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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sam—I am no Wellington

To all Texans Sam Houston is known as General Sam. While trite, it is true to say that in 1836 he led a ragtag, fugitive band of Texican rebels against a massive Mexican army commanded by dictator General Santa Anna. That confrontation defined a proud people—Texans, be they of the nation or the state in the Union. And it very much engraved Houston into history.

In the 2004 film, The Alamo, Houston's strategy against the Mexican army is revealed. Whether or not he actually spoke these words is irrelevant, though the wish is there, the clip provides insight into Houston's genuine thoughtfulness of his actions guided by battlefield experience gained from an early age, as well as a "feel" for the land that must ally with his purpose.


Right after his victory for Texas independence, Houston was known to the new republic as Old Sam Jacinto. It underscored his place in Texas history and forever equated him with the Battle of San Jacinto. There is no escaping that aspect of his brand—it is the most enduring element to this day. But in terms of his vintage brand awareness, Sam Houston was much more complex.

Houston started out a Virginian. But his father died when he was but 14, and he moved to Tennessee with his mother and eight siblings. There the family began farming while the young Houston attended a nearby academy. His education was limited but he was an avid reader of classical literature with a fondness for the Iliad. In fact he knew it by heart.

Young Houston quickly came to the conclusion that he was no gentleman farmer like his older brother. Perhaps more accurately, he wasn't in the mood to be under his brother's boot. So at the age of 16, he lit out for the Tennessee hills. There he began a lifelong relationship with the Cherokee Nation. It was his second life, a sojourn with Indians that significantly shaped his outlook on life and his brand attributes. Like the Cherokee, Houston developed a spiritual relationship with the wilderness, as well as their planning and cunning by "carefully listening to and stalking his prey."

Houston became the adopted son of a tribal chief and given the name Colon-neh. The uninformed often state that Colon-neh is Cherokee for "Big Drunk." But that would be a no. While Houston did have a bout with heavy drinking, he eventually overcame the problem. In truth, Colon-neh translates to "The Raven." Now here's the tricky part—research to date reveals no particular reason why it was chosen for Houston. Although, a hint may be provided by Cherokee culture. Depending on the specific legend, a Raven can either be good or not so good. In any event, the Raven is cunning, clever, and in some instances loud. Houston, by the way, was considered quite an orator.

Cunning and determination are differentiators Houston shared with another great brand—Hannibal.  Like that ancient general, Houston faced very uneven odds against Mexico, and also like Hannibal, Houston first rode into battle at a young age. It was the War of 1812 and Houston was recognized for his abilities to command. He led several charges during the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Wounded from an arrow, as well as from bullets to the arm and shoulder, Houston forced a young lieutenant at sword point to pull the arrow out of his leg in the midst of the battle. Andrew Jackson witnessed the event and was impressed by Houston's courage and determination, and it sparked lifelong friendship. 

As Indian ambassador, Houston appeared in
Washington dressed in native garb.
Sam Houston lived many lives. He was a schoolteacher, a lawyer, a politician—no, that's not fair. He represented Tennessee in Congress and later was elected its governor. Just as notably, he became a leader of the Indian tribes of what is now the Oklahoma-Arkansas border, and ultimately their ambassador to Washington D.C. But it was in Texas that he met his destiny as a commander, and as president. His loyalty to Texas further saw him as governor and a senator. 

In every way, Houston was The Raven. He was cunning for sure, an orator, and not unlike the Raven Mocker—a feared character in Cherokee legend—Houston was a creature of many lives. No one title suits him, except, perhaps, Colon-neh.

Therefore, submitted for your approval on the coming 175th anniversary of the City of Houston...

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute.

Houston offers a lot to work with and selecting one single attribute is a challenge. Clever, determined, and honorable, but most definitely he was unpredictable. Again, you couldn't really pin one thing on Houston.

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

There are two quotes by Houston that together state his position well:
A leader is someone who helps improve the lives of other people or improve the system they live under. And,  I am aware that in presenting myself as the advocate of the Indians and their rights, I shall stand very much alone.
3. Develop a focused brand personality that customers can use to recommend or introduce your company to others.
In Cherokee legend, the Raven could provide service to man, and he could be a rogue—both descriptors of Houston. 
  Colon-neh—The Raven

4. Establish graphic standards. 

Houston often had the look of a frontiersman—predominantly dressed in the attire of or inspired by his red brethren, living his Colon-neh brand. That's how Texans prefer to remember him.

5. Consistently and uniquely execute the branding program.
Friend or foe, Houston believed in the honorable treatment of all. Of an ex-wife, he threatened death for any and all challengers to her reputation; he let Santa Anna live; and he refused to take an oath to the Confederacy, knowing all too well that secession would damage his beloved Texas.
Like his namesake, the City of Houston, Sam Houston was a survivor. He never fell into a template or an easy category. He continually reinvented himself while staying true to his moral compass. And it was that moral compass that led him to retirement, refusing to lead Texas into secession and destruction. Houston retired from public life when the Civil War broke out. He died in 1863, at the age of 70, never knowing the fate of his beloved Texas.

