Thursday, January 21, 2021

Pivoting Your Business During COVID

Some businesses have been the beneficiaries of the COVID-19 pandemic. They were either in the right place at the right time or they seized an opportunity created by the pandemic. Disinfectant product sales were up 230% in March and April of 2020. Clorox has enjoyed great success in 2020. Zoom has become a household word and those of us who regularly attend business meetings likely now use the Zoom platform on a regular basis. Amazon's Jeff Bezos' net worth exploded by $72 billion in 2020. Other online stores and marketplaces such as Wayfair and Etsy have also seen their revenues and profits soar. Pandemic-fueled online shopping has also been very kind to PayPal and other online payment systems. Due to at-home boredom, Facebook and other social media platforms have seen huge increases in usage and associated advertising revenues. Netflix added 26 million new subscribers in the first half of 2020. Grubhub, Uber Eats and DoorDash are all benefiting from the pandemic. UPS and FedEx have experienced record revenues. As people are spending more time in their homes, they are investing in home amenities. Three of my four neighbors added elaborate decks with fire pits and outdoor kitchens to their homes in 2020. Boats and travel trailers have also seen a spike in demand. Vacation rental homes have seen rental nights soar in 2020. And businesses considered to be essential, such as Walmart, have seen their revenues increase significantly.

Other companies have taken advantage of the pandemic in a variety of ways. Many companies have slashed their expenses by reducing their real estate footprints as more and more employees work out of their homes. Other companies have moved their businesses to online platforms. Some local businesses have attracted customers from much larger geographies when they went online. Many churches have seen attendance increase as they switched from live to virtual church services. This transition to online commerce has kept many web designers very busy during the pandemic. Some distilleries have added sanitizer products to their product mixes while other companies have added face masks to their product portfolios. Telemedicine is another industry that has grown significantly due to the pandemic. 

Imagine what an at-home workforce might do to migration pattens and choices of residences. Places with scenic beauty, lower taxes, lower overall costs of living, better school systems, less traffic congestion and similar cultural amenities without all of the hassles of larger cities would stand to benefit from this trend. This also has implications for housing supply and demand and housing prices. Also consider what this might do to office space occupancy and repurposing. The pandemic is also accelerating the demise of brick and mortar retail and especially shopping malls, which are in the midst of being reimagined. 

I have taken my focus groups and brand strategy sessions online and have converted many of my educational offerings from live seminars and workshops to e-learning courses. 

But live theaters, live concerts, live sporting events, airlines, casinos, hotels, restaurants, bars, barbershops and beauty parlors, massage therapists and any other businesses that rely on large crowds or close proximities of people who are not from the same households have suffered. Because of the pandemic and its associated travel restrictions, travel companies and places that depend on tourist spending have also suffered. Which means that many service workers have been fired, furloughed or had their hours significantly reduced. 

Colleges and universities have been particularly hard hit as many have had to give up room and board revenue, while students are less satisfied with tuition rates as more courses are taught online without the social interactions and campus experiences that the students were expecting. Similar issues and frustrations have occurred in delivering primary and secondary education. 

While some people might be counting the months and days until "things get back to normal," it is unwise to have this as an expectation. As the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus said, "change is the only constant in life." And the pandemic has changed a lot. Not only has it changed the fortunes of businesses and individuals, it has also changed business models and even the long-term prospects for some industries. But even further, consider the impact of the pandemic on just one other thing - the environment. Due to decreased commuting, the air got cleaner and millions fewer animals died in our roads. On the less positive side, due to significantly increased online shopping and food delivery, packaging materials have increased almost exponentially. And speaking of the environment, the COVID-19 pandemic is not likely to be the last pandemic in our lifetimes given global climate change. Nor will it be the last disruptive biological, extreme weather or migration event in our lifetimes given the same. The one thing we can count on for the foreseeable future is change and lots of it. 

So, what does all of this mean for you and your businesses and brands? It means that change has already occurred, or if not, it will likely need to occur. And when that change does occur, you may need help rethinking your business model and repositioning your brand to better align them with and to take advantage of the new realities. This is where BrandForward can help. We specialize in helping organizations reformulate business strategies and reposition brands. This includes discovering new revenue streams and new ways that brands can serve their customers. If you are interested in learning more about this service, contact me at 

I wish you and your businesses and brands much success in navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Friday, January 15, 2021

The Evolution of the Trump Brand

I have been following the Trump brand since I encountered Donald Trump at Studio 54 in the early 1980s. Back then, he had a reputation in New York social circles. He was viewed as an outsider to polite society. He was seen as a nouveau riche playboy and real estate developer who was aggressive but struggling. His book, The Art of the Deal, raised his awareness and his reputation nationally, as did his stint on The Apprentice. The Apprentice really brought him to national prominence. His awareness grew almost exponentially as he ran for and then became president of the US. His need for attention has insured that he has been talked about constantly for the past four years. 

