Thursday, July 31, 2014

Brand Leadership Is Not A Compliance Exercise

So yesterday a question came up about brand guidelines. Does anyone have examples, and if so can they share.
There are about a million examples. But they don't necessarily help you build a brand.

The critical first step, and what most organizations can't really cope with, is to think. Just stop, reflect, stop checking the iPhone for a minute, and make decisions that not everyone is going to like.

These are the questions that need to be asked. They are leadership questions, because where the ship is headed decides what color you paint the ship with and what you name it:
  • What are we good at? To the point where we are better than anybody else? 
  • What are we passionate about and why? 
  • Can we narrow that down to a very fine point? 
  • Can we make it distinct from anybody "comparable?"
  • Why is our offering relevant to the public?
  • Is it so important that they're willing to pay?
  • Are we a group of decent human beings, with values that support the rest of what we do?
Branding is surgery. At a very minimum, you cut out the cancer so the rest of the organism can live:
  • Are we ready to stop doing certain things and start doing others?
  • How about promoting people we aren't comfortable with, and letting others go who we are?
  • Are we willing to hire people with technical expertise we can't understand?
  • Are we willing to put different people in charge?
  • Will we confront and control toxic behaviors among the staff?
As a consultant I always wanted to do this stuff, and so did everybody else in the group.

But the customers always wanted guidelines, and pretty templates and graphics and fonts.

It is a lot easier after all to frame a poster with an asinine ad inside of it, than to really drill down and unearth the discomforts that pretty pictures paper over.

* All opinions my own.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Everything Good Is A "Bad Idea"

Love is improbable and often fails. But we seek it out anyway. Over and over again.

Children are love of a different kind; you invest with no serious hope of return. Rather, you do it for the giving.

Careers for passion are low-paying, insecure and can leave you working at two jobs instead of one. But enough of us choose that route because it feels right.

Many people give their lives and limbs for a cause.

Why are we so "irrational?" Economic theory would posit that self-aggrandizement makes more sense.

Because life is just too painful to bear when we death-walk through it, a bunch of fancy zombies in business suits.

The only thing that matters is alive. The only thing that makes alive is inconvenient meaning. 

Everything else - not worth getting up out of bed.

The "zombie" life is so incredibly unappealing. Even when you give it your all, nobody wants to be there.

The meaningful life is inconvenient. It's also real and feels good. It's where normal people want to be. And they spend their time and money where the meaning is at.

As consumers and as employees.

* All opinions my own.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Personal Branding As A Moral Enterprise

When I started out as a brand consultant one of the most important mantras I heard was "Your brand is your promise." (The other was, "You have a brand whether you like it or not.")

In the commercial world, branding is clearly an activity undertaken for financial gain. Companies portray an image, hope to pay less for the image than what you take away from it, and pocket the difference between the two.

Personal branding is different. It is commonly thought of as your professional image, e.g. that you make yourself seem competent, confident - the kind of person someone would want to hire for their work skills.

That is part of it. But there's also a personal integrity part, and that part is much more important. If your apple is rotten at the core then nobody wants to do business with you.

All of us say that we are moral people. But our actions speak to whether we deliver. The consistency (or lack thereof) determines our brand.

If you look at personal branding as a moral enterprise, the terrain regarding brand-building becomes extraordinarily complex, sensitive and challenging. Not because most adults require guidance - most of us can tell right from wrong. But because we know that saying and doing are two completely different things.

So I think of branding as a spiritual thing. It is not easy or convenient. It may even be a career-limiting move. But it does feel good to be the kind of person you'd want to have working for you, if you had to check their references.

* All opinions my own.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Brand Leadership: Focus, Focus, Focus - Then Focus Some More

"Without focus, it is impossible to build a brand." - Al Ries

The other day on LinkedIn, Al Ries shared the simple statement above.

Ries, along with David Aaker, David Ogilvy and Walter Landor is one of the "founding fathers" of modern branding. What sets him apart is how accessible and common-sense his writing is. It seemed to me he wouldn't waste words. So it was striking that after so many years he found such a seemingly obvious statement worth repeating.

