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Four Revolutionary Lessons the American Revolution Can Teach Us About Online Marketing


In the 250 years or so that have passed since the United States declared independence from the British crown, it’s easy to forget how unlikely American independence actually seemed at the time.

For the most part, pre-revolutionary America was a very loose collective of colonies with a primarily agricultural economy. Meanwhile, England had the most powerful navy in the world, a huge military, a strong economy and a long, rich history and culture. The fact that the American colonists, with their bare-bones militia, lack of a central governing body and widely differing opinions on the idea of independence, were able to successfully break away from the English crown was truly miraculous at the time.

So how did they do it? The revolutionary generation -- people like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and the like -- had to use whatever resources they could to inspire their fellow colonists with the same revolutionary fervor they had.

And while the founding fathers didn’t have the same tools and strategies we have today for mass communication, their actions can still teach us a surprising amount about how to successfully market and brand ourselves to a large audience.

Behold, the four biggest things we can take away from the American Revolution on successful online marketing and branding:

One-on-one interaction is essential for building lasting connections.

Samuel Adams isn’t just one of the best ways to unwind after a long day at the office. The real-life Samuel Adams was one of the key players in the movement to convince his fellow colonists to support American independence. And he did so by taking a few pages out of the (then-unwritten) PR playbook.

You can’t argue with a face like this.

In the 1760s, a time when most colonists were still very loyal to their king, Adams was one of the first people to spread the idea that England was abusing its power over the colonists and treating them unfairly. He wrote passionate, fiery editorials that were published in Boston newspapers -- both in his own name and in 11 other pseudonyms, to create the illusion that more people supported independence than opposed it.

Adams could have stopped there and still been relatively successful -- but he knew he had to drive his message home before real change could begin to take place. He would walk the streets of his native Boston six days each week, speaking face-to-face with anyone who would listen about the English crown’s wrongdoings. Adams knew he would make a major impact on his audience by engaging them directly, as no one else -- Loyalist or Patriot -- had the audacity to do the same. From taxation without representation to the Quartering Acts, Adams had plenty of fuel for the fire of his anti-English lectures.

Eventually, Adams took other like-minded individuals under his wing, from John Hancock and Paul Revere to future President John Adams. He played a major role in bringing together revolutionary groups like the Sons of Liberty, and was one of the organizers of the Boston Tea Party, a protest against the British tea tax -- though he declined to take credit for it. Efforts like these, as well as his shrewd use of newspapers and devotion to developing face-to-face connections with his fellow colonists, were crucial in steering America toward revolution.

That’s one way to tell the king he’s been dumped.

So what can we, as online marketers, learn from someone like Adams?

His face-to-face approach is something that all brands can replicate through direct interaction with consumers through social media outlets, emails and more. Today’s most successful brands build intimate connections with their customers through active listening, engaging and responding. This, in turn, establishes brand loyalty in a big way.

Yet a shocking number of businesses aren’t quite getting it right. According to the Guardian, an incredible 80% of companies either miss or mishandle opportunities to engage with consumers online. These missed opportunities translate to lost opportunities for revenue as people come to expect more from their favorite brands.

To get the most out of your brand’s relationship with its customers, make their experience on your website replicate the experience they’d have if they were to walk into your store. Boost interactivity. Offer top-notch customer service. Make information about what products and services you offer easy to access. Encourage mailing list sign-ups and regularly update customers through email marketing. And, above all, encourage discussions through social media -- not only is it highly cost-effective, but it also makes customers feel valued and eager to interact with your brand in the future.

Build your brand with pithy, memorable phrases.

“Give me liberty or give me death!”

”Join, or die.”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”

“We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."

Sound familiar?

After two and a half centuries, we can still easily recall and recognize the slogans that the founding fathers created to advance their cause. They didn’t realize it at the time, but what they were doing was taken straight from the branding bible.

Just look at some of today’s most well-known brand slogans. From Nike’s “Just do it” to IMAX’s “Think big,” we all can easily recall the brief yet powerful messages of the biggest brands.

You can apply these same principles to your own brand by creating a slogan that communicates what your company is all about in as few words as possible. It should stress the benefits of your product and express how the consumer benefits by choosing it over those of your competitors. In general, you can follow these steps when crafting a brand slogan:

1. Identification: Your brand name should be either stated or heavily implied in the slogan -- don’t leave the consumer guessing your company’s identity.

2. Make it memorable: Some of the best advertising slogans have been in use for many years because of their memorability. Your slogan should be easy for consumers to recall, and therefore shouldn’t be too complex.

3. How is it beneficial?: How will someone benefit by buying your company’s products or services? Your slogan should elicit a positive feeling within the consumer -- or you could go the other direction and suggest what risks the consumer takes by not using your product.

