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Lulu's, A Branding Case Study

This is what you see on the outside.

But within, it all starts with the brand.

The message flashes across the cash register constantly - how do we do it?

  • Build the brand
  • Build relationships "one plate at a time."
  • ...and so on.

I've seen similar messages at McDonald's and The Post Office.

The technique of training employees to depict the brand is also mocked in Office Space, when a coworker at a fictitious quick-service-restaurant tells Jennifer Aniston to smile and "show her flare," i.e. the miles of pins that run up and down one's suspenders.

At Lulu's it really works.

When you deal with the waitresses the experience is exact and consistent. I know this because we've been going there for years, and there clearly is a formula. Friendly, but not overly so; bustling and efficient; and like you're one of some kind of family that you're returning to every time you eat.

We will only go to Lulu's, if we have a choice. We must return there. And we've actually gotten food poisoning!

Maybe it's for the pretty girls, the music and the drinks that people go. The company that owns the place also owns Hooters. They serve alcohol in tanks as big as fish bowls. And there's lots of tunes advertised as going on.

But I'm a wife and a feminist and I throw up when I drink and we never go for the music.

Lulu's is still "our place."

There is some kind of mystical, emotional experience here that only this restaurant provides.

If I had to put it in words, it's something like "G-d bless America" and "we're tough girls" and "regular food" that's greasy and rough and good.

We just left Lulu's a little while ago. 

Already, I want to go back.


Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photos by me.

It's The System, Not The Person

A few months ago I did a brave thing (for me) and finally registered to vote as a Libertarian.
It was a tough thing to do. For one thing Libertarians have a sort of crappy brand. For another they're a little weird. Thirdly they're not mainstream, and so they influence rather than win elections.
But I wanted to own my true beliefs publicly. And so I did, after reading the party principles. In essence they boil down to this: Free people, mostly left alone, will thrive and help each other naturally.
What stops people from being free? What makes them tend toward the evil rather than the naturally good?
As a sociologist, marketer, and organizational development specialist, I will always tell you that it is the group. Though Americans are not really skilled at seeing its properties. Though we want to believe so badly that it's a single individual gone mad that ruined things - the Hitler, the Stalin, the Saddam Hussein, and so on.
Americans have a psychological bent. And we're empiricists. We want to know which crazy person was beaten cruelly and wound up taking drugs, or being on drugs, that led them to go on a shooting spree.
But I see that bent as just another kind of bias - same as the economist who will tell you that poverty makes people kill, or the biologist who says their body chemicals are off.
So let's call the filter what it is - a lens - and stay with one of them for just a moment.
Very few people are actually bad. Sit with them; talk to them; most have a sympathetic point of view and a clear-eyed way of thinking. They may make choices that harm other people, but usually not out of any desire or choice.
The overwhelming majority of people, however, are situated within a complex array of circles and systems that leave them unable to act independently as they would wish. Most people are but peons, thrown about by rules they cannot comprehend, held back by invisible hands inscribed with racist, sexist, classist tattoos, normally invisible to their bearers.
And you see the evidence in ways you wouldn't recognize. How did a guy with a gun and a criminal record get next to the President? How did another jump the fence and run so far into the White House it might have been impossible to stop him from carrying out a deadly attack? What explains the confusing swirl of helplessness among leaders so brilliant, so dedicated, so self-sacrificing and so recognized as having the capacity to lead?
The answer is a prison we have built and hold people hostage to. It's called bureaucracy. And if we want our children to survive and thrive, we have to find ways to gently dismantle it where necessary.
Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo of Tim Burton's "Robot Boy" by Gal via Flickr.

