15 Hidden Biases That Are Costing You Money

1. "I only need to read industry news to keep me up to speed - otherwise it's a waste of time."

2. "I know what my customer wants - not you."

3. "I don't need to respond to that - saying something will only make it worse."

4. "They didn't say anything, so they must agree with me."

5. "Focus on managing upward - don't waste time on 'nobodies'."

6. "It's more important that the information be technically correct than understandable."

7. "It's a bad market - there are no opportunities out there."

8. "I'm too old to change."

9. "I already know what I think - don't confuse me (with the facts)."

10. "There is nothing new under the sun - everything important has been said already."

11. "People are inherently (good or bad)."

12. "I have experience and you don't, so my opinion is right."

13. "I know all there is to know already."

14. "I am too heavily invested to walk away now."

15. "There is no way to turn this situation around."

Happy Monday!


Social sites: http://xeesm.com/ThinkBrandFirst


Personal Branding & the $50 Billion Sweatshirt: Zuckerberg Meets Eisenberg and Sandberg on SNL

If you didn't see Saturday Night Live last night, this clip is priceless. It shows Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg confronting Jessie Eisenberg, the actor who played him in The Social Network, as well as the Andy Samberg, who plays him on SNL - all at once.

Which one of them is the real Zuckerberg? The person born with that name, who is under the magnifying glass and must conform to a certain image to maintain his reputation? The actor, who is under no such constraints but needed to enact a script convincingly to sell tickets? Or the comedian, who has no skin in the game but to make us laugh and so can perhaps be more insightful than the other two?

There is a lesson somewhere in here about personal branding and how our real personalities translate into others' perceptions of us. And why that matters.

But the real reason to watch is that it's just hilarious.

An Open Letter to Brand Experts: Only You Can Destroy Human Trafficking

Photo by Kay Chernush, courtesy of the State Department

Fellow communicators,

The image in this photo is not what it may seem at first. The men and women aren't just freely socializing on a warm night. The women are human slaves, and the men are about to buy them.

Slavery is a business and it is as old as time. But as we all know, that doesn't make it right. Everyone is born with the right to be free.

This isn't just a moral issue. While criminals make a good living by committing the worst kind of violence against other people - both female and male - the rest of us pay dearly. Human trafficking helps organized criminals to grow in strength and number, putting all of us at risk because the rule of law means nothing to them.

In addition, if we tolerate a two-tier world where some people have rights and others don't, we are enabling a culture where it's OK to abuse other people - especially if you think you've paid for the privilege.

You have the skills to sell just about anything. And many people are trying to help these victims, both female and male, escape the chains of their captors. But it isn't enough as long as even one person remains enslaved.

Make a difference in this world.

Help these people, who have no voice and no money.

Help these people, taken at the youngest age and sold to the highest bidder.

If we put our resources together, we can destroy the world's third most profitable industry - one that generates $7-10 billion every year for the traffickers.

We have the power to make people aware so that they don't fall into the hands of traffickers in the first place.

More powerfully, we can help make the crime itself so visible, so abhorrent, and so intolerable that demand itself dries up.

I became aware of this issue through my employer, the Department of Homeland Security, which has joined the struggle through its Blue Campaign. I feel so strongly about it that I am doing what I can to help on a personal level - this blog is not sponsored or affiliated with the campaign but I hope that you will support it.

My goal is help further raise awareness independently, primarily through this blog, so that I can reach as many people as possible and urge them to help free the slaves.

Do what you can. Every little bit makes a difference.


Dannielle Blumenthal

NBC Universal: Did Logo Jealousy Destroy The Brand?

Look at this. What is this?
NBC Universal's fantastic, famous logo, post-acquisition by Comcast, is now reduced to the corporate "brand" above. (Really it's a wordmark.)

I can't understand the decision from a branding perspective so it must be that politics and culture wars led the corporate brand NBC Universal down the path that ultimately led to the forgettable thing above.

Previously, NBC had a logo that anybody would kill for.

