Thursday, March 30, 2017

8 Ways To Stop Opinion "Influencers" In Their Tracks

Be on the lookout for telltale signs that you aren't getting the truth.

The following tips are extracted from the brilliant article by Caitlin Johnstone, "How To Spot A Media Psy-Op." (January 17, 2017).
  • Slogans are repeated across news outlets (the same word or phrase is to describe a topic in such a way that you form a particular opinion or bias)
  • Words or phrases are slipped into a sentence where they ordinarily don't belong - purpose is to deliver a subconscious message (this is called a non-sequitur and it is a form of neuro-linguistic programming)
  • Two separate ideas or topics are jammed together to make you associate them ("forced association") - e.g. 9/11 and Iraq War - so you'll support invading Iraq
  • An entire mainstream media outlet seems "owned" by opinion manipulators
  • Opinions are being expressed online that seem unnatural, because someone has been paid to go there and pretend to express support naturally
In her article, Johnstone recommends this Ted talk by investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson, author of Stonewalled: My Fight For Truth Against The Forces Of Obstruction, Intimidation and Harassment In Obama's Washington and The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote.

In her talk, Atkisson offers the media consumer three ways to detect when independent voices are being deliberately silenced:
  • When an accuser is labeled a "crank," "nutty," a "conspiracy theorist," etc.
  • When the default response to criticism involves attacking the questioner, not answering the question.
  • When all criticism is aimed at those alleging wrongdoing, and not at the alleged wrongdoers.
I hope that you will check out Attkisson's work, as well as Johnstone's article, and be inspired.

No matter how despondent we may feel sometimes at the proliferation of "fake news" and bought journalists, there are great minds at work in the field today.


All opinions my own. Public domain photo via Pixabay.

What is the difference between brand equity and brand parity?

Brand equity is a financial calculation. It is the difference between a commodity product or service and a branded one. For example if you sell a plain orange for $.50 but a Sunkist orange for $.75 and the Sunkist orange has brand equity you can calculate it at $.25 per orange.

Brand parity exists when two different brands have a relatively equal value. The reason we call it "parity" is that the basis of their value may be different. For example, one brand may be seen as higher in quality, while the other is perceived as fashionable.


All opinions my own. Originally posted to Quora. Public domain photo by hbieser via Pixabay.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What is the difference between "brand positioning," "brand mantra," and "brand tagline?"

  • Brand positioning statement: This is a 1–2 sentence description of what makes the brand different from its competitors (or different in its space), and compelling. Typically the positioning combines elements of the conceptual (e.g., “innovative design,” something that would be in your imagination) with the literal and physical (e.g., “the outside of the car is made of the thinnest, strongest metal on earth”). The audience for this statement is internal. It’s intended to get everybody on the same page before going out with any communication products.
  • Brand mantra: This is a very short phrase that is used predominantly by people inside the organization, but also by those outside it, in order to understand the “essence” or the “soul” of the brand and to sell it to employees. An example would be Google’s “Don’t be evil.” You wouldn’t really see it in an ad, but you might see it mentioned or discussed in an article about the company intended to represent it to investors, influencers, etc.
  • Brand tagline: This is the classic phrase intended to make the brand’s positioning memorable to the customer. And the classic example is Nike’s “Just do it.” The swoosh represents immediacy, movement, urgency, determination, and drive and the tagline captures the essence of the brand perfectly. That tagline is used, very deliberately and repeatedly, in advertisements. And it positions the product. Even though Nike sneakers, athletic wear, and so on do not in my view particularly make you more likely to “just do it,” the tagline and brand positioning are so effective that they do brainwash you into thinking that the act of buying makes you a champion. (Theoretically the mantra and the tagline could be one and the same, but you would have to develop a strategy around that which speaks to employees and customers alike - it’s not automatic.)
Originally posted in response to a question on Quora. All opinions my own. Public domain photo via Pixabay.

