Thursday, March 31, 2011

Why the best communicators are not esoteric subject matter experts

I hear things like this all the time.

So often that I don't want to repeat the words lest someone recognize themselves in the quote.

But in general, the conversation goes as follows:

"I know my subject matter and you are not going to tell me how to communicate about it."


"You're the communication expert, and I need your help - but I know my field so don't tell me what to do."


"Seeking a great communicator. Must be a subject matter expert in (esoteric to most people)."

Last but not least:

"Seeking communication expert. Must be a whiz at (SEO) (graphic design) (Flash and Dreamweaver) (Drupal)." Etc.

The root of the problem here is a serious misconception that communication is not an expertise in and of itself.

This is so wrong!!!!

Communication is an entire, huge field of thinking that is incredibly complex and incredibly hard to master.

People learn communication in school, on the job, at home, and in life. And they never stop learning.

A person who has mastered communication principles is a subject matter expert in their own right.

Any other skills they have are supplemental. Any other skills they have are subordinate.

In fact, if you try to get a communication expert who has a dominant mastery in any other field, you will probably end up with a master of the other field who doesn't really understand communication.

There are enough experts in technical subject matter. And they don't know beans about communicating.

There are enough whizzes. And you can't get them off their devices long enough for a handshake.

Get a communication expert. Team them up with the other experts in your office.

Respect the communication expert.

This person will ultimately save you time, money, and wasted effort.

Great communicators who are part of a collaborative team can generate nearly endless positive results for your organization.

Don't fight their expertise - welcome it.

Good luck!


Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D.

Report Human Trafficking: 866-347-2423

Thursday, March 24, 2011

10 Reasons Why Communicators Avoid Technology

A lot of the time we run the other way, even if technology can make our lives easier and better.

Here's why:

  1. Comfort with the traditional way of doing things
  2. Fear of loss of power to those who are better informed
  3. Fear of losing status if the technology doesn't work out well
  4. Perception that it’s a “waste of time” or “we tried that before and it failed”
  5. Mistrust of solutions that depend on sharing information with others
  6. Benefit not clear (because most technologists have trouble marketing their solutions)
  7. High cost - perceived or actual
  8. Hassle to use - perceived or actual
  9. Stubborn resistance - due to bureaucracy, culture, or scared people (see above)
  10. Shortsightedness - refusal to fund training or technologies that don't solve an immediate problem

With all this stuff going on, is it any wonder we wait for a crisis to change? I totally sympathize.

Nevertheless, if you are a communicator who is avoiding technology, do a 180 as fast as you can. Technology is here to stay - and those who ignore it are ignoring an asteroid that has already hit.

10 Technology-Driven Ways to Increase Your Communication Staff's Efficiency

The aversion that most people have to technology creates a big advantage for those who are willing to try new things, even if they flounder or even fail the first time.

Be smart: Get ahead of the curve and adopt the kinds of technologies that can help your productivity (read: bottom line) skyrocket.

Here are just a few:

  1. Share information electronically: Stop "meeting madness" - it is expensive and draining; most people hate meetings anyway. Save the talk for brainstorming, teambuilding, or other activities that require face-to-face interaction.
  2. Convert from email to alerting: People are drowning in email. Put your messages on the Web (internal or external) and let your readers find them by following an automatically generated alert. Use metrics of clicks to measure interest and engagement – which email doesn’t offer by default. Plus the content will stay there, hopefully well-categorized, for easy reference later on.
  3. Edit documents by wiki: Shared document editing by wiki rather than email (I send you the attachment, you send me the attachment, we can’t remember whose attachment is latest) or, heaven help us, trying to read someone’s handwriting. Unless you really need document tracking, it’s a simple solution to what can be a very time-consuming process.
  4. Transition from private to shared workspaces: If your best employee were to leave the organization tomorrow, would you be able to figure out what the heck they had on their computers or why it was important? Change the cultural expectation so that work is done on a project basis rather than a personal basis. By working this way, documents will be labeled consistently, stored in an accessible manner, and a version history will be kept to protect against data loss. Think about how long it can take you to write a single critical email and you will recognize the importance of this step, even if it is unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and you encounter resistance from the team.
  5. Use project management software rather than homemade tracking solutions: Are you still thinking that you can keep it all “in your head”? Afraid that by committing things to a system you will lose control? That you can’t learn a new solution because Microsoft Project is so complicated? Or perhaps you still send those back-and-forth emails? For everyone’s sake, especially yours, do yourself a favor and make the move now to something more professional. I pilot-tested Zoho and liked it a lot, but it’s a bit marketplace out there and you should be able to find something that works. (It’s also good to hire a Project Management Professional if you can, someone trained in the technical, systemic and organizational aspects of project management.)
  6. Invest in a document management system: After the project is complete and the team members are off the shared workspace, who retires the documents and makes sure they’re searchable by the next person? If you don’t invest in a cataloguing solution for the knowledge you’ve already produced, chances are you’ll have another team try to produce it again in the not-too-distant future.
  7. Convert to digital signatures from ink: I know, I know, ink is so pretty and it makes such nice swirly curls when you use it. It feels good to sign your name to approve a finished product. But you know what? Digital signatures are just as nice, in a different way: They save you from having to chase people down for matters that can just as easily benefit from a digital signing. Plus, let’s face it – most of what we do doesn’t exactly rank up there with the Constitution of the United States in importance. If a lease can be signed electronically, so can printer proofs.
  8. Learn the magical wonders of workflow management: Isn’t it fun to take a single piece of paper from floor to floor, scanner to fax machine, carrying it from person to person till it has all the signatures it needs to go out? Or how about tasks that have to flow from Person A to B to C and then back to A – isn’t it awesome when you have to chase each of those people down, or when you are one of them and aren’t sure if it’s your turn to edit the thing or if you have to wait for the subject matter expert first? This is the great contribution that workflow management makes to our lives. It’s the end of papers flying all over the place. The end of “who’s on first.” Finally we can relax until it’s our turn to pick up the baton.
  9. Get social – it’s free: There are so many social media solutions that already benefit from government participation. Use them to multiply the force of your outreach efforts: For example, take your photos and put them on your website, then Flickr, government photo collections, or anywhere it can be used by the public. Same with presentations to Slideshare. Documents to Scribd. Whatever tool makes sense, is approved, and you can use – use it.
  10. Become template-driven: The single best investment you can make in your brand is to develop a toolkit, posted in an accessible way for employees, that enables them to self-produce presentations, brochures, posters and fliers. Save your design and content communicators from getting into opinionated discussions over new names, new icons, new fonts, and so on, when using the brand usually benefits the organization more. Just make sure the brand is diverse enough to address most communication needs, and train and empower staff to use it. (This will engage them with it more, as well.) Invest the department’s resources in more complex jobs that call for a branding professionals’ judgment.

