Wednesday, August 25, 2010

10 Ways To Build Your Image Without Saying "Brand"

1. Recognize that having a strong image is a business requirement, not
a nice-to-have or “marketing fluff.” Having a strong image helps you
get the job done.

2. Focus on the concept of making and fulfilling a promise. The
promise centers on three things: What you’re trying to do (mission),
your philosophy (your beliefs about the way the strategic environment
works), and your values (which flow from your philosophy).

3. Stop thinking about what you want to say and start listening to
what others are saying about you. Think about it. Is Coca-Cola’s image
based on their press releases or on your impressions of their product,
its advertising, and its competitors? Listen to your customers and
then take corrective action when you’ve broken your promises (or even
when they think you have).

4. Stop talking about “branding.” For some reason, as soon as people
start hearing this word they get all worked up and agitated, either
frantically defending their symbols (or attacking someone else’s) or
ranting against being treated like a product. Forget it - the whole
dialogue gets you nowhere. Talk about “image” or “identity” because
that’s what you really mean anyway. (You can even talk about
“reputation” if you have to, although I’m personally not a fan of
doing that because there are important conceptual differences between
image and reputation. But for most executives they’re close enough.)

5. Keep the conversation about image very non-technical, with few
exceptions. One of the few jargon words I can tolerate is “brand
promise,” because it’s intuitive shorthand for what the organization
stands for. I just like the way it sounds. The second is
“positioning,” because it’s a simple way of talking about how your
promise is different from others’ and exactly which stakeholders you

6. Get your house in order first. Most people don’t realize this, but
effective marketing and PR is 99% workforce effectiveness and only 1%
bells and whistles. Remember that show “Jon & Kate Plus 8”? That
didn’t end well and neither will an effort to trot out the employees
(“kids”) like show puppies. Deal with the organizational issues
confronting your workforce and then they will all be on the same page.
When that happens they will brag about the organization and the public
will get a good impression naturally.

7. Highlight your strengths—but don’t try to be something you’re not.
We’re all self-critical but there are things your organization does
well. Focus on those, narrow down your offering (don’t try to be all
things to all people), and execute on that.

8. Make sure that people know what they’re supposed to do. Just
because you had a conversation on the top floor doesn’t mean the word
got out to everyone. And just because you used a phrase like “delight
the customer” doesn’t mean that people know what specific behaviors
you want them to exhibit. Tell them clearly, over and over again, even
if you think you’re repeating yourself. Write policies and procedures
and hold everyone accountable for following them. Post metrics
transparently that show progress (or the lack thereof).

9. Provide a reality check to employees showing them how people feel
when they’re interacting with the organization. Mystery shoppers are a
huge wake-up call.

10. Take senior executives out of the normal business environment to
engage them in building a realistic image and a roadmap for getting
there. Guided reading, discussions, and problem-solving sessions will
help them understand the need for change and call on their experience
and skill in creating it.

Posted via email from Think Brand First

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lip Service to Customer Service

Just came across a fascinating article from It
highlights the striking contradiction that no matter how much Fortune
100/500 executives SAY they care about customers' experiences, they
don't actually back up those words with any meaningful action.

Key findings:*

--82-85% of executives "agree that customer experience is the next
competitive battleground."

Yet strangely, they don't seem to do much to find out what the
customer wants in the first place--

--Only 29% meet with customers regularly themselves, presumably to get feedback.

--Only 17% dedicate someone to "improving customer experience across channels."

--Only 26% have an integrated system of measuring customer performance
so that it can be compared "across the organization."

Nor do they seem to make customer service a priority in the workplace:

--Only 24% think their employees know how to "delight" the customer
(odd wording - I would settle for "treat decently"). This is not
surprising when you consider that only 27% think their organization
defines clearly employee expectations for customer service.

--Only 29% think employees are empowered and equipped "to solve
customer problems."

Despite their apparent complacency, the executives polled seem to be a
very honest group--

--Fewer than half, "less than 44%[,] believe their companies deserve
customer loyalty."

--Similarly, "about 42% say their product/service is not worth the
price they charge."

While I look at these results with a grain of salt, because I don't
have the original research and can't tell who was really speaking,
they still seem to echo the stuff I read and hear from other sources.

