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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Honor Brand

"The honor is to serve..." That's a Klingon saying. And while from a fictitious character, it nicely sums up the spirit of the men and women who serve in our armed forces—and very much those who have sacrificed in the defense of our nation. The fallen are remembered each Memorial Day, and on this one, BIH highlights those who've honored this nation by their service.

Red Tails - The Tuskegee Airmen represent some of the most heroic and honor-bound men that have served our nation. Read their story and find pride in your nation.

Flying Tigers - These were the touch guys, the streetfighers of World War II. The came, the saw, they kicked butt and chewed bubblegum.

George Washington - No lie—George Washington was a man well prepared to lead our nation against the British. If there was one better, he never surfaced. Not only did he serve our budding nation with honor—his leadership demonstrated deep conviction for that which he fought for.

Living in Infamy - Pearl Harbor was a watershed moment for the United States of America. Reminiscent of Hannibal's defeat of Rome at Cannae, Japan made the same errors and let lose a sleeping giant.

Just a little bigger - Abraham Lincoln was never a soldier, but he studied hard about military history and tactics while leading a nation through a dividing war. And for his duty, he gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Baseball and the Rosetta Stone

Amidst the major league playoffs, what in Babe Ruth’s name does baseball have to do with an ancient stone bearing Egyptian and Greek text? A lot, actually. A few years ago I coached a little league team—T-ball. Okay, it's not major league ball, but stick with me. During a game, my team was fielding and there were two outs with a runner on first. My first baseman fielded a grounder right to him and he was only steps away from first base. I hollered, “Tag the bag!” He proceeded to sprint after the runner who was heading to second, and who outran him, making it to base, while the batter also made it to first.

When I said, “bag” my players had no idea I meant base. They were new to the game and didn’t have the slang down. From that day on, I made sure to define my terms—in baseball and in marketing.

That’s the relevance. The Rosetta Stone allowed scholars to understand ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs because they already knew ancient Greek. Similarly, agency-speak and corporate-speak do not always align. And if there is one thing you learn, it’s to make sure you and your client are working from the same dictionary. You may think it doesn’t matter, but it can mean the difference between your team winning a shutout or striking out.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Most Popular Historical Figures Are...

Spartans are beast! At least that’s the word from the stats department here at Brands In History. There is something about the Spartan culture that absolutely keeps them top of mind when it comes to ‘brands in history’ and our collective memory. Although the film 300 didn't hurt.

Should it be a surprise? Not at all.

There is so much owed to the Spartans for ensuring the evolution of modern culture. And that comes from their valor at Thermopylae. What a great story: that 300 men led another 3000 against a vast army estimated at somewhere between 500,000 and a million men. In modern times there is little such fortitude—at least not since the Alamo. In doing so they averted the absolute distruction of Athens, whose culture laid the groundwork for what would become western culture. Had it not been for the Spartans, the western world might look very, very different (see It's all Greek to me).

Rounding out the top five are also some surprises from history. The number two position is firmly occupied by Achilles. Granted, little to scant evidence exists that Achilles existed outside of Homer’s Iliad, but that text led to the discovery of Troy—and if there was a fall of Troy, might there not have been an Achilles? The ancients, including Alexander, believed Achilles lived. And scholars still debate the possibility—even if it is over a pint.

Solidly number three is the only woman in the top five, but not the only woman having earned a place with Brands In History. She is Florence Nightingale. Nightingale was an interesting woman of her time—not only founding modern nursing, but few know that she was quite a statistician, or that she never married. Nightingale believed she should devote her life to Godly work. 

And then there is the Red Baron. His full name was Baron Manfred von Richthofen and he is the most enduring brand from the First World War. His mark on history is the fact that he alone racked up 80 air combat wins during the war in less than three years. He is still universally regarded as the "Ace of Aces" and studied by aviators. 

The takeaway here is that the popularity of these figures reveals what we admire: The heroism of the Spartans, the courage of Achilles, the compassion and intelligence of Nightingale, and the bold cunning and skill of the Red Baron. The other thing it teaches us is that the past is so much more than dates, mummies or dusty artifacts. These were people who often had an acute sense of their public images, and how to mold their personas. They were the first brand experts.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Branded Teamwork

As preseason NFL football winds down and the real tests soon begin, we look at some of history's great teams—each one of them united in cause and vision. the term, "teamwork" is defined differently depending on who is writing the definition. But no matter how you slice it, most agree it includes communication, coordination, effort, and most importantly—cohesion. Without some sort of binder, the individual ingredients are free radicals, to use a chemical term.  Yet as any former or serving military will tell you, once a bond is set ... the team is not only tight and effective—it's lethal.

 Read, enjoy, and learn...

• Spartans are Beast: If you want a lesson in teamwork, then the Spartans should be on the coaching staff. Just 300 Spartans held off Persia's King Xerxes and his massive army for three days. Yeah, there were Greek brethren there too, but they scattered quickly. The Spartans stood their ground and gave the Persians a sound spanking before being overrun.

• Red Tails: These guys are top of the list for Team Brands from World War II. Otherwise known as the Tuskegee Airmen, the all black squadron earned—underscore—earned an impressive service record. Not only did these guys kick Hitler's butt all over the skies of Nazi-occupied Italy, they kicked down the doors of racism within the American Army Air Corps, paving the way for the Civil Rights movement of the 60s. We're talkin' airtight cohesion.

• Eye of the Tiger: One of the wildest Team Brands from World War II, and highly effective to Tojo's chagrin, were the Flying Tigers. These were hard living, fast flying, ruthless-in-the-skies pilots and ground crew that made Japanese think twice. On the ground, in a "relaxed" state, they were the definition of free radicals. But in the air and on a mission, they were a solid steel unit.

