Thursday, March 29, 2012

Be A Passionate Advocate For Yourself

At the root of the productivity problem in America are three mistaken beliefs:

1."Busy-ness" and "productivity" are positively correlated.

2. Misery and productivity are positively correlated.

3. Being unhappy, uncomfortable, displeased, or angry is always bad for you.

A lot of stuff got done when we all believed the first two and rejected the third.

- We built factories and railroads and buildings under unsafe conditions for little pay.

- We bore children with no medicine to kill the pain. No shelter, no vaccines, meager food.

- We got into rickety ships with no plumbing and stood there in desperation and squalor. We prayed only to be allowed a chance at greater freedom and opportunity.

For most of human history, misery was the rule and constant toiling its natural companion.

A few people seemed to escape it. So we came to believe that the blessed classes were destined by G-d for exemption.

Calvinism told us - the saved are chosen in advance. ("The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.")

All this tolerance for pain would have persisted if not for one thing: the Internet.

Suddenly (well not so suddenly but relatively) people woke up and realized that whatever they were going through, they weren't alone.

Suddenly the rights that we had demanded as part of splinter groups - us against the Other - became universal human rights. And we were not ashamed to ask for them.

We still are hung up, though, on the misery-busyness-productivity equation. Still worshiping elites. Still wondering why they got picked and not us.

At the end of the day - speaking as the human race, not individual people or groups - we have everything we need to be productive right now. Which means abundance. Which means that nobody should starve.

Ironically we can't seem to see that. We are so stuck on all the talk of scarcity.

I think it's because deep down inside we are torn between two conflicting messages.

- At the one extreme, one says that we are "good people" who are "really working hard" if we are experiencing suffering.

- The opposite one says that we're somehow "unlucky," doing something wrong, or worse yet, were born destined for a cursed life of deprivation. Bad karma!

Ironically enough the answer might be to have the same compassion on ourselves - to turn it inward - the same as we turn it to suffering people around the globe.

Our instinct may be to freeze up with anxiety, but what if we just relaxed?

If we felt entitled to lives of joy and peace we would work effortlessly to set our lives up that way.

We would see others as naturally entitled to the same rights.

And we would embrace productivity solutions that yielded maximum rewarded for minimum effort.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

Photo credit: Minna Blumenthal

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The New Demographic: People Who Can't Keep Up

New Year's Resolution: 36/365
Photo by Sasha Wolff via Flickr

So yesterday I was on Evernote writing down a "work/life balance list." The list quickly got so long that I ran out of time to finish writing it. And I realized that not only is it difficult to keep up to the old standard, but that the bar keeps getting raised. For example:
  • Income - the median income in this country isn't remotely close to covering what we see on TV as the ideal lifestyle, and the bar keeps being raised. 
  • Education - your career-related skills constantly require updating, new certification, literacy with best practices, etc.
  • Professional advancement - educational degree; people skills; cultural savvy; collaboration skills; work/life balance; personal never stops evolving.
  • Life organization - from tracking the oil change on the car to home maintenance, it all has to be done, tracked and accounted for. Housecleaning - laundry. It has to get done!
  • Technology tools - no matter how fast or how much you learn, it's outdated within a year or two and so is your equipment.
  • Personal relationships - marriage or significant other; children; elderly family members - all need personal time, care, and attention.
  • Civic/community involvement - religion, volunteering, political involvement - people want and need to be part of the larger group; this is a time commitment that also factors in.
  • Hobbies, volunteering, personal pursuits - everyone needs some "downtime," and it is expected that you will have a hobby or two to talk about to make you "interesting"
  • Exercise and nutrition - with obesity rates so high, it's clear that not enough of us make time to eat right or to move enough.
What happens when the ordinary person is required to be almost superhuman in order to keep up? Stuff like this:
  • Comedian Chelsea Handler says, on her popular late-night talk show, that she "stares at the blank TV screen" in her home because she doesn't know how to operate the fancy TV, the fancy electronic system that turns on the lights, etc.
  • A workplace technology chasm between new recruits who operate and learn technology at light speed and who collaborate openly by default, vs. traditionalists who need time to train and who are more reserved about sharing information - meaning two totally different cultures operating in parallel
  • Mothers with their children in strollers, in the subway, begging for food while National Car Rental runs a TV commercial showing a young woman "power professional" who can "choose any car in the lot"
  • Young people who aspire to work in a Starbucks rather than start a brand or own a franchise, because adulthood is just too daunting and they believe that the employer will be minimally decent to them
  • Political class wars between the "I've Got Mine" (as Elizabeth Warren puts it) and the "Give Me Yours" (Republican vs. Democrat), because nobody can seem to figure out a solution in between where we can all live in peace.
From what I can see, marketers are choosing to focus very narrowly on one side of the spectrum vs. the other. What they should be doing is stepping back, looking at the bigger picture, and seeing the group psychology of chasm society as giving birth to demographics, as follows:
  • People who can't keep up - the generally harried treadmill-runners
  • People living on the extreme - either very rich or very poor, technology-oriented vs. averse, etc.
  • People sensitive to the chasm between classes - particularly those who feel guilty about their relative privilege
In the age of YouTube, Facebook, Skype and other forms of instant global video chat, people are more than ever exposed to the totality of human experience. And since it is their mental state that determines what they buy, it's more important than ever to be sensitive to the reaction people have to what they are seeing. We ought to do this not by overly depending on quantitative metrics but by actually using the marketers' most sophisticated tool of all, the brain.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Wrong People Are In Charge Of Marketing

