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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Deception

“When you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail.”

 


The classic definition of marketing is to represent the hammer. The marketer doesn’t invent the hammer, but s/he finds potential customers for it. Then explains why a hammer is desperately needed. Even if – especially if – it had never occurred to you that hammers could be useful.

 


The classic definition of branding, of course, is to create the impression – deserved or not - that one particular kind of hammer is superior to all the rest and therefore deserves a price premium.

 


Both of these paradigms involve thievery, which is why people hate marketers so much.

 

* While it is theoretically possible that everyone needs a hammer, it is actually true that many people can live just fine without them. Yet it is a rare marketer that will turn a customer away – “Who are we to deny them choice?”

 

* It is also possible that some brands deserve to charge more. But it is also pretty common for a pretty, shiny, labeled hammer to do just the same thing as an ugly, dull, un-labeled one. And the branding specialist doesn’t tell the client, “You’re stuff just ain’t that special…I can’t represent you.” After all – money is money, right? As long as the product isn’t dangerous or illegal.

 


It’s sort of the same thing with lawyers…we find it hard to respect a lawyer who defends someone guilty as sin. Except with the law, the system is set up so that “the best argument wins.” So we live with it.

 


When marketers turn thieving – even surreptitiously thieving, deceptively thieving, under-the-table thieving, not explicitly stealing - the profit they realize is only short-term. Because in the end, the customer can’t trust them. And they know it.

 


When I was growing up there were people who ran stores in the neighborhood. If you were looking for something and they didn’t sell it they would say, “I’m sorry, I don’t have what you’re looking for. Go to that guy across the street.” If they were really ethical they would say, “You know, you don’t even need that…if you buy (other thing, cheaper) it will work just as well.”

 


In other words, the job of the marketer, and by extension the salesperson, is to give the customer the solution they want and need. Not to blindly push product. Which is why:

 

*  “Infomercials,” no matter how successful they are at getting people to buy things, have the ring of a cheap win.

 

* A visit to the car dealership is literally dreaded.

 

* It’s tough to deal with real estate agents.

 

* There are certain boutiques you absolutely avoid.

 


All of this because you know that someone is pushing, and pushing, and pushing for you to do something that is in THEIR best interest, not your own at all.

 


The classic salesperson knows you for five seconds, and they will guilt you into spending five thousand dollars, or fifty thousand, or five million. To them you are just a sale – a commission – another day’s work.

 


How to fix it: Change the definition of the profession itself.

 


The old paradigm was to sell anything, anywhere, anytime. Trash that.

 


The new paradigm should be to return marketing to the fold of strong business rather than stove-piping it into the “sell, sell, sell” playpen.

 


In the real world, business thrives by taking a holistic view of the community in which it is engaged. There are long-term relationships that must be nurtured by exchange relationships of genuine value.  Everyone’s got to win, or the business ultimately is exposed as an exploiter, or a cheater, and dies.

 


From a business perspective, it is the marketer’s job to nurture long-term relationships with a customer by providing a real solution to their pain point.  If our stuff works, great. If not, we have to point them to someone down the street, or find a way to address their problem with a mashup of our product, someone else’s product, or even tinkering with the customer’s own way of life.

 


In the olden days, “doing a good job” meant putting your head down and doing what you were told, without asking why. One of my first jobs involved doing mail-merges in WordPerfect. It was very important that I use the small paper clips. I remember spending an entire week removing the large paper clips from a mailing to replace them with the small ones. Who cares?

 


Now and in the future, it’s simply unacceptable to rely on “that’s what I was told,” or “that’s what I have to sell,” or “that’s not my job,” or “I don’t know anything about that, I’m just selling jeans.” You have to be a cultural anthropologist – get into the customer’s life – and sell them things they actually need, at a fair price. And yes, turn some customers away or direct them elsewhere.

 


Doing the right thing isn’t just a nice-to-do. Or common sense. It is the only way to make a profit in the future. When the business relationships we have are going to be based on one thing and one thing alone: Do I trust the person sitting at the table in front of me?


 

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!


_____


Image source here

 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Footloose

As I get older I realize more and more that creativity without structure is useless. That's what a brand is, in the end...a vital container for creativity. One that gives it form, and shape, and life and vitality. Without the container you have nothing.

I used to be against the container. I used to think that containers were inherently crushing. That's not true.

You can see this dynamic in an office setting of course. You can have lots of creative work to your name, but if you don't keep a portfolio, case studies and metrics then what have you accomplished really? At the moment it was great, but then later...it's all forgotten.

Sometimes I think that the sole purpose of creative awards shows is to get visual and verbal communicators to find all their work and get it organized. The awards stuff is just the icing on the cake. The nicest thing is when you find what you've done and get it all into place.

The container - the infrastructure - is of course the central concept of project management software and processes. Most people think it's about collaboration. Not true. It's about knowledge management - the ability to find, organize and re-use the intellectual property you spent so much time developing before.

I am spending a lot of time on infrastructure nowadays. And while the right side of my brain misses the creativity of marketing strategy, I have to say that I find it really fulfilling to build the container for awhile. Where does the work go, once it's retired? What jobs are coming up? How do we measure success? What are the meaningful metrics, and what is the dreck? Most of all, how do you get people excited about being organized?

Someone once said to me that with branding, you have to explain it and explain it till all of a sudden the customer completely understands. Then you've tipped the dominoes into motion. Now nothing in the company is safe. Because consistency of brand is consistency everywhere.

It's exactly the same thing with building the container. For while there is nothing a creative loves more than to stand on top of the truck like Ariel in "Footloose," at a certain point it sort of gets un-creative to reinvent the same wheel over and over again. When you have a template, a portal, a structure, a process and a system for the 70% of the work that can be automated, it actually frees you up to do the other 30% in new and even more innovative ways. Not to mention freeing up time and money to explore the frontiers of self-expression.

Believe it or not I was looking at a tree when I realized all this. I was standing with my back to the car, looking at a magnificent tree stretching up to the sky. Beautiful and strong, its leaves fluttering this way and that. Anchored to the soil, but reaching for the stars. I think great creative infrastructure is something like that. It grounds you so that you have a solid footing, and sets you free to exceed everything you've done before.

Have a great evening everyone, and good luck!

___

Image source here
2011-mtv-vma-video-music-award

You know a show is good when the entire family gathers around the TV to watch. And since the point of having TV shows is to sell things, I'm thinking the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards (#VMA) was a huge success - not just for the celebrities who appeared but for three product brands in particular:

1. Kia. Hip commercial, hip music, cool design. All together I would consider a brand I would never have thought of before. Terrific.

2. Taco Bell. That was an appetizing, funny commercial with a strong brand image if ever I’ve seen one. The part where the guy handed out the tacos to the grandmas at the lawn party was hilarious.

3. “The Hunger Games” – great promo, great idea. Sold, sold, sold.

Why did the VMAs work so well?

1. The choreography, the stage, the lightshow, everything was so polished and absolutely amazing. I felt like I was watching a $350-a-ticket concert for free.

