Wednesday, September 30, 2015

5 Brand Destroyers To Fire Today

Brand-Destroying Employees Are Like Barnacles Slowly Corroding Your Organizational "Ship"

Like barnacles corroding a ship, these people appear like benign growths on the edge of your organization, not really adding but not really taking away, either. The truth is, they’ll actively sink your boat in the water.

Think of them as the 5 A’s:
  1. Abusive: Usually covertly, subtly, and implicitly rather than explicitly, these people shrink and shred the self-worth of those they supervise, work with and work for, alike. They’re not just “crabby,” they’re downright sadistic and they get an orgasmic thrill from making other people feel like s**t. Delete them from your organization at once, and watch the morale of everybody else go up immediately and drastically. Nobody wants to work with, around or for a soul-murdering pig, much less build a brand with them. Fire them ASAP and you’ll literally hear the sounds of cheering in the hallways. Or the bathrooms. Or both.
  2. Angry: Some people are just always in a fury. It takes almost nothing, or even nothing, to set them off. The guy in front of them cut them off on the freeway driving to work, the cashier overcharged at Whole Foods, the state of Russia-U.S. relations, the candidate they don’t like who will “ruin the country,” even a piece of toilet paper stuck to the bottom of their shoe “because somebody else was too rude to pick it up when they left the bathroom.” Everything gets them hopping mad. No matter how seemingly brilliant or productive they are, hit the “delete” key when it comes to payroll. Brands are above all a figment of the imagination, and imagination cannot coexist with toxic rage.
  3. Adamant: “You’re right!” That’s the only answer where these employees are concerned. They know more, they’ve been there, they’ve got it all figured out, and you are clueless. Don’t get into it with them, because it’s an argument their entire self-esteem depends on. A brand requires evolution and adaptability in order to survive. Don’t bother.
  4. Apathetic: These people have just been in the organization for too long, or they’re just in it for the money, and it’s all the same to them. “Whatever, I don’t care, as long as I get paid,” is how they live their work lives, and they’re not ashamed to admit it. While it’s true that a thick skin is required to survive the frequent irrationality of any work environment, it is also true that a brand-building employee never loses hope. In challenging economic times, you cannot afford to have these people dragging you down.
  5. Ass-Kissers: This can be a tough one. After all, the sycophant seems like they’re doing the brand a favor by being supportive. But people know the difference between sincerity and a fake, normally back-stabbing career-climber. These individuals are really treacherous, even treasonous to the brand, not treasures at all. This is so because they will sell you, and your mother, and all that your mother holds dear, to the very highest bidder, even if it means taking the walls down with the transaction. It might hurt your ego a little bit to admit that you’ve hired badly, especially when the person likely presents so well. At the same time it’s a cruel world and the competition is unforgiving. So you must be both discerning and determined in your actions.
If you’re having trouble dealing with this advice, think of it this way: Everything can be copied, except your brand. Only it sets you apart from the rest.

So if someone isn’t doing your equity justice, you have a duty to everyone else.

Get rid of them.


All opinions are the author’s own. Photo credit: John-Paul Verkamp via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Sunday, September 27, 2015

G-d's Truth and Your Truth: Magen David Sephardic Congregation, N. Bethesda, MD (Shabbat, September 26, 2015)

שׁבעים פּנים לתורה

G-d's Truth and your truth. Both valid, both real.

Differing interpretations of Halacha as valid. 

Your job on this Earth is to find your way. 

A bigger job - to create inclusive spaces that allow for like-minded community. 

That's what I learned this week in Shul. 