Don’t wait for inefficiency to sink your operation. Take action today – and ask your employees to come up with even better solutions for the next go-round.

Good luck!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I Need a Better Job Title

Technically I am a “public affairs specialist” working for an agency in the federal government (all opinions my own of course). This is the default.


But I really, really, really think we need a more accurate and meaningful job title for this area of specialization.


For one thing it’s not intuitive what “public affairs” means. 


I try to say to myself that “public affairs” is supposed to distinguish things that have something to do with the public. Versus things that don’t have anything to do with the public. But when it comes to government, exactly what would be outside the public sphere?


So then we get to the concept that “public affairs” is like the government term for “public relations.” I think we use a different term because


1) we’re not supposed to have PR people, because PR has a bad reputation as your hired gun-liar, and appropriated funds cannot be used for propaganda to domestic audiences


2) we in the government like to think that everything we do is incredibly unique to government and could not possibly be compared to what goes on in the private sphere.


Al-righty then. So how come we’re not all “public information officers?”


The answer to that one is that while some of us do indeed provide information – answering questions like “does this law or rule apply to me?” and “how can I complain about the way I was treated?” not all of us do that.


Many of us, if not most, connect people inside the agency to the media. These professionals generally have the term “press officer” or “media relations” attached to their title. They’re not exactly pure information providers because often they have to explain the “why” of an agency action, program or policy.


Once you get into the “why,” you have left the realm of fact and entered the realm of public relations. Which is where we didn’t want to be, if you recall. Or, where we think we don’t want to be.


Some government communicators are titled with a term like “public engagement.” As in, “we engage the public with our mission.” That’s not bad. We get people interested, excited, motivated about who we are and what we do. That helps us build a relationship with them so that they obey the law. So that they know where to turn for information. See “public information officers.”


Still others work in the realm of “outreach.” Which is another way of saying “marketing.” Except we don’t like to say marketing because again, that sounds like we’re propagandistically selling something. Like soap or soda. Except we’re not. We’re trying to sell people, usually, on a socially desirable behavior like washing your hands frequently so that you don’t get sick. Or we’re trying to convince them that complying with a new really won’t be all that bad. Like public engagement except it’s narrower and focused on a specific campaign.


There are “web content managers” among us as well. Which makes it sound like they have no say over the content. They usually don’t. They should have more.


“New media lead” isn’t that bad. That title is about finding and implementing emerging communication technologies to help us get the word out better, faster, cheaper. And using social media. Which is critical and still very underused (to put it mildly).


And of course there are always writers. Or as we like to call them, “writer-editors,” as if we have to add the term “editor” to the job description just in case the writer refuses to edit on the grounds they weren’t hired to do that.


My title right now is a little jumbled. “Marketing Consultant (Internal) and New Media Marketing Lead.” Or something like that.


I truly, truly dislike titles. I don’t think that one does me justice.


What I really am, in this job, is marketing strategy and outreach specialist. That doesn’t sound too bad.


But the vast majority of government communicators are, in my opinion, either public information officers (pure information) or public relations specialists (representing the why of agency actions, programs, or policies). PR isn’t lying – that’s just the stigma that’s been slapped on it over the years.


You know what? If you really think about it…you could actually boil down everything to public relations. PR people provide pure information, explain the “why,” build relationships, engage the public and employees, use new technologies, market socially responsible campaigns, and write their heads off.


You may think this is unimportant but I think it’s critical. An accurate description of your work also demonstrates your value.


I think we are PR people.


What do you think?


What should a government communicator’s default title be?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Social media, broadcast media, Web – the future of government communication

This blog started as a tweet basically asserting that the future of government communication is where the people are: social media, broadcast media, and Web. That good old boy print is as good as dead.


The tweet was pretty self-explanatory and I would have left it there, except some people seemed interested enough to retweet it. There was also a reply from Kristy Fifelski, who I know from the Gov 2.0 community, about the digital divide. How would this prediction square with the fact that most people aren’t yet online?


In the interest of starting a conversation, here are some very initial thoughts, based on my own experience and observation over the years.


1.     Accessibility compliance doesn’t equate to a better-informed public. It just means that you’re following legal requirements.


2.     Great communication strategy goes beyond the letter of the law to determine how people really get information and to get it to them that way.


3.     People don’t read, unless they’re bored on the train or doing research or their name is in the article.


4.     Here is what people do. They go on Facebook first thing in the morning. Check email but only briefly because they get so much. They text. They talk on the phone. They look at screens in the mall and the elevator. They look things up on mobile devices. They pass electronic billboards. They email news clips to each other with important information. They look at photos. They go on Facebook. They Tweet and retweet. They look at viral YouTube clips.


5.     They watch TV, sometimes. If it’s entertaining.


6.     People go out to eat.


7.     People don’t understand what the heck the government is doing.


8.     People don’t care what the government is doing.


9.     People are predisposed to think the government is doing a bad job because we’re a convenient enemy.


10.  There are more than 70 homeless organizations in Washington DC alone and times are tight. Ending the printing of vanity print publications, especially when regular newspapers can’t make a living in print, is a good way for government communicators to show that they are tightening their belts.


Right now government communications is playing catchup when it comes to communication. We are trying to evolve, in a way, but it’s not fast enough for our many audiences and the fact of the matter is we’re out of money and time. Nobody has patience for excess spending anymore.


Neither is it good enough to throw things up on the web (throw up, it sometimes seems like) and think our job is done. It’s not done. That is not “accessibility.” Neither is providing a snail mail address to request information.


What is good enough? Go to the nation’s public schools and libraries and set up shop. Create virtual games with the “government experience” (divided per agency) and let people interact with us there.


To say that the customer can’t use technology is an excuse. It is we who can’t use technology. And the substitution of long, wordy Word documents for actual communication, communication that is heard and understood and processed, is not going to work anymore.


In the past government communication was about sharing with the public content that had been through the process of vetting and was deemed ready to view. In the future it’s going to be a completely different picture. Our content will be public by default. There will be a sea of information out there and nobody will be able to control it. Nor will we be able to control the conversation.


The predictions in the Cluetrain Manifesto are coming true. We in government communication have an opportunity now to jump onboard and get aligned with the customer. We just have to lose our deep-seated fears – that we will make mistakes, show our lack of knowledge, or become irrelevant. We absolutely are going to do all of those things. But if we step out now, with grace and dignity and asking the public for feedback and forgiveness as we learn, then we will build great relationships as we move forward together.


