Search This Blog

How To Rebrand The Federal Workforce

Photo by Cayusa via Flickr

In January GovExec ran "Restoring The Brand," a feature story describing efforts by pro-government employee groups to show how important we are to the American people. To scare them into supporting us by imagining what would happen if we weren't around.

For example, the article cites this public service announcement sponsored by the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU):
"Before you drink your next glass of water, eat your next meal, visit the doctor's office, board a flight, deposit a paycheck, before you take your next breath . . . Consider who's working day and night so that you can do all this safely. Federal employees, that's who." 
I am a federal employee so I have every interest in the world in restoring, polishing, maintaining and improving my (our) brand. But negative messages like this are the wrong approach. Because they only add fuel to the flaming debate about whether federal workers are over- or under-paid compared with the private sector.

Very simply, if the only reason to support federal employees is what could happen without us, then all you have to do is replace us with private sector contractors and see if the trains can still run on time.

Instead, the branding message for federal employees should focus on what makes us unique and irreplaceable. We have an amazing story to tell - why haven't we gone there yet? Why has nobody taken a positive approach?

If I could rebrand the federal workforce, I would take a three-pronged approach as follows:
  1. Address the negative stereotypes. They say we are lazy fat cats who live off the taxpayer's dime. We have to deal with that. (Renowned political strategist Dick Morris, who served as campaign manager and political adviser for former President Clinton, said recently on FOX News that Clinton told him, "Never let an attack go unanswered.") Responding means being accountable, because guess what? Sometimes "they" are right!
  2. Use "positioning" to show our unique value. "Positioning" is a marketing tactic wherein you situate yourself as offering something that nobody else can. If you look at the characteristics of the very best federal employees - caring, versatile, resourceful, dedicated, generous, tough, educated, experienced, funny, diverse and gracious - I think we are doing ourselves tremendous harm by failing to tell our positive story. We do not need to subtly threaten the American public into taking care of us. We need only show concretely what we do, and how we contribute, the vast majority with good intentions.
  3. Portray a vision for the federal workforce that takes us one, five, ten years into the future. In my view the primary problem federal workers face right now is the fragmentation between agencies. What we don't seem to understand is that to the American public, we are ONE entity. In fact I would argue that they don't even see much difference between political employees and those in the civil service. We are all, together, "Washington." And we need to respond as one face with one voice.
Which brings me to the primary point of this post. In my view the single most powerful thing federal employees can do to rebrand ourselves - because it is us, it is our brand, and we are responsible for it - is to show how we absolutely kick ass as versus the private sector.

That's right. You heard me. The idea that we are a bunch of unemployable misfits needs to be gone, now. The federal employee must be seen as the very best that America has to offer.

We cannot brand our country with logos and labels and taglines and campaigns.

We can only brand our country through the faces and voices of the people who work for it. The people with whom the public interacts.

The asteroid that we Federal employees feared so much has landed: People are questioning our worth.

In response we have to get up and fight. Yes, it is time to compete for our own jobs.

Where we fall short we have to admit it - where we are doing well we cannot shy away from telling our own story.

There is no need to wait for some organization to do it for us. This is something that we can do for ourselves.

And because the American public really does count on us 24/7, recasting our identity collectively will be of great benefit to them, and to the stability of our country, as well.

Good luck!

*Note: As always, all opinions are my own.

Organizational Change: 10 Types Of Intervention

Video: "What Would You Do" TV show, ABC - Customers are tested: What would you do if you saw a clerk cheating a customer out of their lottery winnings?

I love the ABC-TV show "What Would You Do?"

It sets up typical life situations where a person witnesses wrongdoing, or potential wrongdoing, and has to decide whether to get involved or not. (Typical episode here.)

This show helps me to change - to work up the courage to speak up for my beliefs. It's an example of tactic #3 on this list, "hidden camera."

If you show a person, or an organization what they look like on tape, it can be a powerful motivator to change.

I'm not here to advocate for one of these over the other, or to argue the relative morality of any of these tactics.

Just pointing out that these interventions typically work - and that trying to "go it alone" (just like hoping and wishing for change) is rarely a strategy.

My "top 10":

1. Face-to-face confrontation - effective, but must take place between two parties of relatively equal power, or where there is a gulf so great that the more powerful party feels able to listen. Not optimal because it stings the ego badly. Example: This is typical in movies.

