The Corleone Family Brand Nation


I had the occasion to watch Godfathers Part I and II recently. Start to finish, without interruption. Although I’ve caught pieces of each many times over the years flipping through cable, I can’t say how long it’s been since I’ve watched the entire story unfold.

This time, it occurred to me that this is a story of watching the Corleone brand get built, achieve enormous influence, and eventually decline.

What happened?

Corleone Began as a Social Brand

We meet our brand visionary, Vito Corleone, at his daughter’s wedding—at the peak of his power—with  so many people packed onto the Long Island estate they’re crawling up the walls.

Yet there’s an intimacy here. This is a vibrant community of interconnected people, all feeling a strong sense of belonging to the Don—and because of this, to each other. The opening sequence of our story begins with an introduction to the Corleone brand nation.

But it’s not until Part II that we see the Corleone nation’s seed, its roots, how it was cultivated and why it flourished. Part II has always been my favorite of the two. Perhaps this is why.

The first most striking thing about Vito in the early years is that he’s an enormously social animal. Dropped at Ellis Island without connections or a word of English at age 9, by the time he’s a young adult, this man is dialed in. Another 30 years, and he’s a man of colossal influence.

“You ever need a favor, you come, we talk,” we hear the future Don as a young man again and again in the streets of early 20th Century New York. Vito knew how to run a social business. Building relationships with the grocers, the street vendors, his neighbors—perhaps the original Dale Carnegie, our Vito knows how to win friends and influence people.

 The Corleone Brand Delivered Excellent Experiences

But Vito knows it’s not just about cultivating awareness. The Corleone brand is undeniably about building strong relationships by meeting expectations and over-delivering in surprising ways. When a widow from the neighborhood petitions him to speak to her landlord and overturn an eviction, Corleone not only delivers, but also gets her rent lowered by $10 a month. When his business partners are squeezed by Don Fanucci, the Black Hand, Vito offers to get Fanucci to back down. Not only does he again deliver, he disposes of the Black Hand entirely, significantly changing the day-to-day experiences of not just his partners, but the entire neighborhood.

The Corleone Brand Essence:  Loyalty

The Corleone brand was built on a culture of service. With laser focus, Vito constantly considers the world from the customer point of view.  He doesn’t think about the expense of going out of his way to provide a service for the poor widow.  He takes on enormous risk by disposing of Fanucci to benefit the neighborhood.  He sees his actions an opportunity to build loyalty—to Vito, synonymous with brand equity.

And he’s right.  In Vito’s Little Italy years, we discover beautifully how loyalty becomes the Corleone brand essence and how magically it propels brand influence.

The Height of Corleone Brand Prowess

30 years on, Vito is still the essence of loyalty. In the opening scene of Part I, we meet Vito as he is petitioned by the local undertaker to do murder for vengeance. The Don asks the man why he should do this favor—the undertaker is not a Corleone customer and he’s offended the Don in the past.

In the end, Vito decides to do business with the undertaker because he’s in the habit of building relationships, building brand equity through loyalty. (Something that will come in very handy when he needs Sonny’s mutilated body cleaned up for the funeral.)  Vito seals the deal with Sicilian affection—a kiss, an embrace, reassurances that the requisite services will be provided.

Throughout both films, we hear the phrase again and again, “provide a service”.

The Corleone brand was built on a customer-centric, culture of service, grown from the heart of loyalty. In the mature full blossom of the Corleone brand, we then see Vito outside in the sunshine, enjoying the wedding party, smiling, dancing, mixing it up with his loyal customer base—his superfans.

Life is good for the Family.


Corleone Brand Erosion

But by the 1940s, the category has matured. The competitive landscape is fierce.  As power is transferred from the aging Vito to his eldest boy, Sonny, the Corleone brand goes adrift. Sonny is obsessed with power and stamping out the competition. His decidedly uncustomer-centric decisions are motivated by the promise of quick profit. Vito warns that Sonny’s interest in entering a new category—narcotics—will alienate their loyal customer base of politicians, judges, and police. Sonny doesn’t listen.

