He was born in Kentucky – a slave state – but made Illinois – a ‘free’ state – his home. Although he read the Bible daily he never belonged to an organized church. He did not have a law degree but tried a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and was a circuit judge in Illinois. His first business failed and he lost elections to become a U.S. Senator – twice, the Vice President and the President of the United States. He was an advocate for women’s right to vote as early as 1836.
He had no middle name, preferring to be called by his last name – certainly not by a nickname – yet 140 years after his death he is widely known as ‘Honest Abe’. He was the first President born outside of one of the original thirteen states, the first to have a beard, the first to use the telegraph, the only one to have a patent and was the tallest at 6’4″ (eventually tied in height by Lyndon Johnson).
Because of his height, his distinctive suit – a Brooks Brothers – and his trademark stovepipe hat, he is the most recognizable U.S. President in history. He stored key papers in his hat and when he was shot at in 1864 it was his hat that took the bullet. While not related to that errant shot – he did establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday.
He was against slavery – but was also against abolition. However, his anti-slavery stance did not keep him from marrying a woman from a wealthy slave-holding family in Kentucky.
He ‘won’ the Civil War but it cost him his life as five days later he was the first U.S. President to be assassinated – on Good Friday no less. Another irony of Lincoln’s story is that he signed the legislation to create the U.S. Secret Service* on the day he was shot by John Wilkes Booth.
His was a life of uniqueness, oddities, dichotomies and seemingly incompatible beliefs – yet some of his strongest and most admired traits were his conviction and honesty. It is because of those traits that Abraham Lincoln is a fearless brand and regarded by many as the greatest president our country has ever had.
Lincoln was President during the most divisive time in our nation’s history. We were a country divided at extreme levels. State against state. Brother against brother. The very core of people’s life beliefs were at odds. The United States were anything but. So how is he regarded so highly?
There are two reasons for this – in my opinion – and each provides a great lesson in branding. When it comes to being a fearless brand, the first factor is the most important…
Fearless brands live the adage – “To thine own self be true.”
What better way to make this point than the words spoken by the man himself…
“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to the light I have.”
Throughout his life – both personal and public – Lincoln remained committed to his beliefs. He knew what his desired outcomes were and then set about working to achieve those results. In the process he was often polarizing. Some groups supported him fully while others were passionately opposed to his efforts. Ironically, these same groups often switched their views and support for – or opposition to – Lincoln as objectives, tactics and other factors changed. What did not waiver was Lincoln’s commitment to his own beliefs.
The second reason that Lincoln consistently ranks as one of our greatest Presidents is historical perspective. Last Friday’s Fearless brand – The Beatles (read it here) made the point that Fearless Brands create legacies. Lincoln was not regarded as a great President when he was alive – and not even until the 1900’s. What changed? Time and perspective. Legacies are created by the ‘brand’ but are refined, solidified and perpetuated with the benefit of time and perspective.
What can we learn from Lincoln about branding? The lessons are virtually endless – and in the context of my Seven C’s of Branding Lincoln is a poster child. His clarity and conviction – coupled with his stellar oratory skills allowed him to garner vital support – often from seemingly unlikely parties. Importantly, he was consistent in his actions and beliefs. All of this helps explain Lincoln as a fearless brand.
Do you want to build your fearless brand? Learn these timeless lessons from Lincoln.
- Follow the adage – “To thine own self be true.”
- Realize that your actions will create your legacy – but time and perspective will crystallize it.
Lastly, understand that while wearing a stovepipe hat worked for Lincoln, it is probably not going help you become a fearless brand.
* Lincoln commissioned the Secret Service on April 14, 1865 the day he was assassinated. The original intent for the Secret Service was to combat counterfeit currency. It was not given the charge to protect presidents until directed by Congress after the 1901 assassination of William McKinley