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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


"Every single @realDonaldTrump hotel and golf course is toast. Done. Over. Bernie Madoff now has a better brand."

                           -- Mark Cuban, tweet on October 7th, 2016

As nearly everyone in the travel industry will attest, having a strong brand is essential to keeping the doors open and the clients coming back. Whether you operate a Marriott, a St Regis, or a Motel 6, consumers come to your property with an expectation and knowledge of the brand beforehand.

The same goes for car rental agencies, airlines, and specific destinations. A tarnished brand can take years to restore, if it ever recovers. Heck, even your humble little travel bloggers brand themselves with what they hope is a memorable and enticing image.

This year the Trump brand -- and I won't be going into the politics involved -- is suffering a potentially fatal fallout as a result of its namesake's run for the Presidency of the United States. To say his campaign has been controversial is to court severe understatement.

Image is Everything...
A result of the campaign has, unfortunately, begun to seriously stain his brand, which caters primarily to the very very affluent. That is a market segment very sensitive to image, and also to controversy. The somewhat absurd element to this is that Donald Trump's campaign is aimed at exactly the opposite of his brand's target market: the less-educated working class -- not the ultra-wealthy who are the source of his disputable wealth.

And this is damaging his brand, with the potential to ruin it entirely.

A brand, any brand, is impacted greatly by the public perception of it. Take a look at Tylenol, the highly successful brand of acetaminophen pain reliever owned by pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson. In 1982 several bottles of Tylenol were laced with poison, killing several consumers and making others very sick. For a brand like Tylenol, built on the perception that it was a safe and effective pain reliever, this was a disaster. Trust in the product was singularly important. Johnson & Johnson had to act quickly and effectively to staunch the crashing faith in its product. To their credit, it continues to this day as a recognized and popular product.

The Trump brand is no different. Its perception is one of very high-end glitz and glamor, partially because the properties are indeed world class, and partly because Trump is a never-ending salesperson who regularly employs hyperbole to sell his brand. Hyperbole ("this is the best") ("nobody is better") works well in a marketing plan, but less well in a political environment.

Brands built on the reputation of a single individual are subject to considerable pressure from the actions of that person. If the CEO of brand XYZ misbehaves it might have damaging effect, but the brand survives by ousting that CEO and insisting they have changed their ways.

Other times the CEO misbehaves so erratically it can take the brand down with this. Winess the destruction of the WorldCom and MCI brands when Bernard Ebbers, the CEO and mastermind of WorldCom's ascension, committed fraud. The damage was so severe to the brand that eventually the entire organization was forced into bankruptcy and sold to Verizon.

Trump is no different. The impacts to his name have been significant. Trump University is gone but the legal battle is still raging. And just a few weeks ago Trump Taj Mahal, once an opulent and desperately needed addition to the Atlantic City skyline, closed its doors after a muddled history and muddied brand.

News reports come in almost daily recounting Trump's brutal past as a business partner and contractor. None of this plays to his favor when it comes to establishing and touting his success. (Which, despite the flood of negative news he insists are entirely someone else's fault.)

And so his brand is suffering. Recent controversies have thrown his personal reputation into some unflattering light. Being a somewhat naughty playboy works as the image for the jet-set, but not so well as a political candidate nor as a sales point for an expensive and elegant venue for a fundraiser.

The once nearly invulnerable Pan Am never recovered from the stain on its image as a result of the 1988 bombing of its aircraft over Lockerbie, Scotland. (While Pan Am was already suffering, the safety concern this raised was one of the final nails in its coffin.)

All that glitters isn't gold...
Brands are equally important for destinations: The Mexican cities of Acapulco and Mazatlan, once poster cities for glamorous and exotic travel, now lie vacant because of their reputations as unsafe for tourists because of drug cartel activities. The countries of Guatemala and Colombia are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to try to attract back tourists who fled them during the worst civil war and drug trafficking days in the last few decades.

And so it comes to the evaluation of the Trump brand. I am certain the success or failure of the brand over the next few years will be the stuff of marking classes worldwide in the coming decade. How the brand manages the controversy, and whether it can sustain and rebuild its image as catering to the ultra-wealthy remains to be seen. A large number of their target audience are beginning to look elsewhere and as the brand declines it may suffer the "jump-on" bandwagon effect, which accelerates a brand's demise.

If Trump is unable to sell his image of unbridled success and extreme glamor -- both claims which are greatly debated and under increasingly intense scrutiny -- then he will not be able to sustain his market

And once that image is gone it is almost impossible to restore.


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