Opinions about branding by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017


This post was written by Chana Rivka Herbsman, a high school student and my niece. It is an excellent analysis in its own right. But I asked her to let me publish it for another reason: She is a primary target for cosmetics marketing, reflecting on the messages she's getting about this product. Very often, marketers cater to our unconscious mind; we can fight back against destructive, exploitive messages by really thinking about what it is they're telling us. And I agree with her conclusion: Makeup can be a really positive thing, as long as you don't fall for the message that you must be perfect, or strive to be perfect, in order to somehow be acceptable - DB

Concealer. Cover up. Cover Girl. There seems to be a running theme here. The unifying purpose of makeup is the ability to hide blemishes and feel, even for a short period of time, flawless.  That feeling of perfection is what bonds women of all ages throughout the country. 

The downside is the perpetuation of the deceptive appearance of perfection.  It is okay to hide flaws but the problem lies when we pretend they don't exist. 

Makeup is the art of displaying a flawless image of yourself to the world, without anyone knowing that it is distorted. A simple application of foundation, concealer, bronzer, eyeliner, and mascara can completely change a person’s look.  Makeup supports the American value of presenting a perfect image of oneself, while also celebrating the love for identification within a group.

There is so much pressure in society today to get the highest SAT scores, get into Ivy League college, have a top-notch career, all while maintaining a busy social life by going out with friends, out to eat, ordering the best looking dishes, getting into shape, all while getting enough hours of sleep everyday. It is exhausting! 

On the outside, it appears like everyone is able to balance their  family, school, and work lives along with their self care, while you feel like you are juggling it about as successfully as those guys on America’s Got Talent, who got four Xs within five seconds.

People become overwhelmed and in order to keep their image intact, they try to show everyone that they are managing just fine, when in reality they are not.  But, no one is. The truth is everyone has struggles and are just trying to get by. 

With the rise of social media like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, it is no wonder there is a rise in a culture obsessed with makeup.

  • There are currently over 45,000 YouTube channels with content designated to beauty (1). 
  • The cosmetic industry in the U.S. alone has revenues over 62 billion dollars (2). 
  • First opened in New York City in 1998, the leading luxury cosmetic franchise, Sephora, has sales exceeding $4 billion, with 1200 stores carrying over 250 beauty brands (3). And this is excluding drugstores and other department stores. 
The makeup craze that exists today all stems from the utopian world people see online and on social media outlets.

  • Instagram allows someone to post a small snapshot of their life, and they can even edit it. A simple picture of a graffitied subway station wall, can appear like the photographer was touring Miami’s Art Deco. 
  • Snapchat entitles someone to post only 10 seconds of what was the worst day of their life, and sham everyone into thinking they had partied all day. 
Social media has created expectations people can not live up to.

Although we all know that social media is a false pretense of other people’s lives, we continue to buy into it. The same is true with makeup. We continue to think that everyone has flawless skin and no dark circles when in fact the opposite is true.

The idea behind the “no makeup makeup look” that has been  trending, is that the makeup should be so natural that people won’t even think it is there all at. 

  • One tutorial of this look on YouTube has seven million views (5)! 
  • Another video, entitled “Makeup Mistakes to Avoid + Tips for a Flawless Face”, has a staggering number of 11 million views (6)! 
Women, teenagers, and even girls, all want the same thing. To show the world something they are not: perfect.

Acne, what? Dark circles, what’s that? No sleep, how would you know? The magic of foundation, concealer, eye shadow, eyeliner, and mascara takeover leaving you with clearer skin, larger eyes, and longer eyelashes than you did ten minutes ago! People often want to pretend their life is amazing and perfect when in fact we all face struggles everyday.  

Social media is one way of showing the world that your life is the best one anyway has ever had anywhere, however, when it comes to meeting other people in real life, makeup is the only “filter” you can have on.

The American value of putting on a facade is portrayed in Tennessee Williams’s play, The Glass Menagerie. One of the main characters, Laura, has slight leg defect causing her to limp, but she has magnified this limp until it has affected her whole personality. In scene 7 in the play, she recalls a moment in high school where her leg brace clumped as loud as thunder, while Jim, a former classmate, claims he never heard any clumping- he never noticed anything. Laura felt bound by her imperfection, limiting her from opportunities, like a career, she would otherwise have. If there was some way that she could mislead the world into thinking that her body was working perfectly, Laura would grab onto that chance. 

