Friday, August 05, 2005

Karen Hughes: Marketing Freedom
and the American Way of Life

A few weeks ago, I read about the US Government's ongoing public diplomacy program aimed at curbing the hatred that breeds terrorism. Iposted on the concept of "marketing" the American way of life to people who misunderstand it or who have been taught to hate it without experiencing it for themselves. I also noted that it is difficult to communicate to people when even the technology to receive the messages is denied to people living in many countries where the government controls media and media distribution.

The PR Machine took it a step further, suggesting Craig Newmark join Karen Hughes' new initiative to promote America. Karen Hughes recently declared to the LA Times:
"the urgent need to foster greater understanding, more respect and a sense of common ideals among Americans and people of different countries, cultures and faiths around the world."
Back on August 11, 2004, Craig Newmark said on his own blog:
"Companies need to get serious about listening to their customers, not just talking about it, but really doing it."
Whether this is public relations or marketing (the difference often blurs), the essential task of helping different cultures to understand, appreciate and even enjoy one another instead of killing one another is one of the loftiest goals any of us could embrace. But way before we start preaching about the wonders of America, we need to listen to the target audience so we can see our words as they would see them.

Karen Hughes understands the listening mission ... which is why she is such a good communicator. At her confirmation hearing before the US Sentate, Hughes told Senators Richard Lugar and George Voinovich, she intends first to listen: "I want to learn more about you and your lives, what you believe, what you fear, what you dream, what you value most."

Changing behavior is the underlying task of marketing. Behavior does not change unless you have created an environment of mutual trust. This is true whether I am marketing Cincom software, or Karen Hughes is marketing the American way of life. And as we all know, trust begins with listening.

But listening in this particular public diplomacy initiative is not so easy. Sure the Hughes team will have ears, but they are also listening through their own mindset. We value freedom. We demand freedom. We cannot conceive of people who don't likewise demand freedom. We watched the Soviet Union break up because people wanted freedom. So we assume all people want to hear our message of freedom. The people of the Middle East, however, might not hear our message from the same vantage. For some of them, freedom is frightening ... how can you hold together so many different cultures within a country like Iraq without a dictator? Can the people of the Middle East hear our message, and can we hear why our message might fall on deaf ears?

If we can convince a prospect to trust us so they will buy and be loyal, can we not also help cultures begin to trust one another? Not an easy task when generations keep passing distortion on to the next generation ... breaking through all this just might be the most important marketing assignment going on in the world today.


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