An Understanding Of All Things Brand: The 10K Foot View

You have to understand that a brand is way beyond a logo now. You do understand that, because the Mad Men paradigm where we cook up Frankenstein in the lab and serve it up to you has been destroyed.
In its place is an open kitchen where you can see me cooking, and if I put sulfuric acid in the chocolate pudding you'll know right away, you'll Tweet it and Instagram it and my restaurant will close before the first menu ever gets printed.
If we begin with this "first principle" or common assumption then the rest of the major questions about branding, the tired debates we've been engaging in for more than a decade now, have been resolved.
And while scientific studies about which tactical approach are useful for marketing journals, it is the unresolved theoretical issues that have screwed the profession up badly. To the point where the word "branding" in some circles has become a kind of poison, a valid and critical discipline that cannot be uttered in name lest everybody in the room get kind of nauseous and walk out of the conference room, agreeing to disagree.
We can finally agree to agree (get ready for some upper-case shouting) that:
It is a product of the COLLECTIVE CONSCIOUSNESS that only has meaning insofar as we all agree to agree on what it means.
If you don't know what I'm talking about, then think about your top five Hollywood portrayals of romance. They aren't X-rated, nor NC-17, nor R. Frequently there is no sex in them! Maybe we see a passionate kiss. Do you want to know why? Because passion is created IN THE MIND. A moviemaker that has to resort to porn is like a host that serves you Twinkies for dinner and thinks your sugar high is an appreciation for the quality of the cuisine.
Brands are in the mind. So for the logo to work (it's not "logo or operations," it's both), the logo has to evoke something. When I see the American flag I feel all sorts of emotions welling up in me. Pride. Gratitude. Anger at the sins committed in the name of patriotism. Oneness with other Americans. Freedom. Love.
The American flag is a great brand, but it's not a great brand because someone had a good idea to put red, white and blue together with stars and stripes. It's a great brand because of action on the ground, the discussion of that action and the ensuing collective belief that what we have is something worth fighting for.
I don't advocate for using other words to replace the correct one. Your brand is your brand. It is a verb (the act of branding) and a noun (your ensuing image in the collective consciousness). Your brand is associated with your reputation, but your reputation does not encompass all of the factors that go into the brand.
You can't reduce your brand to a set of activities nor do the collection of activities you do create the brand in and of themselves. Your brand is intentionally built by advertising, marketing, communications, PR, social media, sales, customer service, knowledge management, collaboration tools, internal communications, HR, training, organizational development, IT, and even facilities. Every person associated with your company, and every structure and process you've set up to represent you, represents your brand.
You can't control the brand. You can partially engineer it. The way you do that is by having a sense of the process by which brands are built. Roughly, loosely, based on the lived experience I've had in my professional life, these are the stages. The sequence of events may differ or overlap.
  1. Recognition - the brand becomes "a problem" or "an issue" or "something we need to deal with."
  2. Research - formal or informal, paid or unpaid, short-term or long-term, qualitative or quantitative, based on experience and "gut feel," conversations and anecdotal feedback over time. Some form of data collection.
  3. Discussion - there is a conversation or a series of conversations about what to do about "the problem."
  4. Decision - someone takes action, either formally and with the blessing of others involved or informally and working around them. They move to implementation and the implementation affects other decisions, conversations, research and perhaps generates additional recognition that "something needs to be done."
  5. Implementation - this is the normal range of brand implementation activities, the ones you think of when you think of classic Madison Avenue branding.
  6. Revision - these are the things you do when your brand begins to be the subject of the news media, social media, stakeholder discussion, etc. Or when others start to copy it.
  7. Co-creation - these are the range of activities associated with enabling your stakeholders/audience to involve themselves in the evolution of your brand.
This model is about to be upended.
Why? You only have a very short period of time within which you "control" your branding efforts.
It is as if your brand is a child. In the olden days of branding you could hold the child within your grasp practically forever, and only "unleash," release or leak the parts you wanted to, to gain the equity you needed while also revitalizing and rebranding so that you could outrun the competition.
Like Madonna. She is the quintessential model of "old branding," and to an extent that model remains. It is impossible for anyone to copy her, because she's...Madonna.
In the new days of branding, you basically have six weeks of maternity leave to give the infant some basic milk and cuddling. After that, if it has any value, the world descends on it and everybody wants a piece.
Bill Cosby's brand was once like Madonna's and it is now destroyed, because we know why. It's not about a trial in a court of law, it is about the impact of social media and the news media and the women who have come forward to say that he is not what he presented himself to be.
As the technical subject matter expert on branding what you want to do is be in front of the up-ended model we now face. You want to establish that you are in fact, so to speak, pregnant with a very valuable baby and you want to sell that kid very well before it ever sees daylight. Celebrities know this well and that's why they market the hell out of their kids while they are still, literally, infants.
Then you shorten the cycle time on 1-6, because you have to go out with something and iterate.
You involve the public in #7, co-creating, much earlier rather than later - you don't wait until you've marketed something for them to react and "help."
If Starbucks were to use co-creation I can assure you they would stop showing a display of dead pastries basically ASAP, as it really ruins the quality image of the rest of the organization.
Waze, the travel app is the epitome of the co-created brand. I love this little app and if I had money to invest, I would invest the kitchen sink in this thing. Useful, social, nobody is falsely engineering it, and it actually helps people. It has an identity over and above that, but the identity is very close to a meaning we all, literally, create.
I am a "Wazer" now.
Think about your role as a formal or informal communicator. What brand are you building? How are you involving other people? How are you taking in feedback? How are you turning that feedback into activity that changes the way the brand displays itself? Is there a core set of values, beliefs, mission requirements that cannot change regardless of the feedback you get?
These are the things you need to be thinking about. And because brand-building is resource-intensive, it's critical to leverage all available resources who can help. You don't have to be a technical expert, but you do have to understand what you're doing, and be able to explain it to others.
All opinions my own. Photo by Chris Goldberg via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Show Me Your Family & I’ll Show You Your Brand

