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.

Sincerely,

Dannielle Blumenthal
@thinkbrandfirst






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:

http://www.lannigan.org/how_to_create_advertising_that_sells_david_ogilvy.htm

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.

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!


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?"

(Sigh.)

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!

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