Showing posts from June, 2012

CNN's Ratings Woes: A Brand Problem

I have been thinking about why CNN's ratings are down. Uneven genericism - like the half-and-half at Starbucks - that awkward space between taking a stand and having none.

It's that, unlike say MSNBC ("Lean Forward" - radical left) or FOX ("Fair and Balanced - steadfastly right) they resist owning their brand.

CNN refuses to take a clear position in the customer's mind, in the market.

When I watch a news channel I am looking at three things simultaneously:

1. The story itself - the what

2. The choice of story - the why

3. The mode of delivery - the how

Except for CBS's 60 Minutes, the old days of journalistic objectivity - the attempt at it, the pretense of it - are gone.

That's not OK with me, but I understand they are there to sell papers (airtime) and bias is a fact of life.

Anyway, personality is interesting. I enjoy listening to all kinds of views.

But with CNN it's never clear what I'm getting. The brand is not consistent.

Whereas jn the past the…

Capital Punishment of a Different Kind

Yesterday I was talking to a friend on the phone.
"You know that bus monitor they are showing on TV?"
"Yeah," I said, knowing instantly she meant Karen Klein.
"You have no idea what I'm going through," she said, referring to work.
"They are treating me terribly."
My friend is not a glamour girl, and she doesn't have friend in high places. But she's great at what she does. And for whatever reason, "they" just don't "like" her.
The latest incident was benign enough. "They" got together and brought in coffee. 
There it sat, steamy and delicious and inviting.
Everyone gathered around the hot cardboard box. Pouring, chatting, and swirling those little half-and-half packets around with lots of sugar or Splenda.
Nobody talked to my friend.
There are lots of ways to kill people. In Bible class I learned about stoning. HBO had a show about it, "Six Feet Under." The Spike network had a stupid show, "1,000…

The Genius Of The Container Store

The best tagline ever: "Contain Yourself."

People like me - Generation Xers with obligations - lead a crazy life.

We juggle family time, "me" time, job time, volunteer time, writing time, housework time, appointment time, fun time, religion time, and even car time.

We lead chaotic lives.

The Container Store really gets that. You walk in the door and right away, it's all under control.

It's - yes - contained!

I bought a cord holder for my iPhone cord for $3.99. I can't get the cord out from the cord holder. Don't care. In my mind, life is under control.

Love it!

In The Container Store life is very orderly. The closet, the kitchen, the office - it's all taken care of.

I still think that mostly Moms take care of the family.

The Container Store specializes in taking care of Mom.

For half an hour and a minimal, negligible purchase, they make us feel like anyone can have it all!

Movie Review: "Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World"

I really loved this movie.

I wasn't going to write about it, honestly, because for most of it I just sat there crying. It affected me on that level where you can't exactly put it into words.

Decided to try anyway. Won't give away any secrets.

The plot of the movie is evident in the name. What's different is the focus on feelings.

Whereas most end-of-the-world movies are big on action and special effects, here all of that is muted. We are left with a lot of lonely people trying to connect one last time before everything ends.

To see the trailer you would think that Steve Carell ("Dodge") is the star. He's not. Basically he plays his type - sort of wooden, awkward, solemn. He does it well, but it's one-dimensional. (My husband said that he basically continued the same character from "The 40 Year Old Virgin" and he was right.)

We've seen many movies where the man is sort of "normal" or traditional and falls for a kooky-type gal:

* Ben St…

Op-Ed: On Fast & Furious, A Mike McQueary Moment

“You don’t want to be the outsider who betrays the institution; whistleblowers are always the weirdos.”
“And it’s really easy for us to overlook how our inaction to step up and do even the simplest thing leads to profoundly destructive consequences in our society.”
These are the words of Harvard Law School Professor and child sex abuse survivor Lawrence Lessig, victimized as a teenager in the 1970s.
Maureen Dowd cites this quote in her op-ed about the Sandusky trial, “Moral Dystopia.”
She notes that Lessig went on to sue the school on behalf of another victim in 2004, and won.
I have often heard it said that in the Watergate scandal, the worst thing wasn’t the burglary, but rather the cover-up. 
Because the cover-up, as David Goodloe writes,
“was mostly about continuing to conceal all the other, more serious things that had been going on in the Nixon White House.”