• Samurai jacked: These are Japan's ancient warrior class. On arrival to the battlefield, they'd scare the Zen out of their opponents. All samurai lived and died by the Bushido—a code that bound them together in ferocity, devotion to duty and master, and an "all-in" willingness to die in battle. It just makes you want to see a match-up on Deadliest Warrior between 300 samurai and 300 Spartans. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Gangster Expectations

Expectations are funny, so I’m always amused when some local retailer proudly proclaims he or she will “Exceed your expectations!” How does he know what my expectations are? 

When you enter into a retail buying experience, many times your expectations are negative. You expect to wait a long time. You expect to be ignored. You expect the sales person to have a crappy attitude.

If they exceed that expectation, it would only be by making you wait even longer than you thought you were going to wait. Or by treating you even worse than you expected to be treated.

Since the primary purpose of branding is to create a focused expectation, we need to be aware that the brand expectations we generate are often negative. Customers perceive us to be arrogant. Or expensive. Or hard to deal with.

Al Capone
And so it is with many historic figures. Imagine that you have been freshly hired to handle public relations for the famed Chicago mobster Al Capone. (Even though it has been 65 years since his death, many of us still have strong, and negative perceptions of him to this day.)

If Mr. Capone was to suddenly rise from the dead, is there anything we could do to help improve his image?

Well, in hindsight, that Valentine’s Day Massacre thing didn’t go over too well, so we might suggest a less violent way to settle our differences with Bugsy Moran’s top lieutenants. And those messy restaurant scenes when innocent women and children are splattered with submachine gun fire – not easy to put positive spin on that.

Discretion is probably what we’re striving for here, Al. Handle your disagreements in a less noticeable way. Try to stay off the front page if at all possible.

Capone ran soup kitchens to help the hungry in the '30s.
Surprisingly, in Capone’s early years, he tried to gain social respectability by making donations to various charitable organizations, becoming known briefly as a modern day Robin Hood (stealing from the booze runners and giving to the less fortunate). He made “contributions” to many politicians and elected officials, and attended their public functions until it became dangerous for him to do so.

But painting a picture of Al Capone as a public spirited, all-round good guy is probably too much of a reach for most people to accept. There are all those “incidents” to explain.

Maybe we could find a way to make his tough guy image work for him. Like Frank Perdue, for example. “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.” Or Dodge Trucks – they’re Ram Tough. We could encourage him to buy some Dodge truck franchises and go on TV as the tough guy spokesperson.

Then whenever one of those little incidents come up, people would just say, “oh, that’s just tough guy Al being a little rambunctious.“

It’s conceivable that Al Capone, if he had been able to soften and shape his image to be a little more socially acceptable and a little less threatening, might not have become the Public Enemy Number One target of Eliot Ness and his Untouchables team. After many years of all-out effort, they never convicted him of any crime you might associate with a vicious mobster of his stature. Tax evasion – that’s what he went down for.

He was so menacing, they threw the book at him and only got a 12-year conviction. Not an extremely long sentence considering Capone’s violent track record. If he had received a more typical sentence, (and not experienced a little syphilis problem in his later life) Capone might have served his prison time and returned to the family business without missing more than a step or two.

Too bad he didn’t have branding experts like us to help him out, huh?
Bob Lamons is CEO of Industribrand, a Houston-based B2B branding and marketing services firm. Bob is a 40-year veteran of business-to-business marketing and a past international chairman of the Business Marketing Association. He is a G.D. Crain, Jr. Award recipient, a member of the Business Marketing Hall of Fame, and author of The Case For B2B Branding, the first branding book for business marketers. He wrote a monthly column on “Advertising To Business” from 1992 to 2007 for Marketing News magazine. Bob is a native of Tulsa, OK and a graduate of the University of Tulsa.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Lost Brand

Earhart in the cockpit of her Electra
The damsel in distress; the bold, nonchalant tomboy; the woman who rolls into your life and then disappears—Amelia Earhart is all three ... wrapped up in a fearless, freckle faced pioneer. Her story is haunting because her final fate, while widely speculated, is still fully unknown—and despite the narrowing of modern searches and tedious review of evidence. Her brand is one of tragedy rather than epic disaster like the Titanic. Amelia Earhart is a mystery that is likely never solvable. And for that she remains in our memory—nagging us to leave a light on in the window with a candle of hope burning in our collective psyche.

Earhart caught the flying bug when she 10-years old. It was during a stunt-flying exhibition sometime around 1907, a moment when she stood fast as a pilot plunged his plane right at her. "I did not understand [the feeling] at the time," she said, "but I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by." Her first flight wouldn't happen for over a decade. Pilot Frank Hawks took her up in 1920. Once two or three hundred feet off the ground, Earhart knew she had to fly, but it would take yet more time and effort, mixed with some luck, before she would take the stick. Convention of the day wasn't big on women pilots.

However, Earhart didn't hold with convention. She was a tree climbing, belly-slamming sledder and rat hunter, completely used to shocking the knickers off her contemporaries. Most certainly she had her sights set on plowing new ground for women because she kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about successful women in male-oriented fields. Even more endearing is that Earhart never shirked her civic or humanitarian duties. During WWI, she left college in her sophomore year (c 1917) to work as a nurse's aide. And she later became a social worker in Boston.

But about a year after that first rush from that flight with Hawks, Earhart took a flying lesson. Six months after that, she had saved enough money to buy her first plane—a second-hand Kinner Airster biplane that was painted bright yellow. Naming it "Canary," Earhart used it to set her first women's record by reaching an altitude of 14,000 feet. And in 1923 she became only the 16th woman to earn a pilot license.