2. Proxy - a diplomatic third party mediates - can work well, but is very tricky. Example: Diplomacy.

3. Hidden camera, as above - very effective, is unusual and may involve danger or legal risk.

4. Crisis - an accident occurs, safety issues are uncovered, an executive is caught lying, etc. Example: Toyota.

5. Inspired leader - a leader with charisma who motivates the organization (or the country) to change. Example: Pick your favorite president.

6. Dictatorial leader - a leader with a vision, but who leaves people with no choice about how to implement it, and who is willing to make tough choices. Such a leader can also lead people in the wrong direction, of course. Example of a benevolent dictator type I respect: Rudy Giuliani.

7. Innovative competitor - someone else makes money and a name for themselves, and the organization decides to copy them. Example: Google copying Groupon.

8. Blogger or investigative journalist - someone on the outside, who cares passionately about a particular subject and is willing to invest a lot of time and research into writing about it. Example: You probably can think of one or two.

9. Social media campaign - many people look at the organization, country, etc. and decide to get involved to advocate for change. Example: Joseph Kony.

10. Insurrection - employees get together and create change from within. Not literally a revolt, but a sea change caused by a groundswell of support for a new way of doing things. Example: Gov 2.0.

Of course, if you want to be a change agent, you should know that you are putting yourself, your reputation, your career, and your personal brand at risk. You also are obligated to operate within legal and ethical boundaries.

This blog is not meant as legal advice, and all opinions are my own.

Good luck!

10 Brand Characteristics You Don't Want

1. Untrustworthy
2. Self-promotional
3. Backstabber
4. Disrespectful
5. User
6. Unreliable
7. Flaky
8. Arrogant
9. Abusive
10. Naysayer

What would you add to this list?

Or its opposite?

When You Lack The Language To Describe What's Happening

Shadow Man
"Shadow Man" by Jaqian via Flickr

Once I had a supervisor who used to call me in and do her e-mail while I sat there.

She would check it and respond; take phone calls; talk about the weather, and her home, and her weekend; and once in a while give me a task or two.

Sometimes she would say, "I have to go to the restroom," and would say something like "let's go."

I was young and inexperienced and fearful. So I went. Fortunately all I had to do was wait outside, but it was still pretty humiliating.

She talked and talked the whole time, and I had to nod and go along with it like it was totally normal.

I share this not for gross-out value but to talk about one aspect of the experience that stands out for me.

At the time, I did not have the language to name what I was going through. So although I knew there was something wrong, I couldn't really confront the situation.

Today I have the words, of course:

* Boundary-crossing
* Exploitive
* Sadistic

...and so on.

This boss was also what we call a "micromanager." She did not "trust" other people to do things just right. So her stamp of approval, or disapproval, covered everything.

I did not have the words.

A feminist tool, and a workers'  rights tool, is "consciousness-raising." That is exactly what it sounds like: People sit around in a circle and share their experiences. 

There is solace in sharing with others, getting support, and finding that you have gone through similar things and survived. You can learn how to recognize a problem and how to cope.

But what is also empowering, yet let discussed, is the fact that sharing your experiences leads to language. Suddenly that nameless monster has a name. 

And by designating it you gain a measure of control.

Sharing, consciousness-raising, education, the Internet and social media are all linked - and that is why oppressive people always try to shut them down.

The more a person can be isolated and kept ignorant, the more they can be victimized.

Which is why it's very important to not only train yourself and share what you've seen, but also to stand up against those why try to keep information from being free. And to help those without access to education and technology - access it.

In the end cruelty persists because it lives in the shadows.

Expose it for what it is, arm people with a pen and paper (or tablet computer), and put them in a room together. It is then impossible for evil to persist.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

Anything But Feelings

Strangers' Stories
Photo: "Strangers' Stories" by Alyssa L. Miller via Flickr. 
Caption: "A superimposition of two shots from a short film I made in New York City about two strangers who form a silent friendship on the streets of New York. Inspired by the real people we walk past on the streets of this big city without a second glance, without wondering why or how they got there. We’re all innately connected, even if in our intrinsic lonliness. An yet, we forgot that everyone is the protagonist in his/her own story. And everyone has something to offer. It’s wonderful. Sometimes I think, 'life would be so much simpler if we didn’t have to make everything so complex.' Then again, I’m a culprit. Too."

The Outsourced Self,” a new book by sociologist Arlie Hochschild, is about people who make money by selling friendship and love – think “Rent-A-Friend.”

