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Saving The Economy From Drowning In Tweets

Tweeting

Welcome to the Twitter-land. Here, we think in semi-sentences, taglines, slogans, logos, and links that lead to bullet points. 

We communicate by other things too: short emails, instant messages and texts. Oh, also, "likes" and "awesomes."

We're not complicated people: Who has time?

No, everyone's running on a treadmill of some kind. And when they need information, "Give me the high points, please."

If it can't fit in 140 characters then we aren't interested.

Used to be that people had time to think.

I saw someone sitting on a rock in the countryside last weekend. Fishing, the old fashioned way. With a fishing rod and a line.

The fisherman sat there the whole time we were there. Not moving. I found it hard to believe. Didn't he have a project to finish, an errand to run, some paperwork to take care of?

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that we are headed toward negative economic times pretty fast. 

I think we could get out of it still. 

But the problem is, instead of working through the complicated mess we now find ourselves in, we're busy talking at each other in soundbites. You can't really capture the fuzzy gray matter in a short news story, so analysis goes by the wayside. In its place are headlines, subheads, quotes and items in bold and linked to really cool videos.

What if we stopped babbling and Tweeting and running for five minutes and really gave this some thought? Not adversarially, but as a country that realizes "We're in the deep doo-doo now."

I suspect we would find that the ideological divisions among us are not really all that solid. Rather, we are thinking in shorthand rather than going a level deeper and trying to get at a more meaningful truth that encompasses all the thought splinters by which we label ourselves now.

There is a Jewish saying that encapsulates how we never agree on anything: "Two Jews, three synagogues." Unfortunately in the Jewish community the divisions go far beyond Orthodox, Conservative and Reform, though. It seems like there are innumerable versions of the same basic faith, each one virulently convinced that its way is the only way and that the others are misguided.

The United States is going through something similar. We don't have political conversations across the spectrum anymore. Instead, there are "rightwing," "moderate," and "leftwing" versions of every political party, and then there are new parties and parties that most people don't even know about.

What are we fighting about, again?

The technology that surrounds us is great for advancing our thinking. The problem is, we are only too happy to let Google do the work for us. 

In school, we give kids four or five hours of homework a night. Instead of just having them read. And then talk about it with one another, with the teacher. Thinking critically and deeply about the material. Processing it carefully and in their own ways.

The complexity of the economy right now requires some serious thinking. The first thing to go should be bullet-point thinking. It's not about "give me the top line" right now. It's about engaging in a serious and thoughtful conversation with each other. We are spending more money than we have. And like overeaters looking for a magic diet pill that will keep them thin and still let them hit the Ben & Jerry's, we are lost in complete denial.

What makes this whole thing really stupid, to me, is that we all pretty much agree on goals and process. What do we want? Abundance. How do we want it? In the way that enables everyone to get a piece of the pie. 

The question, then, is how do we get there. And if we keep on digging our heels into the same old ways of thinking, refusing to open our minds and throwing flames at the people we've labeled "enemy," we can be sure that the ground beneath us will turn into quicksand.

Let's get together and figure it out. Go on a national team-building retreat. Drop the blaming and the labels, expand on the bullet points, and find areas of commonality rather than focus on hate. We can do it, we only have to be willing to try.

Have a good evening everyone, and good luck!

____

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Common-Sense Insight On Innovation: Roy Luebke

This semester, my marketing class at University of Maryland University College had the privilege of hearing guest speaker Roy Luebke, an innovation and strategy consultant, talk about innovation. We were able to ask a few questions of Mr. Luebke, and he was kind enough to give permission for the answers to be shared. I wrote the subheads; the rest is directly quoted.

#1 - Culture Blocks Innovation

"A firm’s culture is the number 1 barrier to innovation. Keep in mind that most people in an organization are focused on operational efficiency. Anything new upsets that efficiency and causes people to do more work to introduce the new product/service/business model. It disrupts their efficiency. Also, studies have shown that upwards of 80% of people do not like change and will actively work to undermine change.

"Senior leaders may want change, but the structure that is in place will resist the change. Leaders need to enable middle managers to make the changes. It is a balance that needs to be achieved."

