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Showing posts from October, 2011

When bad feedback is actually good

It is common when you analyze coverage of a brand to look for “tone” – as in “positive,” “negative,” or “neutral.”Most people think automatically that “positive” = “good.” But that is not always the case.Sometimes bad coverage or bad feedback can actually be outstanding for the brand. Examples:1.Audience branding: Very generally, for teenagers the fact that their parents hate a brand, pretty much automatically means they are going to be interested in it and possibly will like it very much. This was the entire premise of the movie Footloose. Today, think Goth – nose piercings, black lipstick & nail polish, ripped clothing, etc. Or the pants-falling-off look. Tattoos, skinny jeans, texting.2.Product branding: Uggs boots are deliberately ugly yet extremely popular among people who pride themselves on their looks. Silly Bandz are self-consciously silly. Crocs are atrocious-looking. A Big Mac or a Whopper draws the ire of health-conscious consumers and their advocates but is a delight …

Occupy your life.

My dad didn't like going to rallies. Having escaped one attempt to exterminate the Jewish people, his worst nightmare was a repeat attempt, and he was not going to provoke trouble with photos of the family demonstrating - no matter how legally and peacefully. As far as communication style went - quiet, quiet, quiet.I am half-Satmar (an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic sect), though not raised in Williamsburg, and one of our basic tenets was that "other people can make noise, but not us." Especially not women (see forthcoming memoir by Deborah Feldman, Unorthodox). We learned to keep our mouths shut and not step outside and not go public with any sort of comment or criticism. The attitude was and is, "We take care of our own; if you don't like it, leave." That solution was pretty well determined from the start. Like other people my childhood was a confusing hybrid of ultra-Orthodoxy, modern Orthodoxy, and plain old pop culture American teen-dom. So I didn't leave,…

Elephant In The Room: What To Do

There is a certain expression that comes across a person's face when
they get a question leading to an elephant in the room. A certain body
language. A tone of voice. If you watch closely, that expression and the follow-on reaction looks
and sounds roughly like this: 1. The body freezes, particularly shoulders and head. 2. The eyeballs dart sideways or down. 3. There is a pause as the person being questioned buys time to decide
how to answer and to settle themselves down to look comfortable again. 4. There is a comment about how the questioner is "blunt" (or perhaps
a laugh, as if to say, "very good," or the opposite, anger at their
chutzpah). 5. There is an answer that is either honest (usually coupled with a
laugh and/or compliment at the acuity of the question) or evasive
(usually coupled with "I need to find out more information," or "That
is not my department," or you get a vague answer, or part of an
answer), or misleading, or a …

Why most internal communication is irrelevant

In the hierarchy of corporate talking, internal communication has about the same ring as a colonoscopy.And it’s pretty similar too. Both are invasive, designed to uncover deadly cancerous growths that can lead to the organism’s (the organization’s) death. Also, in both cases, knowing that you have a disease can help you get better. But it is also painful to admit you may be sick. And if you do have cancer, the horrible reality is that it may be too late to save your life.Of course the deepest fear an executive has, in terms of “talking to the people,” is that they’ll learn of things “better left unsaid.” Things that then have to get dealt with, and once we start airing the problems who knows where that will lead.Usually the attempt to avoid talking about real things involves sharing fluff. Why don’t we change that by changing the name of the field. How about organizational development? Because that gets us closer to what we are really trying to do.Here is a story to illustrate my poin…

Nobody wants to know

Remember the good old days when it was a parents’ job to keep their emotions to themselves?Today things have supposedly changed - it’s all about “being real.” But even with all of that, being too honest can puncture a kids’ sense of security and stability.Though we may seem taller and grayer, adults are basically kids inside. And when we are confronted with the vulnerability of someone we count on to be stable, it scares us and we don’t want to know. Remember that episode, on “Sex and the City,” when Carrie’s beloved mentor at Vogue confronted her with his penchant for cross-dressing? I was thinking about this while reading an online discussion about one vs. multiple identities: Is it our choice to be different people on different social networks? Or would we prefer to be known as an integrated, multifaceted person by all the people we deal with?In the discussion it was fairly clear, as I also heard in a real-life forum, that most people want to preserve their distinct identities. The…

Branding is not a moral enterprise

It's been in the gossip magazines that Kim Kardashian went to Saudi Arabia with her mom to - well, basically to make money by making burqas look pretty. You may not care about Kim's personal or professional life but as an avid viewer of the reality show and a reader of gossip magazines, I just have to know. Plus it seems possible that Kim is headed for a nightmare divorce, possibly to be filmed as the sequel to the fairytale wedding. In any case I noted the photos of Kim in the burka alongside the photos of Kim on the camel in the pink tunic.It was a sharp contrast to the New York Times article a couple of weeks ago about domestic workers' abuse at the hands of their Saudi Arabian employers. One photo I can't get out of my head (in the print edition) shows an X-ray of a woman with nails driven into her skull. Please know that I am not picking on Saudi Arabia here. Close your eyes and put your finger on a map. You will find that every nation commits human rights abuses …