In the end social media is about those relationships. It’s about great customer service. Listening to the people. Not about technology X or Y or Z, all of which are transitory. Let’s take the principles of great communication and bring them to those who need them the most. That is the true meaning of accessibility.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

What JC Penney knows that Lowe's doesn't

What a difference between these two stores.

I hope they rebrand "JCPenney" as "Penney's" or "JCP" or something like that. Because this store is so different from what it used to be that it's literally unrecognizable.

Someone should highlight and brand its transformation to an affordable yet upscale, modern retail emporium.

Change the logo. You've earned it.

When I walk into JC Penney I instantly am greeted by everything right:

1. The store is spacious, well-lit, well-organized and clean

2. Sales staff are courteous and helpful

3. They've created their own mini-brands, in mini-boutiques, within the store, close together - good for the easily distracted shopper

4. It has Sephora

5. The mini-boutiques' brands are separate yet relate to each other in a meaningful, consistent way

6. Sephora

7. The items are true to a core "brand promise" - affordable quality

8. It's fun to shop there no matter who you are

9. No annoying music

10. Sales are "doorbusters," which sounds fun

11. Sephora

JC Penney is doing such a good job that even I am convinced, and I am snotty about places with a reputation for being "junk stores." It's not, anymore.

On the other hand, Lowe's has completely messed up its brand.

What happened? It's become a complete mess.

Quick story to illustrate:

The other day we needed to replace a piece of hardware in our home. We could have gone to Home Depot, which is not far.

Yet the power of Lowe's brand in terms of having a higher quality of this type of thing, and more selection, was such that we automatically decided to head over there.

Despite the fact that we didn't know how to go there.

So we "shlepped" through unfamiliar terrain, over roads we didn't know existed, through nauseous traffic....well, you get the idea.

But we did it willingly because we were sure that once we got to Lowe's our problem would be solved.

Boy were we wrong!

The minute we pulled up to the store it was bad.

Outside there was a haphazardly arranged display of plants.

Not to mention that the store sign looked dirty.

Inside we were confronted by...nothing.

Look left and there were immense rows and aisles and signage. Like Home Depot, except worse.

The ceilings were like 100 feet high, and the signs were way up there. I had no idea where anything was, and the signs didn't help. I "know" my own Home Depot, but still - this was ridiculous.

There were no salespeople. Nobody offered to help. Home Depot has Lowe's beat on this. There are armies of salespeople to help you at Home Depot.

Finally we find what we are looking for but it's in two separate aisles.

The first aisle has products from one or two manufacturers, and that's it. Not much choice at all.

The second one has a big display, but maybe only two or three second-rate choices of product.

Certain people in our visiting party are ready to leave more or less immediately. Enough time wasted. They are not happy.

I am sort of the opposite, stubbornly insisting that we make something out of the trip. I am not happy.

We are not happy.

Stubborn me walks around and around looking for help, an alternative, a solution so that we don't have to walk out of this store empty-handed.

No help to be found. I see cashiers somewhere in the vastness.

It's such a bad experience that we end up at the clearance washer-dryer section, looking at the set colored a jazzy red. Wishing we were there to buy a washer-dryer.

We linger looking at the flashlights for a minute. Do we need a new flashlight?

No. We shake our heads sadly. And walk out. Really annoyed.

Not happy campers, us.

Retailers must understand that the customer has a choice. We could simply buy everything online, in bulk, and call it a day. We go to a store for a positive sensory experience. It's not just a need, it's an activity that fulfills a need. Fun. Something to do.

Retailers must understand that it's a bad economy. If we're shopping, it's something we have to justify. They must cater to our different needs and shopping styles. They must know the customer.

They don't.

Lowe's has lost its way.

JC Penney has found it.

Lowe's could learn a lot from JC Penney.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The highest compliment a brand can get

Read an article yesterday about Apple. By a customer who was fairly shouting with enthusiasm about the brand.

In her words: "Apple gets ME!"

She went on to say that Apple intuitively understands her lifestyle (busy, family, kids) and her technology prowess (none).

She talked about asking for and getting customer support that was sympathetic and constructive. Versus another company's more blaming attitude. (It was Verizon and I haven't had the same problem. More on that in a minute.)

She talked about taking the kids to the Apple store and the joyful confusion, everybody getting separated as they were drawn to one product or another.

If I had to put her in a brand cluster it would be along with Volvo, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Panera. Maybe Ann Taylor for work and REI for weekend. Brands that take care of you, that cost a bit more, that are geared for moderately elite people.

Apple succeeds because it squarely and narrowly focuses on a certain type of customer. The kind that fits into a certain narrow slot. All they care about is understanding this slot, this customer, her life.

Nothing else. Not technology. Not leadership. Not distribution. Not operations. Believe it or not, not even design, though they claim to.

Apple is obsessed with this lady and the psycho-socio-econo-political demographic she represents.

I am not her. Surprise surprise, I am an Apple DISbeliever. I think their products are too locked-down and vastly prefer the Droid.

Unlike her, I don't want to have my hand held by customer service - just send me the link or I'll Google it myself.

The brands I like and affiliate with reflect this (Republican,, Google, etc.) I loved the series "24." I dislike being served at restaurants - vastly prefer takeout (I can't cook.) And so on.

The lesson for brands is an old one. Don't try to please a mishmash customer - a vague "everyone." Focus on a someone. Give her a name, a persona, a brand cluster. Refer to that when making decisions.

Along the lines of "What would Jesus do?"

Make it a daily habit to ask:

"What would make Jane (or John) Smith happy?"

When you delight the customer, you can't go wrong with your brand.


Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D.
Twitter: @thinkbrandfirst
All opinions my own.

**Report Human Trafficking: 1-866-347-2423**

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Employee communications - what does it say about your brand if their photos look like mugshots?

5 Mistakes That Keep You From Revitalizing a Dying Brand

The most important thing you can do to revitalize your company, agency or personal brand is to change your perspective: Look at things from the outside in.

Most people are not marketers by trade and instead get stuck in the usual way of thinking: inside out.

("Me me me, it's all about me.")

You would think such people, being self-absorbed and defensive, would be great at branding but the opposite is true. Their egos keep them in failure mode.

Mired in their own perspective, they can't come up for air enough to look into the fishtank from outside.

Marketers know to keep their eyes on the prize: The customer. The brand exists in the customer's mind and there alone.

Here are 5 signs that you're not looking at things objectively:

1. You see negative feedback as an attack always, and before the speaker is even finished with the first sentence, you interrupt to defend yourself.

2. You defend the status quo, even if you know it makes no sense, for whatever justification (too complicated to fix, no money, whatever).