Earhart's early flying efforts did not blanket her with glamour. In fact they were quite the reverse. Conditions for a woman in the early days of flying were less than luxurious or convenient, and the training was hard work. Still, this is where Earhart began her branding transformation. Very aware that male aviators would judge her, she began to cultivate her look with a simple act of sleeping in a brand new leather jacket to give it some wear. She also short-cropped her hair like other female flyers.  

Amelia Earhart
Things got tough for Earhart's career in 1923. Her family fortune had been lost, so she worked in jobs outside her preferred career to earn a living and save money. She managed to stay involved in aviation, but nothing significant. Then, on a spring afternoon in 1928, Earhart got a call from George P. Putnam. His simple question was if she'd like to be the first woman to fly the Atlantic. Earhart's answer was equally simple and succinct. "Yes!"

Putnam hooked her up with pilot Wilmer "Bill" Stultz and co-pilot/mechanic Louis E. "Slim" Gordon. And the team flew a Fokker F7 from Newfoundland to Wales in June of 1928. It was a 21-hour flight. And as a publisher and publicist, Putnam was in a position to generate press for Earhart, making her a star. The landmark flight to Wales made headlines worldwide. Three women had died on previous attempts to be that first woman. So on their return to the United States, the team was received with a ticker-tape parade in New York and a reception held by President Calvin Coolidge at the White House.

The trip might seem like no big deal now. Dozens of flights depart each day around the world for destinations 21 hours away. But remember that when Earhart and the team made this flight, the Wright Brothers had only first pushed the Kitty Hawk aloft just 25 years earlier.

All the fanfare launched Earhart into the limelight and she became an instant celebrity. Endorsement deals rolled in and earned more than enough money to fund her flying. It also opened the door to her teaming up with the likes of Charles Lindbergh to promote commercial air travel, a ground floor opportunity for investment in a developing TWA, and to serving as VP of what would become Northeast Airlines

The stars aligned for Earhart and her career took off. She became the first woman, and only the second person, to solo across the Atlantic. Lindbergh was the first. She was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and broke major ground for women in her field. From there, she cruised into the history books by breaking records all along the way. But it was where she was headed next that sealed her immortal fate in the public heart.

Earhart with her Lockheed Electra.
Earhart wanted to be the first woman to fly around the world. Period. She had tried once before and tore up her signature plane, the twin engine Lockheed Electra. Earhart said of this effort, "I have a feeling that there is just about one more good flight left in my system, and I hope this trip is it." On June 1st, in her rebuilt Electra, she and navigator Fred Noonan left Miami on the first leg of a 29,000-mile air trek. Within a month they had 22,000 behind them, and the world was watching. Most people never knew that bad maps dogged the navigation effort for Noonan. That made the next leg even trickier. It was Howland Island—a sliver of dry land on the Pacific Ocean about a mile and a half long and a half-mile wide.

After eight hours in the air, the Earhart team was frantically looking for their target. One of her final transmissions to a US Coast Guard ship tracking her was, "We must be on you, but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet." After 8:45 pm on 2 July 1937, nothing more.


The world loved her for her audacity to attempt what few, if any women or even men had dared. She courted danger with a quiet resolve and a forced smile. She wasn't into the publicity, but it came with her achievements, and her ties to Putnam. Suddenly Amelia was gone—but where? What happened and why? Even after an exhaustive $4 million dollar and 250,000 square mile search, there was no trace, nothing but a sudden emptiness that drives our continued longing for Amelia Earhart.

Update - 09.10.2016: The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) continue gathering a good deal of evidence now supporting a 23-year old theory that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, survived a forced landing on the island of Nikumaroro, a very small, inhospitable spit of sand just over 400 miles south of their intended target of Howland Island. A recent expedition recovered video and artifacts consistent with items of Earhart's era, and possibly parts of the plane. As well, TIGHAR has collected verified reports of Earhart transmitting calls for help following her crash. Read more HERE.

Side Bar: Amelia was the most famous, but there other women who pierced the fog of early women's flying successes. Follow the links below to get introduced to them.

Bessie Coleman
Matilde E. Moisant
Harriet Quimby
So many more...

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Samurai Jacked...

The samurai are a shining example of truth and mythology swirled together. Like the Spartans, though not as old, the samurai remain an enduring and celebrated brand. They transcend culture, race, and time. Surrounded by a romantic fondness, samurai are Japan's classic warrior icon, symbolizing courage, devotion, service and honor. In the early 20th century, the Japanese military built its identity around the samurai's Bushido code. And to this day, the samurai spirit still beats quietly, if not secretly, in the hearts of most Japanese.

But not only in Japanese hearts.

The writers of Star Trek used the Bushido code to weave texture and personality into the Klingon race, and before that, the classic western, The Magnificent Seven was adapted from the original Japanese story, The Seven Samurai. And more recently, The Last Samurai conquered audiences with themes of honor and tradition, along with undertones paralleling the demise of American Indians, as well as a climax echoing Spartan glory at Thermopylae.

Okay, so we have these guys in funky armor that are "all in" when it comes to battle, discipline and self-sacrifice. But just how did these legendary BAs get kicked off?  The answer takes you back to the 8th and 9th centuries when the power of Japan's emperor was in decline, and he was unable to maintain an army to control his empire. Powerful warrior clans, and the heads of these clans were given the title of shogun. A shogun did not have political power—at first, but he was the military commander of his clan, and was responsible for defending whatever territory his clan called home.

Around the 10th century is really when the samurai were unsheathed. The shoguns began organizing soldiers and police, and to collect some tax. Most of their jurisdiction was limited to keeping civil order and maintaining army provisions. Eventually, the shogun expanded their control, and merged with other clans through marriages and alliances—and that's where the samurai as we know them emerged and began their rise as a political ruling class.