Show me who your family is, I’ll read your tea leaves in an instant.
That’s Grandma & Grandpa, on my mother’s side, Murray and Muriel Garfinkel, may they rest in peace. Lived in the countryside, up in Monticello, New York – “the Catskills.”
Remember Dirty Dancing?  Those Catskills, except mine was a little later than the movie.
My Monticello was: Passover with the whole extended family and “my aunt the feminist,” driving past Grossinger’s and the Homowack on the way to Camp Tagola, heading out to Woodbourne on a Saturday night in an overloaded station wagon with an underage driver, trying not to get killed; Joe Rota’s candy store and atomic fireballs on Main Street, walking to the courthouse on Shabbos. Three-hour walks down unmarked country roads, and looking at the daffodils.
Grandma and Grandpa watching TV upstairs on Yom Tov, but not Shabbos, because they knew what was and wasn’t allowed. All fifteen of us getting under the covers and watching Days of Our Lives together, NBC-4, exactly at 1:00.
Scrambling around the shul at the end of the street, peering out the stained glass windows. My Grandpa standing at the bimah.
Sitting next to Grandma & Grandpa, “Mur & Mur,” my aunt Sari, who raised me from the time I was born. Sari teaching me how to put on makeup, and wash my face (yes, in that order…we don’t remove our makeup except for brief periods of about 5 seconds or less.) Sari with her holistic health books and art easels and a gigantic mug full of ice cream on a Saturday evening, just as Shabbos was about to end, talking to me about the meaning of life.
Sari prepping me for my second date with my husband Andy, and peering out the window shades and gasping, “Wow! He’s cute!”
“He’s also taken,” I remember saying with a laugh.
My uncle Abie, standing behind my aunt, on the rock. Looking straight at the camera, never afraid, never one to back down from doing what is right. Abie the caretaker of my Grandma & Grandpa, Abie the med student, Abie who couldn’t stand girls who were fat, short, complacent, and dumb.
Abie, a man of few words but strong principles.
On Grandpa’s lap, my uncle Chaim, pretty much a fixture in my house with me and my mom and dad when I was a kid. More like a brother than an uncle, who told stories about getting mugged in New York City (“always have a $20”). A cheerleader for basically whatever crackpot idea I would come up with; a permanent fixture at my endless parade of speeches, musical plays, piano recitals, and whatever other cockeyed dreams of fame and fortune I’d be working on whatever day.
Next to Sari and Abie, my parents, Debbie and Alex Stroli. My dad always with a dream, a plan, a Big Idea certain to make us millions or at least make our network about a thousand times bigger. Famous for selling the Hollywood Cookie Diet, “just one delicious cookie three times a day.” My mom a devotee of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, about which I always thought, “so what they’re not Jewish, they give a great speech,” as I watched Tammy Faye cry weekly for the TV. My mom the fan of Dr. David Visconti, the self-help guru, Phil Donahue, Oprah Winfrey and all things related to writing and creative growth.
My dad the ex-hasid who was really a trucker, who drove overnight to take us to Canada to visit Bubbie and Zayde, may they rest in peace. Who took me into truck stops at 3:00 a.m., and bought me little light-up trucks which endlessly delighted me. Who had a collection of irrelevant promotional mugs, that were relevant to me because promotion.
Maybe you make your own way in this world, who knows?
I say you never really leave your family behind.
What does your family say about you?
All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Remembering Another Yom Kippur War