3. You close off possible channels of interaction with your employees and customers, making excuses and feigning ignorance of the myriad simple and free tools out there to do this. The simplest one being, of course, a basic "Hello."

4. You shoot the messenger who warns you of a possible crisis or problem looming.

5. You ignore or avoid training and continuing education opportunities because "I'm too busy doing real work" or "Our situation at Brand ABC is unique and nothing out there would apply."

If you are having trouble with this and want to change fast, a suggestion - think about G-d. Not religion, but the Infinite power of the Creator. If you don't believe in a Creator, then simply contemplate something incredibly vast and outside yourself. Nature is good. The vastness of the sea.

The point is, make yourself small. Squeeze tight into a little crack in the wall. Then observe all the things going on outside. You will find that your ability to appreciate and understand reality grows the less you think about yourself.

And the more in touch with reality you are, the more you will be able to build your brand.

Good luck!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Government’s Critically Important “Employer Brand”

My wise aunt S., an occasional matchmaker and full-time educational consultant, did personal branding long before there even existed such a concept. She knew how women could best present themselves and succeed.


On balancing career and family she often repeated the well-known saying:


“You can have it all – just not at the same time.”


I was a kid. What did I know back then? She had ice cream, she had her own cosmetology chair (red leather, yes, the kind they have in the beauty salons), and she had a lot of books on holistic healing. Which I still think is so cool. So I poured on the Hershey’s Syrup, dumped in some walnuts, mixed it around and listened.


To this day, I can still see her in her living room with the lavender walls and open wooden bookshelves. I can still hear her get-to-the-point tone. 

S. loved me like a mother but boy could she sting like a bee when she opened up her mouth. (Think Joan Rivers on “Fashion Police.")

“A red prairie skirt? I don’t care how much it cost! What were you THINKING?”


Tradeoffs are a reality. Nobody, nobody in this world achieves anything without making them. And you cannot expect to have it all.


Even if you try to “have it all” at different times.


(If you eat the ice cream, you should probably forget the red prairie skirt.)


Most people recognize on some level that one must normally give up something in order to get something else. But the concept of “tradeoffs” just sounds really bad. So we are susceptible to marketers’ messages that we can somehow shortcut the rules.

  • Got a tough term paper to write and no time (or writing talent)? “Buy your essay here!”
  • Need to lose weight? You don’t have to diet – just “take this vitamin” or “get Spanx!”
  • Have too many items in your handbag? You don’t have to throw anything out – just “buy the miracle organizer!”

And so on.


That’s why it is nice to work for the government. We don’t do shortcuts. We do process. We believe in balance.


This is a good way to live and make a living. Aside from the fact that we get to work on important things that benefit the country, the fact that we all have off-duty lives is taken for granted. We don’t call it that negative word, “tradeoffs.” Instead, we make provisions for being human.


We call it, “Having a life.”


Balance is ingrained in our culture. More than once I’ve emailed someone about something after hours and gotten the “no answer” response in response, even though they probably read the message on Blackberry. Nobody wants to start that precedent unless it’s an emergency.


Sure no system is perfect. But government agencies understand balance. In branding language, it’s an “attribute they own.” This is realistic and healthy. Nobody can work 24 hours a day. Nobody even SHOULD work 24 hours a day. That just provides the illusion of productivity – not a real answer.


Children in particular are a wonderful blessing. They’re not a “tradeoff.” I love seeing both moms and dads nowadays walking into the office building, toddlers in tow, going to the daycare center. What an advance that I wish were available to all parents.


I remember as recently as the 1990s, when women had to “choose” between a serious job and full-time parenting. At that time, parenting was still mainly for women. The “choice” to stay home was only for privileged women who had money, of course – everybody else had to go out and earn it.


Back then, women were divided into those who “worked” (got paid) and those who “didn’t” (worked without pay, taking care of the kids). I remember it being extremely painful for me when I was a full-time wife, mom and doctoral student who didn’t make a dime and people asked me, “Do you work, dear?” And I had to say “Not OUTSIDE the home” because I couldn’t think of anything clever or funny to reply back.


My kids are older now. But I still like mommying. School forms, parent-teacher conferences, household errands, doctor’s appointments, and all that other good stuff. (Not chocolate chip cookies though. Because I can’t cook and I can’t eat them, either.)


I come from a long line of strong women who did it all and didn’t know any different. I don’t know if this is really true, but somebody told me that my grandmother, may she rest in peace, ran a real estate office while “Butch” the dog guarded my mother, aunts and uncles in a playpen.


(If you’re thinking that they should have called Child Protective Services, listen. It was the 1940s, OK? I know they wouldn’t put up with that today. But it was the age of Rosie the Riveter. As the poster said, “We can do it!”)


It’s not just work-family balance that the government supports. There is also diversity – of exterior things like skin color and religion and gender. And interior things, like opinion and personality. 

In government there is an understanding that we are all different kinds of animals and we each thrive in our own particular habitat. Me, I’m a creative introvert. I like to telecommute sometimes, my job allows me to do that, and I appreciate it. In return, I do better work.


In the government, there is also a comprehension that different people contribute different talents to the team, and that each one is worthwhile. 

For example, I am more likely to head out into uncharted waters and innovate. Others are skilled at transforming edgy ideas into mainstream practice. Still others are implementers, maintainers, cheerleaders and morale-booster. Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something - that is really true.


Outside the government there is this tendency to want people who know, and can do, it all. Or at least, turn on a dime to get the very latest credential in the hottest new specialization. (Thus all the advertising people who feel useless because they don’t know how to code websites…as if there’s no room left in the business for actual thinking.)


Perhaps most important, in government there is a concept of balance between your rights as an individual, and your responsibilities to the government as an employer. There is an ethical code of conduct to which all federal employees are bound, as well as agency guidance. You can’t just do whatever you want, but then again the agency can’t trample all over your rights, either. There is a fairness and a structure to that. It is reassuring.


Everybody needs balance. Everybody makes tradeoffs, even if the word sounds bad. I broke two or three computers writing my dissertation. I maintained a completely inhuman schedule. My health suffered and I don’t think I was much good to the family. But that was the time to push. For better or for worse, I decided that was the time to finish it, and get it over with, once and for all.


If you think about it, even with the tradeoffs we make, we are so much better off than previous generations. They quit high school and worked two jobs so that we could get to a place where we have the luxury of choices like “graduate school or working.”


I have the luxury of time to reflect. I wouldn’t if I had a job that took all of my time away. This is a benefit of working for the government. For most people I know, real satisfaction comes from engagement with the world. From family, creativity, activism, religion, or even just a few minutes to reflect.


