Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Nicolas Cage: Actor, Meme

My daughter showed me the picture above and at first I didn't get it. Of course the orange juice machine is not a toaster. Then I saw the little comic on the upper right - "You Don't Say?" - and I realized that it was sarcastic.

Looked up "You Don't Say" on YouTube and this video popped up with 1,627,393 views. It's a seen from the movie "Vampire's Kiss" with Nicolas Cage.

There isn't one mention of the words "You Don't Say" in the video but I'm starting to get it...the whole meme thing is sarcasm, making fun of popular culture, things we've said again and again. And anonymity - in meme culture I have never once seen an author.

It's meta-commentary, post-branding, reflexivity, fun.


Want more information? Here's another video, "The Origins Of Meme," with 2,251,585 views.

Even if you've never heard of a meme before, time to get on the communication bandwagon. Start with pronouncing "meme" right - here's a short tutorial on that. To make your own, visit www.memegenerator.net.

Hire for Brand, Train For Technical Skills

In response to: "That's Not Your Area To Worry About; That's Above Your Pay Grade; You're Not Being A 'Team Player!'" at GovLoop

Just saw this post and wondered why nobody had replied. Then realized that of course, nobody had replied as there's really no diplomatic way to say that you've gone through this at work even though employees, federal and nonfederal, go through this all the time.
The problem is really that we're hired to do specific jobs, that fit into a specific functional area, that fits into a specific kind of hierarchy, that is situated within a culture. The unspoken but understood contract is that you you get a performance plan and you fulfill its requirements and then you are secure. Unfortunately this model is very outdated.
In today's economy/work environment we need to be hiring people who fit in well with the overall brand of the organization. By "brand" I mean the culture but a little more than the culture - it's the "way things are" plus "the way we want them to be." You could call brand a combination of culture, mission and direction.
When you hire for brand, you immediately add to the cohesiveness of the team and enable it to be higher-performing. The technical stuff you can train for, whether it's computers or the things that particular agency or organization does that are mission-specific.
The kind of people who are best equipped for the new workplace are broadly educated critical thinkers who do exactly what the old-fashioned organization tells them not to do. They jump in, see the big picture, identify problems, and find ways to solve them either alone or with other people.
This is why understanding and continually refining the brand through leading people is the #1 job of any and every leader and should be the top task on the priority list every single day. 

CVS For Lunch

Usually I don't have time to run out for lunch nor do I want to spend the money at the food court (eats into the Starbucks budget).
Therefore I went to CVS one day and stocked up on various things that seemed somewhat edible.
It took me way too long to find something. Generally it is sort of a mystery to me why the "grocery" (so to speak, it's more like half an aisle where I go) section is stocked the way it is. Whatever, it's probably marketing research combined with sales volume data that determines what's on the shelf.
Given the various restrictions in my diet, including general calorie/addictiveness of food considerations, eating kosher, and not wanting to spend too much, I pick out the following:
  • General Foods International Coffee - it just tastes way too good to be true and I don't know what each chemical in the ingredients does. Don't care.
  • Red Bull - to which I am so addicted that at a recent offsite, where I was sequestered in an anonymous office building with no access, I thought they were going to call 911 the way I was slumped over in the chair by 3 p.m. Yes, I did run to (guess where, CVS) the minute it was over.
  • Butter Lover's popcorn in a blue box, probably Act II - whatever brand this is, it smelled so strong when I microwaved it that people came by to my cube to ask if I had chocolate. Yes they said chocolate. And I got a huge stomachache afterward, but craved yet more.
Disgusting isn't it.
Let me close this blog by saying that I had a really nice mug on my desk that I put pens in. I needed said mug for the coffee. Unfortunately the mug had ink on the bottom. One of the pens had drained itself of ink and there it was, pooled at the bottom. Settled in.
I was desperate for a cup of coffee one day, and that was the only mug I had. This is so gross, but I heated up some water in the mug, thinking that the ink would not affect it. I put the coffee in the mug and it tasted fine. 
I couldn't drink the whole thing so I left the mug on the desk with some coffee still left in there, and the ink at the bottom. Went home for the weekend and came back on Monday to find the mug still there, till with the coffee in it, but tinged a different color. Purple.
Went to the office sink to wash out the mug, thoroughly ashamed of my lack of "housekeeping." And when I dumped out the liquid there it was - I couldn't believe it! Whatever was in the General Foods International Coffee had literally lifted out that ink. 
The mug was sparkling!
And they say CVS doesn't have everything. It does. It does.
Note: They say Coca-Cola takes the paint off a car, so I'm sure General Foods International Coffee is **completely** safe to drink. Meme by me via memegenerator.net.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Facebook May Not "Get Marketing," But They Still Have A Great Brand

Last night I saw a TV commercial promoting Lay's Facebook contest where you can name your flavor and maybe win $1m.

