Tuesday, January 13, 2015

How Elvis Met Nixon Is How Branding Leads to Sales

Maybe you’ve heard the story. Maybe you’ve seen the photos. In case you haven’t, here’s the recap:

Forty-four years ago, early on the morning of December 21, 1970, Elvis Presley showed up, unannounced, at the gates of the White House to deliver a letter he had written to President Richard Nixon. Elvis wanted to meet with the President and he wanted the title and badge of Federal Agent for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Elvis got everything he asked for. By lunchtime. That day.

How did Elvis do it?

THE BRAND: By 1970, sixteen years into his show biz career, Elvis Presley had evolved into Elvis. The bejeweled, cape-wearing, “See See Rider” singing, Vegas-playing Elvis. Elvis was a brand that everybody recognized and many respected. When Elvis showed up at the door — even the door of the White House — the door was open.

THE ANGLE: Even if you’re well known, and even if you say “please,” you need a selling proposition, a unique brand attribute. Elvis had one: Elvis could relate to everyone. In his letter to President Nixon, Elvis wrote: The drug culture, the hippie elements …do not consider me as their enemy… I will help out by doing it my way through my communications with people of all ages.

THE ASK: Elvis didn’t beat around the bush. He asked specifically for what he wanted. When you don’t ask, you don’t get.

THE LIMITED TIME OFFER: When Elvis showed up at the White House gates four days before Christmas, the Nixon staff knew they had to move quickly. Elvis was a limited time offer. Better act now.

THE CLOSE: Elvis wasn’t going to leave the White House without a new badge. He knew better than to take “We’ll get back to you” for an answer. Elvis was persistent.

A brand built over time, a unique and well-timed offer and a clear call to action set the stage, and a well-prepared, confident salesman brought home the badge.

Elvis has left the White House

Editor's Note: The late 1960s and 70s were decades of a drug use invasion. Pot, acid, cocaine, and other drugs were woven into the very fabric of the hippie and peace movements, as well as into the subsequent disco age. Under then President Nixon, initiatives began in 1970 to curb the import, production and widespread use of illegal drugs. It became known as the War on Drugs, and everyone in American society was impacted in some way. 

Paul Sage is a marketing consultant and writer, doing business as Sage Advice. Paul has directed marketing communications in both corporate and agency positions for major brands in telecommunications, banking, utilities and business services. Paul also teaches marketing to college students at The University of Phoenix. More of Paul's musings on marketing can be found at www.paulsagemarketing.com.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The continuing mission reaches 5-years

Five years, hordes of unique pageviews, and enough content to fill a respectable book—January 2015 marks the fifth anniversary of Brands In History. Entries include characters from the ancient world, the Dark Ages, the Victorian era, and the 20th Century. Some were bold and noble, while others conniving and ruthless, and still others were kind and gentle. It's the sort of content that keeps audiences dropping in, and they span countries from North and South America to Europe and the Far East. And while Hannibal kicked butt was the first post on this blog (January 9, 2011), the Spartans are still beast as the all time most visited entry to date.

Thanks to industry colleagues and friends for their advice, contributions and encouragement. And to any reader who has dropped in to peruse the content—Thank You! Keep coming and spread the word.

In coming days and months, Brands In History will post some special entries. As well, some announcements that hopefully you will be excited about. I am. BIH continues to look at more history—maybe even your favorite historical characters. Feel free to drop me a note with a suggestion or two.

In the meantime, below are select entries that are connected to January. Leading off is a look at Lincoln who delivered the Emancipation Proclamation January 1, 1863. George Washington unveiled the Grand Union Flag on January 1, 1776. On January 4th, 1790, he delivered the first State of the Union address. Joan of Arc was born on January 6, 1412. Winston Churchill died on January 24th, 1965. Al Capone also died in January, but on the 25th in 1947.

Therefore, submitted for your continuing approval...

Just a little bigger - Abraham Lincoln.

George Washington

Forged by fire  - Joan of Arc

The original inglorious bastard - Winston Churchill

Gangster Expectations - Al Capone

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A hot brand from the North Pole

One of the oldest living brands on the planet still deeply touching to children and adults alike is Santa Claus—or Saint Nick, Kris Kringle, or just plain "Santa." Boss Claus has skillfully evolved his personal brand over nearly two millennia, perhaps even longer. He is currently our jolly ole Saint Nick—that plump toy broker with the white-beard and donning a red coat with white collar and cuffs. There's a myth around that this image was created by Coca Cola back in the early 1930s. False. It is a true statement that Coca Cola advertising of the era helped popularize this look and feel, but the cola company was not the creator. Nineteenth century cartoonist Thomas Nast gets the credit for Santa's modern conceptual appearance.