2. I loved the variety of stars they put onstage – from Kim Kardashian to Katie Holmes to Tony Bennett.

3. Speaking of Tony Bennett, the Amy Winehouse tribute that started with Russell Brand and ended with an airing of the Bennett-Winehouse duo on Abbey Road in London was amazing. Even if you didn’t know who Amy was, you ended up a fan.

4. I didn’t start out a Katy Perry fan, but was converted for sure by last night. Great hat, great performer. Understands how to connect with the audience.

5. That said, Russell Brand takes it to a higher level. He knows how to talk to you as if he is in the same room, despite being behind a camera. Brilliant.

6. Beyonce – despite the bad song – owned the stage. Great voice, great outfits, great dancing. And when she rubbed her tummy at the end to show she was pregnant, that was fabulous.

7. The song by Adele broke my heart and made me cry. I felt her pain but she handled it like a true performer. Completely in control but open emotionally. The definition of an artist.

8. Lady Gaga cracked me up in the man outfit, when she tried to kiss Britney Spears. Although she took it a little too far. Enjoyed the Britney Spears tribute, too, but Britney herself seemed dazed when she came up on stage – read right off the teleprompter. Sort of sad.

9. Chris Brown did a great job in his number. I felt bad for what happened between him and Rihanna. I thought he was trying to come back from all of that. Flying all over the place – dancing like that - he did.

10. A lot of the artists I didn’t know. But that was fine. I asked my kids…enjoyed learning.

Even the parts that didn’t work so well, worked well because they are engaging:

1. Is it me or are we seeing too much of Selena Gomez?

2. Speaking of Selena Gomez, who is in a relationship with Justin Bieber, for the life of me I don’t understand the Justin Bieber thing at all. Do you know I have never even heard a Justin Bieber song? I liked that he thanked Jesus for his award, but I can’t understand why this person is famous.

3. The Jessie J thing where she sat in the chair all night with her foot in the cast…just looked weird. She sang OK; I understand she’s the one who sings that song “It’s all about the money”; so it’s a tossup whether it was a good idea to have her up there. She seemed to drain a lot of energy from the stage.

4. I reflected that there is a difference between controlling the fact that you are out of control, and just losing it. For example, the band that did the mosh pit thing seemed in control, even though the singer dropped into the crowd. On the other hand Li’l Wayne just went crazy. It was bad how he ended the show.

5. Cursing. A little – maybe. Too much – just not classy at all.

On the subject of pop culture:

A prayer for Will Smith and Jada Pinkett. May G-d bless and protect them and heal them in this difficult time.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

__

Image source here

Friday, August 26, 2011

So they asked me to get involved in Jewish Heritage Month. At first I wasn’t so sure. I mean, I am very proud of being Jewish, but honestly have forgotten a lot of what I learned in yeshiva. (Well, I guess most of it.) Who am I to be the authority on this kind of thing?

I ended up getting involved anyway because I figured maybe G-d would give me some brownie points for helping with the event. I’m not a huge fan of going to shul (synagogue) and sometimes I worry I will get punished for that.

Also, it was the first celebration of Jewish Heritage Month at my agency that anybody could remember. Certainly it had been years. Maybe it was never. I had complained silently about why we didn’t celebrate Jewish Diversity Day. Now was my chance to represent our faith!

Oh G-d.

Apparently the speaker was already planned. I was to be the M.C. I had no idea what that meant. Like M.C. Hammer? A deejay?

No – I would read the pre-scripted remarks for the event.

If you know me you know that I have never been able to stick to a script in my life. Except as a kid in high school theater. So that was out.

I ended up on the Food Committee. This is not as light a task as it may sound. For Jewish people have a very intense relationship with food. So right away there is an impassioned debate between the “falafel camp” (not me) and the “New York deli camp” (me). Both sides lose.

“My wife says falafel is more modern Jewish food.”

“I think New York deli is culturally authentic.”

The falafel is easily beaten. Nobody has sympathy for “modern” when you’re talking “heritage.” In contrast, in my informal poll among neutral sympathizers, the New York deli idea is universally loved. However, it proves difficult to implement because there are so few kosher delis in the D.C. area, and the one we pick presents some issues we can’t overcome. (Basically they were too expensive.)

So since I am responsible for the food, and there is a kosher butcher near me who caters, I successfully suggest the easiest, cheapest, and to me, actually the most authentic choice considering Jewish history: chulent and kugel and the like. You read me right: “Kiddush food.” (A Kiddush is the Jewish social event after synagogue – where we bless the wine and eat.) I can’t imagine what could be wrong with that.

The other members of the Food Committee are not sure. Chulent-kugel fare smacks of the Old World and we are Jewish Americans. But hey, it was my hassle, and so Kiddush food it was. (I was secretly thrilled. A shul! At work!)

I go to the butcher before work one day and find that indeed, I can actually order these things, have them heated up, have them delivered, and yes, it will work. Celebrate the faith. I like it. I smell those Heavenly bonus points adding up.

Not everyone was pleased at home, though. My family was absolutely stunned.

“You did WHAT?” one of my kids said disapprovingly. “Chulent? From there?”

My other one starts laughing hysterically. “You are going to make all the non-Jewish people have gas??” (Well she said it more colloquially but you get the idea.)

My mother is sort of laughing but a bit concerned as well. “Chulent??” she echoed. “You’re going to turn everybody anti-Semitic.”

“We eat it in shul, Ma,” I whined. “What is the problem.”

“Our stomachs are used to it.”

The only problem is, I’m not sure the butcher folks really paid attention when I placed the order. “What’s a federal Jewish Heritage Month celebration?” the deli counter person had asked me.

I tried to explain. He tuned me out. Then asked, “Is this a shul function?”

Again I clarified. “No, I work for a FEDERAL agency. The GOVERNMENT.”

Somehow I negotiate what I want. I know I said clearly, before I spent all our budgeted funds, “It has to be delivered HOT. Hot because people will be eating it. Like catering.”

I reassure myself. They understood. I’m worrying too much. It has to work.

Fast forward to the Big Day.

Delivery time arrives and I don’t hear anything. Nobody is at the security desk with the food.

It’s 10 a.m. – two hours to go, no need to panic. I reach for the phone and call the butcher. “Where are you? The event is soon. We have to get set up.”

“Who is this?”

“It’s me,” I say. “Remember me? A loyal customer? I PAID you to come to the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. Where’s the truck?”

An hour later there is a call from the lobby desk downstairs. “Some guy here says he has a delivery for you.”

The guy has not parked the van in a good place. It is sitting somewhere it is not supposed to be.

I’m toast.

I frantically run downstairs. “What’s the problem?”

There are five thousand security procedures for this butcher delivery person to go through and he has gone through none.

Finally, I get the food.

Yes! I say to myself. I have three boxes. They’re heavy. We’re good. Right?

At 11:15 I open the box.

Jesus Christ, I realize (excuse me). It’s FROZEN! All of it. In the original boxes. Like BRICKS!