Traditionally, the Trump brand stood for luxury and exclusivity. It was posh. Donald Trump rendered his last name in gold and applied it to condominiums, golf clubs, hotels, resorts, casinos, and even wine and a university to connote quality. But when Donald Trump entered politics and became president of the US, his personal brand began to stand for populism, the common man and people who felt disenfranchised. There is clearly a disconnect between the two manifestations of the brand. And now, it stands for something completely different, but I am getting ahead of myself. 

Brand equity is primarily driven by brand awareness. Brand awareness is the cornerstone of any strong brand. And, as the saying goes, "No publicity is bad publicity." Or is it?

Intrigued by the Trump brand, I fielded a Trump brand survey nationally in 2016 and again in 2019. I just repeated it beginning on January 8, two days after the Capitol Hill insurrection. 

This is how the Trump brand was perceived in 2016 versus today. 

In 2016, here are the words that Americans thought best described Donald Trump (in decreasing order):

  1. Outspoken 
  2. Ambitious 
  3. Confident
  4. Businessman
  5. Rich
  6. Entrepreneurial
  7. Successful
  8. Billionaire 
  9. Energetic
  10. Hard working
  11. Passionate
In 2021, here are the words that Americans think best describe Donald Trump (in decreasing order):
  1. Egotistical
  2. Narcissist
  3. Bully
  4. Selfish
  5. Rude
  6. Outspoken
  7. Crass
  8. Fraud
  9. Dangerous
  10. Authoritarian
  11. Greedy
  12. Corrupt
  13. Ill-mannered
  14. Loud
  15. Superficial
  16. Sexist
  17. Bigoted
  18. Impulsive
  19. Boorish
  20. Pretentious
  21. Narrow-minded
  22. Intolerant
  23. Angry
  24. Huckster
  25. Charlatan
These personality traits were selected from a list of 115 mostly positive personality traits. I have only included those traits that were perceived to "perfectly" or "to a large degree" describe Donald Trump.

It is interesting that the second list (2021) had much higher scores of "perfectly" describes than the first list indicating that people are much more sure of their responses in 2021 than they were in 2016. That is likely due to people feeling much more familiar with Donald Trump now than they did in 2016. This is also why the 2021 list is longer than the 2016 one.

You will notice that only one trait is on both lists - Outspoken.

But people in Donald Trump's political party describe him differently than the average US citizen. Republicans' and conservatives' top responses in 2021 include:
  1. Outspoken
  2. Ambitious
  3. Egotistical
  4. Cunning
  5. Energetic
  6. Entrepreneurial
  7. Hard working
  8. Impulsive
  9. Rich
  10. Shrewd
  11. Crass
Top responses to the open-ended response question, "When you think of the Trump brand, what comes to your mind?" are as follows for 2021
  1. Fake/fraud (16%)
  2. Gaudy/ostentatious/gold toilets (12%)
  3. Fake elegance (10%)
  4. Greed (9%)
  5. Lies (9%)
  6. Overpriced (7%)
  7. Garbage/trash (6%)
  8. Hotels (6%)
  9. No substance (6%)
  10. Over the top (5%)
  11. Bankruptcy (4%)
  12. Corruption (4%)
  13. Criminal (4%)
  14. Racism (4%)
  15. Real estate (4%)
  16. Sickening (4%)
Others highly mentioned: casinos, con artist, gross, egotistical, evil, excess, failed businesses, obnoxious, pretentious, privileged, scam, snobbish, The Apprentice, thief, Trump Tower, vulgar, wealth

Top responses to the open-ended response question, "When you think of Donald Trump, what comes to your mind?" are as follows for 2021: 
  1. Liar (24%)
  2. Narcissist (22%)
  3. Con artist (18%)
  4. Criminal (9%)
  5. Bully (8%)
  6. Cruel (6%)
  7. Dumb/stupid/idiot (6%)
  8. Traitor/treason (6%)
  9. Deplorable (5%)
  10. Evil (5%)
  11. Revolting (5%)
  12. Vulgar (5%)
  13. Biggest loser (4%)
  14. Dictator (4%)
  15. Disgusting (4%)
  16. Fake (4%)
  17. Fraud (4%)
  18. Incompetent (4%)
  19. Mentally ill (4%)
  20. Racist (4%)
Others highly mentioned: asshole, braggart, businessman, cult leader, dangerous, greedy, no moral compass, patriot, self-promotion, smart, trash, worst president

Republicans' and conservatives' top responses regarding the Trump brand are as follows:
  • America
  • Bankruptcy
  • Casinos
  • Cheater
  • Excess
  • Golf courses
  • Hotels
  • Landmark properties
  • Lies
  • Prestige 
  • Real estate
  • Strength
  • Success
  • The Apprentice
  • Trump Tower
  • Wealth

Republicans' and conservatives' top responses regarding Donald Trump are as follows:
  • America First
  • Braggart
  • Bully
  • Challenges status quo
  • Criminal 
  • Crude
  • Disciplined
  • Doesn't get full credit
  • Entrepreneur
  • Liar
  • Loves Americans
  • Misunderstood
  • Narcissist
  • Own worst enemy
  • Patriot
  • Populist
  • Risk taking
  • The Apprentice
  • Vulgar
  • Wasted potential

Clearly, while Trump brand awareness has soared between 2016 and 2021, Trump brand associations have gone from mostly positive to very negative. Having said that, there is still a segment of the US population that views Donald Trump differently. They view him as successful, shrewd and a patriot. They associate him with America First and believe that he has been dependable in delivering upon his promises. 