To the Scrooges out there about to pop off an email sharing their opinion on Santa ... don't. This is strictly about brand. And whatever one believes about Santa Claus, one has to admit to two undeniable value propositions ... good cheer and an inspiration to pull a little bit of magic out of ourselves.

Moving on.

What you may not know is that much of Santa's brand attributes are Gallic, Scandinavian and Byzantine. The earliest Clausian characteristics are traced back to the Norse and Germanic god, Odin. During the pagan Yule, or Yuletide, which was the Germanic winter holiday, Odin was believed to lead a hunting party through the skies. Very old Icelandic poems described him riding an eight-legged horse that leapt a very long way—not unlike our modern Santa's reindeer. Some traditions have children leaving their boots next to the fireplace and filled with carrots or straw for Odin's horse. Here's where the direct corollary comes in—albeit a bit quid pro quo. For their kindness to his horse, apparently Odin rewarded those children by replacing the food with gifts or treats.

This is possibly the proto-tradition of hanging of stockings at the chimney in homes. And would you believe this still survives in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands?

To zero more specifically back to the Gallic traditions, Sinterklaas, or Saint Nicholas, originally did the gift drop around a celebration of his feast in early December. That was up until the 1500s or 1600s when it aligned more with Christmas Eve. Sinterklaas also marks the introduction of a book that contains notes on all children and whether they've been naughty or nice. And the nice ones received the yummy shtuff like chocolate or spice nuts. Along with this new brand experience we get Saint Nicholas riding a horse over rooftops at night, delivering gifts down the chimney to all those good children. This, too, is where the naughty are threatened, but instead of coal and ashes the misbehaved feared being tied up and whipped.

Part of the realignment for Sinterklaas was also due to Protestants believing the true gift giver should be the Christ Child, or Christkindl, and the date for giving gifts changed to the celebration of his coming birth on Christmas Eve.

Not to overlook the Byzantine division of the Claus brand, who some say hugely influenced attributes of Sinterklaas, was Saint Nicholas of Myra. He dates back to the 4th century. Saint Nick was a bishop in what is now Turkey, and widely known for his generosity to the poor. Even today he is revered and characterized by his canonical robes.

Enter the early 19th and 20th centuries where Santa's brand awareness really snowballs. Clement Clarke Moore's 1822 poem, Twas the night before Christmas, lit up Santa's brand like a Christmas tree, defining much of the modern attributes for Santa Claus. Not long after it is revealed he lives at the North Pole, helped by an army of magical elves and a herd of flying reindeer. By 1934 there is a pop culture blizzard, including the introduction of the well-known song, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town". Santa is thus an icon. Everybody knows him and that he's makin' his list and checking it twice—all to find out who's naughty or nice.

Therefore, submitted for your approval...

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute.
Santa Claus works all year long without complaint to make sure that good boys and girls are given a gift. Santa looks out to see who is naughty and nice. Okay, so you might be a touch mischievous—he still leaves a gift. And on that special night, once a year, he makes good on his promise of spreading Christmas cheer.
2. Devise a distinctive way to articulate the brand position and develop a brand personality that customers can use to introduce the brand.
He is jolly ole Saint Nick—always cheerful, happy and generous, asking nothing in return (well, except for a nibble of some cookies and a sip of milk). 
 Jolly ole Saint Nick 
 His mantra: Ho Ho Ho ... Merry Christmas
 3. Establish graphic standards.
A red arctic suit, white beard, a smile on red cheeks with a twinkle in his eye ... what more does he need. 
4. Implement internal branding programs to reward employees for behaving in ways that are consistent with the brand personality
The naughty or nice list is the single greatest management tool ever devised.
"You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout I'm tellin' you why ... Santa Claus is comin' to town..." 
5. Consistently and uniquely execute the branding program.
Throughout his brand building process, Santa has consistently been attentive to children, returning each year with the promise of a gift, be it a toy, a treat, or perhaps a wish come true. He is never less than expected, and sometimes more. He lives the ChristKindl spirit of giving of himself without reward or repayment.
NOTE: Click here to send letters to Santa via email.

(Originally posted 2011)