Jedi Salesman
Photo by Brad Montgomery via Flickr

Today I walked by a homeless lady on the street. She was leaning over a notebook, writing something. She had a shopping cart covered in plastic next to her. She was young like me and she was a writer like me.

How is it that we tolerate homelessness as a rampant social phenomenon? Basically, nobody has sold the masses on the idea that people living on the street is wrong.

This leads me to believe that the wrong people are in charge of marketing. We ought to be selling ideas that make people’s lives better. Not things they don’t need, don’t want, that just make them sicker and fatter and progressively more addicted to legal but unhealthy things.

I work for the government, where traditionally the words “let’s try some marketing techniques” go over just about as well as “let’s join a Satanic devil-worshiping ring and learn the techniques of occult magic.”

I can understand the resistance. Too often marketing is done by dirty people to make a dirty dollar. And so it provokes that sentiment.

But the truth is that marketing is an agnostic discipline. It’s communication aimed at selling things consistently and you can use it to sell anything. Anyone.

Marketing is also brilliant. There are eons of stories that teach us what to do and what is a waste of time. Without marketing you start from square one all the time, no matter how noble your cause.

I hate greed. I’m a peace-and-Woodstock kind of hippie at heart. But I understand survival and marketing is essential to that. To be effective you have to communicate so well that people would pay money in exchange for whatever it is you’re communicating about.

If you are effective you can answer the marketer’s questions: Is your audience aware? Interested? Loyal?

Above all, did you convert them into buyers?

Marketing can be a force for good. I like it because it keeps society democratic. If you believe that people have a mind over and above Madison Avenue manipulation, buying habits tell us what real people want – not the powerful elites.

If the masses could not vote with their wallets, how would they get past the hollering of the self-righteous?

The problem is that marketers are too often unfettered. That our goals are too narrowly materialistic. That left to our own devices, and our greed, we take shortcuts – manipulate the people, make inferior products, cheat.

If you count the number of possible scams and multiply it by the gullible you end up with infinity.

But if you can look past the real and potential abuses, marketing in the right hands is art and a science that promotes a free and robust society. We compete against one another to sell goods, services, causes, organizations, and yes, political candidates. We can sell ideas. We can take the world to a better place.

Marketing techniques are like a bow and arrow in the hand of an archer: They make us sharp, quick, useful.

“To everything there is a season and a purpose under heaven,” King Solomon said, and I love that song too.

Marketing is not a profession to apologize for.  It’s a profession to elevate.

Have a good evening everyone, and good luck!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sell Your Heart, Not Your Product

44th of 2nd 365: Me playing the violin outside the Churchill College Music Centre at the University of Cambridge
Photo by Tim Regan via Flickr

The first thing people forget when starting a business is that people flock to brands, while only reluctantly do they buy products.

Instead they sell products and forget about the brand.

For example I have a friend who is starting a line of branded clothing. The line comes from her heart. It evokes a certain time in history, it brings up a piece of her heritage. And a lot of people understand this slice of time - it's much bigger and broader than any one piece of cotton.

But the first thing she said when I asked what she was selling was "T-shirts."

Another person started what seemed like a straightforward commodity business. The business is not about supplies, although on the surface it seems like it is. When you look more closely it becomes clear that it's about a certain mindset toward life. About living an alternative lifestyle, off the grid, and putting together esoteric products all by yourself that normally others would need to build for you.

