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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Red Tails

There is a brand from the skies of World War II that you may not know, but you should. It is "Pure-D" American, and it showed that absolutely no color mattered except one—Red. To squadrons of bomber crews gritting it out in the skies over Europe, the Red Tails were angels on their shoulders. Officially they were the 332 Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps (before there was a US Air Force). This was a group of airmen made up entirely of black Americans—and they are known to history as the Tuskegee Airmen.

There is no way around the fact that black Americans have had it tough. No way around segregation, discrimination, and the oppression suffered before the days of the Civil Rights movement. There's no sugar coating it. But this group of extraordinary and determined men showed the promise of a nation by demanding to fight for her. And fight they did—doing so from the bottom up just to get an opportunity to train. Prior to the formation of the Tuskegee Airmen, no black American had become a U.S. military pilot or member of an air crew.

The Tuskegee program officially began in June 1941 at the Tuskegee Army Air Field—hence the nickname, Tuskegee Airmen. The original unit consisted of about 47 officers and 429 enlisted men, filling the initial plan for 500 personnel. That grew significantly by mid 1942 with nearly 3000 personnel stationed at Tuskegee. Launching the program itself was a major victory, but a host of obstacles remained, including local prejudice, internal military discrimination, and overall bad perception.

Finally, the US military command agreed to deploy the Tuskegee Airmen into combat. This was somewhat under political pressure and somewhat because the Tuskegee Airmen wouldn't wash out—having performed admirably in training. So the Red Tails went to war in July 1943 with their initial combat mission over Sicily. Come May 1944, the 332nd Fighter Group began escorting heavy strategic bombing raids into Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Germany. This is where the Red Tails really found something to crow about.

Of the hundreds of escort missions flown, The Tuskegee fighter pilots lost only 25* bombers to enemy fire, earning high praise and a reputation as fierce aces. Indeed, crews soon requested the Red Tails as escorts, realizing that the only color that mattered on a hairy mission was Red. It is their legacy that helped end segregation in the US military, which also paved the way for desegregation in civilian America. 

Therefore, submitted for your approval...

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute.
Although many of the Tuskegee Airmen were highly educated and many had flown as civilians prior to military service, they had to work harder to prove themselves to their own air corps. That type of determination, to triumph over adversity, made these men formidable opponents for the arrogant Luftwaffe pilots.
 Triumph over adversity.
2. Devise a distinctive way to articulate the brand position.
To triumph, the Tuskegee Airmen rose above prejudice from their own country, above hardships and obstacles thrown at them by their command, and above any doubts in themselves that they may have had.
"Rise Above."
3. Develop a focused brand personality that customers can use to recommend or introduce your company to others.

Immediately on deployment to the Mediterranean Sea, the Tuskegee Airmen distinguished themselves in combat. They excelled at bomber escort duty and quickly became personified, not as black airmen, but as superior fighter pilots identified by the Red on the tails of their aircraft.
 The Red Tails
4. Establish graphic standards.
Part One - RED Tails:  Red is not an uncommon color on many aircraft. And while there is no official story about why the Tuskegee Airmen chose red, maybe they took a cue from the Red Baron. It was slightly audacious in order to get  noticed, from the ground and from the air, and nothing does that quite like bright red.
Part Two - P-51 Mustang: Not unlike the Red Baron who actually flew various aircraft but was best known for a bright red version of a triplane in WWI, the Tuskegee Airmen also flew several kinds of airplanes, but became identified with the P51 Mustang.  
5. Consistently and uniquely execute the branding program.
There were six tenants to the Rise Above slogan of the Red Tails:
  • Aim High
  • Believe in yourself
  • Use your brain 
  • Never quit 
  • Be ready to go 
  • Expect to win
If the proof is in the pudding, then the Red Tails absolutely lived their brand... 
Approximately 445 Tuskegee Airmen were deployed overseas, and 150 Airmen lost their lives. The blood cost included sixty-six pilots killed in action or accidents, and thirty-two fallen into captivity as prisoners of war. 
The Tuskegee Airmen were credited by higher commands with the following accomplishments: 
  • 15,533 combat sorties, 1578 missions 
  • One hundred and twelve German aircraft destroyed in the air, another 150 on the ground 
  • Nine hundred and fifty rail cars, trucks and other motor vehicles destroyed 
  • One destroyer sunk by P-47 machine gun fire 
  • A good record of protecting U.S. bombers, losing only 25 on hundreds of missions. 
Awards and decorations awarded for valor and performance included:
  • Three Distinguished Unit Citations
    • 99th Pursuit Squadron: 30 May–11 June 1943 for the capture of Pantelleria, Italy
    • 99th Fighter Squadron: 12–14 May 1944 for successful air strikes against Monte Cassino, Italy
    • 332d Fighter Group: 24 March 1945 for the longest bomber escort mission of World War II
  • At least one Silver Star
  • An estimated 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses
  • 14 Bronze Stars
  • 744 Air Medals
  • Eight Purple Hearts 
* NOTE:  It was once said that no bomber escorted by the Tuskegee Airmen had ever been lost to enemy fire. This statement was repeated for many years, and not challenged because of the esteem of the Tuskegee Airmen, however, Air Force records and eyewitness accounts later showed that at least 25 bombers were lost to enemy fire. So what. Other squadrons lost 25 bombers on single missions. The final takeaway is that whether 0 or 25, the Tuskegee Airmen gave up fewer bombers in their care than any other protecting squadron of fighters. And that's over hundreds of missions.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Brand Everlasting