Let me start by saying that I'm not a fan of potato chips, or Lay's, and normally could not care less about any commercial promoting same.  If I were to crave potato chips it would either be anything "kettle style" (except Utz, because I hate the name "Utz" and it seems cheap) or anything Pringle's, which always tastes very flavorful and indeed is very hard to put down (the famous tagline "Once You Pop, You Can't Stop." The logo is also great.

In any case I was watching TV and the commercial came on. It showed New York, a city still enveloped in myth and mystery for me, so I paid attention. Then there was Eva Longoria doing a Desperate Housewives bit in character, trying to get someone to pay attention to what she was saying. I didn't recognize the other person she was talking to, who seemed like a restauranteur-celebrity.

Eva was saying that the person should listen to her idea for a flavor for potato chips.

This seemed kind of humorous. I used to love on the show when she (in character) tried to convince husband Carlos of something. It reminded me of the "I Love Lucy" show where Lucy was always selling Ricky on her harebrained ideas.

The commercial went on and there were lots of people dancing in the streets of New York about their potato chip suggestions. It seemed so easy. And Eva had suggested "corn dog" flavor, hadn't she. Hm. I could beat that. A simple URL: www.facebook.com/lays.

At the URL it took me maybe 5 minutes to submit an idea. I was thinking, what could be good? And then it hit me - at the kosher deli we used to like to get falafel flavor "Bissli" (an Israeli snack). Fried bits of flour that tasted like falafel. That would be great in a chip!

The contest asked me to come up with a "backstory" or theme and then I started thinking...falafel is one of those foods unique to the Middle East, that people of all nationalities and faiths enjoy. Meaning - this food could be the key to Middle East peace. (If you watched the movie "Don't Mess With The Zohan" with Adam Sandler you know this is not a new concept, except there it was hummus.)

Anyway, I had a lot of fun entering the contest. I have no real idea how to promote my chosen flavor. So I don't know if I have any chance of winning, period. But the best part of it was that I finally discovered the mystery that has been eluding me for so long.

Which is: What is the essence of the Facebook brand - not for the brand's producers, but its consumers?

This is not going to be anything new to most of you. It's not totally new to me. But because I experienced it so vividly firsthand, I feel like I can articulate it better.

The essence of the Facebook brand is that it provides a blank slate, on a level playing field, for you to develop and communicate your unique identity. 

As you customize your page and come up with new ideas, you are really embarking on a discovery process about who you are. And it works better the less you are worried about building a brand and the more you simply engage in it.

While it's true that there are all kinds of concerns about learning about yourself in such a public way, for me the benefits have outweighed them. I feel more confident and at peace with a canvas before me and the world as my palette.

In any case, it is surprising to me that such a seemingly valuable company doesn't do more to explain itself to the consumer at all. You could argue that it's a form of brand genius that they are such non-marketers, but with so much money at stake, it also seems like a form of incompetence.

Nate Elliott at Forrester research makes a similar point in the Forbes article "Why Facebook Still Doesn't Get Marketing." My feeling is - if you're not going to do marketing, or branding, then don't. But if you are, then you should know what you're doing.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A thought about national security, social media and branding

After reading the New York Times op-ed "Israel's Settlers Are Here To Stay, something occurred to me. (This requires developing further.) Due to the ubiquity and availability of social media, it is no longer possible (if it ever was) to develop a nation-brand the traditional way.

National security demands that not everything be transparent; but the expectation of the audience is that brands will always be authentic. A possible solution could be a bolder stance about what the national vision is (rather than trying to please every stakeholder), and also a bolder assertion that there are simply some things that cannot be discussed.

In the context of Israeli settlers' insistence on a one-state vs. two-state solution, this sounds controversial. But in the end, is it better to simply say clearly what it is that your goal is, or to be more circumspect? In a social media age, I am leaning toward the former - but the problem is that such definitiveness can be too divisive to sustain.

Something to reflect on further.

Seriously, Duct Tape Art @ AC Moore

There is a certain kind of person who goes crazy at the sight of raw creative material. That is not me.

And then there are those who see the potential for "semi-homemade" art (like Sandra Lee's cooking show) and get seriously jazzed.

I am one of those people. Sort of like using a pre-made brand to make a unique "look."

Spongebob Squarepants duct tape and a video explaining how to turn it into a fun, individualistic creation?

Count me in.

In a writing mode for now.

I don't know when any book is going to happen. Every time I have a chance to sit down and pull the content together, another thing comes to mind that seems important to write.

That's OK, it'll wait.

Occupy Chesapeake Beach

Surprised they didn't bring a stove.

Very seriously you can do marketing research by watching what people do when they hit a blank strip of beach:

1. Some people show up fully stocked, as if they were literally moving in. Reminds me of how we used to see the cars of city-ites fleeing to Bear Mountain in the summer with their homemade hammocks, boom-boxes, cookout gear, cookers, chairs, and even mattresses (!)