SIDEBAR
Under 21 at the outbreak of the War of 1812, Houston needed his mother's permission to join the army. She granted it and she gave her son two gifts: a gold ring and a musket. Inscribed inside the gold ring was the word "honor," because she said this one word should forever be a part of Sam Houston's life. He wore it until his death. According to his mother's own words over the gifts,
...my son, take this musket and never disgrace it; for remember, I had rather all my sons should fill one honorable grave, than that one of them should turn his back to save his life. Go, and remember, too, that while the door of my cottage is open to brave men, it is eternally shut against cowards.
Perhaps the best epitaph for Houston is, to him her cottage door was never shut.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Wrath of Khan

No, this is not about the Star Trek character played by Ricardo Montalban. The real Khan of history, or THE great Khan of them all was Genghis Khan. Like the fictional character, however, the Mongolian Khan was a prince who did become emperor, and certainly wielded power over millions. 

Mentioning Genghis Khan brings to mind the Mongol hordes of the 13th century that swept across the Asian plain like locusts, that made deep incursions penetrating the eastern frontiers of medieval Europe. Whole nations trembled before the horse-mounted archers of Khan's armies. The Turks revere him even now, while the rest of the Arabic world curses his name. In his lifetime, Khan went from prince to slave to emperor, casting Mongol dominance over the largest continuous land empire in history.  Unlike Alexander, Caesar, or most other of history's conquerors, Khan's empire outlasted him and even expanded.

Talk about brand endurance and market share...

Like all nomadic tribes, Khan's family roamed north central Mongolia with the Burkhan Khaldun mountain at its territorial center—and where Khan was born. No one knows the exact year, but Khan was born somewhere in the mid twelfth century on 31 May, maybe around 1162. His birthname was Tem├╝jin, which means "iron." So he began with a strong branding attribute—he was also the son of a tribal chieftain. Although not a major one, Temujin's father gave his son noble blood. 

The discovery phase for Khan reveals differentiators from the outset. In addition to being of a noble clan, he emerged from the womb marked for success because legend holds that Khan was born grasping a clot of blood in his fist. In Mongolian tradition this meant Khan was to be a great leader. Another sweet brand attribute to start with, to be sure. But it may have been Khan's early life that fueled his drive to unite the Mongol tribes—perhaps even his wrath for events that formed the warrior to come. 

Khan's trials began at age nine. His father was murdered by a rival tribe—and Khan's own tribe refused to recognized the boy as chief. This left him, his mother, brothers and half brothers in poverty, surviving the next years by eating wild fruits and nuts, and hunting small game. While learning to survive the harsh, rugged Mongolian landscape, Khan's mother tutored him in Mongolian politics—tribal rivalries, the need for alliances and tips on how to form them. Then during a hunting trip, Khan killed his half brother over the spoils, which put him as the undisputed head of the family. What's more, it was the first of many strategies that defined the rise of Khan.

Therefore, submitted for your approval...

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute.

As a young man of 20, Khan was captured in a raid by former family allies, the Taichi'uts, and temporarily enslaved. He later escaped and formed a fighting unit with his brothers—the lead steps in Khan's ascent. Eventually with an army of 20,000 men, he set out to erase traditional tribal divisions. In doing so, he quickly proved his military tactics and merciless brutality. 

On the receiving end of Khan's wrath were the Tatar tribe who murdered his father. Khan wiped out the Tatar army and had every Tatar male less than 3 feet tall killed. The Taichi'ut tribe was up next. A series of massive cavalry attacks hammered the tribe and Khan showed no mercy in having all Taichi'ut chiefs boiled alive. By 1206, Khan also had taken control of central and eastern Mongolia.

The key words here are “merciless brutality.”

2. Devise a distinctive way to articulate the brand position.
In Khan's own words, "It is not enough that I succeed—all others must fail."
3. Develop a focused brand personality that customers can use to recommend or introduce your brand to others.
Following the victories over the rival Mongol tribes, tribal leaders pledged to Mongolian peace and Temujin became "Genghis Khan," which means "universal ruler." This not only provided huge political clout, but it gave Khan divine  authority—recognized by shamans and playing off the position of God's punisher. With divine status, it was accepted that Khan's destiny was to rule the world.
4. Establish graphic standards. 

One image is synonymous with Khan and his Mongol horde. The mounted archer—a devastating and innovative weapon in Khan's attacks. Mongolian horsemen could maneuver a galloping horse using only their legs, leaving the riders' hands free to loose arrows.

5. Implement internal branding programs to reward employees for behaving in ways that are consistent with the brand personality
Religious tolerance was practiced under Khan, that was the reward for loyalty. But to defy him was akin to defying the will of God. Thus Khan is supposed to have said to an enemy, "I am the flail of God. If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you."
 Khan was also known as the "Punisher."
6. Consistently and uniquely execute the branding program.
Khan wasn't above diplomacy. In fact he often sent ambassadors to heads of state, allowing his reputation to precede him. In one incident, however, Khan's brand was dismissed when the Shah Muhammad of the  Khwarizm Dynasty defied a diplomatic overture by sending Khan the head of a Mongolian emissary.  
The wrath of Khan was personally unleashed with 200,000 Mongol soldiers sweeping through every city between central Asia and eastern Europe with unceasing savagery. Those not immediately slaughtered were marched ahead of the Mongol army, serving as human shields when the Khan took the next city. No living thing was spared. Even the Shah Muhammad and later his son were captured and killed, making the Khwarizm Dynasty extinct in 1221.
Genghis Khan died in 1227, although no one is exactly sure why—age, a hunting accident, or possibly intrigue. Regardless, he had appointed his third son as Khan, who continued to expand the empire. One final tidbit: Perhaps Genghis Khan's legacy is that his DNA remains the single most prolific DNA on the planet today.