The entire industry of branding today is exactly about this. Adding value to the transaction by pretending to care.

Remember that scene from “Home Alone 2,” where Macaulay Caulkin’s stage mom repeatedly insults Tim Curry, the hotel concierge?

When she abuses him he smiles. When she yells, “What kind of idiots work here?” he responds cheerily, “Idiots like us.”

Hey. It’s the Four Seasons. You have to take it with a smile.

(Her 1983 book was “The Managed Heart: The Commercialization of Human Feeling.”

Prostitution is the oldest profession. It has now widened in scope from the physical to the emotional.

Hochschild is not an objective social scientist. She hates how we disvalue emotional labor. The psychological effect on the individual – demoralization, exhaustion.

What is the impact on the ordinary person of turning sincere emotion into a kind of product?

·      An inability to feel authentically: Emotion is reserved for the pathetic (we feel sorry for them), the mesmerizing (celebrities), the shocking (news stories), and the potentially useful (as employers, mentors, “contacts,” etc.)

·      Lowered self-esteem: We see ourselves as products, and we hate what we see unless we measure up to some mythical ideal that was previously marketed to us on TV, in a magazine, etc. (Women and men equally by the way)

·      Craving approval “wherever”: We find community among people we don’t know (social media), people who want to dig into our wallets (marketers), people who want to exploit our skills (employers), and perhaps worst of all people whose emotional problems require other people as solace (“vampire” friends, relatives, significant others)

Everywhere in our society, relationships are glorified. Don’t clothing ads routinely show a bunch of friends together, having fun? Don’t we see endless portrayals in the movies of Hollywood romance?

But then again, those connections are sold to us as a product.

It seems to me that what we are missing now, and what we as a society need more than ever, are the kind of connections that are off the grid. That have absolutely zero chance of ever becoming commercial.

It also seems to me that we can’t admit how much we actually need those types of connections. We’ll do anything instead – go shopping, eat an ice cream sundae, take a trip to Thailand – anything except just sit down and talk and not look at the smartphone or check the time.

The world has grown so incredibly cold, and it’s not because we lack money. It’s because we have all been sucked into the world of emotional labor – either as peddlers or to consume.

The worst threat we face is not external. It’s the icicles forming on our hearts. As we’ve become steely to each other. And to ourselves.

Think about it - have a good evening everyone, and good luck!

How To Display Bananas

Not sitting down, like this (Au Bon Pain). Starbucks does that too, except worse.

Hanging (Whole Foods).

If you don't care about the item you are selling, stop selling it.

Good luk!

The Brand Strategist's Bias

People knowledgeable about branding tend to think that the case for branding is self-evident.

The best brand strategists are able to talk to non-brand people who are completely unconvinced or even hostile to the concept of branding.

(Mars and Venus if you will.)

When I was younger and more immature I resisted the concept of using "reputation" as a substitute. Now, I see the wisdom. (Hat tip: The Brand Consultancy, Mark Morris and Diane Beecher.)

In the end you can have the best ideas in the world. But those ideas are actually implemented through people.

Think objectively.

Good luck!

5 Ways to Really Honor Our Soldiers This Memorial Day

Veterans Day Ceremony
Photo by Josh LeClair via Flickr 

It's so hard to write about Memorial Day and other celebrations. Either you sound like everybody else or you seem like you're trying to exploit something for your own gain. Hopefully this blog doesn't do either.

For me this holiday brings five reflections.

1. Gratitude for the self-sacrifice involved in military service and to the full spectrum of self-sacrificing patriots - including women and homosexuals
 2. Anger that there is not justice for soldiers who are sexually assaulted - something that happens to men and women alike
 3. Appreciation for our military families, whose sacrifice is quieter but no less real. The wish that men could be given more permission to be "soft," fair and human rather than always "macho" without being stigmatized. Especially because when they come home, the post-traumatic disorder leads often to family turbulence and domestic violence.

4. Resist the temptation to stifle those who disagree with you - freedom of speech is hard-won and one of the first things to go in a dictatorship

5. Don't be all superior-like if you are anti-war. Thank the anonymous soldier who either got killed or has killed someone else so that you may live free: "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." (George Orwell)


Scarcity Branding & Its Cousins: Cults, Tribes, Local, Luxury, Handmade

At Nike the other day I saw the lines were out the wazoo.

It made me wonder what would happen if something bad happened G-d forbid and we were lining up for medical supplies rather than 30% off sneakers.

