The Republican Party is experiencing, as one journalist aptly put it, “a hostile takeover.” Unless you’ve been living in some pleasant suspension from reality (and if you have, please share your secret), you’re probably no doubt aware that Donald Trump is the current front-runner for the Grand Old Party’s presidential nomination. The popularity and surprising viability of Trump, at this stage at least, is having a divisive and potentially calamitous effect on a coalition that was able to successfully maintain its “brand” over the course of several decades. Now, with the GOP being split apart on class, economic and even racial lines, the potential for another disastrous result in the presidential election is very real, and it all stems from a loss of brand identity and clear purpose.
The rise of Donald Trump is the rise of economic populism within the Republican Party’s voting bloc of primarily white, working-class and high school educated voters. Whereas in previous previous election cycles, Republican voters of all stripes were able to fall in behind the party’s tradition of supply-side, or “trickle-down” / laissez-faire economic policy, these voters are angry and disillusioned about trade agreements that have sent jobs out of their counties and into other countries, along with the continued redistribution of wealth upwards, and the perception of job loss due to immigration. With those concerns in mind, along with others such as fundamentalist terrorism at home and abroad, Trump has centered his campaign around a single-minded purpose, “Make America Great Again,” that resonates with a large demographic of voters that feel left-out and/or forgotten in an increasingly globalized and complex world. This discontent with business and politics as usual can be seen in the success of the Tea Party movement within the party, and it has now reached an aggressive crescendo in the rhetoric and ideology of Donald Trump.
Putting politics aside – which we are – if we look at Trump’s presence, and simple, easy-to-understand messaging, we can see the power of concise storytelling in capturing an audience’s attention and in getting them to invest in your brand’s platform. Trump understands his target demographic, and has crafted messaging and language, including divisive talk on everything from immigration, to anti-terrorism, to trade partnerships, to foreign policy, to well, just about everything, that speaks to both their anxieties and desires. Whether you find his brand identity and language objectionable or not (and many, including those in his own party do), it’s still an instructive example in how to tell an effective story that connects with an audience to drive results.
For the Republican establishment, one of the many problems with Trump’s successful bid so far is that it has come at the expense of the party’s staid brand identity. As Trump’s initial success has proven to be more enduring, figures from all over the GOP, including previous presidential nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney, have begun launching pointed attacks at the former reality show host and real-estate developer. The effect has been that of a brand in crises as its executive board, so to speak, ignores the real wants of its consumer base as it simultaneously speaks down to them.
While the long-term consequences of Trump’s campaign are yet to be seen, it’s not hard to envision a contentious contested or brokered Convention where the party would push Trump aside for a hand-selected candidate they deem more appropriate. This would then force Trump to run as a third party option and in effect, they would cannibalize their customer (voter) base for potentially ruinous results. Looking further out from November, the Republicans could continue to experience an ongoing identity crises that sees them fracture into perhaps even a new third party comprised of Trump-aligned voters. An embrace of Trump and his aggressive, nationalistic politics could permanently damage the Republican party and turn it into the kind of semi-fringe party such as France’s Le Pen, or Italy’s Forza Italia. The possibility of this may indeed be slim, but so did the idea of Donald Trump as a viable candidate at one point. If the Republican brand hopes to stay competitive in tight elections, even the prospect of a split or extremist-leaning party must give the GOP establishment cause for deep concern.
So what are some takeaways from this scenario?
1) It’s important to constantly make sure your brand’s identity and vision are not only in step with your core ideals but also adaptive to the times, and reflective of the audience you hope to drive results for you. Also, it’s vitally important to pay close attention to who that audience actually is – they may have changed on you, and not necessarily for the better. If that’s the case, you may need to redouble your efforts to win them back to your position and values, rather than meeting them at their level for short-term gains that result in long-term damage to your brand.
2) In an increasingly complex world filled with a dizzying array of information, don’t underestimate the importance of seemingly “simple” storytelling. As we’re all expected to multi-task and do more, it can be tempting to talk about all the great things we can do, but most people only have the time and inclination to latch onto one big idea. This shouldn’t be an excuse to be lazy or simplistic with your storytelling and language, rather, it should inspire you to distill yours into one that’s direct, authentic and positive with the substance to back it up.
3) These problems may not become apparent until later than you’d like, so always make sure to have your messaging and platform in order ahead of situations where you’re expected to deliver real results to avoid wasting precious time, energy and resources on course-correcting when you should be driving forward.
By staying true to your core values while crafting your messaging to your audience, you can ensure the survival of your brand and realize the positive potential of its original intent, rather than damage decades of hard work and polarizing potential new customers.
Image via Flickr courtesy of Gage Skidmore at https://flic.kr/p/9hKrun