Washington D.C. is sometimes described as the city of monuments and mayhem. While these days the emphasis is certainly on the latter, it’s really the monuments that matter.
If you walk westward down the National Mall, eventually you’ll be greeted by a spectacular monument fashioned after a Greek temple. Dedicated to one of the nation’s greatest presidents, the Lincoln Memorial is a big, impressive statement.
But there is another monument nearby – one much more powerful. Nestled low in the trees just to the right is a mirror-finished, black stone wall that stretches 246 feet, nine inches. Etched into this wall in Optima typeface are the names of 58,272 Americans, including two members of my family, who were killed or listed as missing in action during the Vietnam War. Anyone who has ever been to the Vietnam Memorial will attest to the immensely powerful and emotive effect it has. No one has to explain it. You just get it – intrinsically, viscerally, absolutely.
But it almost didn’t exist.
Completed in 1982, the design for the monument was by a 21-year-old Yale architecture student named Maya Lin. Her design would become known as The Wall and was selected after a worldwide competition. There had never before been anything like it and it was not without prominent, vocal opponents who simply could not visualize the end result. Bowing to political pressure, the secretary of the interior initially refused to issue a building permit. But after a compromise was struck allowing a more traditional statue of three soldiers to be placed nearby, construction began and the wall was completed. Today, The Wall is one of the most visited memorials in the world and is considered a national treasure that has helped heal the wounds of a nation.
The thing about The Wall is the way it makes you feel. When you look at those names, you see your own reflection behind them looking back at you. It's as if an angel is touching your soul. Somehow the artist was able to create this powerful connection and turn a monument into a golden thread that connects us all.
That’s also the essence of all good communications.
Whether it's branding a company, a product or a person, a good communicator will find a golden thread and use it to weave a narrative. It's much easier said than done and comes only after an exhaustive journey of discovery. It's a process that takes time, talent and treasure. But when done right, it leaves a lasting impression. You just get it– intrinsically, viscerally, absolutely. As with The Wall, you know you're successful when no one has to explain it.