Should I Add My Beer-Focused Instagram Account To My LinkedIn profile?

This is my response to a question originally posed on Quora.

The answer, like lawyers tend to say, is: “It depends.”

Not knowing what you do for a living, let’s assume that your LinkedIn profile is typical, meaning that it reflects the image of a corporate professional.

Would your boss, or a prospective employer, think badly of you for promoting your passion for beer?

Traditional product branding says that you should focus on your unique selling proposition fairly single-mindedly. Your goal is to create a space in the customer’s mind dedicated to your brand so that when they want to purchase something like it, they shortcut all alternatives and go straight to you.

So from a product branding point of view, putting a personal beer account on your professional profile is distracting. It tells an employer that you’re not totally focused on the encyclopedic and ever-evolving knowledge, skills and abilities required to do your valuable type of job.

However, people are not products, and applying the product branding model to an actual human being in the employment marketplace is problematic.

In the real world, people want to work with other people who are “normal,” meaning human, relatable, and interesting. And so (presuming that the rest of your employment profile looks solid) I think an employer would be highly likely to value your personal passion on a topic of interest to many.

Frankly it’s also reassuring to know what people are into on their personal time, given the number of absolute and total freaks that appear to populate our planet.

Some personal branding advisors might question the fact that your passion involves alcohol. However, I think beer (and wine) live in that zone we would call “moderate,” and is therefore not a problem.

If you crafted that beer at home, it would be even better, but that kind of wizardry is not a requirement.

As you said, it goes without saying that drunk vacation photos don’t belong on an Instagram you connect to your LinkedIn account.

Frankly I don’t think it’s a good idea to take drunk vacation photos in the first place.

All that said, I don’t believe most people should connect their Instagram accounts to their LinkedIn profiles. This is because for the vast majority of people, such accounts contain photos of personal interest. Unless your personal brand hinges on being a “personality,” such photos distract from your professional accomplishments.

Frankly, they also make you seem lacking in judgment. I know this may be a controversial statement in a world where people wear jeans and flip-flops to the office. But I am one of those people who believes that there should be a distinction between your professional and personal self, most of the time.

Some people don’t really get that, and they will post links to every single social media account they have, as though some economy were gained by sharing them.


The bottom line is this: If your Instagram account, or other social media account, reflects something worth sharing professionally — then post it.

Otherwise, it’s better for your income to keep the two separate. Even the other account is public, and it is possible for any interested party to find out what you do in your spare time.
All opinions my own. Public domain photo by Pexels via Pixabay.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Nitro Cold Brew and the Oncoming Crash of Starbucks

A long time ago (January 7, 2008), the Wall Street Journal ran an article about McDonald's competing against Starbucks.

At the time the issue was that the former planned to pit its own deluxe coffees head to head with the latter.

At the time I wrote that while Starbucks could be confident in its brand-loyal consumers, the company, my personal favorite brand of all time, 
"...needs to see this as a major warning signal. As I have said before, it is time to reinvent the brand — now. 
"Starbucks should consider killing its own brand and resurrecting it as something even better — the ultimate, uncopyable 'third space' that is suited for the way we live now. 
"There is no growth left for Starbucks as it stands anymore — it has saturated the market. It is time to do something daring, different, and better — astounding and delighting the millions (billions?) of dedicated Starbucks fans out there who are rooting for the brand to survive and succeed."
Today as I sat at the Starbucks near me having lunch, this reality became even more stark. Placards implying the beer-like deliciousness of "Nitro Cold Brew" (if such a thing can be said about coffee) were placed prominently around me for inspection.

The truth is, it's nothing special.

Just like the food at Starbucks is stale (I refer specifically to the egg salad sandwiches, bagels, and salads I've bought here) as well as overpriced (insanely priced, actually).

If I'm going to pay for food I want it to be good. The wifi here is better, so I go to Pret down the street and get a falafel wrap quickly. Then come back here and take advantage of computer time.