It struck me to ask Ries and others, what makes brands lose focus? I wanted to hear what others had to say, not only as a semi-academic but also because I've got one particular brand - Israel - on the brain.

Thirty years ago everybody had a certain basic respect for the Jewish homeland. Its image was captured in Raid on Entebbe (1977), a true story on an elite group of commandos who saved a plane full of Jews taken hostage in Uganda.

Israel's brand as portrayed in the movie was highly focused: Jewish survival.

It was personified by the Israeli soldier. He (it's a gendered persona) had five key personality clusters, or characteristics:

  • Patriotic, passionate, dedicated - a believer in the cause
  • Strong, brave, courageous - walked through the fear, did not run away from it
  • Nimble, adaptable, ingenious - could handle any situation, including being outgunned
  • Self-sacrificing for the team - not just humble but willing to die
  • Skilled, smart, quick to learn - intelligent and capable
The distinguishing factor of Israel can be captured in the post-Holocaust slogan: "Never again." 

We will not be as sheep to the slaughter anymore.

The head of the Israeli special assault team in that movie, Yoni Netanyahu, was also the only Israeli soldier killed in the operation. He was lionized as a hero - but today his younger brother, Benjamin Netanyahu, the country's current Prime Minister, is widely reviled in the media.

It seems to me that Israel as a nation-brand has severely lost its focus. 

In his answer to my question, Ries said that the #1 reason brands lose focus is that they seek to expand. That made a lot of sense to me.

Israel started out as a program with a very limited scope: Establish a state in the historical Jewish homeland that would enable this tiny nation to survive. Everyone was on board with that.

Over time, the same internecine hatreds that have always torn the Jews apart also had their impact on Israel. Religious infighting and political disputation abound, to the point where some Israelis even question the basic right of Israel to self-defense. Its tourism campaigns talk about the beaches. It boasts of high-tech industry and has adopted so many Western ways. 

But all of this gets away from what's core or essential to the brand: Its Jewishness, its celebration of Jewish diversity in the context of a struggle for survival.

Unless and until Israel gets back to its brand roots, I fear its brand will continue to suffer.

* All opinions my own.

5 Key Points About Government Branding Now

* Originally posted by me on DigitalGov, July 25, 2014

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking (in my own capacity) before the Council for Inspectors General for Integrity and Efficiency Public Affairs Officers (CIGIE-PAO) task force about branding.

The invitation came by way of a colleague I greatly respect. Bridget Serchak is currently Chief of Public Affairs for the Department of Defense Inspector General and the group’s co-founder. She explained to me that the purpose of the CIGIE PAO is “to try to raise awareness of the role and function of IGs across government so that all federal employees in particular, but also our Hill constituencies and good government groups understand what IGs do and don’t do.”

I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to say to a bunch of inspectors general representatives about branding. Frankly I was a bit worried they would think that branding was essentially useless propaganda and that it didn’t belong in government at all. But they were very kind and we had a great conversation around some of the issues that government communicators face right now, and how branding can potentially help.

