The Good, Bad and Butt Ugly: 6 Personal Branding Lessons Learned from President Trump

personal branding lessonsIn today’s “me” economy, personal branding has become all-important. Want to build a great career? Want to be known as an expert in your field? Or maybe you want your next gig to find you? Then you must learn some solid personal branding lessons.

But where do we go to learn those lessons?Who are our role models? And what personal branding lessons can we learn from them – even if it means learning what not to do?

Thankfully, President Trump has wrapped up six valuable personal branding lessons – the good, the bad and the butt ugly — in one pretty orange package.

The Good: Leveraging the “Testimonial Economy”

Since the beginning of the Social Age, the digital world has spawned self-promoters and spammers. Over time, we’ve become immune to people talking about themselves. The Super Bowl excluded, we’ve learned to tune out all forms of advertisements.

So how do we get people to learn more about us — without spamming? We become so damn good at what we do that other people do the talking for us. Through endorsements and recommendations on social media, Yelp, TripAdvisor and other sites, we let others be our personal branding flag bearers.

President Trump is a master at this game. He knows every single sound bite and every tweet will be covered a million times – by both traditional press and on digital platforms. The world is his digital echo chamber.

Lesson No. 1: Want to build an enviable personal brand? Leverage the Testimonial Economy. Be so present on social and digital media and in person that you don’t have to talk about yourself. Sit back and let your supporters — and even your haters — do the talking for you.

The Good: Be Willing to Take a Stand

President Trump is always willing to take a stand. More important: he is more than capable of rallying people around that stand.

Despite being considered an elitist by many, during the election Trump took on a populist position. He simply echoed what many people already said or thought about fear-inducing topics like job loss and immigration. By doing so, Trump created an army of ambassadors who helped him win the highest office in the land.

Lesson No. 2: Effective personal branding doesn’t mean everyone thinks you’re always right. Sometimes, it’s about creating just enough conversation, and perhaps even controversy, to keep your face in the spotlight.

The Bad: You’re Dead to Me

Having the audacity to take an unpopular or vilified stand is one thing. But with a personal brand, drawing an immovable line in the sand, complete with barbwire and gun turrets, is quite another.

President Trump takes this character fault to a level rarely seen before. His position seems to be: “You disagree with me? You’re dead to me. But before you die, I’ll make your life a living hell. In between, I’ll sue you.” Right, Univision?

Lesson No. 3: Strong opinions are certainly welcome on social media. But when building a solid personal brand, we must demonstrate empathy for those on the argument’s other side. And as we reach “leader” status, we must show we’re willing to consider all the wisdom around us.

The Bad, Part Two: Failure to Build a Diverse Support Team

Not willing to take seriously the thoughts of those who disagree with you? Incapable of engaging filters? Don’t possess enough emotional intelligence to lead, or at least participate in, a civil conversation?

You need a strong support team. And that team must include not only people who can disagree with your views, decisions and communication style — it must include those who can bring you down to Earth when you start to turn into a villain from a Disney movie.

This is clearly not our current President’s strong suit. Sure, he held job interviews with people with whom he disagreed in the past. Ultimately, however, he chose those close to him to fill key positions. So far, they haven’t been able to quiet the beast — especially on Twitter.

Lesson No. 4: Build a team that can take the edges off your passions. Let them help you find that place where you don’t just make your point, you change how others think about an issue. That is the definition of “influencer.” And a sure sign your personal brand works well.

The Butt Ugly: Polarizing Positions

Over the last eight years, we saw some clever and carefully orchestrated jabs delivered by our now ex-President. At times, he certainly wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. But he also delivered his message clearly in well-timed quips, and often with a sense of humor. Rather than initiating anger, even his harshest critics often said, “Ooh, good one.”

Not so with President Trump. His jabs — often at the expense of an entire demographic — are polarizing. There seems to be no room for middle ground. As a listener, you either agree, or you look for a strong rope, a high branch, and a steady horse.

Lesson No. 5: Along with your support team, determine how your personal opinions will affect your personal brand – before you express them. And if that impact is anything less than positive, shut up!

The Worst of the Butt Ugly: Picking on Those Perceived as Weak      

What’s even worse than polarizing? Mean. Like Mean Girls mean. Like you don’t have the filters required to keep even the most hateful thoughts from leaving your mouth.

In No. 45’s case, the most egregious of these chronic failures is his mocking of a reporter who had the nerve to question his many “alternative facts.” With this action President Trump didn’t ask people to pick sides. Because there were no sides. All but his most cherished allies thought he was deliberately picking on a person Mean Girls style.

The quickest way to activate the social media lynch mob? Deliberately ridicule a person too easily turned into a victim. In an unforgivable way, pick on someone, or something, weaker than you. Just ask Desmond Hague and that beaten puppy.

Lesson No. 6: Perhaps the most important of all the personal branding lessons we can learn, be kind. Not in a “kumbaya, can’t we all just get along?” way. But in a “would grandma be proud of me?” way. And if that just isn’t possible, and you have an ounce of self-awareness? Run to your support team and scream, “I’m about to do something stupid… stop me.”

Personal Branding Lessons Wrap-Up

Personal branding is a lifelong learning process. Sometimes the personal branding lessons learned are like the cute puppy pics on Facebook; they make us feel good. Others are wrapped in orange paper and tied with orange bows, and help us earn a PhD in what NOT to do while building an enviable personal brand.


A version of this post was published on on February 6, 2017.


Mark Babbitt AuthorAbout the Author: CEO and Founder of YouTern, Mark Babbitt is a serial mentor who has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Mashable and Forbes regarding job search, career development, internships, leadership and workforce issues.

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Mark co-authored the best-seller A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive. A prolific blogger, Mark’s work can be seen in Entrepreneur, Forbes, Harvard Business Review and many other outlets. An in-demand speaker, he was named one of Inc. Magazines Top 100 Leadership SpeakersQuestions? Contact Mark on Twitter.



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