Which begs the question:

If the private sector, which lives or dies based on the customer's
decision to purchase, doesn't care about the customer, then what does
that imply for government?


--Whether in business or government, is it true that nobody at the
highest levels really cares about the customer (didn't Henry Ford say,
"you can have any car you want as long as it's black")? External
customers and internal customers alike?

--Or do we care, but for some socio-psychological reason, have
difficulty coping with the need to focus on the emotional care-work
needed to "delight" the customer? So we do superficial things and call
them "responsiveness" and "customer interaction channels"? (lame
attempts at social media come to mind)

So odd considering that we are in the "customer service"
contradictory given the opposite experience, of being hounded by
customer service reps at retail stores lately and of seeing a waiter
be visibly humiliated when he got our order wrong on Sunday.

I am scratching my head wondering what's going on and trying to make
sense of all this, appreciate all insight.


*Note: The writer, customer experience consultant Leigh Duncan-Durst,
states that the statistics are "extrapolated" from research conducted
by Forrester Research, Strativity and Destination CRM.

All opinions my own. OK to repost with attribution.

Posted via email from Think Brand First

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Brainwashed by the Coffee

“The first time a man looks at an advertisement, he does not see it….The twentieth time he sees the ad, he buys what it is offering.” – Thomas Smith, 1885 (Source:,

Remember the Archie Bunker show? (Whatever it was really called, it’s still the Archie Bunker show to me.) Where Archie the old-fashioned lived with his son-in-law Mike, the “sixties radical,” and they were constantly arguing in the living room? That program nailed it on so many levels and one in particular: No matter how much Archie couldn’t stand Mike, eventually he got used to having him around, to the point where he grieved when Mike and Gloria (his daughter) moved out. If you would have asked Archie whether he’d prefer a different son-in-law, 99% he’d tell you “no.”

By default, the known is perceived as better than the unknown. As crazy as it sounds, it’s a psychological and a sociological axiom: Knowing a person or a thing somehow leads you to prefer being around them (or buying that product) than an unknown other. That is why advertisers spend so many millions of dollars on “in-your-face” campaigns. They know that no matter how much you hate to see the ads, the more they get into your head the more likely you are to buy the product. The more you buy the product, the more effective the ad and the more marketable the vendor who created it.

I hadn’t given this law of life much thought until recently when I visited Boston. The city has been taken over by Dunkin’ Donuts! I didn’t get it at first, but within a couple of hours it was clear. There were Dunkin’ Donuts storefronts everywhere—in the airport, in the subway (in total contrast to DC, where it’s illegal to eat or drink in the train station), and on the street, sometimes two and three stores to a city block. Literally, the first thing I saw when I emerged from the airport was a huge Dunkin Donuts cup, standing there, like a sculpture.

Coffee is a subjective taste, I know. In DC, Starbucks is king, even though there are lots of other coffee chains with delicious brews – Panera Bread in particular comes to mind. But it was just striking to me that Dunkin’ (which, quite honestly, usually tastes burnt to me) was so visible all over town, and not only that, but that the people seem to have been “brainwashed” into drinking it! “Carpet-bombing” the town with a single brand is a cheap marketing trick, but in Boston it appears to have worked! Everywhere you look, people are walking around clutching big Dunkin Donuts iced coffee cups, ice sloshing around, messily, sweatily, even long after the cup is empty they don’t seem to let it go.

(Actually there is a HUGE Dunkin’ vs. Starbucks debate going on in the city – see for example Boston Online at

All of this has made me question myself. I’ve been a Starbucks fan for as long as I know. But lately I have to admit it – I’m getting sick of their coffee, the sameness of the taste. It’s hard not to tout it when I’ve been doing so for so long. And I still like the brand, the stores and the other things they sell. But seeing Dunkin’s impact on Boston made me see that Starbucks, by being so present in my life, has kind of brainwashed me too. I don’t feel comfortable admitting that it just doesn’t taste all that great to me anymore, and I don’t like the inconvenience of having to even think about buying another brand when they’re located so close by all the time.