In the case of pedophile Jerry Sandusky, Mike McQueary walked in while the rapist was actually committing the crime. He testif…

Leadership Is NOT A Conversation - Yet

Photo by Sean Dreilinger via Flickr

Father to son: “Why are you banging your head against the wall?”
Son: “Because it feels so good when I stop.”

The joke is old but the problem is fully contemporary.
Employees have trouble getting, understanding, and sharing the information they need.
They don’t know where to look.
They don’t know who to call.
They are afraid to ask any questions, or complain.
And so it is not surprising that people spend hours of time completing a task that could have taken five minutes. Or none at all, actually – had they known that someone else, in some other department very close or far away, had already resolved the issue.
Why do we continue to accept poor corporate communication? We’re in the workplace ourselves, right?

I'd Rather Be Immature

Immature people are dreamers. Naive enough to believe.

Immature people laugh out loud.

Immature people don't lie well. They tell it like they see it.

Immature people hate being bored and so they work fast, to get it over with.

They also make work exciting so as to pass the time well.

Immature people waste time to get back their energy.

Immature people are creative.

They readily toss traditions that make no sense.

Immature people feel things. They cry without feeling like a crybaby.

Immature people cling to their loved ones like glue.

They also fight for what they believe is right.

Immature people never get old.

All things considered, I'd rather be immature.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

"No Talent" Is A Brand In Itself: The Kardashians

"The show is our platform. The show is our best commercial." - Kim Kardashian to the Wall Street Journal

I continue to be fascinated by the Kardashians. I cannot figure out how people can simultaneously be so fake, and so real at the same time.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the sisters insist that that their brand is really about fashion.

But I don't see anything all that special about the way they dress.

What I do see is that they use a TV show to offer a window into what seems like family life, but is professionally produced and scripted. 

Nothing in these womens' lives seems off-limits to the cameras. Not even - especially not - their personal relationships.

The Wall Street Journal recently posted a blog dissecting the relationship between Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. It had this comment attributed to Russell Simmons:
"I know Kim and Kanye. They are both hopeful people, but cautious....Every public move they make is dissected."Today amid all t…

The Whistleblower's Brand Paradox

Martha Payne's lousy school lunch, via her blog, Neverseconds.

Conventional communications advice is to "stay on message."
It is as if leaders have a script (wait, they do - it's called "talking points") and they're supposed to read from it. Like an actor in a play.
In real life things are not that simple. People don't believe uncritically anymore, if they ever did.
Today a leader's pronouncements are viewed as just another text to "deconstruct."
Resistance to and subversion of formal "messaging" takes place on a continuum from active to passive, for example:
* Investigative blogging * Commentator blogging * Tweeting or retweeting * Posting on Facebook * Recording a YouTube-type video of oneself voicing an opinion * Taking a photograph * Sharing a link directly from the Internet * Forwarding an email containing a link
Not everybody in America is wealthy. But it doesn't take money to follow your conscience. Only a thinking mind, the abi…

Misunderstanding Our Dads

My actual Dad
"It is easier to be a dad than to become one."

Or something like that was a quote I ran across on Twitter yesterday.
It occurred to me, as it has many times in the past, that my dad became "dad-like" only as he neared retirement. 
Growing up, I actually did not know him very well at all. Most of the time he was out, working or traveling for work. Or - well where was he? I can't say that I know.
My dad dresses funny to us American folks. He wears a business suit, minus the tie on Sundays, at all times. 
He talks in a very formal way, like someone who isn't comfortable with English. (He's not - my dad was raised with Yiddish.)
Who is my dad? My favorite memory is of going with him to the Hess truck stop on our trips to visit his parents in Canada. He delighted in the model trucks they had for sale, all lit up. He bought me one.
My dad has a mug collection.
I know my dad through his things. I know he likes to take photos, pretty badly actually much li…

Private Equity and Venture Capitalists: The New Brand Champions

"Vulture in Tree" by Howard Ignatius via Flickr
Branding is a fascinating phenomenon because it's the ultimate social experiment. I see it as a sociologist and as a marketer so look at two angles at once:
An internal effort to create the ideal corporate culture for the desired kind of productivityAn external effort to create the ideal image for customer loyalty at a premium price
In the U.S. at least, modern branding - that is, branding that goes beyond the external image-building side - can be traced roughly back to four publications all released approximately at the turn of the 21st century:
"The Brand Called You," Fast Company, 1997: Brands are not just for products anymore, they are for people - and your career depends on you being the CEO of your own personal brand.The Cluetrain Manifesto, 1999: "Markets Are Conversations and "The Hyperlinked Organization": Powered by the Internet and social media, conversations between people are subverting the…

How to Spot PR Flackery: Tips From a Professional Communicator

The public relations professional is ethically bound to tell the truth and to serve the public interest. Most PR folks and professional communicators I know struggle with ethics constantly because, frankly, honesty doesn’t always make the customer look good.

