Showing posts from October, 2012

Optics, Propaganda and the Presidency

Recently I went into Bob's Discount Furniture, a store I've seen around the neighborhood for awhile.

Surprisingly - given the fact that "Discount" is part of the name - Bob's has extremely nice furniture.

But the most noticeable thing about Bob's is that someone named Bob is everywhere. Literally.

The store has life-size Bob dolls sitting on top of furniture displays.

In a truck.

The Bob avatar is on the furniture descriptions.

There is also a special dining room area with free food and a Bob statue.

There is a community bulletin board named for Bob. Also Bob-themed accessories for the furniture.

You can even hear Bob's voice when you call for store hours - no matter which store you call.

And yes, the salespeople all seem to have been trained in the distinct Bob way of handling customers. Starting with the minute you appear at the door.

After a couple of exposures to the Bob experience, never having heard of the brand before, I would probably consider Bob if he ran…

"Deer In The Headlights" Is Not A Media Strategy

Whether you regularly deal with the media or not, if you are anywhere near the professional communications field, at some point you will get a call from a reporter.
How are you planning to handle that?
Screenshot source here
Here's a quick graphic (download the slide here) offering some very basic steps you can take to be ready for that call. See explanatory notes below.

Step by step:

1. Coordinate response: Reporters are always, always in a crazy rush. However, the information you provide is forever, so you cannot provide a rushed response. Your official organizational representative, whether that's a PR firm, your own internal press relations folks, or whoever - should be the lead and you work across stovepipes to get them the information they need to provide the reporter.

2. Package information: People assume that reporters somehow "should" know what is available. They don't. In fact, reporters are immersed in a sea of information. It is almost overwhelming for them…

A Possible Brand Strategy Behind Trader Joe's Ripping Paper Bags

Screen shot via
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. So I must be insane for going to Trader Joe's, bagging my items in a single brown paper bag, and being surprised when the bag immediately rips and everything falls out of it.
No I am not buying the reusable bags because I end up leaving them at home. And I need them for trash.
Over time I have learned how to double bag at Trader Joe's. It's an art form you need to know because the store folks will automatically single-bag and stuff tons of items in each one. Causing the break.
The way you double-bag is to open up a single bag, put a closed bag inside, and THEN open the second bag up carefully. Voila - double bag. 
But even that doesn't hold about a third of the time.
I've decided that I really like Trader Joe's as my go-to store and the ripping paper bags don't daunt me. In fact I think they are part of the brand strategy. Here's …

Bring It

I work in government and it's the stereotype about us that people want to get paid, but don't want to do their job. That's not true.

More often than not people are pretty passionate about doing their job and doing it well. Because when they perform they get recognition, and recognition enhances their self-esteem. So there's a natural motivation to succeed.

When people don't try, whether in government or anywhere, there's always a reason. 

* They're in survival mode. They lack options. They'd rather be at home taking care of their kids, their elderly parents, their own ailing health. Or it's the wrong kind of job for their talents.

* Trying is not worth it. They get in trouble every time they color outside the line. Or they produce, but don't get promoted. Or they experience personal, unfair treatment, whether it's discrimination, bullying, marginalization, and so on.

All of the above can be dealt with. Not easily, but in a fairly straightforward …

Your Job: Make It Easy To Say "Yes" (3 Ways To Do It)

Over the weekend I was working at Panera. In between observing the usual scenery - weekend workaholics like me, fighting couples, families planning their bar mitzvahs, weekend custody visits, elderly people grabbing a sandwich - a lightning bolt struck me:

Winning people over doesn't have to be hard.

Or, put another way, 

Make it easy to say "yes."

How I got from the usual scenery to this insight was pretty simple: It came from a sandwich.

The elderly couple sitting next to me had identical sandwiches on the table - either tuna or chicken salad. Each had a small bag of chips. And they were chirping happily as they ate, leaning over the table, discussing this thing and that. 

