Yes, the title sounds strange, but bear with me. Recent cinematic releases have rekindled our interest in Nordic mythology, and there is a parallel in our universe of marketing and branding.
The classic Codex Regius, written in the 13th century, detailed Old Norse mythology, and one of the collections of old poems, the Poetic Edda, mentioned Nidhogg and Yggdrasil.
In Nordic mythology, Nidhogg (anglicized), which means “malice striker”, was an evil serpent which sucked the blood from the slain, and gnawed at the roots of Yggdrasil (anglicized), the “world ash tree”, which was where the the Norse god Odin hanged from, to learn the wisdom of the worlds.
Everywhere we turn, in some events of our own lives and our careers, we could symbolize our journeys as Yggdrasil, the world tree, while some Nidhogg would gnaw at our roots as we attempt to grow and to build our lives, our careers, or our brands.
Just recently, a close friend encountered a case of a journalist presenting a story idea, and then when pressed further, revealed that he really had some other agenda in mind, and that the story was never going to be anywhere near the idea he first claimed. In short, by sleight of mouth, he really wanted to corner someone to get to angle the story in a manner that would do nobody good except perhaps, a flashy headline.
Journalism today is no longer like the golden decades of old, where reporting simply means researching meticulously and carefully all the facts, and then presenting the facts in an order of words that the reader would be educated and enlightened. Many of us who ply the trade at one point or another have admired our elders and seniors ascend to these heights of nobility, and looked at them with awe and respect. Some of these greats still exist today, unwavering in their pursuit of the most exacting journalism, and the highest ideals of humane integrity.
Unfortunately, profits prevail today, and no company seems to be exempt from an accountability to profits, especially if they are accountable to many investors or stakeholders. The increasingly compressed timeline to some kind of return on investments (ROI), also means that everyone along the workflow will become pressured and sometimes compromised.
I am an idealist and a little autistic perhaps, and I never seem to give up on my optimism that people are inherently good and that they are simply distracted along the way, through no innate hardcore malice to begin with.
But leaving the humanity aside, if we are caretakers of brands and campaigns, what can we do to fend off the Nidhogg from whatever Yggdrasil we are trying to build?
1. Defend. When we think of defense, we tend to think of martial arts or lawsuits. However, the humane defense in building up our brands and campaigns is really about fostering the widest and deepest social communities and influencers we can have. The more allies we bond with, the greater the social influence of our brands, and it would give us more strength in defending against naysayers or worse, intruders in word or action.
2. Strengthen. When we think of strengthening, let us not simply think of hard shells and armor, or firewalling. In ancient history, fortified buildings like castles could be breached by cunning enemies much more easily than many generals and kings thought. Therefore, the best strength comes from within, and we need to muster all our strengths without our own organizations, to allow the permeation of strength for all of us within our organizations. No one should be our weakest link. Therefore, in the case of public communication, everyone within an organization is a spokesperson potentially, and everyone should therefore be prepared preemptively to know how best to handle enquiries, customer complaints, media questions, stakeholder discussions, and so on. Not everyone is a technical or subject matter expert, nor is expected to be. But everyone must be on the same page to know who to direct questions and enquiries to, how best to mediate and handle onslaughts, and how best to work as a collaborative team. Remember the Spartans, who trained their soldiers when they were mere 7 year old boys under the Agoge system.
3. Defuse. There will always be some people or entities who would find ways to gnaw at our roots like the evil Nidhogg serpent. There will be those who gnaw at us from plain sight. There will be those who gnaw at us hidden from view, whether from the outside, or even from within. On top of strengthening our organization pervasively and collaboratively, and to build on a community we can rely on, we should also find ways to defuse such threats of these serpents, not by retaliation, but by humane diplomacy. After all, in my optimism, I do believe sometimes even the worst attackers are really just hard-pressed by the demands of others, and may merely be the reluctant pawns on a larger chess game. Kindness often goes a long way, even if never overtly accepted or appreciated.
In the epic battles we confront every day in meaningfully gaining ground in our branding campaigns, we often begin to realize that we must steep our roots deep into the ground, be unwavering in our fortitude and courage, and to sprout forth the many fruits of our labors, through the blessings of nature through its nourishing sun, rain and earth, while we also fend off the pests off our ever-budding tree of life. Aquila non captat muscas.