#2 - Misunderstand The Problem and The "Solution" Can Be Worse

"(Organizations need) better problem framing so you solve the right problems and avoid unintended consequences."

#3 - Talk In The Language Of The Customer

"Observe and study your clients more closely. Try to see the world through their eyes and deliver service the way they want it delivered. Communicate with your senior leaders with the language of the client and issues they are having. Try to tie your solution development directly to the needs and desires of your clients. Look for needs they have that they can’t even articulate."

#4 - Internal Efficiency Is Not Innovation

"If you don’t have a leader making the commitment to focus on innovation, status quo becomes the leader. The organization will stay focused on internal efficiencies. There will be no one leading the charge to focus on customers and enable the organization to take on new offerings and launch new solutions. Without leadership there is only stagnation."

#5 - Government ROI Is About Reducing Overhead

"Government agencies are in the business of applying budgeted dollars to a set of objectives. When a government agency is efficient it applies the highest level of dollar possible to the objectives. The ultimate measure is how much money gets to the end stakeholder. In a government scenario, increasing efficiency of throughput of the budgeted dollar is the holy grail. Any removal of steps that does not add value to the stakeholder or the mission or the objectives delivers economic value and increase customer value."

Mr. Luebke's thinking is on target for any organization. Worth paying attention to.

See also his new article, "Linking Design, Marketing, and Innovation," in the new issue of DMI News & Views.

Three Reasons Great Brands Live or Die on Corporate Culture

Marines

Many people are under the mistaken impression that brand-building is about selling things. Not only! Branding is for every situation where you want to bring people together to create and deliver value to an external stakeholder. Branding is for business, government, hospital, sports team, high school, church and synagogue and mosque and Buddhist temple - everything.
 
The thing about branding is that it creates value where there was none before. This is hard for people to grasp. But it's very true. And the value comes from a meeting of the minds between employees and the people they serve.
 
Not to torture you with Kabbalah, but we create reality in the mind. We approach situations with a mental framework. And when a group of people get together and build a brand, they turn zero dollars into a reality that can be worth billions. A reality that is worth so much because other people, customers, are drawn to it and want to buy in.
 
Look at the military. Serving is not about the paycheck at all. It's about being something more than what you are - joining with others - serving a higher cause. When we are together with others in a cause, we initiate a tangible force that is much, much more than any one of us. 
 
Faith organizations are another example. When I was a little girl I joined Tzivos Hashem (The Army of G-d), a Lubavitcher Jewish movement. We understood the mission clearly - save the world spiritually - and we were empowered to carry it out - "Do a good deed."  Simple, resonant, effective.
 
Going higher. Getting connected. Serving a mission. This is the feeling that great brands give to their employees. And this is why every workplace should aspire to be a great brand.
 
But they don't - and they're not. Here are 3 major reasons why:
 
1. Muddling the mission versus pruning it down: Organizations do well when there's a simple, compelling, important job to do, and everyone can help do it. If people don't understand what they're doing there besides collecting a paycheck, they can't help build a brand. Why do missions get messy? Because powerful people are fighting for power and they're using the organization as their wrestling ring. So everyone wants their agenda to rule the day.
 
2. Focus on work versus value: The era of "work" is over. Get it? The past was about how many hours you put in - because we couldn't figure out a better way to run the system. But the future is about how much value your brainpower delivers. Marking hours is what prisoners do. It's not how knowledge employees compete. In fact your brain works better when you rest. Just because you had to sit for 8 hours at a shot in high school doesn't mean you should be thinking that way for the rest of your life. We have to think of a better way. To borrow terminology from IT, it's about outcomes, not outputs.
 
3. Labeling versus leveraging: Again, this is a holdover from the olden days when people had specific job functions and were ranked, rated, sorted and classified so that the bureaucracy could deal with them. The reality is, a person's job function today is simply to contribute. That contribution will change over time because the strategic environment dictates that our work change. Moreover, what is called "weakness" or even "disability" actually gives people tremendous strength and ability in certain situations. Narcisissism, grandiosity, hypertechnical thinking, you name it - everything can be funneled to productive use.
 
Building a brand starts with exciting and empowering employees. If follows, then, that if you want to have a valuable brand, you must turn your workforce from a bunch of worker bees into a powerful group of evangelists and ambassadors (forgive the jargon) who absolutely live to promote the organization.
 