Some highlights from the talk are now on YouTube (see playlist). Here is a brief summary, in priority order:
  • Branding is a legitimate government activity. When I started working in government, branding was not well-understood. Even the simpler and more basic idea that communication should be engaging was largely minimized if not ignored altogether. Over the past decade people have come to understand that branding is not only necessary for government but critical. You have to put money in the “trust bank” first, establishing a positive and distinct reputation for trustworthiness and a particular set of values. This is not the same thing as doing your job and explaining your mission—it is something more.
  • Most people do not have a clear understanding of branding is, even if they’re experts. Put in simple terms, your brand is your image. It is not only what you say, but rather the result of an ongoing interplay, or dynamic, between your output and the response you get from the public. The government says something, people react, and the public makes up its mind. Then the cycle begins again, over and over because the brand is always evolving. The distinction between government branding and branding in the private sector is that government branding always comes down to trust, whereas private sector branding is essentially about making a profit. (The latter is not a bad thing, it’s just a distinction. We talked about the concept that your brand is not your mission but rather the reputational qualities that set you apart. One person joked that the brand of the FBI must therefore be “seriousness.” This is not very far from the truth: If you are the FBI you want people to take you seriously when you show up at the door. It was interesting that the building where I spoke, the HHS OIG, also housed the VOA and there were posters depicting VOA employees and their unique qualities near the cafeteria. Somebody at the VOA’s communications shop or agency really gets it.
  • Narrowing down your audience is critical if you’re going to be successful. If brand is an interplay between what I say, how you respond and what the public then thinks, understanding the “you” becomes a key aspect of building the brand. This is what confuses a lot of people: They equate the people who are passionately engaged with the brand with those who form an opinion later on, normally based on experts, journalists, bloggers, and other people who respond to the agency’s official communications. (One way to think of it is that influencers are an “Audience” with a big “A,” versus the general public would be an “audience” with a small “a.”) After some discussion, the group identified four major audiences, including agency employees, who ideally need to cooperate in order for the IG to do its job well; members of the public who are particularly interested in the agency’s mission; Congress; and of course the general public, not just nationally but internationally. Another point that came up, in the context of Congress in particular, was the issue of money—that your audience is going to be tied to those who control the purse strings. This is not a bad thing, but rather a reality that must be considered: Your job is to tell the story accurately and well in a way that would set you over and above a competitor who purports to do exactly the same thing.
  • Most agencies neglect the most important focus of branding activity: the employee. One attendee commented that the head of the agency has a major impact on its brand. There was general agreement that when agency leadership changes, not only does the brand change by default but sometimes the leader intentionally does away with the signature efforts of the previous executive. Thinking about the effect of the human being on the agency’s brand image, we also had general consensus that agencies tend to ignore the critical importance of their employees in shaping the way the public thinks of them. Every time someone deals with a federal employee, they reflect on the experience and form an image of the brand; or they tell somebody else about it, discussion ensues and a decision is made about what kind of place the agency is.
  • In contrast to the private sector, agencies tend to be far too preoccupied with internal politics and not preoccupied enough with what the public is saying about them. If failing to invest in employees-as-brand-builders is one critical mistake agencies make when it comes to their image, ignoring external feedback is another. In the private sector, we frequently see that companies are highly concerned about even something so seemingly insignificant as a negative Tweet. Yet in the government, over the past decade my impression has been that there is much more emphasis placed on internal squabbling and politics than on staying in touch with what the public is experiencing and saying to us. It was perhaps fitting that Sarah Kaczmarek, Digital Communications Manager at the GAO, spoke before I did because she gave a talk on metrics that would enable any agency to objectively review how their public affairs efforts are faring and then to fine-tune what they do in response.
Overall it was a beautiful day in Washington, D.C., and I really appreciated the opportunity to get to know the CIGIE PAO task force. They’re a great group and I hope they share the lessons they are learning with the larger federal and professional communications community.

Dannielle Blumenthal is the Director of Digital Engagement for the Office of Innovation at The National Archives. All opinions in this piece were her own and don’t reflect the views of her agency.

Friday, July 25, 2014

How The Jew-Haters Won The War

Disclaimer: The following is a fictional allegory meant to humanize the impossible dilemma that Israel finds itself in. I find it necessary to write this because, unfortunately, the level of Israel- and Jew-hating rhetoric has escalated to such a point that worldwide demonstrators are now saying things like "Kill the Jews." I must speak up against this dangerous spike in anti-Semitism and call it what it really is.  

So please do not read this and say I'm in favor of illegal gun use or vigilante justice - I am not. Like you, I hate violence and bloodshed, though I do support the Constitutional right to bear arms and understand the importance of being able to defend yourself when necessary. And of course, like everyone else I recognize that every country, organization and person is capable of making mistakes - including Israel. I just don't believe the country should pay with its life for doing so, nor do I think that anybody has a good answer to the situation she finds herself in right now.

- Dannielle Blumenthal
Imagine you're a single mother living in a dangerous part of Chicago. 

