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Monday, June 14, 2021

Ole Blood and Guts

General George S. Patton was the hard-charging, hard-talking, and hard-nosed “S.O.B.” remembered as much for his mouth as for his command abilities. In terms of military campaigns, his noted successes include North Africa, Sicily, and the opening months of America’s incursion into France. He is also credited with collapsing the NAZI offensive in December of 1944, known as the Battle of the Bulge. From an overall military standpoint, Patton is highly regarded as a commander. And he was bred for the role.

Military life was literally in Patton’s DNA. He was born to a wealthy family, both in terms of money and in rich military legacy. He is descended from Hugh Mercer, a hero of the American Revolution, and before that Mercer served with British forces during the Seven Year’s War. Patton’s grandfather commanded Confederate infantry during the Civil War, and his great uncle was killed at Gettysburg. Although having never served in the military, Patton’s father attended the Virginia Military Institute. No doubt that discipline and regimen were familiar concepts in the household, but owned wholly by young Patton was his determination.

Learning to read and write did not come easy to young Patton. And they would challenge him even into his college years. But he stuck with it and, with the help of a tutor, he grew into a hungry reader and even wound up writing poetry. He focused on military history––the classics, such as Julius Caesar’s Commentaries, the campaigns of Joan of Arc, and the exploits of Scipio Africanus (the Roman commander who defeated Hannibal and obliterated Carthage to end the Third Punic War). Those are big names to be sure. But they exemplify his focus and that all decisions aimed him in the direction of a military career, the only career he ever really wanted. Knowing that West Point (the US Military Academy) was likely out of his academic reach, at least initially, Patton settled on Virginia Military Institute (VMI) for his first year of college. But that was no cakewalk either. To this day, VMI is known as one of the most rigorous military academies on Earth. Still, Patton performed well enough academically and on his entrance exams to be accepted at West Point for the following year.

West Point curriculum hammered Patton, even to the point of having to repeat his first year, although he never yielded. Well understanding his differentiators, Patton conquered the military aspects of academy life by excelling in military drill. He quickly rose in cadet ranks and became well known and respected, not just for his performance in uniform, but for his athleticism, as well. Patton played football, participated in track and field, and the West Point sword team. He was also an excellent swordsman. So athletic was Patton that following his graduation from West Point, he was selected as the US Army’s entry in the 1912 Olympic Pentathlon. He finished fifth overall and was the top non-Swedish finalist. His performance was so impressive, he was later selected for the 1916 Olympics, but those games were canceled due to World War I. Even after the 1912 games, Patton continued studying fencing. Ultimately, young Patton became the US Army’s first officer to be conferred “Master of the Sword.”

All this lays the groundwork for the emergence of the Patton brand. But it was in his assignment to border patrol along the US/Mexico frontier that the Patton brand began its coagulation. And it came in two parts. Part one was the simple fact that Patton typically wore a sidearm, but due to an accidental discharge, he swapped his model 1911 Colt .45 automatic for an ivory-handled single-action revolver. Part two was courtesy of Pancho Villa.

A border war broke out between the US and Mexico in 1910, coinciding with the Mexican Civil War. Civil or not, wars have a habit of spilling over neighboring borders. And to be honest, relations between the US and Mexico have always been on the sketchy side. So when the US government came down on the side not backed by Villa, he was irritated. His men raided a small town a couple of miles north of the border in New Mexico. The town was burned and sacked with particular emphasis on American civilians and military being killed.

In those days, the US did not tolerate incursions into American territory. Patton finagled himself an assignment to Major General John J. Pershing, then-President Woodrow Wilson’s choice to lead what became known as the Pancho Villa Expedition. Patton impressed Pershing with his logistical abilities. He also saw much of his own leadership style in the young Patton. That style was tested on May 14th, 1916 as Patton led the first-ever motorized attack by US forces. That attack killed three of Villa’s men on a foraging expedition. This small success and Pershing’s favor would lead to Patton’s promotion from 1st Lieutenant to Captain in 1917, and to Patton again joining his mentor in Europe.

By this time, Europe was three years into World War I, ever since a young Bosnian Serbian dissident assassinated Archduke Ferdinand of Austria because of territorial disputes. In some corners of the US, it is still commonly thought that the sinking of the RMS Lusitania by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915, drew American response. The truth is that President Woodrow Wilson insisted America keep cool; however, he demanded that Germany cease attacks on passenger ships. Not only did Germany renege on its promise to leave civilian ships out of the fight, Germany also made a critical blunder. The German foreign minister sent Mexico what has come to be known as the Zimmermann Telegram. It’s called that because the German foreign minister was Arthur Zimmermann. It asked Mexico to enter the war on Germany’s side, and in return, Mexico would receive funds to support its continuing border wars with the United States. Specifically, the telegram addressed the goal of helping Mexico reclaim Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Allied agents intercepted the telegram, and its contents were subsequently released to the American public.

