In this guest post, WOMMA Board Member Corey Martin positions Donald Trump as “America’s Influencer In-Chief” and offers important guidance for how brands should operate in the new political climate. Corey is the Head of Influencer Marketing and PR at 360i.
The use of influence by the President is nothing new. In fact, by the early 1800s the Founding Fathers had shaped the Presidency into an influential position, essentially recasting the power balance between Congress and the executive branch. However, this same historical influence steeped in tradition has already evolved under Donald Trump. Presidential influence is now much more intentional, especially where brands are concerned. He’s essentially extended the role of “Commander in Chief” to “Influencer in Chief" and is using his favorite channel – Twitter – to do it.
In marketing, the power of the influencer has always rested in measurable results and whether good or bad, The Donald’s results are clear. CEOs who’ve met with Trump have seen a subsequent rise in their company’s stock price while brands who’ve found themselves in his Twitter crosshairs have come under attack from the rest of the Twittersphere. An criticism from Trump led to Vanity Fair’s best day in subscription sales ever. An endorsement from Trump led to a boycott of L.L. Bean. When it comes to the the slings and arrows of President-elect Trump’s Twitter feed, there are infinite possibilities.
While it’s unavoidable that American leaders will have personal preferences for products -- Ronald Reagan famously ate Jelly Belly jelly beans and President Obama loved his BlackBerry --as marketers and communicators, this new intentional behavior from the Commander in Chief hits us dead center and wakes us up to a new reality. It may be more a matter of when, not if, we will be brought into the national conversation by the President. The influence Trump holds acts as both a carrot and a stick.
To help brands manage and prepare for our nation’s new Influencer in Chief requires remembering four key things:
- Have a point of view. In general, it has become necessary for brands to carve out a point of view in order to connect with people and to build a community based on shared values. Building brand love and brand affinity depends on doing this well. Social purpose, social impact and cause marketing all help companies connect better to the growing segment of socially-minded consumers.
- Be purposeful, but not partisan. In choosing values and being purposeful most companies intentionally leave themselves room to put a stake in the ground without picking a side. If brands decide to enter the conversation and engage with the political discourse, they need to be purposeful, not partisan. Take a stand, but don’t pick a side.
- The bigger the brand, the greater the caution. Bigger brands have greater equity and need to exercise greater caution. If they choose to take a stance it should be talk-worthy, without being incendiary. For example, a toilet paper brand that needs to sell to 300 million Americans, can’t exactly ostracize half of their consumers by making a joke about Trump’s toilet humor. In contrast an organic, locally sourced food brand with a focus on coastal communities could speak to the liberal interests of their known consumer base and would be applauded for their actions. Should brands choose to enter the political domain, they should be confident that their consumer base will advocate on their behald if needed.
- Preparation is necessary. Issues management and communications crisis plans need to present clear guidelines on how to deal with, measure the impact of and respond to the potential Trump tweet – whether positive or negative. While issues management requires customized scenario planning, any company can prepare by mapping out a communications decision tree and setting up an internal approvals network to be able to act quickly.
Whether a response from your brand is invited or incited by a tweet from Donald Trump, it is important to prepare for the unpredictability and variability of a President that has been shaped by the power of influence and pop culture. He is a product of our times, and in many ways, a product of the entrenched marketing culture we all work in. Endorsement or banishment from Trump is like flipping a coin, his influence could land on either side. For brands entering the political fray, it is now more important than ever to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.