I start to shake. My religion, my heritage will now be trashed before a major federal agency because I will be serving BRICKS of FROZEN KUGEL!

I run upstairs to my desk to call the bucher and yell.

“How could you DO this to me?” I scream. I believe I shattered glass that day. “This food is FROZEN! I am so ASHAMED!”

Innocently the butcher says, “You never said you wanted it heated up.”

Oh my G-d. I am mortified.

I run the executive offices and find a rolling cart. I dump all three boxes into the cart and, shaking again, call a friend. “Please help me, I’m dying.”

She calms me down. She is so nice.

“We have an oven here. Put it in the oven.”

She gets an assistant to help me load it in. I flip the switch up to 500 degrees. And then the other switch to make it go faster.

I never prayed so hard in my life for food to heat up fast as I did during that half an hour before the “Ethnic Food Sampling.”

In the end I guess G-d got me to go to shul that day. Because the entire day, I was praying.

Yes, in the end, everything was fine. Nobody came running to the Health Unit, as far as I know. Thankfully.

As Hurricane Irene approaches, I remember that day. How crazy it was. I think about how G-d can make things turn out good or bad, without warning, and of course without explanation. I resolve to try to keep that in mind and be as good a person as I can.

Best wishes to everyone for safety – hope we all get through this OK. Be good to each other, and good luck!

1. Spaghetti-os + Velveeta Mac & Cheese

2. OXO can opener

3. Hefty garbage bags + Charmin T.P.

4. iPod + Kindle

5. Bounty paper towels

6. Skippy peanut butter + Smuckers jelly + Pepperidge Farm bread

7. Life cereal + Fiber One

8. Uncle Ben's ready-made rice in a pouch + Quaker rice cakes

9. Deer Park water + Diet Snapple + Red Bull + Starbucks Frappuccino

10. Energizer batteries

Good luck!

Thursday, August 25, 2011



Americans are instinctively mistrustful of the government. It is popular to laugh at what we say, and to believe that we control the media, and in general to talk about social control through "propaganda."

Knowing this, and because in fact we cannot use appropriated funds for propaganda domestically, the government is nervous about marketing techniques; rightly so.

Unfortunately however, the energy created by this fear dynamic has led us to toss away the baby with the bathwater.

The reality is, we live in a marketing culture. It is impossible to get people’s attention unless you know something about how to engage them. And the government has lots of things to tell people – if only so that they can comply with the law and know where to get the basic services that are due to them.

In addition, we have transitioned from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy, as everyone knows. So while in the past it was OK to say “we spend our time processing paperwork…figuring out how to file it is your problem,” today the computer has taken care of the paperwork.

But there is so much other “noise” and distraction out there today, and the general educational level is so poor, that it is incredibly daunting for the average person to comprehend who we are and how we can serve them.

So government desperately needs marketing to do its job. But - contrary to the dark perceptions held by some members of the public - we largely don’t understand what marketing is, refuse to learn it, refuse to hire for it (for the most part), and can’t admit out loud that we need it either. For fear of being condemned. Because we think we need to put the money elsewhere. And so we waste the money that we invest.

Make no mistake about it, if you set something up but don’t communicate about it to anyone, you have achieved absolutely nothing. Or worse. Our failure to communicate has led to massive confusion, misinformation, ridicule and outright anger by the public. They were laughing when we got stuck with the earthquake!

Also, troublingly, it is not uncommon to see private companies selling access to the stuff we offer for free – in a way that that public can understand.

There are some bright lights who re-do our work in a simpler way (e.g. they set up websites that are more user-friendly than ours), but why should we have a parallel structure to the government itself which has to explain what we do?

The persistent fear of marketing in the government, along with the recognition that we desperately need it, feeds a dysfunctional culture where we handle marketing in one of three ways – none of them optimal:

· “Let the vendor handle it” – pay someone millions of dollars for a short-term ad campaign they can walk away from.

· “Let the media handle it” – generate a press release, and let the news report on it through broadcast, print, etc.

· “Let our folks handle it, but don’t train them and don’t call it marketing” – which results in a lot of homemade desktop-published stuff.

King Solomon famously said that there is a time for everything, and this applies to marketing too. We also need specialists in mass media broadcast entertainment, public relations, corporate communication, and the dreaded “b” word, “branding.” Not to mention all things Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more.

Especially given a challenging economy where we don't have a single dollar to waste, we must come to terms with marketing and use it well. Templates, process, infrastructure, training, the works. Hey - I know what it's called - "social marketing." Isn't that an entire sub-industry? How come we don't talk about it or use it commonly? Why isn't it common to have a university degree that focuses on this area in particular?

I work for the government. I like it here. We do hugely important work and we have a great – complicated, urgent, often funny - story to tell. But more important we provide both social services and much-needed social control. And too often the public has no idea what is available to them, what the rules are, or how they can take advantage of all this.

Let’s get with the program now. We need to train our own marketers. And what we can’t do in-house, we should allow the private sector to help us do. Let’s harness their brainpower and heart power to better serve the public. It’s not about propaganda – it is about bringing the nation together.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!



___



Image source here

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

1. Get in front of the camera, surrounded by people, and send a reassuring message immediately. Put it on YouTube and Facebook.

2. Set up an event-specific website and Twitter hashtag to follow. Aggregate info from various key sources.

3. Stream updates constantly over a dedicated radio channel that people know about.

4. Establish an emergency people can call and text for automated updates.

5. Set up a number people can subscribe to for text updates.

6. Follow up with people when it is over and ask how they are.

7. Assess outreach tools afterward - which were most effective? Which not?

8. Ask employees for suggestions regarding improving crisis plans for the future.

9. Do something light to help people calm down - scale this appropriately for size and complexity of audience.

10. Post photos, messages, Tweets, etc. in an online archive so people can refer to it later. This has an operational use (after action review) as well as a human one (memory book).

Good luck!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Scratching_head

A friend of mine had to get something done because the government told her to.


The problem is, she didn't know how to follow the instructions because she is elderly and the type on the government form was too small.


She got some help and did what she was supposed to, but then had trouble following up.


This is because there are a lot of phone numbers listed on the website, but none of them are apparently right for her.


There is a message somewhere online about her particular situation, but since she is elderly and the type is small and hard to find, she wouldn't have known it was there unless it was pointed out to her.


How can we help this person and others like her to get what they need from the government? 


I call this "citizen service" rather than "customer service" to distinguish that the government is not a business (though I do think it should be run like one).


From my perspective three three things have to happen - from the short to the medium to the long term, respectively - but I would like to know what others think.


1) Short term: Establish a call center staffed by people who can answer any question pertaining to the federal government. "One call does it all." Optimally there would be a website where you could also chat with customer service representatives, search a knowledge base, or correspond by email. The questions that flow into this customer service center would be analyzed and reported on so that government leaders could know what is puzzling to people. (My agency has something like this on a smaller scale; I do not represent them here.)


