Donald Trump Taught Us All We Needed to Know About Employer Branding

This article is not about politics; instead, it’s about how organizations can build a powerful employer brand in a short period of time. As an ardent advocate of cross-industry benchmarking (where you discover and adapt best practices from another industry), I recommend that employer branding leaders try to learn from the recent amazing image building campaign of Donald Trump. No matter what you might personally think about him, the approach that he used to successfully built his image as the front-runner candidate for president is worth analyzing. His approach is full of effective and unique approaches that are seldom even considered, no less used, by conservative and risk-averse corporate employer brand builders.

Valuable Tips to Consider For Strengthening Your Employer Brand Image

The possible lessons that corporate employer branding leaders can learn from the recent Donald Trump brand building success include:

  • Say bold things and avoid corporate speak — being bold in your messaging is clearly an attention getter. Saying bold things stands out because most corporate websites and recruiting ads are painfully dull, because the lawyers have cleaned out all of the bold materials. Individual job seekers now get as much as 80 percent of what they know about a corporation from outside sources. And that percentage is likely to get higher because they don’t trust what they find on corporate web pages and in recruiting ads. If you want your information to be credible, include materials that will definitely make your lawyers uncomfortable.
  • Say memorable things that will be repeated — saying things that can be easily remembered and that people will likely repeat helps to ensure that you’ll get a lot of attention. Saying quotable things means that your message will be spread virally across social media. Talk on topics that are on everyone’s mind but that few others are addressing. And finally encourage your employees retweet and spread your message on social media.
  • Come across as un-choreographed and avoid scripted materials — whatever you say, make it appear to be straight from the heart. Whether it be a narrative, a talk, or a video, a significant part of any audience doesn’t believe anything that is scripted, rehearsed, or overly controlled. If you want to be considered as authentic, real, genuine, and credible, everything you present can’t be perceived as perfect and pristine.
  • Be a rebel and show that you push against the tide – a significant part of your audience in the U.S. likes a rebel. Occasionally push back against what most people do and expect. Appearing to be overly politically correct may make you appear timid to some. Being a rebel firm means that you must have a few visible policies, practices, or employees that do unique and even brash things that most would be afraid to do.
  • Be forthcoming and don’t appear to hold anything back — transparency is a trait that many admire. Always appear to be forthcoming, so that the audience thinks that you are revealing everything and holding nothing back.
  • Say what most people are afraid to say — as a result of the last few years of layoffs and the less-than-stellar treatment of employees, there is animosity toward corporations. So saying things that have some shock value because most corporate people are afraid to utter them may impress some applicants because that makes you stand out and appear different as a corporation. Many are impressed by leaders who say what many are thinking but few have the courage to even comment about out loud.
  • Let them feel your passion — many applicants want to work at a place where the employees are passionate about what they do. Make that passion easy to see, feel, and experience by including real employee comments, stories, and by providing a chance to interact with your employees. Employee-made videos showing exciting moments in your workplace excel at revealing the passion that your employees feel every day.
  • Never miss an opportunity to be seen and quoted — Mr. Trump loves the camera because he knows that the media can help to spread his message (for free). In the corporate world, it is critical that, rather than being afraid of being misquoted, executives and managers take every opportunity to blog, write articles, be quoted in the media, and to appear in news videos.
  • Make them think that they are speaking to me — rather than relying exclusively on broad messages, include some personalization, so that the listener/reader feels like the message is “speaking directly to me”. Do your market research to identify what different segments of your target audience are really thinking, and directly address those issues or thoughts like you are personally addressing each individual listener.
  • Provide simple and direct answers — although some portion of your audience might want detailed answers, much of the audience prefers short, simple, and direct answers. When your audience has a short attention span, make sure that your message fits within their time span.
  • Make it clear that you get things done — everyone seems to be impressed with someone who always gets things done. So when you’re talking about your past successes and future plans, make it clear that your firm does what it promises. Don’t dwell on the many problems that you will face, but instead show confidence and a strong track record of successes. Saying unabashedly that you make a lot of money, that you are a great negotiator, or that you always find a way to win may seem arrogant to some, but many others will take you at your word and admire you for being a doer.
  • Be tough and don’t back down — it might not be a good idea to be perceived as wishy-washy, neutral, or forgiving to your opponents. Being viewed as scrappy and that you fight for what you believe in by directly attacking “your enemies” on their actions will impress many people because most corporations avoid confrontation at any costs. Direct comparisons with your competitors show you have the courage to say that you are better, and many will believe that you are, because you had the courage to say it. When you say or do something bold, don’t back down when it receives the inevitable criticism.

Final Thoughts

I’m not proposing that every corporation completely follow Mr. Trump’s approach. But even if you are not personally a political supporter of Mr. Trump (I am not), it’s hard to argue against his approach that has built his name and his brand image both in business and in politics (he stands alone with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronald Reagan with that dual success).

Even with 16 candidates and the media continually attacking him, he has not only maintained his lead but he has also over several months clearly remained the most-talked-about candidate. And isn’t being talked about one of the major goals of any corporate employer brand campaign? Incidentally, he built his image without running a single ad and without providing many details about most of his proposed solutions. Every corporation can learn from Mr. Trump, but if your firm currently has a weak employer brand image, look at his approach, because in the political arena his brand-building approach produces results almost immediately.

Article Continues Below

 

image from Shutterstock

 

About the Author

Dr. John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions. He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ERE.Net. He lives in Pacifica, California.

  • http://www.CollegeRecruiter.com/ Steven Rothberg

    Interesting analogy, Dr. Sullivan. I too am a proponent of looking at other industries and areas of life and trying to learn lessons from what is working and not working for them. I hadn’t considered learning lessons from The Donald’s candidacy and so am glad that you wrote this article as there are lessons to be learned.

    One aspect of his approach that I think would be disastrous for any ethical organization and HR department would be his propensity for brashly, directly, and aggressively alienating groups of people. This approach runs directly counter to the efforts by many and likely most organizations to be more diverse and inclusive. You’re clearly a data-driven thinker and I love that. I trust that you agree that there are now a lot of studies which show that the more diverse and inclusive a workplace, the more productive it is.

    • Dina DiBenedetto Oskiera

      Steven, you are a true professional as demonstrated through your rational response to this article. I judge this article to be short-sighted. Branding is a long-term, two-way, communication investestment/tool/program/process. The “Trump” example of branding is a poor one since it does not have a long enough history to show its overall impact. Attention-today-via-any-means-at-any-cost is not a branding strategy.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/dmark D. Mark Hornung

    The Donald’s success to date in the Republican race is due in large part to the simple fact that he really doesn’t want to be President. What he wants is to keep the Trump brand in the limelight so that he can continue to market his hospitality and commercial real estate empire. Oh, and having such media cachet also gives him extra muscle when it comes to negotiating with recalcitrant regulators at the state or local level. Not really wanting the position frees him up to say things that no serious candidate could or should. While I get the author’s admiration of Trump’s passion, remember it springs from the fact that he really has nothing to lose… and everything to gain. Unfortunately, I know of no employer with a similar luxury.