The Future of Management: Intensely Personal

I treat my work with a raging passion: "What is this, the Boston Tea Party?"
You'd think so from the intensity with which I move puzzle pieces around. Hoping it will all fit faster, better, more impressively than any other machine ever made before.
The same goes for people I work with on a project. No, they're not my family family. But for the period of time I work with a person, they fit into a very specific kind of Google+ circle. For better or for worse they are my work family, and as such they deserve both interaction and trust.
I never believed in the old-fashioned organization model. Stone-faced cavemen versus other stone-faced cavemen, competing cryptically over weapons or words.
It's not a grand elaborate theory: I'm just not a gifted or sly politician. I never got the games that people play.
What I do know is equations, and that good ones lead to results.
Here are a few:
  • Vision + communication = engagement.
  • Engagement + empowerment = results.
  • Honesty + humor = results arrive faster.
Engagement is how you sell things to people.
It's how you make them want to do work that would otherwise be incredibly boring.
It's how you motivate an otherwise sane individual to stay up all night working on a project - because they want to support and even impress "their" team.
The traditional model of work is just the opposite. It's the legacy of the most basic sexism, really: Men attempting to edge each other off a cliff, in the process shielding all but the most incredibly necessary information.
We can't afford that nonsense anymore nowadays.
We've got no time to spare. Our work depends on quick-thinking mental responses.
If we don't work together in a really good way, we cannot get stuff done.
Women know how to adapt their emotions to the situation more deftly than men do. This is not because of biological difference necessarily - it's the legacy of how women have survived for millennia.
Unequal and dependent, we did not get into the wrestling ring and fight, raised fists, directly.
Rather, we competed in subtle ways for the attention, affection and protection of the fighters.
"Women's ways" are the term for a range of emotional skills aimed at eliciting trust, which leads to information.
It's only superficially about the way a person looks.
Fact is, anyone of any gender with any level of sex appeal can be extremely engaging.
The key is what's on the inside. A focus on the other person. The actual ability to erase one's own identity entirely for a time, and laser in on what they think and want.
Engagement is not the same as being a whore or a bootlicker. Anyone can show up, nod along, and do what they're told.
No. Skill is to read emotions of the other accurately, then telegraph back the exact response that will drive the behavior one is looking for.
There are fancy interdisciplinary terms for engagement. One could say it as though it were a course description:
"Readings for this class will encompass leadership, management, organizational development, employee communications, marketing and of course many branding and technology tools."
But at the end of the day it's about recognizing one simple principle.
People face an existential crisis every moment they breathe. We are spiritual beings forced to live in a human form for a time. Cut off from our ultimate source of connection - yes, that is the Divine.
Seeking solace we crave the like-minded companionship of others, particularly those who will help us achieve our true life's mission.
One should never confuse one's true loved ones with the job of engaging the customer. 
But at the same time one must understand that tech is a nearly worthless commodity, when compared with giving sustenance through emotional life support.
Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo by Daniel via Flickr.

The Zombie Effect

Sometimes I wonder why good people suffer so in organizational life. For example:
  • Messengers of doom are punished or ignored rather than rewarded. Computer glitches, safety lapses, ineffective leadership; employees who show every sign of endangering the workplace. All of these are routinely reported by attentive people, and frequently just as swiftly disregarded.
  • Strategic human capital professionals are laughed at or called superfluous as versus professionals who focus on operations. The modern workplace depends on human capital, in particular on leveraging diversity and inclusion. Yet in our most profitable industries, for example in technology, homogeneity is the norm. Certain "looks," cultural types, methods of thinking and sets of ideas are celebrated while others are treated as quizzical or odd. This, despite their potentially explosively profitable ideas and methodologies.
  • Innovators are barred from doing what they do best, which is innovating. Let's be honest; very few people are actually creative. When an organization is fortunate enough to happen upon one of them, the system beats them to death with demands they "prove" their ideas will work, with predictive analytics and fact sheets and test cases. And benchmarking of ideas that by definition are new and unparalleled.
The mystery is solved when I think of the show The Walking Dead. You know that one; it was America's #1 hit among adults 18-49 as of its season finale last spring. TWD is back next weekend, which is why it's all over media and magazines with promotions.
The plot in brief. A mysterious plague has taken over the world, and divided human beings into monsters and survivors (or, put another way, their potential victims). The drama surrounds how long a human being can last with the qualities of love and empathy, before killer instinct takes over purely. 
One of two things happens. Either their desire to survive prompts them to abandon all feeling for other human beings, or they get stomped and eaten by monster. Which turns them immediately into bloodsucking, flesh-eating fiends.
TWD is a show about real life, with an exaggerated plot that throws you off. The "disease" for most of us is hardship and pain, whether from external circumstances, difficult personalities, or our own unique forms of dis-ability.
To make matters worse, the system within which most individuals are situated is normally dysfunctional as well. Bureaucratic red tape, savvy political players, and those who know how to work the system, all combine to discourage the simple Jane or Joe.
That is, the person who thinks the way a kindergartner does. That happiness is the natural state. That it comes from singing, and sharing, and that we get a gold star when we listen to the teacher. We even understand it when bad behavior gets us sent to the corner with rebuke.
True, nobody is that naive anymore. We've all been knocked down in an alley somewhere at least once, if not many times. But there are many who still resist the "turning," who refuse to become what the worst of the system might want them to be.
Because to do that means losing anyway. And that is not worth all the "fresh, delicious flesh meat" in the world.
Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo via AMC TV.

Crowdsourcing Human Nature

I've been told often enough that I am a fool.
Believing, like Gilligan the gullible, that people are better than they really are.
I know that it's true. Social media killed me, and I am reborn.
Five years ago I started to blog in a serious way. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and assorted other social media outlets followed naturally.
What I learned, by interacting with people online instead of personally, is that humanity shows its best (and worst) face in the crowd.
Usually the former, if your face goes along with your name and the comment.
After a time I think my brain actually changed in response to life online. And digital engagement became almost more real than actual interaction.
Because I would rather believe that people are good, and the online world confirms that predisposition.
It's nice to live in a dreamworld. Here's hoping that humanity will make it real.
Disclaimer: This blog is written by Dannielle Blumenthal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the National Archives and Records Administration, or the United States government. Photo credit: David Jenkins via Flickr.