2) Medium term: Ensure that people who work for the government are broadly literate across all agencies in terms of their functions, organizational structure, key issues, etc. Just like you can't graduate from university without studying a core curriculum, within 5 years of working for the government you should have a base of knowledge sufficient to equip you to answer questions from the public should you be the recipient of them. Doing this would also ensure that we think like one government because to the public - the USG is the brand.


3) Long term: Reorganize the agencies themselves along the lines of what citizens want, rather than setting them up as a patchwork driven by a multitude of priorities. More than that, make the institutional structures flexible enough to evolve with citizen needs, so that radical change isn't needed as society continues to evolve.


Some companies that do customer service well and along these lines are Amazon.com and Symantec.


What do you think? How can government increase the level of service it provides to the public in terms of responding to their questions?


___


Image source here

Monday, August 22, 2011

Girls_with_doll

When I was five years old I learned to ride my bicycle. 

My Zayde, may he rest in peace, held onto the back while I sped off.

I felt safe knowing that he was behind me and that if I fell he would catch me.

I fell over and over again of course. But then he was there. And it wasn't so bad.

That year I remember being happy. I had a big Raggedy Ann themed birthday party with all my friends. It wasn't the biggest deal in the world, but to me it was amazing.

One day that year I came home from school and my mother motioned to me to sit down on the couch. "Pack your things," she said. "Daddy got another job and we are leaving."

I was stunned but I did what she said. 

That was the house where I fed the birds with my dad. We used to stand in the doorway that led to the backyard from the kitchen. We tossed crumbs out on to the porch. The birds ate them.

I felt the loss of my house acutely that summer. After that we moved somewhere else and my dad traveled for business a lot. I missed him.

There have been other times in my life like that. Enough that I learned to live without attachments. I learned to travel light. I didn't know when my security would be taken away. So I decided not to need anything.

I guess I let down my guard a bit because I got married and had kids and I'm pretty attached to my family (to put it mildly). I try not to think about it too much. What would happen if everything, everyone were taken away. Knowing that one day it will happen. That I will be powerless to stop it.

We moved our older daughter to college recently. I was absolutely crying. I was. Almost as bad as her high school graduation. I knew to expect that same feeling this time, so it wasn't as bad.

My husband was funny. We had her stuff in the moving cart. I had been complaining about how hard I was working with all the shlepping and stuff. And he was flying around with the cart, laughing at how I was such a wuss. "A little work and look at you," he joked, spinning and spinning. "What's the big deal? Whee..."

My daughter had her head in her hands. I think she was praying that nobody would see her embarrassing parents moving her in.

I don't deal well with losing the things I am attached to. Much less the people. She isn't going to be that far away. But to me it is an aching void.

One of my students lost her son this summer. Suddenly - he passed away out of nowhere. I thought she would take the rest of the semester off, but she ended up coming back to class. I thought about it a lot. I marveled at her strength. I was terribly upset for her. I don't think she knows how much.

Worries about loss, the attempt to prevent it and the inability to, are pervasive not only in real life but in the movies too. Watch the version of "Planet of the Apes" in theaters now. It's not a spoiler to say that you'll find loss, and all the terrible feelings and consequences around it, everywhere in the film.

Look at all this intensity. It's heavy! So I know pretty clearly why I went into marketing. It's happy. It's fun. It seems easy to me (though I guess if it were so easy I would be a millionaire, right?)

More than that, it spares me from having to think about the losses that are coming, that have come, that I can't control.

When you go into the store, and you buy a pretty thing, you don't have to think about the heavy thoughts that have no solution.

All you have to do is pick red, or pink, or green or yellow or blue.

That's not so bad...that's something I can live with.

I've said it a million times over and I'll say it again: If you are a marketer you're not selling a thing. You're selling an experience. 

If you're really good you're selling a brief respite from the ordinary and extraordinary pain that comes with being alive.

And if you are amazing, you take joy in giving people that moment of happiness, over and above the money.

We're sitting in Starbucks now, and it's so peaceful. I get to write my blog, and reflect, and relax. I understand what CEO Schultz is trying to do, it works, and I appreciate it. And I'm happy to buy a tea to compensate the company for the effort they put into making my day just a little brighter.

Have a good day everyone - be good to each other - and good luck.

___

Image via terren (Creative Commons) on Flickr

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bbt-blumenthal

Well, my new book is out on Amazon's Kindle Store. It's the best of four years of blogging together with 365 inspirational thoughts about the future of brand strategy.

In the end, like my grandmother always said, it boils down to one basic idea: Be a mensch.

I hope you like the book but more importantly I hope you comment on it. I have published books before, but it is unbelievably exciting to have the power of the publishing pen in your own hands.

Good luck - go forward - and as you conquer, be kind.

Have a great day,

Dannielle Blumenthal

P.S. Book cover image by stevendepolo (Flickr Creative Commons)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Brandassetconsulting-brandstre

Companies that "think brand first" stand a greater chance of success than those who don't. 

It's a nice theory that also happens to be fact - and this fact has been proven over and over again. (See accompanying graphic from Brand Asset Consulting, favorably comparing the performance of strong brands with the overall S&P 500.)

If everybody knows that strong brands do better than weak ones or generics, why does anybody ever deviate from the principles that make brands strong? 

The answer I think is not that they ever forget about the brand. 

Rather, brand screwups think incorrectly about their brand, in a few respects:

* First, they lack a fundamental understanding of what a brand is (an internal organizing principle of the business as well as an external communication tool). So they treat brand just like advertising and change it up when it gets boring.

* Second, if they do understand that brand = business principle, they don't know exactly what that principle is sufficiently to articulate it.

* Third, even if they can articulate it, it's not necessarily what the customer wants or needs from the company but rather what the company has decided it ought to be. 

Technology companies tend to make this mistake - call it "thinking brand stupid" - over and over again, primarily because they are so impressed with themselves that they believe the value is in the technology - rather than in the concept represented by the brand. 

A great example of erroneous brand thinking is Microsoft, a company strong because it owns so much desktop real estate but weak because it is out of touch with users, slow-footed, and tends toward braggadocio and competitor-bashing

The value Microsoft brings to the world is not inherently the technology. Rather, it is that the company helps the average business person to be productive. They have been fortunate to create a few very strong products that accomplish this. 

So whenever Microsoft focuses on productivity, they win. But when they market products for products' sake, they lose. 

Case in point: Sharepoint. It's something we're stuck with because we're so wedded to all their other products. But in and of itself, it's ugly, complicated, and difficult for the average user to learn and use. (It took me about three years, and even then I had to set up workarounds using Excel and Access that involve so many steps to keep going, nobody normal could recreate them.)

What's crazy is that collaboration is increasingly essential to productivity today. A huge business opportunity. But Microsoft is so arrogant and so focused on itself and not on the user - it is so marketing-blind - that if anybody creates an alternative with half the bells and whistles but twice the usability it will take off.

That company might be Google, currently the world's #1 brand but one that seems to be flailing a bit in search of a guiding star. 