I was 8 years old and don't remember all of it.

It started when the front door opened. It was just after Yom Kippur had ended. My father had been in synagogue all day and my mother had been fasting.

"Where's the Havdala wine, please?"

He said this to my mother not so much as a question but as an imperative. Wore a tall black hat in the traditional felt style. His shoes were perfectly shined as always. A suit severe and gray.

"I don't know where the Havdala wine is," said my mother.

"We need the Havdala wine," said my father.

What led to the next thing that happened, I don't know. But it is permanently engraved in my mind. It was like my mother just completely lost her shit, all at once, no warning. It was very scary.

"You want the Havdala wine?"

Her voice was elevating slightly. I could hear her rummaging around the kitchen cabinets.

Know that I love my mother and father very much. But my mother, to me, is like my life.

I did not know what pain she felt in that minute, but I could feel it in a very surgical way. As if someone, G-d forbid, was cutting my arm off at the bone.


Now she was screaming.

I don't know why exactly she got so upset. To this day I don't know why. My father was literally just standing there, open-mouthed.

Looking back on it, I would surmise the following. We lived in Monsey, which was repressive and horrible for anyone who did not really love fundamentalist authoritarianism. And my parents persistently broke fundamentalist rules, beginning with the confusing union of a Hasid and a Litvak.

When I went to school in Monsey that year I developed a terrible tic and a stutter because we had just moved in from Ohio. And they made fun of my accent like crazy.

So my mother, I think, had had enough. And she was hungry, and tired and fed up well beyond her limits.

I wanted to cry for her, and looking back I want to cry for my dad, too. They both tried so hard to fit in and do the right thing and for the lack of love they got in return, it was basically all for nothing.

* * * 

In my mind I am imagining where I was while the action was going on. I have to confess I am a bit dramatic, and my mind turns toward the scene of the crime rather than running away.

I believe it was the back of the kitchen.

We had a two-bedroom apartment in Spring Valley, which is a part of Monsey very close to the religious school. We lived pretty well from a financial standpoint, although it always felt like we were struggling.

Beyond the entryway of the kitchen there was the dining room. It was full, stacked with heavy oak furniture that my grandparents (a"h) in Toronto had given us as a present. Or maybe as a hand-me-down.

I would have killed to have furniture like that today. Easily it was worth tens of thousands of dollars. You cannot even imagine the quality of this wood.

But I know that my mother hated it. She hated the heavy, suffocating feel of the furniture in the room. How the wood sprawled out and took over and crept up the walls.

The shelves and shelves of Hebrew books, holy books, books that stopped us from living a normal American life, just as people.

So she chose that night to call out to the Heavens for redemption.


* * * 

The table was topped with a thick layer of glass, as I recall; did I mention that? In my mind when I remember this incident I remember it so vividly.

I remember I stood behind my mother, this short, squat and physically powerful woman, who was also so fragile and weak.

I was and am behind her. I stand behind her suffering physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I stand with her and around her. She is my cause, my endless cause in life.

What she went through was not about her, or my father, but something more fundamentally evil. And as I grow older I know exactly what it is, I know it more and more clearly, even as I cannot yet give it a specific name.


(We were not wine drinkers, so we called the big jugs of Kedem Grape Juice "wine.")

...and it then it came smashing down. Or should I say, more specifically, my mother brought it down, she smashed it down, smashed that wine down on the table as hard and as fast as she could.

