Monday, November 30th, 2015

Carl Sandburg's Advice To Product & Enterprise Owners With Brand Ambition

To Become Valued Brand, Lose The Cliché Strategy
Carl Sandburg Carl Sandburg

During a life that began humbly as a wagon driver, hotel porter, bricklayer, farm laborer, hobo, dishwasher, coal heaver, soldier, West Point washout and later college dropout, as a poet and writer Carl Sandburg became an often-honored advocate for laborers, soldiers, the civil rights movement and social justice.

Upon Sandburg's death in 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson observed:

"...more than the voice of America, more than the poet of its strength and genius. He was America."

Sandburg was also a superbly innate brand strategist.

Sandburg intrinsically knew that product and enterprise owners failing to abandon the cliché impose upon themselves an enormous tax.

A tax labeled opportunity cost and ineffective marketing, preventing growth in reputation-equity from that of interchangeable commodity to one-of-a-kind growth asset, the latter otherwise known as brand.

Students perhaps best recall the "City of the Big Shoulders" and "little cat feet" from Sandburg's poems Chicago and Fog. In his plainspoken observations of the Midwest and American haiku, Sandburg captures the essence of brand strategy.

For example, his poem Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind, serves as a warning to product and enterprise owners of their fate when relying on "greatest" claims, such as:

We are the greatest city, the greatest nation: nothing like us ever was.

The "we are the greatest" strategy – and their cousins "best" "biggest" "most" – fell along with the Roman Empire and U.S. auto industry. Indeed, the lessons of the ages tell us "the greatest" is expected and fatal.

And yet product and enterprise owners continue to cling to this cliché strategy as easy, while avoiding the C-Level leadership responsibility and work of uncovering what exactly they allow people to experience unfound elsewhere in the world, so vital for reputation and financial growth.

One recent example of owner leadership abdication appears in the words of Jay Zimmerman, former chairman of recently fallen AmLaw100 law firm Bingham McCutchen:

"In the areas where we practice, we practice with the best."

In the chairman's own words, the fate of his firm and the duality of Sandburg's refrain is revealed:

Nothing like us ever was.

[Image: Carl Sandburg by Dana Steichen]

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