Search This Blog

3 Signs of Brand Malaise: Facebook's Arrogance, Starbucks' Complacency, and Google's Mania

Photo of semi-empty Starbucks display case by me. Their food display is so unappealing.

So I stopped to get gas and as usual could not maneuver the car properly to the pump.

After a tortuous 15-minute thing where I turned the wheel this way and that and reversed about twenty thousand times, finally we landed.

As I looked up to find the proper pump from among regular, unleaded and diesel (why is ordinary life so confusing?) I see that a bunch of high school kids are running a car wash at the station.

There was one car getting a wash.

Eight kids surrounded it, wiping and wiping without much sign of success.

Another two stood out on the street, waving "Get A Carwash" signs sort of aimlessly.

Everybody laughing all round.

What were they doing out there? I guess just having fun, and the car wash was an excuse.

A few miles later we passed another place that really did car washes. Like, for a living.

I was stopped at a red light and watched. Three or four people furiously scrubbed a car inside and out. They made that gray Kia look gorgeous.

Looking down at the unfortunate seaweed scraps on the floor of my car, that I know I cannot get rid of without a proper car wash, I made a mental note to go back there.

You have to want it. Not every brand seems to - despite the outward appearance of being perfect. Some examples:

1. Facebook

This week, Facebook went IPO. The results were disappointing. It wasn't a surprise. Practically the whole world screamed "overvalued."

But as usual Zuckerberg seemed to shrug his shoulders, as if to say, "I don't care."

No PR campaign that I could see, no energy. The whole thing just took its course.

And the bubble of excitement around the brand popped like a flimsy soap bubble.

2. Starbucks

Starbucks is suffering brand malaise, too. Not arrogance, but complacency.

They have beautiful signage in the stores promoting low-fat berry cake, "Mocha Cookie Crumble" Frappuccino, the works, and other treats that should be tempting.

But when you look at the display, you sort of want to run. Because all of it looks stale.

Even at my worst (daily, the 3 p.m. and 10 p.m. sugar cravings) I have never once felt tempted by this stuff.

3. Google

Finally there is Google. I do like some of their products, but definitely not all. They seem to introduce new things all the time - Google+, Google shopping, on and on and on.

And yet most people don't understand the basic, brilliant functionality that they offer at all - for example Google Docs.

I wonder, why can't Google sit still long enough to actually focus on what they do well, and help the average person understand it? And build a base of loyalty right there?

At the end of the day the big brands are like a car wash. They can either act like they are hungry for the customer's business - they can hustle - or they can play around and refuse to see reality.

You might think that because big brands are big, they necessarily know what to do. But it's not true.

They are plagued by the same dysfunctionality as any group.

That's why sometimes it's a good thing to look around you, and learn from the difference between a bunch of high school kids goofing around in the sunshine, and some serious professionals who want to earn their daily bread.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

Can't help but Megabrand Malaise: Facebook's Arrogance, Starbucks' Complacency, and Google's Mania

Someone Needs You To Give A Damn

This seems to be the week for stories. So be it.

A long time ago there was a teacher who creeped me out. No abuse, fortunately. But still, something wasn't right.

I told my parents and my dad had a secret conversation with the school board. He had done a little digging and sources told him that the rabbi was in fact a predator.

My dad is Eastern European in manner and dress and they laughed him off.

Then my mother went into action.

You have to understand that my mother is quiet, short, and normally extremely shy.

But on that quiet sunny Friday she drive her little old car at top speed to my school.

I watched in awe and fear.

She harrumphed up to the curb. She had on old jeans and a T-shirt like always. She is the polar opposite of my dad, 100 percent Middle America.

My mother stomped up the broken brick walkway. She flung open the heavy metal door. She raced through the hallway and up the rickety stairs.

I couldn't keep up with her. I felt like I was going to fall.

My mother grabbed the door handle to the principal's office and went in.

As she did I took a long look down the hallway. I thought about how that tyrant seemed to be starting with me. And how I felt scared and powerless to name it.

But my mother did know.

She leaned in and loomed in front of the secretary. Loud and strong she said, "Get me Rabbi --. Now."

I thought that secretary was going to have a heart attack.

When my mother emerged from the principal's office she had a look on her face that can only be described as cat eating mouse for lunch.

