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Showing posts from June, 2011

Battle of the Brands: Borders vs. Whole Foods

It is one of those beautiful, lazy summer days.The sky is so perfect it looks like a screensaver. Warm air. Slight breeze. Relaxed people walk up the little streets then back down again, always with something in hand. Some clutch mini-purses with loops for around the wrist. Others, iced coffee. Huge strollers with tiny babies. Everybody talking idly about nothing.Some of those happy people go into Borders. Not knowing that they’re about to be sucked into an airless tunnel. Where the experience rips the cheer out of all but the most resilient.Open the door. Immediately there are neon circles flashing some amount of percent off of this or that. A haphazardly placed black plastic basket holds discs of some sort and says “50% off.” Shelf signs promise, “buy 2 get 1 free.” Everywhere you look, low-low- prices. When it’s retail anyway so it starts out all marked up. If you stand still too long, you worry, they might put a price tag on you.Move toward the magazine section, scanning for “Peop…

Remembering "Transparency College"

Really good teachers influence us long after the class is over.My forthcoming book, a compilation of my best writings at the intersection of branding and social media, is called "Beyond Brand Transparency: How to Succeed In A Radically Different World." I gave it that title at the last minute. I didn't know where it came from, but it just seemed right. I registered it with the Copyright Office and then turned to update my list of publications. Wouldn't you know it. There on my list of books I had authored or edited was an online book called "Brand Transparency," written by Chris Macrae, a lead Advisory Board member at the Institute for Brand Leadership where I served as director from 2001-2003. (It's not online anymore...I am looking for it but haven't found it yet.) Here is the description from the created by another brand thinker,  Jack Yan, who participated in our branding discussions at that time: <<Macrae: Brand Transparency. Washington: Ins…

Marketing government to an ambivalent public

Every Saturday night my dad would take orders for T.'s Pizza. No sooner would he make havdala (the Jewish ceremony ending Sabbath) when I would hear his voice wafting up the stairs: "Who wants pizza?"Being a good dieting teenager I would always say, "No thank you." "Are you sure?" I would hear. "Yes, absolutely, I don't want to eat so late at night, especially after dinner." What is it with him, I would think. I don't want the damn pizza, why does he always ask? About an hour and a half later after attending the informal Jewish community meet-n-greet that was T.'s on a Saturday night, my dad would pop back in the back door with a humongous pizza in hand. Hu-mongous. Usually he also had falafels too.  The spicy hummus platter he would eat at T.'s, where he thought it was hilarious to continuously challenge the pizza shop owner to make it too hot to actually consume. "Ha-ha-ha," my dad would say, tears rolling down his face…

On the Facebook-ification of Government (Transparency Starts With Ourselves)

The other day I was walking to my car from Trader Joe's and saw a
woman loading their signature brown paper shopping bags into her car
trunk. (Fortunately for her the bags were not breaking in transit as
has happened to me, thus necessitating double-bagging every single
thing I buy there.) Anyway, she was bald. But some bits of hair were growing back in rough
fuzzy patches. She had gotten chemo. And unlike in years past, when women wore wigs
or scarves to cover up the telltale baldness, she just didn't bother. I thought to myself, that woman is beautiful. ~~~ Time doesn't change who we are or what we're interested in. My
dissertation was about bringing emotion back to mainstream culture,
when it had long been relegated to the world of talk shows and (in my
study) soap operas. I grew up watching Phil Donahue. Days of Our Lives. General Hospital.
Oprah Winfrey. And yes, I have to admit it, even the Jerry Springer
show. On the radio, Dr. Laura for sure, when I could catch her…

Diagnosing the system, then using success as a surgical scalpel

In yesterday's blog I wrote about the dilemma of personal change. Specifically, not being sure what to do when a personality trait both helps you and gets in your way. Essentially, you want to retain the benefit of the trait, while mitigating the downside, and that's not easy to do.In thinking about the "helps you" part I go back to this nice note a customer sent me. It was a thank you for "the professionalism, dedication and care that you and you staff have given to the marketing of (campaign). It has been and it is an honor and a privilege to work with you and the people in the Office of Public Affairs." It occurred to me that although sometimes we have creative differences about method, customers universally have found our office to be immediately responsive to their needs and very well able to grasp the nature of the challenges they face. My part of the effort has long been to take on their cause as a kind of crusade, helping them bust through the bureau…

How do you change a personality trait that helps you?

