The (cult) brand: Trump

The (cult) brand: Trump

In the final of what has turned out to be a three-part examination of what marketers can learn from Donald Trump – I wanted to look at the similarities between how he has positioned his ‘brand’ and how ‘cult brands’ position themselves.

For those who have not before come across the term, a ‘cult’ brand is a brand with a passionately loyal following who often spontaneously form communities of cult evangelists around the brand. It tends to be niche, possibly cutting edge, renegade or outside the cultural mainstream. A cult brand will sell a lifestyle story which is inclusive and welcoming. Most importantly a cult brand places the customer at the very centre of their operations, listens to them, and feeds back their messages to them as part of their marketing.

Examples of cult brands or products include:

  • Krispy Kreme – famously spends less than 1% of their total revenue on marketing, and yet have (at least in America) experienced exponential growth
  • Harley Davidson – sells a lifestyle of freedom and rebellion. Followers so passionate, they tattoo the logo on their skin, and – apocryphally, use the Harley owners’ manual as a substitute ‘bible’ in wedding ceremonies
  • Maybelline Great Lash Mascara – invented in 1971 and still selling one every 2 seconds around the world, it’s one of the great cult products

So what has this to do with Trump?

  • He created a very strong brand that was all about being outside the mainstream – “drain the swamp”, his supporters cried. Brand Trump is going to take on the establishment and fix all that ails it.
  • Brand Trump turned the Republican base into an army of passionate supporters. His rallies were barely controlled reactions where the alchemy of his message added to the frustration of the audience produced some explosive moments. Clinton’s comment about ‘deplorables’ only reinforced Trump supporters’ feelings of comradery towards each other as they were increasingly rejected by the mainstream.
  • As I discussed in my previous blog, Trump listened to his supporters and played back their concerns to them. He created a brand where he alone was the solution to their problem.

Given all this wonderful 20/20 hindsight, is it surprising that Trump won? 

Sybil Williams
Founder and Growth Catalyst