By the late 50s, Vito and Sonny are both dead. Younger son Michael is in now control and we see the great contrast between his and Vito’s brand stewardship. Markedly unsocial, Michael’s decisions are utterly centralized, informed through interaction with only with an anointed few from an ivory tower.  The few times we see him in public—at Anthony’s first communion party, in a Havana nightclub—he barely speaks and most certainly never smiles.

Michael Corleone’s key drivers are self-protection and dominance and this now becomes the Corleone projected brand image. He seems to have no relationships with his constituency.  In fact, he seems to have no relationships whatsoever.  His perspective on the subject of loyalty has become fully warped, centered on loyalty gotten, not given—encapsulated poignantly in the new Don Corleone’s order that his own brother, poor Fredo, is murdered.

In the final sequence of this great tragic story of the rise and fall of an iconic brand, we see Michael alone on the Tahoe estate, devoid of character, standing for nothing, remembering his early years.  We flash to a scene back in New York at the dinner table when a young Michael tells older brother Sonny that he’s enlisted in the army.

Sonny is furious and demands to know why. “I want to serve my country,” young Michael replies quietly.

Slow dissolve and we are back with middle-aged Michael in Nevada who for all his wealth and power is quite clearly an empty shell. We can’t help but wonder with him, “What would the Corleone brand be now if only the culture of service had been preserved?”

This blog originally appeared on the Lithium customer community.

Maxims from Social Media West

socializewestJust wrapped up my attendance of Socialize West, a nice little 2-day conference put together by The focus was Monetizing Social Media which is slightly out of my domain in my demand gen role with Lithium, but the subtitle Gamify, Mobilize, Optimize, Monetize captured my eye and I registered.

Two minutes in the door I felt right at home when I immediately met two Lithium customers, Firebelly who uses LSMM, and Vindicia who has a Lithium community. I thank the new ritual that’s propagating throughout social marketing conference culture to begin the show by being asked to “stand and shake the hands of your neighbors.” Just like church. It’s a great thing to do at a gathering.

“Now with the other hand, slap your neighbor across the face.”


“Yep. That’s the way most digital marketers greet their social customers—by saying hello and then slapping them with a virtual communications fire hose. We’ll be here for the next two days talking about how not to do that.“

Nice opener. Certainly got our attention. That was from conference MC Todd Tweed (@audiencemachine), our hugely energetic and thought provoking host. The keynotes were terrific. Michael Bassik, Managing Director and Chair of Burson-Marsteller, gave a great presentation on crisis management and dropped these memorable lines: “The only antidote to a crisis is to address it in a very public way.” “The worst thing you can do with social in a crisis is nothing”. Certainly made me think about the financial services crisis and how banks need to listen to and reach out to their advocates now more than ever. Or, institutions like PG&E who seems endlessly to struggle with the San Bruno disaster.

Day two of course all everyone could talk about was the fact that the first place we all went after our 2 (yes, count ‘em-2!) earthquakes the day before was Twitter. We got a wonderful presentation from Brains on Fire author Geno Church (@genochurch), who in his evangelism of “marketing movements vs. marketing campaigns” gave us these sound bites: “Campaigns employ a ‘bake it and they will come’ mentality; movements are an evolution of the spirit.” “Campaigns are all about us, us, us, listen to us (we marketers); movements are about the others that are talking about us.” “Be the fans of your fans, not the other way around.”

And I promise you Mr. Church was not in Lithium’s employ when he said, “movements happen when people share their passions” and “amazing things happen when you give up ownership”. That’s exactly what we tell our customers. Let your customers drive the conversation, share their passions and start a movement. Pretty soon you’ll have a brand nation—a vibrantly community full of passionate social customers.

Later in the day I ran into my old boss Matt Roche (@matthewroche) from Offermatica (now part of Adobe/Omiture) who’s reincarnated himself as the CEO of, an interesting new way to share web pages in personalized, permanent collections. In his optimization session, Matt reminded us that “consumption itself is a social act.”

I thought it an excellent proof point for the advice we social software providers and strategists often tell brands: “Don’t add social to your business; organize your business around social”. Consumption is a highly social thing. Geno reported earlier in the morning that 93% of us talk about brands face to face, in direct conversations with our friends, family, neighbors, teachers, co-workers … we are very social about our consumption habits already. All brands need to do is get in on the conversations that are already happening.

