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The Start-Up (Or Melt-Down) Of A US President

Donald Trump's track record has quintessentially been that of an aggressor. He has built his real estate empire as a marauder

Photo Credit : Reuters

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The new US President may have come up 'Trumps' in his recent campaign and sneaked into the Oval Office despite getting less populist votes, but - as the Carpenters song says - It's Only Just Begun.

Two and a half months since November 8, the inauguration celebrations are increasingly being overshadowed by the scathing protests on the streets, as an embittered and divided nation picks up the pieces of what many see as an electoral holocaust.

If Donald Trump was to view himself as a 'start-up' playing a new Presidential innings, branding logic would have dictated that he quickly goes about dropping anchor into the hearts and minds of his customers. However, his definition of customers now needs to be broadened beyond those who voted for him, well beyond the so-called red states. Rather than delivering a message of healing and unification at the inauguration, he chose to belittle his predecessors, his opposition, the media, celebrities and even some from the Government cadre. This was an inflammatory political speech, unbecoming of a newly anointed leader of the most powerful nation in the world. No wonder 50 States within the USA rose in protest, and this is expected to only snowball.

So, was this a case of wrong targeting or bad messaging?

If Trump deliberately wanted to show the finger to his detractors after his stunning victory, he also let pass a great opportunity to bring into his fold, at least a section of his detractors who might have been willing to put an electoral defeat behind them and give a democratically elected President a chance.

What prompts someone who comes from the field of business and marketing to follow such a strategy of marginalisation? The answer lies somewhere within the Trump brand personality.

Donald Trump's track record has quintessentially been that of an aggressor. He has built his real estate empire as a marauder. Even his television programme 'The Apprentice' was all about giving himself the power to eliminate contestants. And now, against all odds, he has come in to occupy the highest seat of power within the Government after having been termed a rank outsider. His resultant stance - "I don't care a **** what anyone thinks, I've made it on my own, so take that" - is typical of the man. He is now ready to do battle with the Press which has vilified him throughout the campaign because now he can get his own back. Trump's superciliousness continues because he is enjoying "rubbing it in" and in any case, he follows the natural process of browbeating to get ahead! If the winning formula for brands to establish themselves is about generating Recall and Likeability, Trump on the other hand is willing to risk Dislike-ability to show him up as the Fearless Hero who can hold his own for delivering on the country's economic prosperity. We have our own example of something similar, closer home: Demonetisation.

Donald Trump's poll success was a clever exploitation of a certain section of voters' frustration with the status quo. A stagnant economy and people's growing distrust of politicians was the context for someone from outside the political cadre to represent hope. Trump's business background provided the disenchanted a new platform of optimism. Naturally, the message "Let's Make America Great Again" had to be packaged in a spirit of disruption… a clear and incisive break from the past.

In transformation programmes, the leader identifies Core group loyalists, Supporters, Fence-sitters and the Cynical Detractors. The Cynics always manage to stay beyond a leader's reach and are untouchables to begin with. Successfully wooing the Fence-sitters usually helps tip the scales in the cascading of a movement.

Starting with the Media, Trump seems to have labelled a vocal section of the urban intelligentsia (CNN, several Hollywood celebrities, The American Press Corps…) as the Cynics who he must disregard or pulverise. He counts on the white, lesser educated middle class who voted for him, especially from the small towns, as his starting support base. In the middle is a large body of fence-sitters who would wait and watch to see which way the tide is flowing. It is this group who would want to assess the action that he takes from here onwards rather than react to Trump's vitriolic utterances. If the results are favourable for them, these fence-sitters will begin to 'melt' on to the side of their new leader, and spread the good word.

Brand Trump may even be pardoned for his histrionics as it is consistent with his Brand Personality. His strategy is focused on the much-awaited upliftment in America's fortunes. Actions must speak louder than words. But there will be sterner tests ahead for this Start-up. Most importantly, the test of Culture. No Strategy can truly be successful in the long run unless it results in forming a sustainable Culture.

The bravery and purpose with which the Dubai brand was built through the 80's initially far behind the more developed Bahrain or Beirut, fused Vision and Action seamlessly to make it win-win for all stakeholders involved. In 30 years, Dubai attained the position of being one of the most sought after, cosmopolitan and sophisticated commercial capitals of the world. The Culture that Dubai created - of first class, disciplined, transparent, open-minded, and above all, the world's most welcoming platform for business, leisure and entertainment, gave this desert city a longevity and head start that truly makes for an inspiring case study.

Unless the play-out of Strategy can result in building a sustainable Culture in any system, that system will only work on steroids and not permeate into an empowering and self-sustaining way of living and working. Trump must find ways for his disruption strategy to ultimately become 'win-win' for all. For this to happen, he needs to market a freshly enunciated Vision document, beyond his election manifesto, and paint a larger picture which broader sections of people can buy into.

Finally, coming to Trump's messaging. Delivering messages of divisiveness, insularity and non-secular xenophobia may push America into a corner that not only will the world despise, soon so will his own internal support base. But if Trump can act and build a vibrant, connected economy, education and employment for its people, in a democratic and free-spirited framework, the desired transformation will happen with the least amount of drag. Most importantly, Trump's messaging must act as a lubricant to give this journey added velocity.

Brand Trump and Brand America are headed for either a classic cultural clash or a surprising cultural fusion and evolution. This is a start-up to watch.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Indranil Gupta

The author is Founder Director & Chief Executive Officer of BrandNEW Associates Private Limited

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