2. Others bring a pet and play catch and retrieve in and out of the water. The pet runs free and it frees them.

3. Some search for seashells very intently even when there are very few good finds to be had.

4. Some seem to do mini-science projects like looking for jellyfish and picking them up on sticks. (Yes!)

5. Finally there are those who tap away at their smartphones, take photos and videos, write blog posts and take care of phone calls. Generally these types being a small folding chair, not for relaxing but to keep the sand away from the phone. I can't imagine who would be as workaholic as that :-)

A Meditation On Angelina Jolie

Having just watched an esoteric Angelina Jolie-Antonio Banderas movie on Netflix I am disturbed. I don't like what Angelina stands for, at least as I conceive it. And yet I am compelled to watch her be that persona.

We had a discussion about our mission at work the other day. What struck me was how uncomfortable people are at being reduced to one simple sentence. And yet they crave that simplicity in the abstract. We strive to reduce other people to categories so that we can comprehend them.

Angelina Jolie a a persona, or brand, is a very simple idea. Maybe it's "dangerous woman." But the movie on Netflix, like all her work, shows that she's a lot more complicated.

I am still mad at her for breaking up Brad and Jennifer just because she could do it, and he was willing to go with her. But then I don't really know the true story, do I? Only what's made up in my head, of the stories other people tell who may or may not know anything.

Brands like Angelina are valuable because they leave us a little unsettled.

Like Mick Jagger may have said (paraphrase, gossip magazine, source?), referring to her,

"Angelina scares me, and I like that."

Me too.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Jordache Then & Now: From Brand Empire To Business Conglomerate

"It was the time of Studio 54 and Saturday Night Fever, and designer jeans were hot....The brothers concocted the Jordache brand, an acronym of their names." - Bloomberg BusinessWeek
Bloomberg BusinessWeek has an interesting piece on Jordache then and now. What stands out most for me - aside from the fact that these jeans are the first brand I can recall being attached to as a kid - is the lack of brand-ness that this healthy conglomerate has. 

Eternally memorialized in the 1981 Ryan O'Neal movie So Fine, founders the Nakashes don't trade on the name anymore, and they don't have a brand strategy the way most of us think of it nowadays. Yet they're doing just fine. "Often, decisions are made by whoever argues the longest and loudest at Friday night Shabbat dinners."

A family business making decisions at the Shabbos table. Buying low and selling high, as the opportunity arises. Making business decisions based on profit and product rather than image. It's the old-fashioned way of doing business. For the Nakash family it seems to work. 

I wonder if they're at the vanguard of a broader trend, in which people trust not the brands at the periphery of the organization, but the core group of family and/or friends that run them.

Reality vs. The Marketing Version

Prophet Brand Strategy has a blog out this week on the concept of a "human library."

Basically in the Prophet model this is a good way to get thoughtful customers with extra money to waste same.

It seems a clothing company paid Prophet to "check out" four human "books" (jazz ensemble, dancers, etc.) to get over themselves and start acting like a team.

I am thinking that the Army could provide this experience for a smaller fee and reduce the deficit at the same time.

The problem with the blog is not Prophet per se. Those who can, do. I say go for it.

No the problem is how removed from reality we have become. The problem is that we accept a marketing version of reality sold back to us as real. Rather than simply living.

If you have a crappy team dynamic you don't need to interview anyone. You need to get in a room or out at a boot camp and learn how to talk with other people. Away from the chat and the smartphone and the Facebook and the other distancing devices. Away from the brands.

In the end we are all human and frail and weak in one way or another. Becoming a team means accepting that in yourself and others, and taking the time to find points of connection as you work toward a goal.

Brands are great fun but they are only temporary. It's important to distinguish between the fantasy we pay for, and the life we live.

Ironically, learning about humans by "checking them out" of a "library" is about as dehumanizing as you can get.

It's the kind of thing that people do when they subconsciously have no desire to really team at all.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Woody Allen, Maroon 5 and Theming As Brand Strategy

Last night my computer crashed. The wireless connection on the backup crawled.

Frustrated, I decided to finish watching Woody Allen's "Another Woman" on Netflix. It has been more than twenty years.

My daughter was nice enough to watch with me. All of it was new so I explained the plot. In the process I realized that many elements in Woody Allen movies are similar:

- A woman who is intellectual, neurotic, tormented vs. one who is warm, nurturing, and uninterested in intellectual matters. Generally the contrast between abstract, snobbish intellectualism (bad) and being in touch emotionally (good)

- A man who is passionately in love with an unattainable woman

- Missed opportunities to connect, to follow our dreams, and the lifelong misery of "selling out"

- A man who compulsively cheats on his wife, is still "committed" to her, and does not feel guilty; a woman who cheats emotionally, and does

- Couples who are always with other couples, friends, and family - emotional drama before the crowd

- A self-deceiving character who takes long walks to find out what is bothering them, and/or has a dream/fantasy experience to help them resolve their emotions

- The psychiatrist as a cold, all-knowing God figure

My daughter said, "It's a very 'you' movie." Meaning, "not me."

There is a reason I will automatically prefer a movie labeled "Woody Allen" over an unknown: The characters and setting may change but the theme and plot are always the same.

It's always about coming to terms with the self behind the mask.

