Synkd Blog
The Brand Entrepreneur

Brand lessons from JFK? JFK and the NASA Janitor.

Here’s a powerful story from a powerful political figure of the 20th century with a brand lesson that is equally as relevant for the 21st century. Some lessons are timeless…

Although this is not my story, I felt compelled to share it with you as a powerful example of brand vision, intention, culture, brand values and brand purpose all rolled into one. Please remember this story was relayed way back in the early 1960’s – some 60 years ago now.

Let’s set the context: The year was 1962 – 12th September – a full 7 years before ‘Mankind’ officially landed on the Moon. President Kennedy was touring Cape Canaveral in Florida, NASA’s launching pad to the stars.
Kennedy had earlier made his infamous Moon speech at Rice Stadium and was perhaps feeling the pressure of his public intention to make history by stating ‘We choose to go to the Moon’. A nation and the entire world was, in that moment, captivated.

‘It will be done before the end of this decade’, he added. A bold vision for a bold leader.

There are many different takes on the details of this story however the story generally goes something like so:

During the tour of the NASA space centre, President Kennedy, in passing, noticed a janitor coming out of a nearby door carrying either a broom or mop and brush.

Kennedy interrupted his tour, left his entourage and promptly walked up to the man. The President enquired, “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing here?”

The janitor famously responded, ‘Well, Mr. President, I’m helping put a man on the moon.’

Now that’s what I call brand vision, purpose and intention all wrapped into one powerful statement. It’s perhaps an even more powerful insight into NASA’s brand and brand culture back then – even as far back as the 1960’s. Big picture thinking combined with engineering, creative and scientific innovation.
Is there any doubt NASA wouldn’t have succeeded in their goal? (conspiracy theories notwithstanding).

The takeaway here is that every single NASA employee, no matter how menial, understood the critical part they played in making that overall brand vision become a reality.

To many people’s perception, the NASA janitor was simply cleaning the building. His role offered nothing more than that. However, in the larger context, and the wider story beyond him, the janitor was playing his part in helping to make human history. Yes, the janitor was a small cog in a bigger machine but he had purpose. He got it. He understood the vision and his part in it. He knew his purpose and he was empowered to express it clearly – even to a President.

Here’s the tough part though. Ask yourself – are your employees, your management team, your suppliers and support teams equally as focused and understanding of your brand vision? Imagine what you could achieve if you followed NASA’s example? Food for thought!

The crucial factor that most people don’t understand about brand is that it’s less to do with visual messages and crafting logos (still important as elements of a brand) and more to do with aligning your focused attention on your values, your purpose and how your are perceived. Because that’s what people buy – your purpose, your WHY and why you do the unique thing you specifically do.

Yet that purpose; that ‘Why’ – must resonate from the top-down. It must resonate energetically from the visionary CEO to the most junior or menial task worker in any organisation, in any part of the world if your business and brand are to successfully grow to dominate your industry or rise beyond a commodity business that just competes on price.

If your brand vision does not flow through the business, if it is not understood internally by your staff & employees, if it is not lived, embodied, expressed and manifested every single day by the people who create your ‘brand reality’, it will fail to resonate, it will fail to connect, it will fail to win over hearts & minds. Ultimately you will fail to succeed commercially because without it your vision and values will be unable to create the framework for employee and consumer trust, commitment and motivation.

You simply won’t hold onto good people or be able to attract quality employees to elevate your brand. Create a culture that ‘inspires’ instead of one that ‘fires’.

Further to this, your culture (which is interchangeable to your brand) will stagnate and suffer. Its perhaps easier said in hindsight, but would you ever doubt a company such as NASA who were motivated by a powerful brand vision that resonates throughout the company, even down to the lowly janitor?

If you’re serious about your business growth then get serious about your brand vision and take a leaf out of NASA’s brand book. The best time to act is always yesterday.

I hope you learned something new, insightful or useful from this blog.

As The Brand Entrepreneur, I believe in helping businesses and savvy entrepreneurs to ‘market smarter’ for sustainable long-term business and brand growth. I do this by deeply defining your ‘ideal’ customer with The ‘My Avatar’ and ‘Ideal Customer Personality’ Workshops and then creating design assets that convey your ‘Why?’. Successful brands in the future care about customers, not branding. I believe that future is now. I’m passionate about creating brand stories & design assets that help brands get ‘in sync’ and connected to customers they ‘care’ about.

Jamie Thomas – The Brand Entrepreneur

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