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December 2016

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Branding Lessons from the Campaign

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We’re in a different world than we were 3 weeks ago – one that no one expected.

Where do we go from here? That seems to be unfolding every day. While we’re finding out where we’re going, there’s also a lot to learn from the election and campaign we’ve just been through.

One powerful lesson is: what makes a successful brand?

You could look at the result as Trump creating a stronger brand than Hillary.

Whether or not you agree with Trump’s message, the fact that the less experienced politician carrying so much baggage and character flaws, was able to garner the support he did, says a lot about how well he read his target market and responded to their fears, concerns, and desires.

Fear and frustration from income inequality, the perception of losing jobs to immigrants and trade deals, the feeling that our politicians are not looking out for us, all became some of most intense motivating factors in the election. Trump appealed to these concerns in a way that hit the emotional “sweet spot” in his supporters. That’s exactly what any successful brand does.

Trust was also a big issue in this campaign. Strong brands are based on trust.

Many of us have lost trust in our government and financial institutions. As brands, the government and Wall Street are weak. Hillary was seen as the establishment choice and associated with this lack of trust.

Trump used this knowledge to create his platform of change.

Despite the fact that Hillary has so much more experience than Trump, offered much more savvy content on policy, and maintained a professional demeanor in the face of Trump’s irrationality and crudeness, many American voters were still largely motivated by the possibility of change.

Also, Trump used social media to raise his brand awareness throughout the campaign. While many of his communications were questionable at best (the 3am tweets), they kept him in our consciousness. They reminded us that he doesn’t follow conventions; he’s not establishment. As much as they brought into question his character and ability to be President, they continued to strengthen his brand.

Trump’s brand wasn’t about character or experience – it was about change. So you could say that he stayed on brand throughout the campaign. And because he read his target market well, and appealed to their most intense fears and desires, he was able to win an election where no one thought he’d get past the primary.

So now we’re left with a big question: what happens next? All we know is that things won’t be like they have been. It’s not clear yet how this change is going to unfold or how it will affect our country.

But wherever we go from here, Trump’s campaign can be seen as a lesson in how strong branding can take what seemed to be an impossible task to stepping over the finish line.