The Obama Inaugural Speech: A Vision for Marketing

President's First Address to Nation Holds Lessons for Our Industry

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Joey Reiman
Joey Reiman

"The fruits are in the roots." This is a key concept in the M.B.A. course I teach at Emory University's Goizueta Business School. In class, we explore the soulfulness of organizations -- how to discover it, harness it and profit from it.

President Obama's inaugural address is a primer on this subject as well as an important lesson for marketers who believe our industry could do better. The president believes that going back to our fundamental truths -- our soul -- is indeed what propelled our nation to greatness.

"America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbears, and true to our founding documents."

It is no different for a business. The remarkable power found in the roots of our country can also be found in every organization. In these once-fertile grounds, where the seeds of companies and brands first sprouted, lies their ethos: their core sentiment and true purpose.

Too often organizations lose their way from what made them great in the first place. It's easy to do so in a business environment demanding daily operational excellence with little regard, if any, to a concept I call "soulful excellence" -- that which defines and measures an organization's purpose, authenticity and vitality.

Today most CEOs are focused on the next quarter, not the next quarter century. There are few 100-year managers. But there is a costly price associated with leaving your company's past behind and cutting off your company from its roots. Organizations that distance themselves from the past will not have a future. Conversely, there are rich rewards for those that reconnect with their company's origin. According to "Firms of Endearment" authors Rajendra S. Sisoda, David B. Wolfe and Jagdish N. Sheth, purpose-driven, soulfully excellent organizations produced an outstanding return of 1,025% in the past 10 years compared to only 122% for the S&P 500.

Soulfully excellent brands such as Pepperidge Farm's Goldfish, which exist to instill optimism in children, are marketers that improve public life, not just their public perception. Newell Rubbermaid's Graco brand is nurturing those who nurture their children. Its hair-care brand, Goody, is focusing on building confidence in young women. And Calphalon is cooking up new ways for people to share their appetites for life.

Soulful excellence is not about a point of difference, but a point of view. It's not about ads, but actions that add. And in taking those actions, the marketer makes a mark on society.

President Obama said he believes by reaching back to what is old -- our values -- we as a nation will be renewed.

Joey Reiman is founder-CEO of global marketing consultancy BrightHouse. Mr. Reiman has spent 30 years pioneering the fields of ideation, experiential marketing, neuromarketing and most recently a new frontier he is calling Soulful Excellence. He is an adjunct professor at Emory University's Goizueta School of Business and is the author of "Thinking for a Living." He can be reached at [email protected].

"Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends -- hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded, then, is a return to these truths."

Again, the lesson: Strategies and tactics are new, values are old.

Marketers can help businesses prosper and be more relevant by studying a company's ethos and culture before embarking on strategy and communications. Rediscovering an organization's true identity, its Stand vs. Brand, will deliver fresh insight into its essence, its "why," its very soul. In turn, this work will inform the whole organization on how it should act. And that's important because actions, not ads, change human behavior.

With the global search for meaning in the 21st century, marketers as well as our country need to return to their roots. Reconnecting with your business' unique origin can be a groundbreaking exercise that yields unprecedented emotional, intellectual and financial revenue.

The president's vision promises to help leaders, marketers, companies big and small, as well as our nation excavate the treasures that lie right beneath them.

"This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed."

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