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Showing posts from March, 2014

Finding Your Calling, In Kickstarter & Life

"Hand Raised In Worship" by KOREphotos via Flickr
Imagine you want to start a business for customers who aren't buying anything except satisfaction. That is exactly the model for creative project crowdfunding site Kickstarter, which just reached the $1 billion mark in pledges.
Cofounder Yancey Strickler explained the motivation for participating in an interview with Charlie Rose for Bloomberg Businessweek. It's not about money, he said: "There is no financial upside to these things. It’s not an investment."
Well then what is it? In short, a calling:

"From the very beginning we decided—my co-founders and I—that we would never sell, never go public. We viewed Kickstarter as a public trust....a living, breathing cultural institution that’s there to represent the interests of everybody."

Any activity can be a calling. It can be your family, your job, your weekend hobby. It it is what gives your life meaning.
This week I took a project management class on a …

The Distraction

By Tognopop (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
There is a new baby in town. He cries day and night.

Somebody stays with that baby to feed him, rock him and sing him lullabies. To watch the sun dance across the lawn. To walk to the park and sit in the grass, just sitting.

In school there is a child that can't sit still in class. Lectures are boring - she's rather play video games and build rocket ships. A teacher adjusts her other lessons accordingly. "Suddenly" a scientist is born.

A couple moves in together, and there are all these little things to decide. Who will do which errand and when? How long can friends stay over? What are the limits of my money and yours? Where do we go on vacation? It's a dialogue over takes time.

A new employee shows up for orientation. She pulls up to the front door alongside a veteran of the company. She is greeted with balloons and brochures. 
He is greeted with...well, nothing.

It is 9:00 sharp as he sits down at…

The Hottest Content On The Web

Photo by Betsey Webb via Flickr

A kid asks, "What Is My Teacher's Problem With Me," and there are dozens of answers on Quora already.

Many of us are saying the same thing - she's an abusive person, stay away - but there is more to it than that.

The genuineness of the question, the detailed nature of its context, the story and the drama - this is real life and the audience is hooked.

It matters because the future of advertising is not advertising at all. It is community.

Community is very hard to infiltrate. It is by nature suspicious of outsiders.

But if you can somehow make your way through, the payback is huge.

What keeps this scenario from being mercenary is that the rules of social media are known.

That is, we go online to give and to get.

Sometimes the transaction is commercial. Sometimes it's social. Sometimes it's just a shoulder to cry on.

Often it's a mix of all three, or more.

But the fact that such incredibly compelling content exists in one place, makes …

Text & Context In The Struggle To Own Cultural Heritage Narrative

Meme via Buzzfeed (I could not locate the original meme at the location cited in BF)
I'm not as smart as I'd like to be. Often it's like I can see a glimmer of the meaning of a thing, but I can't figure it out all the way to the bottom.
That's the way it is with postcolonial theory, or with any kind of theory or 'ism. I don't understand all the details, the jargon and the arguments between the players. 
But I do see the big picture. I "get" that Whiteness is a "situated thing." And that Caucasian is not the default stance but rather one among many. 
I am so glad that in this generation we finally turn "normal" on its head. We find out that it's a spectrum, a fracturing, a rainbow carnival parade where each of us is a wholly valid representation of something singular and yes, Divine.
Situatedness is the idea of text and context. It's your picture inside a frame. Whoever makes the frame, in a sense makes the picture. 
If I look…

President Obama On Quora: Oy Vey

Screenshot of President Barack Obama's Quora profile accessed March 25, 2014
You can agree or disagree with the Affordable Care Act. (I personally think that few of us understand it.)

But there is little doubt that the President's incredibly powerful social media machine is pushing government-to-public engagement tactics to new heights of the stratosphere. Even when he makes some serious mistakes, as I will talk about in the case of Quora, he pushes the envelope for the rest of us.

But first a look at risk-taking and success. I think it was completely brilliant that the President took to Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis. It is so insane to do that, to be part of that incredibly rude, disrespectful and popular show. Phenomenal virality. Fearlessness.