I got the impression that they barely even noticed what they were eating. Even though those sandwiches and chips probably cost about $15 with beverage.

In my mind I had the following thought - "those sandwiches probably cost Panera about $3 to make, if that." Imagine the profit margin on bulk tuna…

Let's Talk About Those Eyebrows and 12 Other Notes from Last Night's Debate

Eyebrows are a very important but often overlooked part of any communication strategy. I was raised on eyebrows as I have a cosmetologist in the family. "Honey, those eyebrows are out of control!" was a common refrain. 

Watching the debate last night brought eyebrows into sharp focus for me. From a communication standpoint, both candidates have issues around them:

President Obama's eyebrows meet his eyes, though they do not cover them. This is not in and of itself remarkable, except that it sharpens the edge when he speaks fighting words. The eyebrow-eye combination is in stark contrast to the President's trademark wide smile, which he seems to be able to produce on demand. The communication impact is that he seems able to project any emotion desired without necessarily feeling it. Governor Romney's eyebrows cover his eyes to the point where they seem to peer out at you from underneath. It makes him seem like he is hiding something. The effect is further amplified …

5 Internal Communication Activities Your Boss Will Support

Ragan Communications reports that "Employee Engagement Is (A) Top Challenge For 2013": Executives don't agree with communicators that it's a top priority ("engagement didn't even make the list.") In any large, complex organization, internal communication must normally go through many bureaucratic hoops to be approved. Also, operational matters frequently crowd out what seem like "mushy" matters to executives. If you are eager to promote internal communication, but are finding it a daunting hassle, here are 5 tactics that I've used across three government agencies. They may be helpful to you:
1. Daily News Clips: Circulate to managers; include blog, twitter and Facebook mentions; make available to all by posting on the Intranet. The more information available to employees, provided by you, the better.
2. Repurpose External Interviews: If a senior leader gave an interview to the media, share it with employees or do a weekly roundup. External med…

Argo: A Quick Review

1. It's mostly an intense thought piece with a lot of thinking, drama, meta-messaging, subtext, some insider jokes etc. Clearly in the Ben Affleck genre.

2. If you prefer action films don't bother.

3. It is more of a meditation on propaganda and narrative, fatherhood, character and friendship than a topic film. Not a comprehensive treatment of history.

4. It is apolitical.

5. It feels very "real" in terms of telling a historical truth. You walk away having learned about Washington.

Marketing Ice Cream To Women: 5 Observations

1. It is an emotional purchase - guilt, depression, self-soothing. Guilty so an impulse buy.

2. Environment of consumption - social if virtuous (frozen yogurt), isolated if not (e.g. hiding in the car eating a sundae).

3. Toppings are an important part of the experience. It feels like reward and is similar to wanting icing and sprinkles on cake, etc. Or even salad toppings.

4. Small but heaping portions are preferred to big tubs, which are associated with being fat.

5. There is actually a preference to pay more not less as a sign that you're getting "premium" (calories for the money).

Ad People - You Will Laugh: "A Few Good Creative Men"


Election 2012: Commitment-Phobia

I'm a big fan of that show "The Millionaire Matchmaker" which used to run on Bravo. 

If you haven't seen it, every week Patty the Jewish matchmaker helped a socially challenged millionaire find "true love." 

The show was alternately agonizing and hilarious as we watched people who seemed functional in their professional life (mostly) let down their guard and reveal their personal variety of crazy. 

The natural conclusion from watching that show - it's amazing that two people can ever be together. And when a few couples really hit it off, that rare magic lit up the room.

I relate to Patty because I am Jewish, also raised in New Jersey, and my aunt is a part-time matchmaker for Orthodox Jewish people. My aunt thinks pretty much the same way as Patty.

