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Monday, June 14, 2021

Ole Blood and Guts

General George S. Patton was the hard-charging, hard-talking, and hard-nosed “S.O.B.” remembered as much for his mouth as for his command abilities. In terms of military campaigns, his noted successes include North Africa, Sicily, and the opening months of America’s incursion into France. He is also credited with collapsing the NAZI offensive in December of 1944, known as the Battle of the Bulge. From an overall military standpoint, Patton is highly regarded as a commander. And he was bred for the role.

Military life was literally in Patton’s DNA. He was born to a wealthy family, both in terms of money and in rich military legacy. He is descended from Hugh Mercer, a hero of the American Revolution, and before that Mercer served with British forces during the Seven Year’s War. Patton’s grandfather commanded Confederate infantry during the Civil War, and his great uncle was killed at Gettysburg. Although having never served in the military, Patton’s father attended the Virginia Military Institute. No doubt that discipline and regimen were familiar concepts in the household, but owned wholly by young Patton was his determination.

Learning to read and write did not come easy to young Patton. And they would challenge him even into his college years. But he stuck with it and, with the help of a tutor, he grew into a hungry reader and even wound up writing poetry. He focused on military history––the classics, such as Julius Caesar’s Commentaries, the campaigns of Joan of Arc, and the exploits of Scipio Africanus (the Roman commander who defeated Hannibal and obliterated Carthage to end the Third Punic War). Those are big names to be sure. But they exemplify his focus and that all decisions aimed him in the direction of a military career, the only career he ever really wanted. Knowing that West Point (the US Military Academy) was likely out of his academic reach, at least initially, Patton settled on Virginia Military Institute (VMI) for his first year of college. But that was no cakewalk either. To this day, VMI is known as one of the most rigorous military academies on Earth. Still, Patton performed well enough academically and on his entrance exams to be accepted at West Point for the following year.

West Point curriculum hammered Patton, even to the point of having to repeat his first year, although he never yielded. Well understanding his differentiators, Patton conquered the military aspects of academy life by excelling in military drill. He quickly rose in cadet ranks and became well known and respected, not just for his performance in uniform, but for his athleticism, as well. Patton played football, participated in track and field, and the West Point sword team. He was also an excellent swordsman. So athletic was Patton that following his graduation from West Point, he was selected as the US Army’s entry in the 1912 Olympic Pentathlon. He finished fifth overall and was the top non-Swedish finalist. His performance was so impressive, he was later selected for the 1916 Olympics, but those games were canceled due to World War I. Even after the 1912 games, Patton continued studying fencing. Ultimately, young Patton became the US Army’s first officer to be conferred “Master of the Sword.”

All this lays the groundwork for the emergence of the Patton brand. But it was in his assignment to border patrol along the US/Mexico frontier that the Patton brand began its coagulation. And it came in two parts. Part one was the simple fact that Patton typically wore a sidearm, but due to an accidental discharge, he swapped his model 1911 Colt .45 automatic for an ivory-handled single-action revolver. Part two was courtesy of Pancho Villa.

A border war broke out between the US and Mexico in 1910, coinciding with the Mexican Civil War. Civil or not, wars have a habit of spilling over neighboring borders. And to be honest, relations between the US and Mexico have always been on the sketchy side. So when the US government came down on the side not backed by Villa, he was irritated. His men raided a small town a couple of miles north of the border in New Mexico. The town was burned and sacked with particular emphasis on American civilians and military being killed.

In those days, the US did not tolerate incursions into American territory. Patton finagled himself an assignment to Major General John J. Pershing, then-President Woodrow Wilson’s choice to lead what became known as the Pancho Villa Expedition. Patton impressed Pershing with his logistical abilities. He also saw much of his own leadership style in the young Patton. That style was tested on May 14th, 1916 as Patton led the first-ever motorized attack by US forces. That attack killed three of Villa’s men on a foraging expedition. This small success and Pershing’s favor would lead to Patton’s promotion from 1st Lieutenant to Captain in 1917, and to Patton again joining his mentor in Europe.

By this time, Europe was three years into World War I, ever since a young Bosnian Serbian dissident assassinated Archduke Ferdinand of Austria because of territorial disputes. In some corners of the US, it is still commonly thought that the sinking of the RMS Lusitania by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915, drew American response. The truth is that President Woodrow Wilson insisted America keep cool; however, he demanded that Germany cease attacks on passenger ships. Not only did Germany renege on its promise to leave civilian ships out of the fight, Germany also made a critical blunder. The German foreign minister sent Mexico what has come to be known as the Zimmermann Telegram. It’s called that because the German foreign minister was Arthur Zimmermann. It asked Mexico to enter the war on Germany’s side, and in return, Mexico would receive funds to support its continuing border wars with the United States. Specifically, the telegram addressed the goal of helping Mexico reclaim Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Allied agents intercepted the telegram, and its contents were subsequently released to the American public.