The value that drives why many people wear makeup today is that they want to conceal their blemishes and show the world that they have the unlimited to capacity to achieve whatever they set their mind to. If only Laura would have been able to hide her leg problem, her decisions probably would have taken her in a different direction. People may feel insecure about their blotchy or bumpy skin, but with the magic of makeup, they are able to hide their insecurities, leaving them feeling empowered. That is the dichotomy we face today.

However, makeup is not all bad. Makeup celebrates Americans need for inclusion and being a part of something bigger than themselves. Makeup creates an opportunity for women to bond as it is something that unites them in their quest for identity. 

Since before the ancient Egyptians, women have been putting on cosmetics and were always looking for more effective ways to accentuate their beauty. A study in 2012 shows that fifty percent of women are dependent on makeup to step outside their homes (7).

Most, if not all women enjoy wearing makeup. Some do not wear it on a daily basis, either because they do not want to, have no time, or they are just simply lazy. However, when given the option of  getting their makeup done, most women would grab that opportunity to get a makeover. It’s pampering and makes them feel more feminine. 

Makeup is not only a bonding experience through application but also through conversation. It is something to talk about when situations get uncomfortable and it can also be a great conversation catalyst with newcomers. Women are expected to know a lot on our makeup and if they don't, they are considered an exception.

Makeup brings out the femininity of all women throughout the country. We see the same is true with men and sports. Men are expected to know about sports and to be able to discuss them. However, they do not expect women to know about sports as it is something only they bond over to feel masculine.

The interest in makeup is what creates bonding and inclusion, while the obsession with it is what is so damaging.

Makeup can be used as a source of connection and creativity.  However, when abused, makeup can distort one’s self perception and deceive the user and the world into believing that problems don’t exist.

So when applying makeup next, one should pause and appreciate being perfectly imperfect. 

References
1. "Beauty Youtubers." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 29 May 2017. Web. 12 June 2017.
2. Bender, Joshua. "Topic: Cosmetics Industry in the U.S." Www.statista.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 June 2017.
3. "Sephora." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 07 June 2017. Web. 12 June 2017.
4. "History of cosmetics." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 June 2017. Web. 12 June 2017
5. MakeupBySona. "How To: LOOK BEAUTIFUL WITH NO MAKEUP." YouTube. YouTube, 29 Apr. 2015. Web. 12 June 2017.
6. CarliBel55. "Makeup Mistakes to Avoid Tips for a Flawless Face." YouTube. YouTube, 18 Aug. 2015. Web. 12 June 2017.
7. Misener, Jessica. "Half Of Women Are Dependent On Makeup, Study Says." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 28 Feb. 2012. Web. 12 June 2017.

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Copyright 2017 by Chana Rivka Herbsman. All rights reserved. All opinions are the author's own.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


Recently a debate arose over the fundamental meaning of branding.

The context was a call for volunteers to help with the user interface of "The Good Country," a project aimed at making the world more inhabitable for all.

Conceptually, the idea goes, we all get to "vote" on the elections taking place in other countries. Given the opportunity to offer our two cents, we will take the time to actually learn about those countries, form educated opinions, and become more aware of how one nation's actions affect the others. (See the TED Talk.)