Post-acquisition by Comcast - which may be a financial powerhouse but is an extraordinarily un-memorable company - the corporate brand is similarly dull. I think I could have made it up in about an hour on my desktop.

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.

The difference between NBC and Comcast is passion. NBC is "proud as a peacock." Working for NBC was being part of a cause, a tradition, a history that meant you were somebody special. It was Seinfeld's network, for gosh sake.

Comcast, in contrast, is the type of company where you work because it's "just a job." A good job, perhaps, but "just a job." No emotion, no nothing, just a money making machine.

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.

A 5-word guide to the language of image

1. Brand = your image (results from your actions, others' reactions, and the social/political/economic/physical environment). The ultimate goal is a strong brand.

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.

38 Genius Tips: "How to Create #Advertising that Sells" by David Ogilvy

Full text here:


Some people just have it. Ogilvy was one of them.

The #1 personal branding secret you can learn from the Kardashian crew

When it comes to branding it pays to learn from everyone, not to focus on the elite. And I have learned a boatload from this family. Over just the past few episodes I was riveted to the screen as I saw:
  • Kourtney in the back of an ambulance, after passing out from over-dieting
  • Khloe admit feeling leaned-on and used by the rest of the family
  • Scott and Kourtney fight over who would watch Mason - she wanted to go to the gym, he was dressed for a business meeting
  • The mother cry as she told husband Bruce Jenner how he is the family rock
  • Kourtney call Khloe a "crazy b****"
...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.

Branding boot camp: The hidden danger of too much social media

Old news: The flood of social media is upon us now, and in response we have turned into a nation of narcissists.

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.

Or not.

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.

3. Exercise.

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.

Good luck!

5 Personal Branding Lessons I Learned At The Food Court

Around 11:30 a.m. each weekday I hear papers rustling faster than usual. Laughter ensues.

I can hear the clacking of people walking into the office kitchen. The small refrigerator door opens and closes. The microwave door slams shut and beeps. I smell tomato sauce heating up as the microwave hums.

Soon after I head downstairs and survey the gaggle, the throngs, the crowds of people taking up battle stations in various corners of the food court.

It occurred to me that one can observe these people and learn a few lessons about personal branding from them, as follows:

1. Sushi is a success food. People who pay $6.50 for 4 tiny pieces and another $4.50 for a miniscule container of seaweed salad look classy in their self-restraint and athletic in their pursuit of nutritional nirvana.

2. Coffee is always good to get in terms of your image, but not from the vendors that also sell tacos.

3. Hold a Subway sandwich baggie, lose a bit of dignity as you resemble someone whose mom made them lunch in 5th grade. (If you decide to eat at Subway, sit down at a table rather than carry that baggie around.)

4. No-name vendors can go either way. Some foods appear exotic, like Middle Eastern fare. Others can look a bit cheap if the display is greasy - I've noticed this with Chinese food and Cajun. Whatever you choose, please don't be seen shoveling it in your mouth.

5. Sitting alone in the back of the food court, you will be seen. Sit there with a Wonder Bread sandwich and clementine orange and chips from home, wearing loafers, and you probably aren't part of the inner circle in the executive suite.

Key takeaway: People see you wherever you go. Dress for success, even when you're hungry. Try to eat in groups rather than alone. And watch that the food you eat doesn't end up on your shirt.

Good luck!

Rebranding the “War On Terror”

Photo credit: Aldrin Muya

Positive marketing messages work, especially when they're issued in the form of a command:

  • "Just do it."
  • "Have a Coke and a smile."
  • "Come back to Jamaica."

Same goes in the realm of politics:

  • "Yes we can!"

Here, again, it's visible in the realm of social marketing (marketing for a cause):

  • "Only you can prevent forest fires."
  • "Just say no."
  • "See something, say something."

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):

  • Catchy
  • Clear
  • Compelling
  • Customer-centric
  • Campaign-driven (they feel urgent and temporary)
  • Commitment-focused (they elicit a sense of commitment from the audience)

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:

  • "Freedom Fighters" is not workable either, for obvious reasons.
  • "Save the world – stop a terrorist" sounds like "Save the whales."
  • "Make the world safe for democracy" is outstanding. Except it was used in World War I. ("Make the world safe again?" – except it was never…)
  • "The enemy is extremism"?

