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When we successfully match our inner selves with the realities and demands of the outside world, the result is both profitable and joyful.
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REPORT HUMAN TRAFFICKING: 866-347-2423
While it's true that the classic bird is staying on the broadcasting side of the brand, and the spinning globe will remain at the theme parks, the overarching message is one of - wait - there is no overarching message. No emotion. Nothing. It's just a mega-merger with an identity-less monolith "brand" sitting at the top of the heap.
As the Associated Press reports, employees were treated to the following odd justification for the wordmark: "We aren't a family of two favorite sons, rather one filled with talented people and companies all tied for first."
Huh? This is a brand decision, not a family therapy session where the newly formed stepfamily takes a hyphenated last name so they can all live in the same home in peace.
The so-called business justification for the wordmark is that much-abused word, "synergy." As the Associated Press states: "The new corporate bosses talked about looking for opportunities for synergy, not just among NBC Universal properties...but with technology advanced by Comcast."
To me this sounds exactly like what happens in bad relationships, when one partner is jealous of the other and pushes them to behave more dully so that they don't feel so insecure.
Maybe in the short-term Comcast feels victorious by taking NBC down a notch. But in the long term this decision will have a negative effect on the combined company's brand equity. Smarter would have been to own the company while leveraging, and showing off, its brand brilliance.
In the end, brands can be changed. But what this decision shows is a lack of objectivity. And that is dangerous. A business has to be willing to use its assets regardless of whether it hurts some people's feelings. Rather than try to make everybody into one miserable mishmash, I would have opted for a solution that gave each subbrand as much independence as possible, until there was some real synergy to build on.
2. Branding = things you do specifically with intent to build a certain image. A good way to imagine this is a high-schooler trying to be part of the "popular" crowd.
3. Advertising = using words and images to make people feel positive about your brand. The most direct way to build one. Language and image tend to be broad and vague to convey a concept that can be interpreted. Ads for Swiffer are a great example.
4. Marketing = anything you do to sell your stuff (including product placement, events, social media, brochures, direct sales - the sky's the limit). Normally marketing activities are targeted to a specific and relatively short-term goal, such as a developer trying to sell a lot of newly constructed homes. Therefore, the language tends to be concrete.
5. Public relations = anything you do to improve your reputation. PR is fundamentally different from other brand-building tools because it relies on conveying factual good news rather than inventing anything. For example, you sponsor a charity run and do a press release. You are broadcasting the truth. The need for credibility is why PR folks seek out the media to "tell the story" for them, rather than relying on press releases to do so.
Some people just have it. Ogilvy was one of them.
...and so, so very much more.
The Kardashians are natural, absolute masters of personal branding because they understand one thing well: how to turn their flaws into assets. Where most people try to capitalize on their strengths and play down weakness, they do the complete opposite.
To do this requires both savvy - knowing what to say and what not to - and nerves of steel. Plus an absolute lack of shame.
Not everyone can be a Kardashian. But we can all copy their secret to success.
It is as if we are all the proud parents of newborn infants - except the infants are ourselves. No trivial moment of our daily lives is too mundane to capture. From sunrise, to midday, to sunset and midnight, all of it is carefully documented on Facebook.
As I am not in charge of worrying about how much memory the Internet has, gunking up the system with Tweets about baby drool would normally not be my problem. Except that this kind of self-absorption is doing terrible things to our psyches, and so by extension our capacity to function in a competitive marketplace.
The primary dysfunction caused by all this narcissism is that we have lost touch with one extremely important thing: the understanding that there is a world outside our personal individual existences. And that it matters critically to appreciate other perspectives.
In the social media society, as always, what I feel, think and believe may have nothing in common with you. The difference today is that if you don't reflect back to me my own ego, my sense of self-importance, then you do not exist. Because I don't follow you back on Twitter, friend you on Facebook, or connect with you on LinkedIn. You're invisible.
Inconvenient as it may be for the ego, when you lose touch with other perspectives you become significantly less marketable. Both as a personal brand, because you can't understand why every possible employer doesn't love you, and as a marketer of products/services/ideas, for the same reason. You think everything you do is brilliant - they don't get it. Clearly, they are wrong.
Here are 5 antidotes for a life where you are drowning in the mirror:
1. Turn the damn computer off.
2. Read something longer than 3 paragraphs or a bulleted list.
4. Volunteer somewhere where you must interact with live humans you can't possibly impress. (Spending time with family is good, if you can avoid talking about yourself too much and focus on them.)