It is not about "plant-growing equipment" at all.

A third person is going into the food business, specifically a restaurant, more specifically ethnic food. There are a thousand ethnic restaurants in a five-mile range. Why open this one?

I have no idea. But if you limit yourself to the thing you are selling you are shortchanging your ability to make both current and future income.

Why do people buy things? Beyond survival, it's often about connecting with a place in the heart. You can't access or satisfy a certain emotional need directly, but you sense that a certain brand can offer you this ability. And you patronize it.

What's all the hype about The Hunger Games? The New York Times credits an incredible marketing machine.

Not at all.

My daughter was obsessed with this book before the movie ever got made. She yearns to be the character Jennifer Lawrence symbolizes: A girl who loves her family and has her values intact, but can survive in a very cruel world where protection is not at all guaranteed. (If you see her in Winter's Bone the connection becomes crystal clear.)

How about Starbucks' acquisition of Evolution Fresh?

This is a company that sells juice for $7.99 per 16 ounce cup. It's an unbelievably smart move for Starbucks to acquire this brand because it keys into exactly the core yearnings that the average person can neither have insight into nor satisfy on their own: elite status + good for the environment + taking care of yourself + relaxation, all at the same time.

Just pick up a cup and you've got a shortcut to all of that.

What about if you're not a business owner but a regular employee? How can you use this concept in a regular office setting?

The basic idea is to look beyond your technical skills (you better have them of course) and your emotional skills (this is also a given) to hone your personality as part of the team. The question is, what do you bring to the table that is both unique and wanted by the organization - what sets you apart in a way that nobody else can match?

Essentially you must isolate and celebrate the essence of your personality. Understand it and capture it and bring it forward to your employer in a consistent, repeatable way.

In the "olden days" it was enough to bring your hands to the farm or the factory. In the "knowledge economy days" you could progress to having computer literacy. But now we are in the "collaboration age," and so you must bring, every day, your heart to the table.

Anything less makes you vulnerable - to automation, demotion, and eventually downsizing.

Think about what you, and/or your business, bring to the table that is not repeatable by anybody else. Then, start milking it. The day you stop being valuable to the customer, take it upon yourself - as the CEO of your own life - to either find a different way to be essential, or move on somewhere else where they "get" you.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Communication, Marketing, Branding: The Difference?

This may seem pretty basic but it's always worthwhile to define basic terms. Otherwise they get murky fast:

1. Communication

This is the capacity to convey accurately an idea, argument, concept, fact, opinion, belief, etc.

It is accomplished through language (words), tone of voice, body language, and symbols (pictures).

It can take place face-to-face or remotely, one-on-one or in groups.

Communication can be direct or indirect, reality-based or mediated through culture.

It varies based on your gender, culture, ethnicity, geography, occupation, and more.

Communication varies so much it is sometimes amazing we understand each other at all.

2. Marketing

Marketing is the art and science of creating a customer. It is the same thing as owning and running a business.

Whenever you are creating demand, you are marketing. There are tons of tools with which to do this.

3. Branding

Branding is the art and science of keeping a customer, and getting them to prefer (and pay more for) your offering vs. equally good competition.

Just as in marketing, brand professionals have tons of tools. The difference is that whereas marketing tools emphasize loudness and reach (the microphone effect), branding tools emphasize loyalty, inclusivity, community, and even exclusivity and insularity.

Sometimes you can have both...look at the Red Bull display they had at a local Exxon gas station. Cute!

Communication, marketing and branding all matter. But at the end of the day it all comes down to communication. If you can't do that well you won't be much good at the rest.

One other thing...even though we live in a digital world, all of the above depend on people. For the system to work you've got to be able to connect human beings to one another.

Good luck!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ignorance vs. Incompetence: Mastering The Leadership Learning Curve

Photo by Adan Garcia via Flickr

It takes about 10 weeks for my students to develop a marketing plan. And 1 second for industry news to make it nearly worthless, unless they respond in time.

It takes 9 months to bring a child into the world. And 1 second for you to realize, you haven't a clue as to how to raise it.

You keep on graduating from grade school to high school and hopefully college and beyond. Every successive phase is new. What came before isn't enough to prepare you for now.

Where did we get the idea that great leaders are like G-d - that they magically know it all?

One need only look at the news to see that leaders (of any kind) can be the smartest, most experienced people in the world. But every situation presents its own unique challenges. To pretend that we walk in with the answers is foolish.

