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.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Inspiration of the Day: "Joel Osteen #528 - Hit the Delete Button" (Video, full-length)

More than one devoutly religious Jewish person has told me they think Joel Osteen is a holy person who says the word of G-d. I'll be honest - his sermons often make me cry. It is as if G-d is literally speaking through him.

No matter who you are or what your faith, the motivational concepts he shares are universal.

This sermon is a particularly good one, especially if you literally use the computer a lot. In it Osteen talks about literally hitting the "delete" key whenever anyone tells you something that could limit your life's potential.

Turn it off! Turn it off!

Jewish people believe that thoughts follow deeds, hence we are commanded to do positive things whether we believe they make sense or not. Osteen says the reverse, "Our lives follow our thoughts."

Both are true. I know this much is true. When someone tries to block that light that G-d is shining on you, step out of their shadow and erase the memory completely from your mind.

You are blessed and it's a blessed day. Live in truth, live your conscience and live in the victory that comes from serving the One Above, in the way your soul tells you to be accurate.


* 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.