To my mind, Google's brand is reducible not to searchability but to mastery of complex information, as represented by the Internet. Google helps people overcome the not unrealistic fear that they are drowning pawns in the sea of techno-information. 

Instead of trying to take over every function that the Net offers, Google would do well to take a bite out of Microsoft's jugular: their overconfidence that they and they alone are the trusted vendor of business productivity.

Think about it: The average office worker is drowning not only in work but also in information. They create documents and later can't find them; or must search for work that others have done that they know nothing about.

I would actually like to see a duel between Microsoft and Google over the future of business collaboration. For whereas Microsoft has the edge in the business market because of the perception of security and enterprise strength it offers, Google knows how to make advanced technology accessible and friendly. 

When it comes to collaboration, it is desperately important that the new technology be friendly - because the concept of sharing information is about as scary as can be. While right now Microsoft has the edge because people think of it as "the" go-to brand for business, there is an opportunity for Google and Apple to edge themselves in. 

Maybe it sounds trivial, but I foresee big wins for the brands that make life easier on the little things. Examples:

* The font size of the words on the desktop, and the size of the icons - they are usually way too small. 

* The computer takes too long to load.

* The average user doesn't understand security issues, or warnings.

* Self-service repair is challenging.

* There is too much functionality, making it difficult to do basic things.

Faster, simpler, easier, friendlier - not necessarily cheaper - without compromise of security or interoperability - and you will be a force to beat.

There is a technology company that could trump all others in doing exactly this when it comes to collaboration solutions: Facebook. Yes, I think they can succeed in the business market. 

I believe that Facebook has business potential because, despite being technologically sophisticated beyond belief - these are coders to the core - Facebook is grounded in a simple, clear and compelling philosophy. 

The vision of Facebook is that friendship is everything. It's that simple. And oh yeah, you do want to have friends - and relatives - everywhere. Is it really so farfetched that Facebook would be pervasive at work for the same people who use it at home?

Recently I read of a new outlets going Facebook-only. It makes sense considering research unearthing the tendency of women, at least, to check it before even brushing their teeth in the morning - isn't that when you want people to get the news?

Similarly, Facebook has now integrated Skype into video chat (Microsoft is supposedly acquiring Skype so this is an alliance with teeth). Given that people routinely use Skype for business calls, and that they friend their coworkers, watch for Facebook now to make inroads into the business-videochat market.

Remember, Mark Zuckerberg's belief is that privacy is now largely superfluous. He believes in  mixing the personal and the professional online. I believe it's not only about "social norms" as he says, but really because he believes keeping those spheres separate is hypocritical.

So why not bring the personal self into the business environment? 

And then bring collaboration somehow into that mix, assuming that they can leverage the Microsoft brand to build in trustworthy security safeguards? 

(I actually see those two companies as potentially incredibly powerful together, if the "Microsofties" can ever stop barking for five minutes.)

In the end, the lesson for technology companies and all companies is that you must always have a passionately held, compelling-to-an-audience belief guiding your efforts no matter how technical they seem. 

If you can establish yourself as the trusted provider of a piece of somebody's life, they will ultimately give you that business and more. 

But if you reduce yourself to a commodity provider of bits and parts, you will be elbowed out by somebody else who does a better job of posing as a friend.

Have a good evening everyone, and good luck!

__

Image source here

Dq_pinata

There was a TV commercial on the other day for water. I'm guessing it's Aquafina, I can't find the ad. If I'm wrong, correct me. (Can't be that good of an ad to start with if I don't even remember who it's for. But anyway.)

A bunch of girls in sports uniforms are standing around on the grass. In front of them is a water cooler. Their gym teacher hands them a bunch of colored water (presumably sugar-water drinks). Somehow they decide that regular water is going to taste better than the colored water.

I watched that along with the family and we all had the same reaction: "What a stupid commercial!" They made the sugar water look so good, why would anyone have the plain?

It's just one of so many marketing fails I just can't believe anyone spends their money on.

Look at the Dairy Queen ads for Blizzards. You don't have to sell me on Nutter Butter blended with vanilla ice cream - I am there! But what is with that weird guy who is hawking them? Is he supposed to be some kind of spokesperson? That ad makes me never want to go into DQ at all!

There are so many more like this. 

Have you seen the Sears commercial where the spokesperson tells the couple that Sears has anything they could possibly want? The couple is sort of clueless until the big Sears logo appears.

Now I don't know about you but I have been to this store lately. It is nothing like that ad at all. Dirty, messy, disorganized, no help whatsoever. No clue. No guidance as to where anything is, why it's better than anything else, or how to buy it. A big gigantic mystery store, that is Sears.

Let me pick on Kmart a little too. What is the deal with the back-to-school commercials showing kids' clothes for the cheapest prices imaginable? Isn't the problem with Kmart that they're known for low-low prices so low they're embarrassing? Because if anyone found out you shopped at Kmart they would laugh you out of town?

Insurance companies are kind of weird with their commercials. What was with the Geico caveman? Do you like Progressive Flo? Yuck yuck and yuck more. Who are these people and why would I buy insurance from them? You know who is good - the guy who used to play the President of the United States on "24." Just because he represents Allstate, I seriously would consider them.

Continuing that positive note, here is one company whose TV commercials are magnificent: Chrysler and its "Made in Detroit" campaign. The ads rebuild a brand, bring it back to its essence, and update and muscle it up for the future. 

Those ads are so good - so resonant with the actual brand of Detroit and the actual turnaround situation the company is in - that I actually would consider buying one. Not because I'm shallow. But because I sense that behind this ad is an actual business strategy that is carefully thought-through and makes sense. It's also deeply patriotic, a value that means a lot to me.

In the end this is the purpose of a TV ad. To hammer a brand image into your brain, over and over again, until you are curious enough to consider buying. If an ad does that it's done a lot. But if it leaves you laughing - not with it but at it - then whoever spent all that money just wasted it.

Have a great day everyone, and good luck!

__

Image source here

Friday, August 19, 2011

How-to-start-a-flash-mob

In recent times we have seen the rise of the "headless" organized crime group where leaders, if they exist, are more like ringleaders who "activate" group members. The group is driven by ideology - a reverse form of brand:

* Wikileaks - "exposing despicable and underhanded actions of governments (and businesses) the world over"

* Anonymous/Lulz - "Internet freedom"

* Flash mobs - "a random act with the sole purpose of confusing others"
 
Because these groups move so quickly and often so invisibly it is difficult for traditional law enforcement methods to counter them. By the time the police show up, the flash mob is gone.

What to do?

Basically, use the same tactics these groups are using - to counter them.

Really we are talking about brand-based distributed leadership as a tool for law enforcement.

The Department of Homeland Security, for which I work (I do not represent them here) has a campaign going on right now called "See Something, Say Something" encouraging ordinary people to be vigilant and report unusual activity to law enforcement. 

This is the type of thing I am referring to, except I am suggesting that the structure of law enforcement itself be rethought to be more effective at fighting crime. As follows:

1. Locus of control is internal and ideology-based: We are loyal to the concept of keeping our country and our world free and safe from lawlessness.

