: The Donald has clearly defined himself as the billionaire Maverick who owes no one anything. Trump has carefully crafted his image as the anti-establishment candidate proudly going against the grain. As a general strategy, it has allowed him to get away with more than the typical business leader or politician normally would.
- Personal Brand Takeaway: Every businessperson, from administrative assistant to CEO, needs to start by assessing their current personal brand and be truthful about the degree to which it exists by design — or default. Then they need to take stock of the impact that current brand is having. Is your brand producing the reputation you desire? Is it creating the environment and responses you are looking for? If not, a pivot to a more powerful personal brand may be needed.
What is the go-to description of who you are and what you do? This is sometimes referred to as an “elevator pitch.”
- Clinton: To date, Mrs. Clinton has made her marketing bottom line: “I’m the woman candidate.” But that has not played well with Sanders supporters and younger voters, in general. While Clinton’s status as the first woman presidential nominee is certainly a proud historical moment, her elevator pitch is flawed. She would be better-served by focusing on another message (consider President Obama’s focus on messages of hope and change, as opposed to his race) that resonates with a wider slice of Democrats and the population at large.
- Trump: Four words — “Make America Great Again.” This single sentence has become Trump’s signature call-to-arms, his reason why voters should check the box next to his name come November. The issue Trump will face as the election gets closer is how he will translate this general idea into specific policies.
- Personal Brand Takeaway: All businesspersons need to be able to present their brands in less than a minute. For example: When at a cocktail party you are asked the standard, “What do you do?” can you answer in a few short sentences that pique the listener’s interest? If not, your anchor statement needs some work. In addition, it’s important to pay attention to how your anchor statement is resonating and landing with your desired audience.
Unique Branding Proposition
What is it about what you do, or how you do it, that makes you unique, distinct and special? What sets you apart?
- Clinton: Hillary’s strongest point of differentiation to date has been “I’m the woman candidate.” The problem is that too much of her messaging has focused on this, and the voters don’t really seem to care.
- Trump: Trump has taken a two-pronged approach to differentiating himself from all of the other Republicans that competed for the nomination. First off, he is keen to point out (at every possible opportunity) that he is a businessman, as opposed to a career politician. Secondly, his message of “I’m willing to go it alone,” whether it relates to raising money to fund his campaign or being supported by the Republican party, is at the heart of his “why I’m unique” message.
- Personal Brand Takeaway: Positioning yourself by specifically articulating how your brand speaks to the needs of your audience, and the unique way you address those needs, is critical to creating an effective personal brand. And the more specific you are, the better.
Karen Leland is CEO of Sterling Marketing Group, a San Francisco-based branding and marketing strategy and implementation firm. She’s also an author, with her most recent title being, “The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build, and Accelerate Your Brand. ” Reach her at Karen@karenleland.com.