It’s hard to use the Internet these days without coming across some kind of news about Donald Trump. Regardless of what his political critics might say, from a marketing perspective the man is absolutely fascinating. He’s a real estate developer, TV personality, entrepreneur and, currently, a leading presidential candidate. He has gigantic gold hotels, apartment buildings and casinos emblazoned with his name – he even has a menswear line and produces his own branded vodka? His TV show “The Apprentice,” had over 28 million viewers and the presidential debates he’s been a part of have brought in a record 23 million, each one eager to love or hate the controversial one-liners that come pouring out of his mouth. There’s no doubt that he is an incredibly unconventional, often polarizing, figure – but as marketers, it’s certainly worth it to take a look at how he managed to get so many people to listen to him.
As content marketers, getting people to listen is our top priority. We’re constantly trying to rise above the fold and be heard over the noise of the Internet. And usually we are trying to do so by offering content that is of real value – content that matters and sticks. Regardless of our own personal stance on Trump’s political campaign, he has built a behemoth career by churning out his own particular brand of content and creating his own, totally unique empire. It may seem haphazard at first glance, but he actually masterminded a very specific strategy to climb his way to the top.
According to Forbes, Donald Trump’s strategy for success is pretty simple: he wants to be hated. While he is doing a particularly stunning job at that, his approach is, and has always been, a little more complex.
Make Yourself an Expert
Part one of Trump’s strategy was to make himself an expert in his field early on. He did so by publishing a book. He was already a well-known real estate mogul but he wanted to go from being a professional to being an expert. Professionals are good at what they do. They’ve built a career and can probably appear very informed at MeetUps and maybe even speak on a panel at a conference in Silicon Valley. But experts are the ones that professionals learn from. Experts are people who used to go into an office for work but don’t have to anymore because now people seek them out for help. Experts are thought leaders and household names.
Writing is one of the best ways to elevate your status to “expert” on any given topic. Trump’s first book, “The Art of the Deal,” spent 51 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List. Keep up that kind of pace and it’s hard for anyone to ignore what you’re saying.
Obviously, this doesn’t mean you have to write a book, per se, but newsletters, white papers, ebooks, blogs, and other forms of meaningful content can begin to transform you from a pro in the field to an actual expert. After Trump published his book, he transitioned from a real estate dude into a superstar and became an actual celebrity. The Apprentice was born shortly after. Now, in addition to being a real estate mogul and best-selling author, he also became an Emmy nominated TV star.
Build a Character
So he’s a bit off-putting, yes, but there is a certain value in developing a distinct personality. That’s what branding is. Columnist Frank Rich argues that Trump’s character is one who “decides to blow up the system by running for office — often the presidency — on a platform of outrageous pronouncements and boorish behavior.” He has, since the early days of his celebrity, made a public persona that can pretty much be summed up in his two, trademarked words: “You’re Fired!” His whole shtick has always been to expose the misgivings of those around him to his own advantage – and to do so more cunningly and aggressively than anyone else. The result? A person that, crude or sloppy as their message may be, you are not going to forget anytime soon.
Reality TV producer Seth Grossman says: “I’ve been working in reality television for 10 years, and I can tell you that Mr. Trump is exactly what we look for in our casting process. He’s uncomplicated and authentic: You can understand his entire personality from a 15-second sound bite. His brand is blunt self-promotion.”
As content marketers, we shouldn’t shy away from the same kind of blunt self-promotion and “cult of personality,” even if we are more tactful and polite about it. This calls to mind one of my favorite Herman Hesse quotes: “Every man is more than just himself; he also represents the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world’s phenomena intersect, only once in this way, and never again.” Our selves, our companies, and our brands represent exactly this extraordinary intersection of phenomena. It’s up to us to impress it upon the world.
Piggyback Off Established Channels
The next step that Trump took to solidify his spot in the limelight was to take advantage of his stardom with the channels that he had access to. He now had the attention of NBC’s entire audience, which he didn’t have to build himself. This made it easy for him to make more TV shows, to go on rants that furthered his own personal agendas and to develop the name recognition that would, eventually, make it easy for him to float to the top of a sea of presidential candidates.
For brands that don’t have an NBC-sized audience, or access to one, it’s helpful to think of creative ways to piggyback off the success of other brands. For example, this awesome commercial by the tiny Red Hare Brewing Co. is a parody of the immensely popular Budweiser commercial that ranked as the #1 spot on the USA Today Ad Meter for the Super Bowl last year. Granted it didn’t get 25 million views like Budweiser did, but amass 10,000 in the first week – which is pretty cool for a small company with an even smaller budget. This kind of logic could apply to local podcasts that have already built an audience, cool blogs that your customers are into, Instagram accounts that folks are paying attention to. Creating content marketing based on already established channels or trending material is a brilliant way to leverage your marketing power. No one knows this better than Trump, who is actually at the point of being able to piggyback on his own success these days.
Diversify Your Content
Once Trump became an established expert who was getting heard on a variety of different channels, he knew he couldn’t just stop there. He wanted his marketing efforts to build on each other and produce even bigger results. He wrote more books, built towers, created a Trump University to offer courses in real estate management and entrepreneurship, did interviews, produced more television…his model is a little ridiculous but it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t have value. If your blog takes off, you don’t just sit back and kick your feet up. You start thinking about how you can use your voice and your platform to make even more of a difference.
Now That We Have Your Attention…
The lesson here isn’t necessarily that you need to build a platform and then take over the world. So don’t run for president unless you’re a qualified politician, please. But the point is that there is a real value in Trump’s formula and he has sort of masterminded the basic principles of content strategy, i.e. getting people to listen to you. There is power in effective marketing and it all boils down to strategy.
Analysts don’t have much faith in Trump really becoming the next U.S. head of state but it’s sort of amazing to analyze how someone like him has managed to captivate such a wide audience over the years. The quality of his content marketing and campaign might slowly be coaxing people to run the other way, but I think the takeaway here is that there’s something to be said for strategy development and the slow and steady build of consistent content production. By maintaining a focus on how you can effectively communicate with your audience and establish a reputation, you will continue to grow and evolve in a way that makes your audience want to come with you on the journey.