The Bushido was an oral tradition, not
written until the 20th Century (1965).
Along with developing political clout, the samurai came to embrace the Bushido, which ran through the warrior class as easily as a Masamune katana sword. Also known as the "Way of the Warrior," Bushido is a philosophy of honor, emphasizing duty and whole devotion to one's master. The samurai absorbed this and it became part of their DNA. Then they jacked it up, extolling reckless bravery, fierce family pride, and that unto-death-loyalty to the master. The latter was at the center of many writings by samurai wise men. 

There were great thought leaders among the samurai. One during 13th century was Hojo Shigetoki—maybe not a Yoda-like guy, but certainly a Mace Windu.  He wrote: "When one is serving officially or in the master's court, he should not think of a hundred or a thousand people, but should consider only the importance of the master." Another writes, 
In matters both great and small, one should not turn his back on his master's commands...One should not ask for gifts or enfiefments from the master...No matter how unreasonably the master may treat a man, he should not feel disgruntled...An underling does not pass judgments on a superior.
On the whole, this philosophy bound the samurai. They were of different clans and served different masters, but this philosophy was the standard they all pursued. They were a band of brothers bound by a common code. Much of that code wove their way into the fabric of the Japanese people. St. Francis Xavier spent a number of years in 16th century Japan. He observed that no nation in the world feared death less. He described the honor and manners of the Japanese as this: 
I fancy that there are no people in the world more punctilious about their honour than the Japanese, for they will not put up with a single insult or even a word spoken in anger.  
St. Francis was in Japan toward the end of a wildly violent period in the nation's history. Firstly, Japan wasn't unified. On the contrary, the emperor was simply unable to control all the provinces, resulting in an amalgam of warring territories with warlords vying for control of overlapping territories. This era is known as Japan's medieval period, or more formally the Heian Era. It was a rambunctious time when the samurai developed and honed their fighting skills, while deservedly earning their reputations as great warriors.

The samurai carried two swords—the katana blade most commonly identified with samurai, and a short sword called a Tanto. The Tanto had a couple of purposes. The first was that when a samurai was in the imperial court, he relinquished his katana—partly out of respect and partly because the thing was so long, it would bang into everything. The Tanto allowed a samurai to remain armed to protect the emperor. And it served as the blade of choice for ritual suicide. 

As he carried two swords, the samurai also had two sides. These weren't killing brutes. Rather, they were also artisans, poets, philosophers, and teachers. When not in battle, they spent considerable time and discipline on perfecting whatever they set their sights. These were a greatly refined and literate class. And following the Heian era, during the peaceful 250 years of the Tokugawa era, the samurai philosophy rose to its height. In the process, the samurai solidified a warrior brand that burns with admiration to this day. 

Therefore, submitted for your approval...

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute.
Like the Spartans, samurai began training at a young age. The goal was to build discipline and to reinforce loyalty to the master. Student samurai were clad in centuries of training in the law of honor, obedience, duty, and self-sacrifice. Historian Arthur May Knapp wrote, 
As a child he had but to be instructed, as indeed he was from his earliest years, in the etiquette of self-immolation. The fine instinct of honor demanding it was in the very blood.... 
2. Devise a distinctive way to articulate the brand position.
Mere mention of the Bushido tells one all they should know. It is the "Way of the Warrior," a philosophy of honor, duty and whole devotion to the master—the very fabric of the samurai.
 Bushido—The Way of the Warrior 
3. Develop a focused brand personality that customers can use to recommend or introduce your company to others.
The word samurai evolved from this root Chinese character, 侍— to mean wait upon or accompany a person of upper society. Eventually the Japanese term would be, "saburai," defined as "those who serve in close attendance to the nobility," The final and gentle morph into the word "samurai" first appeared in a poem in early 10th century. And it stuck. As the warrior class rose in political clout and social standing, samurai and Bushido became synonymous. So to say samurai warrior is actually redundant. 
4. Establish graphic standards.
A samurai did not always wear his armor. But he was never without his sword—the katana sword. Making one is an art form in Japan, and the result is, to quote Obi Wan Kenobi, "an elegant weapon from a more civilized time."
The primo blade from the 14th century on was a Masamune sword. Masamune was a legendary swordsmith. He refined the sword style we associate with samurai today—a weapon so precise, it can slice through flesh and bone with one swipe.

5. Implement internal branding programs to reward employees for behaving in ways that are consistent with the brand personality.
The samurai was expected to not think of himself or of reward, although they were somewhat mercenary. They had to be. Their only source of income, or sustenance was from their master in exchange for service as soldiers. They paid no taxes or tariffs. Still, there were often lands awarded or position. 
Yet the Bushido clearly demanded that samurai "consider only the importance of the master."
 6. Consistently and uniquely execute the branding program.
The samurai as we know them lasted some 600 years and attained the top position in Japanese society. Even during times of extended peace, the samurai were examples of discipline, not just in military pursuits, but also literature, art, and craft. Their code was applicable to all walks of Japanese life. 
It wasn't until the Meiji period when Japan rushed into modernization of the late 19th century that the samurai fade, but not their spirit. The samurai inspired a nation's military, and provided a society with rules of social conduct—even into the 20th century. The samurai inspire to this day. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Forged by Fire

Joan of Arc
For it being a man's world, history is replete with incredibly intelligent, capable, strong, and commanding women who, with skill and cunning, pierced the armor of patriarchal society. And if there is one heroine that burns in the psyche of western civilization, it would be the divine brand of Joan of Arc—"The Maid of Orléans."