I almost give up.

No. Wait a minute. I've got it.

  • "Uncle Sam wants you – to join the fight for peace."

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.

10 Minutes to a Killer Brand & Reputation Strategy

I don't have time to read a lot of b.s. and neither do you. So let's not waste anyone's time with puffery. This post offers some thoughts for fast-moving professionals on the nitty-gritty of how to quickly build an effective brand and reputation strategy (BRS) that you can actually use, whether for yourself or your business. (Note: I recommend consulting a legal professional before implementing any sort of BRS strategy, especially where a business is concerned. This post does not substitute for legal or other professional advice.)

This is deliberately short and in list format, so that you can print and digest it quickly and get moving. It will take you about 10 minutes to read this closely, but by the time you're done you'll be ready to map out a strategy that is comprehensive, clear, and actionable.

Note that the following approach will work best if: 

     1) You are building your personal BRS
     2) You are in a position to dictate BRS for an organization that is deeply loyal to you 

     3) You tend to be a dictator in general (either in style or status - only semi-joking here)

What this means: If you're part of a large, complex organization where your opinion matters little or you can't sway others very easily, don't try to create anything this important without involving a whole kit and caboodle of stakeholders. 

The basic concepts:

     1) Brand-building = projecting an image convincingly enough that others buy it, buy into it, and buy it loyally over the competition

     2) Reputation-building = convincing others you have integrity (preferably, you are not pretending, but the point is it's what THEY think that counts)

In the world of reputation there are two kinds of plays:

     1) Proactive - things you do to demonstrate good citizenship (without being forced)

     2) Defensive - your response to direct or indirect attack

OK, that was 5 minutes, right? You've got the basics now. 5 more and you'll be in good shape.

Let's start with reputation enhancement tools since "integrity is integral" to every brand:

     1) Proactive reputation tools:

          a) Written commitment to ethical corporate practices: sourcing, supply chain, labor, legal compliance, customer satisfaction, etc.

          b) Transparent website: has data sets important to customers, investors, regulators, etc., with a good search engine 

          c) Blog: where stakeholder concerns are regularly addressed quickly, and dissenting comments are allowed

          d) Charity: donate a portion of the profits, sponsor or support a cause relevant to the company or local community

          e) Excellent employee communication and feedback mechanisms (prevent yourself from becoming a Wikileaks victim)

     2) Defensive reputation tools:

          a) A crisis communication team (on-staff or on standby) -  lawyer, publicist, copywriter, and IT support person (not necessarily in that order)

          b) A written crisis communication plan

          c) Access to backup online communication tools if your network is down for any reason (including a cyberattack)

Now on to the brand-building tools: 

     1) A one-page document that explains what your brand is and why anyone should buy it - and your distinctive name, logo, and tagline

     2) A list of all the people (or kinds of people) that are critical to your brand's success - ranging from customers to employees. Can't do it alone.

     3) A wish-list of all the communication tools that you will use to support your brand - from social media, to print, to broadcast and multimedia

     4) Now, cross off most of the stuff on that list and get to reality. What is most important to your brand, that you can pay for?

     5) A feedback mechanism of some kind. How will you know if you're on track of off-base?

This is a rough template, but today's sea of abstract ideas, sometimes remote case studies, and often dense articles, it may provide some practical ideas to help initiate a new brand or move an established one forward.

Good luck!

Brand Management and Reputation Management: Separate & Equally Important

This one is pretty simple.

* Brand = the image that people have of you.

* Reputation = whether people think you have integrity.

Here's where the two concepts come into play:

* Good brands require a good reputation, for obvious reasons. Think of hotel brands, for example: The Four Seasons. The Ritz-Carlton. Hilton. Marriott. All of them have both. Or take car brands. Or banking brands. You wouldn't stay loyal to a business that didn't deliver, would you?

