By now you've probably heard the joke about Trump and Samsung:
What do the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 and Donald Trump have in common?
One overheats for no reason, spontaneously bursts into flames, and is creating a disastrous situation for its stakeholders and supporters.
The other is a smartphone.
I know, I know. You'd laugh if it didn't make you want to cry.
But despite the obvious similarities for Trump and Samsung and their brands, the way they're handling their problems are light years apart. And the difference is something you can learn from, whether you're a Samsung user – or a Trump supporter – or not.
Both Trump and Samsung have brands with loyal supporters who have invested time, money, and serious commitments in their chosen favorites. And clearly both Trump and Samsung are having significant problems with their brand images. But they're going about very different ways of dealing with their problems.
While the electronics giant is trying to figure out if it's only a battery defect that's affecting their Note 7 smartphones, Samsung has announced they've decided to stop producing the entire line. Their official announcement is that it's for the sake of consumer safety and for Samsung to regain the trust of their consumers. According to CBC News, Samsung will also “provide a full refund at the original price or replace Note 7 units with any other model of Samsung phone, and give refunds of the difference in prices, along with a 300 yuan ($45) voucher.” But I'm sure as days pass Samsung will significantly sweeten the pot and make sure that their consumers know how contrite and concerned the company feels.
Trump has taken a very different tact. Instead of apologizing for any of his misdeeds, the Republican presidential candidate has doubled down on his aggressive strategy. He's written his vulgar words off as “locker room talk” and tried to pivot by accusing former president Bill Clinton of doing much worse. And Trump continues to toss red meat to his supporters with his hastily arranged press conferences, promises of investigating Hillary Clinton, and accusations that the press is even more crooked than his opponent.
What will be the results of the different strategies employed by Trump and Samsung? Samsung might be able to salvage both their smartphone business and their stock price. Trump will be relegated to the dustbin of history.
First, unlike Trump the politician, Samsung is not a one-trick pony. Even though it's estimated that their exploding smartphones will cost the company four to five billion dollars, Samsung earns income and continues to please customers with their semi-conductors, display panels, and even their other smartphone, the flagship S-series.
Trump, on the other hand, has no other political options. Election day will be a make-it or break-it for him and his campaign.
Second, because Samsung is attacking the problem head on they still have the chance to prove that the faith their loyal fans have trusted in them was not misplaced. Because Trump is not admitting any wrongdoing (other than saying he was embarrassed and sorry “…if anyone was offended”) he will have to face the wrath of the electorate once he fails to lead them to the promised land.
Finally, Samsung has lots of upcoming chances to introduce new innovations and sexy new reasons for people to reconsider their products. But Trump is playing a zero-sum game. Ever since the 12th amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1804, the second place finisher in the race for the US presidency does not get to be vice-president. Instead, one candidate goes on to occupy the White House while the other goes home to lick their wounds.
It's true that Trump's approach has energized his base. Unfortunately for Trump and his followers, his brand strategy doesn't make mathematical sense. Because while hundreds or even thousands of people may clap and cheer at Trump's rallies, millions of Americans vote (126 million in 2012). And while the majority of those voters won't be voting for Trump, they might be following the election results on their new Samsung smartphone.