It's the same with Maroon 5's music. On the Internet the debate rages: Is Adam Levine a misogynist? (They use a cruder term.) In every song/video we see a woman beat him, cheat on him, reject him, leave him.

In addition the women are always like mannequins - caricatures of women - almost doll-like, beautiful in a cartoonish way.

My daughter thinks it's the producers who came up with that common theme but I don't think so.

It's not just the sound of the songs that is similar. It is what is being sung about - the narrative. A fascinating glimpse into the unconscious of the singer.

Woody Allen and Adam Levine seem to have in common the compulsive need to explore a contained area of emotional pain through art.

The result is not what some would think of as artistic genius, because of the repetitive nature.

But as a consumer who finds those themes interesting, they create a brand that works.

I don't think the choice to theme a certain way is intentional. But in a way it makes the work resonate all the more, because it's real.

Monday, July 23, 2012

5 Reasons Nationwide Insurance Is Irritating The Hell Out Of Me Right Now

They have a star, they have a well-known name, and yet their brand strategy stinks. Unforgivable.

1 - Ad: Boring

Julia Roberts is such an interesting actress, but this commercial puts me to sleep. Maybe she only did voiceover because she didn't want anyone to remember her face in a spot that stinks so bad.

2- Slogan: Boring

Reports Dow Jones Newswires: "The Nationwide ads encourage viewers to "Join the Nation."

Oh, wait a minute - just in case, I suppose:

"They also keep the company's longtime slogan, 'Nationwide is on your side.'"

Hey Nationwide. There is no insurance for a bad slogan!

(Anybody got a spare slogan to donate just in case those two don't work out?)

3 - Positioning: Substitute a Celebrity for an Idea

"When we were considering how to bring our message to life, we were looking for a familiar voice that would bring our brand attributes to life," Jennifer Hanley, senior VP-brand marketing for Nationwide, said in a statement.

Read: We didn't want to take any chances. Get it? We're an INSURANCE company. And we know our brand jargon, e.g. "attributes."

The statement continues: "Julia Roberts' voice brings an assuring, confident tone to the campaign that resonates well with our target audience."

This means absolutely nothing. It's not even bare-bones communication. You don't talk to one audience about another audience and call the latter an "audience."

4 - Strategy: Think of Spending As Generating Results

"When you have a competitor spending over a billion dollars on ads, which we do, you have to break through the clutter in a relevant way," said Matthew Jauchius, chief marketing and strategy officer at Nationwide.

How is Nationwide doing that? I'm mystified. I also don't walk away knowing how much they're spending:  "Mr. Jauchius declined to say how much Nationwide would spend on the new campaign but said it was the company's "largest campaign both in terms of cost and scope."

Not to worry folks: "This is a serious effort on our part to change the conversation" about insurance, he said.

Based on...???

5 - Innovation: None

"We are going against the grain in the marketplace by taking a more sincere tone, an authentic tone" (this is Jauchius again) "...rather than just a yuk with a phone number, which seems to characterize our category today."

Wow, "a yuk with a phone number." Seems Geico's doing pretty well with that, so I don't know if I would make fun.

Either way, "going against the grain" doesn't mean doing the opposite, it means actually thinking.

Accenture Wasting Money On Metro Marketing

People on a miserable morning commute not in receptive mood to indecipherable logos on posters. "V" for victory?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Making Change Happen in Government - A Theory in 5 Steps

1 - Clarify the goal

Often leaders assume that employees know what the mission is and what leaders’ priorities are. This is not necessarily true. State the mission, provide a forum for asking questions and clarifying answers, and encourage dissenting views so as to respond to them intelligently. For the band to be on the same song sheet, there must constantly be team practice. In the absence of discussion about the issues, the perception arises that some topics are taboo or that some know more than others for a reason. This destroys teamwork.

2 - Articulate the importance of empowering employees to achieve the goal

At Management Xchange (http://www.managementexchange.com), Prof. Gary Hamel has initiated a conversation around new and better ways to manage. Primary among them is the idea of getting out of people’s way and eliminating needless bureaucracy and power politics so that they can collaborate and get the job done. Articulate the goal over and over again and provide a tool for achieving it.

3 - Develop a clear model - visual and mental - of a new way of working

One idea Hamel has shared for more effective organizations is the notion of employees entering the organization, choosing a project, and getting to work without “approval” by supervisors. Performance appraisal is achieved through peer review rather than supervisory fiat. This can supported by a physical workspace that promotes innovation and by visual imagery in the workspace, such as banners and posters, creating a look and feel that promotes newness, such as the Google “play” workplace model.

4 - Officially support a pilot project to create effective innovation

How do you get from here to there? In “Who Really Matters” Art Kleiner posits that you start with a small group of innovators (or insurgents) who band together to develop alternative and better means of doing business, then slowly incorporate members of the dominant group. The premise is that the unit of the organization is the decision, rather than the person and that to effect positive change one has to influence the key decision-makers. By starting with a small group one can avoid “initiative fatigue” and the perception of always starting new things rather than fixing the existing ones.

