Is Zelensky Our Modern Day Churchill?
This awful war in Ukraine.
Who knows who will win this David versus Goliath fight?
That very question seemed ridiculous to ask just a couple of weeks ago. With powerful Putin having his legions of forces perched on Ukraine's border, the quick downfall of Ukraine almost seemed like a done deal.
But now, we can actually ask this question with a little glimmer of hope.
And I would suggest that one of the reasons we can even ask this previous "obvious-answer" question now is that the "David" in this scenario - our friends in Ukraine - has developed a couple of deadly stones for his slingshot against the brutal, oversized evil monster.
Ukraine's effective stones? Their newfound brand, and more specifically, President Zelensky's emerging and highly inspiring brand.
It is amazing that we're at this point with some hope for Ukraine. On so many levels, , Russia had huge advantages going into this confrontation. For one, Russia has vast experience in getting their message out there. After all, they have been running their propaganda machine for years and years. And, they have a highly recognized world leader that stands as the personification of their brand.
And yet, from the outset of this conflict, it is obvious that Putin and Russia have lost touch with the real world. They see no reason why they should evolve their brand.
These days, everyone - whether you're the head of a country or the head of an organization - should take a clear, honest look at who they are and challenge themselves: "Is this where I want to be, given what is currently happening in the world?" Being recalcitrant and strictly sticking to his old-school branding game plan has turned Putin and Russia into two of the most despised brands in the world.
What old-school branding tactics you ask?
Below is the official photo that Putin and his communication team decided to distribute to the worldwide press. Interesting shot don't you think? I would guess that Putin is trying to send his brand message to the world that he is all-powerful, the modern czar, and all shall bow down to him.
Lately, we have found that one brand attribute that people engage with today is that of teamwork - a collection of diverse people working seamlessly together to make purposeful things happen. This "we work as a team" approach inspires people and makes them want to engage with your brand.
The above photo is the antithesis of a truly teamwork brand.
The message from this photo? It is ALL about Putin. He makes all the decisions. If you have something to say to support Putin, "He's all ears." If not, you know where the door is. I would suggest that this is not a good branding approach these days.
It is important to remember that Putin's regime actually carefully selects what images to send to the world. And this is the official photo they decide to send?!? Yikes. Putin is oblivious to the fact that this image, to most of the world, is scary to the point that it is almost comical.
The next Putin "out of touch" propaganda image - widely circulated - clearly conveys how he deal with his external, "close partners." As the old saying goes, "With friends like that, who needs enemies?"
Here's some free FMOL business advice: I would not suggest that your next meeting with your closest clients or customers be set up in the above fashion. And, should you decide to place yourself at the head of the table and your subordinate partner at the foot - don't take a photo for your website.
Then there is Zelensky.
The below image of the Ukrainian president is a visual that we all have seen.
Zelensky - unshaven and in a T-shirt - in the midst of it all. With his key advisors close by his side. Shedding the safety of his office to be in the perilous streets of Kiev, which are under attack. Shoulder-to-shoulder with his people. Showing that he is no better than them but is "one" with them. Not shot by the official government propaganda photographer but a "selfie" shot from his own personal phone in real time.
The brand message is clear. Zelenksy is with his people, not above them, and WE are going to fight this tyranny.
Clear, transparent communications vs. propaganda.
Contrast this brand image with that of his counterpart - a brutal bully sitting in his warm palace many miles away from his troops (and about 25 feet away from his closest advisor.)
Zelensky's focused brand message - WE're not going anywhere. WE're Ukrainians and WE love our country.
Out of nowhere, Zelensky has emerged as the master modern communicator. He realizes how important constant, truthful communications are in the world today.
From the streets, from the front lines, from notable Ukrainian landmarks - Zelensky continues to communicate: What do WE stand for? What vision are WE committed to? Who are WE as a people?.
Today, to keep people inspired, they need to hear the true brand story over and over and over.
Zelensky gets it.
While Russia - and their almost 70 year old leader - is back in their old school tactics of pushing forth false, contrived, carefully scripted messages. That may have worked back in Putin's old KGB days, but not today.
Point is, to be effective today, brands must be grounded in the unvarnished truth. Otherwise, your branding efforts will, in likely, turn against you. As seen with Putin and Russia.
What a modern day brand leader Zelensky has turned out to be.
A 44-year-old upstart who understands the nuances of skillful, new world branding. Importantly, he understands his audiences. He comes at things from his audiences' perspectives.
"WE have a special people." A great brand message always - it is really all about his people, not him - which is in sharp contrast to Putin.
Zelensky also understands a modern tenet of effective communications: to make your brand more engaging, make it more personal. Show some vulnerability. Be human. Be relatable.
"This is a nightmare, I cannot even imagine the type of man who would plan such acts. Many of our soldiers, and their soldiers, are 18 and 19 years old. They are about the age of my own daughter. They could be my children. They will die in uniform because of decisions made by men in suits."
Wow. Zelensky is not just concerned about his own troops but is also compassionate to fate of all these young, misguided Russian teenagers that the power hungry Putin has put in harms way. And for what reason?
Zelensky's worldwide brand has emerged only over the course of just several weeks. But it is powerful, relatable and inspiring. He is just what Ukraine, and the world needs right now.
I know that all this talk of branding sounds trivial given all the enormous consequences that are happening hour by hour in Ukraine. But, I must say - I marvel at how Zelensky courageously stays "on brand." He is clear with his mission and the mission of his fellow countrymen. He is constantly demonstrating brand leadership and getting more and more people from around the world buying in.
What are the effects of this dramatic contrast in branding styles between Putin and Zelensky?
In war, it is always difficult to see exactly what is going on.
But, despite all odds, Ukraine is still passionately fighting. Ukraine is still their own country, and the Ukrainian people remain committed to emerging victorious, while the world increasingly day by day turns against Putin and Russia.
From the front lines, it is interesting to hear all the reports of low morale among the Russian troops while seeing an inspired, ragtag group of Ukrainian underdogs proudly and impressively punching above their weight.
Seems like everyone is behind these two motivating brands of Ukraine and Zelensky.
They inspire us.
We are all with you President Zelensky. Long live Ukraine.