But then the President went on Quora. He made a mistake not in using it, but in the way he did it. I've been on there for awhile and know the culture a little bit. Propaganda is a matter of disgust there, and the President&…

First Find The Trends, Then Inject The Content

Photo by Rachel James via Flickr
Today's Wall Street Journal has an incredibly important article, "Advertisers Use Social Media to Promote Brands in Real Time; Advertisers Watch What's Trending—and Craft Content to Match." 
Essentially, advertisers first go where the people are, i.e. they watch for what's trending. Then they produce content placing their brands in the center of the action.
This builds on already-established best practice:
1. Go where your customers are (don't force them to your website) 2. Declare who you are 3. Speak in their language 4. Follow cultural norms 5. Actually contribute something to the community 
This strategy is so smart and it's very much like how you network at a party. Go up to a group, find out what they're talking about, and then say something about that, working a mention of your brand in.
The analogy for me is sports. I will never understand the Super Bowl or March Madness, but I know enough to know that they could come in…

How 10 Mass-Market Brands Form A Personal Relationship With You

Screenshot of TV character "Barney" via
Here are 10 mass-market brands that grew over the past 10-20 years to communicate to a mass audience in a very personal way. They include: Barney, the '90s children's TV characterDisney, an entertainment empireThe Kardashians, the stars of a reality series currently on TVEminem, a rap singerMiley Cyrus, a singerApple, a consumer electronics vendorAmazon, an online vendorStarbucks, a coffee and related foods purveyorMcDonald's, a fast food sellerHarley-Davidson, a motorcycle gear sellerAs a general rule, these brands have employed the following kinds of tactics: Communicate using visual mediaGo for an authentic-seeming, even intimate, emotional connectionSpeak to a customer who is clearly envisionedDominate a single channel, e.g. in-store, on TV, or InstagramTell a story that evolvesKeep the elements simple, basic, and dramatic - for global appealReach the customer during formative years or during times of vulnera…

Which Way Is The Wind Blowing Again? 15 Social Media Trends Govies Need To Know

Photo by Mike Baird via Flickr
Many people think that social media is sort of easy, like, just send a Tweet out or write a blog and it's done.

The fact is it's so much more complicated than that. What works for one audience does not work for another. For example after five years I decided that I liked Facebook. My youngest kid, who introduced me to it, has now decided she hates it and uses other tools where the kids talk to each other and the parents cannot find them. No, not even Snapchat. There are these Q&A boards, and kids register, and then other kids can ask them anything they want.

It's complicated!

So how do we effectively reach and engage with our audiences using social media? Now, and in five years from now?

A presentation now on Slideshare has excellent information about the current trends. These are things I sort of vaguely knew about, but Eric T. Tung really has put them together in a neat and useful way.

Reviewing the 78 (yes, 78) slides, a lot of it is more pe…

Numbers Don't Matter. Only Numbers Matter.

Photo by Daniel Dionne via Flickr
The brand master understands the three basic rules of decision-making:

* It's about emotion not logic.
* It's preferable for things to feel good.
* It's painful to have to stop and think.

There are times when marketers use numbers objectively. For example, to bolster credibility. Or if they can get sued for saying an untruth.

The rest of the time, they are using numbers to tell a story. That story can be very close to reality. Or it can be a force-fit, designed to say what they want to say at any given moment.

You can think very broadly about what a "marketer" is. It's not always a brand manager at Procter & Gamble. Rather the marketer is anyone who must influence others, persuade them of the veracity of an idea.

I have very little faith in numbers. I know they can be twisted around and around. They are useful to compare to other numbers. But I always ask myself, who has an interest in putting these numbers forward? What is the c…

Crushing Mr. Roboto ("Serious Business People Do Not Feel")

Photo by Handmade Stuffs via Flickr
One of my favorite movies is Working Girl. I never fail to cry, rooting for good-hearted, hardworking, honest Melanie Griffith against the stuffy, scheming, not-too-original Sigourney Weaver. 
It is hard to pick my favorite scene. Is it where Sigourney gets her comeuppance, and she can't remember the idea she stole from Melanie that got her so much kudos? Or is it when Melanie gets her little lunchbox from Harrison Ford, who has packed her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to take to work?
Doesn't matter. The movie pointed up the importance of feelings. Melanie, Harrison and the other good characters in the movie represent the idea that you can't and shouldn't leave your heart and soul behind when you pull into the corporate parking lot.
Senior executives truly understand the concept of heart at work. But the people who work for them -- that is to say, the upper management ranks -- has a lot of trouble with it. They persist in defining …

The Next Frontier In Personal Branding: Rough Edges

Photo by cheesycheese01 via Flickr
Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the past 15 years at least, you have heard of the term "personal branding." (Here is the classic 1997 Fast Company article by Tom Peters.)
And then came Naomi Klein's No Logo in 1999. Branding was more important than counter-branding, but slowly a backlash built, fueled by the concept and technology of social media. And the online publication of The Cluetrain Manifesto in 2000.