You've moved back to your childhood home, where your family is. You've fled your ex-boyfriend, who used to beat you up, but when you left he said he'd come for you and kill you one of these days. 

The kids lay in their beds at night and you're shivering with fear; you can't buy enough deadbolts to make you feel safe.

One night you come home and he's standing right there outside your door. With ten of his friends, and moving boxes. They're moving in next door, all of them. They're the apartments right next to yours.

He's smiling.

You think about going to the police. But your boyfriend is pretty good friends with someone on the force. In fact, his brother is a policeman himself. He hangs out with the guys at night and shoots pool.

Maybe you could go to Legal Aid, since there isn't a lawyer who would take your case. You're broke, for one thing. And for another - what has your boyfriend done to you? 

Nothing...that you can prove.

One day you see a guy with a truck parked at the side of an alley. The back doors are hanging open. "Hey lady," he says. "Get yourself some protection, for only a hundred dollars."

Your heart is pounding in fear thinking either way you are dead. You think about your children and how they would be orphaned after he kills you. How your ex will likely get custody, then turn on them once he's gotten rid of you.

And you pick up the smooth, heavy black gun and put it in your purse, hoping never to use it. It stays in your kitchen drawer, unless you're going to work and then you've got it always within reach.

Not three months later your boyfriend jumps you in that same alley where you bought the gun in the first place. He says, "let's talk," and then one of his buddies lunges forward and starts to twist your arm behind you.

You know where all of this is headed - body and soul destroyed. Nobody is coming out there to save your life.

You pull the gun out, aim and shoot.

At the trial, your ex-boyfriend has a really good lawyer. Because he's friends with all kinds of people, including people with money, and they know what to say and how to say it just to land you in the slammer.

"She's an animal, your Honor, I swear it!" your ex-boyfriend says. "I was minding my business and she just jumped up and attacked me."

"But, but..." you try to say. 

"Pipe down," says the judge.

"Keep quiet," says your lawyer, someone from the court. "You're in enough trouble already. After all, you are the one who pulled the trigger."

"She's abusive," your ex-boyfriend says, "and that gun right there only proves it. She tried to jump me, she already stole my kids and my money, and thank goodness you were there to help."

You're sitting there, mute and helpless. Everything you say really does amount to dirt.

"Wait, your Honor, I'll show you," your ex-boyfriend says. And he produces a picture of you, bloody and tearing out your hair as if you were a madwoman.

Isn't that.... you think. Wasn't I....

And then you remember. Those were pictures he took of you when you got drunk one night, when you were still together and on vacation. He's somehow doctored them, and you didn't save any pictures and can't make any case to the contrary.

* * * 

It's 10 years later and you're out of jail. Your kids are grown up and they barely know you. 

There's that dead feeling in your head, behind your eyes, and meanwhile your ex-boyfriend has gone on and married another lady. 

Has two new kids besides.

Everybody loves and respects him. But you're written up in the newspaper. 

You're that crazy lady that attacked some guy in the alley. You're an oppressor, a colonizer and a bully who only wanted 500 square feet of safety within which to raise her trembling kids. 

* All opinions my own.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Finding Strength Inside The Furnace

I never understood how Jews retained faith after the Holocaust. 

My thinking was: Why would you believe in a G-d that abandons you?

I have made my peace with religion: I know that I don't know what I don't know. 

I accept that bad things come from G-d, who makes us aware when we are off the path. That the Holocaust had to do with that, - and I will never really understand or "know" more than that.

And now the world is exploding in anti-Semitism, again. What do we do? Run and hide? Apologize to the world for existing?

No way. No way, not today, no how. We've had enough of bowing and scraping.

My Facebook feed alone is alive with emotion: anger and fear over anti-Semitism. Sadness at the loss of life. Rage at the injustice of it all, not just events but how Israel and Jews are portrayed. A dogged hope for the life and the State of Israel.

The kids absorb all this. My daughter said today, I won't be hateful. Because if I hate them like they hate us, then they've won.

I don't want to be hateful, either. So far so good on that - I actually feel sorrow for all the victims of this tragedy and only a cold eyes fury at its perpetrators, the terrorists.