Lastly, I think I liked best this, again from Geno: “The future of your business should not be about technology. It should be about us—people.”

Thanks for a nice collection of marketing maxims from Socialize West and the folks at

What to Expect from Social Media? Ask Mr. Carnegie

social_media_expectationsThe Social Media Examiner recently published a post, 7 Social Media Truths You Can Ignore and still be Successful. In it, Rich Brooks deftly points out that Claim #1: Social Media Has Changed Everything is nothing more than hooey.

I thought I was the last one with a copy of Dale Carnegie’s seminal How to Win Friends and Influence People on my shelf, but apparently, Rich has one too. He reminds us that anyone who feels disappointed with their Twitter ROI is well to be reminded that Twitter is just social network—just like the one Dale cultivated way back in the 1930s—and that it’s purpose is to win friends and influence people, not change everything. Granted, online social networks operate at lightening speed. But fundamentally, what we call social media—Twitter, Facebook, forums, user groups and review sites—are just plain old social networks that happen to live online.

So what can we learn from the original social-networking-for-business thought leader? Carnegie’s theory about friends and influence is that if you concentrate first and foremost on their cultivation (as opposed to lead gen), the revenue will follow. He posits that the cultivation of friends and influence is a subtle art form unto itself. That although social networking for business is principally a business venture, to work properly it should be practiced outside the sales environment and operate according to social principles, not selling principles.

Of course, in today’s marketing arena, our executives demand much more than our testimony that, “it sure feels like the increase in business has something to do with my networking efforts.” Fortunately, digital marketing is nothing if not accountable and there are quite a few ways to skin the social media ROI cat.

Keeping a running tally of friends and influencers is one of them. Showing that you have increased both is another. The point being that social media has its own benefits and should have its own set of metrics which may or may not include customer acquisition and probably shouldn’t include setting the world on fire.

Social media is expedient, addressable and accountable, not game-changing. Social networking technology enables opportunity. We create it with smart social networking practices—Mr. Carnegie’s are especially recommended.

Paul Revere: The Original Key Influencer

paul_revereI caught an interesting documentary the other day suggesting that one of the key factors of success for the American Revolution was our networking ability. One thing the British hadn’t counted on: America’s ability to move information through the colonies at astonishing speed.

America, it seems, has been deeply networked since day one. Even with our colonial wings of communal will radically clipped living under British law, Americans consistently, methodically, routinely organize in groups. Powerless groups, really, who have little authority over anything—not British law, not taxes. Yet convene they do. To discuss “the concerns of the day”. To communicate, to network.

Since the first Representative Assembly in 1619 Jamestown to the first Committee of Safety in 1774 Massachusetts, America grew in tight networks—local committees who elect regional representatives who attend colonial assemblies. Veritably powerless under British law, but here, there and everywhere. Hugely connected.

Also importantly, colonial literacy was very high—the north especially enjoying nearly full literacy. Even in the less literate South, oratory and word of mouth communication was alive and fast. News of the Boston Tea party was printed, dispatched and common knowledge in every one of the thirteen colonies within days.

Contrary to popular folklore, when the British finally did arrive, what Paul Revere didn’t do was ride about shouting incessantly, “The British are coming!” What he did do was act as a key influencer. He used an existing network to tell the right people the right thing at the right time and very importantly, asked them them to tell more people. And, thanks to the Sons of Liberty, the network was already in place before the message was pushed through—a key ingredient of successful viral marketing. By the early morning, 40 or more riders were scattered across Middlesex County carrying news of the British invasion. And the rest, as they say, is history.

5 Key Ingredients for Your Facebook Page


Most marketers agree that a social media presence is a must have in today’s online marketplace, but they still struggle with how to define social media ROI. We continue to ask what a Facebook presence can do for the organization and, more importantly, our customers.

Social media marketing still is—and may perhaps be for some time yet—an emerging discipline. Yet our customers are only spending more and more time on Facebook and Twitter. Even if we haven’t got our arms around the social media landscape, it’s becoming increasingly important to be there now, today—reaching out to our customers through the social networks they care about and trust.

