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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Spartans Are Beast!

Spartans are one of the most enduring and celebrated brands from all of ancient history. And nothing exemplifies that brand more than their last stand at Thermopylae, forever carving the Spartan promise into the western mind ... and deservedly so.

In 480 BC, Greek city-states united for the first time in defense against a massive Persian army. A Greek force of only 7000 was led by a mere 300 Spartans—all against an invading army that modern historians number around 200,000 men. Ancient sources cite more dramatic counts of more than one million soldiers from all corners of the Persian Empire. Numerically speaking, 28-to-1 is a helluva lot better than 143-to-1. But from a boots-on-the-ground perspective, it's little like standing on a sandbar relieved the swelling tsunami is only 30 feet tall versus 150.

The film, 300, was based on Frank Miller's graphic novel.
The battle at Thermopylae lasted just a few days with the Greeks holding fast and inflicting horrendous casualties on the eastern invaders. To the soldiers of Sparta, this was a battle worthy of their efforts. No one illustrates this better than the ancient historian, Herodotus. He recorded that one Greek complained of Persian archers being so numerous their arrows would black out the sun. To this the bravest of all Spartans, Dienekes, replied, "Good, then we fight in the shade."

That mindset lends meat to why 6,700 guys were willing to stand along side the Spartans in the face of very, very, very long odds. But those odds ran out on day three when a fellow countryman betrayed the Greeks. Suddenly outflanked by the Persians, and ridiculously outnumbered, the Spartans remained. Joined by about 1000 fellow Greeks, they covered the retreat of more than 3500 comrades.

Here’s how modern historian, Victor Davis Hanson, describes the impact of this event: 
"So almost immediately, contemporary Greeks saw Thermopylae as a critical moral and culture lesson. In universal terms, a small, free people had willingly outfought huge numbers of imperial subjects who advanced under the lash. More specifically, the Western idea that soldiers themselves decide where, how, and against whom they will fight was contrasted against the Eastern notion of despotism and monarchy—freedom proving the stronger idea as the more courageous fighting of the Greeks at Thermopylae, and their later victories at Salamis and Plataea attested." 
Although wildly exaggerated and filled with wholly fictionalized characterizations, Frank Miller's graphic novel, "300,"and the movie it inspired, stylishly capture the root elements that really differentiated Sparta from all other Greek city-states. Indeed, attributes that held Sparta up to all the ancient and modern worlds as the finest soldiers.

Therefore, submitted for your approval...

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute.
Sparta practiced eugenics. That meant all newborns had to measure up to very high brand standards. Elders judged each infant for potential military fitness. If a baby was "puny or deformed", then he was thrown into a chasm, discarded.  
At age seven, Spartan males began military training called the Agoge, which was a very refined system to build discipline and physical toughness, and to reinforce loyalty to the Spartan state. Graduation into the Spartan army came at age eighteen—assuming the student survived—and by then the males were so motivated by "honor and glory", they saw battle as their duty. 
This warrior code was at the heart of Spartan society (see additional commentary on Spartan women below). Honor and glory were core values—essential attributes for Spartans. 
Sparta – Prepared for Glory! 
2. Devise a distinctive way to articulate the brand position.
The Spartan shield was hugely symbolic. In the Spartan phalanx, the shield not only protected the individual soldier but the also the man to his left. It was part of the every soldier's subordination to his unit, his critical component to its victory, and his solemn responsibility to his fellow Spartans. 
To return from battle without his shield was shameful, and assumed it was flung at the enemy while running away—an act punishable by death or banishment. 
So when a Spartan man went to war, his wife would present him with his shield and say: "With this, or upon this," meaning that true Spartans could only return to Sparta either victorious with their shield in hand or dead, being carried upon it. 
With this shield, or upon it. 
3. Develop a focused brand personality that customers can use to recommend or introduce your company to others
Sparta —it’s about victory or death. 
4. Establish graphic standards.
Here again the Spartan shield comes into play. Yes, we often see images of the hoplite helmet associated with Sparta, but the true symbol of a Spartan soldier was his shield. And typically on the shield was the Greek letter for L. This meant Laconia, the region of Greece where Sparta was founded. 
Any opposing force instantly knew with whom they were about to tangle when they saw the familiar, and feared, Laconic symbol on the shield before them. 
5. Implement internal branding programs to reward employees for behaving in ways that are consistent with the brand personality
Even mothers enforced the warrior code. Legend has it that a Spartan warrior ran from battle and back to his mother. While he expected protection from her, she reacted to the contrary. She did not protect him from public shame and, along with some of her friends, chased him while beating with sticks. He was then forced to run up and down the hills of Sparta yelling his cowardliness and inferiority. 
6. Consistently and uniquely execute the branding program.
Eventually Sparta emerged as the dominant power over several key Greek states, including Athens and her navy. Not long after Thermopylae, Sparta surpassed the Athenian Empire and had invaded the Persian provinces in what is today Turkey and all around the Black Sea.  
Eventually there were revolts and Sparta’s “empire” began to recede. Still, it continued as a regional power for over two centuries. Consider that neither Philip II nor his son Alexander the Great ever tried to conquer Sparta itself. 
In terms of living the brand, check this out: Philip II sent Sparta this threat, "If I enter Laconia, I will raze Sparta." The Spartan reply was, "If."