But I think about how the Holocaust seems to be starting all over again - just look at France - and there are so many people just egging it on, and I get furious.

Something else is happening as well. It's like a slow-moving tectonic plate. I am becoming unwilling to live my life in fear - it is just too great a burden.

This isn't the same as being an arrogant asshole, mind you. Been there, done that way too much and I regret being such a fool.

It has to do with losing the self-hatred, the shame, the fear that comes from being born into a post-Holocaust family. With a mentality of worrying all the time about whether people will look at you and see someone who was part of that group - you know, that group - starved, tortured, raped and beaten, and very efficiently too.

It is also about absorbing the fact that all of us are subject to the Divine. And only the Creator - that's it. (My personal belief - I totally respect that many others see things differently.)

From that perspective I am aware of the importance of simply doing what is right, without excessive analysis and deliberation. 

I see increasingly that life is about living with moral clarity. The knowledge that there is a right and a wrong. The belief that you were given a conscience solely to be guided by G-d.

* All opinions my own.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Thursday, July 17, 2014

How James Heller Became President

He is not a real President of course. But as I watched the "24" season finale I learned much about what makes a person the kind of leader people would give their lives for.

Heller is not a technical expert. He's not a military guy. He isn't aggressive. In fact he's losing his mind to Alzheimer's. But he has the people's loyalty anyway. Here's why:

1) He delegates.

Heller does not pretend to know Jack Bauer's tradecraft (the ins and outs of being a one-man SWAT team). He isn't military. He doesn't know computers. He trusts people to do their jobs.

2) He doesn't play favorites.

His chief of staff was married to his daughter. But when he confessed to an unforgivable crime, Heller had him arrested for treason.

3) He knows when to cede power.

When Bauer does well he gives him unlimited authority, to the point where he allows Jack to overrule him at one point - it doesn't matter if Heller is the president, Jack knows what to do and must be listened to.

4) He makes difficult decisions in a timely manner.

On the show China mistakenly believes that America has attacked it. He begs China not to retaliate. But he doesn't dilly-dally over a response, emphasizing that if China does do that, "We will fight."

5) He collaborates genuinely.

Heller works with the Prime Minister of England to catch the terrorists, giving him full access to America's intelligence even when this makes the military nervous.

6) He has his priorities in order.

Heller knows that he is going to be shamed when the Alzheimer's takes over. But that is not his main concern. He focuses on taking care of his country and his daughter.

7) He is concerned without being controlling.

He asks his daughter how her marriage is going in a way that suggests he knows something is wrong. But he doesn't push her to talk about it if she doesn't want to.

8) He is engaged.

In every scene, Heller is in the situation room, in front of the monitor, asking questions. He may not know everything but he shows that it's important enough for him to try.

9) He shows the appropriate range of emotion - in front of his staff.

When Heller is surprised that the terrorist Chang is alive and not dead, he shows the surprise and doesn't pretend that he knew it already. When his chief of staff forges his signature to get Jack killed, he shows anger. And when he gets the news of his daughter's death, he stumbles and faints in agony.

10) He throws himself under the bus rather than others.

Heller goes to a football stadium prepared to get blown up rather than have innocent civilians die in a terrorist attack.

* All opinions my own.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Aren't We Friends?

One of the most unethical things a person can do is pretend to be friends with another person, just to use them, gain unfair advantage, or even stab them in the back.

But it happens all the time - it's accepted - and it's even considered a career skill: "professional networking," "climbing the ladder," "learning how to play the political game."

I am fascinated and repulsed by this behavior. Fascinated because it's a skill, it works and it's tempting to want to know how to do it. Repulsed because it's morally totally wrong.

Of course manipulating people's emotions is not a new tactic.

  • In war it is called the "Trojan Horse" strategy, i.e. we come to your city bearing gifts and then once the gates are open, the arsenal of weapons is unleashed.
  • "Honeypots" are a tried-and-true espionage strategy involving the use of attractive women to elicit intelligence secrets.