2. There is no single "star" or hero in this model - everyone is equally capable of helping in the cause.

3. Redundancy - every process and every piece of equipment and every person who is on the job, has a backup who can do the same thing in case they are taken out.

4. Infrastructure - we operate virtually and are not centered on physical buildings. We can communicate instantly and easily across the world and citizens know how to communicate with us as well.

5. We are geographically distributed and not headquarters-centric.

What this means, as well, is that we end the cult of personality. It's not about finding a brilliant leader to follow. It is about finding brilliant followers.

Something to think about - we must act quickly, proactively and aggressively as a nation and a world society if we are to eradicate the organized criminals that keep good people hiding.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

___

Image source here

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Americandream

When I was a brand consultant I quickly learned to divide branding into the good and the bad. 

* Good branding is where you involve the workforce to achieve a collective mission in a way that is economically, socially, and psychologically profitable to all stakeholders involved. 

* Bad branding is where you put lipstick on a pig and soak innocent people for their money.

I have often thought that good branding applies not only to business but to any organization or any person seeking to achieve a goal.

On the CNN interview show "Piers Morgan Tonight" last night (August 17, 2011) Howard Schultz talked about how he is urging the business community to take matters into their own hands with respect to the economic recovery.

He shared some thoughts (actually he is furious at Washington) on how to turn the economy around. Though he didn't say it, he basically espoused the principles behind the Starbucks company, which I consider to be the #1 brand in the world. Schultz really gets it.

Key points:

1. The average person has to believe that they have an opportunity to succeed - to achieve the American Dream - which is our brand (!) Right now, they are losing that faith.

2. The average person has to have trust in the country's leadership. Right now, they are losing that trust because of all the bickering.

3. Leaders have to demonstrate true transparency to build that trust.

4. The problems are not difficult to solve. It is the infighting that gets in the way of focusing on the problem.

5. What we need is a focus on prosperity balanced with a determination to take care of our people.

6. There is an imbalance of government workers as opposed to manufacturing jobs. (Note: I work for the government - I am not taking a position on this - just recapturing what Schultz said.) Major point: Need to bring manufacturing innovation to the U.S. instead of farming it out.

7. China is not the enemy, we need to look at it as a potential market.

8. It is important to have respect and cultural sensitivity to others as you engage with them. Schultz repeatedly said that he wanted to speak in a respectful way; that he knew there was a difference between turning a business around and turning a government around; and Starbucks executives, including himself, are learning Chinese. They are going into the market with respect.

9. Symbolism on the part of leaders is important: It looks bad to take a vacation when things are in such bad shape.

10. Last but not least, the focus has to be on putting people back to work. Jobs, jobs, jobs are the key to economic confidence.

Overall I cannot emphasize enough that the principles of branding, used well, have the capacity not only to help you make money, but can help you create positive social change. 

Have a good day - and good luck!

__

Image source here

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Chameleon

Reputation vs. reality is where the Myers-Briggs sensory types are mistaken.

In Judaism, we learn that reputation is priceless: “A good name is worth more than the finest oil.”

Life is not only about the physical. It is also very much about appearances. From a business perspective this makes sense, of course, but it's a moral thing too. When you act good, you inspire others – and the opposite, too. (As we know, creeps are eventually found out, so don't bother leaning on appearances.)

And it might seem like a little thing, but your reputation – call it “brand,” whatever – comes not only from your actions, but also very much from your name. In Judaism, for example:

• We aren’t allowed to say G-d’s name, except in prayer.

• We aren’t allowed to give up our Hebrew names. That’s why religious Jewish kids get one Hebrew, and one English.

• The prayer book lists a unique Hebrew passage relating to your name, that you will be asked to say when you've crossed over to the Other Side.

Of course there are times when you have to go by a different name to survive. The heroine of the Purim holiday used her dual names, Esther/Hadassah, to facilitate the salvation of the Jewish people from the evil Haman. During the Spanish Inquisition, an entire generation of Jews went underground, pretending to be Christian. And so on, throughout time, until today.

Given that assimilating has meant survival for my people for thousands of years, I see that managing one’s identity is more than just a nice-to-do. It is a matter of staying alive. You have to understand who you are, versus how you are perceived, and adjust yourself accordingly in order to get through.

In good times it might be just a matter of getting a better job or changing careers. In uncertain or dangerous times, morphing can require a much more pervasive effort to transform yourself.

Many people, unfortunately, feel like any attempt to change is like a betrayal, and they get caught in a failure loop out of an inability to adapt.

Don’t be like that. Be like Madonna. She has reinvented herself a million times, but she is fearlessly still the same person on the inside.

Madonna is a branding genius.

When you’re too stuck to your name, you end up stuck in a pigeonhole too. Even if you are successful for a time, others can copy you and then your value is gone. Take another tack and you’re copied again.

The real way to succeed is to detach completely from your name. It is you, but then again, it really isn’t. It’s more like a manifestation of an identity that is part of you, and there are other parts of you it doesn’t cover.

To be good at branding today you have to manipulate the name rather than it manipulating you. What you want is to be transparent but also ultimately elusive, mysterious, unknowable except when you are ready to present yourself.

In thinking about this I have found a simple application of Kabbala/Buddhist philosophy to be helpful. In the end we are all part of the vast, unknowable universe. We are bits and pieces, but ultimately and overall connected. So the goal of being here, philosophically, is for ordinary people to make visible those connections and learn that being good to one another is the same thing as being good to ourselves.

Know who you are, be proud of your identity, but always be ready to change your manifestation as needed. Not your inner self, but your outer colors.

Your financial and physical survival may one day depend on it.

On that lovely note - good luck!

___

Chameleon image here.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

I saw this license plate today and just had to jot this down. Clearly this person, whoever they are, is moved with admiration for the President (and the school that the First Family attends). Whatever your politics, it says a lot that someone would go so far as to brand themselves this way. To me it means that this person celebrates positivity and achievement - and wants to go beyond their own limits as well.

Anyway, most of what's on this list is common sense; I'm just reiterating what you'd find in any typical book. The key, I think, is to look for people who do more than just a few of these things - they are superachievers who go beyond the 80% mark (20 out of the 25). They’re the ones you want to emulate because they've figured out how to synergize.

So. You can tell someone is a successful personal brand when:
1. They are extremely organized.
2. They drink plain water and exercise too.
3. They never pay retail.
4. They make friends wherever they go.
5. They dress with intent.
6. They admit their weaknesses.
7. They know what they don’t know, and educate themselves constantly.
8. They admire and copy the success habits of others.
9. They let themselves fail, but never fail the same way twice.
10. They don’t make excuses.
11. They have a conscience, but avoid judging others.
12. They are transparent, but they have discretion.
13. They focus on what they do well and hire others to do the rest.
14. They read the news.
15. They ask open-ended questions.
16. They know how to laugh.
17. They avoid extremes.
18. They are emotionally present.
19. They never give up on themselves, but they know when it’s time to move on.
20. They believe in G-d, a higher power, karma – a force behind the universe.
21. They prepare for disaster.
22. They think positively, but not unrealistically.
23. They are capable of change when change is needed.
24. They have beliefs, but aren’t hobbled by ideology.
25. They genuinely care, and they do things to make a positive difference.
Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

Licenseplate

I saw this license plate today and just had to jot this down. Clearly this person, whoever they are, is moved with admiration for the President (and the school that the First Family attends). Whatever your politics, it says a lot that someone would go so far as to brand themselves this way. To me it means that this person celebrates positivity and achievement - and wants to go beyond their own limits as well.

