Writing Your Own Gettysburg Address

Seven score and ten years ago, Abraham Lincoln uttered ten sentences at the site of the Gettysburg battlefield. Lincoln, who was feeling weak and ill at the time, agreed to give “a few appropriate remarks” before the main address. His brief speech reshaped the rhetoric of our country, solidified the Union’s stance and serves, to this day, as a reminder to the nation about its foundational ideas.

The effectiveness of a few words from an ill, thin man at the site of a remote battlefield, proves a few things:

1. Words matter. 2. Branding matters.

The degree to which the speech mattered is best captured during Lincoln’s eulogy. Senator Charles Sumner said Lincoln was mistaken that “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here.” Sumner said, “The world noted at once what he said, and will never cease to remember it. The battle itself was less important than the speech.” The few words he said (which you can read in full here) helped to make the founding of the country, the Constitution and the founders themselves relevant to a present struggle.

Today is our Independence Day. It is set aside as a day to remember our forefathers – our nation’s birth. And that is certainly cause for celebration. However, in light of President Lincoln’s enduring address, there is perhaps something yet more significant that you, a creative and thoughtful person, can do. And that is to write your own Gettysburg address – for your company.

I do not suggest this exercise as an attempt to be cute. The practice of narrowing down, in just a few words, what matters most about who you are and what you do is crucial to the survival of your brand. If it worked as a way to hold together a young nation during a Civil War, then surely it can be enough to bind your company. So this weekend, between lighting Roman candles and burning twenty kinds of pork on the grill, sit with these questions that are meant to be prompts in creating your Gettysburg address:

      1. When and on what principles was your business founded?
      2. What is it that you are facing today that is a new challenge?
      3. What seems so insurmountable about it?
      4. Who is it that will help to lead you out of this struggle?
      5. What are the ways that the founding principles of your company can apply or help lead you over the challenge?

If you answer these in a straightforward way, you will have at least a beginning. Trying to match Lincoln’s eloquence (a man who studied Greek philosophy and read voraciously from the King James Bible) is not the aim. The goal is to make relevant the independence and uniqueness of your business and how that can be applied to your present day challenges.

That is called branding. And it matters.

Happy Fourth.

Note: In the spirit of good ol’ American competitiveness, you may also submit your Gettysburg Address. We will announce our winner on July 15. Up for grabs is a free lunch with Scott Kolbe.

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