5. Run a task force or committee where your input is not desired, only project and people coordination skills.
There are so many other possibilities. The bottom line is, get out of your own head once in a while and engage with the world.
Positive marketing messages work, especially when they're issued in the form of a command:
Same goes in the realm of politics:
Here, again, it's visible in the realm of social marketing (marketing for a cause):
It even works in song: "You've got to fight for your right to pa-a-a-arty." (How can you argue with that, anyway?)
Experiment: Imagine that you're a publisher and somebody shops you a book called "Don't Eat That." Even if Dr. Oz were the author you'd give it a thumbs down. Yet "Eat This Not That," which is not affiliated with any particularly sterling medical brand or diet doctor (Men's Health magazine???), is so successful it's spawned an entire series. All by adding a positive twist to what is essentially a negative message.
Great marketing slogans are positive and action-oriented, in addition to possessing the "6 C's" (yes, I made this up):
Such slogans are unforgettable, consisting of simple-to-understand words that draw you in and put you on the side of good versus evil. There is an immediacy to the words and they ask you to be more than you are.
With continued exposure to the slogan, you begin to see its meaning in your life, and you are drawn in and psyched up by the prospect of adopting the values it espouses. "Just do it" was more than a vehicle for Nike – it was socially transformational, promoting the value of hard work and sweat in pursuit of a worthy goal.
All of this is a major part of why "The War on Terrorism" needs work. It sounds negative, and negativity doesn't sell.
Brainstorming some alternatives:
I almost give up.
No. Wait a minute. I've got it.
I sort of like that one. Except women have the right to vote now - where is "Aunt Sally?"
Although I am slogan-challenged at the moment, it seems the formula is clear. I hope somebody picks this up and builds on it successfully.
Note: As always, all opinions my own.
Did you see that item on the news yesterday, about the lady who texted her way into a fountain at the mall?
Apparently she was so intent on her device that she didn't look up until it was too late and she got soaked.
I saw that on TV and I saw myself in that clip. For if you were to run into me in real life, most likely I would be intent on a screen. Probably two.
In fact I would go so far as to say that I actually don't feel comfortable unless I am very close to a screen. Either writing, or scanning Twitter or discussion boards or the news, or even watching a video on YouTube.
If not that, then emailing or (occasionally) on the phone.
But when it comes to real-world, face-to-face conversation, I actually find it very difficult to interact.
I would think that I am odd except there seem to be articles about this everywhere, and I personally observe it too. After work and school, family members routinely retreat to their screens. And very often family time consists of yet more screens – watching TV (the "little screen") together, or occasionally (for a splurge) the "big-screen": a movie.
The Wall Street Journal had an article where an expert talked about tech time-outs – that we should try to wean our families off the screens a little bit so that we can enjoy more time together.
Now I don't know about you, but somehow the prospect of turning off all the screens - and actually conversing – is a bit daunting for me. We've actually built this avoidance of other people into the workplace: We do our work at individual screens, and when we gather for meetings, we expect to see a screen – either literally or sometimes even reading a printout of a PowerPoint. (And – lucky us - when they get boring or political or generally unproductive, we can gaze down at our Blackberries and actually get something done!)
Modern family dynamics aren't that far from work. As the Journal pointed out, the family that tried the tech time-out was so addicted to their gadgets, that when they sat together they had literally nothing to say. I routinely see teenagers sitting in the pizza place with their parents, but not there – texting, texting away.
It was funny, on our way home from vacation over the holidays, the woman sitting next to me on the plane told me she specifically booked up just to get away from her eight brothers and sisters. "Best vacation I ever had," she crowed happily.
And yet I know other people who absolutely, positively love people. They similarly absolutely hate the Internet. They don't like typing emails. They don't get mobile apps at all. They think texting is stupid. These are also generally the people who actually read paper books, cover to cover.
I think the last time I really read a book was maybe two months ago. I mean, I'll scan the things, but these days who has time? Most of the time, frankly, there is one core idea that is repeated endlessly.
We can analyze endlessly back and forth whether it's good or bad to be online (or on-screen) so much. The pertinent issue for your brand is, which type are you? Don't go by stereotypes about young people being heavy into tech and vice versa for Matures and Baby Boomers. Comfort with technology and being a virtual self can go any which way. After all, before there was the Internet there was radio (remember that?) and lots of people who were more comfortable behind a microphone in a studio than interacting face to face.
