Sunday, July 12, 2009

America 3.0

20 Steps to Reinvigorate the America Brand



Why even write about this? Well I’m in recruiting and people in recruiting get to see a very sobering view of the economy. When it’s up we see millions of lives changed positively, people getting new jobs they love, making money and further fueling the system. When it’s down we see the exact opposite. These cycles will exist no matter what but the long term health of the economy ensures that the lows aren’t too low and the highs are built on substance and not fluff. And all of this depends on our collective health. And our Nations health depends on how we exercise our collective minds and bodies. We have let this go a bit and it’s time to get healthy again and stay healthy for the long run. This is as much about recruiting as it is the health of our entire system. If we want to be a high performing, winning country in the long run we got to think big now. It’s time to reinvigorate our American brand.

This is a longer read but I hope you take the time read it, comment on it and share it with friends if you feel it’s worthy. We have moved into an era of instant gratification and sound bite information. The news gives us very little depth these days. Leaders want everything delivered in high level sound bites. The answers to a strong American brand cannot be delivered in simple sound bites though. I have narrowed the solutions down to a list of twenty. I could easily break each solution down into far greater depth but I would rather hear your feedback, comments and additional solutions if you have them. As you read this you may ask why the American brand is reliant on so many things. Like any great brand EVERYTHING matters, EVERYTHING. This list is not exhaustive. These are just the top line items that I believe can have big impact in positively affecting our brand. I would like to add to it though as other ideas come in from you.

The America brand stands for a place where all men and women are created equal and where we can all live out our dreams—put simply, our single differentiating factor is FREEDOM. If you take brand strategy into account we do a lot of things right. We have a single differentiator--Freedom. We tend to infuse this message into everything we communicate as a Nation. We have what brand experts call strong alignment. This means we align everything we communicate to this single differentiating factor. And we use strong design, symbolism and multi-media to ensure nobody else’s brand is confused with ours. The http://www.goarmy.com/ website is a strong example of this. Differentiation, Alignment and Linkage are the fundamentals of strong brand strategy. So where do we fall short? How come our brand has been negatively impacted as of late? With brand strategy you are trying to influence two things, choice and expectation. You are born into America and you can choose to stay or leave. If you immigrate to America you make the choice to live here. Once you are here your expectations are either met or they are not. Earlier I said that we infuse our brand positioning into everything we communicate. A brand needs to also be authentic—you need to say and DO what the brand represents. Notice the words I chose earlier. I said we communicate or SAY this message. The challenge now is the authenticity of the message. You can’t just add a veneer and call it good. I believe this is where we have fallen short as of late. When I say, as of late, I mean the last 40 years and it’s been a gradual shift which makes the core issues more difficult to pinpoint. The challenge with this is that it’s not just a marketing problem which we have more than enough experts who can help us with this (and the government does hire PR firms and marketers to assist with the America image). What we have instead is a true organizational issue. When you are looking at issues you need to ask if it’s a communications problem, a business problem or both. I believe it’s a bit of both but it has become more of a true business problem as of late (I’m using the term business and applying it to government). Our actions as a country are not aligning with our brand positioning. It would be like Starbucks saying we always get your order right and then only getting it right one out of five times. Very quickly you are going to stop believing them. This is the issue we are up against as a Nation and it’s more difficult to fix than a communications problem. It can be done though. I’m going to attempt to shed some light on these core issues and offer up suggestions. The first step is awareness.

When you are born in America it’s easy to take the American brand for granted. I know I have many times in my life. As of late I’ve seen many reminders of what America stands for though—this is what motivated me to write this series. One recent reminder for me was from one of my ex-colleagues. She is from Iran and now lives in the United States. She told me that she is amazed that people don’t understand what they have here and she is grateful for every day she lives in this country. She went on to say that it’s hard to put into words what not having freedom feels like on a day to day basis. She said she used to be stopped in the street in Iran because a few strands of hair were hanging outside her hijab (veil) and she was told to fix it immediately. I also recently heard a radio interview with a French Professor who also now lives in the US. He said it’s time American’s remember what is so great about this country. He said he lived in France but is here for a reason. He went on to say that we, as American’s, have amazed the world once again with electing our first Black President. Never could he imagine this happening in France. This made me really think. I have friends on every side of the spectrum and I have heard all of the good, bad and ugly points about our country. But these stories reminded me that we have far more good to offer. We can reinvigorate the American brand. We can bring authenticity back to America and give it more luster and shine than it has eve had. How do we do this though?