So we're talking at work about potential new projects for me and the subject of feedback comes up. Oh how I hate this conversation. Because on the one hand, you want to know what you're doing wrong, and on the other, you don't want to hear that you're doing anything wrong.Because that would make you flawed. Which feels bad. :-(Anyway, I am reflecting on the fact that my strengths are also my weaknesses. Which is so cliched that it's what you say in a job interview. Except for the fact that this is actually true. And it's like one of those computer loops where you want to fix a problem, but if you fix it you will ruin something else that is equally important.In a nutshell here's what I got: On the good side, I am a "wonder" because I blaze through problems like a Mack Truck. On the bad side, I tend to be a bit inflexible about believing that my solution is the right one.I couldn't really argue with any of it, although it hurts! Yes it does! to b…

10 Social Media Safety Tips for Government Employees

This is just a quick post - my opinions only, based on my personal experience - to warn other government employees to be cautious online. I recently received a tip that seems like it was intended to help law enforcement. I passed it on. And to that person, if you are reading this blog, THANK YOU for caring enough about public safety to send your tip forward. Next time though you may want to simply call 911 because I am not an official conduit for this stuff. Despite that situation being seemingly good, it also gave me pause. I don't go out there talking about my job - in fact I keep a significant distance from it online and constantly use disclaimers. Yet as we know from years of experience with social media, the audience controls the conversation and not the speaker. So as a government employee, one can be targeted for positive things (helping law enforcement) or negative ones (shudder). Here are some suggestions based on my own practices, thinking and reading to try and help others s…

Paying by the word is like a haircut at Shop-Rite

When I was little I got $5 haircuts at the grocery store.My mom used to take me. Toodling along we would go to a decrepit mini-strip mall housed on the inside of the big shopping plaza.The inside of the haircut place was painted aqua blue. Really cheap.The hairdressers used to put you into the hairwash chair and crane your neck way back.You’d stare up at the ceiling where they had falling-down taped pictures of the Bahamas or whatever.The lady would ask my mom, “How short?”And my mom would say, “Cut a few inches. I want to get my money’s worth.”I didn’t know any better than that the haircut was, shall we say, “wash-n-wear.” (Stop shuddering.)Other times I would get perms. It was the ‘80s. “The curlier the better.” (I have burned all those pictures.)Obviously the value of a haircut has little to do with how much you cut it. Instead it’s about the quality of the styling as aligned with your particular face.Just like you can pay $8.99 a pound for fresh grilled organic vegetables brushed …

Old: "Fear of Failure" ---> New: "Managed Risk"

A friend of mine is completely clueless about my job."I'm so stressed out," I told her the other day, just around the time when my stomach starts growling for dinner. "It's unbelievable." "You work for the government," she said matter-of-factly. "You sit around and shuffle papers all day. What could be so bad?"Other "govies," of all ages and tenures, understand intuitively what the stress is.In private industry, generally, you have too much to do. ("Employment at will.") In government, from what I've seen, you actually want to do MORE. Unfortunately, too often you can't because there are so many fears about 1) process 2) outcomes 3) blowback if something goes wrong.So you get excited about an idea or initiative...only to watch it die on the vine. Strangled by task forces, committees, "vetting," "socializing," Powerpoint briefings, routing, and on and on until you wish you'd never suggest…

Who are we writing for?

When I sit down in front of the computer, I imagine that I am telling a story to my mother. When corporate or agency communicators write, who are they talking to? It seems to me that everything we say and do ought to be geared toward the outside. Toward the public. Toward the generic "mom" who always could see the truth in plain terms. If the intended audience wouldn't want to read past the first sentence, throw the whole thing out and start again. It can be tough to negotiate with internal audiences, but an excellent end result is worth it. Good luck!

Leverage Your Employees’ Personal Brands for Mutual Benefit

You haven't lived until you've had an argument over "brand versus reputation."

A long time ago when I started working as a brand consultant I had this very discussion with somebody else in the firm.

It was their espoused philosophy that functionally, brand and reputation were the same, and that the language was easier for clients to swallow. Nobody wants to be stamped with a brand like a can of Pepsi.

I was an impractical idealist who belonged in a university and not a consultancy, and so I insisted very Talmudically that branding connoted all aspects of image while reputation was limited to only a few. Further, that a brand could be "negative," in a way, and still succeed. (Though reputation always matters.)

For some reason the disagreement took on proportions way beyond the issue itself. Because within the firm, my point of view represented a different philosophy - a different point of view - and it wasn't clear what they could do with it.

In the end we ca…

Transparency is more expedient than lying

The biggest fear people have about transparency is obvious: they'll be "found out." What they don't realize is that everybody around them can see the truth anyway. Transparency is not really about whether you've done something wrong, although it can be. Rather, and more importantly, it has to do with who you are as a person. Here is why. We live in an age where your identity is largely "constructed" (made up) rather than inherited like it used to be. Today, as long as you declare yourself to be something, nobody has the right to tell you different. Not to pass judgment - but to observe a significant social shift: --A man can declare himself a woman because s/he feels like one on the inside. --A person born into one religion can assume the identity of another, without converting. --A college student can declare themselves a CEO. --A homeschooled or online student can be awarded the same status as a student who attended a physical school. --No…