The coffee analogy explains to me why people, organizations and societies have such a hard time changing when they need to. It’s a combination of the marketing law that presence = preference with the law of physics that says “an object at rest tends to stay at rest.”

What I would like to better understand is how the inherent preference of human beings for stability jives with the visible instability that we see around us. It’s happening at every level - personal, social, economic, and more: The prevalence of unemployment, personal bankruptcy and systemic financial and real estate market crashes, childhood developmental disorders, teenage pregnancies, drug use and gangs in the school system, divorce, crime and imprisonment, depression and suicide, the prison population, homelessness, and so on paint a picture of a society that has become deeply unbalanced. While it’s true that social problems have existed forever, doesn’t it seem like something has gone off the rails in recent years? Like so many people are falling off the track, to the point where perhaps there is no track anymore?

My hypothesis on this is that the difficulty we see stems for a conflict between the need for stability with the equally human need to solve problems, overcome limitations, and grow over time into our best and most productive selves. The same stability that feels comforting can lead us to deny the problems that necessitate change. When we deny reality it of course does not go away but rather snaps back to hit us, sometimes when we least expect it, right in the face. Leading to unplanned and unexpected consequences that are loud, painful, and force everyone to stop and pay attention.

The Jewish New Year will soon be upon us. For me this is therefore a time of special reflection on what has happened over the past year and of thinking about what I want to do and be in the future. I am thinking about this concept of change versus stability, and how to confront and incorporate the need for growth without necessarily having it be experienced either by myself, or others, as disruptive and painful. As I think about it I have identified some things that seem to be effective in promoting a balanced approach toward independent thinking and change:

1. A commitment to seeing the “big picture.” We are all small entities in a very large universe; I believe the world is powered by something much larger than ourselves (I call it G-d, you can call it whatever you want or nothing at all.) When you get stuck in your own brain and its tendency toward extremes – e.g. stubbornly wanting to change, or resisting this – you lose your ability to be effective with other people because you are relating to yourself more than them or the larger world.

2. A commitment to process. Rather than just making things up as you go along, it’s good to look for frameworks and methodologies that address the issue of change. In particular I like the frameworks that come from the world of information technology, because the entire field of technology is about making the case for change and balancing the possible with the needed.

4. A commitment to speaking the simple truth as you see it. So often in this world we are de-legitimized by all the facts and figures out there and all the fancy talk. My mother though taught me differently. She taught me that if you can’t say it straight, then someone is covering something up and is trying to hide. I have found that she is usually right and that saying things straight serves me well.

3. A commitment to dealing with people in a human way, at their pace. Just because change feels fast and the need might seem urgent doesn’t mean you should rush it through. It’s important to take the time to sit with people and talk with them, hear their concerns, and discuss in an “old fashioned” way what’s going on.

5. A commitment to taking emotions and group dynamics seriously. I am constantly amazed that in a society with so many psychological and social problems and so much workplace conflict, that we don’t have counselors and facilitators “installed” as prominently in our social structures as Dunkin’ Donuts are in Boston subway stations. If we don’t talk about the issues there is no way in heck that we are going to fix them.

We can do a better job of coping with reality; we don’t need to live with bad situations forever or jump to change those that can be fixed. Here’s wishing everyone a good New Year, one where we learn to treat each other more decently than we have in the past and work together to cope with our changing world productively, rather than just taking advantage of our neural programming to sell each other burnt coffee.

Like my grandmother Muriel Garfinkel of blessed memory used to say, “Life is short. Be kind to each other along the way.”

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Social media has made us weird

I know I hold on to strange things sometimes. But I can’t forget that
woman in Borders who sat there clipping her nails in full view of me
and the rest of the store last weekend. She was watching the Michael
Moore movie about George Bush play on her notebook computer, focused
intently on the screen, nails flying this way and that. It was so
gross and disgusting. I wanted to move but then again I had the cushy
leather chair in the corner. Plus I was sipping my soup. I chose
instead to hold my ground and hope the little fingernails wouldn’t fly
my way.