5 - Embrace new technology through a risk management approach

Many organizations suffer from a managerial digital divide in which younger employees uncritically embrace technology with insufficient consideration of risk, while older employees fear and block technology while overstating it. Adopting a risk management approach is a means of evaluating logically and critically which technologies stand to bring the most benefit and minimizing the potential insecurity to the organization. Evaluating risk is ideally done by a group of objective parties, minimizing the chance that one or a few powerful individuals will exercise disproportionate influence.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Brands As Alien Conspiracy! Interesting Cultural Commentary, In Theaters Sept. 2012

Milking “The Dark Knight" Massacre

Joker, Harley, and Riddler
"Joker Harley Quinn, and the Riddler at Dragon Con 2011." Photo by Robert Williams via Flickr.  Photo is used to illustrate the fun of dressing up like a fictional character. Obviously no connection is implied between the motives of these individuals and that of the Aurora shooter.
“An entire dimension of human reality is therefore suppressed: the dimension which permits individuals and classes to develop a theory and technique of transcendence by which they might envisage the ‘determinate negation’ of their society.’
– Herbert Marcuse, “From Ontology to Technology: Fundamental Tendencies of Industrial Society,” in Critical Theory and Society (1989)
I feel cold, not physically cold but emotionally. It’s wrong to feel cold when 12 people are dead and 58 more are wounded for the “crime” of attending a midnight movie premiere.
I’m analyzing why I feel this way.
There’s a superficial answer – why does this tragedy get coverage, and not others equally as bad (if you can compare) or worse?

Why is the Batman movie massacre generating so many headlines? Frankly, because it’s a tragedy that people want to talk about. There’s the brand element – the popular “Batman” movie series; the fact that it involves “mainstream” (read White, middle class) victims; the fact that the alleged shooter is clearly a “bad guy” that we can all condemn who conveniently fits the “mad scientist” stereotype. Plus it’s interesting how he booby-trapped his apartment. Isn’t it?
Cold. But it’s better to be honest, though it’s horrible if true: Headlines aren’t about justice but making money. People will watch, click. Promoting and publicizing the details is about exploitation, and not the search for meaning amidst evil.
The old newspaper saying: “If it bleeds, it leads.” Somebody smells blood.
The "Batman" character of "The Joker" was clinically antisocial. His behavior showed "pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others” including harming society through illegal or deceptive behavior, aggression, impulsiveness, recklessness, irresponsibility, and worst of all lack of remorse. He was a psychopath, too – meaning he possessed “underlying traits that contribute to antisocial behavior patterns.”
The psychopath is charming; grandiose; a liar; manipulative; lacks guilt or remorse; has no empathy; needs constant stimulation; doesn’t care about social norms or behavioral self-control; and is irresponsible with “unrealistic long-term goals.”
In what way is “The Joker” different from the typical marketer, exactly? Do we not possess so many of the traits listed above?
Are not consumers in many ways similar to “The Joker?” (Headline in today’s “Wall Street Journal” – “The Customer As A God”)
What we can’t really talk about, but perhaps ought to, is the hypocrisy of our collective professions of emotional despondency over this tragedy. Because facing it might force us to change, when we sort of like things just the way they are.
Though we undoubtedly do feel pain for others’ loss, on some level we are also exploiting the loss as an opportunity to – talk about something that people find worthwhile. To sell a website or a TV station or a particular reporter or agency or whoever can get in on the action to sell their brand.
In a world where“a lot of the people thought the gunshots were a part of the movie” or “a publicity stunt” – meaning that consumers are as savvy as those who market to them, that we are not all that different from marketers ourselves, that the shooter is perhaps not as far from our own brains as we like to think – in this kind of world is it not our responsibility to discuss the possible hypocrisy of our discourse about tragedy?
Whatever we cannot talk about, we collude in perpetuating. We ought to examine the motives behind making much of this particular tragedy, and little of so many others. 

Why there is a sense of coldness even as people act like they care so very much. 
And why even those who feel the hypocrisy are not immune from using it. 

In the end there is a very fine line between recognizing a problem, and using it to generate attention for yourself. 

Nowadays that line is almost indistinguishable.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Response to - "Is it OK to dress formally in an informal environment?"

1 - If dressy casual is the norm, is it perceived as arrogant to dress more formally?

Suggest inquiring as to the reason why dressy casual is the norm - this will be an indicator of how "deviance" (formal dress) is perceived. In my organization, USAID, it is a mark of distinction to have served for many years, beginning with the Peace Corps, and so the norm is a "world traveler" kind of look. If you dress more formally you seem like you don't understand the very specific and unique world of humanitarian assistance. So it's not arrogance that would be perceived, but perhaps lack of subject matter expertise. However, dressing formally is "forgivable" if you are not there as a subject matter expert operationally, but rather an expert of another kind (communications, lawyer, IT, etc.)

2 - Is it OK to dress better than your boss?

Yes. It shows that you are engaged in the job, that you take yourself seriously, etc.

3 - An additional comment

On a branding note, it is important to be consistent about your look and for your look to mean something. My dad has a very formal Eastern European approach to dress, and if he were to change that it would seem odd.

