How Marketing Finally Stumped Trump
In September 2016, the Trump Organization announced a “soft” opening of its newest hotel, Trump International, in Washington DC. But something wasn’t quite right. Early reports of uncharacteristically low booking volumes caused room prices to drop by as much as 50 percent. Additionally, a lawsuit involving Trump and Chef Geoffrey Zakarian came to be of interest. It seems Mr. Zakarian originally signed a lease with Trump to open a restaurant in the hotel. But after Trump made inflammatory remarks as a part of his presidential campaign, Zakarian decided he no longer wanted to associate with the hotel.
Trump is no stranger to controversy. Anyone who involves themselves so personally with business, willingly blurring the lines between professional and private life, is bound to run into their fair share of it. Of course, this is why most business professionals separate the two. Yet, true to his determined ways, Trump moves only forward. In addition to exposing his personal life, he now shares his life philosophy, unfiltered. And if vacancies at Trump DC are any indication, Trump the philosophy does not mesh well with Trump the brand.
At the beginning of his career, Trump solved a marketing problem to create the brand that would carry his legacy. That brand was predicated on an aspirational lifestyle, though the individuals aspiring to that brand have never been the ones driving revenue. For years, it didn’t really matter because the brand was seemingly inexorably linked with luxury. Now, Trump’s political brand seeks consumers of an entirely different stripe. These are the very individuals who may have once aspired to the Trump brand, but could not live it.
There have been many fatal flaws during Trump’s candidacy, but from a marketing standpoint, the most egregious error has been forgetting his audience — and, more importantly, forgetting the customer base that elevated his brand to its current place in the world. Other brands have made similar mistakes. (JC Penney comes to mind.) The Trump brand is becoming a confused mixture of gaudy luxury, abhorrent views and being generally out of touch with reality. For someone who once boasted about how much his name helped him, he might now consider changing it back to Drumpf.