What Donald Trump Understands About Branding

If our marketing research was as off as political polling continues to be, then the Brandscape of the world would look significantly different.

Companies would invest money in the wrong products and services, spending on meaningless messaging, squandering on irrelevant media, and generally wondering why the “wrong” Brands seemed to win.

As I have written before, BAV (Brand Asset Valuator), Y&R’s proprietary data-based Brand Study accurately forecasted President Trump’s ascendance, as well as that of Justin Trudeau’s in Canada, and Emanuel Macron’s in France…all despite the inability of the polls to forecast correctly.

BAV also gives insight into why tragedies like the most recent school massacre in Parkland, Florida don’t seem to translate into the tsunamis of action that seemingly so many support–and more importantly, seem so simple to begin to prevent.

Let’s be clear: BAV is not the Oracle of Delphi, nor prophecy by Algorithm.

Rather, BAV is an emotion-free database that aggregates multiple data points around key attributes of a Brand (versus polling). People and countries are Brands, and with the right cultural understanding, can predict outcomes in ways that polls just can’t.

Frankly, I always tread this subject carefully, but I feel compelled to write as I see people swirl around issues and pontificate endlessly. This is not a political column, however. So while I will use one example, in one country, I think the lesson is clear wherever you live, and in whatever you market.

In my country of origin and current residence, the United States, the debate between the major political parties remains acrimonious…and, if anything, gets worse and more partisan by the day.

Supporters of President Trump feel they have the pulse of the country, while those with opposing views are convinced they are beginning to tap into dissident emotions that will sway the next election.

And, of course, the polls are all over the place, showing that Trump has the lowest approval rating of any sitting U.S. President all the way to high ratings for some of his specific policies and actions.

So, who will win the next set of elections? Republicans or Democrats? Someone else?

But fair warning please! Again, this is not a political discussion—rather, a thought starter on how to view markets and issues.

Here we are, a year into the Trump presidency and the general public still positively rates  President Trump, despite what the polls tell us about likes and dislikes. Democrats believe he is weakening, but Trump is still very strong. This strength needs to be unpacked, as it is not the beauty contest of polls and social media, from where so much misinformation and incorrect analysis flows.

To begin, let’s look at the data to reveal how Americans view themselves:

Americans love their country. The U.S. has been the top brand in every of the last 15 years of the BAV-conducted study in North America. Americans love the U.S. because they see it as a leading Brand, that is authentic, intelligent and visionary.  The country being the top seems to be the one thing where Trump fans, Democrats and Republicans all agree.

Next, how does all that love translate into an election choice?

Simple: Americans vote for the president that is most like their view of The United States.  And President Trump’s Brand correlates to the U.S. Brand at 52%, 20 points plus more than his rivals…meaning that his Brand essence is similar to that of the U.S., showing strengths in leadership and daring.

Trump is like any Brand, the sum total of all the negatives and positives. And like any power Brand, the positive attributes outweigh the negatives (again, this is not likes and dislikes).

Knowing this, my next question is: But what about the political parties? Surely, the issues of the day should be driving big differentiation between them and ultimately a change of administration?

The truth is, neither party represents the essence of the country anymore. Their differentiation has been declining over time as they become more similar…barely distinguishable today, correlating at 90%.


It’s like any classic Brand rivalry, where the category has moved beyond the key players and newer, lesser-known upstarts move in and brashly muscle their way to the top. President Trump seized the differentiation that was missing from the politicians and grabbed the category: USA.

Meanwhile, a warning: Democrats see themselves as ascending while they see President Trump declining…classic echo-chamber marketing.

So it’s not hard to understand why the US Congress is deadlocked. A group of people, each convinced they are right in very different ways, is viewed in the end as the same (and clearly are in attribute). As such, they are obviously unable to have meaningful dialogue.

How different, really, are the issues of gun proliferation and gun control?

Bill Gates is one of the few celebrities who represents brand America more powerfully than its current President. Make America Windows OS anyone?

This lesson is clear to me. We get trapped by our own biases, and our own views of ourselves. We need to break free. Study categories; understand the attributes that drive our passions; ignore the likes and dislikes that have skewed our thinking, clogging our ability to accurately understand the world.

What is critical to people? Why do they shop, vote, travel, drink…whatever? Understand the category; own the category to win the category.

It has been said that children are suffering from a lack of EQ input as they lose the ability to deeply connect. My sense is that they do connect, but we just don’t seem to understand that our human serendipity and primal power make us way greater than aggregations of hashtags.

Bottom line: Whatever you are marketing, whatever you believe, whatever you are convinced of…get out of the echo-chamber and get under the hood, or you will be left wondering why—and quickly.


“Is it sufficient that you have learned to drive the car, or shall we look and see what is under the hood? Most people go through life without ever knowing.”
— June Singer

And there you have it. Looking under the hood of the USA should give you some insight into why the U.S. is where it is…give you pause to think about your own country, to tune out our echo-chamber biases for a moment, and focus on feeding our commercial needs.

This is like the taste test challenges of the 80s. As Brands learn, you can lose the taste test, but win the brand. Because it’s not always about the taste, sometimes it’s just about the brand.

What do you think?


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