They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. While that may be true, imitation can be misguided or unwanted and brands are not immune to that. Some brands are so iconic that groups bend over backwards to associate themselves with their images. This has occurred several times recently with the raising of the flag on Mt. Suribachi, one of the most iconic images of the Pacific Theater in WWII and used it in their advertising, much to the dismay of Service members and Veterans.
This led me to think about why this happened and how it related to the branding of businesses. The Marine Corps has built a brand unlike any other in the Armed Services, but they didn’t build it with the intent of building a brand, they did it by focusing on the core of their offering and making it exceptional. They focused on the Marines. Marines are what the Marine Corps has to offer, and they spend a lot of time and effort on them. The branding came later with the use of monikers like “Teufelhunden” and “Belleau Woodsman” and slogans like “The Few, The Proud, The Marines” built on the backs of generations of men and women who fought and died to build the legacy of the Marine Corps. On top of that, being part of a community binds the “brand loyalist” together. Marines are notoriously proud of their service, because they are a part of something exceptional. The Marine Corps produced a brand and community that was so strong, people wanted to ride the coat tails of the struggle and sacrifice it took to build it to do everything from sell T-shirts to pronounce the victory of a political fight. To me, the key takeaways of how the brand was built are that they built it by being exceptional and it took time.
Here are my steps to building a brand:
1) Know what you want your brand to be and make a plan on how to do it.
2) Be exceptional in whatever you do and hold yourself to a higher standard.
3) Foster a sense of community around your offering.
4) Be persistent. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
If other people with no affiliation to you want to try to ride your brand’s success to the top, you have done something right, just be prepared to defend your brand.
To me this use of the image of Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima by other organizations is, for lack of a better word flattering, albeit misguided and unwanted. Almost like the younger kid who follows you around the playground wanting to be included because he thinks you are awesome.