Since I can't handle that kind of reality all that well my thoughts turned of course to marketing. Which leads to this short post clarifying and classifying the variations of scarcity branding.

Just a few thoughts:

1. Most people don't understand when to use scarcity vs. saturation. Basically, you saturate the market to gain awareness and credibility - people "know" you so they trust you as a vendor. You make a product scarce when you have the promise of developing sufficient foothold that you can simply charge more per item. Scarcity is a quality strategy, saturation goes to volume.

2. There are lots of ways to do scarcity. But don't do it unless you can reliably get to influencers who will spread the word that you are scarce. You, the vendor, are not a reliable source of that information - you will need trusted, live ambassadors. (Old Rip Van Winkle bourbon).

3. Cult brands leverage scarcity, sometimes, but they're a different breed of product. They're built around a larger philosophy that can border on the religious. They feel extreme. They attract people who choose to live on the margins in some way - either in a rebellious sense (Harley-Davidson) or in an elite sense (the Mini).

4. Tribal brands are different than cults in that they refuse a larger philosophy and perhaps even the name "tribal." They are known to those within the tribe, but not to those without. (Bobbi Brown cosmetics are used by makeup artists; certain kosher brands.)

5. Luxury brands are not tribal and they do not require scarcity, except that they must be seen as premium and therefore inaccessible to all but the extremely financially elite. If too many people can get them, they lose their luxury status. (Prada - and the issue of controlling counterfeits)

6. Local brands simply build a reputation by aligning with a hyperlocal geographic area, then their reputation fans out through tourists and their word of mouth. (Ghirardelli chocolate)

7. Rare products can be brands, but are not necessarily. Those in the know will pay for them. (E.g. the painting "The Scream" sold for almost $120 million on auction.)

8. Experts as personal brands are scarce, but they may or may not be branded, depending on their level of visibility and mainstream acceptance. (Rachel Zoe's assistant "Brad" getting his own Bravo show does not signify that he is a brand; the "Millionaire Matchmaker" Patti Sanger has become one.)

A last point is that one should be careful to distinguish between branding, marketing, advertising and public relations as methods for developing an appropriate image. Branding is a long-term strategy in which one cultivates a certain appearance. Marketing is shorter-term and flexible depending on immediate need. Public relations involves obtaining credibility through trusted third parties. And of course advertising is what we're all familiar with - the "Mad Men" - like "campaign."

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

How Facebook Can Recover Its Brand: Partner With Microsoft To Make Business Social

Image: Screenshot of blog post by Garrett Smith for (blog), August 11, 2011, "The Microsoft-Skype Deal Was About Facebook The Whole Time." Apparently other people are thinking the same thing that I am: Combine them. Except they're missing one crucial element - use the combination to turn the workplace social.
This is going to be a short blog.

Wrong approach: Figure things out about people and put customized ads in front of them.

Right approach: Partner with Microsoft and get Facebook inside every business in America and around the world, as the internal collaborative social network. (Kill off, absorb, replace Sharepoint.)

The workplace is the great unexploited center of value and profit. It can be leveraged much more fully to bring employees together to generate ideas, work more closely on projects, and align corporate culture for greater productivity, engagement, stability - RESULTS.

Organizations are more willing than you might think to open up the floodgates of open conversation internally. The obstacle right now is that they don't understand the technology and they worry about security and controls.

But if Microsoft were to get involved then businesses would be reassured that the collaboration technology would be safe, secure, and trustworthy. As the old saying goes, "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM." (Except now it's Microsoft)

At the same time, Microsoft has lost its luster and is perceived as a clunky old fart of of a brand.

If Microsoft were to partner with Facebook to achieve serious business objectives, it could reinvent itself through the synergy and become cool again.

Microsoft and Facebook.

(And eventually Skype - not as a personal social accessory for cheap calls but as a way to videoconference the world.)

Together they could reinvent social, reinvent business, and take some dying, losing brands back up into the stratosphere.

Is anybody listening? Hope so.

Good luck!

Update 10:14 a.m. EST May 27: Just discovered this article on ZDnet describing the somewhat complicated relationship between Facebook, Microsoft and Skype. As well as this blog post regarding Microsoft's possible aims for Facebook and the idea that it's using Skype to get an "in" to the company. Am I the only person who sees the potential here to "invade" the workplace and make Facebook-for-work common? Perhaps the only thing missing is a brand name? Wait, here's an idea...acquire Yammer!