In fact I think you can say that branding and matchmaking have a lot in common because what else are you doing but packaging a person so that another person will find them appealing? With the caveat that what'…

Presidential Debate as Word Warfare: 5 Observations

Here's my take on the October 16 debate. What did you notice?
"Fight! Fight!" It looked like someone had coached the President to be more aggressive. This combined with the unfortunate physical setup - both the President and Governor Romney were free to roam onstage - led to a very close confrontation with hands upraised, aimed at one another. It did not seem personal to me, more like posturing, but the tension was too close. I noted that the President defused it by turning away. Either way, it seemed a bit out of control and I wondered what was happening. My sense was that Governor Romney felt besieged and cornered, and that he had to set the record straight; while the President felt pressured to show strength and appear forceful. It diminished both of them. I would not have lowered the candidates to the level of physically being so close to one another. Advice: Stand back. Matching Pink Dresses: Did anyone else notice that the First Lady and Ann Romney both had a variat…

5 Ways To Approach A Senior Executive

In response to my previous post on not wasting executives' time, somebody asked me how to approach one with a new idea. Here are a few tips. 1. Men - be assertive. Women - be aggressive. Executives don't realize how scary they are. Ask for their time. They won't kill you. I separate this by gender because women, especially older women, tend to be more insecure and indirect than men about promoting themselves. Women will work quietly in the background and hope someone discovers them. They won't. Watch the Katy Perry music video, "Part of Me." Be a Marine!!!! 2. Be positive. Executives hate negative. Remember they are surrounded by negative, they get criticism all the time, they are afraid themselves. Whatever it is, it's a good thing. (I could not use Sharepoint until I changed "workflow" to "playflow" in my mind. Words make a huge difference.) 3. Words before paper. Executives need to see your face, and hear your words, before they see a …

How I Wound Up Buying $50 Worth Of Protein Bars From An Unknown Vendor: Lessons For Marketers

You reach people not with one tactic but by mastering many and partnering or at least getting close to companies that can help you reach your target.

Here's a quick case study illustrating how I wound up buying $50 worth of protein bars I had never heard of before (Green's+) from a vendor I'd never used before (

Step 1: Word of Mouth/Lifestyle: Couple of years ago, friend and I have lifestyle conversation and discover we basically think the same: libertarian, socially progressive, prefer healing foods and natural supplements. I recommend Puritan's Pride; she tells me about I don't do anything. The fact that a trusted friend who shares my values recommended this online vendor made me willing to buy there at some point in the future. Step 2: Impulse Buying/Timing/Appeal: This weekend I go out as usual and wind up at Trader Joe's in midday. They have everything tasty, ready-made, relatively natural. I'm hungry as I try not to eat in the mor…

Russell Peters Is So Damn Funny

Found this standup comedian on Netflix, Russell Peters.

His entire act basically consists of making fun of different nationalities as he compares and contrasts them.

Peters' parents are from India - he was raised in Canada.

He goes through the audience, picking out and interacting with other Indians, Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians, Jewish people, the Irish, on and on.

What I love about his show is the comedian's uncanny ability to capture an accent, an entire way of thinking, all the the most trivial things in their sheer political incorrectness.

What's even better is how the audiences are able to laugh at themselves, each other - all the things that in real life one cannot say and that tear people apart in the name of "don't disrespect me."

Comedy is like art in that only the truth works and I trust it for that reason. It is a difficult skill to master because it is so easy to let bias and self-consciousness and ego get in the way.

If you have a chance check…

Get Real

I watched the Biden-Ryan debate like everybody else, with intense interest in the election. But there was one part I noticed almost more than any other: the exchange about abortion.

There sat two men, each potentially the leader of the free world, neither of them with a uterus. And it was their job to explain why they were or weren't in favor of females having control over their own bodies, their own pregnancies, the course of their entire lives with respect to becoming mothers.

Mothers are the ones, overwhelmingly, who tend to the crying and wipe the spit and change diapers. Not men.

Afterwards my daughters asked me if I was "pro-choice or pro-life" and I replied angrily, "What a false choice - there is no difference between the two."

