The Donald’s Branding Fails: You Can’t Surf on a Broken Board!

Riding a giant, rogue wave of middle-class frustration, he surfed from well outside The Beltway all the way into the Oval Office…


…but if President-Elect Donald J. Trump isn’t careful, that board of his will fall apart, throwing him into a roiling sea of public rebellion that could wash him right back out the White House door.

The reason?  Donald Trump’s surfboard has been forged from the mass appeal of his powerful (if morally questionable) personal brand, which is what William Arruda defines as one’s “unique promise of value“.

And just as Trump’s controversial brand is what others have come to expect from him, your brand is what others have come to expect from you.

Trump’s promise to the world has had many dramatic components:  build that southern wall… jail Hillary Clinton… “drain the swamp” in Washington, DC… register every American Muslim… deport every illegal immigrant… bring the jobs back to the Rust Belt… and do whatever it takes to Make America Great Again.


Unfortunately, Mr. Trump has started to either water down those promises or abandon them entirely:

In short, even before gaining power, President-Elect Trump has already started hobbling his own brand.


Broken promises leave people disappointed in one’s past performance, skeptical of one’s current abilities, and doubtful of one’s future accomplishments.  So with so many significant about-faces already under his belt, how can Trump convince us that he’ll really bring back those Rust Belt jobs… or Make America Great Again… once he’s pocketed the White House keys?

If he doesn’t start doing a better job of fulfilling his promises, Trump won’t just continue to antagonize everyone who didn’t support him – he’ll let down everyone who did, regardless of their political views, both across America and around the world.


Trump’s broken promises could ruin his brand appeal and even threaten his presidency.  Protests will escalate, Congress may not fall into line, fellow Republicans will continue to distance themselves from him, the media will tar and feather him, and he’ll be judged – fairly or otherwise – in the volatile court of public opinion.  Impeachment may be in the cards.  The next few years may well provide a textbook case in personal branding disaster.

So as Charlie Rose likes to say on his hit PBS television interview show, what’s the object lesson here?

In the same way President-Elect Trump’s success depends on how well he fulfills his commitments to the electorate (both supporters and critics), your success depends on how well you fulfill your commitments to everyone you encounter throughout your career (be they superiors, peers, subordinates, suppliers, competitors, and so on).

It sounds great if your personal brand promises A, B, and C – but if you only deliver D, E, and F, then you’ll doom yourself by disappointing people, confusing them, losing their interest, and perhaps driving them into your competitors’ open arms.  Even worse, you may anger them – and nowadays, bad reputations spread like wildfires.

Your personal brand can be a magic tree that bears golden fruit.  In many different ways, it can bring you great connections, open unseen doors, and champion your career.  And just as farmers prune their trees, it’s fine to update your brand and adapt it to changing times.

But above all, make sure that your behaviour conveys a much more consistent, reliable brand than the Trump brand currently appears to be doing – or your golden apples will start rotting even before you’ve started to pick them!

credit: Joanna Kopik

So regardless of how we felt the morning after the election, let’s all wish the best for the next four years; it’s going to be a very interesting ride!  Let’s see whether he walks his talk, and whether his brand confusion gets repaired or eventually takes him down.


Paul Raworth Bennett, BCom (Marketing, UBC) is a Reach-certified Personal Branding and Online Identity Strategist, Certified Professional Résumé Writer (CPRW), and ardent creative wordsmith who partners with motivated professionals and entrepreneurs to maximize their long-term visibility, credibility, and success.  Click here to visit Paul’s company page (NOVA Career Strategies).