Terrorism brand management: What’s in a name?

UPDATE: In the wake of terror attacks in Paris, Beirut and elsewhere, the world is struggling over not only how to defeat ISIS, but to identify a rallying point around which the world can gather against this existential threat that appears ubiquitous, but invisible. Today there is a reurgence of the term “Daesh,” or Da’ish, from Muslim scholars who say what the group is doing has nothing to do with writings of Islam. In fact, the term is a grave insult when used in a particular way.

isis leader watch
Terror chief al-Baghdadi reportedly sporting a $6,000 watch.

As the world watches ISIS’s attempts to carry out its mission to rid the global community of the Infidel, it just may be helping. Or is it ISIL, or Islamic State, or QSIS? What’s in a name, really? Frankly, a great deal.

ISIS’s identity has appeared to randomly shift. But it is something U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently referred to as “a bigger threat than 9/11.”

But he was partially wrong. He got the name wrong, that is.

Let’s call the misnomer the beginning of our accidental brand management.

we are all isisISIS — “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” — implies two states with a clear mission to convert governmental structures into theocracies. That name came from the group itself.

ISIS is called Da ‘ish or Dar al-Ifta by Arabic media (Note: at the time of this original post, it was not clear if there was an ironic use of this term by media in this region.)

However, the United Nations refers to the group as ISIL, or the “Islamic State of Iraq and Levant.”

Levant? Levant is, by historical definition, the Eastern Mediterranean and encompasses a broader swath of area, including modern-day Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

“The U.N. and the U.S. State Department have now started using the term ISIL to refer to the jihadists because of the group’s broader mission to extend their reach into a wider area,” said Associated Press editor Tom Kent. “Using ‘Iraq and Syria’ gives the incorrect impression that the group’s aspirations are limited to these two present-day countries.”

As of Aug. 27, a new brand has emerged. QSIS: “al-Qaeda Separatists in Iraq and Syria.” And that name comes from a group in Egypt. What happened to Levant? Leaders in some Middle Eastern states are urging media to adopt the new name in an attempt to prevent Islam from being broadly associated with extremism.

Ibrahim Negm , advisor to Egypt’s chief religious leader, Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam said the extremists have an incorrect understanding of Jihad.

“The initiative by Dar al-Ifta came to express the institution’s rejection of many stereotypes that attach the name of Islam to bloody and violent acts committed by such groups,” he said to Al Arabiya News

So, what will the final name of this group be? The ultimate problem is less about that and more about the narrative swirling around the reasons why. This is where it becomes a true marketing conundrum particularly from a cultural perspective.

The narrative began online among the influencers, the media, and the mob.


What is a brand? A brand transcends the letters in the word itself, despite itself. Coke, Nike, Apple, or the “The Red Bear” or “Dear Leader.”


It is here in the vagaries of the Internet where, at the outer limits of the web, influencers engage the casual web surfer and greet the mob. And it is also here where brand relationships are made.

courtesy: The Daily Beast
courtesy: The Daily Beast

A marketer’s job is to craft a brand that evokes a personal response — a call to action, general buy-in, or empathy. Most importantly, marketers want you to feel a personal relationship with whatever they’re promoting.

Now, government, religious groups, and media are arguing over not only what the group stands for, but also over the nature of the relationship the group has to their own stakeholders.

It is also an editor’s job to make sure the stories they publish are relevant to their readers or viewers.


Again, this is a conundrum for all. And it has become even more so, considering a new study from Pew Research that shows people are less likely to share their views online if they don’t believe others will agree with their stand on a particular issue. As a result, they surround themselves with like-minded individuals with similar political or social bents. In the case of this group’s branding, perhaps the fact these narratives are continuing in separate vacuums is actually promoting confusion. And perhaps more armed conflict.

President Obama with Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri-al-Maliki in 2014
Mr. Obama with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri-al-Maliki in 2014

So, this is where we are: we brand an enemy according to how it may impact our way of life. So, we (the media, the government, the mob) begin a narrative on the whys, but ignore how the enemy affects others. And without listening to others, that narrative crescendos into a din and even accelerates up into a financial storm.

Reports are that this terrorist group has amassed more than $2 billion in financial assets. With that kind of funding, coupled with the help of web inhabitants and some cross-cultural (and silo-ed) branding, fever for a bigger and broader military-industrial complex might be a cinch. Unfortunately.

It’s still about the website, stupid.

courtesy: wellplannedweb.com

Just read a useful blog post from Vinci Designs  which reminds small business, among others, about some good fundamentals on social marketing. Fundamentals – something that from time to time is forgotten the more we fall in love within the vagaries of the ‘social media tools’ at our disposal.  At the end of the day, any visitor to a mobile platform, a Facebook page or Twitter post needs a ‘call to action.’  Yes, many understand the need to interweave these, but the number of ‘likes’ or retweets does not a business presence make. The fundamentals remain that a web site should be the destination where visitors learn who you are, what you sell and and the core reasons why you exist. It is your office.  This is particularly important for small businesses. Your social media ring, I submit, still needs to serve your prime business objective: to engage customers. “If you build it, they will come.” But, they will only come if there is somewhere to go – a place that wholly represents how you are a responsible steward of your product or service.  After your chat at the proverbial “cocktail party” on the social platforms, your prospective clients will always want to drop by your home ‘office’ the next morning.