* At the same time, you can have an excellent reputation and yet a weak brand. Recall Burberry before its revamp - quality clothes, but boring. Same goes for Talbots. In fact many companies offer high-quality goods that nobody is interested in - because they offer the steak, but without the sizzle.

The one thing that both brand and reputation have in common is that they depend on what the audience thinks of the company. Not on what the company thinks about itself.

The bottom line for individuals and companies alike is that branding and reputation management are both essential activities, but they are not the same:

* Reputation management is far broader and encompasses proactive definition of oneself as having credibility and trustworthiness. It also involves defensive maneuvers against attack.

* Brand management is extremely narrowly focused and has to do with defining oneself as uniquely qualified and relevant to one's customers on an ongoing basis - as they evolve, so do you.

At all times, smart companies continually reinvent their brands to be relevant to the customer AND ALSO respond to criticism. They don't depend on their brands to carry their reputations and they don't assume that their strong reputations will carry their brands.

Look at Starbucks, my favorite brand of all time (though I hate what it is doing to the brand right now). The company is reinventing itself (via a logo change) to be global in nature as opposed to U.S.-focused. At the same time, on a parallel and different track, they respond to criticism of all kinds.

Emulate Starbucks. Emulate Google. Emulate Facebook. Begin with the principle of robust communication around the brand and transparency about the company's activities. The willingness to listen, learn and be accountable can take you nearly everywhere you need to be.

Are You An Online Or An Offline Brand?

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.

The Fastest, Easiest Way To A Successful Personal Brand

5 Personal Branding Mistakes You're Probably Ignoring

And now it's time for Family Feud:

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!

10 Ways to Reinvent Your Personal Brand

1. Attitude: Change your mindset. It's about learning, not perfection, and you are a dedicated lifelong student.

2. Confidence: You are no better or worse than anybody else out there. Value what you bring to the table.

3. Wardrobe: Whatever style of clothing you wear, wear it with intention. People notice your clothes first. And don't forget the shoes.

4. Training: These days, education is available freely, and a lot of it is actually free. Take advantage of it. 

5. Social networking: Find websites that reflect your interest and participate in the community. You don't have to be an expert to join the conversation.

6. Profile photo: Make sure your face is visible. Some people tend to crowd the thumbnail image to the point where they're not even visible.

7. LinkedIn: Must be there.

8. Blog: Whether anybody reads it or not, you must write. If nothing else, it will help you learn your subject matter and polish your communication skills as well. (Same goes for Twitter: Provide useful information on an ongoing basis.)

9. Volunteering: Somewhere out there is a person or organization who will "hire" you to do what you're interested in. By volunteering, you can learn new skills and be helpful at the same time. 

10. Labeling: The world is changing and your brand must change too. Make sure to describe yourself on your public profiles in the way that you want to be known. It's OK to change the label every year or two - this is simply a reflection of changing times. Think in terms of what will be relevant over the next six months to one year, and don't get stuck on the label you acquired in college, graduate school, or even in your early jobs. 

Good luck!

Ricky Gervais, the Golden Globes and Fabulous "Brand Britain"

So Ricky Gervais got pulled off the stage at the Golden Globe Awards because his humor was too biting. Give me a break.

Americans love British humor and we also can't get enough of smart, direct British entertainers who verge on the rude:

* Look at American Idol without Simon Cowell. I mean, Aerosmith??? What were they thinking?

* Piers Morgan is, without any effort it seems, stepping in where Larry King has stepped out. He and Sharon Osbourne (Brits Brits Brits) took America's Got Talent from a cheesy, kitschy show to a real talent competition that in many ways was actually better than Idol.

* "SuperNanny" (whoever she is) "invaded" the U.S. and showed us how discipline of a bratty 5 year old AND his parents is done. On that episode where she had the kid stay in bed, by himself, all night even though he woke up the parents like 72 times, I wanted to stand up and cheer.

I was watching the actors in the audience alternately laugh and squirm at the jokes and I thought the whole thing made for amazing TV. So instead of castigating him and apologizing, Hollywood needs to get a life and adopt some of the qualities of Brand Britain when it comes to entertainment. Maybe then we wouldn't need to rely on importing their ideas for our own shows (i.e., The Office, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and tons more), and could come up with some prime-time options worth watching.

