Interview with Jon Milenthal – Expert Marketer, Thinker and Strategist
Jon Milenthal is a thinker and a strategist. He loves to understand the underlying dynamics at play in any given situation and then create solutions to help people, products, projects, clients achieve their full potential. Jon is Vice President/Partner of The Milenthal Group (firstname.lastname@example.org) a strategic marketing firm dedicated to helping organizations striving to evolve in today’s economic and societal environment do so with unique marketing strategy. In a nutshell, The Milenthal Group believes that transformation times call for transformational strategy. I have known Jon for several years now, and I can’t remember a single time when we have talked that I didn’t walk away with a new insight, understanding or perspective. I wanted to interview Jon because I knew he would challenge my thinking with a paradigm-challenging viewpoint. I know you are going to enjoy reading Jon’s reflections on Strengthening Brand America.
- Question: How would you articulate Brand America’s promise?
This is a tough question, as I feel strongly that Brand America is in an evolutionary state at present. I’m not sure we know what we want our country to stand for, currently, and what we are "promising" to our own citizens or to the world. Is it about compassion? Is it about hard work? Is it about freedom and opportunity and fulfilling ones dreams? Is it about innovation or culture or art? Is it still about the open-arms mentality that states "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
What I am sure of is this – America right now is like a freshly-graduated college student – we have a lot of ideas, have been schooled very well, are quite ambitious, but we haven’t really figured out who we are in today’s new world.
America truly did represent opportunity during the 20th Century. This was the time when the lowly immigrant from Eastern Europe could come to America on a ship, and exploit his or her own talents in an effort to realize success. Many of the success stories of the 20th Century are rags-to-riches stories. I’m not sure that today’s America can act as a foundation for these kinds of experiences anymore.
Today, the number one most important thing a person needs to have a shot at success is an education. And I also think today’s America has become more and more about the relationships individuals form. Relationships are paramount to finding the right doors to open, and to opening them.
- Question: What are the challenges that Brand America must address to consistently be seen as “walking the talk”?
America’s challenges today are that systemic problems in our core sectors – financial, energy, transportation, etc. – have come to a boiling point, and everything that we thought was running appropriately in fact was not. Greed, complacence, arrogance and ignorance have proved to be a cancer on our society. In fact, I think it these were always profound problems that simply weren’t realized until we hit the breaking point – hindsight is always 20/20. So now we must look within ourselves and consider what made our country great to begin with – and I think that’s about compassion.
We have to get back to being a compassionate country – particularly around our own citizens. We have allowed our country to return to a place of "haves" and "have nots", and that’s a dangerous and depressing place to be. Poverty is rising at its fastest level in our history. Hunger in our country is rising at its fastest level ever, too. It’s an unacceptable place for this country to be. We were founded as a country that would cater to the ideals of freedom and opportunity, and I’m afraid that we’ve gone awry as of late, and that these ideals are no longer attainable by too large a population.
We need to get back to be compassionate for our own people. We can’t allow children to go without food. We can’t allow people to go through life uneducated. We can’t allow people to go without health care. These are the pillars to a successful society, and we need to come together around these pillars as opposed to fighting about them.
- Question: What are the traits of Brand America that people around the world are likely to find appealing?
I think we are still considered a resilient country…and I think that in context, we are still the land of opportunity. We are the innovation hub of the world…still the ones that bring creative thinking to the table, and unique products to the market place. We are also considered among the most educated in the world, with ample opportunities to acquire an education. We are still known for prosperity, and the ability to achieve prosperity.
- Question: What are the different ways Brand America can keep its promise?
Poverty needs to be addressed. Social services need to be well funded, but more importantly, people in need have to KNOW about what’s available to them. Through my own work with agencies such as the Benefit Bank and Second Harvest Food Bank, I have learned that what frustrates these groups – and groups like them – the most is that the people that need their services the most are often not aware that the services even exist. In addition, ample accessibility to the services is needed. People must have easy access to the help they need, and the barriers to access need to be torn down.
Education needs to be attainable to those that desire one. We cannot grow positively as a country if our people are not well educated. So creating more access and providing a variety of vehicles to receive an education (like online classes, specialty schools, community colleges, two-year degrees, etc.) can help pave the way to creating an educated society.
Broadly speaking, we need to practice our compassion for our people, because success is a trickle-up strategy. You are only as good as your worst – so the better our country’s underserved populations are doing, the more prosperity our country will realize.
- Question: What is the importance of Brand America in the world?
Brand America is still perceived around the world as the ideal society – free will, freedom of religion, freedom to pursue happiness…the world still looks at our country as a model. Our model needs tweaking to align better with today’s societal world, but all-in-all, we are still the envious country of our globe.
Being the model is important to the rest of the world. Our country is constantly under a microscope. Other nations are watching as we respond to changes and challenges in the world. The other nations watch how we respond so they can mirror us when similar situations arise.
- Question: Who benefits from a strengthened Brand America?
All the world benefits from a strengthened Brand America. We have always assumed the role of leadership on the world stage. And we have always been the country that reaches out to the world with compassionate arms. By nurturing a culture of compassion within our own country, we will maintain our leadership position, and act as a catalyst to worldwide prosperity.
- Question: Do you believe Brand America has a relevant, competitive and authentic promise?
I believe we have relevant strategy to creating the promise, but I don’t think we’ve achieved what I believe should be our new promise – to be the compassionate society dedicated to helping all people across the world find happiness and fairness and opportunity. I believe this could be an extremely competitive position for our country to take, and would prove to the world that America remains true to what founded this country. Again, we were founded as a land that offers opportunity to anyone – what a profound and honorable position to take. I can’t think of any other country that not only roots for the underdog, but actually strives to give the underdog a push toward overcoming challenges. That’s what America was built on, and these are the ideals we need to return to.