4. How is it different?: What sets your company apart from its competition? Determine what values or goals make your brand unique and incorporate that into your slogan.

5. Keep it simple: While one word usually isn’t enough to build an effective slogan, try not to use too many words, either. Between three and six words is ideal.

The right image can convey more than words ever could.

Most historians consider this to be the first-ever political cartoon in America:

Created by Benjamin Franklin and published in the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1754, this woodcut engraving is the first visual depiction of a united colonial body created by a British colonist living in America. It was initially used to unite the colonists in support of Britain during the French and Indian War, but was eventually embraced as a symbol of the importance of colonial unity during the revolution.

It depicts a snake cut into eight pieces, each piece labeled with a different American colony or region, and implied that the 13 colonies would either have to unite against British rule or lose their freedom. The image spread throughout the colonies during the revolutionary years, being published in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia and South Carolina.

During that time period, this cartoon was as memorable and recognizable as it is today. Its message -- that the colonists must stand together against oppression rather than oppose each other -- helped the colonies win the Revolutionary War. It’s a testament to the power that a simple image can have.

And while today’s visual branding and marketing doesn’t have to be powerful enough to overthrow an empire, you can still learn plenty from images like the one Franklin created.

A well-designed logo can make a huge difference in your brand’s bottom line by literally creating a visual imprint in the mind of the consumer. Humans respond more strongly to visual content than they do to text, and our brains are wired to remember images.

In fact, studies have shown that people remember a mere 10% of what they hear and 20% of what they read -- but they remember an amazing 80% of what they see.

To establish a strong visual identity for your brand that sticks in people’s minds, follow these tips:

1. Make it versatile: The right brand logo can be used in a wide variety of applications. It should be recognizable whether it’s in black and white or color -- take Apple’s apple logo, for example. It should be able to be printed on a car wrap advertisement or used in a TV ad.

2. Make it timeless: You should design your logo with the intent to use it for many years to come; the longer you have your logo, the more people will recognize it. Avoid dated design elements and steer clear of unnecessary gradients or drop shadows. Clean design is timeless design.

3. Make it simple: This goes hand in hand with making the logo timeless. The most effective brand logos use simple shapes, clean lines and easy-to-read fonts. Avoid the ornate or complex; don’t try to stuff every aspect of your company’s work into it.

4. Make it unique: Avoid designing a logo that looks too much like another company’s logo. Your brand’s visual identity should be one-of-a-kind, allowing consumers to instantly recognize it as your company’s logo. Through color, fonts, composition, shape and more, you can create a simple, attention-catching design that conveys your brand’s unique values.

Delivering high-quality content will keep your audience hooked.

These days, any online marketer knows that creating content as part of one’s SEO strategy is common sense. During the pre-revolutionary period, the content literally was “Common Sense.” Thomas Paine’s highly-influential pamphlet, published in January 1776, outlined his arguments for why independence from Britain was not only necessary for the colonies -- but also common sense.

Just call him T-Paine.

Paine’s words spread to all corners of the 13 colonies, with the 47-page pamphlet selling about 500,000 copies -- a huge figure for that time period.

”But where, says some, is the King of America? I'll tell you. Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal Brute of Britain,” Paine wrote, delegitimizing the power of the British crown in the colonies with his potent rhetoric.

The pamphlet’s message against British tyranny was so powerful that most colonists stopped thinking of themselves as British and began to view themselves as Americans. It helped rally the popular support needed to make the founding fathers the leaders of a major revolution, rather than a small group of dissidents. Paine also donated the royalties he earned from “Common Sense” to George Washington’s Continental Army, helping the revolutionary cause financially as well as ideologically.

While today’s brands don’t necessarily need to make their marketing content quite as persuasive and rhetoric-laden as Paine’s “Common Sense,” there’s still something to be said about the power of great content for building brand loyalty and establishing your company as an expert in its industry.

In fact, experts estimate that 55% of today’s businesses will increase their spending on content marketing throughout 2015. Given this fact, it’s clear that good content is as successful and effective at spreading the right message today as it was two centuries ago.

To create online marketing content that leaves an impression with every consumer who reads it, it’s important to produce pieces that align with your brand’s values and also provide value to the end user. Good content educates, entertains and engages. It sparks discussion and spurs the user to share the piece on social media. It doesn’t cut corners on quality. When your content does all these things, you’ll be guaranteed to make a lasting impression on web users.

Who says you can’t learn anything from studying history, anyway?


Do you agree with these lessons learned? What are your own tips and tricks for successful online marketing and branding? Get the discussion going -- leave a comment below.