Patton with an early tank in France.
No Bueno. Nein. Not gonna happen. The US declared war and within months, thousands of American servicemen were on their way across the Atlantic with Pershing and young Patton ahead of them. Now, this is key. Patton shifted focus from infantry to tanks. He attended the French Army tank school, drove tanks and toured factories, as well as interviewed British tank commanders. World War I was the birth of mechanized tactics, and Patton was studying hard.

In the closing months of the war, the Patton brand expectation strongly developed. He commanded tanks in battle, once even riding on top of one during an attack so as to inspire his men. On another occasion, he walked in front of a tank as his unit entered an enemy-held village. In advance of an attack, he personally performed a reconnaissance mission. From the outset of his command of tanks in WWI, he ordered no tank to ever be surrendered. He continued leading assaults until he was wounded, although he continued directing the action for another few hours before being evacuated to a hospital. Yeah, old blood and guts had arrived. Though that nickname was over two decades away.

The next two decades saw Patton press to develop US armored warfare—better tanks, adapting tanks from infantry support to independent fighting forces, refining tank operations, and more. He met Dwight D Eisenhower, who often agreed with Patton’s efforts. Concurrently, Patton graduated and then spoke at the General Staff College, as well as the Command and General Staff College. At one point in the quiet years between World Wars, Patton was assigned to Hawaii and responsible for its defense. He drafted a contingency plan called “Surprise” which was based on a presumed air raid of Pearl Harbor. That was in 1925.

Peacetime often bounces officers around to different postings, as well as in and out of continuing military education and professional development. It was no different for Patton. But he distinguished himself in almost every case. By 1938, he was a prime candidate for promotion to general. That happened in 1940 when he became a brigadier general and was given command of the 2nd Armored Brigade, 2nd Armored Division. It wasn’t long before he rose to Major General and took over the whole armored division. He became the head honcho of armored doctrine within the US Army. Repeatedly he demonstrated outstanding command abilities, once even completing two days worth of planned objectives in only nine hours. On the heels of the Pearl Harbor tragedy, Patton was assigned the 1 Armored Corps. Almost immediately, he began training for desert warfare in anticipation of North Africa—and Rommel.

Therefore, submitted for your approval…

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute.
Hard-edged and packed with sheer will.

Follow me or hit the highway

2. Devise a distinctive way to articulate the brand position.
Patton’s essential armored strategy was for his forces to stay in constant contact with the opposition. His instincts, and personal preference, were to always be on the offensive. In fact, when he was once asked if the Third Army's rapid offensive across France (1944) should be slowed to reduce the number of U.S. casualties, Patton’s reply was, "Whenever you slow anything down, you waste human lives."

Remain in constant contact with opposing forces and press forward—ever forward.

3. Develop a focused brand personality that customers can use to recommend or introduce your company to others.
Patton loved the heat of battle—perhaps even the idea of war itself. It was this Klingon enthusiasm for engaging the enemy that led soldiers to dub the old man as, “Old blood and guts,” and joking that it was his guts but their blood.

Old blood and guts

Supplemental to Patton’s view of war and warfare was his demeanor. The man was gruff in his presentation and his language. Patton delivered speeches to his men with all the eloquence of a sailor on leave (full of curse words). He did so because he believed if you “give it to ‘em hard they’ll remember it.”

4. Establish graphic standards.
Patton was sharply aware of image and public perception. Throughout the interwar decades, Patton’s command abilities made headlines. Americans knew who Patton was, and he very much cultivated the warrior image they saw. That persona was represented in no small part by his crisp-looking uniforms, but Patton was the only general who wore ivory-handled pistols—which he began wearing in the days just before engagements with Villa’s forces. They became his signature.

Ivory handle pistols 

5. Implement internal branding programs to reward employees for behaving in ways that are consistent with the brand personality.

Patton highly regarded his men. He trained them hard, drove them harder in actual battle. His expectations were high. And to help his men meet those expectations, more than most other commanders, he made sure his men had what they needed wherever possible. When they had done their duty to the best of their ability, even beyond, and especially at personal cost, he honored them.

6. Consistently and uniquely execute the branding program.
Patton always wore his full uniform, including necktie in the field, he expected every soldier to do the same. And he demanded the level best from every man, regardless of obstacles. He led with rigidity, but he also led from the front. Few today realize that during battle he was always somewhere around the front lines. In one eyewitness account, a bridging unit was pinned down by German machinegun fire from overlooking cliffs. Aside from the gunfire, they were having difficulty finding solid crossing. Suddenly they hear a siren. The shooting stops and all eyes—Allied and German—were on an American jeep driving up the German side of the riverbank. It was Patton. He purportedly stepped out, unzipped his fly, and urinated in the river. That was his signal to the bridging unit to get their butts in gear. The Germans just watched the whole incident, shocked and awed by Patton’s brazen act of relief.