Here's a little discovery to fuel the fire of this essay. Joan of Arc was born around 1412, and her name was really Jehanne d'Arc. The d'Arc is debated as possibly being a referent to a geographic formation near her home. Nevertheless, through time she has become Joan of Arc, and best known as the maiden executed on 30 May 1431.  For the last six centuries she has remained a national heroine of France, and she has the value-add of being a Roman Catholic saint—a martyr. How she got there is a helluva story, inspiring French leaders from Napoleon to De Gaul.

The daughter to a peasant family in eastern France, Joan came into the world during the Hundred Years War, which was really several separate wars that raged between England and France from around 1337 to 1453.  It wasn't just the English against the French; it was also a fairly significant civil war among various royal or noble factions for control of the then vacant French throne. The French king, Charles VI, was a little whacked in the head, so his capacity to rein was in serious question until his death in 1422. Even before his death, there were those positioning and plotting to take over the throne. In essence, it was a lot like Frank Herbert's, Dune, or even to some extent, Star Wars - Episodes 1 through 3 (just no Emperor or Darth anybody).

Let's be frank (pun intended), the whole thing was a mess and getting into the weeds of another Middle Ages drama would be a yawner—if it weren't for Joan of Arc. Where the saga gets interesting is in the fact that this provincial child was given command of France's army to defend the throne. How cool is that?

"Archangel Michael speaks" by E. Thirion
Right off you have to know that Joan testified at her heresy trial that she had been subject to visits from several angels and saints since the age of 12. Including, but not limited to her divine friends, are some of Heaven's heavy weights, like the Archangels Gabriel and Michael, along with Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Margaret of Antioch. According to Joan's testimony, she had always been urged to remain pious, but as France's situation worsened and it looked as if England would subjugate her, Joan's holy posse began urging she fight for her country, whom they said God favored in this situation. And this situation was grave.

The French people were hit hard by the Black Plague a century earlier. This war didn't help. The population suffered and they were looking for strong leadership, as most populations do in times of crisis. So by 1428, the set up for Joan was nearly in place because almost nobody had faith in Charles VII, and he was getting his military backside handed to him on just about all sides. With very few allies to turn to, and some of their support waning, divine intervention was going to be a welcome arrow in a nearly empty quiver of options.

A relative escorted Joan to a nearby town for an audience with Lord Robert de Baudricourt. He was a garrison commander as well as a Count, having inside access to the court of Charles VII. That was Joan's objective, to secure de Baudricourt's permission and sponsorship to visit the royal French court of Charles VII at Chinon (the seat of his flailing government). She warned de Baudricourt that Charles was about to suffer a terrible loss near the city of Orleans, however his lordship balked. You know what he thought, "Come on ... really?" What could a young maiden know of making war?  The idea wasn't that she needed to know, only that this sacred premonition was shared with Joan. So when her cautionary vision came true, de Baudricourt made quite sure that Joan arrived at Chinon in one piece.

This is where Joan's brand begins to take shape. Her hair was cut in the fashion of a man's, and she was dressed in man's clothing as well as armor. If her convoy were captured, then hopefully Joan wouldn't be recognized as a female, thus avoiding rape. And should any of her escorts get any naughty ideas, well, the clothing and armor were not user friendly for having relations. Joan wisely kept her armor on at all times until she reached Chinon. She also called herself La Pucelle, translated to mean the maiden or virgin, but you can bet she meant virgin. This is especially so because she had vowed to her saintly friends that she would remain chaste "for as long as it pleases God."

Once in an audience with Charles VII, she convinced him she was a godsend in short order. How? "I have come and am sent in the name of God to aid to yourself and the kingdom." Those were Joan's first words to the would-be king. She then revealed that God had heard Charles' prayer, one that she only detailed in private. Essentially, Charles had prayed to God for his help in defeating the English, and to help his people only if he were the rightful heir to the throne. But if Charles was not, then punish him alone for his sins and not the French people.

This was surely Providence. How else would this girl hear a prayer made only to God? Despite her knowing of his secret prayer, Charles followed an old adage among government officials: Trust but verify. If Joan were God's messenger and this conflict was to be morphed into a religious war, then her morality had to be verified. And it was. According to royal documents, a commission of good theologians "declared her to be of irreproachable life, a good Christian, possessed of the virtues of humility, honesty and simplicity." However the commission neither confirmed nor dismissed Joan's divine inspiration. Something like a 'favorable presumption' was assigned to the subject of her visions.

As with any instrument of God, there has to be a test. And tested Joan was. Her holy task was to end the siege of Orléans because the English were hammering the pulp out of the defending forces. Depending on who you side with in the scholarly debate over whether Joan actually led the army, or simply stood as a symbol of strength, faith, and courage, one thing is clear—all historians agree that with Joan standing at the head of the army, the forces of Charles VII were victorious.

Joan's career would be short. During a small skirmish, she did what any courageous leader of her day did—she fulfilled her duty to be the last person to leave the battlefield during a retreat. That's when the English-sympathetic French force, the Burgundians, surrounded Joan. She refused to surrender and was knocked off her horse by an archer.

Charles VII failed to ransom her or intervene in any way. As a result, the Burgundians sold her to the English. She did try a few daring escapes—even jumping out of a tower window to a soft dry moat 70-feet below. In reality, her fate was sealed and the English put her on trial for heresy. 

There are a host of reasons why the trial would eventually be overturned, ranging from no ecclesiastical jurisdiction to outright political motivation to blatant dismissal of evidence—even a lack of evidence against her. There is no question that her trial was a fallacy, and Joan would be posthumously retried years after her death. Unfortunately, vindication was too late. The English trial condemned her to be burned at the stake.

Yet, she never wavered in her faith, her testimony, or her courage. Court documents record that she in many ways outwitted her inquisitors, which would ultimately be revealed when it was found some documents were altered.

Therefore, submitted for your approval...