If you don’t have a concept of balance, then you end up missing out on (and messing up) everything that matters.


Amid all the debate about the value that public servants bring to the table, this is the one thing I would like to bring out: We have championed the value and the importance of balance.


While industry is in the business of results, and that is important and invaluable, government is in the business of process. We insist on maintaining a balance between the end result and the way we get there. We ought to value ourselves for sticking to our guns and maintaining that value in everything we do.


By insisting on balance, we legitimize it for others who do not work in the government. We have an impact on society. We serve others in this way. Even as we get more “private sector” in our thinking, it would be healthy if we stayed close to this value. For balance is a brand attribute that, properly managed, can truly take us to ever-higher levels of performance.



~All opinions (as always) are my own. With prayers for peace and healing~


Sunday, March 13, 2011

My Blood, Sweat and Tears - Your 5 Social Media Do's and Dont's

After a day spent cleaning up my social media streams, a few lessons learned:

1. Do keep it short and sweet, unless you really have more to say. Word count and follower numbers are not correlated.

2. Don't let an account lie fallow. If you're not posting or getting traffic, delete it.

3. Do focus on what you're good at. I like telling stories, giving advice and commenting. Video, audio and online community gardening, not so much.

4. Do leverage your content across multiple streams. I like Posterous a lot for this.

5. Don't be afraid to try. Social media is for pioneers. Sometimes we chase fool's gold, but that's OK. Other times we discover voice tweeting. (Try Voice to Tweet for Droid and Dragon for iPhone, both free.)

Most importantly - have fun and good luck!

The only reason to give away content is to gain credibility.

Have you ever noticed that people tend to hire people who look like them?

A great storyteller will always have a job.

I always post my blog right away in case there is a nuclear disaster - not kidding.

Generic content has no value. Customized advice does. #branding

Sunday's social media daze

I have accomplished absolutely nothing this morning. Well - I published an updated ebook of my blogs so I guess that is worthwhile.

But I should have written a full-length blog. Didn't, because...I am futzing with social media tools and widgets and not getting to actual blogging like I should. First, Gist and now other stuff.

For example, now that I have inherited an old iPod touch I am futzing around trying to cross-train myself from Droid thinking to Apple thinking. Man is it tough! Makes me feel old.

The one thing I have found on this thing that I can't match on Droid is the free app from Dragon. I have been dictating like crazy and the thing actually picks up the words amazingly well. You can dictate into the app (as long as you're connected to the Web) and then send it wherever you want. 

You don't want to read the entire text of today's dribble but here is an interesting segment that basically sums up today:

"I forgot that I send my RSS feed to one tool and then signed up for another so every time I post a blog it's going to three different places and probably totally annoying everyone. Trying to streamline and get everything a little less chaotic."

Hope this works...

Have a nice rest of the weekend everyone.

Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D.


Just uploaded my updated eBook to SlideShare (free download)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Personal branding tip: Create a "Personal Preference Card"

Don't ever go shopping with me.

This is me in Target: 

"OK, I need a hook to hang things on. 

"Oh...look at those great T-shirts! Merona...that's not a brand. Plus, those are men's shirts. I don't know about that.


"Wait. Over there! I see something interesting...."

Which is why a 5-minute errand takes me about half an hour.

If I had a "personal preference card" (PPC) - meaning a little index card type thing where I wrote down my shopping style - with me, I would save a lot of time. Like I would know that I routinely take half an hour to browse every time I need a little tchotzchke (sp?) and maybe get those things in bulk, online.

If you consider that weekends are largely for shopping and that one only has (48-16=) 32 hours on a weekend to do EVERYTHING, saving a half an hour is significant.

I need a PPC. 

It would save me money, not just time. 

I would use my PPC to remind me to stay out of Trader Joe's, except once a week. Otherwise I will spend $75 a trip on things that look interesting, that I MAY need in the future, but which I will never use. Like seaweed snacks, vegetarian pad thai, the new bento box for $5.99 a pop. All of it cool, none of it necessary.

There is a more important use for such a card: It could help to make you happier. 

Gretchen Rubin, writing for Psychology Today, writes about this. Lifehacker picked up on that theme in commenting on her post.

Now you have to forgive Gretchen, as you read this, if she sounds a little narcissistic. It's all for a good cause - her being happy and, at the very least, not driving the people around her crazy (although I am a little unnerved by her referring to herself in the third person):

<<Gretchen prefers to work at a desk with a lot of bare surface space.
Gretchen prefers to clear out her email inbox before turning to more difficult work. 
Gretchen prefers to do original writing away from her home office.
Gretchen prefers not to fall too far behind on her compulsive note-taking, so be sure to leave time for that activity in the schedule.
Gretchen prefers not to spend time looking for things, so be sure to put everything back in its proper place.
Gretchen prefers to work at a computer with three monitors.
Gretchen prefers to drink tea, coffee, or diet soda all the time when she's working so be sure to have plenty at hand.
Gretchen is often cold, so please keep the work space on the warm side.>>

The third person part is why I sort of dismissed this at first. But the idea stuck around in my head, because it's a good one. If only because I'm always so busy and looking for ways to save time.

Eventually I did a little mental exercise where I substituted my own name for hers and put things into her format. That was when I started to like the idea more and more. After all, if a surgeon is entitled to have the operating room set up just right, aren't other people allowed to have their own preferences when it comes to work, shopping, and life?

Yes, of course!

It soon dawned on me that the PPC is ideal from a personal branding point of view. Returning to the theme of the brand as a decision filter, it helps you to gravitate toward success and away from trouble. Quickly.

Really it comes down to this: You have to know your personality and focus on that. It's not about your technical skills or the career you trained for. It's about you. 

Imagine that you are an animal, or better yet, a fish. What environments are most hospitable to you? Go there if you can. Stay away from shark-filled waters or your own personal Bermuda Triangle.

Just like people gain weight when their friends overeat. Just like druggie friends lead to drug abuse. Don't willingly put yourself in a situation where you will fail. 

Go instead where you will be a star. Surround yourself with people who want to be successful, like you do.

It doesn't matter what you went to school to do. These days it's about knowing how to think and how to work in a variety of contexts. Go back to what you're good at, what you've already done well (and what you haven't), and get very clear about it. That way you won't take on assignments or jobs that are doomed to make you look bad or stress out beyond your capacity to handle the situation. The PPC is the perfect tool to help you do that.