Anyway, most of what's on this list is common sense; I'm just reiterating what you'd find in any typical book. The key, I think, is to look for people who do more than just a few of these things - they are superachievers who go beyond the 80% mark (20 out of the 25). They’re the ones you want to emulate because they've figured out how to synergize.

So. You can tell someone is a successful personal brand when:

1. They are extremely organized.
2. They drink plain water and exercise too.
3. They never pay retail.
4. They make friends wherever they go.
5. They dress with intent.
6. They admit their weaknesses.
7. They know what they don’t know, and educate themselves constantly.
8. They admire and copy the success habits of others.
9. They let themselves fail, but never fail the same way twice.
10. They don’t make excuses.
11. They have a conscience, but avoid judging others.
12. They are transparent, but they have discretion.
13. They focus on what they do well and hire others to do the rest.
14. They read the news.
15. They ask open-ended questions.
16. They know how to laugh.
17. They avoid extremes.
18. They are emotionally present.
19. They never give up on themselves, but they know when it’s time to move on.
20. They believe in G-d, a higher power, karma – a force behind the universe.
21. They prepare for disaster.
22. They think positively, but not unrealistically.
23. They are capable of change when change is needed.
24. They have beliefs, but aren’t hobbled by ideology.
25. They genuinely care, and they do things to make a positive difference.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ignore

Yesterday one of my kids said to her friend: ""Excuse me, you interrupted me. I'd like to finish what I was saying."

The friend had been talking over her, around her, up and down ignoring her, for an hour. But she responded as if my kid had no basis for irritation. She said, with a bit of an edge, "So-rry! Like if you want to say something, just go ahead and say it."

Obviously that would be a difficult thing to do if you can't get a word in edgewise.

It was a snippet of a conversation that had been ongoing all day. But when I thought about it a bit, it occurred to me that just in that day alone, both professionally and personally, both in real life and in the worlds of media, politics and pop culture, I could think of about half a dozen other examples of people being edged out of a conversation by skillful manipulators of body language, word tone, and the English language itself.

And it occurred to me that when people are constantly talking past each other, it is very hard to have a meaningful conversation. So the problems that exist are not solved. Because the interchanges don't involve any connection at all. Instead they are like a form of warfare, designed for one party to crush the other while preserving the appearance of a   real battle of ideas.

Is it any wonder that our magical economy, inflated for so long by good fortune rather than actual productivity, is deflating?

And that the effort to shore it up with puffy words is falling flat despite our desperate wishes to the contrary?

I don't believe for one second that Americans can't compete. We absolutely can.

The problem is that we've gotten used to a system where leadership means saying, in effect, "I'm right and not only are they wrong, but they don't even exist...they are crazy and nobody really agrees with them."

This is the definition of a mental and social pathology.

Instead of admitting that our opponents are right - about anything - we pretend that they are nuts. By manipulating words, body language, and communication itself to try and dominate the conversation and edge them out.

I read something from a Jewish mystical point of view (Kabbalah) which said that the current economic crisis is really a crisis of egos stretched to the breaking point.

As long as we puff our egos up and try to put others down, we aren't going to get anywhere.

The real war we face is a war on poverty. We need to resolve it now. In this day and age, with all the technologies available to us and all the knowledge we can harness collectively, nobody should ever go hungry, be homeless, face life on the lawless streets, or be unable to receive basic healthcare.

Until we join forces with our enemies and get our egos out of the way, the stock market is going to continue to bounce around wildly.

When we wake up and get humble - when we realize that the way to advance ourselves is to help somebody else get up - that will be the day that the economy recovers.

I hope that day comes soon.

Have a good weekend everyone, and good luck!

__

Image source here





I know, I know, it would have been cleaner with 20. Feel free to add the last one...

1. Work within the culture, not against it.

2. Keep your message consistent across channels/platforms.

3. Customize your external message to an internal audience.

4. Use technology to facilitate human interaction, not replace it.

5. Treat technology as a necessity not an option.

6. Use technology strategically—filter information to the right people at the right time.

7. Don’t over-write—short and simple is best online, where people scan and don’t read.

8. Longer documents should be in deeper links that people can print if they need to.

9. Use technology to inform your employees of an issue before the media does.

10. Customize delivery of information according to employee usage habits—email, online, handheld device, etc.

11. Keep print materials available—just use them sparingly.

12. Use multiple and overlapping channels to communicate—not just one.

13. Collaborate extensively to achieve buy-in.

14. Keep technology simple—especially for the communicators who will use it.

15. Evolve strategy and execution continuously—never rest on your laurels.

16. Accept criticism (e.g. via blog) but insist that employees put their name on it.

17. Ask for feedback and take action based on it.

18. Don’t make excuses about metrics—generate them and put them to good use.

19. Test your message before you send it—and check everything, to the smallest detail.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

___

Image source here

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Utopia

Right now government has a bit of a brand problem in that people think we're not only lazy, but a bit crazy as well. (Or maybe just dysfunctional.) After all a normal organization, confronted by the threat of collapse, would fight for its own survival. Whereas we seem only to eat our own.

What most people don't understand is that 1) government workers actually work pretty hard and care a lot, too and 2) the dysfunction that you see is caused primarily by passionate ideological differences about how best to help our country prosper.

Perhaps the worst brand problem government has is the perception that we "live off the people." This one has got to go. For again, the reality is that we don't really have an effective metric for social stewardship - or at least not one that is clearly visible and understandable to all. Meaning, we don't really know when we're winning, except that we can talk about what percentage of money goes directly to operations as opposed to overhead (a metric offered by Roy Luebke that makes a lot of sense to me.)

This isn't the place to offer branding techniques to the government. It's all pretty obvious stuff, it's findable anywhere, and so I'm not going to waste time on it other than to emphasize: Your brand is the impression that OTHER PEOPLE have of you, not what you tell them, and in a social media society all you can do is try to participate influentially in the conversation.

Moving on to a more direct solution that could not only help government recover its credibility, but actually help solve the problems we face concerning the economy and realize the President's vision of a more broadly participatory democracy: Get great brands, themselves, involved.

Here are 10 such brands - there are of course many more - that can be instrumental in helping government recover, and some specific and simple ways they can do so. What's critical in each case, though, is that the brands remain nonpartisan facilitators of a conversation rather than quietly taking sides:

1. Facebook: Similar to group pages, set up "issue" pages, where people have an opportunity to "like" an issue (deem it important) and contribute their thoughts via wall posts. 