Bottom line - be yourself!

Highlights from "Becoming Post-Brand," Presented at IABC-DC, July 17, 2012

Slides here. Some video clips here.

I'm hoping to get notes from participants, but here are some key points for now. If they send anything, I'll post a follow-up or amend this post.
  • There is a constant tension between wanting brands (which provide a fantasy of reconnection for the alienated self) and not wanting them (to return to a purer time).
  • Brands are a symptom of alienation - from G-d, community, the land, etc. They provide a temporary relief from the pain of that disconnect.
  • Brands continue to have an incredible power over every aspect of our lives. We feel surer about ourselves when a brand endorses our actions - whether it's raising children per an "expert's" advice or buying a brand of paper towels that we "know" won't disappoint the family.
  • When we talk about brands evolving this isn't to say that an old form is going away but rather that there are concurrent streams of activity. It's about choosing the right kind of branding for the right product and the right audience.
  • Brand insight is not an exercise in political correctness. If you refuse to see what's going on because it makes you uncomfortable you are losing insight and therefore money.
  • Brands take the natural and give it back to you in a form you want to pay for. In the process they make you devalue the natural.
  • Children are born unbranded and for a short time experience wholeness through the caregiver (ideally). However, they are rapidly introduced to the world of brands, which also quickly become markers of identity. 
  • The choice of brand is a very deliberate statement about who you are and is something even young people take very seriously.
  • The concept of functional value is nothing more than the fantasy of protection against a dangerous world. It is not a logical function. Marketers exploit the notion of quality to instill a feeling of insecurity, e.g. "unless you buy my product you are at risk."
  • Every type of economy is associated with a dominant brand fantasy: agrarian (fantasy of protection); industrial (escape); service (lifestyle); knowledge (superiority); collaboration (community); New Age (unity)
  • There are 5 hallmarks of the post-branded age: 1) the disruption of "normal" and the othering of the previous "mainstream" 2) empowerment 3) sarcasm 4) anti-brand activism ("antibrandivism") and 5) reflexivity.
  • Reflexivity is the most important quality - possessed by rare brand masters such as Charlie Sheen and Kris Jenner - who are able to immediately shift the brand based on anticipated reaction by the audience. 
  • The 10 principles of communication in a post-branding era: 1) balance consistency and authenticity 2) build the culture first 3) start at the top 4) everyone builds it 5) plain English 6) avoid roboticism and the "b-word" (brand) 7) distinguish marketing from information 8) reflect brand strategy in logo and name 9) encourage dissent 10) support social media. 
  • In the end, we won't need brands.

Comment on Penelope Trunk's "Marissa Mayer becomes CEO of Yahoo, and proves women cannot have it all"

Great post by Penelope Trunk here. Lots of comments. Initially I just wrote a short response:

I don’t agree with #1 because it turns women into prostitutes and men into pimps. I followed path #2. You are a brilliant writer with great insight. Our children need mom and dad more than anything. Keep going and G-d bless!

But then I thought her idea deserved a more thoughtful one. See below:

<<My late grandfather had a saying, "words that come from the heart, go to the heart" and this is one of those posts.

I had to make this difficult choice when I was pregnant with my older daughter. Go back to work and put her in daycare, or stay home. As a feminist I was scared to lose my financial clout. But in the end I couldn't do it.

I am aware that many women don't have that choice and it upsets me because kids need their mothers. They do. We do.

To be fair, the conversation should be about mothers AND FATHERS. Fathers are terribly undervalued and their presence is so important to children as well.

Also to be fair, poor women not only have to leave their own children, but often must take low-paying caregiving jobs for other people's children. And are stereotyped as uncaring, abusers, etc.

Penelope's post makes it seem that you can plan your life. I don't think that's true. It hasn't been for me. Mostly just take it a day at a time, and follow my gut about which way to go. I like to think that G-d is guiding my thinking somewhat.

It's also really, really sexist and unfortunate for a feminist to say that tired phrase, "marry rich." What a horrible message. I would never want my kids to use or be used that way.

I hope that this post opens an enduring conversation about what we as a country are doing to our children with our workaholic ethos. We need to get back to a time when work, as important as it was, was only a part of our lives. Put the family back where it belongs, in the center. Put our interests, hobbies, and passions, back as another fulfilling part.

Well-rounded people with loving relationships and a network of people they care about. A good society.

Since so many people are unemployed maybe we should start to take seriously a shift toward the part-time society - downshift the 40 hour workweek to a 20-30 hour workweek. Make structural changes that increase the quality of everyone's lives. There is a sociologist who promotes this idea, I just can't recall his name right now.>>

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Repositioning Dunkin' As An Experience

Always On Smartphone

Woman at Hair Cuttery - there is a TV going and newspapers laying around and she can't stop with the smartphone.

Right outside, another woman at bus stop hunched over device.

I wonder if marketers really understand who uses these devices, when, and why.