All of this matters, and not just because there's nothing to watch on TV since "24" ended its run. The U.S. has done plenty well generating many powerhouse brands, especially in entertainment as in every other field. But where we seem to be challenged right now is in the area of innovation and taking risks. This is hurting every industry that counts on brainpower. In the realm of celebrity-land, perhaps there is so much money at stake that there is a fear of doing anything really different and chancy. But Miss America pageants, high-tech special effects, and fast car chases are a good substitute for actual narrative with actual characters we care about. (And speaking of celebrities, if I see one more celebration of Angelina Jolie, that homewrecker, I am really, really going to throw up.)

In politics, it's good to stay in the middle. But in entertainment, Hollywood needs to go further toward the edge.

Watching a Lady in the Bookstore, Who Was Watching Her Husband Read

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.

The 3 Things A Woman Should Never Wear To Work

Women have always suffered for fashion. But too often they actually inflict the damage on themselves. If you care about your career, do not wear any of these stylish items to work.


Unless you don't need the job.

1. Odd ponytail formations

2. Flip-flops and all variations thereof

(You're not out shopping in London on a Sunday.)

3. Uneven cardigan

No matter how well you carry it off, a style like this says "I'm a bit uneven myself."

These days you can get away with a lot when it comes to fashion at work. But styles like this push the envelope a bit too far. Top executives do not dress this way!

Remembering the Starbucks That Was

The logo decision, the idea of going global and corporate and bland, is done. I'm not going to waste any more time on this...Let them do what they want.

Before I let this go, though, I'd like to share some things that come to mind when I reflect on what is so sad about this transition. If I had to sum it up, mainly what I see is that Starbucks to me represents the ultimate human brand, and now they just seem completely cold and greedy.

So here goes.

Here's a bunch of memories, of watching people interact:

* A group of elderly men sitting on the barstools, huddled together, talking. Something about how Starbucks is more fun than religious services. Which their wives prefer.

* A couple dressed in outrageously amazing Greenwich Village nightclub wear--in the suburbs among the hockey moms at 9 o'clock on a weekend morning.

* A little boy sipping his Kids' Hot Chocolate, a total "I'm-in-heaven" look on his face.

I've been well-treated by Starbucks' baristas:

* Advised that the new Frappuccino was susceptible to tasting bad if it was mixed wrong. Took back a half-drunk drink and made a new one.

* Not advised, despite all caloric logic to the contrary, to refrain from ordering whipped cream and chocolate syrup with my Java Chip Lite Frappuccino.

* Requested breakfast sandwich not on the menu (bagel/egg/cheese), received same, didn't have to pay extra even though the barista threw away an English muffin. All handled on a busy Sunday morning AND was only charged for one sandwich.

It hasn't always been THAT nice:

* Had a coffee slammed down on the counter in front of me after waiting 10 minutes...and told I shouldn't be reading the house copy of the New York Times unless I bought it!

Oh well.

Assorted good memories:

* Vacation days sitting there doing nothing but reading

* Charging up the laptop and blogging

* Studying the menu board and picking out interesting new coffees

* Standing in line for a nice hot cup before work

* Delighting my mom with a case of Frappes. Seeing the huge smile pour across her face.

I have to say, I will miss this brand when it goes so fully corporate, global, and bland in the name of global expansion. It represented something to me that was very real and down-home. It was one of those brands I identified with and took to heart. Their entire philosophy of how to treat employees and customers alike resonated with me in every way. And they turned me into a coffee fanatic.

Nothing is permanent, all good things must come to an end, and so it goes.

Target's decision to do exactly the same thing - get rid of the name, keep the icon - is just fine with me. In fact I know it's a good thing. But Starbucks I will miss.

Idea: A brand of exercise clothes meant for work

Have you ever noticed how uncomfortable it is to gear up for work in the morning? And then to keep up the appearance?

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.

Gabrielle Giffords and the Limits of Image-Building

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.