In context, companies and institutions are shunning President Trump as a pariah after the Capitol Hill insurrection. Twitter and other social media platforms have blocked him from participating. Shopify terminated online stores associated with Trump merchandise. P.G.A. America is walking away from an agreement for his New Jersey golf club to host the P.G.A. Championship tournament in 2022. Trump hotels are experiencing cancelled bookings from individuals and organizations. Corporations are suspending contributions to his campaign and to the GOP. Deutsch Bank and other financial partners are cutting ties with President Trump. New York City has cancelled all contracts with Trump. Several properties are taking the Trump name down from their buildings. Many of his businesses are increasingly unprofitable and a huge amount of his loans are coming due soon.

Breaking with tradition, the Pentagon will not engage in an armed forces farewell or honor Donald Trump’s request for a military-style parade upon his departure from the White House. Scotland does not want Donald Trump to spend time at his golf course there after his departure from Washington, DC. Residents of Palm Beach, Florida have warned Donald Trump that he should not reside at his Mar-a-Lago Club in their community. He is the only US president that has been impeached twice. And he is likely to face multiple criminal charges and legal battles with individuals, states and potentially the federal government upon his departure from Washington, DC.

So, what does all of this mean for the Trump brand? Despite soaring brand awareness, I believe the Trump luxury brand will be all but dead very soon in every place but perhaps a few outposts where Donald Trump is stilled viewed as a hero. However, I think there is still a franchise with ardent Trump supporters, but I believe it will be a different type of brand with a different clientele. Rather than being a luxury brand, it will be a brand for a certain type of self-described patriot. The audience will be similar to Rush Limbaugh's or Breitbart News Network's audience and it will be delivered through various media and supported with insignia merchandise. It will essentially become a fan club of a demagogue. In some small way, this reminds me of how the Abercrombie & Fitch brand pivoted from an upscale brand for mostly older outdoor enthusiasts, especially hunters and fishermen to a hip clothing brand for youth. While the brand kept its name, it changed its audience, product and personality. This is what the Trump brand will need to do to survive. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Trump Brand

I need your help. I am conducting a survey on the Donald Trump brand. I first conducted this survey in June of 2016. I repeated it in January of 2019. I want to compare earlier perceptions to today's perceptions of the Trump brand. I am looking for diverse responses so please share this link with as many people as possible. I will present the results in this blog when I have received enough responses to do so. Thanks in advance for your help with this. Here is the LINK.  

Monday, January 4, 2021

Pretend Your Brand Has Died...


People periodically go through the exercise of revising their brand's essence, promise, personality, unique value proposition and other brand positioning elements. 

A fun approach to this is to pretend that your brand has died. Now you need to write its obituary, its epitaph, and its eulogy. It's obituary is akin to its elevator speech, while its epitaph is akin to its tagline or slogan. While its eulogy is a more thoughtful, in-depth review of the brand. If you want to go even more in-depth, think about writing a documentary about the life and times of your brand. What was your brand best known for? What was its legacy? At its peak, how did people perceive it? What would you want the brand to be known for? Generally, obituaries, epitaphs and eulogies are all positive. 

This could be an exercise for the senior leadership team, the marketing team or all employees. 

To get you started (and just for fun), here are some real epitaphs taken from real gravestones:

  • Joe DiMaggio: “Grace, dignity and elegance personified”
  • Gracie Allen and George Burns: “Together again” 
  • Robert Frost: “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”
  • Rodney Dangerfield: “There goes the neighborhood.”
  • Mel Blanc: "That's all folks"
  • Joannes Keppler: “I used to measure the skies, now I measure the shadows of Earth. Although my mind was sky-bound, the shadow of my body lies here.”
  • Victor William Braddick (an English farmer): “We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land”
  • George Washington Carver: “He found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world”
  • Robert Clay Allison (a gunslinger): "He never killed a man that did not need killing"
  • Helen Herczberg Gawara: "She bore witness to the holocaust. She is now set free."
  • Russell Larsen: "Two things I love most, good horses and beautiful women. And when I die I hope they tan this old hide of mine and make it into a lady's riding saddle, so I can rest in peace between the two things I love most."
  • Bill Kugle (a member of the Texas House of Representatives): "He never voted for Republicans and had little to do with them"
  • Herman Harband: "My wife Eleanore Arthur of Queens, N.Y. lived like a princess for 20 years traveling the world with the best of everything. When I went blind, she tried to poison me, took all my money, all my medication and left me in the dark, alone and sick. It's a miracle I escaped. I won't see her in heaven because she's surely going to hell!"
This exercise can help people rediscover the brand's purpose, realign with its mission and vision and re-craft its unique value proposition.