The lines at Starbucks are deceiving. "Everybody" seems to come here.

But if you actually talk to people, they often will tell you that the coffee tastes burnt.

And when I visit Starbucks, as I frequently do, there is not much left of the passion. I can think of maybe one barista who has it.

That's bad!

I heard the other day that Howard Schultz is stepping down this April. 

In many ways, that makes sense.

Howard Schultz literally is -- was -- the brand.

When I think about the things that have made it so special for me, it really is not about the coffee.

It is what Don Draper referred to in Mad Men as "nostalgia....not...the wheel...(but)...the carousel."

It is the sweet tinge of leaving my youth behind. 

It is memories of passing time there with the kids, of bouncing around the couches on the Upper West Side, when they were toddlers.

It is memories of handing out surveys for my dissertation research.

It is Florida vacation.

It is fair trade and Veterans and tuition for baristas.

It is--however badly this went over--"Racing Together" and the dream of employing refugees.

It is letting people who are homeless have a place to rest for awhile.

It is a dream, it is my dream, of making the world better through consciously ethical branding.

Somewhere along the way, Starbucks simply got too big.

Schultz never lost his vision, but it became another soulless brand nonetheless.

I have a lot of ideas about how to fix this thing, but one of them is for sure.

It does not involve any product that looks like iced coffee, tastes like iced coffee with a little bit of Splenda, and goes by the name of a beer.


All opinions my own. Photo by me.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Use a RACI Chart to Normalize Communication Management

They say that every organization has to deal with people, processes and technology in order to get its work done.

I find that getting people to agree on a single course of action is frequently very hard.

It is easier to make changes when you're "forced to" by the introduction of a new technology.

The problem with that is, it's a drastic solution and people adopt systems at widely varying rates of both interest and proficiency.

If they can't or won't understand the system, they will work around it, or find another one altogether.

Process changes are a potential middle ground. People may tend to disagree ideologically, but they generally have a rational attitude when it comes to being more efficient.

For that reason a proven and useful project management tool called the RACI chart is helpful when it comes to managing communication.

Here's how it works:

1. Develop a list of major activities associated with communication. Typically these include, at a minimum, planning, writing/designing, and distributing to specific audiences.

2. Develop a list of people or groups (functions) that touch communication in some way. Again typically these will include senior leadership, subject matter experts, and a dedicated communication staff.

3. Come to a consensus about who should do what, as follows:

- Responsible: The group or groups that actually do the work.

- Accountable: The single person or group that can get in trouble if it's done wrong.

- Consulted: The people or groups whose input you need before acting.

- Informed: The people or groups who need to know what's going on.

Then you make a spreadsheet.

- Column A has the activities.

- Columns B through, let's say F, have the functions as headers.

- The cell under each column gets filled in with the role (remember you can only use "A" once per activity, and a function can be both responsible and accountable).

You can find plenty of examples by searching for "RACI Chart" images online.

From real world experience, I can report that RACI charts are great. They are simple but powerful ways of making sure that everybody has a seat at the table, without having the entire room sink under their weight.

Unlike complicated, heavy-handed technologies, process tools are a very human-oriented focus for change, risk mitigation, and continuous quality improvement.

Adopted by guided consensus, the RACI chart circumvents impossible dysfunction, and in doing so helps you to get stuff done.

All opinions my own. Public domain photo via Pixabay.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Can Federal Communication Be Saved?

As a writer for the Federal government for more than a dozen years, I observe that we used to be very well-respected. Our authority derived from three things:
  • Dedication to public service
  • Command of the English language
  • Collaboration with technical experts, for accuracy
The past decade saw the gradual erosion of government writers' credibility, due to the rise of, among other things:
  • Pervasive social media
  • Increasingly sophisticated but easy to use digital communication tools
  • Global awareness of and commitment to human rights
  • The rise of independent journalism
  • Existence of and retaliation against whistleblowers
Today, what remains of that credibility has arguably been shattered by:
  • Wikileaks
  • Awareness of "fake news"
  • Revelations about the Deep State and its infiltration of the media
  • Paid trolls
  • Paid citizen "uprisings" and demonstrations
Essentially, we have entered a world where suspicion is the rule and not an exception. Government content is part of that. It doesn't matter how many times the press release was checked for accuracy, or how many experts vetted it.

