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Brand Power: 2 Minutes That Will Change Your Life

A good video can be worth a thousand blogs. If it's short, so much the better. Here's an outstanding one from corporate communications firm Storia on the power of brand in a person's life - how it guides our choices. More videos on their site. (If you can't see it, click here.)

The Hidden Connection Between Political Rhetoric and Employee Communication

The most important communication advice you can give a leader:

Treat people like adults, not children. Don't follow the conventional
practice, which has the audience constantly receiving the equivalent
of baby-babble.

Yet too often, instead of leaders telling people the raw, hard-hitting
information they need to know in order to help the company earn more
money (or the country recover from a slump), they take the easy way
out and the audience gets pap.

This is not to say that soft talk has no place in leader-led
communication - it does. But a steady diet of dessert eventually gives
everyone a bellyache.

When you're on the outside looking in, it is hard to understand how
anyone could be so shortsighted that they dumb things down for a
grown-up audience. But on the inside there are millions of excuses.
All of them come down to one thing: Really straight communication is
an "I lose, you win" proposition - there is nothing in it for the
communicator who tells it like he or she sees it.

If you are the one sitting opposite an executive and advising them
what to do, you are faced with a difficult challenge. By telling them
to speak openly and honestly (of course, with some polish and
diplomacy), you are pushing them to risk their livelihood. It is their
name, their reputation, their business card on the line. And even if
they were to take the risk, around them is a sea of people just
waiting for a moment of vulnerability - so that they can take
advantage. What is the guarantee they will come out on top?

Of course, the answer is - there are no guarantees. Further, only a
handful of communicators are good enough executive coaches to help a
skittish, vulnerable leader change their self-protective orientation
toward employees or the public. Not to mention sufficiently skilled
organizational development coaches that they can change a climate
where traditional corporate-talk rules the day regardless of the

At the end of the day, opening up is a matter of trust; it can be a
mistake to take that step in an unforgiving and distorting world; and
new jobs are hard to come by these days. The way that I think about it
is - short-term vs. long-term. In the short-term if you do a soft-shoe
you may get away with it for awhile. In the long-term, people will
catch on and stop trusting you. And when you do the dance of not being
fully honest, people will read it in your body language; they will
hear it in your tone; they will see it in your eyes. You can't keep up
the facade for long.

If you are a communicator and you need to convince an executive to
change, take a page from Roger Ailes' playbook ("You Are The
Message"): hold up the TV camera, the microphone, the mirror. When
they see the way they come across, they will realize for themselves
whether they are off-track or on. What they do with that information
is ultimately up to them.

Good luck!

Branding as a Predictive Investment Tool

I can tell you right now that the new Sarah Jessica Parker film will flop. It is out of line with her brand - everybody's bright, klutzy, fashion-obsessed, perpetually romantic yet commitment-phobic best friend.

Same goes for the "Kardashian Kollection" at Sears. KK (uncomfortably close to the hate brand) is uninspired trash, only interesting because of the reality show brand and the reality that none of them would set foot in Sears without a massive payoff.

Meanwhile, Sears is about appliances. Its heritage is good old Americana. There is no reason to buy anything resembling clothing at this store unless you are on your way to pick up a washer-dryer.

You don't need a crystal ball to tell you these gazillion-dollar deals are worthless or worse (negative to brand equity.) All you need is a basic understanding of the concept: Add value to a commodity by creating the perception of superiority, in a very specific way.

Predictive brand analysis can be done in lots of ways. But the most basic, important and free is to use your brain objectively. If you are known to be an alcoholic, don't promote vodka!

Here are just a few random brand-based predictions for success/failure right now:

1. Ann Taylor feat. Demi Moore - fail. Demi Moore doesn't dress like that in real life...she is a cougar. Should have gone with Kate Winslet - classy clothes for intelligent women.

2. Kia Soul feat. the 3 rats - success. The brand, the image, the music, the price and the target market match perfectly.

3. CW's "Ringer" feat. Sarah Michelle Gellar - fail. Sarah is not Buffy the Vampire Slayer anymore. The mood now is Snooki. (Abercrombie & Fitch bet wrong on The Situation too.)

4. Merrell shoes - feat. In "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" - success. The mood of the moment now is low-key, rugged survival. They've got it.

5. Two and a Half Men - minus Charlie Sheen - fail. Not gonna happen. To my mind, that show was literally about Charlie Sheen, not even an invented persona, but the actual person and his inner demons.

If you get used to thinking about companies, projects, products and people from the perspective of brand, it is not only easier to make decisions, but you can actually predict how things will shake out down the road.

Maybe not immediately, but eventually you will see that the brand wins out.

Try it and post a comment about what happens.

Have a good evening everyone, and good luck!

Those who tell and those who don't (on the importance of 9/11 as a brand)

On Friday we commemorated 9/11 at work. It was a big event and coordinated among dozens.

Any event is hard to plan and this was no exception. But it was successful - the people involved took it seriously, knocked themselves out, and with G-d's help they delivered.

