Author’s Note: The following piece was posted on RedState on July 23, 2015. In the piece, first I discussed how Trump’s candidacy could destroy his business that was built largely on the positive attributes of the “Trump brand.” Second, I offered a solution about how shifting to the “Ivanka brand” could possibly save the Trump empire. With all that in mind, recently, there have been many articles written about how reservations and sales are down at Trump hotels, condos, and all Trump-branded businesses. Therefore, I thought RedState readers might enjoy taking a look back over a year ago to compare what I warned about then with what is happening now.
Exclusive to RedState
On June 16, 2015, at Trump Tower in New York City, Donald Trump’s eldest daughter, 33-year- old Ivanka Trump, introduced her father before he declared himself a candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
During her remarks Ivanka described one of her father’s unique personality traits, which in retrospect contained the seeds of his own destruction:
“My father is the opposite of politically correct. He says what he means, and he means what he says.”
A few minutes later her father performed exactly as advertised when he described illegal Mexican immigrants in brash, controversial terms. Within days, those statements unleashed a firestorm of controversy resulting in the unraveling of a relatively small portion of the family’s sprawling business empire. But more significantly Trump’s ultra-politically incorrect comments began what has become a high-speed tarnishing of his shiny, gold-plated brand.
And since that day, the downward spiral of Trump’s brand has only gone from bad to worse — reflecting his unique ability to insult, bully, intimidate, and denigrate people like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and practically all the other GOP candidates in one way or another.
Earlier this week, and prompted by Trump’s disparaging remarks regarding McCain’s Vietnam-era prisoner-of-war hero status, the Des Moines Register editorialized that Trump withdraw from the presidential race with the headline: “Trump should pull the plug on his bloviating side show.”
Within the editorial is this statement: “In the five weeks since he announced his campaign to seek the GOP nomination for president, Trump has been more focused on promoting himself, and his brand, than in addressing the problems facing the nation.”
But I believe the Des Moines Register editorial is wrong when stating that Trump is focused on promoting “his brand” — when in fact, Trump’s candidacy is actually destroying it. There is proof that the longer Trump stays in the race the more he damages his high-value image-based asset which also serves as the foundation of his entire empire.
However, before we discuss the declining state of Trump’s brand and how it might be saved, let’s first answer a basic marketing question: “What exactly is the Trump brand?”
Prior to Trump’s announcement speech on June 16, the name stood for a uniquely American brand of extravagance and classic elegance stemming initially from real estate properties that have been expertly built and creatively packaged. Once domestic dominance was established, Trump successfully exported his brand name around the globe.
A Trump-branded office building, condominium, hotel, resort or golf course is usually marketed as “top of the line,” appearing bigger and better than its competition.
Then, personally reflecting the quality of his real estate, Donald Trump’s name stands for a positive can-do attitude, winning against all odds, success through hard work and master of negotiation. Trump, the man, and the name brand have grown together to personify American greatness and the triumph of capitalism.
A few clicks around Trump.com takes you on a virtual tour of his vast empire and leads to a better understanding of the man who is the brand.
But that was then and this is now.
On July 15, the day Trump filed his personal financial disclosure with the Federal Elections Commission, Forbes unleashed a report with this headline: “As Trump Files FEC Disclosure, He Raises Claimed Net Worth To $10 Billion; Forbes Disagrees.”
What follows is a detailed accounting spat about how Forbes values Trump’s assets versus Trump’s own $10 billion valuation filed with the FEC. Then in the fourth paragraph, Forbes drops a bombshell that surprisingly has received little mainstream media attention:
“In the wake of these developments, we have dropped the value of his brand to zero (previously, we pegged it at $125 million).”
Prior to June 16, this kind of statement by Forbes, a respected business media outlet, would have been highly unlikely and met with a loud Trump backlash. Instead, there was silence from the Trump Organization. This can only mean that up in the richly-paneled Trump boardroom they were truly alarmed by Forbes’ statement and its potential for losses totaling in the hundreds of millions. (Here is a glimpse of Trump’s FEC financial disclosure released yesterday.)
Trump, emboldened by the latest polls showing him leading the crowded GOP field, appears undeterred in his mission to win the Republican nomination, wreaking havoc upon the entire political landscape and especially media outlets like CNN.
Therefore, it is only a matter of time when more corporations and organizations will cancel existing bookings at Trump hotel and golf resorts. Then, look for vast numbers of event planners to rule against scheduling future meetings at Trump properties because “Trump the politician” and “Trump the businessman” have morphed into one toxic brand. Never has the quiet Marriott chain looked so good!
Politico has detailed the drama over several restaurants and their celebrity chefs canceling contracts at what is supposed to be Trump’s new flagship hotel at the Old Post Office building. It is scheduled to open in 2016 just up the street from the White House in Washington D.C.
Then, piling on to Trump’s troubles, New York City Mayor de Blasio, speaking about Trump’s existing contracts, said that the city is “certainly not looking to do any business with him going forward.” Ouch!
Only time will tell how many more domestic or international city mayors will join Mayor de Blasio in banning new Trump deals. These things do tend to be contagious.
Whether Trump drops out of the presidential race now or in the future, at some point he must fully embrace the costly damage he has caused his empire and its brand. Only then will it be time for a creative major re-branding campaign.
Now, I would like to suggest a Trump corporate marketing solution that will be painful, but extremely feasible and potentially very successful.
It is based on a simple concept: Daughter Ivanka Trump becomes the new name and face of the Trump brand while Donald is forced to retire or fade into the background.
The operational strategy is also simple with new hotels named “The Ivanka” or “Ivanka International.” The name Ivanka is even added before Trump signs on existing properties, for example, Trump Tower is renamed “Ivanka Trump Tower.”
Overtime, the Ivanka brand would become the new, improved Trump brand. Once the new brand is fully integrated and separated from Donald’s controversial political career it should regain its value from such entities as Forbes.
Ivanka herself, who holds the title Executive Vice President of Development and Acquisitions at the Trump Organization, is perfectly positioned for such a role. According to her corporate profile: “Trump is involved with all aspects of the company’s real estate and hotel management initiatives.”
As proof of her high executive status, in the aforementioned Politico piece, Ivanka is quoted as the person in charge of all the Old Post Office hotel fall-out.
Already Ivanka’s model-pretty face is familiar to the public through The Apprentice television series, and she is well-branded by her ever-expanding Ivanka Trump Lifestyle Collection of handbags, footwear, outerwear, jewelry and much more.
From a marketing perspective, as a married mother of two, Ivanka’s image at the helm would both soften and strengthen the brand that her Dad built and his ego is in the process of destroying.
But, in order for this rebranding solution to work, Donald Trump must first publicly endorse the “Ivanka” concept and then agree to step down and disappear. That is the painful part and it could happen if the Trump board and Ivanka’s two brothers, also high-ranking Trump executives, convince their Dad that he has permanently poisoned the Trump name and their future.
Then the public and the media is left with an entertaining, ongoing saga involving a new, improved corporate identity with a high-stakes transfer of power from the angry old man with the weird hair — to the beautiful, brilliant daughter with perfect hair.
Ivanka saves the empire!
Of course, NBC will love this dramatic new reality show that bears her name and expect it to become a huge hit replacing the Celebrity Apprentice.
In the meantime, the current non-edited Trump reality show is playing out on all networks all the time. Every day brings a new episode and today’s is “Donald Goes to the Border,” so stay tuned!