People who should know better are gullible - heck I have always been gullible as hell - because they have an inherent need to be loved, accepted, and connected.
  • The need for connection is why people will always rather sit alone on a hard chair in Starbucks all day, when they could just as well sit with "no one" at home, because there are other people around.
  • A classic 1959 study by psychologist Harry Harlow showed that monkeys would rather have a fake cloth "mother" that hugs them, over a bare-wire surrogate that actually gives them milk. Monkeys left isolated for long periods actually mutilated themselves in agony.
  • In 2014, widely published research discussed the finding that people will voluntarily administer themselves electroshock rather than be forced to stop, disconnect themselves from their various brain-immersion devices, and just think.
In particular, they say "misery loves company" and people will always try to occupy a shared experience in whatever situation they find themselves - yes, even when facing death in a concentration camp.

It's hard to admit that you are a gullible person. But not admitting it hurts a lot more. It blinds you to the obvious where a better strategy would be to look at people's motives head-on.

* All opinions my own.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Who's Afraid of Performance Management?

I've been in a couple of federal agencies where performance management was a hot topic and every manager was afraid to touch it for fear of a grievance.

I've been in meetings where the discussion focused on "rooting out the dead wood," and I said, what about recognizing the good wood and I got the look like, come on Dannielle, we all know that poor performance is the problem.

And the opposite, there were those meetings where everybody focused on how bad criticism is by nature, how it hurts morale and how bad employees would feel if they got an actual one in their performance evaluation.

This is not one agency this is at least two, three if you count benignly ignoring poor performance and giving virtually everyone performance awards. It's four if you count the one where I inadvertently found out someone did something really bad, reported it and there was no obvious consequence other than I was outed as something of a troublemaker.

And then there's the private sector where the new fad is "holacracy," as in "hola" to managers not having to manage because peer groups take care of it for them. That's Zappos; let's not forget Whole Foods where the co-CEO lets employees run the stores (as long as the employees earn far less and he keeps making a profit) and also wants to have "sleepovers" so that corporate staff can be more like friends.

I have had lots of bosses in my life. Some have benignly let me do whatever I wanted, and I've flourished. Others have been unfairly harsh. Still others have been rigorous about telling me what I'm doing wrong, and praising me (more rarely) when I get it right. Those are the managers I want to work for - the people I want to please - because I know that when I get an actual good rating it means something.

In the end you've got to look yourself in the mirror and respect what you see in the reflection. As a manager or supervisor you owe it to people to give them real feedback and not set up ways to avoid it. As an employee you deserve to get the truth as your supervisor sees it and not mush. And both parties should be grown up enough to engage in respectful dialogue, celebrating victories while admitting mistakes and avoiding excuses.

* All opinions my own.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Controlling Your Brand In A World Of Brand Anarchy

Here's an overview of the evolution from brand infancy to sophistication:

  • Stage 1 - Mark of authenticity - a thing is what it says it is; trusted products and services
  • Stage 2 - Relevant differentiation - my brand is more relevant than yours
  • Stage 3 - An integrated experience across "touchpoints"
  • Stage 4 - Person = brand; emotional labor is more important than physical labor; and/or you are always self-employed, building your own separate professional image
  • Stage 5 - Social media integrates with branding - the studied effort to appear "authentic"
Underpinning the above are the following three disciplines:

  • Brand architecture - where and how brand names are applied (corporate brand, house of brands, brand endorsement)
  • Brand operationalization - making the brand the center of the business - always asking "how will this affect the brand?"
  • Brand internalization - employees as brand drivers - empowering the staff to act 
The above presupposes that a brand can be owned. Someone intentionally creates a brand - it's "theirs." But it is common knowledge nowadays that the concept of "brand ownership" is squishy at best. This is due to:
  • Copycatters: No sooner do you innovate than they steal your idea and make another one just like it - well, almost.
  • Conversationalists: They bring other people in to opine on your brand, some of whom understand it and some of whom don't, but your ability to control the narrative is lost in the process
  • Curators: They like your brand so much they contribute to it on social media, adding this, subtracting that, until it looks completely different than you meant it to.
  • Hijackers: Commenting here, blogging there, coopting your symbols and photobombing your best intentions, they subvert the original meaning of the brand.
  • Revolutionaries: They remove you from the center of the brand because they don't believe in you, and/or the principle that a brand should have a center (anarchists).
There are two ways to approach this problem. One is not to care, not to define it as a problem - in that case you don't need to read the rest of this post. And you are also not a Brand with a capital "B" because you're not making any effort to shape your image. Rather you are a brand by default.