Not knowing is actually the perpetual state of a leader. What distinguishes the competent from the incompetent is what they do with that ignorance.

Great leaders start with admitting they don't know. Then they go into action.

1. Drawing on parallels between the current (new) problem and their existing knowledge and experience, they quickly size up a situation unknown to them.

2. Next they ask good questions, to find out the limits of what their past experience can bring to the table. They bring in expert knowledge until they reasonably understand the goal and the risks.

3. Leaders don't stop at defining the problem well. They create a community passionately dedicated to solving it. They do this by building a network of relationships one at a time, communities of interest, ongoing conversations.

4. Leaders move forward despite knowing they only have partial information. Their moves take into account partial support, meager resources, partly accurate strategy. They focus on building process and forward momentum.

5. Always knowing that they don't know, leaders constantly course-correct. They seek more information, stronger networks, and greater visibility into the external and internal strategic environment and its dynamics. They focus on how the whole ecosystem fits together, and they look microscopically at its intricate moving parts as well.

Have you noticed that few leaders admit they don't know things until after their tenure is over? Nowadays this is an outmoded approach - there is simply too much to know for anyone to credibly assert mastery.

Therefore, by and large, stakeholders are forgiving of a leader who means well, sets forth the vision, and engages them in fixing problems. These include the ones that existed to begin with and the ones brought about invariably by any strategy.

Incompetence is not the same thing as not knowing. It is insane to pretend that you "know it all," or "have it all under control." And yet leaders do this all the time.

There is a terrible fear of being revealed as incompetent. But incompetence is displayed only by pretending omnipotence.

The key to credibility - thinking of all the humble, kind, intelligent leaders I've seen on the one end of the spectrum, and the arrogant asses on the other - is the admission that you are nothing before the only One who knows all. If you don't believe in G-d call it "universal intelligence."

It is G-d who puts the thoughts in our heads and the words in our mouths, either to achieve a mighty victory or a humiliating defeat.

When G-d told Moses to lead the Jews out of Egypt, Moses resisted because he thought he wasn't qualified. He was self-conscious that he had a speech defect, which seemingly made his imperfections all the more obvious.

G-d insisted he do it anyway.

There is a Jewish saying to the effect that broken vessels are all the more beautiful, because they let the light shine in.

To be an effective leader you don't need to be a perfect glass vase, nor should you be. G-d desires the human, the imperfect striving to be better.

Learn to be okay with a perpetual state of not knowing, and perpetually dissatisfied unless you're moving forward toward results.

Incompetence is pretending you're impossibly sure of yourself; leadership is humbly moving forward despite never knowing exactly what's waiting on the other side of your efforts.

As Albert Einstein put it, "If we knew what we were doing it wouldn't be called research, would it?"

No matter who you are, you are the leader of your own life. Approach every challenge as if it were research.

Good luck!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Harness Hallway Chatter The Right Way

We spend a lot of time writing emails to our employees don't we?

Which they promptly ignore.

We also slave over brochures, newsletters, and web copy.

Scan - note what's critical - forget the rest.

Where are people communicating with each other, and more importantly, paying attention?

You got it: In person there's the hallway, the bathroom (check the stall), before and after meetings, behind closed doors, whispering in cubes. The food court.

Where are they going online? LinkedIn Facebook, discussion groups, maybe Twitter. That's externally.

Online within the organization there is email. But email is old school. It's slow, it's cumbersome, details get lost, it's hard to collaborate in real time.

We need to collaborate and have good information while doing so, if we are to get anything done.

In my personal opinion the way to get employees engaged and productive at the SAME time (this is key - engaged in the work you want them to be doing) is:

Start with one-way communication:

1. Tell them what the vision is - again and again and again and again.

2. Tell them how they fit in.

Move to dialogue:

3. Host official Q and A sessions and town halls.

4. Take and respond to questions and comments electronically and in person.

5. Walk around, do brown-bag lunches, hold office retreats and meet--and-greets.

Proceed and sponsor employee-to-employee conversation:

1. Obtain a range of tools suitable, secure and cost-effective

2. Establish policy to guide appropriate behavior (and staff an internal communications team to oversee)

3. Train people in the use of these tools

4. Give them official time to use them

5. Monitor public fora for discussion (not punishment)

Many people think that limiting idle talk promotes productivity. The twin misconception is that only official communications help people to do their jobs better.

The truth is that only when people talk freely and excitedly amongst themselves about work, does engagement and productivity really take off.