Why Government Should Focus More on Content Sharing & Less on Social Media

Today I attended a GovDelivery conference on public outreach using social media tools (and of course its platform).*The conference featured a talk by Adam Conner of Facebook. He advised that content is king. Context is right there beside it – you can’t just post stuff without explaining. And in response to a request for professional usernames as versus having to always post as yourself, a firm "No." Basically the idea was that Facebook stands for something – we’re not gonna change just cause you, in government, want to have a professional versus a personal identity. Which Mark Zuckerberg considers hypocritical. (Uneasiness in the room.)David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect, spoke on a panel and suggested that national government might be “vestigial” since the public can largely handle things on their own. (Good Lord, I thought, he’s just proclaimed himself an anarchist. One more word on that and I think he might have gotten tossed by one of the military folks.)The…

10 Things Patti Stanger Might Advise The Candidates About Last Night's Republican Debate

Patti is the host of The Millionaire Matchmaker on Bravo. I love her show.Here's what she might be saying this morning:1. "Macho? In a political debate? Really?"2. "Keep your hands to yourself." (Wait, that's my kindergarten teacher.) 3. "TMI. Keep it short and sweet."4. "You've got to let the other person talk."5. "Be open to other people. Got to tear down that wall."6. "Religion can be a dealbreaker. You've got to be ready to handle that question." 7. "Remember Staci, the wacky actress/coach/model/divorcee who kept resisting my bad advice? Wacky is bad."8. "Likable beats smart every time."9. "Just because someone knows how to make a million dollars, doesn't mean they know how to treat another person. That's how I stay in business." 10. "I have a 99% success rate, so take my advice."

13 Mistakes Not To Make With Your Digital Communication Strategy

And you thought I was so busy writing biography that I had forgotten communication. Prompted by a discussion posted on GovLoop. If you know all this already, skip it.GENERALLY 1 - Planning too far out These days things change quickly. Most of the emphasis should be on the initial launch and the longer-term aspects should be left vague to adapt to circumstances.
2 - Ignoring the cultureYou can have the best plan in the world but if the employees can't carry it out or aren't going to get onboard then it's a waste of time.
3 - Failing to appoint a project managerThe project manager is the one who bothers people to make sure the work gets done. Without this person plans fall apart.
DIGITAL STRATEGY ISSUES
1 - Taking for granted the level of literacy among the plannersIn the government many people are firewalled from social media, there is little training available, and its use is discouraged. However the audience we are reaching is hyper-sophisticated. So when you're planning …

You’re Not The Only One (Personal Reflection)

One time we visited my ultra-Orthodox aunt and uncle in Borough Park, Brooklyn. Somewhere among identical-looking townhomes.Inside, their home had been redone. Gray granite kitchen countertops, stainless fridge, everything. It wasn’t a huge place so when we got the “grand tour” there were only a few rooms to see. At a certain point, gingerly, we walked up the staircase, my dad and mom and sister and I. It wasn’t even much of a staircase, more like a couple of stairs. Anyway, we got to the top and saw bedrooms.Almost simultaneously, the four of us sort of jumped back, if you can say that people “jump back” on stairs. It seemed a little bit much. A little intrusive.“Well, very nice,” my mom started to say, and then started to turn around slowly. We really didn’t need to see EVERYTHING.“No, no, I want you to see something,” my uncle said. “Take a look.”Inside the master bedroom, was a wooden – well it was a square. A contraption of some kind. My uncle fumbled with the lock, and there it …

Hey Thermador: Are You Really "Lighting a Fire Under the Status Quo"?

The New York Times, Sunday, October 16, 2011. Section 1, page 25, full page ad for Thermador ovens:"Lighting a Fire Under The Status Quo." Ad copy: "With up to $5,747 in savings don't just transform your kitchen. Transform how you cook during our one-two-free sales event." Really? Really?  Who wrote this line?  With people rioting in the streets they're talking about changing the world by buying an oven? Last night on "Saturday Night Live" they ran a skit making fun of the programming on the Lifetime Channel. The skit was a mock game show. The prize for winning the game show? "You've won a Volvo filled with groceries!" There was a time in modern American history when women revolutionized their worlds by buying appliances. Because it really was a huge deal to go from doing all the housework by hand to having a machine help. But now is totally not that time. When we used to visit my mother's parents in upstate New York we used to sit at the d…

You look great!

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Every other Passover we used to drive eleven hours from New Jersey to Toronto to visit my grandparents. My dad, an ordained rabbi, was a closet trucker and he absolutely loved the road. There he would be, at three a.m., heading into the truck stop to get a huge piping hot coffee.  "Do you want to go in?" he would say to me.  Despite the time, I was up like it was daytime. It was exciting driving around all night. And I would chirp, "Sure!" and follow him in. One time we stopped at a gas station called Hess, if you remember them from way back when. Amidst all the chatchkes (trinkets) there was one beautiful thing that caught my dad's eye. The famous Hess truck. This one actually had lights running all along the sides. My dad fell completely in love. "Here," he said. "I want you to have it." "Are you sure?" I said. "This looks expensive." "I'm sure," he said. "It's yours." I didn't like trucks at all…