10 Suggestions for More Efficient Government

It's a rainy Monday morning here in D.C. and for some reason I am having all these heavy thoughts about the state of things.  Oh I know what it is...I spent too much time on the Fast Company "30 second MBA" page yesterday. Excellent.   Anyway, here goes: 1. Run it like a business - with a focus on financial return on investment. 2. Facilitate a healthy emotional environment through the expanded use of internal communication. 3. Use diversity as a strategic planning tool rather than just looking at it as a compliance exercise. 4. Incorporate training into work all the time. 5. Create programs to recruit members of the public who would not normally join government. 6. Bring advanced technology to bear on all jobs, and train people to use it. 7. Look at work in terms of projects rather than programs; train people in the art and science of project management. 8. Dismantle hierarchical organizational structures that impede innovation and change. 9. Reorganize along lines that make se…

5 Drinks for Dieters Who Hate Water

10 Trends I'm Watching Now

#1 - Survivalism - products, TV shows, clothes #2 - The word "badass," particularly applied to women #3 - Hand-to-hand combat as a recreational activity #4 - Monster-sized organic food stores #5 - Self-help, crowdsourcing, etc. #6 - Lunch trucks for office workers #7 - Home-delivered meals #8 - Parodies of the '00s #9 - Social media as mainstream media #10 - Entrepreneurship as a career path

7 Smart Tricks Brands Use To Make Us Spend (Wired, July 2011)

OK, let's review. Because I've seen a few thoughts recently about branding that I wanted to comment about. The last one is the subject of this post. I'll call the 5 things below "myths v. facts" even though the "facts" are really my opinion. If you disagree, tell me. 1. Myth: Companies have brands. Fact: Companies do not have brands. The companies are the brands. Those brands have other brands. The entire thing is called a brand portfolio. 2. Myth: Branding is about passion. Fact: The point of branding is not to stir passionate love or hatred. The point is to foster addiction to whatever it is you're pushing. 3. Myth: Branding is successful if you've built "buzz." Fact: Branding does not end with "buzz." It goes like this: 1) Awareness 2) Interest 3) Initial Purchase 4) Loyalty 5) Addiction 4. Myth: Brands compete with other brands. Fact: The competition is with yourself not others. The ideal compliment for a brand: "There&#…

Personal Branding: Advanced Shamelessness Required

Once we met a couple where the wife was Jewish and the husband Catholic. They looked, talked, and even gestured like identical twins. I tried not to ask the impolite question of whether they were actually related. (As a child I had read every single book in the popular novel series "Flowers in the Attic." Major plotline: brother and sister imprisoned by evil grandparents together eventually marry.) Of course I asked anyway. Not rudely but - well, OK - sort of. The wife smiled and responded, "Everybody says that. It's just that Jews and Catholics are remarkably similar." I threw my head back and laughed. She was right. Our two religions, two cultures, have one major thing in common: a pervasive sense of guilt. So yesterday I was watching CNN's coverage of the Tweeting Congressman's resignation. There was Dana Bash, solemnly taking the "he did the right thing by resigning" side. (Recall the Congressman calling her fellow interviewer a "…

Just Do Something

Some people are incessantly negative. "I can't..." "What a waste of time..." "That will never work..." And so on. It's almost like they think that success is unattainable. Either that: 1. It must be very easy to achieve - or 2. Inordinate effort against huge impossible challenges is always required. The absence of either one of these polar opposites (depending on the bias of the complainer) makes them snifflingly suspicious. The truth is that success is right in front of us all the time. It is only our own mental blocks that prevent us from seeing it, and seizing it. I remember when I programmed a QR code for the first time, at work. Nobody could believe it. "How the hell did you do that?" Like it was a magic trick. No magic, I just Googled "create QR code" and found a tool that worked. I showed a customer how it worked and he said, "You mean we're ALLOWED to do that?" I said "Uh-huh." He…

5 Signs You've Found Your Personal Brand

1. You are happy even when challenged, frustrated or broke 2. You can't believe people get paid to do this thing that you love 3. Your peers respect you 4. You feel empowered over your fate 5. You are endlessly interested in learning more

Social media as a social sickness

There was the cutest kid outside Starbucks the other day.It was sunset on a warm night. The lights outside were twinkling. Inside it was cool and quiet and empty. Wasn't on the computer, for once. Knapsack sat next to me on the floor. Collecting dust. I felt guilty. Instead we were watching the kid outrun his mother. The tiny toddler had huge blue eyes, bright curly blonde hair, and an infectious smile. He caught the audience's eye (those of us watching through the windowpane), looked at her, and took off running this way and that. The minute she swooped down to catch him, he would giggle and find some other escape route. I leaned forward on the counter, head in hands, blankly staring. It looked like a viral YouTube video. Like "Dancing Baby." "You're not going to work on the book? Or your teaching? Write a blog? You actually have five minutes to spare?" The question was half-serious and I started laughing. Awww, boo-hoo, I'm a workaholic who is more of a…