The factory model works in factories. In the modern virtual team, a total paradigm shift is needed. Maybe it sounds obvious in theory, but it's time to shift more universally to practice.

Good luck!

Monday, March 12, 2012

10+ Words To Use Besides "Branding"

In my experience, most people like and appreciate branding, but they themselves don't want to be branded.

So when you promote the concept of branding within an organization, talk directly about the benefits that most appeal to your audience and avoid the word:

1. Professionalism

2. Standardization (or consistency - if you can throw in cost savings that's good)

3. Self-service (or templates, efficiency)

4. Integration (or unity, organizational culture, internal communication)

5. Corporate communication

6. Marketing

7. Outreach (or education)

8. Reputation (or customer preference, or price premium - indicate that the brand adds value to the organization)

9. Identity (or image)

10. Relationship-building, customer relationship management, community

What brand-substitute words do you use? Post a comment.

Good luck!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

To Build A Brand, Ask "Where's The Party?"

Photo by The Next Web via Flickr

Seriously, yes. If you want to build a great brand, it's all about connecting people - in a way that's engaging and fun. Hopefully it's also meaningful - the Woodstock of its generation.

The Relationship-Based Enterprise by Roy McKenzie explains in a methodical way how to do this, although McKenzie thinks in terms of "CRM" - customer relationship management. He explains that businesses add value internally and externally by finding and serving customers in a disciplined way. This is the exact same thing as marketing.

Note that CRM is not about providing goods or services. Which is usually what people think of as the point of a business. I am here to tell you that anyone can do that.

According to McKenzie you build a relationship-based enterprise in three steps:
  1. Find the customers.
  2. Engage them in a relationship.
  3. Manage the relationship consistently.

Integrate what McKenzie says with the advice of Art Kleiner, who tells you that the unit of any organization is the decision. Accordingly your job, if you want to influence those decisions, is to build the kind of relationships that will affect the decisions of the "core group" of decision-makers.

In your career you can use this advice as well. I recently read an incredible post by my favorite blogger and career counselor Penelope Trunk: "New Strategies To Get A New Job." All of them except one (innovation) came down to likability and connecting with others.

And even innovation is about selling your ideas, not just generating them.

Trunk gives you free branding advice not just for your career but for your company when she states: "Personality is how you decommodify a commodity."

Exactly! Exactly! What is branding but the addition of the perception of value? If you are not branded you are merely the vendor of something that anyone can buy, anywhere, for cost plus whatever margin the vendor can get away (e.g. due to factors like scarcity.)

To get a job or build a business you have to have emotional intelligence. You have to have a likable personality. These are givens.

Yet they're still not enough. As Trunk notes, to add value today you have to do one more thing: build a community. Ideally, around a relevant idea, or your community is no more compelling than anyone else's.

In other words, to build an amazing brand, personal or organizational, you can't just have good ideas. You can't just connect with other people. You have to connect other people with each other. Through an idea that you are selling that is outside yourself.

Meaning the conversation is so important that it continues even when you're outside the room. And it's always tied back to your name.

Think about it - have a good day everyone - and good luck!

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Learning to Succeed In A New Job


Thanks to everyone who gave me advice on this. What follows is a combination of their tips and some things that I have observed. Hope it's helpful to you as well:

I. Personality
  • Humble
  • Nice
  • Positive
  • Team player
  • Authentic
  • Diplomatic
  • Talk judiciously
  • Curious
II. Community
  • Commit to adding more value than you subtract
  • Use Myers-Briggs to understand how people and groups think/operate
  • Pretend you’re an anthropologist
  • Don’t hesitate to use astrology to better understand personality type
  • Learn the unwritten rules - remember, little things are big
  • Reach out to introduce yourself; meet someone new each day
  • Learn about the communities that exist, not just the individuals
  • Study how people communicate with one another
  • Learn the rituals and traditions
  • Learn the acronyms, history, and subject matter
  • Shared office food, coffee breaks, and lunches are icebreakers
III. Image
  • Be thoughtful about the first impression you make
  • Clothing
  • Cosmetics/grooming
  • Office decor
  • Mannerisms, body language
  • Tone of voice
  • Smiling or not smiling (depends where you are)
  • Time to get in shape
IV. Workstyle
  • Everything you do is oriented to enhancing the image of your supervisor
  • Learn expectations, adjust continually, and conform to those through CRM: Who is your CUSTOMER (or customers)? Engage in continuing conversations - what do they want from the RELATIONSHIP? How will you MANAGE it? - see The Relationship-Based Enterprise)
  • Think marathon not sprint - work/life balance is critical
  • Stay in your lane - but learn what it really is - it is likely different than you think
V. Health
  • Locate sources of support externally
  • Network internally and find mentors who are generous enough to be supportive
  • Get out from your desk space - walk and exercise
  • Eat well, and thoughtfully 
Above all the most important thing to me is spiritual well-being. Serve your Creator and be grateful for everything.

