In recent years, it has become grossly apparent that America has an issue with her global reputation. Her good will and humanitarian efforts are often intercepted and misappropriated by warlords, ill-fated regimes, and politically unstable governments. Her message as a global force for good has been rebranded and redistributed in unstable regions as hate speech and the wills of an evil empire. This is not to say that America is blameless in this endeavor or that a naïve approach to America’s role in the world should be adopted. While every large country, company or organization has their dark secrets, the overarching belief in a country of values is displayed on Main Street, in our homes, in our churches and on the faces of our soldiers and humanitarian workers.
In many ways, America is an ideal, a belief and a product to be branded. Throughout the course of our history, we have rewrapped our original ideals, modernized them, amended them for the times and sold them to our population. According to a poll conducted by the American Enterprise Institute, 65% of Americans rate themselves between an eight and ten with ten representing extremely high patriotic feelings. Furthermore, the same study revealed that 83% of Americans believe the United States is the best country in which to reside. While we will always have those citizens who push our boundaries and leave our boundaries, the vast majority of Americans are buying the product that is America. Inside of our borders, our branding is strong. On Main Street, we celebrate our nation’s independence, its veterans, and stand when soldiers pass during the parade. There are those who don’t celebrate America, but in America they are given the right to do so. As the governed, we wisely subscribe to the product that provides us with the greatest individual liberties and rights. Our fervor for our nationalistic product has allowed America to become the world’s greatest superpower.
America has been the most active and influential player on the world’s stage for the better part of her brief history. During that time, it was often easy to spot evil, easy to make a case for its destruction, and easy to find unilateral support for its demise. In today’s climate, our foes are often more difficult to identify. Our foes may not represent a nation, but a faction of individuals committed to the spread of unapologetic, inhumane, anti-American sentiment.
In any political climate, combatting these forces is a difficult endeavor and often requires sending our sons and daughters into the fray to protect our interests and global partners. Their sacrifice is placed on the scales of popular opinion and too often, the weight of loss supersedes the public’s desire to achieve the objective. We are left with missions and offensives that take years to materialize and never fully achieve the objective. How could they? We are not facing Nazi Germany whereby the removal of Hitler precipitates the deletion of the entire Third Reich. This is not the 1980s where our Soviet rival carried the flag of their country, wore its uniform, sang its anthem and delivered a tangible representation of our adversary.
While we often decide to skip religion in America in favor of more secular views, the values of America are deeply rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. In the Middle East, it is impossible to frame any political argument without discussing Islam. Islam has been existence for more than 14 centuries. Radical Islam is a much newer construct born out of failed politics, broken governments, and a desire to reject western ideals. Radical Islam uses religion as a tool to cover bad politics, bad leadership and militant agendas. It uses a “return to the good old days” approach to recruit and demand loyalty while terrorizing at home and abroad. Radical Islam has a very simple marketing message. The west is evil according to Allah. The west is responsible for your lot in life according to Allah. Here is how Allah wants you to punish them. In the Middle East, we are dealing with warlords and rivaling factions. Even after years of rule, if one is removed from power, another rises to fill the vacuum and rule by fear and hatred. Removing one dictator for another is an exercise in pushing pawns as it is self-evident this approach has not led to increased stabilization. Supporting one armed rebel group against another does nothing if the values and sentiment of a region remain the same.
The trouble with our current approach to warlord regimes is that we begin our dismantling process at the top of the leadership pyramid. It is natural to look at a ruthless dictator and postulate that by removing the individual, the regime will also topple. Our thinking is driven by reviewing our success in the past and projecting that success onto the current environment. While the top down approach has proven successful against more traditional foes, perhaps now is the time to derive a new approach for a new type of adversary.
Our failure to win in the Middle East has not been a failure of military might or prowess. Our failure is our approach and ability to win hearts and minds. Albeit a more difficult challenge, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not just American ideals, they are universal truths that can and should apply globally. Even in a totalitarian regime, history has shown time and time again that an uprising of the governed can and will happen if those individuals believe a better future can be obtained through resistance and action. America needs an approach to foreign affairs that begins at the bottom rather than the top. While a quick approach is the removal of the dictator, the long-term approach in region stabilization efforts is to win the hearts and minds of the people and providing an example for future success. Simply said, America needs a better branding department.
Let it be clear, we should not be looking to market America in these regions. We should be looking to rebrand it. Marketing is largely a tactical exercise while branding requires a strategic approach. In many cases, it is not marketing that causes thousands of enthusiastic Apple fans to line up to receive one of the first new iPhones. It is the brand loyalty that Apple has been able to build over time with their customers. Similar phones and devices are released by Samsung and HTC with little of the same fanfare achieved by Apple. Apple has brand power, and it is no mistake that according to Forbes, Apple ranks at the top of the world’s most valuable brand names. Proper branding requires rewiring of preconceived truths. Proper branding causes us to wait longer, pay more and risk more based on the promise of something better. Above all else, a proper brand strategy builds loyalty to the brand that can weather bad press, product failures and corporate missteps. Proper branding of America is the key to our success in the Middle East region.
Much like the December 2016 technology roundtable discussion facilitated by President Trump which featured a who’s who of American tech business leaders, a similar roundtable discussion of marketers should ensue. Our American brands have shown they are capable of achieving a global level of brand loyalty that our government has simply been unable to reach. Like any great problem of any generation, we today possess the minds and the power to facilitate changes should we be bold enough to take action. Only through proper branding will we be able to create our own message in the Middle East, craft it in a way that promotes the very best that America offers, and win the hearts and minds of those who are today growing up in a region dominated by a false idea of what America espouses.