So think of brand anarchy as a problem, and solve it by thinking of your brand completely differently than any existing definition would have you do so. As follows:
  • Get away from the idea that your brand is a thing. It's not a thing. It's a work in progress.
  • Brands do not progress in a linear fashion - Point A to Point B. (The tendency to update logos is misleading.)
  • Brands do not evolve like dandelion puffs, constellations of stars, or any other idea where there is a network of related items that together constitute a united front. Your brand is not the sum total of what people think it is. There is no such thing - that is impossible. The idea is a lie.
Rather, here is a definition of brand that you can use in the context of controlling your image:

Brand is the outcome of the dynamic between yourself and those who respond to you. 

Put simply -

Branding is war.

Your job is to understand the nature of the conflict, and like a great warrior, decide which forces to use to your advantage, when to confront and when to lie low, who are your allies and who is out to eliminate you. Here are some resources that can help:
There are those who say that there is nothing new under the sun. I prefer to think that there's a lot that's new, and there are also new ways of combining old information to produce better results than we've been able to achieve in the past. 

Unfortunately branding (like any discipline or realm of scholarship) can be used for good or for evil. I can only hope there are good people reading this blog who use these tools ethically and fight back against the forces of propaganda, dictatorship and yes, terrorism.

* All opinions my own. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Praying To G-d For Mercy On Israel

Screenshot via Began HaEmunah (In The Garden of Faith), Israel
There are times when time stops, and now is one of those times. My homeland Israel is in imminent danger as terrorists pretending to be statesmen play propaganda games very skillfully. 

I am an ignorant, simple soul when it comes to these games. I know only what my faith, my heart and my soul tell me. There are people who want peace, and those people come from every religion. We must not be afraid of the "bad guys," (and that includes women and men), either because they have guns and can hunt us down, or because they hide behind platitudes of political correctness and will call us names for calling them out for who they are.

I stand humbly before G-d and pray for mercy for those in Israel and the U.S.A. who put themselves out on the front lines to fight radical terrorists, get themselves blown up or killed, and "we sleep soundly in our beds at night" as George Orwell once said.

May we see the end of war in our times, no more young men and women off to die for no reason. Instead of military bases and veterans' hospitals let's see this generation and their children build structures of peace. May they find love and happiness, raise beautiful healthy children in contentment, and enjoy the vast and plentiful world that G-d has given to all of us.

* All opinions my own. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Why Social Media Requires Sophisticated Branding

Be careful who you give your social media to.

This week, American Apparel apologized for an "international" employee who put a photo of the Challenger disaster on its Tumblr page July 3 and tagged it "smoke" and "clouds." The truth is, I don't get it at all. What was the point - July 4? What agenda did that advance? How was that supposed to sell clothes, especially after the company is reeling financially and embroiled in scandal due to ex-CEO Dov Charney?

A couple of months ago, in March, Saturday Night Live aired " Meeting Cold Open," spoofing the President's appearance on the very unfiltered web show "Between Two Ferns." The skit emphasized the President's likely embarrassment at having to do such "fluffy stuff, "along with his keen understanding that you must go where they are to make your case.

I can understand why the President would be nervous. Social media requires not only judgment but careful branding expertise.

And you can make mistakes without even trying. This week Esquire published "This Is Your Government On Instagram," which purported to show how feds of the digital engagement variety (one of which I am - full disclaimer, I'm not speaking for my agency here) waste taxpayer dollars on free tools for absolutely no decent reason.

Sure, they were trying to balloon controversy, for example saying that the White House spent "$54.3 million in communications equipment procurement (with no specific line items for social media) in 2014."  If you can't separate out how much the social media cost, why are you presenting the total figure anyway?