Good luck!

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Does Your Brand Leave People Asking, "So What?"

Photo by John Morgan via Flickr

If you want to know what the #1 mistake people make in communication is, I will tell you right now.

They tell you the WHAT instead of the WHY.

I can pay a writer $50 an hour to write something about what a business does, sells, etc. What its goals and objectives are. Do you know what?

Nobody is going to read it unless they have to.

This is because (and what I am telling you is not original) the human brain works like a picture frame. If you give me a collection of WHAT, I need a frame around it to tell me WHY? Why? In what context are you telling me this? Why should I care?

In short if you want people to pay attention to you, let alone value your vision, you need to provide a vision. You need to answer the question, why? Or put another way,

"So what?"

Without fail, there is always a "so what?" Otherwise the people running the organization would be out doing something else. The employees would not be engaged in it, Blackberrying in on the weekend. And customers may even go elsewhere.

In my view when organizations don't talk about the "so what" it has something to do with differing views of what the "so what" is. For example, to me the Starbucks brand has to do with community. To investors it has to do with making money. The company does things that cover both bases:
  • On the one hand they sell Ethos water; promote fair-trade coffee; $5 bracelets they donate to help put Americans back to work; they offer in-store space to people who aren't really buying anything; they give you a cup of coffee for $1.50, if you want to be very basic. 
  • On the other hand they sell things that don't promote community at all, because you're using them outside the store. There is Starbucks food that you buy at the grocery store (e.g. ice cream); there is VIA, the instant coffee that you make anywhere you want; and yesterday I saw on CNN that they are even going to sell a Starbucks-branded single serve brew machine, presumably to compete with Keurig.
Obviously everybody has to make money in order to perpetuate the organization which hosts the brand. So if Starbucks were smart, they would create a narrative out of this necessity. But unfortunately they do not. Rather we are left to invent the narrative for ourselves. To decide in our own heads what the "so what" is.

Is Howard Schultz for real? Is he really about doing good things in the world, and the money is just a necessity? I saw him on TV, talking about putting Americans back to work - I think so.

But running an organization well means communicating the brand vision overtly. Tell people what the "So what" is. Tell them over and over again. Show them in your actions. Explain the connections between the seemingly discrepant things that you do.

More importantly, when there is discord within the organization about the "So what" - that is something to be discussed openly internally until some kind of agreement can be reached.

From a communication perspective the worst thing of all is to not say anything about what you are doing. The second worst thing is to focus only on operations. Better is to say what your vision is - even if you can't keep to it all the time. Even if it is fractured. Even if people disagree.

In the world of image presentation, what you want is to get people talking. Have them say the same thing about you that you say about yourself. And at all times find your discussion to be credible.

Transparency doesn't always make you look unified, or perfect. But if you do it well, it gets across the "So what?" And "So what?" is what keeps the customer interested - buying - and eager to promote the cause you've begun.

Whether it's Starbucks, or Google, or Facebook, or Coca-Cola, what people want is more than just a product. They want you to give them something to believe in, and something that enables them to give back as well.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Is Academic Thinking Blocking Your Brand?

fairness sticks: tongue depressors as math engagement tool
Image by WoodleyWonderworks via Flickr

In grade school the teacher tells you how many words should be in the essay.

In college they give you a syllabus for the class listing showing required and recommended reading. Tons.

In grad school you do the master’s thesis or dissertation. The more academic references the better it looks.

The real world doesn’t operate by word count, unless you are a writer being paid by the word.

You may disagree vehemently because you have been trained to think in terms of process not progress. This is especially true if you work for an organization – particularly in government - rather than as an entrepreneur.

On the job you are normally:

· Paid by the hour instead of the output (the approving “Go home already…you work too hard.”)

· Rewarded for volume of work (e.g. number of pageviews of your article) rather than results (conversion from awareness to sales and then continuing business)

· Encouraged to conform to cultural rules rather than charge ahead with box-busting innovation (“I wouldn’t say that at the meeting…you know how it goes around here.”)

