Perhaps more than any other movie in the last thirty years, none has been assimilated into the lexicon of mainstream popular culture as much as The Godfather (1972) and its epic sequel – The Godfather: Part II (1974).
The revered place that The Godfather occupies in the American psyche is a testament not only to the box-office revenues (1) it has earned or the numerous awards (2) it has won; rather, what distinguishes The Godfather from other popular movies is the extent to which its dialogue is quoted chapter and verse. Its wit and wisdom have become, for lack of a better term, a guidepost in our daily lives: “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse” became the de facto mantra for advertisers, late-night comedians, and wiseguy wannabes; “Leave the gun…take the cannoli” epitomized the moral ambiguities and necessities of everyday life; and Luca Brasi (Don Vito Corleone’s chief enforcer) is often invoked on MSNBC’s Hardball when host Chris Matthews takes issue with some heavy-handed tactics in the political arena.
Background and Theme of The Godfather.
The screenplays for each of The Godfather films were co-written by Francis Coppola, the film’s director, and Mario Puzo, the author of the best-selling novel. In their unique collaboration, they refashioned a story about gangsters and elevated it to the level of myth – a cinematic tour de force which has long been praised for its poignant and tragic portrait of the Corleone “crime” family and its insight into a brutally corrupt economic system that sows the seeds of the family’s inevitable downfall.
As Coppola himself has remarked, the parallel lives of Vito and Michael are a thinly disguised metaphor for America and American capitalism. Underlying this metaphor, however, is a contradiction, namely, that the ideals of opportunity and social mobility are undermined by the destructive realities of the capitalist system, i.e., the unbridled desire for profit and power. The family empire that Vito builds is one that Michael cannot preserve. It is fragile and impermanent — its loyalties based on the vagaries of business, not on the close-knit bonds of family and community. Michael’s yearning for acceptance and legitimacy, although sympathetically portrayed, remains largely unattainable.
Applying the Marketing Wisdom of The Godfather.
Although many articles have already made the obvious link between the wisdom of The Godfather and its applications to the wider business world, no one, to my knowledge, has specifically applied The Godfather’s system of beliefs and code of conduct to the world of marketing, branding, and competitive positioning.
There are many lessons to be learned: The marketplace in which companies go head to head is no less contentious, fierce, or profit-driven. The Barzinis, Tattaglias, and Sollozzos of the so-called legitimate business world are trying to expand their territory (read market share and mindshare); and the Hyman Roths and Johnny Olas, once your business allies, are now formidable competitors threatening to weaken your tenuous market position. They’re all playing to win, and want nothing more than to knock you off the shelf, as it were.
Instead of a battle of bullets, it’s a war of words and a jockeying of positions. It’s a world in which perception is power. Since sitting on the sidelines is not a viable option, you’ll either prevail (e.g., enjoy champagne cocktails in the mountains) or fail (e.g., find Khartoum’s head in your bed). There’s an old Sicil-icon Valley expression: you can either swim with the sharks or sleep with the fishes, but you can’t do both.
The distilled wisdom of The Godfather is a page taken right out of the marketer’s playbook. Successful marketing campaigns rely on persuasive attempts to achieve market dominance, cultivate customer loyalty, and convince prospects and customers to take immediate action. To be successful, you must articulate a clear vision, embrace a set of core values, and redefine the competition to your best advantage (without the accompanying murder and mayhem, of course). To remain successful, you must leverage your credibility, influence, and market intelligence in ways that make your competitors shudder in their shiny black shoes. Well, at least that’s the general idea.
First off, let’s make some key distinctions between the world of The Godfather and the commercial marketplace as we know it today. First, enemies will henceforth be referred to as competitors. Competition in your business world is with other companies and their products, not with individuals (“It’s business, not personal”). Secondly, no illegal or immoral tactics are glorified or condoned in this paper (“Blood is a big expense”). Finally, I apologize in advance for any pearls of marketing wisdom from The Godfather that may have escaped my attention (“Don’t overestimate the power of forgiveness”).
The Top 10 Rules of The Godfather.
This paper focuses on the top ten rules that embody the wisdom of The Godfather — rules that all competitive marketers and branding strategists should heed and follow. Each rule provides insight and direction designed to help you align your message, strengthen your position, and expand your brand. The rules are gleaned from actual quotes found in each Godfather movie, including The Godfather: Part III (1990) which, although not as critically acclaimed as the first two, deftly plays out the saga of Michael’s dashed dreams, operatic self-destruction, and ignominious defeat. In some cases, the same or similar quote appears in more than one film – giving it added thematic importance.