25 Ways To Get Things Done In A Bureaucracy

on fire
Photo by Jesse Barker via Flickr

  1. Don’t make new things sound new.
  2. Acknowledge when others have made a good point. Incorporate feedback.
  3. Speak up when something seems “off.”
  4. Listen carefully when other people explain the culture to you.
  5. Be a uniter, not a divider.
  6. Don’t be a flashpoint for controversy intentionally.
  7. Dress as well as possible. Check yourself at 3 p.m.
  8. Get to know people as human beings not just job titles.
  9. Try to find out what’s really happening - don’t assume you know.
  10. Genuinely collaborate because it multiplies your influence.
  11. Settle for an 80% solution rather than nothing.
  12. Thank people constantly.
  13. Decide not to do some things. This is the painful meaning of strategy.
  14. Write things down before you forget.
  15. Find ways to make people’s life at work easier.
  16. Let your boss have the last word in an email.
  17. Don’t argue with people.
  18. Don’t get emotional in a “losing control” way - use emotion intentionally.
  19. Ask executives for their help. They enjoy this role.
  20. Don’t do things you hate and don't ask people to do things they hate doing.
  21. Ask people about what’s going on in their lives.
  22. When someone is upset, ask them about it.
  23. Help others reach their professional goals.
  24. Be consistent.
  25. Follow up.

Friday, July 13, 2012

How Important Is Creativity In A Brand Name? (Microsoft & Yammer)

Screenshot via TechCocktail.com

How important is creativity? Of course it's important.

You can have a wacky name or a non-wacky one. Neither choice to me is creative. What's important is the creativity of the brand strategy.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Microsoft and Yammer. Microsoft is a staid name. Yammer is a wild name. There is a culture clash implied in the name difference. The communications director at Igloo Software (a rival to Yammer), Stephen Rahal, is saying that the culture clash is real:
''If you look at Microsoft and Yammer they really have completely different go-to market design philosophies. Yammer embodies the very definition of anti-Microsoft. That is in terms of agile development, frequent updates and their implementation process." - Computing.co.uk

"Rahal said Microsoft is playing catch-up in the social enterprise arena, and that is why it was attracted to Yammer."
From a brand strategy perspective, should Microsoft change Yammer's name, or its own name, or come up with a completely different one?

This is an unanswered question in my mind. Because it depends on what Microsoft's brand strategy is.
  • They could make Yammer boring but acceptable to the corporate types who trust Microsoft - and turn it into a Sharepoint add-on. But that could de-Yammerize the experience.
  • They could keep the Yammer name and just bolt it onto Microsoft products. I think the rank and file would like it better because the logo is fresh and implies openness, innovation, and collaboration. But executives might be averse to it because change is threatening.
There really is no one right answer - but what's important is to know in advance what your intentions are, then name the product accordingly.

Eats Quarters, Service Has Been Called

Executives say inspirational things pretty often. I don’t think they realize the positive impact of their words.

Today I was by the vending machine and saw a woman standing there pounding on the soda machine fruitlessly.

“I lost two dollars,” she said, and stomped out.

I remembered that earlier in the day I had been there and saw a handwritten note scrawled on a paper towel. It said, “Eats dollar bills.”

Without really thinking about it I left the galley and went about my business. Now I felt guilty. That sign had been ripped down, or fallen, and somebody lost $2 for no reason.

It occurred to me that I’d lost money in the vending machine before, here and elsewhere. But I never did anything about it other than curse under my breath.

Somebody else was sitting there as I thought about this. She said, “You could just go to the grocery store and get a six-pack. Six for two dollars, instead of two dollars for one.”

She had a point. The whole vending machine thing is wasteful. But still, did the woman deserve to lose her money because she buys convenience food?

Suddenly a quote from an agency executive came into my head. I remembered it because I had written it down earlier. He had said:

“If you have a supervisor who discriminates against you...you have a responsibility to raise that to a higher level.”

You have a responsibility.

Another time the same executive said something else along these lines:

“You no longer have the right to talk about the Agency in the third person.”

In other words, if you see something broken, fix it. (Actually he said, “See Something, Say Something,” the Homeland Security tagline.)

I had never done this before, but suddenly I picked up the phone and called the vending machine company. As the sign said:

“For Fast Courteous Service Please Call SUN DUN, INC. OF WASH. (301) 937-2731.”

Someone picked up the phone pretty quickly. I told them where the problem was. They said they would have the problem fixed tomorrow.

So I put a sign up on the machine. Shoved a piece of paper inside. I hope that it will stick.

On second thought, maybe I better get some tape.

-Edited slightly from the original. Photo by me.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Brand As Product, Brand As People, Brand As...?

You'll get no argument from me that branding is valued on the product side.
Obviously it is. Look at Dyson. They have a product brand so powerful that
people like me willingly pay 5x the price for the vaccuum and consider
paying the same outrageously elevated fee for their fans, etc.

If Dyson made a stapler I'm sure I would buy it as mine forever jams.

Branding is valued on the product side precisely because you can see the
impact, and in a short enough time for the result to be linked to the
effort you put into crafting its image.

