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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.


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

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