They did find a solution that day. The principal skipped me up a grade. He was still scared to fire the teacher.

Another student stood up to the teacher later on. He set up a bucket of water above the door. The teacher opened it and got flooded.

Rabbi Awful turned around and smacked (or punched) the student right in the face. In front if all of us. Now they had a "real" reason to fire him.

At the end of the day, there are two kinds of attitudes one can take to the world.

You can sit back in fear or apathy or ignorance and hope to quietly get along and survive.

Or you can make whatever you are doing into a cause. You can make it your passion.

My parents both stood up for me. But I witnessed the righteous wrath of my mom. And I physically saw the integrity and self-sacrifice of another student.

Because of all of them - the quiet and not-so-quiet passionate people alike - I escaped what could have been a traumatic fate.

Wherever you are, you can make a difference. And know that there are others counting on you to do just that.

Good luck!

When People Are The Afterthought

A long time ago I lived in a little beautiful house in Lakewood, New Jersey.

My best memories of growing up are in that house.

·      Zayde letting go of my bike as I finally “got” how to ride
·      Feeding the birds on the back stoop with my Dad
·      Birthday party with Raggedy Ann & all my friends, in the basement.

One day I bopped through the front door and confronted my mother. She told me to sit down.

“We’re moving,” she said. “Go pack your things.”



It wasn’t that moving was the worst thing in the world.

It was that they didn’t tell me until AFTER the whole deal was done.

And my confidence, my little world, melted around me.

The daughter of an IT consultant, it wasn’t the last time I moved and I became a bit of an Army brat. Learned to jump in and swim wherever I was.

But the feeling never left me: Don’t trust anyone – especially not anyone in power. Because no matter how nice they are or how much they “love” you, in the end you never know what they’re going to do.

Another experience challenged this view. It happened 30 years later.

I was working in my first high-level job. Professional communication. Lucrative, Madison Avenue. But terribly unstable, like all high-flying jobs. Everything was subject to someone’s favor, the next internal project, winning the next big client.

For awhile, with G-d’s help, we rode the dot-com boom. We seemed very successful. My boss traveled around the world giving speeches that I wrote. I gave interviews to the Chicago Tribune and other major media outlets about the marketing research we did. We had a content partnership with Reuters. I wrote a column for a European marketing magazine. Everything seemed grand.

But of course this gig did come to an end.

It’s the curse of the private sector – you can win big but lose equally as big or more, and in no time.

The difference in this case was that I knew about it way in advance. My boss foresaw that it was coming, encouraged me to prepare, and generally cushioned the blow.

My boss was an extremely high-level executive and had better things to do with her time than deal with me. But the fact that she did take the time to be a human being, and to stand in the place where I stood, helped tremendously to soften the blow.

When you’re working on a project that messes with someone’s life – it changes their processes, it affects how their work is presented to the world, it affects their duties, or it could even result in their firing – it is tempting to avoid confronting them directly.

It is tempting to drop the hit on a Friday, give people the weekend to get drunk, imagine they are throwing darts at your effigy, then pick up on Monday as if nothing had occurred.

That would be the wrong thing to do.

You have to tell people what is going on in advance.

This does not mean that you stop the project, the process or the change.

It does mean that you grant them the respect and the dignity that they deserve.

Just like in a marriage, when someone is not happy – the other partner has a right to be spoken to, worked with, and not just come home to find the closet half-empty and a good-bye note on the pillow.

You may argue that notice gives ammo to the evil detractors of all good things. That it gives naysayers time to build their case.

I can’t argue with that.

But then again, it goes back to culture.

If you are the type of organization where nobody can talk, then the voices of powerful naysayers will be disproportionately strong. And you’re right – too much advance notice can hurt.

On the other hand, if you’ve got an open culture that fosters productive dialogue around change, and that assumes disaster may always lurk around the corner, one more voice of negativity is not going to have much impact. Because there are too many other people talking.

The difference between Culture A and Culture B is really leadership.

While it’s important to have early notice and open dialogue, it’s equally as important to have someone unafraid to steer the ship in a new direction. Someone who says, “I’ve heard your opinion, thank you very much and now we are moving on.”