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute.
Joan was devout. A commission of pious men, her virtue was confirmed. Her own testimony from the commission and during her heresy trial revealed that she firmly believed God spoke to her through visits from angels and saints—and her actions were those of a woman who believed she served France at the will and pleasure of God.
2. Devise a distinctive way to articulate brand position.
"...for as long as it pleases God." As His servant, Joan kept herself chaste because she promised she would, and only until God willed it otherwise. While many called her The Maid of Orléans, the moniker was often shortened to simply, The Maiden. Indeed, Joan called herself La Pucelle ... the maiden or virgin. This was the symbol of her devotion to God, and how she would come to be known.  
3. Develop a focused brand personality that customers can use to recommend or introduce your company to others.
The Maiden
4. Establish graphic standards.
No one symbol or image is wholly representative of Joan, but specific visuals do make her immediately recognizable. An easy one is the maiden at the stake—the image of Joan in white, bound to a large timber upon a bonfire. In fact, that is how she was executed. To this day a statue of a virtuous Joan standing in flames marks the spot.
Equally common is the portrayal of this iron maiden—the young girl with a pageboy in full armor. She is sometimes on horseback bearing royal standard. In others she is on her knees, holding a sword, and gazing to Heaven in prayer. 
5. Implement internal branding programs to reward employees for behaving in ways that are consistent with the brand personality.
Joan made it plainly clear that an army of God must act as such. It is well documented that on arrival at Orleans, she expelled all the prostitutes from the camp. She then required all the soldiers to attend church and confession. She further expected every man to give up swearing, looting or harassing the populations of cities and towns attacked. 
You might think there would be significant pushback—not that there wasn't some. Yet as troops complied and lived up to Joan's expectation, the army began to perform better. And under Joan's command, the army was bold and followed her strategies and tactics to repeated success. 
Interestingly, her methods brought reinforcements from those who would have turned from Charles' cause. Indeed, because it was said a saint led the army, more men were drawn to fight. 
6. Consistently and uniquely execute the branding program.
Faith can be a funny thing. Many people tout they have faith, brag about it even. But how many really hold the line when it is their life on the line? Joan did. Previously mentioned was that she was tried for heresy. And how she conducted herself is as telling of the woman as anything else.
In her final address, she asked her accusers to pray for her and stated she forgave them. Joan also asked two priests to hold a crucifix before her as she was bound to a post atop a bonfire. She was overheard praying to God, even when the flames rose to consume her. Joan's screams were not in contempt, rather, she screamed the name of Jesus and prayers for help from the saints.
Joan of Arc—she lived and died her brand...

Monday, April 23, 2012

George Washington — No Lie

There can be only one—one first, and George Washington is that one, that first for our country. There is no better start to our discovery of him than the following words by Congressman Henry "Light-Horse-Harry" Lee, a contemporary of our first elected president.
"First in war—first in peace—and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and enduring scenes of private life; pious, just, humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform, dignified, and commanding, his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting. To his equals he was condescending, to his inferiors kind, and to the dear object of his affections exemplarily tender; correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence, and virtue always felt his fostering hand; the purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues. His last scene comported with the whole tenor of his life—although in extreme pain, not a sigh, not a groan escaped him; and with undisturbed serenity he closed his well-spent life. Such was the man America has lost—such was the man for whom our nation mourns."
By comparison, the following composition is wholly inadequate. Lee's eulogy so beautifully and completely captures the spirit of Washington that, really, it is highly recommended readers conduct their own research, just to further and better know George Washington, but also personally ratify Lee's prose.

That said...

George Washington was born in the New World—in Virginia to be specific. So he wasn't a British transplant, though his father was. Now here's an interesting tidbit: Washington's father passed when he was only 11. And the interesting part is that it kept Washington from being sent to England for a formal instruction, resulting in his having achieved only an elementary equivalent education. But that didn't make him stupid. On the contrary, Washington was both intelligent and intuitive, and would go on to demonstrate that throughout his military assignments as a young man.

Washington leads the Pennsylvania expedition
It was during the Seven Years War, of which the Colonial American part was also known as the French and Indian War, that Washington really began his education and found in uniform a comfortable skin. Throughout the conflict, he had successes and failures, but from each he learned more about strategy, logistics, command style, British methodology, and how geography impacts battle plans. He gained a high reputation from fellow commanders as courageous and, perhaps more importantly, regard from the men in his commands.

But it was almost 20-years later, during that brutal winter at Valley Forge, with heavy losses to disease, cold, and hunger, that Washington fired up his "BA" reputation as a Revolutionary general. His position was simple, taking a page from the ancient Roman playbook, that "the victor is not victorious if the vanquished does not consider himself so." Facing superior forces in every way, Washington pushed his men. His toughness on troops and emphasis on training were never looked down upon by his forces. Indeed, he was respected for them—and credited by historians as the reasons for the survival of Colonial forces at Valley Forge—and on to victory when the Red Coats thought they had the Rebels by the military throat.

And then there was Yorktown—and the British surrender. Washington would soon become the first elected president of the new United States of America. And he understood politics. Washington hated the idea of political parties, believing they undermined republicanism. He also tended to side with the counsel of Alexander Hamilton, who was the root of the Federalist Party and the idea of a fiscally strong and nationalistic government. Agree or not, it helped strengthen the budding U.S. during a vulnerable time.

George Washington set the standard. It is by his example that all successive presidents are judged. His leadership style established many forms and rituals since used by our government, including an advisory cabinet, delivering an inaugural address, even serving only two terms. Most important, however, he led the first successful revolution against a colonial empire in world history. He is an icon of liberty and independence.

Therefore, submitted for your approval on this 223 anniversary of Washington's first oath of office for President of the United States...