So I observed that woman absently, the same way I observe people on
the train and in the food court and wherever I go. I watch people like
you reading this right now, gripping your Blackberry intently, staring
hard at the screen as if it were going to reveal to you all the
mysteries of the universe. You, like a flock of geese, standing
outside on an open-air terrace the other day during a break in a
meeting, waving your various smartphones around in frustration, trying
to get a signal. Asking each other, and me, if it’s just an individual
problem or if it’s Verizon itself that’s broken.

It’s not really just you – it’s me too. I just didn’t want to say that
I was the only weird one.

I have a theory that when I’m working on the computer my mind gets
fused with the technology somehow. It’s like I can’t see or hear
what’s going on around me. I get kind of rude when I’m writing,
actually, which is ironic considering that I often write stuff about
being nice to people as a way of working with them and selling them
things. It’s not that I am a bad person. But when I am connected to an
electronic device my brain goes into another dimension.

I saw on the news the other week that this is a common phenomenon.
Child development specialists are worried about kids who routinely tug
on their mothers’ arms only to be shrugged away because they’re “on
Blackberry.” The very device that is supposed to enable someone to
freelance while she’s watching her kids, said the CNN reporter, is
also the device that’s alienating her from them. It was sad because I
recognized myself on that show, all those years pursuing the Ph.D. and
trying to prove myself as a freelancer, and the work always somehow
took me away.

Anyway. There is a scene in the Adam Sandler movie “Funny People”
where he makes fun of all the people on MySpace. (I have to tell you I
can’t relate to the concept that there are actually people who use
MySpace but let’s go with that for now. It’s a kid thing so
whatever.) He says, in this sort of mocking tone of voice, “Look at
me, I have ten thousand friends on the compuuuuteer!” Sandler captures
it exactly. We are becoming a society of people that interacts with
things or with people through things. Not with each other. Tired old
cliché I know but it is both true, from what I observe, and sad.

I went to FrozenYo on F Street the other day. A young woman was
celebrating her birthday with some friends. She was enjoying her
yogurt. So was I. But she was also very intent on having her picture
taken. Eating the yogurt. So she could get the picture on Facebook. It
wasn’t going to be a memory until that photo went up. What does that
say? Where is her brain? Is it in the physical world, in the moment?
Or is she one with the digital and it’s only real when it goes live
and gets published?

I have another theory. Forgive me if it sounds silly. But I think we
all really want to be one with G-d. It’s the spiritual side of our
natures. When we go online and participate in the stream of
conversation, sort of openly, sort of blindly, it’s like we have
surrendered ourselves to a mosh pit made up of friends and fellow
seekers of the same oneness that comes with a loss of ego and self. We
want to say what we think, but also have that saying of things be
sublimated into something much larger than ourselves. The something
larger, in our minds, somehow represents G-d. The unity behind all
things – the creative force that underlies this world.

It’s just a theory. But it would be one way to explain why we as a
society are so taken by all things digital. Why we chase every
opportunity to interact in an electronic way. Even when it infringes
upon our own time, because the interaction has to do with work. Even
when the interaction is really meaningless, because we don’t know who
we’re speaking to and sometimes even when anybody else is listening. I
truly think that if an alien were to descend upon our world and watch
us on our devices, ignoring each other yet frantically Facebooking and
Twittering and livestreaming and uploading literally every thought
that comes into our heads, the alien would wonder what the heck was
going on.

It’s just like that lady in Borders. I’m sure she has a living room
for watching TV or reading books; a bathroom where she can clip her
nails; a desk where she can work on the computer; and so on. But she
chooses instead to camp out with the rest of us nomads in public. She
doesn’t talk to anyone, she doesn’t look around even, actually, but
she appears comforted and connected just from sitting there. Just like
I do. Looking at her and forgetting for a moment that she is not
actually my real life neighbor; getting irritated with the nail
clipping thing as if she were. Sipping my soup, staking claim to my
cushy leather chair, and surveying my “second living room,” the
bookstore. Feeling a part of some strange community of complete
strangers. Wondering how long it will be until our $1.50 coffees and
2-hour lounging sessions put the bookstore out of business and send us
back to our living rooms where we will try and think of another “third
place” to hang out when we’ve finished reading the paper at Starbucks.

(Got my official Gold Card today by the way…Yahoo!)

Posted via email from Think Brand First