For brands and presidents, message needs consistency

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Branding and marketing are never about what you see on the surface. They infiltrate down through all aspects of the product or service, and they are consistent with the message being sent. It works the same way with football coaches and U.S. presidents. It works for all things, big and small.

Tony Dungy, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' head football coach, sounded like a marketer the other day when talking about his former assistant, the new head coach of the New York Jets, Herman Edwards. "Football and winning is about the big picture," Coach Dungy told The New York Times. "You want a guy who can crystallize the organization and the direction they're going to go in. The thing you'll see is everyone from the head coach to the equipment man is the same in how you represent the New York Jets."

President George W. Bush talked a lot about civility during his inauguration address, and he's talked a lot about trying to get along with both sides of the congressional aisle.

It does seem to me we're in need of a little more civility in our land. Even advertising is getting ruder. Have you seen that Ameritrade spot, where a husband and wife--admittedly a bit dorky--bring over a meat casserole to their new neighbors? The neighbors respond to this act of kindness and generosity by saying, in rather condescending terms, thanks anyway but we're vegetarians.

Here's a radical thought: What if President Bush really means it, and what if he conducts himself in a civilized manner and expects everyone else to do the same, right down to the guard at the White House gates? Is there so much cynicism out there that his efforts will be rebuked at every turn, and both sides will retreat to their bunkers to gird for battle, and nothing will get done, and the nation will not live up to its great possibilities?

That doesn't have to happen, I'm convinced. As Tony Dungy said, "You want a guy who can crystallize an organization and the direction they're going to go in." I believe that President Bush's words on Jan. 20 have the chance of crystallizing the nation, but to do so they've got to be consistent and constant.

If President Bush and Coach Edwards have a great opportunity to act with single-minded purpose, why is it such a struggle for products and services to do it when the same rules apply? It is because the problem is to deliver the same message throughout the organization.

Nobody was better at getting across his message to the American people than Presi-dent Clinton, but the message he was delivering was altogether different down through the ranks of the federal government, and history will judge that was eventually his undoing. And what good will it be for Pres-ident Bush to push his compassionate conservative message if infighting breaks out among his strong-minded cabinet officials, and they begin treating each other in a downright uncivil way?

In a similar manner, Lucent's advertising portrayed its cutting-edge technology, but just underneath the surface its sales people were moving the merchandise with huge discounts that caused the company to miss its earnings targets. And eToys' endearing ads couldn't mask that the Internet service had built up an infrastructure to support a company with revenue three or four times what it was able to produce.

There are so many things that can interfere with delivering a consistent message-and sticking to it-throughout the organizations that it's no wonder why so many heretofore impregnable brands have run into major difficulties.

Uppermost on the problem list, it seems to me, is the way companies are forced to make shorter and shorter-term decisions to accommodate the vagaries of the stock market. There is overwhelming pressure for companies to produce now, and they live in constant and perpetual fear that if they don't show substantial gains their stocks will take massive hits. It's totally unrealistic for corporations to show substantial gains this year, yet they dare not budget realistically to show decreases in their bottom line. The kinds of massive cuts in costs that occur to try to achieve these pie-in-the-sky growth numbers could do long-term damage, putting even greater disparity between the message delivered and the ability to carry it out.

That's the danger, but that's also the opportunity: Expectations must match up with the ability of the enterprise to achieve them. If they don't, the message is destined to fall on deaf ears.

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