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute.
George Washington led the Continental Army throughout it's difficult times, through hardships unknown to most of us today, to defeat superior forces, with superior supplies, and superior training and experience. His courage was an inspiration to his men; his perseverance was an inspiration to Congress, and his moral compass an inspiration to the world. On his shoulders stands a nation sired by his conviction.
2. Devise a distinctive way to articulate the brand position.
How Americans referred to Washington as early as 1778 would become his positioning tagline. He set so many precedents for our nation's government, and the office of the presidency in particular, and only after his military leadership to Revolutionary victory. He is...
 The Father of His Country
4. Establish graphic standards.
Representations of Washington abound. They did in his time as now. Pick one. There are depictions of Washington as a warrior, a statesman, a gentlemen farmer, and even one sculpture renders him as Zeus. But if there is one image of Washington that absolutely stands out, it is Washington crossing the Potomac. This captures all that Washington was—the man standing tall and courageous in the face of adverse weather, against a superior enemy, providing the statuesque pose of the leader, not just of an army, but of the nation to come. That is Washington.

5. Consistently and uniquely execute the branding program.
Washington was keenly aware that everything he did set a precedent, so he was careful to give appropriate but not too much pomp and ceremony of office. He wanted to differentiate his office from European royalty and courts, making sure that the titles and trappings of the presidency were suitably republican. To that end, he preferred the title "Mr. President" to other, more majestic names suggested
When he left office, he stressed the necessity and importance of national union, the value of the Constitution and the rule of law, and the evils of political parties. Interestingly, Washington also recommended morality as a crucial thread of popular government. In his farewell address he said,  
"Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle." Perhaps, in short, he was saying, "in God we trust." 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

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 there is an individual and familiar face 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.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Remembering the Alamo

Depiction of the battle at the Alamo.
Surrounded by a massive army against odds that no sane man should ever willingly embrace, a pitiful force of just a few stood in brave opposition to a great many. Sound familiar? One of the earliest such battles we read about was at Thermopylae, where a few thousand Greeks led by Leonidas and his 300 Spartans stumped Xerxes and his hundreds of thousands of Persians for three days. As Thermopylae is to most Greeks, so is the Alamo to most Texans. And while the Alamo is one of two defining moments which helped establish the Texas brand identity, the Alamo is its own stand alone brand.

At the time of Leonidas there was no nation of Greece, so Thermopylae gave birth to an idea of Greek nationalism. Texas, too, was an undefined brand, little more than an expanse of northern Mexican territory. And not just a few of the men at the Alamo were Mexican. Fighting along side were a few native Texicans and many American ex-patriots looking for a new start—or maybe just a good fight. Still, even in 1836 a man from Tennessee was as different from a Virginian as a Spartan was from an Athenian. And somehow, they all had a vision of something called Texas and were willing to stand for it.

General Santa Anna.
On the flip side, not many would compare William B. Travis, the Texican commander of rebel forces at the Alamo, to the noble Spartan King Leonidas. Nor would any historian say that General Antonio López de Santa Anna and Xerxes of Persia were of the same caliber. Aside from his vengeful leanings toward Athens, Xerxes was actually a pretty tolerant monarch compared to the Mexican despot with a Napoleon-complex. However, both Xerxes and Santa Anna shared a common moment of short-sightedness. The Persian king obsessed over dislodging that spec of Greek military resistance when he could have found a way to circumvent Thermopylae. Santa Anna was equally determined to make an example of Texicans at the Alamo when the smart move would have been to bypass the old mission and strike the rebel jugular—Houston and his rag tag army.

The Alamo built in 1724 and originally named the Misión San Antonio de Valero. It was home to Spanish missionaries for about seventy years, although abandoned by the 1800s when the Spanish military used it as a fort. It became the Alamo when soldiers renamed it in honor of their hometown Alamo de Parras, further south in Coahuila. Occupying the Alamo were both Revolutionaries and Royalists during Mexico's independence from Spain. And then the Mexican army until Texican rebels seized it during the Texas Revolution.

But it was on February 23, 1836 that the Alamo began its journey into epic legend. On that day arrived Santa Anna's army. The Texican defenders held out for 13 days. Each day peeled away the hopes of William B. Travis that reinforcements might come to his aid. Although on the eighth day of the siege, 32 volunteers from Gonzales came to help, bringing the number of defenders to nearly two hundred.

William B. Travis
One of the most tantalizing moments from the Alamo legend is that with waning hope for outside help, Colonel Travis drew his sword before a his gathered band of defenders. With it he scratched a line in the dirt of the Alamo courtyard, and he asked any man willing to stay and fight to step over it. Now here's the cool part—all but one stepped over the line. Like their Spartan counterparts 2500 years earlier, the defenders saw the Alamo as key to the defense of Texas, and they were ready to give their lives rather than surrender to General Santa Anna.

The Alamo is marked by gallant bravery of but a few men willing to stand against a herculean force. On the final day, just before sun-up on March 6, 1836, cannon and small arms fire from inside the Alamo beat back several attacks. Still, Mexican soldiers finally scaled the walls and rushed into the compound. Desperate hand-to-hand fighting continued until the defenders were overwhelmed. By sunrise, the battle had ended and Santa Anna entered the Alamo compound to survey the carnage.

The siege and its details are debated to this day. But one thing is indisputable, the Alamo has come to symbolize a heroic struggle against impossible odds—a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. And for this simple reason, the Alamo remains hallowed ground and the Shrine of Texas Liberty.

Therefore, submitted for your approval...
Remember the Alamo!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Eye of the Tiger

The Flying Tigers. These shark-faced fighters are still some of the most recognizable aircraft from World War II, but you may only have heard of them without really knowing who or what they were. The Flying Tigers were a crack group of warriors who prowled the skies over China, and they ripped the Japanese air corps a new one while America still licked its wounds from losses at Pearl Harbor.

