Just when you think that you’ve heard everything about Donald Trump, there’s another chapter being written in the semi fictional book of his life. Last week, I was in New York, the place where he has marked out his most prized territory with tall, expensive buildings. Though his recent dust-up with President Obama is forcing people into “love him” or “can’t tolerate him” positions, I think that small business owners can get some wonderful lessons from a closer look at the Donald’s adventures.
Over the past three decades, he has emerged as one of the greatest personal brand builders we’ve ever seen or been fascinated by. Think P. T. Barnum the showman, wrestler “Gorgeous George” or Muhammad Ali. Is he as wealthy as he implies? Perhaps not. Is he the sharpest knife in the real estate development drawer? I don’t know about that. Does he have a string of failures on his resume to balance the visible successes? It certainly seems that way. However, he is probably the best known real estate developer in the world. The kinds of skyscrapers that bear his name don’t get built by people with small egos and a lack of self confidence. Those folks are the ones who build strip malls! Donald Trump has a very large imaginative life picture for himself and he seems determined to make that picture his reality. As a budding business owner, you need to ask yourself how big your imagination is.
Wouldn’t we all love to have our names and businesses so well known that just about everyone would return our phone calls and change their schedules just to meet with us? Well Trump has managed to leverage his name and reputation to such a degree that a lot of people want to hear what he has to say and to meet him. I might dispense the same advice as Trump, but in the parlance of the old south, “his ice is colder.” If you say that you are great often and long enough, not only will you begin to behave that way, you’ll have a number of people believing it. It was P.T. Barnum who said “Without promotion something terrible happens…Nothing!” Act as if and you’ll find you are charting the course of your reality.
Names have great meaning. If Trump had been born Joseph Blotz, would he have been able to build this strong personal brand. I have a hard time imagining people anxious to live in the Blotz Tower or eager to travel miles to gamble at the Blotz Casino. It took a long time for Henry Ford or Soichiro Honda to have their names represent excellence in their business category. But trump started life with a very marketable name. The word Trump appears in Webster’s dictionary as representing the best card of a particular suit of cards. You may not want or need to change your personal name for a business advantage, but choosing the name of your business carefully can be a great help. Remember that your name and reputation arrive at a potential customer’s desk before you do.
Name recognition is not the same as popularity. According to popularity measurement company Q Scores president Steven Levitt, “Four-and-a-half times more people are turned off by him than turned on.” But the Trump name has adorned bottled water, golf clubs, popular books and an airline! Regardless of what people say or think about him, he is relentlessly himself. The lesson is that to build a larger than life personal brand, you must be authentically and consistently yourself without thinking that you are in a popularity contest. Just ask Rush Limbaugh about that one. Arnold Schwarzenegger fell from grace as the California governor when he opted for popularity instead of living up to his action hero Mr. Fix It brand identity.
It takes time to grow into a personal brand that legions of people and potential partners want to spend time with. Donald Trump’s first big deal appears to be a $6 million profit in 1968 from revitalizing the Swifton Village apartment complex in Cincinnati. The Trump Tower went up on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue in 1983. I’m impressed by the fact that he behaves as though he’s just as hungry for success now as he was over forty years ago. As long as you are active in your field, you can’t let the fire go out. It the heat goes, so do you.
We all hit low points and sometimes question our path forward and even our ability to survive. In 1990, Trump was teetering into bankruptcy with the casinos and trying to persuade bankers and partners to see things his way. One of the fundamental lessons here is that if you want to thrive, first you have to survive. All great brand legends are a mixture of fact and fictitious perceptions. Maybe you are on the way to becoming an iconic business or personal brand. You have to give it time, authenticity and relentless pursuit. There will be a day when someone trumps Mr. Trump.
I’m happy to read your thoughts on building a personal brand.