But communicators still have to be ready for attacks about what they are doing, on any front, whether it comes from within social media or without.

Joan Rivers has that senior judgment - she is an entertainer, a self-brander, and she has flair. Her "signature" is to make comedic outrageous statements.

She also understands that media, including social media, is fundamentally about going on the offensive to make a case in simple terms.

After People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) protested her wearing fur at a book signing event on July 1, Joan told them off and then did the same to CNN in an interview to promote the same book.

Asked about the PETA incident, Joan got the sense that the interview was turning "negative," told off the host and simply walked outcursing for good measure with the microphone still on.

Of course, most of us don't curse in order to do a good job defending our respective cases. (For some of us it's a conduct violation - seriously.)

Yet to do social media well, you have to understand that it's an aggressive thing, a branding thing, and it's much more than simply issuing a tweet. 

With social media, all of it goes together - the technical skill, the cross-fertilization between tools, the extension from traditional media and print, and most importantly the insight that a branding expert has: Your efforts only have to connect with your audience.

Remember, you aren't going to please all of them - not at all. So you decide who it is you're trying to reach, what's the best way to reach them, and how you're going to do that using social media tools.

And then you get ready for criticism, and have statements gathered to take the offensive just in case.

One culminating example.

The news came out in late June that Facebook did a secret experiment on its own users - messed with people's news feeds for a week in 2012. Some got more-than-average happy stuff; other people got predominantly negative items. Indeed, people were influenced by and tended to post either more positively or more negatively after that.

Personally I do not care. But others were upset about it. They took it as proof that Facebook can't be trusted with privacy. (The Atlantic has great coverage.)

Over the years, Facebook has been no stranger to controversy and much of it has been centered on its seeming disregard for privacy and use of customer data.

But they've also been very consistent over the years. And do you know what? If you're very into privacy, you aren't using Facebook. 

Michael Zimmer published "Mark Zuckerberg's Theory of Privacy" in the Washington Post, based on founder Zuckerberg's public statements. It consists of three "core principles":

1 -- "Information wants to be shared" - sharing information will make the world a better place.

2 -- "Privacy must to be overcome" - people must be convinced to shed their excessive fears about privacy.

3 -- "Control is the new privacy" - the idea is to be a part of the conversation but on the terms that you dictate.

I would argue that most Facebook users are not put off over their one-week study, which made absolutely no difference in anybody's life, because we aren't there for the privacy. We're there for the community, and to unravel ourselves to an extent, explore our identities publicly and make ourselves known.

Therefore, their so-called "blunder" was just fine.

In the end, social media all comes back to sophisticated branding.

* All opinions my own. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Via Inc. Magazine: How To Work Less & Be A Better Boss

Ever interested in personal & professional improvement I read two great articles in Inc. One was about saving time, and the other about becoming an "amazing boss." Thought to myself, this is definitely a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup situation, where the two go better together and can be combined. This slide is the result. Go to SlideShare to download it and get the legible view. 


* All opinions my own.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Everything And The Opposite

People can do what they can do. And so I wonder why we ask them to do everything.

We should let them be, and flop and flounder and flail until they find out what they're good at.

We should hire for attitude and train for technical skill.

Domino's Pizza has a great ad out on TV now. It talks about their various bad ideas, and ends with a little brag about a pretty good one. 

(It's a chicken dish with cheese that kosher folks can't eat and so I will have to trust them.)

Why, in workplace life, do we insist that every venture be an unparalleled success?

That left handed people be ambidextrous, or able to flip to right-handed?

That mistakes are unforgivable and bad?

Why is the subtext of organizational life the irrational expectation that we employ superhumans?

That every person be able to accommodate every whim, every change, every quirk of strategy and workload that the organization sets upon them?

The truth is that great fortune comes from allowing people to breathe, plans to fail, adjustments to be made along the way. 

It's called innovation, and it comes from necessity, not plans and schedules.

Great management is about nurturing people's humanity. And making adjustments along the way.

* All opinions my own.

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