What Financial Pros Can Learn from Donald Trump's Communication Style

With the presidential election still a year away, we’re already waist deep in press coverage. Election 2016 promises “shock and awe” as the players rally for position. For many, the biggest surprise to date is real estate mogul and business dynamo Donald Trump’s meteoric rise to become the Republican Party’s frontrunner.

Putting political preferences and personal opinions of The Donald aside, financial professionals can find much to learn by examining his communication techniques – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Revel in the Spotlight:

Dubbed a “perpetual attention machine,” Trump excels at being the center of attention, garnering 50-60% of all press coverage in the GOP field this summer according to Nate Silver for Data Lab of fivethirtyeight.com.

Financial people generally prefer a nose to the grindstone approach, liking numbers and analysis, keeping heads down and focusing on the job at hand. Instead, like Trump, capitalize on opportunities to address your clients and prospects. Be in the right place at the right time in front of the right people. Make yourself the face of your brand, and then deliver a consistent story that makes your services and products memorable.

Don’t Be a Talking Head:

Adept at disrupting nearly every conversation, Trump is willing to talk about anything from bashing the Mexican people to rating supermodels.

But how do these issues relate to “Make America Great Again”? Even if you are in the right forum, sharing your opinions on every economic, political and other issue in the news is more likely to confuse your audience than endear you to them. You may sound smart, but instead, you can hit more homeruns – and avoid conflicts – by sticking to a clear, concise message to capsulize who you are and what you do.

There’s often only a few minutes to make an impression, whether on a TV spot, planned presentation or more casual business lunch. Think about what your clients and prospects need to know about how you are different and better for them than your competitors are and focus your comments to support those points.

Develop a niche:

When you think of Donald Trump, is it his hotels, wineries, golf courses, TV show, line of menswear at Macy’s or political aspirations that come to mind?

Trump has diversified his brand. That’s good for him, but makes it difficult for the average person to know what he’s really all about. Even though he’s been successful in many areas, Trump probably isn’t the first person you’d look to for fashion ideas or—for that matter—balanced foreign policy advice.

A financial professional needs a specific persona: If you’re a killer on the golf course, that’s great! Nevertheless, you probably shouldn’t invest too much time giving interviews to Golf Digest about your golf swing if you’d like to build your financial cleintele. Instead, focus on delivering the messages that your primary audience is interested in: your record of accomplishment of consistent investment success.

Draw Attention to Yourself:

It’s hard to turn away when Trump is on TV. He’s passionate, animated, exudes energy and vision. He may even let someone pull his hair as he did on national TV at the beginning of a campaign speech on Aug 27.

An engaging persona is one of the reasons Trump is interviewed so often. Emulating that kind of charisma is hard, but being authentic and passionate about your business shouldn’t be. Positive attention means more people know who you are, what you do and what you stand for. Take advantage of that to build your business.

Believe in Your Message – but Don’t be a Bully:

Trump refuses to back down. He apologizes to no one, including the head of Fox News.

Having conviction in your own beliefs and processes can go a long way to engender confidence. These are troubling economic times and people need professionals they can count on for advice and counsel.

However, being a bully about it does more harm than good, and once Google finds you, you are hard-pressed to bury bad news. Trump’s feud with FOX reporter Megyn Kelly should serve as a warning to anyone who speaks to the media: be respectful of journalists and other influencers, as well as your competition.

Own your Successes:

Trump does a great job referring to poll numbers and accolades; he’s let us know he’s dominated the GOP race from June to August so far.

Financial firms often neglect to nominate themselves for “top lists.” Some financial firms who do win these industry awards fail to fully leverage them with client announcements, press releases, web postings or in-office displays. Third party recognition can go a long way in adding credibility for your firm; don’t let false modesty hold you back. People like to jump on the bandwagon of winners.

Promote Yourself:

Trump loves to say his own name – in fact 131 times (twice as many times as any other contender) during the Aug 6 Republican Debate, according to mrctv.com.

Trump wants you to remember him and know he’s the best, pointing to his own wealth as undeniable proof of his success. Perhaps 131 times is a bit excessive, but you should be willing to talk about your successes and differentiate yourself from the competition. If you manage money or give advice on how to succeed, your clients will want to know you’ve followed that same advice, investing in the same strategies and successfully building your own wealth as a result.

Don’t Have a Volatile Strategy:

Despite Trump’s conviction, he’s been caught more than once with a message that’s distinctly different from what he was pedaling a few weeks previously. Sometimes, it even changes question to question.

Sophisticated investors want to know that their advisors have disciplined, repeatable processes that produce consistent results. Unlike Trump, you’re not likely to reverse your story, but have you surveyed how several individuals in your firm tell it? Does everyone talk about your process in the same way, pointing to the same key points? Or might a listener think you’re from different firms?

Don’t Alienate Your Team:

Trump tends to say exactly what he thinks, when and wherever he may be.

Because of this habit, Trump’s political advisor Roger Stone exited when Trump spent more time getting involved in public feuds than staying on message. While it is a good thing to speak your mind, remember that you’ve hired good people with specialized skills to do a job. If you have marketing and sales professionals on staff, rely on them and take their advice. Encourage open communication and honest debate before finalizing any plans. Trust and collaboration are key to building a successful team.

Be a Thought Leader:

If anyone has the ear of the media and the business world, it’s Trump, driving ratings and click rates, says the Huffington Post.

Maybe it’s his net worth, maybe it’s his business acumen, maybe it’s both, but people always want to know his thoughts on the day’s topics.

Developing media relationships takes time, but it’s an investment worth making to establish your reputation as an industry expert. Writing articles or getting on the speaking circuit not only broadens your audience, it puts you on the radar and can lead to valuable partnership opportunities within your industry.

Don’t Discount Social Media:

Facebook reported that 3.4 million people shared information about Trump 6.4 million times in the 24 hours after he tossed his hat in the ring, top among all contenders – and in the first hour, he garnered 87% of all US Google search inquiries, according to the New York Post. And Trump is a pro at creating news for himself on Twitter.

Clearly there are regulatory hurdles in the financial industry that make using social media outlets challenging, but it is not impossible. Our world and how we communicate is changing. While the giants in the industry can assign staffs of writers and reviewers to the task, smaller firms and individuals owe it to themselves and their constituents to look closely at today’s landscape and consider a game plan to engage this new media.

There is no doubt that Donald Trump is a case study in extremes – both positive and negative. He’s built a brand centered on his persona, something individual financial professionals or firms can emulate. Perhaps the biggest positive take-away is simply to “get out there” and be seen and heard.

On the flip side, unlike Trump, before you take the stage, hone a clear message about your brand. Being able to articulate your approach to financial success in simple language and explain why it is a better mousetrap will speak volumes to potential clients.