Why Donald Trump’s Brand Needs to Pivot Next Wednesday

Trump will have a big problem the day after the election

Trump International Hotel Washington, DC
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Peter D. Kelly says he doesn’t need to look any further than his own family to see how much the 2016 election has hurt the Trump brand.

“I come from a family of educated Republicans,” said Kelly, a founding partner at the public affairs and relations firm Vectis Strategies. “If I were to suggest a family reunion at a Trump resort, I’d get thrown out of the room.”

As a former two-term chairman of the California Democratic Party, he’s admittedly biased. But as a branding expert, he’s not alone in thinking Donald Trump’s trek through the mud this election has tarnished a name once synonymous with gilded luxury.

That means that on Wednesday — the day after election day — Trump needs to make a change.

“The people his brand appeals to — the suburban, college-educated — are the very people who are running away from him,” veteran publicist Howard Bragman told TheWrap.

Chad Kawalec, president of the Brand Identity Center, agreed.

“The whole impression of his brand is that every detail has been addressed,” Kawalec told TheWrap. “But over the last few months he’s shifted that reputation, because he is the brand’s center. Now it reflects sloppiness and crassness — which is in direct conflict with his brand.”

The question now is how Trump will pivot. The branding managers we spoke to said he has no choice, because there’s no separating his political and professional reputations.

“They are interchangeable,” Kawalec said. “Everything he is doing personally is attributed to his brand — rightly or wrongly.”

The problem is that many of Trump’s most fervent political followers can’t afford what he’s selling.

A round of golf at the Trump National Golf Club in suburban Los Angeles, for example, costs up to $280 per player. Under the club’s VIP plan, golfers can pay $695 annually and $160 per round. The Trump International Hotel Waikiki in Hawaii, meanwhile, offers two-bedroom suites starting at $875 a night — before taxes and fees.

According to an August Pew survey, only 7 percent of Trump supporters had a household income of $150,000 or more — the demographic of people who tend to spend their money at golf course resorts. Fifteen percent of Hillary Clinton’s supporters are in that demo.

“The people who are voting for him can’t afford his brand,” Kawalec said.

And the people who can afford it have different issues, he added: “People living in Trump Tower are no longer telling people they live there.”

Added Kelly: “The Trump brand is basically garbage to Democrats and independents of all income levels, but it seems clear from the polling that he has lost unprecedented support from higher-income, college-educated, and female Republicans.”

Business at Trump-branded hotels is down. Foot traffic data from Foursquare — which successfully predicted hits like McDonalds all-day breakfast — shows a business slowdown at his other properties relative to their competitors. The Foursquare data says the drop-off has been steeper with women than men.

The properties can longer count on A-list corporate events, either, said Kawalec.

“Hotels make a lot of money off conferences,” he said. “But no one is going to want to want to book a Trump hotel for a conference. He will only attract C-level companies, which will further dilute his brand.”

Once an upscale brand goes downmarket, it’s tough to come back. The Harvard Business Review wrote about a study in which consumers’ attitudes toward Saks Fifth Avenue turned negative when they heard it described as downscale or mainstream.

“Once a brand has associated its name with a downscale offering — even if the move represents only a slight change in price or performance — it runs the risk of losing its stature as a higher-priced (and by inference, higher-quality) brand,” the Review wrote.

So where does that leave Trump? Casinos. Despite his memorable losses in the casino business, it’s one he knows well. And casinos are one of the few places in America where people of all walks of life converge.