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Has America Gone Off Brand?

I think America has gone off American Flagbrand.

One of the things I pay attention to with clients is whether the way they communicate and present themselves is consistent with their brand.
The best way I can describe it is to tell you a quick story about my own experience of being off-brand.
The very first video I put up on YouTube was a little over 7 years ago, September 10, 2009, to be exact. (Take a look. Even though it pains me, I leave it up there on purpose!) I introduced myself as the “Media Trainer to the Stars,” which was as true then as it is now. What I didn’t realize, however, was how cognitively dissonant my surroundings were with that statement. My bookshelves were sagging, the books were all askew, the table behind me was a mess, the delivery sounded stilted, I wasn’t looking into the camera lens, and more. After I recorded it, I took a deep breath and posted it. Pretty quickly, I received some very pointed feedback and criticism. Although it was difficult to hear, they were right – what I was saying didn’t match what I surrounded myself with. Because of that, people had a hard time believing I was who I said I was. The video was totally off-brand.
The cardinal rule of communication was brought home to me that day: If the way you and/or your surroundings look and sound  contradicts what you say, people will believe what they see, and not what you say.
I think that’s what’s happening right now in the United States.

We say we are an open, welcoming country, but we institute arbitrary and ill-thought-out bans on immigrants.
We pride ourselves on our tolerance, but we blame and marginalize minorities.
We claim to be the greatest democracy in the world, but the voices of millions have been drowned out by a handful of moneyed interests.
We expect our presidents to behave with elegance, dignity, and empathy, but we elect a boorish, classless man to office.
The “noise” created by these inconsistencies is making us question who we really are, what we stand for. It’s classically off brand.

I don’t care whom you voted for. There is plenty of blame to go around for our current state. It has been a long time in the making. Every institution from the parties to our leaders to the press has failed us. And we, the voters, have also failed by remaining willfully ignorant of the way our government functions and the power we actually have to remind our representatives that we are the ones who pay their salaries.

Now, all brands have to go through the occasional re-brand so it could be the American brand is evolving into something else. That will take time to develop.

But for now, the way we think and talk about ourselves and the country is at sharp odds with the way we behave. And just like in business, if what we say about America is contradicted by how we act in America, it’s the behavior that will be believed.  

9 thoughts on “Has America Gone Off Brand?”

  1. Ruth, I actually don’t think America off brand at all.

    Rather, I believe its brand is, and has been under attack. Various people/groups put forward statements of what America is or should be. Sometimes these are aspirational. Sometimes these are merely grievances. And sometimes these are simply destructive.

    As I see it, America’s brand is embedded in the United States Declaration of Independence; namely:

    “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    It is that freedom that draws people here. And it’s that freedom that people die to protect.

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Walter. It’s complicated, no one thing, but rather a series of issues that have created a feeling of real discomfort, particularly among marginalized groups.

      If people are drawn here by the life/liberty brand, but are denied entrance because of their religion, where does that leave the brand, whose origin story told of those escaping religious persecution?

      Furthermore, as a woman, I feel very uncomfortable and discouraged by what I see and experience. I don’t feel the liberty you speak of because I don’t have it. No woman does.

      I have a child who is constantly under attack as a result of institutionalized prejudice. She is just trying to pursue her own happiness, hurting no one in the process.

      So that’s my take. I’m sad about it.

      1. Ruth, I’m sorry you feel that way. And I’m sorry to hear about what’s going on with your child.

        Certainly, we face some very real challenges, these days. And yes, they do stand in the way of delivering on America’s brand promise. But it’s a mistake to conflate the problems with the brand.

        Delivering on the brand is what’s complicated. Since America is home to a diversity of beliefs, people won’t always agree. Often this is healthy. Unfortunately, it also means that unresolved differences, or failures to accommodate those differences, can lead to multiple ways in which people can be marginalized. So yes, we do face problems to solve.

        Still, as firm believer in personal responsibility, I think it’s up to each of us to create the conditions to support our happiness, including what we believe, how we confront challenges, who we’re connected to, and how we can be of service to others. It also means, approaching life with a “live and let live” attitude that allows for equal opportunity for others.

        Sadly, as I see it, this has been lost on too many people.

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