Interview with Shelley Rosen – Global Branding Expert
Shelley Rosen is CEO and Founder of Airlift Ideas, a brand strategy firm dedicated to helping leaders drive growth through brand story. Shelley led several brand transformational efforts while at McDonald’s Corporation to include global brand strategy, innovation and well-being. Working in the global market place, Shelley has a unique view of how an iconic American brand has been perceived in the world and as it relates to perception of the USA. Airlift recently re-brand The Ohio Lottery helping transfer the largest record transfer of funds to the Ohio government for K-12 education.
- Question: How would you articulate Brand America’s promise?
I believe there are three key words that best describe America’s brand promise: ‘inclusively’, ‘better’ and ‘freedom’. Immigrants left their homelands with everything on their backs and did so for a better life. They sought a better life for generations to come in education, income and experiences. There was hope, a belief and a yearning to achieve that fueled our country. Many made it so.
Based upon the founding principles of our nation —where ‘all men are created equal’ —these people were given a chance to be included in the American Dream. They were offered a clean slate and fair chance to compete. Just the feeling of being included in a chance to achieve is the very foundation of achievement.
Finally, we offer freedom; freedom to think, to practice, to live and to be. Our democracy believes in her people. We can express ourselves, we can create and we can live a freely. Iconic brands like Chevrolet, Levi’s and the infamous Marlboro Man best depicted American dream of freedom.
The American Promise can be best expressed as a place where “all people belong” When immigrants arrived by boat and saw our stunning Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island they must have said, “I belong here.”
- Question: What are the challenges that Brand America must address to consistently be seen as "walking the talk"?
The first thing we need to do is to put our egos in check and increase our humility factor. We do not have all of the answers. We can’t change and we can not win if we think we are already doing so. We are not first in technology. Markets like Israel lead the world in software development. Japan leads in electronics and France in food and wine. Our children are not leading in math and science. Leaders lead. We need to redefine the areas in which we seek to compete and the ones we want to lead. And as any good CEO would do, then must we need to put the best and brightest leaders and give them resources to get the job done. Hold them accountable to help reclaim that leadership position. One of the many smartest things President Obama has done was to put a new job function in the White House, a CTO (Chief Technology Officer). He will lead us through cyberspace, regulation and boundary setting. Innovation will come of this post.
- Question: What are the traits of Brand America that people around the world are likely to find appealing?
Prosperity, quality of life, access and opportunity. We used to be optimistic. We need to gain that emotional attribute back. People want to believe again.
- Question: What are the different ways Brand America can keep its promise?
For clarity, a brand is a promise. Every day leaders should wake up and do everything they can to make that promise come true. It’s about how we operate, it’s how we deliver our services and it’s what we believe in. The promise never changes, only the communication around the promise changes so we can stay relevant. The Walt Disney Company will always stand for ‘magic’. When Walt created his mission to “Make People Happy” he and his successors spent the next fifty years of their strategic efforts making that promise come alive through magic at every turn. It’s consistent, predictable and timeless. No one beats The Walt Disney promise. (Record profits this quarter, up 40%!!!)
Our founding fathers wrote the US Constitution providing the guiding principles of our nation. The Bill of Rights amended some of these ideals for clarity and frankly relevance to what going on in our country. I say we revisit the ideals written in this timeless document because things are out of whack. Our ethics have been tarnished; our leaders are letting us down. The notion that “all men are created equal’ is at risk. We seek ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. These are now being blocked by greed, hatred and selfishness. When leaders of world class companies lose their way, the successful ones go back to their roots, to their original brand promise as a beacon of focus. They revisit the values that founded the firm and find new meaning to stay relevant. Let’s s do the same with America.
- Question: What is the importance of Brand America in the world?
For the most part, I have been traveling globally for 30 years. Working at McDonald’s, one of the most recognized brands in the world because of its community presence, was a privilege and a wake up call. In the early 8o’s when I met people from foreign lands, they were always so curious about America and Americans. I remember thinking how embarrassed I was that knew all about our President, politics and issues whilst I was unaware of their leaders, governmental politics and brand character. Carrying the US Passport was and still is a privilege. However, since so many people look to America for hope and leadership. When we were not performing as a nation I have evidence that you have felt it in the room. By far the worst sentiments from the global economy were under the leadership of George Bush. Anger and tension in business meetings from our international partners ensued because we, as Americans were letting people down. When our economy is bad, just imagine the global ripple effect.
I can’t help but think about the world as it watched and waiting to see who would be President in 2008. People were glued to the TV, cheering, crying, and singing around the world as they waited the outcome. They did so because they knew that if America could be better and rebuild, they would too. There was hope.
Finally, great brands earn and keep their reputation every day. They do not rest on historical performance. We need to pay more attention to what matters, learn from winning economies and apply best practices in health care, education and lifestyles.
- Question: Who benefits from a strengthened Brand America?
Everyone. From all those living in the United States through additional opportunities for growth and prosperity to the international community that can use our democratic ideals as a means of changing and bettering their own communities.
- Question: Do you believe Brand America has a relevant, competitive and authentic promise?
I think we did. I think the leaders of Brand America, The President of America, needs to revisit the promise and do everything in his power to realign Americans to making it come true. A CEO would hold his direct reports accountable for delivering their stake in the turn around brand plan. The American people need to play their role in this as well.
Washington could do a better job of reminding the American people of the pillars of the brand turnaround plan through story. Update us on each aspect of the plan. Look at Detroit. Thanks to the bail out money, all the US auto makers have made a profit for the first time in decades. Yet, all we hear about are lost jobs in Detroit. Communicating what is working is step one of a recovery
The best evidence that this can work in Washington is Michelle Obama’s idea called “Let’s Move”. She branded this childhood obesity message “Let’ Move.” She explained her plan with clarity, she talked about how she was going to hold school lunch reform accountable and she created metrics. It is exactly what great brand leaders do. The media raved about this news. Let’s take a page out her winning brand promise approach for each of the various brands within the Administration: Health Care, Education, Tax Reform and more and this will help ladder up to reignite America’s Brand Promise. Make the message simple and hold people accountable in private and government sectors. It will happen.
In closing, Abraham Lincoln warned during the secession era, "America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves." Change happens within. Let’s dust off America’s Brand Promise, a promise our Founding Father left us and lay claim to what it means to be truly American today….to live the American Dream.