2. Google: The possibilities are really endless when it comes to Google because this brand takes searchability and collaboration to a whole new level. Just a few ideas here: Use a shared Google Doc for brainstorming. Use a shared Google Projects site to show the steps toward accomplishing a specific policy goal. Have leaders share items or whole reading lists via Google Reader so that the public can follow their thinking. Set up a Google Voice number where the public can leave messages with their viewpoints on specific issues. Etc.

3. Starbucks/Dunkin' Donuts/Panera: Use those long wooden tables where people study to host community conversations about important topics. When times get tough, those conversations can lead to self-help groups where people help each other through tough economic times by helping each other out. For example, community potluck dinners can be scheduled; babysitting groups that enable mothers who can't otherwise afford childcare to go to work; action planning around public transportation; etc.

4. Amazon.com/Walmart: How about a promotion where an important book is made available at a discount price to encourage the nation to read about critical topics of interest? Or they could organize food drives in which people send or donate food items to a central distribution warehouse, and then they ship food to those in need?

5. Microsoft/McDonald's/Coca-Cola: Bill Gates is pioneering the science of technology for developing countries, primarily by helping them fight disease. McDonald's knows how to feed people cheaply. Coca-Cola understands how to reach anyone, anytime, anywhere with an appealing global brand. What if these three brands teamed up to develop mass-market solutions to pressing public problems that can be delivered more cheaply than government would? Three prime examples: preventive healthcare by machine (e.g. automated blood pressure check); food, shelter, and safe public restrooms for the homeless.

Great mass-market brands have the ability to unite people, organize them, and serve them efficiently - bringing them joy. If government were to think like a brand, and team up with great brands, all of us would reap the profits - empowering citizens and making this country happier, healthier, wealthier and wiser overall. Using difficult times as an inspiration point to think bigger and go beyond. Truly there are no limits, except in the mind.

Have a great day everyone, and good luck!

____

Image source here

Monday, August 8, 2011

Usb_panic_1

Now obviously isn't the time for niceties so I'll just jump in here with some simple advice. Avoiding the cliches in favor of fresh thinking.

1. Divide & conquer on price: In a price-sensitive economy you can't ignore the price wars completely. So establish a value-level brand, a midlevel brand, and a premium brand. Let's say you're a consultant: There are things you do that cost a ton of money, and others you basically give away. If Think Banana Republic, Gap (needs fixing, I know), and Old Navy.

2. Convert from "Mechanical Turk" to "Angie's List": If what you do can be automated, get out of it. Quickly, elevate yourself from a worker to a service provider like no other. Do you answer the phones? Add something to that job that makes an executive's life easier. Run a plumbing business? Walk the dog as a freebie and now you are a "home life support specialist." Wake up and brand yourself differently now.

3. Find a second job or create one. Even if you work full-time, you can do something on a freelance basis. Cook for a busy parent, or a block of busy parents. Write. Teach. Babysit. Diversification of your income stream helps you achieve financial balance in an unstable marketplace.

4. Learn a new, hyper-technical skill that you can master. If you are far enough ahead of the curve, your skill makes you valuable and not a Mechanical Turk. I won't list any here - because you'll tell me that they're obsolete already - but in your industry, you know what they are. Even a commonplace skill can be difficult and esoteric enough to fit here if others need it, they can't figure it out, but you can. Example: decorating cupcakes. 

5. Pick up the gold laying free on the street: People haven't figured out how to monetize good content because so many others are giving it away for free. That means opportunity for you. Whatever your line of work, read avidly the tips available about how to optimize your business. Then use them. Because most people are too busy to pay attention.

It's a difficult time, but we can pull through it. In the meanwhile, keep your wits about you, and good luck!

____

Image source here

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Tweeting

Welcome to the Twitter-land. Here, we think in semi-sentences, taglines, slogans, logos, and links that lead to bullet points. 

We communicate by other things too: short emails, instant messages and texts. Oh, also, "likes" and "awesomes."

We're not complicated people: Who has time?

No, everyone's running on a treadmill of some kind. And when they need information, "Give me the high points, please."

If it can't fit in 140 characters then we aren't interested.

Used to be that people had time to think.

I saw someone sitting on a rock in the countryside last weekend. Fishing, the old fashioned way. With a fishing rod and a line.

The fisherman sat there the whole time we were there. Not moving. I found it hard to believe. Didn't he have a project to finish, an errand to run, some paperwork to take care of?

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that we are headed toward negative economic times pretty fast. 

I think we could get out of it still. 

But the problem is, instead of working through the complicated mess we now find ourselves in, we're busy talking at each other in soundbites. You can't really capture the fuzzy gray matter in a short news story, so analysis goes by the wayside. In its place are headlines, subheads, quotes and items in bold and linked to really cool videos.

What if we stopped babbling and Tweeting and running for five minutes and really gave this some thought? Not adversarially, but as a country that realizes "We're in the deep doo-doo now."

I suspect we would find that the ideological divisions among us are not really all that solid. Rather, we are thinking in shorthand rather than going a level deeper and trying to get at a more meaningful truth that encompasses all the thought splinters by which we label ourselves now.

There is a Jewish saying that encapsulates how we never agree on anything: "Two Jews, three synagogues." Unfortunately in the Jewish community the divisions go far beyond Orthodox, Conservative and Reform, though. It seems like there are innumerable versions of the same basic faith, each one virulently convinced that its way is the only way and that the others are misguided.

The United States is going through something similar. We don't have political conversations across the spectrum anymore. Instead, there are "rightwing," "moderate," and "leftwing" versions of every political party, and then there are new parties and parties that most people don't even know about.

What are we fighting about, again?

The technology that surrounds us is great for advancing our thinking. The problem is, we are only too happy to let Google do the work for us. 

In school, we give kids four or five hours of homework a night. Instead of just having them read. And then talk about it with one another, with the teacher. Thinking critically and deeply about the material. Processing it carefully and in their own ways.

The complexity of the economy right now requires some serious thinking. The first thing to go should be bullet-point thinking. It's not about "give me the top line" right now. It's about engaging in a serious and thoughtful conversation with each other. We are spending more money than we have. And like overeaters looking for a magic diet pill that will keep them thin and still let them hit the Ben & Jerry's, we are lost in complete denial.

What makes this whole thing really stupid, to me, is that we all pretty much agree on goals and process. What do we want? Abundance. How do we want it? In the way that enables everyone to get a piece of the pie. 

The question, then, is how do we get there. And if we keep on digging our heels into the same old ways of thinking, refusing to open our minds and throwing flames at the people we've labeled "enemy," we can be sure that the ground beneath us will turn into quicksand.

Let's get together and figure it out. Go on a national team-building retreat. Drop the blaming and the labels, expand on the bullet points, and find areas of commonality rather than focus on hate. We can do it, we only have to be willing to try.

Have a good evening everyone, and good luck!

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