We need to look at how the American brand was first built and how it became great. We were a vast land populated by Native American’s for thousands of years. We were a beautiful, vast continent with people who lived in harmony with the land. Then a combination of greed and power drove governments of Europe to fund exploration of far away lands. This coupled with adventurers who needed to find new uncharted places (I would hope I would have fallen into this camp back then) created the perfect breading ground for finding this new world—and it was found. Then people who could not live out their dreams in their home countries, persecuted for their beliefs and values, started off for this new world, to live new, free lives. There were of course power struggles early on up until the Revolution where the free world prevailed and the United States of America was formed. We had a melting pot of ideologies and beliefs and we struggled through them over 100’s of years—brought together by the foundation our forefathers put in place. Goodness prevailed in the end and we continued to advance as a society. At our peak was the Kennedy era, civil rights movement and a society willing to stand up for those that could not stand up for themselves, no matter what the cost. This generation was raised by what we call the greatest generation of all. They were the World War II generation. This group knew what struggle was; what hard work meant and understood that their word was everything. To fully understand what this generation sacrificed for us watch the beach seen in Saving Private Ryan and put yourself there. Capitalism and Democracy proved to be a global force to be reckoned with and its influences were spreading virally at this point. The past several generations worked very hard to preserve this. Our most recent generations, the X’ers (my generation) and the Y’ers tend to be more self critical, less confined by continents and governments and more lenient towards a culture of sharing. The X’ers and Y’ers have grown up with the most advanced communications vehicles in history and we have access to more information than any generation before us. We are also the most open to diversity and heavily focused on sustainable living. We can focus on these things because we have been given the foundation and wealth from the generations before us to have this luxury. I call it a luxury because in countries where this wealth does not exist people are focused on feeding their families, not the factory down the street polluting the environment. We have had and continue to have the DNA as a society to be a great Nation. So we have a brand position and we have the people to carry it through—where then does it break down. This is where simple sound bites don’t help and pop psychology solutions fail. The answer is complex but I’m going to attempt to dissect it. America has succeeded over and over again and now it is our time to once again make our indelible mark on history and create the next millennium of the great American brand.

Part one:

Conservative vs. Liberal—We need to move away from this battle as a Nation. This whole red vs. blue states, bible belts vs. tree huggers, conservatives vs. liberals. Differing points of view are always going to exist in America—this is not going away so we need to learn a new way forward. Disliking the other side is bad for the American brand. Let’s learn to disagree peacefully. This should be an area where we have learned from the mistakes of our past. Our country was populated by people who escaped religious persecution in other countries. They came here so they could practice their beliefs in peace. Freedom of belief applies to all religions though—Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Christian Scientists and all lesser known religions that the mainstreams tend to call cults. Everybody has the right to their own belief system and that is what this country was founded on. And non believers have the right to not believe. The sides should be able to disagree but should avoid disrespect. We are all Americans. We know this division does not advance us as people and yet we revert back to disrespect especially during times of difficult debate. We need to be careful not to be split by politicians and interest groups with agendas that use dividing arguments to get us to take sides. These are the abortion, choice, gay marriage, etc. issues. We are never going to fully agree on these things; we aren’t going to magically convince the other side to change their minds. We need to accept these differences and instead look at what we do agree on. By doing this we advance versus stay in a perpetual cycle of argument without progression. There are many groups out there that would like us to stay in this state because it’s profitable for them or advances their own agendas. In business they teach us to give constructive feedback and not make it personal. We need to learn to do the same when we have differing points of view as Americans. Make your argument, back it up with facts but don’t make it personal. When we hear leaders and interest groups disrespect other groups, religions, ideologies we need to call them out on it—it’s okay to disagree but disrespect halts progress. One more point on this topic. Our forefathers separated church and state for a reason. This needs to be upheld. I realize many will argue you can’t really make this separation. Yes, you can. I would argue that it may feel perfectly okay to you as long as your religion is represented. If this line is not clearly drawn though one day a group will come into power that is not your religion and they will push their agenda—then it won’t feel okay to you anymore. This separation exists so you CAN freely practice your own beliefs and not someone else’s. We need to honor and protect this separation.

Coming Next-Part Two: Global Resources

5 comments:

mark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mark said...

I think you have made some great points addressing the future of the American brand. We are people free to cultivate different ideologies and belief systems, the question is how can we "bridge the gaps?"

Matthew Tripp said...

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Steve Fogarty said...

Mark, this is a good question. I'm curious if you have more ideas around bridging the gaps. My opinion is that we don't focus on bridging gaps. We focus on the multitude of things we already agree on--most of which have great impact on advancement as a country. Most of the hardcore dividing issues are more politically and interest group charged--on these issues we just need to disagree without disrespecting. We don't have to agree on every issue but we do need to show respect on both sides--if we don't then it's impossible to stay focussed on the things we are aligned with.

Steve Fogarty said...

Matt--I don't get your post. I think your last name represents you well--your comment is certainly a Trip!