Learning Successful Branding from Communists

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By Allan Boress, CPA - I owe a great deal to W. Clement Stone, who started out as a 16 year-old boy selling insurance policies on the weekly payment plan (a “Debit Man”) at the turn of the 20th century. Mr. Stone died a billionaire and was founder of Combined Insurance Company. He realized that it was much more time effective to sell many people at once instead of one at a time, so he would wander the halls and offices of Chicago office buildings looking for new customers. Although it would be difficult to do this today, his idea led to something right out of Mastering the Art of Marketing Professional Services, published by the AICPA.

The authors took that idea and turned it into the suggestion to meet everyone you possibly can while working at a client to spread your network of contacts as it was very time effective and some would turn into referral sources and future clients inside the company or elsewhere.

Stone was the author of several books on success, including a best-seller called Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude, co-authored with the legendary Napolean Hill. He helped me in my career by following his advice to “Recognize, Relate, Assimilate and Apply” everything going on around you to your business. Basically, to keep one’s eyes open for new marketing and sales ideas by seeing what others do and making it work for your situation.

As an example, our CPA firm foyer is not what you would normally find. We encourage client and referral source visits, so it is designed after a local bank, which overtook many established competitors partly by offering a welcoming atmosphere of hot, home-baked cookies, soda, bottled water and a special play are for children.

On March 11th, a brilliant article appeared in the Op-Ed section of the Wall Street Journal, “Brand Cuba.” In it the author, Michael Casey makes the case Castro made his island a fashionable alternative to the USA, and kept the fires of Communism going at home and elsewhere in the world, by branding Cuba. “Castro’s political success is a case study in managing the global information economy,” Casey says. “The Cuban Revolution has always been a brand.”


“From the barbudo rebels of the Sierra Maestra - to Che Guevara’s piercing stare (still popular in selling t-shirts and posters all over the world – just ask Barack Obama’s campaign workers in Texas) - to its globe-trotting medics, the Cuban brand has succeeded in getting its message across and making communism look good.”

Listen to how Casey describes branding: “… A successful brand functions as a store of values. It encapsulates a pool of attractive ideas that satisfy customers’ desire for meaning. To encourage loyalty to a brand … the marketer must cultivate a sense of belonging and personal identification with the individual.” In this light, we can better understand Apple’s fabulous success. Old-timers will remember the lock Arthur Andersen held on public accounting in its glory days before greed took over circa 1995 and relate to what Casey says about branding to their success.

Casey goes on to explain how Cuba achieved branding perfection. “To this niche market (of left-leaning, well-educated people in and out of Cuba), Castro’s ‘revolution’ achieved precisely this. …Cuba evokes a set of magical buzz words … ‘resistance,’ ‘social justice,’ ‘struggle,’ it represents an idealized selfless counterpoint to ruthless, greedy capitalism. It is the alternative to brand U.S.A.”

Of course to those of us who actually know Cubans here in the US, this created view of Cuba has little to do with the true Cuba. “…Savvy brand managers are rarely hindered by a divergence with reality. Has the availability of perfectly safe tap water stopped marketers from touting the life-giving powers of bottled alternatives?”

Cuba has succeeded in maintaining the communist society by creating a series of powerful emotions connected to it. Isn’t that what every marketer desires to do?

By Allan Boress, CPA, CFE. Author of The "I-Hate-Selling" Book

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