The Trump Effect: How Your People Affect Your Brand
Recently, ties between the Trump Organisation and Trump Soho New York were severed. According to the New York Times, the brand split came about due to a post-election decrease in business for the hotel. The assumption, of course, is that the hotel’s falling profits and Trump’s rise to political prominence are interrelated.
The idea seems to be that President Trump’s divisive politics may be responsible for the brand collapse.
This is of course an extreme example. But it serves well in illustrating how brands are intrinsically linked to the people who represent them.
Brand, customer, and you: the PR pyramid
It starts with the pyramid. Sitting at the top is your customer. Wedged in the middle: your brand. And at the very bottom, holding up the whole structure, is you (the “you” here refers to anyone who represents your brand).
Brand is in the middle because your brand is the bridge between you and your customers.
The people inside a company are the ones who bring its brand to life. Now, for big companies this means employees. But if you’re a small business owner/manager or freelancer, it means you. This is where the Trump Effect comes in.
Trump Soho is a brand attached to an individual. Think of Coca-Cola and who comes to mind? If you’re like most people, probably no one. You just think of the red-and-white logo, because Coca-Cola is Coca-Cola. Think of Trump Soho and who comes to mind?
Brands like Coca-Cola, when they move in the world, are constantly engaged in PR feedback loops. This means that when the company does something, their customers react.
But for brands like Trump Soho, who are by their nature tied to a specific person, it’s a bit different.
For these brands, it’s not a feedback loop but a feedback Venn diagram.
For Trump Soho, it’s not just the activity of the hotel itself that can provoke public reaction. The personality attached to that brand can give rise to equal, if not larger, reactions.
So they’re dealing with two loops, feeding back simultaneously. And these loops are independent of each other.
This is an important point for small business owners to think about. As an example, let’s say George owns a printing company called Big Print. It’s just George and one other person who works there.
When Big Print sends out ad campaigns, leaflets, brochures, etc, they’re setting up a marketing feedback loop. When George goes to networking events and meetings, he’s setting up another, separate feedback loop: a personality loop.
So, Big Print’s double feedback loop would look like this:
Remember: if you’re in business for yourself, you are your own brand.
Social media sacrifice
On 20th December 2013, Justine Sacco, a 30 year old senior director of corporate communications at a media company, posted a 64 character tweet that would take less than 11 hours to destroy her career.
This was her personal Twitter account. She was speaking as herself, not on behalf of her employer. Yet the backlash left her superiors no choice but to yield to public outrage and dismiss her from the company.
Justine’s story (which isn’t the only story of its kind) not only highlights the frightening power of social media. It also illustrates how the lines between our personal lives and careers are now more blurred than ever.
Social media is another ripple of the Trump Effect. It’s another medium through which personal opinions, actions, and statements can influence public perception of your brand.
And just as brand acts as a bridge between you and your customer. Social media acts as a bridge between your private and professional existence.
So, in these stories Justine Sacco and Donald Trump can teach us something. We all have a public image, and it’s heavily tied to the brands we represent. And regardless of whether our networks extend to 5 people or 5 million, we must be aware of the personal images we project.
People as brand
There are positive examples of the personal/professional blurring effect mentioned above. One of which is the Dr Martens brand.
Dr Martens encourage members of staff to bring all their individuality to work with them. Tattoos and piercings on display. No set uniforms. Cool hairstyles encouraged.
Their brand is created from the ground-up, informed and influenced by their employees and customers. It’s not imposed from the top-down.
This idea was summed up nicely in a Forbes article on employees as brand ambassadors:
“Many companies focus all their branding efforts on marketing activities such as advertising campaigns and packaging, yet one of the most powerful brand assets your company has is your people.”
Of course, not every brand can operate this way. But smaller brands (freelancers, owner/managers, one-man-bands) should certainly try.
When George goes to a networking event, he is Big Print. He’s meeting new people, some of which will never have heard of his company. So, for those people, George is their first exposure to the Big Print brand. So he must embody that brand as best he can.
(Note: for anyone with a fear of networking (i.e. most of us), take a look at these tricks you can use to make a great first impression.)
For more on branding and personality, take a look at our post on George Best.