Monday, January 19, 2009

Expectations of Obama

The new day everyone has been expecting has finally arrived. Personally, I suspect that even the most ardent Bush/Cheney supporters were, for the most part, ready to see them go. Enough was enough. But now we've got a new guy in the driver's seat. And there's a big branding lesson to be learned.

More than anything else, branding is about setting expectations. Contrary to what most gurus and pundits tell you, you never let the consumer set the expectations of your brand. You set them. That way, you can control what you can and cannot deliver. You control what you can and cannot promise. When you control expectations of your brand, people can't make up their own expectations of you. As a result, more people end up having their expectations of your brand fulfilled.

Of course, when you fail to articulate those expectations, things can go sideways.

Take race, for example. Many people felt that Obama's being half-black would prevent him from winning the presidency. As it turns out, it had no effect and that's a good thing. What's not a good thing is the public's misinterpreting Obama's political victory as the eradication of racism.

If anything, the racial victory here might signal the end of politically correct tokenism, which has plagued this country since the mid-twentieth century. The oddly placed black guy at the all-white country club and the carefully-cast wheelchair-bound athlete in the lifestyle montage are, hopefully, a thing of the past now that an American of African heritage has become the leader of the most powerful, freedom-loving nation on the planet.

Maybe now we can get by all the apologies and start working as the proverbial team. But I'm concerned that expectations have gone awry, there, too.

While Obama's message of inclusion has been generally well-received, the bad news is that it's been largely misread by the public as there's something in it for me, as opposed to none of you is going to escape the pain. And when people's individual expectations of inclusion don't match Obama's, boy are you going to hear about it.

Look, I'm a consultant. I know as well as anyone that when you're hired to fix a situation, the chances of success are pretty good, because there's nowhere else to go but up. But how well you eventually do depends on how good you are, along with how well you've set your clients' expectations so that they can tell how well you've done. Obama and Biden have a huge mess to clean up. I just hope America's expectations are in line with theirs.

Right now, everyone's feeling pretty good. The question is how well everyone feels after they wake up the morning after the Inaugural Ball.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Great Moments in History

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Israel Finally Spins it Right

Years ago, when someone asked me what would be my dream client for branding, I responded in an instant: "Lebanon." I'd get this quizzical look, followed by the response, "Really? What do they make?" I was, of course, talking about the country of Lebanon, which was -- and still is -- perfectly positioned for re-branding. The last three generations only know cities like Beirut as bombed-out, war-torn spoils infested with terrorists. But there was a time when Beirut was the jewel of the Mediterranean.

Lots of potential there. Unfortunately, lots of radical militants, too, so the assignment still hasn't arrived in my In Box.

I bring this up because since that conversation, the whole Middle East situation has become increasingly influenced by media spin. Sure, there's always been war propaganda, but most of the previous stuff was limited to direct disinformation: leaflet bombings and radio broadcasts aimed mostly at demoralizing enemy combatants. Today, it's a whole different story. Thanks to technology, enemies no longer need focus on soldiers on the battlefield, or even the innocent citizens through whose neighborhoods those soldiers patrol. They simply create and post their cases to the internet for everyone to see.

Without question, the masters of internet spin have been radical muslim and Palestinian militants. Forget your politics. I don't care which side of the conflict you support. The fact is that a tiny, almost microscopic faction has succeeded in tweaking the planet's nose and spinning its case so successfully as to dominate world attention for their cause.

That's good news for the power of the internet. Bad news if you don't know how to spin it for yourself.

The genius of radical muslim and Palestinian militants has not been limited to their use of the internet alone. It begins with an amazing use of tools like Photoshop and video editing tools, giving them the ability to control the tone, message and apparent legitimacy of their data -- sometimes altering the data to accommodate their own viewpoints. Beyond that, they are fast with their tools. They flood the air waves and web sites with instantly downloadable clips that are easy for people to pass along -- never bothering to check the veracity of what they download.

That's pretty slick. And effective. Because the combination of tools and tactics gives the radical muslim and Palestinian militant movements that critical air of transparency that unknowing and unsophisticated folks accept as truth. And before you jump all over me for appearing biased, let me just say that I know everyone does it. I'm just lauding the guys who do it best.

Well, let me take some of that back. Everyone doesn't do it. Take Israel, for example. For decades, the Israelis have won the ground and air battles, but lost the propaganda wars because they continued to shroud their tactics in secrecy, opening up only when pressed hard to do so by the public. This tactic has kept Israel on the defensive for years, playing a defensive strategy in the media and world courts.

No more. Israel has finally wised up. With the retaliatory responses in Gaza, Israel has pro-actively made its case to the world on the web and everywhere else. And it's working. With hours of its actions, the Israel Defense Forces post videos of raids on YouTube, pre-empting any Palestinian rumors, myths or charges before they can be broadcast. The Israeli Defense Ministry has even gone so far as to create its own Twitter accounts, in order to respond to anyone, anywhere, any time.

Sort of like knocking out your boxing opponent during the referee's instructions.

Look, I'm just a branding consultant. And Consultant's Hell is defined as "supplying answers to clients who never implement them." Someone has given Israel the answers and Israel has finally listened.

Anyone have Lebanon's phone number?