“Our ships must all sail in the same direction.”- Don Lucchesi to Michael (III)
Rule #1: Inspire Loyalty
Whoever first said “lead, follow, or get out of the way” must have been Sicilian. Maybe it originated with Cristóbal Colón who realized he didn’t have a chance of making it to the new world without a vision (finding a new trade route to India) backed by ample financing and a loyal crew. One cannot underestimate the importance of having a bold vision that moves and inspires others: it defines the very purpose of your organization, is a reflection of your culture and belief system, and serves as a barometer of the values shared by your key stakeholders. More importantly, a strong vision stands alone – independent of external factors such as market share, profit, or competitive climate. Since each of your stakeholders (e.g., customers, employees, prospects, management, investors, etc.) has a slightly different perspective, align your message appropriately in order to unite them under a single banner and a common mission. Engage their sensibility. Stretch their imagination. Invite them along for the ride of a lifetime. Finally, inspire their loyalty by focusing their hopes and aspirations on the “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” (BHAG) that guides them to the same distant horizon.
“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” – Clemenza to Rocco, after killing Paulie (I)
Rule #2: Make It Personal
The old adage still applies: Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. Your customer is the center of the universe, not your product. Don’t pay lip service…provide customer service. Sweeten the deal. Use a carrot rather than a stick. Go high touch, not high tech. Put a human face on your organization. Make your messages intimate and conversational, and use the magic word “YOU” with reckless abandon. Keep your promises and commitments so that it’s an advantage to become and remain your customer. One wonders whether PeopleSoft employees and customers will get enough cannoli to keep them satisfied in their extended Oracle family. Making it personal means conveying your passion and contagious enthusiasm, and letting your humanity shine through. After all, your goal is to build relationships, not sell widgets.
“Let us draw water from the well.” – Barzini to the other Dons, referring to Don Vito (I) and “Let me wet my beak a little” – Don Fanucci to young Vito (II)
Rule #3: Emphasize Solutions
Let’s face it, if you’re in business, you’re here to solve your customers’ problems. Become an indispensable resource and share the bounty. Communicate the benefits of doing business with your company, and find ways of contributing to their success. Tell your customers why they need your service now, and how you’re best equipped to produce measurable and positive results. Do everything in your power to make their job easier and give them peace of mind. Craft an overarching brand promise that your employees, customers, partners, and distributors can take to the bank. Fulfilling that promise means achieving consistency and delivering satisfaction. Make a real difference in the lives of your stakeholders and you’ll capture not only their business, but their loyalty.
“I want you to see what he’s got under his fingernails.” — Don Vito to Luca Brasi, referring to Sollozzo (I)
Rule #4: Play To Win
Who are your main competitors and what are their core strengths and weaknesses? What position do they own and occupy? How do you stack up? Is your main message cutting through the clutter? If you’re not sure, perhaps a little digging for market intelligence is in order. Since you’re competing for mindshare, it means uncovering your competitors’ vulnerabilities and exploiting them. It also means keeping score of your messages and making each one count. Beat your competitors at their own game or make them play by your rules. Competitive positioning is more than just putting a stake in the ground and claiming it in the name of Spain. What claims are your competitors making? Perhaps they’re on shakier ground than you think. Although you don’t need a Luca Brasi to do your bidding, it helps to have a team of reliable sharpshooters, or an automated strategic market intelligence solution, to monitor the impact and reach of your messages and the extent to which your competitors are making inroads where you are not. Get a grip on your main message, keep your eye on the ball, and swing for the fences. This is one of the few opportunities you have to focus on why you’re in business and what makes you a player in the business you’re in.
“Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”- Michael to Pentangeli (II)
Rule #5: Know Your Competitors
How well do you really know your competitors? What makes them tick? Can you anticipate their next move? To do so, you need to understand their motivations, needs, and intentions. Study your competitors. Learn and borrow from them. Redefine them to your best advantage. To compensate for your own weaknesses, build alliances and pursue friendly “co-opetiton” as part and parcel of a practical marketing strategy. You can find common ground with anyone, even the Fanuccis in your market space. There’s a strange symbiotic relationship that exists between adversaries (e.g., cops and criminals, political rivals, hosts and parasites, to name a few). In the world of business, positioning is relative and in a constant state of flux: Predators devour weaker prey (SBC/AT&T); some fish band together (Chevron/Texaco); some eat their own kind (Enron); and others migrate to warmer, more protective waters (MCI). The ones that adapt to their environment survive – and that means being able to strengthen one’s competitive position even in the face of overwhelming upheaval and opposition.