The people simply do not believe the government anymore.

In the old days, the worst thing you could do as a government writer was be inaccurate, or perhaps even to use bad grammar.

The biggest fights you'd have would center on plain language (which is now the law), as technical experts would accuse you of "oversimplifying" the facts, or even of "misrepresenting" them.

And if it took a long time get words out the door, it was because all the parties involved were haggling over the specifications and implications of language.

Today, anyone engaged in such a conversation is missing the forest for the trees.

The major problem confronting us is restoring the credibility of government itself.

How are we going to do that?

Not by punishing the writers.

But by starting a conversation about what it is the writers ought to be doing.


All opinions my own. Public domain photo via Pixabay.

Friday, March 10, 2017

A Civil Way To Dissent With Political Appointees

As the topic has come up recently, a few practical ideas have emerged. I don't take credit for these ideas; mostly they're common sense and I'm just sharing. They're grouped into a handful of categories for ease of reference:

1. Designated intermediary

  • An office whose job it is to share employee dissent messages at a high level
  • An ombudsperson – “complaint central”
  • Technology - create a neutral space where concerns can be shared by anyone (for example, a Sharepoint-based “issue tracker”)

2. Written communication, readily available, brief and high-level

  • What does your office do? Why is that important? Who are your key partners?
  • What are the key laws, regulations, policies, principles and standard operating procedures that govern your functioning?    
  • What are the ethical considerations that may occur during the normal course of business, and how do you handle those?

3. Training orientations, offered at regular intervals (e.g. a “lunch and learn”)

  • Walk through the organizational chart: Who does what, who reports to whom, etc.
  • History lesson: How did we get started? How did we evolved? What key events shaped our identity today?
  • What are some of the “hot topics” in our world right now? What are the different angles on it?
  • What is the culture like around here? What are some things to be aware of? 

4. Build up the “trust bank account”

  • Ask in advance how to disagree without creating conflict or embarrassment
  • When an issue comes up, ask questions first and draw conclusions later
  • Model respect and professionalism
  • Assume good intent - common ground in your mutual wish to serve the American people.

Copyright 2017 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. Opinions my own. Not intended to explicitly or implicitly represent any government agency, the government as a whole, or any other organization. Public domain photo via Pixabay.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Reform, Not Resistance Is Needed To Restore The CIA's Reputation

The CIA statement on Wikileaks' recent document dump is less than optimal --  defensive and arrogant. For such an intellectually sophisticated organization, their communication strategy needs work.

Let's take it apart:

The first thing they say is that they won't comment on whether the documents are real. 
"We have no comment on the authenticity of purported intelligence documents released by Wikileaks or on the status of any investigation into the source of the documents." 
What they should say is that they're not allowed to comment. Saying that you "won't" do something implies choice, power and discretion. Saying you "can't" demonstrates that you are following the rule of law. 

Why does this matter? Because politicized, lawless behavior by elements of the CIA is at the root of the problem here.

The statement goes on to defend CIA's right to develop extremely sophisticated technology.
"CIA’s mission is to aggressively collect foreign intelligence overseas to protect America from terrorists, hostile nation states and other adversaries. It is CIA’s job to be innovative, cutting-edge, and the first line of defense in protecting this country from enemies abroad. America deserves nothing less."
This is a really terrible thing to say to people whose trust you have betrayed. "You deserve nothing less" than the best protection we can offer, and so you should keep quiet.

Uh, no, not really. My television is spying on me!

