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Showing posts from May, 2011

Free Speech Is Most Important When Your Reputation Is Threatened

I'm afraid of dogs. Especially big dogs. Especially when they bark.One time we were looking at a house to buy. There were four dogs in there. Barking like crazy. We ran out like hell, and my older one couldn't be within a mile of a dog for years after. Five years later we went to a friend's house for barbeque. Another big damn dog. Loud as can be. I let it jump around me and tried to look happy (straining). Frozen with terror, I forced myself to relax. I had heard that when you tense up, the dog does too. I was freaking petrified. (Remember Rooney, the principal in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" when he confronts the dog in the kitchen and it takes him down? Yeah, that's what I'm talking about)
Eventually I learned that dogs are not necessarily dangerous. With a few exceptions. Including when they are backed into a corner or think you are going to re-enact a previous attack.
So I was worrying about the wrong thing.
It's not how big the dog is at all.
Rather…

Obsessing about the competition blinds you to opportunity: The case of Burger King

Been watching those Burger King commercials lately. You know these. They compare themselves to McDonald's again. BK's positioned as broiled and fresh, Mickey D's as fried and factory-like.Yawn. There is nothing more boring than a brand that feels inadequate. I read an article the other day about Burger King's current business difficulties. It's been on my mind. They've been around so long, they have so much money, can't they get an idea? Then it occurred to me: They are obsessed with the competition. They're egotistical. They can't step back and think outside the box (oh G-d, I hate that phrase, but it is really appropriate here.) If they could open their minds for five seconds they would realize that burgers are not their business at all. It's not McDonald's, either. For Five Guys it is. McDonald's is in the business of feeding families cheaply. It defines Americana, even though it's a global brand too. In that way it's in the same &…

The 10 Commandments of Retail

Just my own opinion. Thou shalt: 1. Organize the store 2. Have fun interactive displays 3. Display abundance 4. Give a percentage of profit to charity 5. Smilingly accept returns Thou shalt not: 1. Confuse the customer 2. Abuse the staff 3. Make it hard for the disabled to get in 4. Mislead on prices 5. Profit from exploited labor or crime in the supply chain

Does talking about a problem make it your fault?

Learning to walk requires falling.I don't know of any brand, any marketing plan, any communication effort that was perfect right from the start. Every initiative has problems.  But somehow we have this false idea that "as long as we ignore it, the problem doesn't exist." Total denial is a survival mechanism we have inherited from past generations. When the only way to cope with the ravages of abuse, crime, and poverty was to pretend they weren't happening. Remember those TV shows of the 1950s? They were both comforting and frightening at the same time. Because they portrayed a world where nothing was wrong. Even as there was quite a bit of unrest under the surface. This isn't going to be a long post. I just want to express a basic idea. Talking about a problem doesn't mean that you created it. It doesn't make it your fault. It makes you a friend. If you see something wrong, it's your duty to say something. Constructively. Appropriately.  In communication and…

Zach Galifianakis, bringing the elites back down to Earth

Have you noticed how hard it is to keep up nowadays? No matter what you do, it seems you're never smart enough, emotionally intelligent enough, informed enough, rich enough, influential enough, have a good enough job, technologically literate enough, a good enough parent, attractive enough, thin enough, feminine or masculine enough, youthful enough, a good enough cook, even religious enough.  They might as well title every book and magazine article, "How to do everything better." (Actually, they do...more or less.) To make matters worse, the simplest tasks have become impossible. Because we live in a complicated, litigious society where every single activity is the subject of a possible dispute and/or part of a vast mechanized system that has to keep track of what's going on. Which leaves the average person feeling sort of scr***d and helpless. This matters for brands of every kind, including government-as-a-brand. Because it's the job of a brand to help cut through t…

