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Monday, February 9, 2015

Scourge of God

Dread. That sums up the feeling of anyone who lay in the path of a Hun raiding party or in the wake of one, assuming you even survived the event. These were primarily a nomadic people who emerged from the Steppe of Russia—around the Volga River. Although they may have originally migrated from as far east as northern Asia. They were expert horsemen, archers and spearmen, almost a precursor to the Mongols. The entire Hun army was cavalry, so when they struck it was fast, violent and complete. They were the barbarians' barbarians—as BA as you could get. The British leadership commonly used the "Huns" to describe German soldiers during World War I. And why not—the Huns scared the bejeezuz out of Gauls and Goths. It's an understatement to say that Eastern and Western Roman Empires of the day were intimidated. In fact, Western Rome probably hadn't been as freaked out about an enemy since the days when Hannibal mercilessly violated Roman legions across the Italian peninsula. They had good reason.

Like Hannibal, the Huns had a leader with attributes unlike any of his Hun predicessors—and his name was Attila the Hun. When Attila rose to power, he brought his barbarian horde straight into the limelight of their day and established their brand as synonymous with vicious brutality. The name Attila the Hun is often invoked when someone speaks of savagery or cruelty. In fact, of the many, many barbarian rulers throughout history, Attila is the one remembered most.

Ancient historians record that Attila was mean, ruthless, unrelenting, and yet he could be remarkably sophisticated, diplomatic ... civilized. He ruled from 434 AD until his death in March 453. For nearly 20 years, he wrought havoc over a territory, some use the word empire but that is a sketchy term here, that spanned westward from modern day Kazakhstan to the Rhine River and from the Danube River to the Baltic Sea. He left ripples of impact on Turkish, German and Nordic cultures that are felt today. There was even a popular book among corporate executives during the 1970s and 1980s entitled, Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun.

The discovery phase of the Attila brand begins with his name. Modern historians largely agree that Attila is not a true Hun name. It is likely a Germanic derivative, which is due to the fact that Attila spent most of his adult and reigning life in Northern Europe, about where the Gauls were hovering around in the 4th and 5th centuries, and where Attila is still revered today. But because so little of the Hunnic language survives it is difficult to conclude. And keep in mind that the record on Attila comes from Roman and Greek sources, basically the enemies of the Huns. Underscore that with the fact the sources weren't even first person accounts.

What we do know of Attila is that he was born to a noble family. Remember that the Huns were basically nomads, so considering him from a "royal" lineage would be a stretch. Luxury counted for nothing. In fact it is said Attila was born in a chariot somewhere along the Danube River. Nevertheless, Attila's father was related to previous kings—or at least something akin to tribal chieftains. Like the Mongols who would follow in about 600 years, the Huns were tough plainsmen. Raw horse meat was a primary protein source, as was mare's milk. And they were adaptive. They did not mind mixing it up with other races, tribes or cultures.

Without delving too deeply into Hun politics, the young Attila and his brother became wards of an uncle on the death of their father. Uncle Rugila became king for a time, and in that time Attila was sent to the Roman court. Being a child hostage in those days was a formal arrangement. Rome would take an opponents child and send one to the opponent's court. The why and how of these arrangements varied, but it was often a way for the two keep each other at bay. In the case of Attila, he wound up learning very well the strengths and weaknesses of Roman culture and military tactics. His strategy to later engage Rome developed during his years in court.

Ultimately, Rugila would die and Attila would ascend with his brother to the throne. Bleda, however, met with a quick and sudden death, leaving Attila sole ruler over the Huns. There are questions around Bleda's death—as often there are when siblings co-rule and one comes out ahead. But that is speculation. Attila was the big cheese, and the stage was now set for an empire to be won and history to be made.

Therefore, submitted for your approval...

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute.
Attila's life is almost a mirror of Genghis Khan. Both men lost fathers at young ages. Khan was enslaved and Attila was part of a hostage exchange between his uncle and Rome. Also like Khan, Attila was from a tough plains people. And both men likely caused the demise of their brother, with whom they would've had to share rule or compete to keep it. Interestingly, both believed in diplomacy. Attila made it a point to seek peace rather than engage in risky battles. As long as he profited from the peace, then no need for war.

