Last Friday, I had the pleasure of attending a change of office ceremony for the Navy Chief of Information (CHINFO) in the “Sail Loft” of the Washington Navy Yard in Southeast Washington, D.C. It was a gala event, that paid tribute to the incredible work ethic, energy and achievements of RDML Denny Moynihan during his four and a half-years on the job. RDML Moynihan was relieved by RDML John Kirby, another super-charged officer who is highly regarded in the Navy and the Navy Public Affairs community for his support of Admiral Mike Mullen as Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and most recently, as the military spokesman for Secretary Leon Panetta in OSD Public Affairs.
By nature of his position as CHINFO, which supports the Office of the Secretary of the Navy and the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, RDML Kirby will have a direct impact on the Navy and Navy programs and people every day. He has myriad responsibilities that he will want to prioritize, but in many cases, the 24 hour news cycle will modulate and modify his priorities as current events involving U.S. Naval Forces unfold around the globe. As CHINFO, he will be one of the most important architects of the Navy’s Strategic Communications strategy.
Accordingly, he may want to examine our current “brand.” In enterprise terms, Strategic Communicators employ the marketing strategy of “branding” to focus on the objectives achievable with the goods and services that the company can offer its clientele. For example, the American Marketing Association (AMA) definition of a “brand” is a “name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.”
Sounds very business-like doesn’t it? But, let’s agree that the Navy has achieved some incredible efficiencies by adapting industry best practices to streamline support to the warfighter-Lean Six Sigma for example. So it follows that we might embrace “branding” as a method of unifying our strategic message to a target audience.
Since I joined the Service, we’ve adopted many different brands, even before the term and the enterprise approach became popular. Do you recall:
“It’s Not Just a Job… It’s an Adventure!”
“Let the Journey Begin!”
“Navy, Accelerate Your Life!”
And our current brand. “Navy. A Global Force for Good!”
Defining the target audience is part of the discovery process in adopting a brand. Those in the Human Resources aspect of what we do tell me that the target audience is the quality young men and women that we recruit annually to join our Service. We want the best and brightest from the pool of eligible young Americans. With an all-volunteer force, opportunities to learn new skills and be assured of job security, although necessary, are not enough – you need an appealing tagline! Human Resource specialists tell me that our current brand sells well with the Millennial Generation. Those joining our ranks today want job skills and a career, but they also want to make a difference-to be a part of a global team that has a raison d’etre- i.e. to make the world a better place. Recruiting, however, is normally tied to the economy and right now, our recruiting and retention statistics are pretty good. That could all change in a heartbeat with a major change in our economy, so it makes sense to keep a regular drumbeat on the theme of recruiting. Our brand is intended to attract and retain the very best, our challenge is to identify the Navy as a choice worth considering in the minds of those choosing and the minds of those providing advice and counsel.
I wonder however, if new recruits are the only audience? Shouldn’t our brand also appeal to the American taxpayers and their direct representatives on Capitol Hill? To the teachers, counselors, parents and coaches—those figures America’s youth look to when trying to figure out their personal way ahead? The point is that the “brand” has to appeal to a broad audience, with different levels of experience and different perspectives. The challenge is to reach and appeal to this wide audience with a clear and concise message of who we are.
In the marketplace, brands appeal to consumers and stifle the competition. Consumers of our brand are the American people, who want a safe and secure environment with conflicts resolved far from our shores. Our competition in the market of national security could be a peer competitor, a downright enemy of the state, or worst case – apathy and the belief that national security is someone else’s job. So, how will our brand keep us moving forward and deter our adversaries? This is an important question, if in fact you subscribe to the theory that our brand has multiple target audiences. Could we or should we change our brand to send a different message or a message to a different audience. I don’t have a good answer to these questions, so I thought we might benefit from the wisdom of the crowd–hence the reason for this blogging effort?
The CNO has given us three simple tenets and only six words on which to base our day-to-day fulfillment of our duties: Warfighting First! Operate Forward! Be Ready! Does our brand convey these three tenets? Do we need more than one brand for more than one audience? Do we need a brand at all?
I always liked the poster of the Aircraft Carrier that you see in many Navy Facilities-“90,000 tons of diplomacy.” A picture is often worth a thousand words, but that picture combined with that caption conveys many things about our Navy and our great country. It champions our industrial base and the United States’ ability to construct and operate not one but eleven nuclear powered aircraft carriers. It illustrates our ability to operate from our sovereign territory—the flight deck of the carrier—anytime and anyplace where our national interests may be threatened or where a helping hand may be needed. It epitomizes our ability to take the fight to the enemy far away from our shores. Finally, it sends the message that when diplomacy or deterrence fails, standby! American resolve and wherewithal will be there, ready to act if called upon. Perhaps we should adopt a brand that does all that?