Now they go on to do a typical government communication thing, which is to issue a very narrow, technically accurate denial that doesn't really speak to the issue.
"It is also important to note that CIA is legally prohibited from conducting electronic surveillance targeting individuals here at home, including our fellow Americans, and CIA does not do so."
The problem with a statement like this is that it insults people -- many of whom already assume that the CIA thinks they're stupid. The key words here are "CIA does not do so," with the modifying clause "electronic surveillance targeting individuals here at home, including our fellow Americans." Reading between the lines, I assume that somebody else is doing the surveillance here at home with technology that the CIA has developed, and that there is some sort of partnership or relationship that provides CIA or other intelligence agencies with access to the data collected.

Then we get a statement about the law provides for close review of CIA activities at all times:
"CIA’s activities are subject to rigorous oversight to ensure that they comply fully with U.S. law and the Constitution."
Ask any one of the hundreds of millions of Americans who have watched any Hollywood depiction of the CIA. Do they really believe that their activities are overseen fully? Do they even believe that the CIA knows what the CIA is doing at all times?

Highly, highly doubtful.

We end with this statement, which is troubling not because of the language they used, but because they don't take any responsibility for the problems they themselves have caused:
"The American public should be deeply troubled by any Wikileaks disclosure designed to damage the Intelligence Community’s ability to protect America against terrorists and other adversaries. Such disclosures not only jeopardize U.S. personnel and operations, but also equip our adversaries with tools and information to do us harm."
I speak only for myself in my blogs, but I think it is safe to say this on behalf of other Americans, too: We appreciate our intelligence community, including the CIA:
  • We are grateful to have such smart and dedicated people defending us.
  • We know that our adversaries are just as smart and dedicated.
  • We appreciate that only the most sophisticated tools available can effectively outmaneuver our adversaries.
The problem however is that the intelligence community, or more specifically, elements within the intelligence community, have clearly overstepped their bounds.
  • They have developed technology that can be used to spy on us, even if we think our communications are private.
  • They have developed technology that can make it look like others are hacking our electoral system, and they didn't tell us.
  • They are vulnerable to politicization, and we don't understand the extent of how this has affected their mission.
There are many other concerns, too, particularly when it comes to oversight.

The CIA should engage the American public with a more respectful, accountable communication strategy that speaks to our real concerns.


All opinions my own.

Monday, March 6, 2017

How Project Management Affects Your Brand

Agile or waterfall or MS Project or Excel, or even a plain old Sharpie used to scrawl out notes on a random set of Post-Its, you somehow have to manage your work. And most of what we do in our daily lives, if we are in a professional setting, involves a series of projects.

Project management = boring. I know you're telling yourself that, and you think that, and other people tell you that too. My evidence is that, number one, the words themselves sound totally boring. "I am a certified project manager" just does not have anywhere near the "wow" appeal of something like, "I am the chief marketing officer at YazDeboo" (whatever YazDeboo is, they must make something cool) or "I am a rocket scientist at NASA."

Now I totally get that. But if you're doing project management right it is not boring at all because the art and the science of it is to juggle a lot of different mini-initiatives aimed at specific outcomes at once, while ultimately aiming to shore up your brand, which is the value you bring to the table over and above your competitors.