It is not about the money. Even in a bad economy, it's not.
 
When your employees 1) know what to do and care about doing it 2) are rewarded for doing it well and 3) get praised for bringing their whole selves to the table - then and only then can your brand grow, flower, and deliver a return on investment. Whether it's money, social good, or any other benefit that society cares about - a great brand starts with valued, empowered employees on a mission.
 
Have a good day everyone, and good luck!
 
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Image source here
 

Surviving the storm requires that you see it when the skies are clear

Tornado_6

There are many fascinations I don't understand:

* Gardening

* Sports

* Exercise

* Antiques

* Weather

And others that I sort of do:

* The stock market

* Food

* Obituaries

* Fashion

* Cars

Let me talk a little bit about one fascination that can border on an obsession. This is one I deeply understand: How to survive in the event of war, social collapse, etc.

Have you seen the show "Dual Survival" on cable? It shows "Dave and Cody" traipsing through all sorts of inhospitable territory, eating tortoises and draping themselves in urine-soaked blankets (sorry) to stay hydrated when there isn't any food or water around.

You have not lived until you've seen Dave eating crickets or Cody knocking the hell out of an animal hideout until all the little mammals go flying. 

There's another show, "Deadliest Warrior," that is pretty good. Last night was Joan of Arc vs. William the Conqueror - reenacted complete with swords flying into pig carcasses. 

Obsessions like survival have an actual utility, I think. It's not that you learn about swords and tortoises. But that you develop the capacity to see trouble before everybody else does. On the principle that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," survival in the workplace or as a marketer requires that you sense the trends and leverage them before the crowd.

When I worked for Young & Rubicam it was my entire job to sense those trends. Because companies want to grab them and productize them so that they have first-mover advantage to create and own a market.

Anyway.

The difficulty with correctly identifying the storm is not in seeing the signs. Most people, freed to think clearly, and use the full range of their emotions, can sense it.

The problem is that we get stuck in deep denial. 

There are three reasons why this happens:

* Personal denial: We don't want to believe that we are in jeopardy. Our ego doesn't want to believe that we are failing. Our physical self is used to routine and afraid of change.

* Group denial: It is essential to the stable functioning of the group that its members not panic. Sometimes the coming storm is so big, so bad, so deep and so wide that confronting it means changing everything. The larger the group, the more difficult it is for its members to deal with impending change, especially when it is radical.

* Environmental denial: Even if the individual and the group can see what's coming, the larger social system continues to function as if nothing were awry. And so the impulse to see and to strategize in advance, is mitigated by conformity to what seems like "normal" on the outside.

The most obvious example I can think of is our economy.

All the signs are there that a radical change is coming. I don't think any of us knows exactly what this storm is going to look like. But it is clear that all the early signs are here. Our gums our bleeding - they are starting to break loose - and if we don't do something quickly, our teeth are going to fall out.

How can the ordinary person cope with this kind of situation? 

One word: Feedback. 

Go around and start asking questions. Listen to the answers. Open your mind. Join the conversation. Become literate in the key issues and read and absorb what others are saying. Then start to develop a plan for coping with the impending change. See if you can join with others to develop the skills you will need to survive it. 

In a world where the future is always uncertain and change is but a moment away, it is important that we get over the impulse to deny and admit it when a storm is headed down our path. Then work constructively to help one another survive it.

Think about it...we can't bury our heads in the marketing sands anymore. At least not all the time!

Have a good day, and good luck!

__

Image source here

Are you inadvertently building a market for your copycats? (Or, Red Bull vs. Ralph Lauren.)

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Yesterday's post was about how Red Bull increases my productivity. Today it's about how this product has built a market for its copycats. And how Red Bull can learn from Ralph Lauren in this regard.

When Red Bull first came out I thought it was disgusting. I associated it with chemically, processed food created in a laboratory. It brought to mind drunken college kids who have to show up lucid to class in the morning. I saw the drinkers of this concoction as "users," like drug users, and wondered why anyone would pay $2.99 for a skinny little can of the brew.

As you know by now I have tried Red Bull and have turned into a complete addict.