Should war be necessary, however, mercy did not factor in. The enemy was to be subdued in every respect. Attila was a described as a “savage destroyer.” It was recorded that “the grass never grew on the spot where his horse had trod.” Roman historian Jordanes wrote that Attila was “a man born into the world to shake the nations.” And shake them he did. Attila led the Huns back and forth for more 20 years, invading, raiding, sacking and generally disrupting anyone in power.
The key words here are “savage and merciless.”
2. Devise a distinctive way to articulate the brand position.
Attila the Hun declared himself flagellum Dei, which translates to "scourge of God."
3. Develop a focused brand personality that customers can use to recommend or introduce your brand to others.
Attila's real Hunnic name is unknown to us. But we can derive that his impact on 5th century Europe was lasting since they gave him a name rooted in Germanic culture. He was feared and at the same time revered. He became the Hun of all Huns. Attila the Hun.
4. Establish graphic standards.
Part One: Blood is about as synonymous with Attila brand as anything else. What he looked like is controversy. Coming from the steppe, with roots in the far east, he's been described with decidedly Asiatic features. Others make him Norse-like. Some depictions make him look almost Mediterranean. His forces used the bow, the spear and rode on horseback. But common was that when you fought the Huns, blood was let whether you won or lost.
An ancient sword in the Vienna Museum, it is from the
Hungarian plains and supposedly Attila's  Sword of God
Part Two: The Sword of God. This has some fact and some legend. Attila has been depicted holding swords that range from a broadsword to a scimitar. Given the Hun origins, something close to a Chinese long sword is most likely. But more important is that the sword itself is supposed to have been a gift of God—found by a shepherd boy and presented to Attila. And by the way the Huns worshipped a single deity—if they bothered worshipping at all. Still, a Divine gift to the king meant a Divine purpose. And Attila took full advantage, using the symbolism to reinforce his right to lead.
5. Implement internal branding programs to reward employees for behaving in ways that are consistent with the brand personality
Below is an excerpt from the February 2012 article, "Nice Things to Say About Attila the Hun." It was written for by contributing writer Mike Dash.
 More compelling, perhaps, is the high regard that Attila always placed on loyalty. A constant feature of the diplomatic relations he maintained with both the Eastern and the Western portions of the Roman Empire was that any dissident Huns found in their territories should be returned to him. In 448, Attila showed himself ready to go to war against the Eastern Empire for failing to comply with one of these treaties and returning only five of the 17 Hun turncoats that the king demanded. (It is possible, that the other dozen fled; our sources indicate that the fate of those traitors unlucky enough to be surrendered to Attila was rarely pleasant. Two Hun princes whom the Romans handed over were instantly impaled.)
It would be wrong, of course, to portray Attila as some sort of beacon of enlightenment. He killed Bleda, his own brother, in order to unite the Hun empire and rule it alone. He was no patron of learning, and he did order massacres, putting entire monasteries to the sword. The Roman historian Priscus, who was part of an embassy that visited Attila on the Danube and who left the only eyewitness account that we have of the Hun king and his capital, saw regular explosions of rage. Still, it is difficult to know whether these storms of anger were genuine or simply displays intended to awe the ambassadors, and there are things to admire in the respect that Attila accorded Bleda’s widow—when Priscus encountered her, she held the post of governor of a Hun village.
Dash continues, revealing that Attila could be a very generous king.
The discovery of a rich fifth century Hun hoard in Pietrosa, Romania, strongly suggests that the Hun king permitted his subjects to enrich themselves, but it is to Priscus that we owe much of our evidence of Attila’s generosity. Surprised to be greeted in Greek by one “tribesman” he and his companions encountered on the Hungarian plain, Priscus questioned the man and discovered he had once been a Roman subject and had been captured when Attila sacked a city of the Danube. Freed from slavery by his Hun master, the Greek had elected to fight for the “Scythians” (as Priscus called the Huns), and now protested that “his new life was preferable to his old, complaining of the Empire’s heavy taxes, corrupt government, and the unfairness and cost of the legal system.” Attila, Priscus recorded, also employed two Roman secretaries, who served him out of loyalty rather than fear, and even had a Roman friend, Flavius Aëtius, who lived among the Huns as a hostage for several years. Aëtius used the military skills he learned from them to become a highly proficient horseman and archer, and, eventually, one of the leading generals of his day. 
Most surprising, perhaps, the Hun king was capable of mercy—or at least cool political calculation. When he uncovered a Roman plot against his life, Attila spared the would-be assassin from the hideous fate that would have awaited any other man. Instead, he sent the would-be assassin back to his paymasters in Constantinople, accompanied by note setting out in humiliating detail the discovery of the Roman scheme–and a demand for further tribute.
6. Consistently and uniquely execute the branding program.

Attila the Hun never forgot his roots. He was a Hun. Despite years of available leisure whilst a hostage in Rome, he never indulged. As a king, he never indulged—even when entertaining. The historian Priscus highlights this with the following:
Tables, large enough for three or four, or even more, to sit at, were placed next to the table of Attila, so that each could take of the food on the dishes without leaving his seat. The attendant of Attila entered first with a dish full of meat, and behind him came the other attendants with bread and viands, which they laid on the tables. A luxurious meal, served on silver plate, had been made ready for us and the barbarian guests, but Attila ate nothing but meat on a wooden trencher. In everything else, too, he showed himself temperate; his cup was of wood, while to the guests were given goblets of gold and silver. His dress, too, was quite simple, affecting only to be clean. The sword he carried at his side, the latchets of his Scythian shoes, the bridle of his horse were not adorned, like those of the other Scythians, with gold or gems or anything costly.