A little something about Spartan women

No discussion about Sparta is complete without at least some mention of Spartan women. Nowhere else in the classical world did women sustain such considerable rights and equality to men than in Sparta. Girls were educated in a fairly extensive formal system somewhat similar to that of the boys, but with less emphasis on military training. This was so unique in classical Greece and most other ancient societies. Women simply did not receive any kind of formal education.

But in Sparta, women had status, power, and respect. They managed their own properties, as well as the properties of male relatives who might be off with the army. In contrast to Athenian women, should a Spartan woman become the heiress of her father because she had no living brothers, she was not required to divorce her current husband in order to marry her nearest paternal relative.

Also unlike Athenian women, who wore heavy and concealing clothes, Spartan women wore short dresses. They were free to roam about as they pleased whereas Athenian women were rarely seen.

You could say that Spartan women were central to living the Spartan brand, and the source of Sparta’s strong internal branding strategy. The proof is in Plutarch's Moralia, which contains a collection of "Sayings of Spartan Women." Most notable is a quote attributed to Gorgo, wife of King Leonidas I (one of the 300). When asked why Spartan women were the only women in the world who could rule men, Gorgo replied, "Because we are the only women who are mothers of men.”

One additional tidbit
Before concluding, it must be pointed out that there was a substantial naval component to the last stand at Thermopylae, which unfolded to the early fortunes of the Spartans. Read about the architect behind the sea victories over Persia—Themistocles. He is politically comparable to the likes of Nimitz, or even Eisenhower. Pure guts and guile put him in the hood with Halsey.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Hannibal Kicked Butt!

The great Carthaginian general, Hannibal—the first image that might come to a modern mind is the elephant. After all, Hannibal crossed the Alps with African Elephants in his army. Certainly this provides a trademark for an event that speaks to the brand expectation felt by the Romans beginning in 218 BC. 

In and of itself, the act of crossing the Alps into Italy with what was then a civilized army truly rattled the Romans. And for the next 20 years, Hannibal would live his brand promise to the point that his name struck intense fear in Roman society. 

That's sort of what we know of this almost mythic figure. So, discovery is the first step in our branding analysis, evaluating the facts to discern true differentiators.

To Hannibal’s credit, he began with a strong internal branding strategy. He was the son of the celebrated general Hamilcar Barca. Incidentally, the family name Barca is derived from the Phoenician word for Thunderbolt—an ancient symbol of power and divine strength. Hamilcar never lost a battle to the Romans during the first Punic War, and his army was the only Carthaginian unit whom the Romans allowed to keep their weapons.   

So Hannibal started with some pretty firm brand attributes, and built on them. As a young child, he accompanied his father to Spain in 237 BC, where on more than one occasion, he differentiated himself by participating at his father’s side in battles and skirmishes against local tribes—gaining from an early age the necessary knowledge and experience that only battle provides.