Despite the above if you want to advance your career and your brand it pays to think like a business owner. Not like someone who is paid an hourly wage. Owners are invested in the organization and they look for only one thing – results.

You must look at your work as if you owned it, even if at the moment you do not.

To an owner, how much you worked – a lot or a little – to achieve the result doesn’t matter at all.

Meaning: If your idea saves them a million dollars, the fact that you wrote it on a napkin over coffee doesn’t make it any less valuable.

How do you know if you are shooting yourself in the foot, holding back your progress by thinking in an excessively process-driven way?

· You have trouble understanding how your work adds financial value to the organization, instead telling yourself “they just want me around.”

· You wait for someone to tell you what to do instead of proactively looking for ways to solve problems.

· When asked to describe your work, you have trouble coming up with exactly what it is that you do…because at the end of the day you are filling time.

· You don’t read the published strategies of your organization nor are you aware of the conversations inside and outside it that may affect your future.

· You aren’t engaged in any work-related reading, training or networking.

If you want to attain and retain the value you offer as an employee, think like an owner. Start asking difficult questions about yourself and and the work you do.

If you don’t like the answers, then get busy. It is true when they say: “You are the CEO of your own career.”

Good luck!

Monday, March 5, 2012

H&M and the Ethics of "Disposable Marketing"

On the eternal quest for the perfect pair of long-legged black flared pants, it seems I never have enough.

I have gone through hundreds of pairs of pants so far and yet still - dissatisfied.

Black pants are the first thing I look for in any clothing store.

One time in 1989 I worked as a temp for a female executive at a bank in New York. She said to me (noting my penchant for disposable fashion):

"Better to have three good outfits than three hundred that are not good enough."

Wincing at her cold-eyed, frank assessment I wondered, "Is she right?"

And then I thought, "She can't be. No!" Because then I would have no reason to go to the mall. Or (in later years) to H&M, or Zara, or any of the countless stores that sell disposable fashion.

The same rule goes for makeup, at least with me. How many tubes of red lipstick can you buy? And yet every time I walk into CVS, there go my eyeballs. Straight to the makeup display.

Disposable consumer goods seem wasteful, in a way. And yet if you're a marketer you need for people to buy more of what you sell, or you risk leaving potential profits on the table.

Let's talk first about the ways to encourage "disposable thinking." Then to some directions for sustainable thinking.

To me, here are the basic equations people make when deciding whether goods are more "permanent" or more "disposable":

1. Cost-convenience equation: As with paper plates - easier to buy and throw away than use and wash.

2. Social status equation: If wearing the same outfit over and over will make you look bad to others, you'll buy different outfits even though the ones you have look and fit just fine.

3. Social inclusion equation: Buying new things gives you something to talk about with other people.

4. Boredom equation: Buying things gives you something to do; changing your look stimulates the brain and gives you something to look forward to.

5. Functionality equation: A record may work well, but a CD works better, and an iPod works even better than that.

Looking at the above I recognize that it sounds like promoting wastefulness and we have a responsibility to be ethical when it comes to marketing even if we aren't technically required to do what we know is right.

We ought to think this way if only to spare our reputations. Ideally we would think about the lives of those who suffer from our carelessness and tendency to be exploitive.

Anyway, some thoughts -

1. Support the community: 

* Provide a discount for people to trade in their old goods (like Patagonia).

* Provide a dropoff point for people to donate goods they have never used (example: a grocery store can place a box upfront for sealed food items.)

* Provide a dropoff point to donate goods they have used, but that can be sold for the benefit of the community (e.g. Zips cleaners has a dropoff point at Goodwill)

2. Support the worker: 

* Pay workers a fair wage to produce these goods. 

* Provide workers with free or substantially discounted goods if they are producing them.

3. Support the environment:

* Produce disposable goods out of materials that are easily recyclable.

* Produce disposable goods in factories that are "clean" and don't give off pollution.

* When items can't be produced sustainably, encourage people to wean themselves off of them - don't perpetuate disaster.

I would be interested in any information regarding practices on the above, so please comment and share your knowledge, research and feedback.

Good luck!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Pearl Perry Reich Doesn’t Speak For Me

Jews praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur. (...
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Yesterday the messages flew across my cellphone.

First came the text: “Have you heard about this lady? I’m going home to watch Dr. Phil.”

Then there was the phone call: “What a disgrace. She’s on right now! I can’t believe this. Wait…I want to hear the whole thing.”