Nowadays it is fashionable to be completely revolted at the thought of selling yourself like a product. The ultimate symbol of such understatement is the hoodie. Whether Mark Zuckerberg wears it or Eminem does, the message is the same: Why are you trying so hard? People who "force it" have nothing real to offer.

And so we talk about "authenticity." Authentic skills, authentic survival gear, bows and arrows, dystopia, The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy, Game of Thrones, Viking…

Three Posts Are Back Online Now

Over the past few weeks a few folks cautioned me that I should not speak so freely on my blog. I took the coward's route out and removed a couple of posts. But looking back at the content, I believe it is wrong to self-censor. I've put the posts back and changed the headlines slightly.

We cannot let the thought police get inside of our head: It is a free country and we are all entitled to our beliefs.

* All opinions my own. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

10 Factors That Undermine Women In Authority: Yeah, That Makes Me Mad

Photo by Gerard Stolk via Flickr
Things that get us tied up in knots:

1. Interactions demonstrating that men "naturally" hold authority -- at work, at home, at school. Men speak up, men write, men are the heroes in the movies, men act. We may SAY different things, but the messages come from what they WITNESS through interaction. For example, the media did not know what to do with Hilary Clinton as First Lady because she was clearly every bit as much the politician as Bill. However, they are very comfortable with Michelle Obama, because of her "feminine" role promoting nutrition. (Of course, both of these women will kick your ass.)
2. In school, children reinforce gender messages in ways large and small. Girls make fun of girls who aren't "feminine" (i.e. sexualized) and boys make fun of girls who are "bossy." Boys who are "sensitive" are targeted as well. Teens who have gender identities along the spectrum, whether gay, l…

Pat Benatar & "The Survivor's Club"

"Most men lead lives of quiet misery." - Henry David Thoreau
Recently I ran into an old acquaintance. She told me some stuff about her life that I did not know before. It was horrible and I wondered how she had endured it. And never a hint of self-pity or sorrow on her face. Always such a practical person, always bent on doing some kind of community project or the other.

On the way back I was doing the errands and again, I saw someone I recognized. Not exactly an acquaintance, not really a friend, but a familiar face and we've exchanged pleasant conversation several times. This person too has suffered unbelievable pain in her life. But she didn't refer to it this time. I just hugged her. Because I just did.

As a kid I had a manner about me. I really used to piss people off. Especially people in authority. I suppose I was the spiritual child of Emma Goldman, the anarchist and activist who emigrated to the U.S. from Russia. Emma knew what the all-powerful state could do, …

One Team, One Principle, One Fight, One Brand

Photo by Thelmage Group via Flickr "What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man.  That is the whole Torah; the rest is just commentary. Go and study it." - Rabbi HillelFor the past few months, with the help of several business interns, I've been mapping out success metrics at work. We are very close to understanding the full alignment between work goals, management goals, office goals, agency goals, and a larger and very intricate functional analysis we've done as an agency.

Seven months into this new management position, the picture is finally coming together. And I am starting to see how the pieces fit together both on paper and in terms of the larger culture. But the whole thing has made me realize that success is not only about putting goals on paper. It is about finding the essential principle according to which the organization operates. That is what one needs to carry out every day.

For my agency, The National Archives, that principle is making Amer…

What Is A Brand, If Not Your Logo?

Photo by Timewinder via Flickr
This week a few people shared with me how they got into government. More often than not it was accidental. It was the same with me. I did not plan to be here, and yet it's been more than a decade.

Nobody likes their job all the time. And it may seem odd that an "out of the box" person would be happy working inside the box.

So why do I like it here, in the federal government that is? Why do I stay?

The answer has to do with brand. Not logo. Brand. And these are two very different things.

A brand is nothing more or less than experience. It's that feeling you get when you go to Starbucks and that "whoosh" hits you, a time-out. It's the solicitousness of the customer service staff at Nordstrom. It's that happy-welcome-smiley thing they do at Disney.

When a lot of people experience the same kind of treatment from a particular vendor, and they are willing to pay extra money to get that treatment, then we say that the vendor has a …

The Thought Police...They Live Inside Of My Head

Photo by Kashklick via Flickr
The difference between diplomacy and political correctness?

A diplomat thinks freely, but chooses their words carefully.

The politically correct think only what they are told to think, say what they are told to say, fearful of any idea outside their little box.

The diplomat conveys meaning clearly and with a full appreciation of the complexity of the circumstances. This person does not run or hide from the truth. They simply do not find it useful to be confrontational about it all the time.

The diplomat is a strategic communicator.