If you were wounded in battle, Patton put you on a pedestal. If you were a coward, he reduced you to the lowest place he could find for you. He hated cowardice. And his zeal for heroism got Patton in hot water when he slapped a soldier for being a coward. He would later apologize to the man and those who witnessed it. But he loathed cowards.

NOTE: Much has been written as to whether Patton or Field Marshal Erwin Rommel of the Wehrmacht (the German unified war machine) was the better commander. Although the two never met in battle, Rommel might come out on top to the casual observer, but the reality is that Patton had stronger tactics built on well-thought-out strategies.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Unsinkable Brand

 A century ago the RMS Titanic steamed into the annals of disaster brands. That may sound odd, but there are those ill-fated moments that persist in our psyche—they have attributes that lend themselves to a brand experience. Some disaster brands are epic in natural scale like Pompeii. Others are man-made calamities such as Pearl Harbor. Then there are a few that are more personal because of individual and familiar faces linked to the event, like Amelia Earhart. The Titanic is a little of both.

She was thought unsinkable, and the most technologically advanced vessel of her kind—engineered to a point of luxury and safety never before known. Yet two days before completing her maiden voyage, an iceberg clipped her hull and sent the iron maiden slipping into dark and freezing waters, taking with her more than 1500 souls, and forever changing the lives of the few hundreds that survived.

The sheer thought of the largest passenger ship afloat and over a thousand people lost was more than just a jolt to people of the day. It was akin to that of the 2004 Christmas Tsunami, 9/11, the Challenger disaster, and so on. These were culture or societal-shaking events. This one wiped away not just an inconceivable number of people with one swipe, but also high-society and big business celebrities of the day, changing fortunes forever.

That's the epic part. Then there are the spine-tingling personal artifacts recovered from the wreck and their haunting familiarity. Without ever having to see the person's face, we hear a quiet roar of the tragedy in the lost child or the missing spouse, all of whom suffered those chilling last moments in dark, frightening loneliness.
A passenger's shoe on the seafloor

For more than 80-years the Titanic was a ghost—no artifacts, no sonar images, no idea at all where she lay. Only reverent silence. That allowed later generations to say, "Huh ... wonder where it is..." A luxury of detachment disappeared with her being found and documented in high definition, and with the raising of the first porcelain doll.

There's not a lot that's new in the Titanic story. Although several outlets are releasing a horde of new digitally-processed sonar mosaics, and hours of dim footage and photographs from deep inside and around the decaying hulk. Okay, so the wreck is re-imaged—again. And a previously unknown account by a long-dead survivor has surfaced.  His story is like those of other survivors—horrifying.

We've seen the wreck, we've heard or read the survivor accounts and forensic details, watched the documentaries—maybe even sat through James Cameron's 3-hour retelling of the story. Why?

It is the Titanic.

The Titanic brand is part of our collective fabric. Like her name, the brand is huge in delivering an experience—a brand experience defined by compelling words like cold, dark, lost, irrecoverable, mysterious, or empty. Just mentioning the name emotes sadness, gloom, maybe even a twinge of fear. And the part that our human arrogance struggles to overcome is that we can't fix this. We can't raise or restore her. There is no one's butt to kick in vengeance. The Titanic is forever lost.  She burns in our memory because her tragedy is so permanent. Unlike the vessel herself, the Titanic memory is unsinkable.

Just the facts: The RMS Titanic sank in the early morning hours of 15 April 1912 in the North Atlantic Ocean, four days into her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. Learn more at National Geographic.

Originally posted April 2012.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Presidential Icons

Icons are the pinnacle of branding. It is the arrival of a person or thing as becoming the symbol of whatever it represents. And in the cases of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, they instantly conjure an understanding of the office of the president. They are inexorably tied--the man to led the creation of the Union, and the man who held it together through the most trying of times for a young nation. 

Washington and Lincoln are symbols of extraordinary resolve, as is any person who is burdened with such leadership. So it is that we observe Presidents' Day, although it is really the unofficial name for Washington's Birthday—that actual legal holiday commemorating the birth of our first president. We use the day to not only remember Washington and Lincoln, whose birthdays fall in February but to celebrate all those who've served in the Oval Office. However, this post is devoted strictly to the founder and the preserver of the Republic. 

Therefore, submitted for your approval...

George Washington: Our first president was a man well prepared to lead our nation against the British. If there was one better, he never surfaced. Not only did Washington serve our budding nation with honor—his leadership demonstrated deep conviction for that which he fought.

Abe Lincoln: As commander in chief for the Civil War, he was never a soldier, but he studied hard about military history and tactics while leading a nation through that divisive conflict. And for his duty, he gave the ultimate sacrifice.