If you were at the office like me and missed the whole thing yesterday, the long and short of it is that (yet another) formerly ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman has decided to leave the Hasidic community and go public with her story.
  • Now there is Pearl Perry Reich, who left the ultra-Orthodox community in Borough Park and who is going to television, the media and Facebook to gain support.

Both women left their husbands. Both faced intense pressure to stay. Both feel threatened for leaving. And as far as I can tell, both are worried mostly about keeping custody of their kids. So they are using the public eye as a way of protecting themselves from the wrath of the community. (Feldman calls her book an “insurance policy.”)

Feldman and Reich have both appeared on TV. Feldman is better-educated – she went to Sarah Lawrence. Reich is less articulate – she compared breaking away from Borough Park to being unable to make a chocolate cake like everybody else. (Sort of.)

Reich is going to get more attention because she, unlike Feldman, is a model. (They call her the “Hasidic Hottie.” And she says she wants to “represent thousands of women going through what I am going through today.” (Watch video clip here.)

This is a problem because Reich – for whatever reason – maybe youth, immaturity, coming out of a bad situation, you name it – seems like she is out to deliberately stir hatred of ultra-Orthodox Jews. 

This last point was made by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an advocate of Jewish values, on the show. It seems to me that he is right.

Don’t get me wrong – I am happy that women are speaking out, especially Jewish women, after so many years of silence. I think Orthodox Judaism as practiced is sometimes more restrictive than the Torah prescribes. I know what she means when she calls Hasidism a cult.

But based on my upbringing, education,family and friendships – I know there are a lot of inaccuracies in what Reich is saying. And I don’t think she knows the harm that she can do with them. Especially since she claims to represent other people. Which you should not do, unless they consent.

As follows:
  • Yes,the community is insular and indoctrinates people. However, this is because the secular world is all around them, and it is tempting. It is hard to stay spiritual and keep the rituals when all around you there are opposing messages.
  • Yes, there is pressure to marry, lack of birth control, and lack of education. But these apply to both women and men.
  • Yes, men have more formal power – religious, financial, political. But women have more familial power and the children are seen as “theirs.” (Update: a friend made a good point that this is only so long as they stay in the community.)
  • Yes, there is abuse and the community doesn’t like to deal with it (like in any community). But there are many informal channels that women use to deal with it, including going to the women and men in their families for help.
  • Yes, if you dress immodestly, you will be called names. But that is a community norm and would not be perceived as “abuse.”
  • Yes, you are pressured to stay within the community. And yes, leaving is hard and you might even be threatened and lack support. But the issue is not that women lack freedom. Rather, there is an overriding desire to preserve the religion at all costs. And if you represent yourself as religious on your wedding day, and have four children while still in the religious community, and then decide to be the “Hasidic Hottie,” it is highly implausible that you are going to raise your children in the manner to which you agreed upfront.

Reich misrepresented Orthodoxy in some other ways, too. If she is not observant then fine, but if she is then behavior doesn't match ideology:
  • She appeared onstage with a boyfriend despite not being divorced.
  • She said that Orthodox Judaism is “basically morals.” It’s not – it involves an extensive amount of ritual.
  • She works as a model but Orthodox Judaism emphasizes modesty and not flaunting your body.

Rabbi Boteach, who appeared with her on Dr. Phil (see hereand here),spoke very well in response to her.

Basically he said:
  • Focus on solving the issue.
  • You are in pain – deal with that directly. “Don’t use your pain to make more pain” and “malign an entire group.”
  • Kids need to be raised in “one specific tradition” – otherwise it’s confusing.
  • Don’t blame the religion for your experience – any religion can be abused by anyone.
  • Divorce happens, and Judaism believes that both parents should stay involved in the kids’ lives afterward.

At the end, Boteach offered Reich his personal assistance in resolving the situation. Which reflects true Jewish values and religious/humanistic values generally.

Some people think that it’s bad to air “dirty laundry” in public. I think it’s fine to share the issues. Because that leads to an open conversation, and logic in the end does prevail.

However, when someone says things that are not true, and they do it hatefully, it’s very important to get on the record and correct the facts. Pearl Perry Reich doesn't have to be Hasidic, but she doesn’t have the right to spread baseless hatred as a way of healing her own wounds.

As an aside, this is a nice Op-Ed by a Hasidic Jewish woman, Chava Tombosky, in response to Reich.

I am sorry to see it when people suffer and hope this family finds peace.

Have a good rest of the weekend everyone, and good luck!
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