Patton with an early tank in France.
No Bueno. Nein. Not gonna happen. The US declared war and within months, thousands of American servicemen were on their way across the Atlantic with Pershing and young Patton ahead of them. Now, this is key. Patton shifted focus from infantry to tanks. He attended the French Army tank school, drove tanks and toured factories, as well as interviewed British tank commanders. World War I was the birth of mechanized tactics, and Patton was studying hard.

In the closing months of the war, the Patton brand expectation strongly developed. He commanded tanks in battle, once even riding on top of one during an attack so as to inspire his men. On another occasion, he walked in front of a tank as his unit entered an enemy-held village. In advance of an attack, he personally performed a reconnaissance mission. From the outset of his command of tanks in WWI, he ordered no tank to ever be surrendered. He continued leading assaults until he was wounded, although he continued directing the action for another few hours before being evacuated to a hospital. Yeah, old blood and guts had arrived. Though that nickname was over two decades away.

The next two decades saw Patton press to develop US armored warfare—better tanks, adapting tanks from infantry support to independent fighting forces, refining tank operations, and more. He met Dwight D Eisenhower, who often agreed with Patton’s efforts. Concurrently, Patton graduated and then spoke at the General Staff College, as well as the Command and General Staff College. At one point in the quiet years between World Wars, Patton was assigned to Hawaii and responsible for its defense. He drafted a contingency plan called “Surprise” which was based on a presumed air raid of Pearl Harbor. That was in 1925.

Peacetime often bounces officers around to different postings, as well as in and out of continuing military education and professional development. It was no different for Patton. But he distinguished himself in almost every case. By 1938, he was a prime candidate for promotion to general. That happened in 1940 when he became a brigadier general and was given command of the 2nd Armored Brigade, 2nd Armored Division. It wasn’t long before he rose to Major General and took over the whole armored division. He became the head honcho of armored doctrine within the US Army. Repeatedly he demonstrated outstanding command abilities, once even completing two days worth of planned objectives in only nine hours. On the heels of the Pearl Harbor tragedy, Patton was assigned the 1 Armored Corps. Almost immediately, he began training for desert warfare in anticipation of North Africa—and Rommel.

Therefore, submitted for your approval…

1. Determine the most appropriate brand-positioning attribute.
Hard-edged and packed with sheer will.

Follow me or hit the highway

2. Devise a distinctive way to articulate the brand position.
Patton’s essential armored strategy was for his forces to stay in constant contact with the opposition. His instincts, and personal preference, were to always be on the offensive. In fact, when he was once asked if the Third Army's rapid offensive across France (1944) should be slowed to reduce the number of U.S. casualties, Patton’s reply was, "Whenever you slow anything down, you waste human lives."

Remain in constant contact with opposing forces and press forward—ever forward.

3. Develop a focused brand personality that customers can use to recommend or introduce your company to others.
Patton loved the heat of battle—perhaps even the idea of war itself. It was this Klingon enthusiasm for engaging the enemy that led soldiers to dub the old man as, “Old blood and guts,” and joking that it was his guts but their blood.

Old blood and guts

Supplemental to Patton’s view of war and warfare was his demeanor. The man was gruff in his presentation and his language. Patton delivered speeches to his men with all the eloquence of a sailor on leave (full of curse words). He did so because he believed if you “give it to ‘em hard they’ll remember it.”

4. Establish graphic standards.
Patton was sharply aware of image and public perception. Throughout the interwar decades, Patton’s command abilities made headlines. Americans knew who Patton was, and he very much cultivated the warrior image they saw. That persona was represented in no small part by his crisp-looking uniforms, but Patton was the only general who wore ivory-handled pistols—which he began wearing in the days just before engagements with Villa’s forces. They became his signature.

Ivory handle pistols 

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

Patton highly regarded his men. He trained them hard, drove them harder in actual battle. His expectations were high. And to help his men meet those expectations, more than most other commanders, he made sure his men had what they needed wherever possible. When they had done their duty to the best of their ability, even beyond, and especially at personal cost, he honored them.

6. Consistently and uniquely execute the branding program.
Patton always wore his full uniform, including necktie in the field, he expected every soldier to do the same. And he demanded the level best from every man, regardless of obstacles. He led with rigidity, but he also led from the front. Few today realize that during battle he was always somewhere around the front lines. In one eyewitness account, a bridging unit was pinned down by German machinegun fire from overlooking cliffs. Aside from the gunfire, they were having difficulty finding solid crossing. Suddenly they hear a siren. The shooting stops and all eyes—Allied and German—were on an American jeep driving up the German side of the riverbank. It was Patton. He purportedly stepped out, unzipped his fly, and urinated in the river. That was his signal to the bridging unit to get their butts in gear. The Germans just watched the whole incident, shocked and awed by Patton’s brazen act of relief.