How to begin? What assets are needed to build a living Facebook fan page? What content should be flowed through Twitter? How often must I update, who should I follow and friend, and most importantly, what is it all for?

A good place to start is to ask yourself what your customers might want from your Facebook page. As always, your customers are your customers and you best know what they want and need. That said, there has emerged a fairly common set of ingredients that most Facebook fan, group and community pages do include and customers who spend a lot of time in social media are starting to expect.

Building a Facebook page with the following simple ingredients is a great place to start—but remember, your social media presence is a presence—a living, breathing thing that interacts, reacts and adapts over time. Launch your page with these fundamentals, tune in often, listen, interact and adapt the page over time as you start to better understand what your customers want and need from you on Facebook.

1. Customers. Social networking sites are all about building community. Customers first and foremost would like to see and hear from their fellow customers and group members on fan or community pages.

2. Employees. Facebook is a place for informal relationships to spark between your customers and employees. Rather than channeling customers through operational hierarchies like a customer service center, social media lets them interact freely and informally to exchange information and solve problems together. Your company employees—especially customer facing—should be a part of your Facebook presence.

3. Links. Here is the opportunity to declare the environs in which you operate—your, industry, your category and your niche. The links you post to your Facebook page should not only help define who you are to your customers, but also be useful to them. Link to your suppliers, major news stories affecting your industry, influential bloggers in your niche, your own web pages declaring your green practices.

4. Relevant, meaningful content. As social media is all about “the conversation”, alas, there are precious little pixels on Facebook pages devoted to permanent content. Posts you make to the Wall scroll away into oblivion before you know it—the bigger and more active the community, the faster it happens. Community platform provider Lithium will soon announce a light integration that allows you to store, organize and curate Facebook page content. It’s a great way to give your customers quick access to product information, FAQs and community-based customer support right inside your fan page.

5. Openness. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of relinquishing control of the conversation when connecting with customers through social media. If they sense they are being manipulated, marketed to or corralled in any way, you will lose them. Although the social media landscape remains slightly murky, one thing we can say with confidence is that those companies who embrace it as a place to listen and learn fare much better than those who try to use it to control and convert. And those that do listen and learn are proclaiming that the value of connecting with customers through social media goes far beyond increased conversion.

Social Media Marketing is About Quality, Not Quantity

social_media_qualityCame across this interesting take on the value of traffic brought in by a mention in a popular blog like TechCrunch. Apparently, social media consultants Simply Zesty don’t think the over 400 referrals, 70 new RSS subscribers or 30 new Facebook friends was terribly impressive after their TechCrunch mention the other day.

But for many web-properties—especially B2B companies—those numbers are very real and quite actionable. How long would it take your biz dev guy to run down all those 30 Facebook profiles and what do you bet he’ll uncover a few sales prospects?

The thing about those 70 RSS subscribers is that they aren’t just hits, they’re new additions to your marketing database. Every repeat visit is another touchpoint, another chance to build a customer relationship.

Sure, these aren’t the greatest numbers for behemoth marketers like Coca-cola or Amazon, but for many, many online marketers, forging a place for your company in social media isn’t just “me too” marketing anymore. If you’ve got the right business savvy to make use of what’s out there, social media can yield some real gems.

Social Media Marketing Best Practice: Add Value

add_valueWhat I like about marketing through social media is that it forces marketers to remember their marketing fundamentals. Find a gap and fill it. Add value.

In 75 years of broadcast media, the function of the marketer has moved away from adding value and toward 1.) making an impression with brand marketing, and/or 2.) moving inventory with direct marketing. Even product marketers, tasked with guiding product evolution are often wholly removed from the market, spending most of their time with development time lines instead of customers.

In all of the examples above, the mission of the marketer revolves around the product. In the social media marketplace, the mission of the marketer revolves around the market. Social media marketing forces us to ask ourselves, how can I add value to the marketplace? How can I connect my customer base so that it becomes its own customer support network? What complaints do my customers have, why do they have them and how can I fix their problems? What product features does the marketplace wish I offered? In pursuit of the answers to these questions, marketers add value to the marketplace.

Len Kendall says it nicely here in Marketing Profs Daily Fix. The bottom of the article gives a few dos and don’ts about social media marketing which first and foremost revolve around adding value.