Three kings visit the Nativity.
On this eve of the Epiphany—the Christian celebration commemorating the revelation of God the Son as a human being in the Christ Child—we explore the brand that is Christianity. Controversial, enduring, inspiring, and even misappropriated—Christianity is the faith in the life, teachings and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And for more than two millennia, this brand has persisted in its evolution and command of brand loyalty.

At the core of the Christian brand is Christ himself, Jesus of Nazareth and Son of God. Christians profess their faith that Jesus was born of a virgin, died for the forgiveness of human sin, rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven to later return for judgment day. Those are strong attributes—meaningful to the faithful then and now. And while being born of a virgin is not unique in the history of religious faiths, it provided Jesus with divine DNA from God the Father.

Strengthening this divine heritage is his very name, underscoring the mission for which prophecy says he was sent. Jesus is basically translated to mean "Yahweh rescues".  And according to the Gospels of both Luke and Matthew in the New Testament, the angel Gabriel tells Mary and Joseph to name their child Jesus. The reason given was "because he will save his people from their sins". Right from the start this lends a redemptive attribute to Christ. Of course the title of Christ translates from Greek to mean "the anointed" and also used to translate the Hebrew term for "Messiah" into Greek. Combined that set Jesus up to be the Anointed one to deliver salvation.

Jesus has a well-documented life in the New Testament. Christians obviously put a great deal of trust into the text and it is within these chronicles of Christ's life, and the very Genesis of Christianity, that so much of the brand is found. Healing, miracles, firm resistance against human temptations, as well as the Crucifixion and Resurrection are hallmarks of Jesus' divine brand. But the more subtle of Christ's deeds seem to be those that have the most impact.

Jesus calls to Zacchaeus
Just in the company he kept, Jesus didn't associate himself with the upper crust of society. Indeed, his affiliations with those of lesser status and questionable reputation made him a target.

One example is the account of Zacchaeus from the Gospel of Luke. Simply put, Zacchaeus was a tax collector in Jericho—hated by everybody and in particular by other Jews who saw him as a traitor for working with Rome. On the day Jesus passed through town, he arrived early along the path Jesus would take, climbing a sycamore tree. Zacchaeus was a short man and would have difficulty seeing over the crowds. As Jesus passed, he looked up into the tree and called out to Zacchaeus by name and told him to come down. Jesus then announced he would visit his house, sending the crowd into shock that Jesus would associate himself such a low sort.

But so moved by the gift of Jesus' undeserved love and acceptance, Zacchaeus publicly repented and vowed to make restitution for them. This is chief among the attributes of Christ—forgiveness and embracing those who are not evil but outcast.  That's an unusual attitude for the time—one might argue even for today.

Adding to the desirability of forgiveness is the idea of an afterlife. Not all religions have a bright future for our souls. In some we are reincarnated, doomed to relive this life until we miraculously figure out how to behave in order to move on. In others there are several levels of Heaven or Hell—sounds more corporate than ethereal. And still others believe there is nothing beyond this life at all. So a Kingdom of Heaven can really resonate if you ain't tickled with the status quo.

But the deeds of Christ, including his Resurrection, were only the beginning of the Christian brand. Although let's face it, Resurrection is major since that means death can be defeated, further reinforcing that afterlife thing. Still, Christ's life was the foundation—the rock on which the church was built. From there it spread across the ancient western and near eastern worlds like the original social media.