Personal Branding 3.0: Be Yourself

I have been thinking long and hard about a comment I got from a friend on my tweets."Who are you?" was the gist of it. "You don't talk like that in real life." Defensively I tried to explain that people read my blog and tweets because of the useful information they get from it. Not to hear my self-indulgent ranting and raving.  Plus it's a personal branding thing, I said. I'm trying to shape an image, I said. As a brand expert. "Why?" was the reply. "You're not a brand consultant. Nobody is going to call you to pay you a million dollars to be one." No, no, no, I protested. You are killing my dreams. But I couldn't ignore the message. "Get it? Just be who you are. Nobody cares." In the beginning I just used it to dump my blogs on Facebook. Posterous does it automatically.  My friends, who know me from way back when, were talking to each other like real people. But I wasn't comfortable chatting online like I do in real li…

Social movements are like family fights

Watching Occupy Wall Street prompts reflection and discussion:1. What are the protestors actually protesting? ("Not sure." "Unemployment." "The rich.")2. Are they right? ("Not sure." "Disrespectful." "Just like Woodstock.") 3. Is anybody beefing up their numbers to score political or marketing points? ("Definitely.")Reflecting on this movement - what it is, what it means to the people who have joined it - suddenly I remembered something that happened when I was a kid. We had moved to an area way too religious for my mom and me to bear. It was stifling.Tensions bubbled up.I guess we talked about them. Or maybe we didn't. But we seemed to keep on going and going with nothing resolved. Till one night, as Yom Kippur ended, the tension exploded. My dad came home from synagogue. He said to my mom, "Where's the wine?" For havdala. We were supposed to observe the Jewish ceremony. In that moment my mom had …

De-fanged by culture

Note: The following is a personal commentary on the sociology of family and political culture and does not reflect any political endorsement or lack thereof.
Last night in a particularly telling scene from the E! special, "Kim's Fairytale Wedding," (notice it wasn't called "Kim and Kris' Fairytale Wedding"), groom-to-be Kris Humphries clashes with overbearing monster-in-law Kris Jenner as they plan the wedding menu. The dialogue, while I do not have a transcript, goes roughly like this: Groom-to-be: "I'd like to help out with the menu." Mother-in-law: "So Kris what do you want?" Groom-to-be: "Well I was thinking burgers." Mother-in-law: "You've GOT to be kidding...well, maybe Wolfgang can cook us up some sliders." Over and over we see the same painful dynamic playing out until the tension finally explodes: Kim: "This is MY dream wedding and I've been planning it since I was 10." Kris: "And you c…

The missing son

At the yeshiva I attended, girls learned Talmud by reading off a xeroxed page. Some people wouldn't think twice about that because they didn't like studying it in the first place.  Me, I found the language a little difficult. But once I got to the gist of the issue, I enjoyed it quite a lot. It's very absorbing. What should we do? What is that based on? Where exactly did you get that source? You can't beat the ancient rabbis for their sharpness of mind. If you look at what they're saying objectively, it is fascinating to watch the reasoning unfold. Especially if you cross-reference the statements with other texts to better understand the context. The only thing that bothered me was the xerox thing. Why couldn't I read from the text itself? Answer: the yeshiva was ultra-Orthodox and we weren't supposed to. The xerox was a workaround, or so I was told. It bothered me. It did. What is the difference? Why do I have to be treated like a "second-class citizen?&…

Losing Our Religion: The Deeper Reason We Mourn Steve Jobs

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(Note: This article first published as Losing Our Religion on Technorati.)

Last night I came home and heard the news. “Steve Jobs died.”“What?” I stood right in front of the screen, the huge screen.“He died.”“Oh my G-d.”We watched the coverage. Over and over they played the same thing, pronouncements of grief, a statement from the President, snippets from his speech about death and its meaning.I stood there and I cried. I was embarrassed that I cried. I don’t even know Steve Jobs. Over an iPod? An iPad? A MacBook Air? I don’t cry that much in synagogue.Our nation is in mourning over the passing of this man. Commentators like Meghan O'Rourke at The New Yorkeroffer a laundry list of reasons – he was an innovative genius who represents our own aspirations; he was an innovative genius who improved our lives; he was an innovative genius who was also one of us. Her view is psychoanalytic; our subconscious reaction is to grieve as though we'd suffered a personal amputation:"Not e…

10 Trends In My Communication Life for FY11

For government professionals, the start of the fiscal year (October 1) signals the start of professional evaluation for the year that came before. As I wrote up my work for the year it seemed like it might be useful to categorize projects in terms of their significance, and then go up a level and analyze some trends they seemed to point to.I am not sure that all of this represents trending - some of it is just my workstyle, is unique to my professional life, etc. - or whether it's about government communication or communication in general. Either way, in case it has broader applicability, here you go:1.Integrating communications solutions across the board: It’s been a year of getting a single message across using new media and traditional media, creative but consistent branding, and synthesized external and internal messaging.2.Partnering subject matter experts in the marketing strategy process: Through brainstorming sessions, helped operational offices spanning traveler processin…