Our Founding Fathers created the world’s best brand: America. They took a collection of 13 similar, competing brands and worked tirelessly and creatively to establish a single brand of their constituents. If you think governing now is hard, imagine the competing agendas of the 13 original states.
I am a self-professed history addict. I just finished a remarkable nonfiction book on the creation of the United States, “The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution” by Joseph Ellis. He postulates that four men (George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison) drove the transition of our country from confederation to nation and that, in essence, there were two revolutions—one against England and nearly one against each other. This Quartet made the biggest new business pitch in our history! And, by virtue of this great political collaboration, they created the world’s reference standard for governance: the Constitution of the United States of America.
After fighting for the removal of a distant centralized government, the 13 original colonies came together and realized that, rather than form a European Union-type confederation, it was critical to become a unified and centralized country that had 13 states.
So, what marketing lessons can we glean from the creation of the United States of America?
Innovation is a driving factor in the success and scalability of any brand, and there needs to be a unique driving force to innovate.
Finding new paths, being flexible, open to new ideas, new thinking, and staying flexible are what separate great brands from all the rest. The transition from the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution was anything but a natural path. To the contrary, it was a dramatic change in direction and scale. American nationhood was a consequence of a small group of motivated leaders—in opposition to popular opinion and many recalcitrant politicians in the 13 states—who drove the initial success toward our Constitution.
Marketing leadership is about having a clear vision and willingness to build toward that vision. The Quartet clearly understood that nationhood was very different from winning independence. Until the Colonies declared independence, it was the British Crown holding them together. After declaring independence, the only thing keeping them together was their common goal to leave the British Empire. But after winning their independence, there was little to bind them. Washington, Madison, Jay, and Hamilton, collectively, had the vision and ambition to recognize that the American Revolution would not be fulfilled until it actually became an American revolution. They had a wonderful courage-of-their-convictions attitude. And, of course, clarity of vision is essential.
Driving consensus is a good thing but strategy execution requires someone or a small team to drive it home.
So, while a good strategy is important, if not executed properly, then a good strategy becomes just that—a good strategy. The Quartet brilliantly understood this reality, from convincing Washington to get involved (after declaring his retirement when the Colonies achieved independence) to their decision to avoid the question of slavery (to convince the Southern states to approve the Constitution—the very essence of an unavoidable Greek tragedy), to writing the document that would change the concept of democratic government forever.
The importance of becoming a dominant business model—predicated on solid, motivating consumer insights—is always central to building a strong brand.
Finding a core, high-ground positioning and building an integrated, omni-channel marketing approach are, collectively, the hallmark of a great brand. The Quartet didn’t know of brand integration or an omni-channel approach—or what a great consumer innovation was. But, they understood how critical it was to have a unified approach and that delivering the key message—a true American republic—required each member of the Quartet to have an active and specific role in creating this new “brand” —or as the author states, “carry the American story in a new direction.” And the insight was abundantly clear—create a governing concept (checks and balances) that would allow for the independent states to feel enough independence but still adhere to a centralized government that could collect taxes!
It is strategically imperative to understand the competitive landscape and where competitive threats might come from.
The Quartet were all impeccably credentialed—that is, all were veterans and leaders of the War for Independence. But it wasn’t enough for them to simply leverage this in unifying the 13 states. Even Washington couldn’t just demand an agreement to the Constitution—there were too many in disagreement. But they understood where they needed to focus their attention—the powerful state leaders who commanded the weight of their state legislatures like then-Governor George Clinton of New York), the periphery states (those either opposed or on the fence), and the strongest supporting states—would take a formidable plan to bring ratification of the new Constitution. As well, while every issue related to the ratification was not addressed (or simply left out, such as in the issue of slavery), the concept of flexibility (10 amendments mostly based on human truths and creating a legacy that allowed for revisions, improvements, and innovations with new amendments), was perhaps the most ingenious competitive strategy the Quartet devised. Original intent was, clearly, not what our Founders intended. As such, it allowed cynics, defeatists, and supporters alike to have common ground for an agreement and then ratification of a new Constitution.
Belief in a self-fulfilling prophecy can often drive the promise of a great brand.
A self-fulfilling prophecy is essentially a belief that comes true because it is clearly acted on as if it were true. Expecting a particular outcome can (and often does) change behavior, which can shape the way we work toward our expectation. We, at SCOUT, often refer to this strategy as writing the press release first—creating an end point that we drive toward. The Quartet had a very critical end goal: create a nation from 13 independent states while preserving a very clear structure of states’ rights within the framework of a limited but strong federal government.
So, what seemed like an impossible task—creating a coherent United States of America out of a messy document (the Articles of Confederation) to ensure the independence of the 13 newly independent states—came into being with the strong vision of four men (along with a strong supporting cast) who were willing to take reasonable risks, work toward a common goal and develop a workable strategy to realize a successful outcome. A very good game plan, indeed, for brands today.