And there are people who simply belong on TV. They aren't real, it seems, unless they're in front of a camera. Too many to count. As we know, average people aren't drawn to reality TV.
You've got to know who you are. We ran into Matthew Lesko in the bookstore the other day. If you don't remember who he is, you probably remember what he does: He's the guy who tells you how to get "free money from the government." Lesko is an unbelievable personal brand – larger than life. He actually wears question marks on all his clothing – as if to say, "Ask me!" When I initially inquired from him as to who he was – I said, "Excuse me for bothering you, but are you on TV? You look familiar" – he literally jumped off the chair to shake hands with us. Introduced himself, posed for a photo, gave us his business card, everything. Even in the photo he was larger than life.
But then he went back to reading or whatever he was doing. And he didn't want to chat face to face. It was understood: I am a TV brand. I exist on THAT screen.
The key to successful branding – and successful personal branding, as an extension of that – is to know who you are, what you do well, and then deliver that consistently in a way that is pertinent to your audience. If you are more comfortable online, fine. Face-to-face, good too. Neither one is "better" than the other. Focus on which communication form suits you best, and then pursue a strategy to connect with others, who appreciate it, in that way. For in business, as in life, relationships are what keep us healthy—and financially solvent.
1. Scuffed up shoes
2. Boring bag or briefcase (or a Jansport backpack!!!)
3. Puffy coat
4. Overdone, not-done, or chipped-up nails
5. Eye mishaps and messups (shmeary makeup at 3 p.m., overgrown brows, etc.)
Now you don't need an excuse to fix yourself up - it's an investment in your brand.
Get thee to the mall!
With Super Bowl 2011 approaching, AdAge highlights the question on everyone's mind: "Could a Super Bowl Spot Make Us Love Our Government More?" (Some prominent ad execs' reflections on this subject will appear in Harper's Magazine in the issue forthcoming January 20th).
OK, obviously this is not the question on everyone's mind. But for marketers this is the equivalent of a logical puzzle. Can a single brilliant spot take the government from Scrooge to Santa Claus?
As a public servant myself I have a few insights into this subject that may be helpful. (Speaking only for myself and not astro-turfing, I promise.)
* * *
Consider this story. It is just too good not to share. And it will get us back to the point, eventually.
In the coffee shop where I'm writing this, an elderly woman and her husband are sharing a table with me.
She walks away to get a drink and comes back with two Izze sparkling sodas. The cans are skinny and colorful and have images of flowers on them. She tells her husband, "Try this, you will love it." She puts the straw in the can.
Husband takes a sip and says, "Uch, you drink it."
Now, he is reading while she sits patiently and actually watches him read. She continues to sip her Izze, completely relaxed.
Did they make Izze specifically to appeal to women who go to bookstores and watch their husbands read?
She is eyeing the second Izze.
* * *
So how to rebrand government? Another story.
As a government employee, I recently spent some time in a mandatory training class. You may think that as someone who likes to read and write, I would completely enjoy training time.
Actually – no. I am not really a sit-in-the-classroom type. I tend to squirm in the seat. I have no idea how I made it through twenty years of formal schooling. It's actually amazing that I can sit at a desk.
Plus it was not the most fascinating of subjects. Honestly, if it isn't branding or social media – MEGO (my eyes glaze over).
The teacher however was outstanding. A retired government employee who had come back to the workforce to teach this particular subject. And if I were going to produce a Super Bowl spot to promote faith in the government, I would put him up there.
This teacher represented everything that the government actually is. In a good way:
· Not just competent, but excellent – highly qualified and intelligent
· Extensive institutional knowledge – been there, done that and then some
· Humble and unassuming – no ego about being the "top dog"
· Sense of humor
· Human in terms of treating the students fairly, allowing for the weather, etc.
· Family-oriented – talked about his wife, pets, hobbies - a sense of work/life balance
· Most importantly, had his feet on the ground – explained how to work with this subject in the real world, given political and cultural realities
Of course nobody is perfect. The subject matter was dry and he followed the rules, teaching it in the dry way they had handed it to him. But in a way that also shows a certain level of maturity. In a mammoth bureaucracy, it is not realistic to expect everyone to be "change agents," breaking paradigms and performing radical acts of transformation in defiance of the rules that keep things running smoothly.