The politically correct do not fully understand what it is that they say, and cannot defend it either. They are ideologues rather than full of ideas. The ideology must hold together, or they themselves collapse.

When you challenge a diplomat, they simply smile quietly, and say "Fine." And they might respond, or they might wait another day to have the conversation.

The politically correct get very angry, and it's personal.…

The Bad Advice Feds Get About Branding

The best advice is simple advice:

To build a great brand, oversimplify the story.

Federal agencies shoot themselves in the foot (and are shot there) by the bad advice they get and by their confused way of thinking about branding.

For example The Washington Post recently ran a story called "Building A Brand For Your Federal Agency." They interviewed the Partnership for Public Service rather than a brand consultant for this piece, which is inexplicable to me. And got this definition of a brand:

“The essence of who you are, who you want to be and how you want people—in this case potential job seekers—to view you.”

Huh? How does this even line up? Is the brand the current reality (who I am), the desired reality (who I want to be) or the image I want, which may or may not be the desired reality (how I want to be viewed).

Listening to this, most people would be completely confused as to what it means or how to implement it.

In fact, defining a brand is very contentious even for brand exp…

Healing Time

Photo by gALLIxSEE Media via Flickr
How does your family handle fighting?
When I was growing up we used to not speak to each other for days at a time, even weeks. That's right, not speak.
We would argue, hash it out, and then you'd think it would be over. But no. The fight would hang on in the air, forever it seemed, until we had all forgotten about it and moved on.
Conflict never feels good. Emotional conflict hurts as badly as a fistfight, maybe worse. There is literally no way to rip that pain out of your gut.
Organizations are like families on a hugely compounded scale. They are comprised of individuals, who walk in self-protective tribes, organized in units, cross-pollinating with other folks like-minded and less so. 
In a sense we are ecosystems, and at times we collide with one another like atoms as we bounce around the walls. There's no avoiding it.
But there are ways to handle conflict that are more mature than my family of origin. Over time I am learning them. They feel…

Gathering The Courage To Speak Your Truth

Photo by sk8geek via Flickr
Someone once told me that she used to speak to her dolls growing up.

"Every time I opened my mouth, they told me to shut up," she said of her family. "I knew that my dolls would listen to me at the very least."

I remember how amazing it was to watch Oprah on TV. In my home, my school, my little community we did not talk openly about anything controversial. If there was a problem, the response was "shhh."

But Oprah was the most courageous human being I had ever seen. She actually was able to talk about it. Her pain, the pain of others...she got the world to open up and realize that emotions are real and that the pain waits for you.

I remember her saying that over and over. You can run, you can hide, you can deny, but the pain waits. You have to deal with it.

In graduate school and beyond I studied the pain of the organization. I really liked marketing a lot, in fact I love branding as many of you who know me know. But I kept on gett…

They're Just Not That Into You (The Employees, That Is)

Image of "He's Just Not That Into You" movie poster via Your Entertainment Now
Coinciding with my umpteenth viewing of He's Just Not That Into You, I watched the episode of Sex and the City where Carrie and Jack Berger break up.

It is a little-known fact that Berger, in character, is the driving force behind that movie. On one of the episodes of SATC, Carrie's friend Miranda asks for a post-date analysis. Jack says simply:

"He's just not that into you."

The remark spurred a self-help book that then spurred the movie.

It's an odd thing. Hollywood characters spend endless amounts of time deconstructing their actual and potential love interests. They try different things to see what works, dropping behaviors that don't work and adopting new ones. This is the entire premise of both the movie and the TV show.

But in real life, companies don't have this attitude toward their employees - at least not yet.

They say that employee morale is important, bu…

Sarah Palin, Considered As A Political Brand

Photo via Wikipedia
I remember when they said Hillary Clinton was a "shrew."
And Michele Obama was "angry."
But stereotypes and labels dissolve in the face of reality. We know from lived experience over many years that Hilary Clinton is a gifted stateswoman. That Michelle Obama is passionately committed to causes that lift us all. That the anger is not flimsy but righteous.
Sarah Palin, too, has not allowed sexist putdowns to define her. She is the manifestation of what I studied and wrote about in my dissertation: "cultural feminism." This is the "Legally Blond" model of empowerment --  the embrace of traditional gender qualities. 
(Hillary Clinton embodies liberal feminism, the idea that men and women should be viewed as functionally the same. Michelle Obama, represents radical feminism or the idea that sexism/racism/classism is built into the system and so the system must be fundamentally rebuilt.)
From the perspective of brand, what people remembe…