The problem for Red Bull is, I am now loyal to the category - not the brand.

In fact, my energy drink addiction can be fed by virtually any product that has the same or similar ingredients. I found a copycat version at Aldi - it works just fine! ("Gridlock.") Plus they have those little energy shots drinks for less than half the price what you pay in CVS. If I can get back to Aldi fast enough, I will load up and never pay for the brand name again.

What did Red Bull do wrong? How can they fix it?

The answer is not in the obvious place - Starbucks. Yes, I know it is popular now. But the brand has lost that intimate feeling it used to have. It's a commodity. And the experience of a "third place" is copied as well or better by others, like Panera and Cosi. The coffee isn't all that good either - honestly the Panera stuff is just as good and so is the illy brand. And others. Good coffee is good coffee.

No...the safest brands are not innovative products nor are they experiences. Brands are the ripest for copying - an ingredient, a technology, a process is easy to attack. Experiences also can be broken down to the lowest common denominator and then built back up by a competitor. But one kind of brand that is relatively safe is the aspirational brand. And a perfect example is Ralph Lauren.

I think I've mentioned that my mother knew Ralph Lauren back when he was Ralph Lifshitz and the whole WASPY concept behind the brand was probably an inkling in his brain. But now, decades later, the brand is an awesome testament to the power of aspiration. When you plunk down $80 for a plain wool navy blue Ralph Lauren vest, you only want the "original" and "authentic" little horsey. No copycat will do, no matter how well it's executed and no matter how high-quality the cloth. Only Ralph Lauren is Ralph Lauren.

The answer does not come from the marketer himself. The name is just a name, the company is just a company, the vest is just a vest.

No - the answer comes from the customer. It is we who are the "fashion police." We have an aspiration to life the life of what we see in those Ralph Lauren ads. It's a fantasy. And to keep the fantasy alive, we absolutely have to have the authentic - overpriced - product itself.

The lesson for marketers, who seek to build unbreakable brands:

Innovation is overrated. The navy blue vest is not innovative at all.

Your messages, in copy form, are completely irrelevant. People are too busy to read.

Your company itself, and all of its executives, don't matter either. You can operate out of a shoebox with a couple of friends who never attended business school.

The only thing that matters is developing a fantasy that is real, relevant, and consistently kept strong over the long term in the mind of the customer.

Once the customer is attached to the brand, believes in what it stands for, you don't have to do anything else but keep that fantasy alive.

It works for Ralph Lauren - it works for the Kardashians - it works for Coca-Cola - and it can work for you too. 

Branding is the art of creating and sustaining the fantasies that people will pay for - distilled into a science in the hands of a select and skilled few.

If you want to be one of the few, focus on the fantasy. The human factor. And stop worshiping at the altar of innovation. 

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

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Image source here

I am a Red Bull: 5 more productivity tips that help me work faster, better, cheaper

Can-art-redbull-can-weightlift

If you read my blog you know that I'm a huge fan of the site Lifehacker.com. They've really got it over there: How to do things faster, smarter, cheaper and about five million ways to build a desk out of leftover planks of wood. What more could you want?

Anyway, I find that reading the site so much leaves me thinking about productivity in general - how to achieve it and how to share what I learn with others. 

In that spirit, here are 5 for today:

1. Red Bull or the much cheaper version they sell at Aldi. Works just fine.

2. Sharepoint to track tasks at work. Keep it simple: name of task, date started, open/hold/closed, a windowbox for notes. Go back to the task list every day or two and update. It seems like it takes up time, but it actually keeps you from wasting time.

3. When you produce a work plan, show it to a few peers for informal comment first. Usually they'll pick up on the kinds of mistakes you tend to make in your work that you don't pick up on because you make them all the time. 

4. Look at who's calling you before you answer the phone (if your smartphone shows the originating number). Emotional vampire? Don't pick up!

5. Attend free lunchtime webinars of the kind sponsored by Harvard Business Review and others. You might not have time to travel somewhere or funds to pay for training, but dialing in to an hourlong learning session will save you time in mistakes later on.

Oh - one more - shop at Aldi. Cheap & they've got it all.

Have more tips? Let me know - I appreciate them.

Have a good day, and good luck!

 

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Image source here