In essence, they were the bad boys of World War II.

The official name of the Tigers was actually the 1st American Volunteer Group, or the AVG, and it was the brainchild of a gruff, hard-pressed bastard named Claire Chennault. He stomped around the military high command pressing for better aircraft. And history says he stepped on a lot of toes doing it. As a result, the Army asked him to resign in April of 1937. And when Chennault did the Chinese immediately asked him to assess their pitiful air force and strategy. Three months later, Japan invaded China, giving Chennault a lot to consider in his assessments.

By early 1941, Chennault had a solution and, more importantly, the funding to execute it—which was an instant air force, made up of better American aircraft and professional American pilots. Some say that then U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt secretly endorsed the plan, although there is no official record. However, Chennault did manage to snatch a shipment of Curtiss P-40 Tomahawks originally bound for Britain's Royal Air Force.

The P-40 was rugged plane with heavy armor and heavy machine guns. Think flying tank. The delicate balsa and tin Japanese aircraft were far more nimble, but the Tigers liked looking the enemy in the eye with head-on attacks, for which the P-40 was far superior.

Not only did Chennault scrounge planes, he was also granted official permission to recruit pilots and ground crew from U.S. forces. That was Channault's fast-track-methodology to build an experienced fighter group—cherry-picking American volunteers. He secured 99 pilots and about 200 ground and administrative personnel. And he paid them very well—triple what the pilots and crews normally got as GIs.

Some called the AVG mercenaries because of their pay. Or maybe they were just really well rewarded for having the cajones to take on what was considered a highly trained and battle-experienced Japanese air force. Remember that those planes with the red dot shot everything out of the Asian skies they came up against. 

Most of the AVG organizational build took place in the first nine months of 1941. You don't just set up shop in a few weeks, especially in Burma. But by December of '41, the Tigers leapt into the skies. It was just two weeks after Pearl Harbor when they started hunting on 20 December 1941. The Flying Tigers pounced into action against ten Japanese bombers heading for a place called Kunming in southwestern China. This seemingly unknown place was the eastern terminus of the Burma Road. And the Burma Road was the sole and vital supply route for military supplies to southern China. The Japanese wanted it gone.

What the Japanese didn't know was that two squadrons of Curtiss P-40s had been stationed at Kunming. They bore the 12-pointed Chinese star on their wings and the now distinctive red-and-white shark’s teeth markings around their air scoops on the nose. The P-40 was perfect for exactly that kind of nose-art.

Just as the bombers came in for a run, four P-40s attacked. Startled by the unexpected resistance, the Japanese literally turned tail and flew for home—right into a waiting pack of ten more Flying Tigers. The fighters tore through the bomber formation, knocking down three aircraft and severely wounding one more. 

This is called a blood Chit
and was carried by the AVG.
It reads, "This foreign person
has come to China to help in
the war effort. Soldiers and
civilians, one and all, should
rescue and protect him."
Three days later, the AVG engage the Japanese again, this time racking up 11 confirmed kills with five probables. Just two days after that on Christmas Day 1941, the Flying Tigers down an amazing 24 more Japanese aircraft. These were defensive actions. After the first of the year, 1942, the Tigers would go on the offensive and terrorize the Japanese for another seven months.

According to Chinese newspaper accounts of those early battles, "...these American volunteers fight like Tigers, Flying Tigers." Hence the squadron name. Now, wrapped up in the concept of the Tiger is a whole lot of Asian cultural equity. Specifically in Japan, the tiger is the symbol of the Samurai. The tiger also represents the virtue of courage. And if you really want to get deep, it also means revision, improvement, change, and the Zen good.

The original AVG Flying Tigers were only active for about 8-months, through July of 1942. At that point, the US Army Air Corps came in and absorbed the AVG. While the name continued on through the 23rd Fighter Group, later commanded by Chennault himself and with a few of the original AVG pilots, it carved out its own success record. However it was the tenacity of the original AVG that established the brand presence and expectation of the Flying Tigers.

Therefore, submitted for your approval...

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute.
The AVG were a group of hard-playing, hard fighting mavericks—the inglorious basterds of the air. One of the most famous was Greg "Pappy" Boyington, well known for being a scrapper, and for living hard. But in the air, he was even meaner. He would go on to form the famous Black Sheep squadron. 
2. Devise a distinctive way to articulate the brand position.

While these pilots were animals on the ground, in the air they were courageous and fierce warriors. They would gladly assault their foe in head-on attacks. forcing the Japanese to look the tiger in the eye.
Courageous and fierce like tigers.
3. Develop a focused brand personality that customers can use to recommend or introduce your company to others.
Thanks to the Chinese news accounts ... "The Flying Tigers"
4. Establish graphic standards.
Part One - The actual logo for the Flying Tigers was designed by Walt Disney, featuring a leaping tiger with small wings. In reality, the accepted popular look and feel was derived from the natural characteristics of the Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk. The plane had the ideal nose cowling for painting a mouth full of teeth. This nose art was actually of a shark. But those teeth still lent themselves to the maw of a big cat and became synonymous with the Flying Tigers.
Part Two: The P-40 was simply a rugged, mean hunk of flying metal. It was heavily armored around the engine and cockpit. It also carried two .50 caliber nose guns along with two .303 cal guns in each wing. Quite frankly, it was just a brute.
5. Consistently and uniquely execute the branding program.
The proof was in the pudding with an 8-month record showing that the original AVG Flying Tigers were credited with destroying about 130 enemy aircraft. Losses amounted to only 14 AVG aircraft. This would be the inspiration when the AVG were rolled into the offical American forces in August of 1942.