To give you an idea of how a PPC might work for branding, here's one I created for myself. Hopefully not too narcissistic-looking. It's just to give you the basic idea.
  1. Dedicated to my career, but G-d and family come first
  2. Creative, innovative, "out of the box" - prefer unpaved road to marked path
  3. Independent worker, but do best within structure and team
  4. Prefer short-term, intensely demanding projects - do well under pressure, multitasking
  5. Virtually oriented - get more done that way
  6. Introverted, but gain energy from collaborating, networking, learning best practices
  7. Not egotistical, but find it important to be valued and recognized for contributions made
  8. Open-minded - enjoy constructive disagreement if it yields a better result
  9. Down-to-earth and direct - polite, but not a politician
  10. Dislike conflict, but will fight like a bulldog if it's necessary for a better result
Looking at this list, I kind of know when I'll do well with something and when I won't. I think I can use this to gravitate toward certain responsibilities and not take on others, if I have a choice. Or, if there is no choice, try to tailor the responsibility in such a way that I can carry it out well.

What are your personal preferences at work? How about in your non-work life? I can easily see this card as a very versatile, expandable thing. Perhaps even for people who are looking to get married - write down a list of your lifestyle preferences as well as your "dealbreakers," as Patti Stanger puts it (see her list here). Unfortunately Patti dated someone for many years who then didn't want to have kids - how much time and emotion did she lose on that? 

Personal preferences are a serious thing. They don't have to be put aside for the sake of finding a job, a mate, or happiness. If you're upfront about who you are and what you want, you can stay focused and turn them to your advantage. 

Be recognized for the qualities that you bring to the table. They are unique, they are valuable, and they are truly yours. Own them with pride.

Good luck!


Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why Starbucks’ Tribute Misses the Mark

When I was in middle school, there was one girl's house where everybody hung out. After school, on Sabbath ("Shabbos"), during high school and after, probably, too.


I wasn't usually part of her clique. But I remember wistfully looking out the living room window on Saturdays and watching everyone head over there. Not right after synagogue - usually in the early afternoon. The few times I visited there too, I could tell why her house was "the" place. It just had that vibe, like whoever you were, whatever you were into, it was OK.


Once a place is known as a hangout, it's a hangout for good. Even if it's only in the mind. Even if it's really just a shanty place, overgrown with weeds.


Same with my grandparent's house – on my mother's side. It was a regular hangout for me, during summers and on Jewish holidays, especially Pesach (Passover), every other year.


I remember that house more than I remember the one I grew up in. I have memorized it in my mind, down to the finest detail.


It's funny. My grandparents had hung a framed pencil sketch of my great-grandfather, may he rest in peace, Rabbi David Garfinkel ("Reb Dovid"), on the wall of the living room. Reb Dovid was well-known, people came to see him. He was quiet and pious and brilliant.


I never met Reb Dovid. I didn't know what he looked like. And until I was a young teenager – I am not kidding when I tell you this – I thought that framed picture was a sketch of G-d himself. (Yes, I thought that G-d was a man and that of course He must be a rabbi. Of course! What can I tell you, I was a kid.)


My grandparents' house, may they rest in peace, was the hangout for my family. The aunts, the uncles, the parents, the grandparents.  They were raised there, visited from college there, brought their eventual mates home to meet my grandparents, stayed for Jewish holidays, and then brought the grandkids. And nursed my grandparents when they were too old to take care of everybody running around.


My grandmother Muriel (a real New York beauty queen from the Bronx – she won a pageant, for real) used to make Shabbos meals out of almost nothing. She cooked peas and mushrooms with brown sugar. Salt and pepper kugel (that's like a noodle casserole) fried in oil in a cast iron pot. Ground boiled eggs and liver together, which sounds truly disgusting, but it was delicious.  Homemade salad dressing. And chulent with the marrow bone.


We used to run home from shul (synagogue) to eat. And then fight over who would get the marrow bone. (It was a real fight let me tell you.)


My family hung out at my grandparents' house and we sat and ate my grandmothers' roast chicken. A warm, homey scene. A place full of love and lively discussions and the usual family "scenes," that became engraved indelibly in my heart.


My grandparents' home was a hangout. Like the house of that girl in middle school. Everyone was welcome, no matter who they were or what their philosophical viewpoint. And I never found another one like it as an adult.


Talk about viewpoints: Oh the discussions we had at the Sabbath table. I especially remember learning feminism at the knee of my aunt Renee, the first woman in the family to get a Ph.D. I don't know what she used to argue about with my straitlaced, traditional, Hasidically raised dad. But oh did I love watching them "discuss" things while everybody else took sides. Sometimes just for the hell of it.


Those conversations seemed to go on forever. Sometimes after I ate and had argued enough I would get up and sit on the loveseat they had placed along the wall next to the dining room table. It was a white couch with red flowers. To me it was beautiful. I sat there and watched them all. Disagreeing about everything. Driving each other crazy. Passing the time on Shabbos, when we weren't allowed to drive or use electricity. Love, amusement, and warmth carried the day.


When we visited my grandparents, I wanted to stay there forever. It's actually hard to write this and not start crying. (OK, so I just did.) I miss my grandparents' place. I especially miss my grandmother calling out to me hello when we pulled up to the driveway after a long ride there. I used to run up to the steps and run in. We weren't a "touchy" family – we were actually quite reserved and disliked showy shows of love – and I didn't hug her. But I was so reassured at the sight of her, and the sound of her calling my name.


What is the point of all of this? Believe me there is a point…because most of what I know about marketing, I know from personal experience.


The point is Starbucks. How they truly, right now, are missing the mark. How they don't understand their true brand essence – which is to be a hangout for Generation X and then only secondarily Matures, Boomers, Yers and Generation Z. (If they have the patience to sit, that is.)


It's not about the coffee. Repeat: It's not about the coffee.


I was in Starbucks today tasting the new "Tribute" blend.  It was OK. I wasn't all that in love with it. I didn't really care about the signs on the wall offering free "Petites" or whatever their mini-pastries are. Maybe they're going to take away my Gold Card or something, but if that's what they're using to cushion the rollout of the new mermaid logo, it didn't really do anything for me.


I realized that the reason I keep going to Starbucks, even though I'm sick of it and only like the memory of the brand now, is that I love the idea of "my hangout." I don't need it to be my grandparents' house – that was its own special place and time. But I have always enjoyed that "third place." Be it the tent I used to build in the living room out of a sheet draped over two chairs; endless shopping malls; the bookstore and the library; wherever. Heck I even like sitting in the airport waiting for a plane. There's just something about the anonymity of the hangout that frees me to write, and reflect, and be. And I like that.