When Fixing Goes Too Far

I come from a family of fixers of impossible situations.My grandparents had six kids and no money.As my aunt S. later put it, “We were so poor we couldn’t afford the ‘o’ and the ‘r.’”My grandmother (of blessed memory - may she rest in peace), Muriel Garfinkel, made entire meals out of the “can-can” sale at Shop-Rite. Peas and mushrooms with black pepper and brown sugar, in a cast-iron skillet, on an old stove. (Best. Peas and mushrooms. Ever.) From the way she fed the kids and the grandkids, you would never know they were living on any kind of budget.Grandma and Grandpa were realtors. They started that business after a fire burnt their store to the ground. They picked themselves up and started over.Fast forward…one of my aunts got married, had a kid, then found out she was pregnant with quadruplets. Doctor said, don’t get up – don’t move – or you’ll jeopardize the pregnancy. She could have stayed in bed the whole time. But the three-year-old needed her. So she emptied the living room …

The Manager's Role: From "Forcer" to Facilitator

It seems to me that most people have an old-fashioned view of what a manager does: Force lazy people to do their work.

Maybe we needed managers to do that in the past, when the Industrial Revolution left people stuck in factories where the work was miserable. In cubes in large bureaucracies where you largely did what you were told and didn't ask questions.

That doesn't work at all in the modern office.

Now, people are actually self-motivated.

They don't need a manager to tell them what to do.

They need a manager to open the doors that are otherwise closed to them.

Doors of irrationality, of incomprehensible process, of politics, of turf battles, of culture wars, of unreasonable demands made by people at all levels of the organization.

Doors that, left the way they are, make it impossible to do your job.

The role of the manager is light years away from the leader, in this formulation.

The leader says, "I want this to happen. Make it so!" (A la Patrick Stewart in Star Trek…

Digital ignorance and the society of abundance

"The fit disciple is not led by desire, anger, ignorance, and fear."  - Buddha


In 2003 I joined the federal government as an internal communications specialist. 
While I was there, the agency was going through a period of transition. (That's always happening, but this was a heightened change phase - a reorg.)
During that time, I had occasion to hear the chief of staff at that agency speak about how to effectively manage human capital during a transition or any time. He said, roughly paraphrasing:
"Most people think that sharing information is like giving away slices of their apple pie. But that's not true. The more you share, the more the pie simply expands."
Truer words were never spoken. Most people are afraid of letting go of "their" information. The logic runs roughly like this:
1. If I share information, I lose information.
2. If I lose information, I lose power, because now nobody needs me.
3. If nobody needs me, I will get fired and somebody else wi…

Brand Worship as Idol Worship

"We refuse to be bystanders, even if we do not know exactly where our actions will lead." - Howard Schultz, CEO, Starbucks, in his book "Onward"

I was not the most studious kid in yeshiva. But I remember the Biblical story of Abraham and the idols well.
If you're not familiar with it, here's a summary of the story, which comes from the Jewish text Midrash Bereishit 38:13:
In Abraham's day, people worshipped idols - physical representations of G-dly power. His father was in the idol business (let's put aside for now the contradiction of manufacturing the things you worship.)
One day Abraham's father went away and left Abraham in charge of the idol store. Big mistake as Abraham thought the whole idea of idolatry was ridiculous.
A woman comes in one day and asks him to offer a basket of bread "to the gods." Then he really gets fed up.
Abraham handed the bread to the idols all right. But not before he broke them all to pieces, except one, then g…

To find a solution, correctly identify the problem

Yesterday's speech by President Obama about peace in the Middle East generated a lot of commentary. A lot of thinking.
(See video of "The Sticker Song" by Hadag Nahash- a popular song from Israel poking fun at the prevalence of "bumper sticker" simplistic ideology.)
Anyway, after yesterday, I was definitely thinking, a lot. Actually my brain hurts from trying to "solve" this problem in my mind. It's like the Rubik's Cube of dilemmas...get one part of the puzzle right and the rest looks like a big mess.
There are notes all over the table here. Let me tackle one of them in this post: on the importance of understanding the problem.

If you correctly understand what is wrong, you can fix it.
If you don't understand, or if you lie to yourself or to others, you obviously can't.