Does your Association have an online strategy to help grow membership?

(Original text published on the AENC blog)

A word on Associations – Nurses, Accountants, Bankers, Florists…Whoever. You may think your Association needs a stronger online presence, but are confused as to what that exactly means. And you see its potential.

The number of ways you can communicate with your audience can be overwhelming. And there are a few fundamentals to understand before moving forward.

“Liking” you is not enough
“If you build it, they will come” only worked in the movie. Just setting up a Twitter account or Facebook group page as standalone presences is a regressive strategy. If your association isn’t communicating its key messages, you won’t generate a following. Worse, owning these profiles with no activity or followers just looks bad and delivers the wrong message as well.

Actively communicate your messages
The first mistake in messaging is trying to tell everything, to everyone, all the time. As an association, you know who your members are, and you know how your work benefits people on a broad scale. But like any marketing strategy, it’s critical to identify specific audiences, but also deliver specific messages on how your work is directly relevant to their needs.

Identify your target goals and encourage participation
Establish a timeline around key dates and planned announcements. This may also include locally planned events. By using your online platforms to deliver your messages, you can encourage participation through “retweets” and other forms of sharing. By inviting members to be part of the process, your are both now the stewards of your organization’s brand and mission.

Any successful online strategy is about building a presence that doesn’t just give you your “15 minutes.” Crafted carefully, it will help you earn a deep, living leadership role in today’s marketplace.

The question of integration

Shifting your entire promotional budget into on-site event marketing or press release distribution is a bit like having your financial portfolio manager tell you to pour all your money into a single fund.  It’s rarely a good choice in the long run. In investing parlance, the best approach is called “diversification.” In my line of work, we call it “integration.”

What if Edward R. Murrow had "Tweeted"?

Sending a press release to an editor, securing an exhibit slot at an industry conference, or hosting an event are all important traditional elements or “tactics” in most campaigns.  But they cannot stand alone.  As you’ve likely noticed over the past decade, the power of the Internet has ballooned and “others” are using it. However, you may still see it as a “tool” or some minor obligatory clause in your business plan.

PR is a living animal, constantly adapting to new environments and getting stronger as it forms and maintains relationships with people in real time. This is thanks to the ever-growing opportunities in open communication sources: Web, social pages, apps, Internet TV, and sharing services.  The list goes on.  But online marketing shouldn’t be treated as the first and only course of action when you want to build your brand. The fact is that traditional channels still need to be utilized simultaneously in any campaign.  They must converge.

An effective PR executive will know how your brand should dwell in the online community, and he or she won’t fall back on the occasional announcement or blog post.  Living in this neighborhood puts you face-to-face with both believers and detractors.  Both are critical in giving you the opportunity to deliver your message and enhance your credibility with customers and potential partners.  The same can be said for standing in front of your booth at the annual conference or chatting with a reporter over a coffee.

Never forget the fundamentals.  Time-tested methods of traditional “peoples’ relations” and online strategies must be woven together in order to create not just name recognition of your product or brand, but an integrated and living presence in the marketplace.

Internet Summit/Raleigh: Content is still king

The Internet Summit is here in Raleigh, N.C., this week. Some of the biggest players in the business are talking for two days about, well, how there’s a ton of data out there. One of the big themes is if we don’t use what’s freely available, we’ll lose. In short, if we don’t use the growing list of tools to make online business easier JUST because we think that we’ve got the better cyber mouse trap, we’ll all lose.

Lulu CEO Bob Young (Courtesy: Tech Journal South)

“We don’t need breakthroughs to make [online business] a huge part of our economy,” said Bob Young, founder and CEO Lulu.com. “It already is a huge part of our economy.”

Young was part of a panel discussion, “The Future of the Web,” and one of a bevy of A-list folks from around the country who descended on the Triangle for the summit. He joined others, including Joe Gregorio, a software engineer in developer relations for Google, Rod Smith, vice president, Emerging Internet Technologies at IBM, and a host of others.

Young said that businesses shouldn’t make it hard on themselves. They should do the homework that leads them to the, oftentimes, free business solutions that will make their business grow. In fact, one question from the audience touched on net neutrality.

Young said that the first order of business is to educate Congress on the “whys” and “hows” of ensuring open source information. But, despite asserting that more breakthroughs aren’t the answer, he said that without a clear and open path that will help programmers keep up with the exploding amount of data in cyberspace, people, not just businesses, will suffer.

Young added that he runs his business by letting his designers lead him and not the other way around. He intimated that any new law of control is the wrong choice and that without the freedom to “rethink” the way the Web operates, people like his young designers won’t be able to help him – or anyone else, for that matter.

It’s king, but it has be good, too

Young also said we all suffer if the quality of content isn’t maintained. He said we’re raising a more literate population, thanks to the Web, with more people writing and reading. But, now more than ever, as content is still king, business needs to find the folks who can write well. With that “ton of data out there,” only well written content can ensure significance and relevance to the audience.

“You’re interacting with text,” he said.  “And we need to harness that [potential] by paying people to write good content.”

Now on to day 2 at the Summit!