The “Defense” Sector: Wall Street doesn’t Understand You

Is it time for a “Science and Environment” sector?

Earth Space ScienceWall Street does not understand America’s so-called “Defense” sector. That’s a problem, especially with a new economic plan coming.

Here’s the issue: Wall Street lumps firms such as Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT), Northrup Grumman (NYSE: NOC) and Raytheon (NYSE: RTN) into two words: Defense sector. The business media, including CNBC and CNN, adopt the lingo. Yet, these firms are far bigger than a two-word, Wall Street label. They do so much more. They pioneer programs benefiting earth and space science, information technology, energy and the environment. They are the stuff of “gee-whiz” value.

So, in a nutshell, this is a leadership moment. It is a time to revisit your “positioning” and reputation management. When your company is unable to position itself appropriately, it may fail a brand “promise.” Failed brand promises can risk damaging relationships. With customers and employees. Why? For one reason, we may not fully understand you. Can I connect in a meaningful way with a company boxed in by narrow Wall Street jargon? Answer: I may not connect, and I may not invest. Plus, jargon is a difficult cage to be trapped in — especially when it does not capture the true role these “Defense” firms bring society. And, really, jargon is difficult to like. Jargon is useful for insiders, but a burden to the rest of us. A put off. Wall Street’s “Defense”-sector jargon is like walking into a brick wall. That’s a bump in the face no one needs. I say, “Wall Street…take down that brick wall.” Re-position how these firms are “labeled-sectored.” Question: “Is your company positioned to attract the greatest value?”

When it comes to your firm’s position in the marketplace, at hand is the possibility of increased credibility with key stakeholders. Put another way, you and I need clarity, not confusion, about a company’s brand and operations. Right now, in our “Defense” sector, I see potential for confusion. These companies are also critical to global science solutions. But can they expand that conversation with us? Can they be both crystal clear on their vital defense services, yet not cause confusion about their large place in science, health, the environment and our lives? Absolutely. Positioning science can be difficult, but no one said that meaningful endeavors are easy. So, let’s look at the clarity issue.

Look, enterprises such as Lockheed Martin represent far more than “Defense.” Management, among the most sophisticated in the world, knows it. Employees know it. Customers know it. Reputation-management opportunities must be seized. That’s called leadership. Just because Wall Street lumps you in the “Defense sector” is not a pass to ignore a compelling moment to position operations more fully. Shoot, did you know that some of these firm’s are IT wizards in ways that would make Silicon Valley jealous?

I know, I know, it may be easier to default to key messaging these enterprises around “what they’ve always been,” aerospace and defense. Why change now? One reason is credibility. Important roles, such as leading-edge science and environmentalism, might be missed, viewed as “in addition to” the traditional roles. Viewed as “we are missiles and rockets…but, yes, we are responsible, too.” That, however, short-thrifts a larger picture. An opening for a global dialogue about your place in the future of our planet. Your role is huge. The dialogue about it is available. It’s an opening for a new connection with “us.” It’s an imperative. This dialogue is not about segmenting messaging; it’s about growing your messaging. And the words “Defense sector” are a swing-and-a-miss on your real role.

In Wall Street business terms, the problem is simple: how can the world’s investors truly understand the future value of your firms if you are boxed into two words? Answer: they can’t. And let’s be blunt, the words “Defense sector” sound so “non-Green” — on top of failing to capture your larger behavior in our society’s future. You are leading-edge science, technology and climate-vital green.

The reality is that these firms pioneer some of the most advanced, climate-friendly environmental and science programs of our time. Want to know the world’s carbon footprint over time? These are your go-to firms. I doubt the investing community knows that. So the time is now: these firms can energize a deeper, more overarching brand positioning strategy that includes “the rest of us.” Hey, we’re interested, anyway.

But how? They can start by communicating more about the benefits of their rocket launches, satellites and advanced technology in a cohesive-thrust to a larger message of science for the greater good. They can imagine what will excite the next generation. Will the story be, “We launch new rockets?” Or is it, “Join us and change the world?”

From now on, when you hear of these companies, picture satellites needed to monitor our environment and the “weather” in space. Imagine world-class scientists and engineers inventing clean technology so advanced that what they do in labs today…will be widely used by future generations. Think of exploring our atmosphere, near-Earth space environments and other planets. Tell me about collecting information important to climate forecasting and sound environmental policy-making, and used by marine, meteorological, aviation, power generation, agriculture and other interests. This is what the so-called “Defense sector” really does for main street. But you wouldn’t know it from Wall Street.

It is time to embrace the reality that there are companies with exciting roles in shaping climate science, policies and practices…and we need to hear more from them.

I know that the breadth and depth of these firms is almost overwhelming. I understand how it can feel like too much for the lay public to grasp, much less its representatives. But I’ve worked with these companies, and earned support for their programs. The scope of these programs and expertise is out-of-this-Earth, literally. Which is exactly why people are hungry to know what these firms are doing and how our monies are spent. These firms employ what I call the “curiosity-driven.” Put simply, if you can think of something neat and needed, they are probably already well into researching or doing “it.”

Why not broaden the brand then and bring more people into the discussion? With that, I return to positioning and Wall Street. Is your firm positioned to attract the value you deserve? In short, are “Defense sector” firms whistling past potential investors because their overall market value is boxed in the old-school jargon of Wall Street and its ways of the past? My take: “Yes.”

If so, why miss a leadership moment to step up your positioning? The world is hungry for business leadership. Employees, communities, elected officials, investors. We want it. This is the dialogue CNBC’s Jane Wells started on the business program FastMoney after we compared thoughts.

Bottom Line:
The next time you hear the words “Defense Sector” — stop in your tracks. Instead, picture:  “Science, Space, Earth, Environment.”

Whatever one thinks of “Defense” sector-policy decisions, know this: the firms in this sector’s “basket” — are in on our big challenges, collecting vital information and advancing solutions important to addressing societal issues valued by you, me and our children.

Find that positioning and passion about the “Defense sector” on Wall Street. You can’t. Wall Street doesn’t get it. In fact, Wall Street bundles many of the world-class companies in this sector in a single ETF (NYSE: ITA). Two words bundled in one basket.

From now on, when you hear those two words, experience four words: “Science, Space, Earth, Environment.” Together, these words describe our future. A new economic plan will involve this future, these firms, their science. Take notice.

It’s time for a “Science and Environment sector.”

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