Starbucks, for me, is that place where I grew to be my own person, to think through my own opinions away from the influence of family and community. It's where I took my kids as toddlers and later, with their friends. Where I handed out surveys doing research for my dissertation. Where I brought my laptop to have some peace and quiet and blog. Where my family sat and read the paper, waiting for the cushy couch on vacation. Where I, usually incredibly busy and tapped for time, had a few minutes and "chillaxed."


I always knew that Starbucks was in the the hangout business. But I'm not sure I really put those words to it in my mind. And you know what? They keep mistaking themselves for coffee roasters, too! They don't see that everybody else has caught up to them.  Their coffee is not unique. Their chairs are not unique. Their concept is not unique.


There is nothing about Starbucks that is special anymore. And you know what? If somebody else would put decent coffee in a coffee shop near me, with a cushy chair and the paper, I would go there instead. I might even pay to rent the chair, and possibly even a little locker to hold my things, if I were going to work there all day.


Sure, I go there and drink the coffee still. But you know what? When I visited Boston I drank Dunkin' Donuts. And I must tell you, I can't stand the taste of Dunkin' Donuts much of the time, because it tastes burnt. I have to mask it with sugarfree vanilla syrup.


Point is, whatever is ubiquitous is what's going to draw the loyal band brand. Most of the time.


When my kids were little we used to go to Playspace in New York City, a paid indoor playground. The most crowded feature of Playspace, hands-down, was the secret tent with the colorful floppy shower curtain opening. There the kids gathered and pretended to have their own little hangouts. There they pretended to be all grown up.


Today, the giant megalosaurus brand Starbucks, a brand I have long admired, must admit that it is resting on its laurels. Worse, it is drinking its own Kool-Aid – enamored with itself and clueless about what the customer needs and wants. Drugging everyone up with sugary fatty Frappuccinos and cupcakes and the like. Hoping that the next big "blend" or treat or name will give them a future.


Starbucks is thinking the wrong way. They should be banking on the memories of thirtysomethings who grew up with the brand. And others who remember growing up, and hangouts. Especially hangouts that comforted one when the parents were out there working and our homes were quiet and empty.


I repeat my call to Starbucks to reinvent themselves now. Do something daring, different, amazing. I have always liked the brand and the company and the concept that they stand for. But now, I continue to be disappointed.


Starbucks - make yourselves great again. Your brand essence is the hangout business. Go back and create a cave we want to inhabit, above all others, once again. 

Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D.


Please Fwd/Share/Repost: 10 Personal Safety Tips That May Save Your Life

A woman was almost kidnapped the other day. One of many, probably. Broad daylight, busy street.

She was lucky, but too many others aren't.

So BE AWARE AND ASSERTIVE at all times. Never assume that you're safe. Stay away from trouble. Trust your own common sense. And if you feel endangered, take action to save yourself even if you feel like it makes you look "crazy."

Better that people think you're crazy (they don't), than that you end up seriously hurt or dead.

Remember: A predator will do anything to victimize you. Don't be a victim. Protect yourself and those you know and love.

Please share or repost the tips below, received today (edited for space/readability) I can't vouch for the veracity of the facts, but they seem extremely useful anyway.


10 Personal Safety Tips For Women and Everyone
Source: Unknown, possibly a police officer

1. The elbow is the strongest point on your body. If you are close enough to use it, do!

2. If a robber asks for your wallet and/or purse, DO NOT HAND IT TO HIM. Toss it away from you and RUN LIKE MAD IN THE OTHER DIRECTION!

3. If you are ever thrown into the trunk of a car, KICK OUT THE BACK TAIL LIGHTS and stick your arm out the hole and start waving like crazy.

4. As soon as you get into your car, LOCK THE DOORS AND LEAVE. Predators watch women who sit in their car. Don't give them the chance to get into the passenger side, put a gun to your head, and tell you where to go.

5. If someone is in the car with a gun to your head, DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM when they tell you to drive off. Instead, GUN THE ENGINE AND SPEED INTO ANYTHING, WRECKING THE CAR. As soon as the car crashes, get out and run. It is better than having them find your body in a ditch.

6. Parking garages are dangerous:

* LOOK AROUND YOU and into your car before getting in.

* Look at the cars parked next to you. If someone is sitting alone in one of them, go back into the building you came from and ask someone to escort you to your vehicle. (This does NOT make you look weak and better safe than dead.)

* If you are parked next to a big van, go in through the passenger door.
Serial killers attack victims by pulling them into their vans when the victim is getting into her car.

7. STAY OUT OF THE STAIRWELL. Always take the elevator instead.

8. Mentally prepare to confront a predator's gun. Prepare yourself to RUN AWAY! If they shoot at you, a running target, they will probably not hit you at all. Even if they do, it probably won't be a vital organ. (Zig-zag if you can.)

9. DON'T BE SYMPATHETIC. Ted Bundy (serial killer) used sympathy against his victims - to trick them into being abducted. For example, don't fall for the "crying baby" scam (someone plays a tape that sounds like a crying baby outside your door, prompting you to open it, and get attacked). Call the police if you want to report a problem.

10. If you wake up in the middle of the night to hear all your taps outside running or what you think is a burst pipe, DO NOT GO OUT TO INVESTIGATE! Criminals turn on all your outside taps so that you will open the door - and then attack.

Taking my own brand medicine...and it's good!

If you know me you know that I'm big on new things.

Got a project? I'll volunteer!

Beta software? I am there!

Freelance opportunity that doesn't conflict with my job?

Well, those don't often come along...but they sometimes do, and I've always got my eyes open.

The great thing about having this attitude towards life is that you do tend to grow.

Example: Early in my career I started a writing/editing business and landed a gig rewriting a book about psoriasis.

Now you might be flinching at the word psoriasis. I definitely did - at first. It wasn't exactly my idea of a dream job. I wasn't getting paid to write the Great American Novel.

Yet I learned so much from that experience. Especially about my own personal brand, though I wouldn't have used those words at the time.

I learned that I like to take boring, complicated, technical content and make it easy for the average person to understand and use. That I am good at it. That it's a special skill, and that there is money there. And that I would rather write helpful nonfiction than entertaining novels.

Thus I love writing about marketing.

But as important as it is to explore, there is also a time to narrow your focus. Being everywhere and doing everything means that your identity is...nothing.

Plus you end up with no energy if you burn yourself out running around all the time aimlessly.

How do you decide what to do, in a world where there are so many choices?

At The Brand Consultancy, where I learned brand consulting many years ago (in 2001, has it already been a decade? My G-d!) they advocated the use of a brand filter for business decision-making.

I remember hearing about it and preaching it over and over, as though it were obvious. But it wasn't obvious, it was new, and nobody really got it - until they did, and the lightbulb went on, and then (as co-owner Mark Morris used to say), "It was like a domino effect." Suddenly, for the customers that understood it, everything fell into place.