Because a mother knows that there are only difficult choices, and that birthing a child who is almost sure to know deprivation and abuse lifelong is not mercy.

Among the majority of technology producers who are male, Steve Jobs was ra…

What Makes a Debate Performance Work?

When it comes to communication, real-world examples are better than any textbook because you can see what works - and what doesn't - in action. Plus you can predict outcomes for the future. 

Here's a quick slide that uses a brand analysis framework to think about last night's debate. (It's online here.)  Feel free to re-use it, with attribution.

In Marketing, Trivia Is Not Trivial

Woody Allen does not consider movies his finest accomplishment. He speaks far more lovingly about being in a jazz band and enjoying sports. Early in his career he was a standup comedian and is a published author too.

Still, most people know him as the old guy who married his adoptive stepdaughter. A few, a dedicated few, lionize his films.

People like trivia. A colleague once told me about a well-respected, high achieving woman she knew. The colleague didn't know much about her career. But she remembered the flower in her lapel. The one she wore every day.

I like to go to the movies. But I don't just notice the main event - the show. I notice things like how much the candy costs, how clean the restrooms are. The stand-up movie posters in front of the doors.

Once I had a boss the memory of whom is fairly dim. But what sticks in my mind are all the minutes and hours she kept me waiting. She'd call me in ostensibly for a staff meeting, line me up in a chair seated next to my coll…

5 Ways Executives Think & How To Communicate Accordingly

1. Don't Waste Their Time

Executives try to cram a "success" activity into most every minute. Whatever activities they do are somehow related to upward mobility. Versus most people don't really think about managing their time, except that they're too busy. Which is why executives get very irritated when they feel that you are wasting their time. Therefore, use their time sparingly and give them the summary first.

2. Be Prepared
Executives can always answer that question. They seem to be able to tackle any question no matter how far it is from their top of mind. Versus most people tend to be a little vague. Have a project dashboard online that you regularly update; attach key documents (like Sharepoint). Be ready to answer seemingly random and detailed questions, often with a time lag.
3. Align With Their Priorities
Executives trade in multiple interconnected forms of capital: power, influence, status, connectivity, celebrity, intellectual, information, gossip, and of…

Communication, Reputation, and Business Results (Simple Graphic)


10 Critical Lessons From: "Corporate Branding & Corporate Brand Performance"

"Corporate Branding and Corporate Brand Performance" (2001, Fiona Harris and Leslie de Chernatony) is a little difficult to wade through but it offers a few really good nuggets for students of brand.

The most important thing to learn from the article is that brand is not a thing-in-itself but rather an intangible that yields measurable results.

1. Brands start with  Purpose (vision)Principle (values)2. Purpose and principle lead to positioning - "what the brand is, who it is for and what it offers." 
3. The brand has two layers: Base layer is functionality - the "what." Secondary layer is personality - the "how."
4. Personality yields relationship - internally between employees and externally with customers. It is critical that the business model incorporate specifications around what types of relationships are wanted.

5. Relationships are formalized in presentation, meaning the structured ways in which the organization interacts with the public. These…

On The Benefits Of Eternal Cluelessness

Episode One When my older daughter was born, everything was fine in the hospital. The nurses handled mostly everything. They knew what to do. Back at home, for me, it was like "The Hunger Games" without a bow and arrow. Some of it was obvious - food and fresh air and sleep. But most of it was very much not.  Tick, tock. Eight o' clock at night. We put a pretty onesie on her and lay her in her crib. There she was. There we were. It was time to sleep.  We just watched her.  Until suddenly she started crying. Do we let her cry? I voted yes along with Dr. Spock. My husband voted no, citing meaningless cruelty. Then she resolved everything by throwing up her dinner. Monday he went back to work. I called him bright and early. "What do I do now?" I said. "What do you mean, what do you do?" "What am I supposed to do with her? I don't know what to do." I looked out the window, blinking, confused. "Take her to the park, I don't know." "Oh," …