I am a Jewish-American, and a U.S. government employee, but despite the inevitable biases that come from these perspectives I do think I understand the problem of the Middl…

Communication metrics and the fallacy of instant gratification

Example #1: From the intro to a discussion I "lurked" online (paraphrasing):"I can't believe it. Been exercising 2 days now, and actually GAINED weight. Has this happened to anyone else?"#2: Roughly re-enacted question about communication campaign:"Where are the metrics on that message from this week? Has anybody pulled the WebTrends?"#3: Last but not least that old standby of any conversation about whether an issue is a big deal or not:"How many hits on that are there in the news results?"All of the above questions rest on a single assumption that is completely false:Every action provokes a reaction that you can measure instantaneously.Of course all of this is Hollywood's fault. And the fault of us marketers. Movies forward through the action, making it seem faster than it is in real-time. It is especially interesting to see how law enforcement and medical care are portrayed as swift processes when in real life they're actually usua…

10-Tip Grab Bag: Save Time, Save $, Have Fun, Boost Your Reputation

1. Make an Altoids mini-garden:Sounds stupid. Is not.Nobody has cube space. Everybody likes greenery. This is easy, cheap and fun. First seen on Lifehacker.
2. Avoid the ATM: Using new service from Paypal (Droid is new, iPhone has it already), snap photo of check, deposit to PayPal, then transfer to bank - all for free. Here's how.
3. Avoid distraction: Write in a quiet online environment; I like this one (I type, then cut/paste elsewhere); other choices here if you don't mind writing on reverse screen
4. Make a favorites list on YouTube: Keeps your music in one place and leads you to new songs like this one...you sort of have to give it a chance, and then it's great. I can't figure out most of the lyrics but what I can understand, I like.
5. Bring a bag of almonds to work: Munch them instead of regular food. Watch your bad cholesterol drop like mine did. Save money on overpriced, greasy fast food.
Oh I forgot...this is a blog about branding, reputation, communication, st…

Worker Abuse Destroys Your People, and Your Brand

"Do I have to be raped before someone does something?" - Housekeeper at University of Maryland-sponsored forum on worker mistreatment, May 10, 2011
People go through a lot of stuff at work. Unfortunately that list includes rampant intimidation and sexual abuse. No matter where you look, high or low, near or far, great brand or no-name, there it is. Just recently:
* International Monetary Fund:IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn arrested and charged with "sexual assault and attempted rape" 
* State of California: Former Calif. Governor Schwarzenegger fathered a child with his housekeeper.
* University of Maryland: Independent student newspaper covers town hall on sexual harassment and bullying of Spanish-speaking housekeepers.
Obviously abuse at work is not restricted to powerful males taking advantage of very un-powerful women.
A new study released in April 2011 showed that about 1 in 4 people, or 27 percent, report being bullied at work.
Not to mention the rampa…

Some people only have one idea.

Briefly: Market to the Elderly Like They're Young

I spend a lot of time with older people. And in every way except physically, they're young. I agree with the psychic Sylvia Browne: "Everyone is 30 years old in their own mind."
So not marketing to them, or not marketing well, is ageism. Shortsighted too. Marketers, normally with a healthy appetite for profit, are irrationally lacking in initiative here.
Think of how much money there is to be made on products for people who think like 30-year olds, but just can't do things physically like they used to.
I think it's our collective fear of growing old ourselves.
It's sad, because by marketing to older people as if they were young, we would actually be helping them. As well as ourselves.
There is a lot of money to be made here...if only we would open our minds.












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Photo by Liu Joey






How to Really Sell Technology (Hint: It's Not About Being Technical)

I decided I wanted a Kindle when I saw people using it on the train. They weren't using the Nook or the iPad. It was definitely a Kindle, with the Amazon logo. As you may know my idea of reading a book is flipping through the pages to get the "main idea." I think most books are a total waste of time. (Which should be an interesting revelation coming from someone in the process of writing one.) But the sight of that Kindle, over and over again, being used avidly by people of every age and demographic on the train - that made me want to buy it.
They could have saved themselves money on the TV commercials. I didn't really get why someone would read a Kindle on a hike. And if I were sitting by the pool, the last thing I would be thinking about is fighting the glare on the screen to read a novel. That all made absolutely no sense to me. Except for the part about the battery lasting one month - I did remember that and it is pretty cool. Is that true?
Sociological theory tell…