Technically the term is "operationalizing the brand."

It is so odd that you can preach these tools but not really apply them to yourself. Sort of like a doctor who overeats and pops pills.

Anyway, yesterday I chose between two freelance business opportunities. One was to teach marketing as an adjunct. The other was to write online in an area unrelated to marketing strategy, which is my specialization.

I made the decision, for the first time, using a brand filter - my personal brand. Myself as the business, so to speak. As Tom Peters put it, "The Brand Called You."

(Of course as a federal employee, my agency has to give me permission too. And they have a brand simply by being the government, something I took into account as well. It all has to fit.)

What was great about using my personal brand as the filter was that it removed second-guessing from the equation completely. Sure you never know 100% if you were right. But when you use a branding framework, you manage the risk associated with eliminating a choice.

So that's my little story about how I put my personal brand into action. I hope it is helpful to you.

Good luck!

Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D.
Twitter: @thinkbrandfirst
All opinions my own

Report Human Trafficking: 1-866-347-2423

Friday, March 4, 2011

5 Outlook timesavers to explore on a Friday

Note: This works on the new version but not sure about all versions.

1. Save contact from email

Double-click on email. Right-click name of person from message header. Click "add to contacts."

2. Export contacts to Gmail

Choose advanced, then options, then export as CSV. Import to Gmail, Yahoo, etc.

3. Save group of emails to text file

Select a bunch of emails. Hit File, Save as, Text, then choose location.

4. Turn email to task

Drag email to task list

5. Turn email to calendar item

Drag email to calendar, add date/time/location

Other useful ways to use Outlook include assigning custom categories to tasks, synching calendars with Sharepoint, and one-way synching to Google calendar.

For more information, Google all of this stuff.

Good luck!

Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D.
Twitter: @thinkbrandfirst
All opinions my own

Report Human Trafficking: 1-866-347-2423

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Personal Branding & the Self-Destruction of Charlie Sheen


Christina Aguilera is throwing herself down the drain too. Yet nobody is as interested in her.

One wonders what it could be.

The obvious answer is that in Sheen we have the perfect storm of a celebrity gone bad. One recalls Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Miley Cyrus, and other meltdowns of late. All of them had similar ingredients: as they say, drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll.

Yet there is something about Sheen that gets us even more. I don't think it's the domestic violence angle. The wild partying. The sheer lack of remorse. The entertaining rages. Or even the fact that his character on Two and a Half Men is absolutely a version of his real self.

And no, it's not that he's Hollywood royalty. As we all know, Charlie Sheen is the son of legendary Martin Sheen, who was the embodiment of dignity and integrity as he played the President of the United States in The West Wing.

Martin Sheen also played noble labor leader in Wall Street. (Not incidentally he starred in the latter with his troubled son, and in that movie Charlie Sheen does a great job having a filmed breakdown.)

I remember showing that movie in "Introduction to Sociology," which I taught many years ago at Manhattan College. It was that good a film at portraying class divisions in the 1980s. It was that well-acted.

Wasn't it Freud who said that neuroses were typically caused by many things, not just one? If that's true then the public fascination with breakdowns like Charlie Sheen's are similarly multi-determined.

No, there is something different about this one.

It seems to me – and I could be wrong here – that the public actually adores Charlie Sheen so much that his personal brand is completely unaffected by his devolution into an insane lunatic.

For the first time that I can remember, a movie star who is publicly doing the equivalent of jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, yelling "Here I go….!" Is generating nothing more than – a shrug.

As if people are saying, "Oh that's just Charlie. Nothing new or remarkable there."

What is so interesting about this colossal act of self-destruction we are watching, this long, slow suicide leap that seems like it's been going on his whole life, is that it actually reinforces the consistency of his personal brand.

Speaking completely from the perspective of branding (sorry if this seems cold), what Sheen is doing actually seems to be helping his brand, if you can believe that.

True he is out of his mind right now. But the difference between this and, say, a Tiger Woods-type PR disaster, is that Sheen never pretended to be a goody-two-shoes. Or even to be normal. On top of that, he has plumbed the psyche of his own character on Two and a Half Men pretty thoroughly.

So that by this time the public gets it: Sheen is over the top, over the edge, and gone. With the sole exception of the production set. In which place he has historically been able to get his act together.

Something else is going on too. Sheen's particular type of psychosis – the hard-partying guy determined to rock his life until he crashes and burns – is a macho stereotype. It's hard for the public to see just how messed up he is, although really we all can see it. Because we've told men it's cool to do exactly what Sheen is doing, albeit to a lesser extent and without cursing out minorities.

One is tempted to say that the public sticks with Sheen, but has turned on famous women who partied themselves into similar humiliation, because of sexism. But that doesn't hold up under the microscope. Look at Mel Gibson, whose career is finished. The public did not forgive him for knocking his wife's teeth out. And he also had the reputation for playing a "wild and crazy guy." Why?

I would posit that Mel Gibson's most notable films, such as Braveheart, portrayed him as a character who loved someone, lost them, and then fought to avenge the injustice. This was his brand. When he beat up his wife, he broke his own promise to the public – which never forgave him. (The anti-Semitic rant didn't do him in, it was the domestic violence.)

The Charlie Sheen debacle is incredibly sad. But one has to admit that it is also fascinating, and that we're talking about it not out of any real concern for him.

Rather we are all focused on the spectacle itself – we're rubbernecking at the scene of the accident.

We're thinking about what the whole thing can teach us about our culture, and how some people capture the public's attention enduringly while others flame out.

Me, the cold being that I am, I take away the brand lesson. And that is, from a personal branding perspective, you do not have to be good or nice.

Frankly (although I don't want anyone to be bad), it can really work well to be "despicable me," as long as one is despicable in basically the same way throughout one's existence. Especially in a transparent world, people can learn to tolerate a lot of things, to get used to scoundrels over the long-term.

Look at Julian Assange. Another out-of-control and far more dangerous nut, some would say a terrorist, who thinks he is a hero (!) As long as he continues to sing the same tune, his brand will remain what it is. But if he abruptly shifts what he refers to as his moral core, then suddenly everything he has ever asserted will be called into question.

The lesson for individuals, again from a branding perspective, is this: Find your core. Then stay consistent. If you do a 180 degree turnaround, it will require extensive strategizing on your part if you wish to keep the same people in your life who were there before.

No matter how much you dislike the person you used to be, if you alter your brand without explanation, they will think that you are crazy. And the people you once counted on to be your audience will vanish.

Searching for another scoundrel, perhaps, who reminds them precisely of you.