The outcome of a project affects your brand:
  • How you implement a customer relationship management (CRM) platform, for example, leads your customers to view you in a very particular way. 
  • Hiring someone is another project - right? Or maybe you didn't think of it that way, but it is. Well, the kind of people you hire and the manner in which you onboard them will ultimately affect your organization's character, and character manifests itself in the values customers see in everyday behaviors.
  • Designing or redesigning your organizational chart is another project. Whoa, can this be a bear to undertake. But the manner in which you categorize and stovepipe your institutional structures (and all structures must be put into buckets, even if they're very broad) will affect the way in which you define the work you're doing. Just to give a very basic example, if you put Digital Communications into the IT shop, the output will be vastly different than if IT serves Digital Communications.
Outcomes are shaped by the way in which you conduct your projects. Your processes either reinforce your company's ability to function as a unified whole (e.g., a recognizable brand with a recognizable vision, mission, culture and values) or they are crisis-driven, dysfunctional and corrosive.
  • On the positive side, if you incorporate the principles of project management into your projects large and small -- following a work breakdown structure, keeping to a schedule, accepting and modulating stakeholder feedback, and so on -- you create a safe and stable space within which employees trust that they can do their best work. You're not in crisis mode, and as such you can grow and flourish without constantly looking over your shoulder.
  • If you ignore irresponsible, abusive, or corrupt behavior by senior leaders, and ignore the warning signs of trouble, at some point disaster will occur. That disaster will create a cleanup project, or several, or many. And you will naturally attract employees who don't really care about doing things well, but only about covering for messes, and looking like a valuable asset to you as they do it. In fact one could say that such employees will actually enable future similar conflicts to occur, avoiding unpleasant task of providing negative feedback and instead positioning themselves as "fixers." 
You see, contrary to what most people think, branding is not about ad campaigns and logos. Those are dessert. Your main meal is the unglamorous work you do to keep things functioning every day.

I once worked for a boss who was famous. When I complained about having to do so many dreary things she said to me, "Only a tiny percentage of life is fun. The rest is just horse manure. Roll up your sleeves -- plenty of that to go around."


All opinions my own. Photo by OpenClipArt-Vectors via Pixabay (Public Domain).

Saturday, March 4, 2017

When To Talk And When To Shut Up

I've been following the "Pizzagate" (a.k.a. "Pedogate") scandal since it broke late last year. Of all the public crises I've seen over the years, this is easily the most sickening. If anything positive can be said it is that many people have defied a whole range of threats in order to keep investigating it, and to tell others about what has been found. 
An outgrowth of the citizen investigation is infighting between some of its researchers and others. Part of the conflict no doubt has to do with paid "shills" infiltrating research forums and intentionally creating contention. But part of it is also the natural course of events when different people seek to serve as spokespeople for a cause.
I don't want to get into the weeds of this particular case, but rather it seems important to extract a few key nuggets from its unfolding. And there are only a few, but they are important. 
  • First, if you have taken on a very serious issue that threatens the reputation of others, it is critical that you cleanse your personal and professional slate of any conflicts of interest. In this case, one of the researchers was promoting a product while also making videos about the issue. This naturally led people to question his credibility, and in order to restore that he severed those financial ties. Fair or not fair, you will be held to a higher standard if you take this kind of thing on.
  • Second, if you engage with other spokespeople who have been victimized by the outcome of the cause, it is very important not to exploit (or appear to exploit) their suffering. In other words, it is one thing to join forces; it is another to engage a victims' name for the sake of advancing your own personal brand.
  • Third, if you take on a high-profile controversy, understand that your every word and every move will be scrutinized closely. You aren't necessarily going to like that - of course. But if you take on the mantle of a citizen crusader, expect that you yourself will be targeted and criticized harshly. That is just the way it is.
  • Finally, and most importantly, if your name and involvement becomes a distraction in the campaign, then it may be worth considering whether to back off and let others take over the fight. Only you can make that determination, but if the cause is truly more important to you, and you can't shed the baggage that's leading people to focus on attacking you in particular, it is counterproductive to keep on putting your name out there only to divert attention.
I am suffering in my heart from the information that is out there. It's evil and it's too much for me to take sometimes. 
But I am heartened at the courage of the citizen researchers who have put their names, their voices and their time toward bringing forth evidence for law enforcement to consider. They see the same thing I see, and it is no doubt incredibly difficult to work with this kind of subject matter every day. But they are putting their pain to good purpose.
Thank you not only to the citizen researchers, but also to the nonprofits who stand up for victims of child sex trafficking, our men and women in law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies, Ivanka Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and of course Donald Trump, the President of the United States. 
All of you make me proud to be an American.
All opinions my own.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

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