An organization that combines openness, communication, and firm, reasoned-decision making is well-equipped to meet the challenges of the future.

And it will be full of people who are grateful to be there and want to say.

In the end it’s not feedback that poses a problem. It’s the fear of saying “no” to that feedback that leads to the impulse not to ask questions at all.

Good luck!

What Politicians Can Learn From Jamie Dimon

Politics is about power, not morality.

Yet to gain power, political parties routinely market themselves to the voter using the language of morality rather than ideology or self-interest.

A personal assessment of the sum total of the major parties' moral arguments (i.e. presentation plus audience reception), is below:

I. Republican Brand Perceptions--

-Strengths: Freedom, strength, security, prosperity, opportunity, excellence, religious convictions

-Weaknesses: Selfishness, greed, bullying, isolationism, intolerance, the -isms (racism, sexism, etc.), corruption

II. Democratic Brand Perceptions--

-Strengths: Tolerance, diversity, compassion, collectivism, victims' rights, enlightened, global

-Weaknesses: Self-righteous, unpatriotic, suppressive of the individual, weak, immoral, corrupt

If the above is even remotely accurate then we are in a deadlock.

Which means one of three things will have to happen for someone to win:

1. One party is substantially discredited versus the other - the perceived corruption is so uneven that the perceived least corrupt wins.

2. One party puts forth a message that co-opts the strengths of the other party (hopefully while also minimizing its own weaknesses)

3. Some major crisis or event occurs that causes voters to default to the party whose strength are most applicable to the situation at hand.

None of this is rocket science. The election crisis we see has to do with the fact that neither party seems to be taking advantage of basic political communication strategy.

For some reason they appear very defensive and reactive rather than to have control of the message.

For inspiration they could look to JP Morgan and Jamie Dimon's handling of the $2 billion crisis. From Day One, Dimon has:

1. Taken responsibility
2. Told a consistent and credible story
3. Communicated timely
4. Explained things clearly
5. Held his people accountable

If I were an investor, I would trust my money to this company. Not because they are moral or immoral, but because they seem highly capable.

Similarly, most voters want someone who speaks in the language of results. Not religion - secular or otherwise.

The political realm is in the end about power. In the end power is granted to those whose vision is clear, comprehensive, inclusive, appealing, and credible.

Keeping your word is a very moral thing to do.

Have a good day, and good luck!

(Note: I work for the government, but all opinions are my own. This blog is a communication-focused commentary and should not be construed as a political endorsement or non-endorsement.)

The Social Media "Avengers" Cheat Sheet: Blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, Klout

Heroes in the Pavillion
Photo by Ewen Roberts via Flickr (obviously this post has nothing to do with the movie)

Nowadays social media is practically a required "leisure" activity - you sort of have to participate whether you like it or not.

Nobody says you have to do everything, but a few activities are in my view required. Here's a guide to the basics: Blogging, Tweeting, LinkedIn, and Klout.

Facebook is omitted because this tool presents complicated issues that can get you burned. The basic problem is that you really are "yourself" when you're on Facebook. This leads some to censor/manipulate their identity so as to build a brand (unhealthy and hard to sustain). Others offer TMI (too much information) and get themselves in trouble. It deserves a separate post.

These are just a few guidelines, but there are tons more out there if you are interested.

Good luck!


1. How To Write A Blog Others Want To Read: Penelope Trunk
  • Knock out your draft
  • Put the two best sentences first
  • Rewrite the blog
  • Cut it to 600 words max
  • Use research
  • Be opinionated
2. Tweet: Paul Andre, Michael Bernstein, Kurt Luther for Harvard Business Review
  • "Random" thought - funny, exciting
  • Self-Promotional
  • Ask a question
  • Share info
3. LinkedIn: Amit Nagpal
(SlideShare Presentation)
  • Detailed profile, catchy headline - avoid silly ID's
  • Short, engaging summary
  • Current employer & relevant certifications
  • Website, blog, tweets, publications, presentations, awards
  • High-level groups, specialized niche groups - join & participate!
  • Reading list, interests, travel
  • Numbers matter - connections, recommendations, etc.
4. Klout: Samantha Murphy
  • Network online
  • Write good content
  • Share it
  • Interact
  • Be consistent
  • Be natural - don't try to work the system