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Thursday, Oct. 25, 2007

Is Trump a Guru? — Inspiring Online Credibility (Part 3)

By Jeff Sexton
October 25th, 2007

The Donald answers tough questionsNo disrespect to Mr. Trump — and I’m talking about his public persona, not the man himself — but most people wouldn’t naturally connect “The Donald” with “Guru.”

Why is that?

After all, Trump has proven expertise in his field. He’s a bestselling author, several times over. He has an intensely personal “take” on not only his profession, but just about anything you might care to bring to his attention. He’s been a mentor to more than one “apprentice” (sorry, couldn’t resist). And he’s demonstrated thought leadership through his business exploits, his many books, and through Trump University.

By most standards, Trump should be considered a guru, but he isn’t.  So, what gives?

Instead of me just saying why I think he’s not perceived as a guru, let’s examine two other essential methods of creating thumos (see my last post for definition), and then use that insight to figure it out.

1) Use your Web copy to target the relational customer

While there are many differences between transactional and relational customers, the three most important for would-be gurus are that:

Transactional customers:

  • Consider only the current transaction when making a decision
  • Are generally willing to switch suppliers, stores, etc., for reasons of price alone
  • Prefer to be their own expert

Relational customers:

  • Consider any transaction to be one in a series of interactions with a given business/expert
  • Generally will not comparison shop once they’ve found their expert
  • Are searching for an expert they can trust

Basically, if you wish to be perceived as an expert/guru, it helps if you speak to people who are actually looking for one. And again, Dr. Shay’s essay, “Aristotle’s Rhetoric as a Handbook of Leadership” provides some insight:

For starters, we must understand the context that [Aristotle] thinks his remarks apply to, what it means for a leader to seek trust: It’s about dealing with fellow-citizens, where each looks the other in the eye and says, “you are part of my future, no matter how this turns out.”

So, targeting the relational customer requires speaking to visitors as if you:

  • Desire to be part of their future beyond any immediate transaction and are willing to make concessions in light of that.
    • Which means you need to create the perception (backed by the reality) that you’re more concerned with helping visitors to make wise choices than in making the sale. If they’re part of your future, you’ll have a vested interest in helping them plan for that future.
  • See them as an equal (i.e., fellow-citizen) while lending them your expertise. Which means you should
    • Wear your expertise lightly. One doesn’t brag to friends.
    • Sound like a real person rather than a faceless corporation; be as informal as possible.
    • Answer visitors’ likely questions and provide information transparently.
  • Help them to become an insider to your industry (or at least think like one).
    • If there are concepts, terms, or dynamics that a person would have to be familiar with to understand your industry or profession as an insider, help your visitors understand these things.
    • Bring them up to speed in the way a trusted friend and counselor would.

2) Develop an over-riding passion that speaks to the character of your visitors

The word Guru literally denotes a “spiritual teacher.” And even in common use, most Gurus — even cooking or productivity Gurus — see their profession in broader, almost spiritual terms. To use the parable of the three stonemasons, gurus have something of the last stonemason in them; they’re building cathedrals with their work, not just cutting stones.

Indeed, much of a Guru’s draw stems from the infectious passion they feel for their particular craft and from their humility before their craft. In sports it’s called “respect for the game.” Practically speaking, your web copy should show this passion by:

  • Demonstrating that you’re as interested in the advancement of your profession as your own/company’s advancement.
  • Linking what you do to your visitors’ larger ideals, ambitions, and affiliations. The Heath Brother’s refer to this as “staying out of Maslow’s basement.”
  • Being generous with your time and your expertise. Gurus are magnanimous, almost by definition. Seek to be so, then ensure your website demonstrates this.

These things have to be combined with genuine thought leadership to work well — no one wants to be inspired by a wannabe Tony Robbins — but when all three guidelines are combined, they’ll transform visitors’ perception of you from a dime-a-dozen “professional” into a bona fide expert with all the ethos and persuasive credibility of a demi-Guru.

Getting back to Mr. Trump…

While “The Donald” is certainly a promotional genius, he has always tended to promote himself more than anything else. And let’s be honest, that’s part of his genius — but it’s also the reason why “Guru” doesn’t spring to mind when you hear his name.

Also, his promotions have almost exclusively focused on “The Deal” at hand. In fact, his first major book was even titled The Art of the Deal. I’ll confess that I know very little of the genuine passion that Donald Trump may feel for development, real estate, etc.   And that’s just the point: I, the casual observer who may represent some vast segment, know more about Trump the celebrity, than Trump the passionate (and quite possibly magnanimous) professional.

Does this mean I’m bashing Donald? Hell no! He knows exactly what he’s doing. I selected him simply because he’s an excellent example of someone who might otherwise have all the other prerequisites of guru-dom, yet lacks that particular ethos because of how he’s commonly perceived. Just contrast him to Trump University’s Chief Learning Officer, Roger Schank to see what I mean. (Though far less famous, Schank genuinely is, and is widely considered to be, a guru.) Still, Trump may be well on his way to remedying that image…

  • First, his establishment of Trump University, the publishing of his new textbooks, and the Trump blog have all given him a real platform to showcase Trump the passionate professional (vs. Trump the celebrity).
  • Second, the university, more than anything, has allowed Trump to invite the wider public into longer-term and relational contact with him. This is a situation where he can act as a magnanimous counselor to start-up entrepreneurs. So, guru status might accrue to him in time. We can only wait and see.

In the meantime, get busy implementing the strategies we’ve discussed so far, and you just might beat him to it. ;)

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Comments (2)

  1. [...] One more from Brian. He discusses building online credibility, which if you didn’t realize, we all need to do! In the post he asks “Is Trump a Guru?”. [...]

  2. [...] First of all, take a look at Dave Young’s screencast on “Building Trust and Credibility Online.” Dave does a fantastic job of breaking down specific techniques he used to build a website capable of inspiring confidence. Once you've taken a look at that, I humbly suggest you look at my series on Inspiring Online Credibility. [...]

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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