The project's founder, Simon Anholt -- well-known for the concept of "nation branding" a.k.a. "place branding" -- does not view this effort as "branding."
I’d like to explain that the Good Country and its two first projects (the Good Country Index and the Global Vote) actually have little or nothing to do with place 'branding.' That term seems to stick to everything I do, even though I started challenging it at least ten years ago and pretty much stopped writing, editing, researching and practising on the topic in 2014 when I launched the first edition of the Good Country Index.
A policy advisor, Anholt divorced his project from the concept of branding because he sees the latter as an activity related to image, whereas policy has to do with substance.
My belief, backed up by much research (nearly 400 billion data points from ten years of the Nation Brands Index), has long been that there’s no such thing as place “branding” and that countries are judged by what they do rather than by what they say about themselves.
In Anholt's view, campaigns limited to superficial symbols are tempting, but ultimately cannot build or rehabilitate a nation's image.
The temptation for governments to spend taxpayers’ and donors’ money on logos, slogans and PR campaigns in an attempt to manipulate the images of their countries, cities and regions is a very strong one: but it simply doesn’t work and I’ve never found a single case study to suggest that it does.
Conceptually Anholt draws the distinction between image-building and more specific goals of boosting tourism or investment, which can be supported through a marketing campaign.
(I’m not talking about tourism or investment promotion, a species of national marketing which can work, and are often accidentally or deliberately conflated with nation 'branding').
From Anholt's point of view, conflating branding with policy is dangerous because doing so positions the effort as a competitive one, rather than one where we all work together on substantive improvement for mutual gain. 
I’d like to emphasize that the principle of the Good Country is countries trying to be good, not trying to look good, which is why I find the “branding” label to be a dangerous one. Countries need to become gooder (by which I basically mean that governance needs to be understood as a fundamentally collaborative rather than fundamentally competitive discipline) not primarily because it will benefit their images or trade or international relations, but primarily because it’s necessary for the future of humanity.
Anholt's research shows that when nations improve their actions, a better image results. He believes this correlation, which he has mentioned publicly, has created some confusion.
This misunderstanding is probably all my fault because in the TED talk I gave when I launched the Good Country Index in 2014 I mentioned my research which showed the link between ‘good’ behaviour and a positive national image.
The bottom line, says Anholt, is that when a country improves its practices, a better brand image results (but it doesn't work the other way around, e.g. image efforts alone don't produce a better brand).
But I simply wanted to make the point that ‘good’ international relations is also good business: I’m not asking countries to be self-sacrificing or altruistic, which would be wholly unrealistic.
For my part, reading this, I was surprised and concerned at the level of dysfunction and waste which would permit branding efforts to be limited to image-building even in 2017. Back in 2001, The Brand Consultancy in Washington, D.C. was promoting integrated brand building -- marrying operation and image. And frankly the U.S. seemed behind the times; see for example Majken and Schultz in Harvard Business Review (2001), "Are The Strategic Stars Aligned For Your Corporate Brand?"

Having been a customer for all my life, and witnessing the fact that many companies do now integrate operations and branding, I can only conclude that this issue comes down to organizational development -- or the lack thereof. In business it is clear that 360 degree branding improves the bottom line. But in the world of policy and governance, there are many complicating factors at play.

When the world's policymakers come to see that actions speak louder than words, and that positive actions do yield positive results on every level, we will see the end of branding efforts limited to image.

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By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own; this blog is posted in the author's personal capacity. Free for reuse under Creative Commons 3.0. Photo by Randy von Liski via Flickr Creative Commons.

Monday, June 5, 2017



  • Find out who your customers are. Don’t rely only on quantitative data. Get out there and mystery shop. Find out who is buying your products and services, and why.
  • Break up your customers into segments. Don’t focus on superficial single factors like age and gender. Rather, try to find a consumer insight for each of your key groups. For example, full-time caregivers take their toddlers to Panera so they can get a quick, wholesome meal, let the kids run around and take a bit of a break.
  • When you believe you have arrived at your key customer segments (keep the number of segments down, let’s say 5 at most), start optimizing your offering for each one. For instance, Panera might want to set up a child-safe area near the eating booths; offer table-side service for caregivers watching the children play; and offer add-on specials for take-home dinners.
  • Test out how well your efforts are going by developing a tester group for each demographic and checking in with them regularly. Also keep tabs on how well you’re generating revenue for each new initiative.
  • As the market evolves, your customer segments will evolve as well, so the process of catering to your key customer segments should always be considered a work in progress.
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By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own. This is a personal account unrelated to and not sponsored by the author's employer or any other entity. Public domain photo via Pixabay.

$7.50 for single serve wine in a cup? 

Absolutely. 

I saw Zipz on Shark Tank and knew it would be a huge hit. Kevin O'Leary who is the toughest (and in my view sharpest) Shark, invested. 

Watch for the single serve market to continue to explode. Some analysis here. __________

By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own. This is a personal account unrelated to and not sponsored by the author's employer or any other entity. Photo by Dr. Blumenthal.

Steal this idea:

A powerful, palm-sized solar-powered device, with 4 USB connectors. 

Colored brightly.

Manufactured in the USA for $5 or less, sold for $39.99. 

Winner.
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By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own. Photo by Dr. Blumenthal.

The rabbi walks into Starbucks and says, "$5.50 for a coffee? I can make that at home for 50 cents."

The barista answers, "You're not paying for the coffee. You're paying for the ambiance, the people-watching, and the free wifi."

Says the rabbi, "Now I understand the laws of blessings. We aren't saying it for the food. We're saying it out of gratitude for the feeling of having our hunger satiated."

- adapted from a synagogue talk by Rabbi Schneur Kaplan, Downtown Jewish Center Chabad, Ft. Lauderdale FL
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By Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own.