By the time he was in position to assume command of the Carthaginian army in 221 BC, at the age of 26, Hannibal was well on the road to living his brand. The Roman scholar, Livy, described the young general as follows:

No sooner had [Hannibal] arrived...the old soldiers fancied they saw Hamilcar in his youth given back to them; the same bright look; the same fire in his eye, the same trick of countenance and features. Never was one and the same spirit more skillful to meet opposition, to obey, or to command…

Cunning and determination against long odds are differentiators that set Hannibal apart from his competitors. Crossing the Alps was bold, unheard of, and improbable. While it came at the cost of half his men, Hannibal quickly followed up by defeating superior Roman forces at a place called Trebia.

In terms of military size, Hannibal almost never had the upper hand. The Romans often outnumbered him two to one, even three to one at the Battle of Canae (sometimes spelled Cannae), where Hannibal slaughtered nearly 90,000 Roman soldiers. In every case, the Carthaginian general outwitted his Roman opponents with devastating results. Some Roman towns simply surrendered on his arrival.

So, how might we brand Hannibal at his peak? Submitted for your approval...

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute.

Certainly Hannibal gives us much to work with and selecting one single attribute is a challenge. His merciless attacks on Roman soil dealt a near fatal blow to the soon-to-be empire. Sworn by his father to a blood oath against the Romans, Hannibal of Carthage did the unthinkable—he marched war elephants and a massive army over the Alps to gain the element of surprise. In three key battles, Hannibal used a strategy of terrain, intimidation and his iron will to annihilate the Roman legions, killing every Roman soldier that he possibly could.

The key word here is “strategy.” So we can position Hannibal as a master general with an impeccable command of battlefield strategy.

Hannibal—the father of strategy

2. Devise a distinctive way to articulate the brand position.

The blood oath made Hannibal’s goals clear—eliminate the Roman threat by annihilating it.

3. Develop a focused brand personality that customers can use to recommend or introduce your company to others.

   Hannibal the Annihilator

4. Establish graphic standards. 

Here is where the visual perceptions and symbols of Hannibal work in our favor. The African War Elephant was totally exotic to the Romans and a symbol of shock and awe. It has come to personify Hannibal and his achievements throughout the Roman campaigns.

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

From the outset, Hannibal instituted a strong brand strategy and the value of the risk was in its reward of glory, plunder, the cause itself. It was clear that army was willing to follow him on a treacherous journey over the Alps and kept them on a 20-year campaign. Even when Hannibal had Rome by the throat—just nine miles from Rome itself – dissent over Hannibal’s decision not to siege Rome was short-lived. 
6. Consistently and uniquely execute the branding program.

           There is no question Hannibal lived his brand. For twenty years he held Rome
           by the throat. Only once did he waver from what made Hannibal, Hannibal the
           Annihilator. In not sacking Rome immediately following Canae, in showing
           mercy, he left the door open for Rome to exact revenge at the Battle of Zama,
           leading to the surrender of Carthage. (All brand managers and CMOs should
           remember this as a warning.)

One might assume that these are vertical market attributes. But the study of Hannibal shows considerable success outside of warfare. Following his ultimate defeat by Romans at the Battle of Zama, Hannibal demonstrated statesmanship as well as a military leadership.

Peace left Carthage stripped of its former stature and heavily indebted to Rome. Blatant corruption of the Carthaginian government gave Hannibal a chance to re-emerge and become chief magistrate. When he took office, it was an insignificant post, but Hannibal infused it with power and authority. So effectively did Hannibal reform government abuses that the heavy tribute imposed by Rome could be paid by installments without additional and extraordinary taxation. He also reformed the Carthaginian version of the Supreme Court, stipulating that its membership be chosen by direct election rather than co-option. He also used citizen support to change the term of office in the court from life to a year, with a term limit of two years.

While Hannibal finally died in exile, his brand lives on and is a case study continually examined and revered by historians.