If you were wounded in battle, Patton put you on a pedestal. If you were a coward, he reduced you to the lowest place he could find for you. He hated cowardice. And his zeal for heroism got Patton in hot water when he slapped a soldier for being a coward. He would later apologize to the man and those who witnessed it. But he loathed cowards.

NOTE: Much has been written as to whether Patton or Field Marshal Erwin Rommel of the Wehrmacht (the German unified war machine) was the better commander. Although the two never met in battle, Rommel might come out on top to the casual observer, but the reality is that Patton had stronger tactics built on well-thought-out strategies.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

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 of individual and familiar faces 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.

Originally posted April 2012.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Presidential Icons

Icons are the pinnacle of branding. It is the arrival of a person or thing as becoming the symbol of whatever it represents. And in the cases of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, they instantly conjure an understanding of the office of the president. They are inexorably tied—the man to lead the creation of the Union, and the man who held it together through the most trying of times for a young nation. 

Washington and Lincoln are symbols of extraordinary resolve, as is any person who is burdened with such leadership. Thus we observe Presidents' Day, although it is really the unofficial name for Washington's Birthday—that actual legal holiday commemorating the birth of our first president. We use the day to not only remember Washington and Lincoln, whose birthdays fall in February but to celebrate all those who've served in the Oval Office. However, this post is devoted strictly to the founder and the preserver of the Republic. 

Therefore, submitted for your approval...

George Washington: Our first president was a man well prepared to lead our nation against the British. If there was one better, he never surfaced. Not only did Washington serve our budding nation with honor—his leadership demonstrated deep conviction for that which he fought.

Abe Lincoln: As commander in chief for the Civil War, he was never a soldier, but he studied hard about military history and tactics while leading a nation through that divisive conflict. And for his duty, he gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Monday, February 1, 2021

A Brand of Love

This chubby little cherub is one of the most ancient of brands, the mischievous little archer that has made an ass of many would-be lovers and given others just the shot in the arse needed to win over a heart. Cupid is his name, which is Latin for passionate desire. Ah, but the Romans don’t have claim over this nekkid troublemaker. Like much of its culture, Rome swiped its mythology from the Greeks—and Cupid is no different. He was known to ancient Hellas as Eros, the god of love. And since Greeks were a particularly randy lot, they portrayed him as a healthy young adult male—sort of a Magic Mike of the classical world. Eros makes his first literary appearance around 700 B.C. His origin story varies but ultimately he was dubbed the son of Aphrodite and Zeus.

Stringing his bow, original by Lysippos.
His job? To quote a US senator, ultimately to “incite an erection”—well, along with all the passion and devotion pursuant to amorous endeavors. However, our little angel can switch to demon in a heartbeat because he liked souring the love potion. You see, while the pierce of his golden arrow inspired love, Cupid also carried led arrows. Those caused the struck victim to be repulsed by whoever pursued them. Apollo suffered this fate when hit by Cupid's golden arrow while the object of his affection, Daphne, was violated by a led one.

Over time, Eros evolved from a hansom human-like specimen to Rome’s Cupid, having wings. The arrow and quiver came into play here. Both the wings and the arrows would stick from then on, although as we passed through the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance, Cupid became a cherub or child-like angel. That’s not to say that Renaissance art doesn’t have a more Romanesque version. It does. But the dominant apparition to emerge by the 18th and 19th centuries is the chubby-cheeked, mischievous baby angel.

Whether Greek, Roman, Renaissance, or post-millennium, Cupid is a brand attribute, a position statement, and brand personality—an icon, really. Love and passion are central themes and define the brand attribute of Cupid. Those are, after all, the brand promises, as well. And nothing is more central to the human condition than love’s fulfillment of the heart and expressed in pleasures of the flesh. Our history is written by love and all that it implies. Indeed, Cupid’s motto dates back to the 1st century BC with the Augustan poet Vergil,

Omnia vincit Amor: et nos cedamus Amori.
Love conquers all, and so let us surrender ourselves to Love.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Brand Everlasting

NOTE: This is originally from 2012. Now and then I pull up an older post because, well, they remain relevant. And as we approach the 2021 Feast of the Epiphany, this bubbled up in my thoughts. 

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 with 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 outcasts.  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 the 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 of 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 reign, 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 the Jewish leadership 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.

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 strictly historical perspective, it is an 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 Bahá'í faiths. It may be an oxymoron, but Jesus was a conqueror whose weapons were peace and 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 a 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.