However, branding is not sufficiently valued on the corporate side (my
side) because people don't connect the fact that the way you treat people,
is the way they interact with the public, is the public perception of your
organization and the products and services it produces.

The only time branding gets valued internally, is when it's linked to a
demonstrable financial result. For example - recruitment, retention,
productivity, etc.

All I'm saying is, instead of playing around each with our own little huts
in different outposts, let's get together and build a great big house with
sturdy walls. So others can copy the design and add to it. So the world can
be filled with great brands that are delivering real value to all of their
stakeholders, including the employees themselves. Who too frequently
silently build them then get none of the credit or reward.

And now my bias is showing.

Brand as Discipline Requires Rigor, Accountability, Transparency

Brand people are too often perceived as "fluff" professionals: "Anyone can call themselves a brand expert."

Exceptions don't disprove the generalization, nor do concurring examples prove it.

The question is whether the perception is true, and if so why the perception exists.

To get the answer we could look at a parallel profession, sociology.

It is very hard to define what society "is." What the collective consciousness "is." Because it's intangible. You can only measure the effect.

The only reason sociology became a respected enterprise was that the "founding fathers" (Weber and Durkheim) elevated it to the level of science. Perhaps Marx.

Of course this is also its downfall as sociologists who are predominantly qualitative, ethnographic, etc. get less respect than the ones who do massive surveys.

The sociologists I most enjoyed learning about - Mead, Simmel, Goffman, Garfinkel - all focused on the quality of group experience. So I'm not here to say we should all turn into quants.

But the fact is that numbers and tangible outcomes, however incomplete, enable objective and rigorous testing.

It is not enough to say, "I just know it." You have to submit your "knowing" to peer review and external analysis.

This is a great conundrum to me as the things most worth knowing are ultimately reached in intangible ways and are inexpressible.

So the discipline of branding, if it is one (I think it is), has to somehow marry art and science. But that isn't going to happen unless we can all agree on taxonomy. What the heck is it that we're doing? For once and for all, just say it and build a body of knowledge around it, so that we can improve.

The CSR folks are hitting it out of the park on that one. Copy them! Just follow the stock price for heaven's sake, and link it to the organization's activities as they relate to the brand (interactions with the public and employees would be a good start).

I once suggested that somebody start a mutual fund based on predicting brand performance. Still waiting for that to happen.

Until we can be rigorous, we will be put into the corner along with all the other creatives who sometimes hit it out of the park, and sometimes come up with nothing...unpredictable. 

Valuable to have around, but not really anything you can quantify or rely on in a serious way.

Branding As "Fluff": How Greed & Groupthink Get In The Way

Studio dress code
Photo by Juhan Sonin via Flickr

Branding is perceived as a "fluff" profession precisely because its practitioners can't agree on a definition. Why can't we agree? It's not because it's irrelevant. If it were irrelevant you would not see a proliferation of definitions, frameworks, and brand valuation methods each claiming superiority and some mystical formula for generating it.

No. Brand people are smart people. Brand people invest a great deal of time in positioning themselves as the world's most knowlegeable folks about their craft. They know that at the end of the day, the firm that is perceived as having the best methodology, the most intellectual and creative capital, and the strongest results - wins.

Most brand books are not worth the paper they're printed on, because they are written by people who want to make a buck from the pseudo-method they're promoting.

Not coincidentally, those same people are the so-called practitioners you hold up as models of what a brand professional is.

Any time a person is situated in a social context - be it a consulting firm, a university, etc. - they lose objectivity with regard to that context. Call it groupthink or whatever you want, but the phenomena is real. So for example it is rare to find a social critic in an insular community who is able to remain intact in the community. The group expels dissenters because they are perceived as a threat to existence.

Over the past fifteen years, I've been an academic, an entrepreneur, a consultant, a think-tank director, and a government employee (this is my current position). I have experienced groupthink in each and every one of these settings.

It is only by studying a phenomenon while being situated outside it, that you can really speak honestly.

The advice to "acquire more first-hand experience actually branding" in itself reveals the importance of defining what we are talking about. Because if a brand (the noun) is reducible to equity-derived-from-image, then the act of branding (the verb) is reducible to positioning. Whoever has done what you call "real branding" will readily tell you that it is a long-term investment in developing a cohesive, coherent, credible , and sustainable identity for the organization that is manifested at every touchpoint and interaction internally and externally.

Just like you can't raise a family by dropping in, giving folks advice, and dropping out, you can't build long-term brand success solely over the short-term. The best thing a consultant can do is give the organization a wake-up call when it has settled into dysfunction and complacency. There is a place for that, but it is not a substitute for the long-term commitment of employees inside the organization to its productivity.

Co-opt The Symbol Of The Other Side

Image source: Politifake.org

 Screenshot source: Brandchannel. Read their article, it's good.

Screenshot source: The Healthy Beauty Project

Great way to take a bite out of the competing brand.

(That's it.)

More: See the New York Times, "The Branding Of The Occupy Movement."