When it was over and we clapped for them it was a genuine acknowledgment. And the leader immediately responded by saying - don't thank me, it could not have happened without them. He meant it.

There was one person in the room who worked so hard, who jumped in so many times to fix things, who took it so much to heart that I thought she deserved an award all her own. I tried to tell her so. But she said, "No no no it's not about me. It's done now. I'm just glad."

My friend is not a spotlight-seeker. But in this world, it is only the spotlight-seekers who get ahead. It is only the ones who pick up a microphone who get the attention, the kudos, the reward.

In the aftermath of 9/11, it was the fact that people talked about its significance, its meaning, and turned it into a rallying cry - yes, a brand - that led to the formation of the Department of Homeland Security (I work there and am not representing them here; all opinions my own).

Whether you agree with everything it does or not, DHS clearly represents the response to many people shouting into the microphone: "Do something." The "something" is to unify the stovepipes - "connect the dots" - so that all parties are working together to avert another attack and prepare for recovery in case there is one.

At the same time, there are those who try to use "9/11" for the wrong reasons. People who pick up the microphone to serve themselves.

Also last Friday, ironically a day when we affirm our steadfast commitment to stop terrorists, hundreds of Egyptians carried out a terrorist attack at the Israeli embassy in Cairo with a curiously delayed response by the Egyptian authorities. They broke through the security wall, burst into the lobby, tossed documents out the balcony window, and burned the Israeli flag, terrorizing the ambassador and his staff, who had to be evacuated. On Twitter, the response was quick and celebratory: The evil "occupying" Jews had once again received their due.

Does everybody hate Israel and the Jewish people, and wish us harm? Of course not. But it's the ones who pick up the microphone who are listened to. They promote lies and hatred and the response is anti-Semitism, confrontations, physical violence and ultimately, terrorism. What is the line between a peaceful protest opposing a Israel's policies, and physically storming the doors of a college campus' Jewish student association, banging on the doors as if to break them down and attack those inside? Answer: none.

There is a saying that "words hurt." Words can kill. Yet words can heal, too. But you have to open your mouth and use them.

I didn't see any Tweets from Israel responding to the joyful celebration of an attack on the Cairo embassy. Surely the nation was too busy focusing on what mattered - getting the ambassador and his staff to safety. In this the country is like my hardworking, quiet friend. She does the work, avoids the microphone, and goes home pleased at the reality of her effort. She doesn't need outside affirmation. In fact Israel is famously averse to hasbara, public relations. Not only because they're about action, not talk, but because it is a bedrock of Israeli culture to battle ideas out in public regarding ethics and morality. Israelis, and I think Jewish people in general, are famous for disagreeing long and loud when it comes to these matters. We do not believe in groupthink or "toeing the line" - it is burned into our brains to follow our conscience.

Sadly, this is exactly why Israel is at a disadvantage when it comes to nation-branding. They are not into "messaging" and gaming the social media system. They are about facts. But facts are not enough anymore. You have to capture people's emotions.

One thing that might help Israel more, and for that matter DHS or any entity charged with doing unpopular things for the sake of security, would be to show more emotion about the devastating impact when security is breached.

For example, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not often let down his emotional guard. He presents himself as strong, almost defiant (others call it "hawkish") but his leadership comes from enormous personal sacrifice. He saw his older brother, Yoni, killed as he led a daring counterterrorist mission to save more than 100 Israelis taken hostage in 1976, in the operation known as the Raid On Entebbe. Yoni was killed after Israel, and its neighbors (including Egypt) tried diplomacy to get the hostages out - and diplomacy failed utterly.

Netanyahu cried when he spoke before the Israeli Knesset (Congress) in 2006 about the impact of his brother's death on his own life. But if you notice, he did not focus on himself, but rather on the suffering of other people, other parents specifically, who saw their own sons killed in needless wars driven by pointless hate:

"The death of a brother, whose life was cut short in its prime, is a traumatic event by all accounts. It diverted the course of my life to its current direction. But the grief of a bereaved brother, as painful or heartrending as it may be, can not be compared to the great suffering borne by parents who are forced to bury their son. We can only hope that these parents, who sacrificed the greatest possible thing, can take comfort in the fact that the story of their son and his brave friends in Entebbe reverberates with the bravery of all of Israel's fallen sons."

Today, 10 years to the day after radical Islamic hatred took the lives of thousands of Americans on September 11, 2001, the same exact hatred took the lives of 77 American soldiers and wounded several Afghan civilians in Afghanistan, from a Taliban bombing of an American base in Afghanistan. Just like the haters of Israel (who are really the haters of all Jewish people), they pick up the microphone to justify their crime as self-defense against an occupying force: "American colonialism has shed the blood of tens of thousands of miserable and innocent Afghans."

The great gift of the Internet is that the average person now has a microphone. Even if you consider yourself quiet, uninterested in the spotlight, non-self-promotional, and so on - it is important that you use that microphone to speak. There are enough people out there using the microphone for bad things - extremists, haters, exploiters. Be one of the people who uses it for truth. You can do it, and the world needs to hear from you.