I totally disagree with the concept of creating an advertisement to "rebrand government." It really is so much more than that. Primarily, I think, it's about aligning the audience's perceptions of the government with the reality of the government. Admitting what is, setting a target for what should be, providing a plausible and engaging strategy as to how we will get there. And engaging actual employees as passionate brand advocates along the way. (Forgive this intrusion from the world of IT, but in the field of enterprise architecture they call this a baseline, target, and transition plan.)
Nevertheless, just in case there is some attempt to create such a spot, I would suggest that an individual like this be recruited as a spokesperson. I wouldn't even give him a script. Just give a teenager a handheld camera and have the young person conduct a brief interview. Let the government employee say, in his or her own words, what it's really like to work for the government. (Better get a retiree to do this – someone with no skin in the game, who is just happy to help out if they can.)
My thinking is, maybe if people could see what type of people the government actually hires, they might – if not change their minds – open their minds and shift their thinking about government a bit. They might see that for the most part we are just a bunch of people doing the best we can with the resources we have. Working within a system that is built to accommodate an almost impossibly high level of standards to ensure everyone's integrity.
In the end, the government is not something that was imposed upon us. It is something that we have created ourselves. In a sense, we are all married to it. It is up to us whether we will watch other people read in the bookstore, or whether we will pick up a book ourselves. And use what we have learned to support what is good, change what's not working, and help prepare our nation for the incredible changes that are undoubtedly awaiting us as we journey even further into the 21st century.
I forget about this during the weekend but then get a rude reminder every Monday at about 6 a.m.
Having conducted a brief observational study on this I have discovered the following:
1. I still can't tell if my suit separates, which are unfortunately separated completely from the original suit in the closet, are navy or black. Thus it is statistically likely, on any given day, that I do not match. And I know it.
If we all could wear exercise clothes all day, how freeing that could be! Not only is exercise wear more comfortable, but it is also mainly anchored by the color black, as opposed to a very similar looking navy.
2. White collar shirt = begging the Devil of coffee not to punish you with a spill. Never works.
3. The pointy-toed shoes that are so stylish nowadays are so narrow and so high that I get vertigo just looking at them. I often wonder if the shoes pinching ever gets in the way of the blood flow to the brain.
Sneakers to work, all day, would be so grand!
4. Is it me or does most costume jewelry look cheap and feel uncomfortable, if it's at all heavy? On Star Trek they wore unitards to work and no jewelry except for their Communicators. And look how much work they got done!
Let's wear pedometer watches that double as Blackberrys, and Bluetooth earpieces to keep the cellphone radiation away from our heads, and call it a day.
5. In the world of exercise, i.e. the gym, it is OK for your actual face to be seen. As opposed to the office, where a truly remarkable level of cosmetic sophistication is required. You are supposed to wear makeup, but not look like it, and yet look like it, etc. Totally confusing and it doesn't last past a sandwich anyway.
6. Ties are just plain cruel. They look like nooses. Whose idea was it that men have to wear nooses around their neck to be taken seriously?
I'm not saying we should look sloppy or anything. But dressing for work in stylish, modest gymwear could bring us a myriad of benefits.
1. We would be more comfortable and relaxed, so we would be more productive individually.
2. We would look more natural, which would promote less artificial, status-driven interactions generally. This matters because people who are comfortable will feel freer to speak up honestly about issues, ideas or processes that don't make logical sense. Which can save a lot of time and money.
3. We would be more likely to get up and walk during the day, or go to the gym, because there wouldn't be an issue of messing up the perfect uniform with physical activity. Meaning better health, so fewer sick days and less chance of long-term illness.
Has anyone created this kind of office-wear and I don't know it? If not, here's hoping that they do - hopefully before next Monday.
When I heard that Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had been shot and maybe even assassinated, I froze. Same as what happened on September 11.
On the morning of 9/11, I was drinking coffee and watching the Today show on NBC. It was around 9 a.m. Nine-oh-four to be exact. Sunny day, beautiful actually. Clear and super-blue skies. Even if a little cold.
Then a plane…flying…World Trade Center. New York. I knew that building. I had been in that building a million times. It was a shiny building but it had a terrible, ghostly aura. Haunted.