Emperor Constantine c 302 AD
There are two specific people deserving the lion's share of credit for Christianity's facebook-like success—Constantine and Charlemagne. Nothing can pull an underground movement out from the shadows like state endorsement. Constantine was an early 4th Century Roman emperor who was responsible for exactly that. Before his rein, Christians were a persecuted lot. After all Jesus was crucified for sedition, real or not. And most of the ancient Mediterranean was pagan, whereas Christianity required reneging on many naughty but potentially fun elements of paganism. Maybe that's why Constantine waited a very long time before being baptized.

On the other side of the condemnation coin was Judaism itself—Jews didn't care for Christians because most didn't hold that Jesus was the Messiah, not to mention the fact that Christ's teaching seemingly went against the Jewish mainstream current. Add to that the whole idea that gentiles were welcome in the new faith. In other words Jesus went outside the tribe and Jews didn't appreciate it.

Roman shield with Chi Rho
Anyway, just before a battle Constantine had a vision of the Christian symbol, Chi Rho, which convinced him the Christian God was on his side. His resulting victory in what was thought a hopeless battle inspired Constantine to lift the persecutions of Christians. And he would spend an enormous effort for the remainder of his rein in supporting and spreading the faith.

Skip about 500 years to the end of the Dark Ages and we get Charlemagne. He was a conquering emperor—he was French, so go figure. Known then as Charles I, Charlemagne managed to unite much of Europe. In doing so, and as a good Medieval Christian (a somewhat disreputable time for the faith), he forced the Christianization of the Saxons, the Danes, and the Slavs, while banning their native paganism under threat of painful death. Charlemagne integrated all these people into his empire, while simultaneously integrating select pagan traditions into Christianity. This had the effect of easing brand acceptance by utilizing certain advantageous elements to further spread the faith.

Gold bust of Charlemagne
It is during the span of time between Constantine and Charlemagne that the cross really becomes the standard for Christianity—a reminder of Christ's sacrifice and Resurrection. By this time the Catholic Church established itself as the dominant authority on everything from western politics and society to science and medicine. The cross was on everything you could affix it to, draw it on, weave it into, or incorporate into its very making. Biblically speaking, the cross spread like locusts.

Christ is an everlasting brand. Even if you set aside the divinity of Jesus and look at him with a strict historical perspective, it is accepted fact that he existed. Jesus was a Rabbi … a teacher. And Roman records confirm that Pontius Pilate crucified him for sedition against the Empire. His impact is no less than profound. Jesus is even recognized by other faiths as being at the very least a prophet. These include Judaism, Islam, and the Bahá'í faiths. It may be an oxymoron, but Jesus was a conqueror whose weapon was ... forgiveness.

Therefore, submitted for your approval...

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute.
Forgiveness and compassion are the leads here. In his life, Jesus was noted for consorting with social rejects—the unwashed, the tax collector, and those of questionable reputation. He professed not a God who favored the rich and powerful, but a Father who loved all His children and promised a place especially for the meek and the poor.
2. Devise a distinctive way to articulate the brand position and develop a brand personality customers can use to introduce the brand.
He died for our sins ... enough said.
3. Establish graphic standards.

Early Christianity used more than a couple of symbols. Emperor Constantine saw a vision of the Chi Rho (the first two letters of Christ in Greek). which inspired him to take up God's standard and spread the church across the known world. The fish is a popular sign even today. But very early on it was code among a persecuted people. Eventually, Christianity settled on the cross as reminder to the faithful of Christ's sacrifice for all sins, and a death from which Jesus rose. This remains the most common Christian symbol today.

4. Implement internal branding programs to reward employees for behaving in ways that are consistent with the brand personality.
This is where things get sticky in Christianity. Early Christianity was more "advential" in that they truly believed the risen Jesus would return any moment. Plus there were the persecutions. So early Christians endured and sacrificed—walking paths not wholly dissimilar to Christ's. 
Then there is the less pleasant period of the Church when it becomes less about the divine and more about the corruption of power—the heretic trials, inquisitions, Crusades, and the suppression of knowledge. The reward for good behavior, as prescribed by church authority, was that you wouldn't be skinned alive, boiled, flogged, or some such unpleasant treatment. If so, then you were being purified for Heaven. You're welcome!
However, the real incentive for living a life in the footsteps of Jesus are in his root message: 
Heaven awaits those who follow in Christ's footsteps.
Stated another way: "The way to the Father is through me."
5. Consistently and uniquely execute the branding program.
Christ was most certainly consistent in his behavior. And his message for following the brand was direct and simple: 
Love one another as I have loved you.