But not everybody really cares what the Public Relations Society of America has to say about ethics. That’s why we call them “flacks.”

(I don’t mind “PR dummies” so much. Those people are sort of funny, in a sad way.)

But the worst thing about watching liars cover for other liars is that they’re following the “best practices” I helped to write – but in a demented way. Like “transparency” that is really just pseudo.

In the hope that information is the best weapon, here are some ways to weed out truth from lies in professional discourse:

I. Get Smart About Slick PR Tricks

· Going on the attack to avoid being put on the defensive
· Making broad generalizations that divide people by class, gender, race, religion rather than speakin…

"Battleship" and the War For Great Communication

Too many people have this magical belief about communication.

They believe that a "great campaign" (advertising, marketing, PR, digital, branding, internal) can overcome the limitations of the environment. Which include:
Organizational politics, culture and history Technological comfort, or the lack thereof External politicsMedia reportsBlogger activityEmployee social media activity...and so on.The reality is that communication is shaped by policy. The policy of the organization which it serves.

A "great communicator" does not act in swashbuckling isolation but rather is backed and supported by leadership and a team that "gets it."

Yesterday I saw the movie "Battleship," a great example of what can happen when people of different abilities unify around a common goal.

Suddenly, then, communication becomes crystal clear and the need for it imperative.

To do great communication, your organization must go to war - fighting for an important cause, and figh…

Why Brand Consultants Have To Charge A Lot

Photo by me. Books are free if you go to the library. A framed picture of books costs more. Which one is more valuable? Apples are healthy. They're twice as expensive at the convenience store as at the grocery store. More if you get the organic kind. Which one is most valuable?

I can buy a glass bowl for the apples at the thrift store for $3. Or pay $20 at Target. More if I go to Macy's, Bloomingdale's, or an out-of-the-way boutique in an expensive area destined for shoppers.

Which one, which one? How much would this photo, a photo I took myself, cost if you had to pay Getty Images for the privilege?

Someone paid $120 million for Edvard Munch's painting "The Scream" just this May. You could make that same pose, photograph it and Photoshop it with a cheap mobile app. Would it not be comparable?

We value things the more they visibly cost us. Anyone can have a child, and parent's can't get fired, right? So it is common, sadly, for even "good" parents…

The 7 Intractable Dilemmas of Branding

Photo by Tamara Leaver via Flickr

1. Branding is free, yet unless the practitioner charges dearly, the organization will not commit.

2. Branding requires a Ph.D., but there is no curriculum that teaches it properly.

3. Branding is "moral" in the sense that it promotes keeping your promises consistently, but the promise itself can promote good or evil.

4. "Branding" is a poisoned word among those who must execute on it - the average employee will never allow themselves to be "branded" - and so a constant and imperfect substitute is usually required.

5. The very people most pivotal to branding - managers of front-line technical and support specialists - are normally least likely to commit to the organizational development needed to make it happen.

6. Academics - who don't deal with clients day to day - tend to understand branding better than brand practitioners, who do but who are biased by interaction with and need for customers who pay for it.

7. The brand …

Why Brand Strategy (Any Strategy) Is Painful

Photo by Lip Kee via Flickr
"Most people only have faith when G-d answers their prayers."
 You have to believe even when the door slams shut in your face.
Joel Osteen's sermon this week (June 10, "The G-d Who Closes Doors") was all about believing, even when you don't get what you (think you) wanted.
The topic of faith is a difficult one for me.
How could G-d let the Holocaust and other atrocities happen? Everyone can think of something that's occurred that seems to make no sense. That seems to be G-d's fault.
Osteen's point was that we need to recognize a power larger than ourselves. A power that knows more. There's a bigger plan that our limited minds can't fully grasp.
Actually it's sort of silly when you think about it.
Here we are, little ants compared with the Omnipotent and we imagine that we are cognitively on the same playing field. No way.
Unable to accept a closed door, we sometimes struggle vainly to force ourselves through…