The attack didn't happen slow motion, in real life. But in my memory it was that way on TV. Trying to accept that such a thing could have happened is like trying to walk through sand, impossibly slow.
The frantic dash – is everyone OK? – to account for everyone. Not knowing the scope of the terrorist attack.
Fast forward to a year later and the "Beltway sniper." Again, when I learned, my reaction was – well, to process things unbearably slowly. The shooter, and his accomplice, gunning innocent people down outside Michael's. At a gas station. At a grocery store. I couldn't believe it. I still think to myself, "What the hell?"
When the guy was running around shooting people we wanted to just stay home all the time. But we needed food. So it became routine to run to and from the car, ducking.
All the time in disbelief. This can't be happening, right? Yet it was. It was a very bad dream that was not imaginary.
What does this have to do with branding? You would not be the first to wonder, if you are. To me it's pretty natural that brands are mixed up with life. As I reflect on one, I get to the other. And vice versa.
(Does this tendency cheapen serious things? Yes, and I apologize if it seems that way. But I don't mean to be insensitive. It's just how my mind works. Maybe it's easier to handle the really unanswerable questions when you frame them as a brand problem, I don't know.)
Anyway. There is a point here. Getting to it.
I was really upset when I learned the news about Congresswoman Giffords. It was like being on a plane when the plane is landing badly. My stomach lurched before I even knew why. I just knew that the shooting meant more than what it seemed to. And that what it meant, wasn't good.
Like everyone else, I began to follow the repetitive moment-by-moment that is typical of breaking news. I still don't know enough, and this is not a political opinion, but I began to see what kind of true substance and worth she exemplifies. A principled individual, not perfect of course but genuinely working to help the public. Who makes friends and enemies. Who keeps going regardless.
I have come to a conclusion about why G-d made it that the Congresswoman's life was not taken, or spared, but is hanging in the balance. I think G-d, the creative spiritual force that powers our world, is trying to tell us something as we collectively wait and hope that she will pull through. For had the outcome of the shooting been one extreme or another, we might have either gotten lost in grief or too quickly sighed and said, "Whew." But no, this is a time to really think.
And it seems to me that the shooter's motives, whatever they were, don't matter. What it's coming down to, as far as I can tell, is a consciousness about the impact of our words. We are thinking about whether we want to be a nation of reason, of thinking words, or a nation of rhetoric, where we say empty and artificial things just to pump people up. Just to market our message. Just to build a brand, if you will.
Unfortunately, as sick as that sounds, we are actually caught in a system where the individual is pushed to do exactly that. No matter how good their intentions, everyone, including public servants, is virtually coerced, if they want to be successful, into marketing themselves just like products are marketed – as brands. Because brands are the language of public discourse, and brands are what the public understands.
The result, sadly, is that serious and complex issues are reduced to simple slogans. Every word is shaped to convey a "key message," a personal brand, an agency brand, a corporate-sounding concept, to build a "brand personality," around "core values," on and on ad nauseam.
This is a system that we have built. Nobody forced it on us. But maybe it's time to consider the limits. For it's one thing to be conscious of our image. It's one thing to learn how to communicate effectively and compete in the marketplace of ideas and power. It's another to let branding take the place of actual thinking, to let it destroy our civility, to let it undermine the values that we as a big community really believe in. Like diversity, tolerance, spirited debate, and simple ordinary human decency. Treating other people the way we would want to be treated ourselves.
I don't know much about Gabrielle Giffords. But I am thinking of her right now, and I pray that she recovers fully and that G-d infuses in her the strength to continue her public service as before. But more importantly I pray that we use this opportunity to begin our own healing process. From baseless hatred and extremism. But also, more importantly, from the imbalanced extent to which our real selves are intertwined with our public images. From a world where there is no privacy left, no life except where it's recorded on Facebook, no room to really reflect unless you decide to go "off the grid."
Of course we'll all continue to do what we do. I'm drinking Starbucks right now even as I say (I'm sick of saying) how much I dislike their new logo and what I think it represents. I'm not going to stop being aware that nobody lives in a vacuum, that "you have a brand whether you like it or not" (as they say at The Brand Consultancy). I'll still read about branding and write about it too. But somewhere in my mind, at the end of the day, I'm going to reserve a space that hasn't been inhabited by the world of images. Where I am surrounded by trees, and wildflowers and grass. Where I look up at the clear blue sky. And where I can't even imagine a coffee shop for miles around.