I don't know where my sister was. I remember only the shattering glass. The look of that glass, in slow-motion. The sound of it, as it shattered in little pieces, everywhere. Everywhere around me was shattering and my home was shattering too.

I remember that my father always kept his composure. I don't remember what he said to her after that. I could see that he loved her very much, and that she was so, deeply, unhappy.

When someone tells me that it's time to repent because of Yom Kippur, I always think of this story from my past. I think to myself, that the things we really do bad are the things we do to each other in the name of honoring G-d. And what a sacrilege that is in the process.

All opinions are my own and not those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo source: I am sharing this photo as an affiliate of the site and earn a small percentage of sales generated through clicks on the link.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Predicting 2016 With Brand Power

To determine the strength of a brand, the global research firm Millward Brown surveys customers regarding three criteria. (Their terminology is in quotes.):
  1. Unique: How “different” is the brand as versus competitors?
  2. Relevant: How “meaningful” is it to the customer? Do they intellectually believe it’s the better product? Are they emotionally attached?
  3. Top of mind: How “salient” is it to the customer when they’re ready to buy? Is it the brand the customer most readily thinks of?
All other things being equal, I was curious to see how the candidates would stack up if this formula were applied to Election 2016.
So I used the following methodology to pick a winner:
  • Winnowed down the list to the most likely candidates on both the Republican and the Democratic tickets, using my own common sense.
  • Pulled names and photos via Ron Gunzberger’s non-partisan website, Politics. These are listed below.
  • Summarized my impression of their brand performance on each of the “Brand Power” criteria.
  • Gave each point an equivalent value of 1.
  • Tallied up the points to arrive at a likely winner.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a Libertarian. But I did try to be objective.
Think about how much time and money could be saved if we applied a brand filter to all projects before we embarked on them.
The details of this analysis appear below.


Jeb Bush
  • Unique: 1
  • Relevant: 0
  • Top of Mind: 1
  • Comment: Unlikable; schoolmarmish. Would probably be a good President though. Has experience, has it in the family, seems objective, knows how to lead humbly. Plus I like the entire vibe of Florida. The Bush legacy works for and against.
  • Total Score: 2
Ben Carson
  • Unique: 1
  • Relevant: 1 
  • Top of Mind: 0 
  • Comment: Dr. Carson just seems like a nice, good guy. He is appealing from the perspective of diversity and inclusion; we’ve had enough of the “good old boys’ club.” Seems to sort of have an idea of what to do. A little vague on the details. Pedantic. Not sure he would actually be a good President; more like a good idea than a likely reality.
  • Total Score: 2
Chris Christie
  • Unique: 1
  • Relevant: 0 
  • Top of Mind: 1
  • Comment: Unlikable from the photo, likable when he starts talking because he seems down-to-earth. Seems like he’s qualified, like he’ll roll up his sleeves and do the work, without watching the polls. Not an egotist, not an ideologue, but not a visionary, either; doesn’t generate a lot of attachment. In other words, second best, but not a bad choice.
  • Total Score: 2
Carly Fiorina
  • Unique: 1
  • Relevant: 0 
  • Top of Mind: 1 
  • Comment: There’s something about Carly Fiorina. Uniqueness because she’s a woman, and a conservative. She’s got presence, she’s got gravitas, she seems very smart. But she pisses me off, because HP. So I don’t think people will be attached to her. Just the opposite, I think she provokes a lot of anger, especially among men. I am not a man, and she pisses me off. I do think it was uncalled for when Donald Trump attacked her face. Really low of him to do that. Makes me want to defend her, but not to elect her.
  • Total Score: 2
Marco Rubio
  • Unique: 1
  • Relevant: 1 
  • Top of Mind: 1 
  • Comment: There’s something about Marco Rubio that I think a lot of people like. He’s a young, male, conservative Hispanic, which crosses boundaries and unites people. He provides an image of success and moderation. He seems like he speaks the truth of what he believes, and has traditional values. However, he is careful to take people’s feelings into account. Not someone I would have picked from the beginning, but mets all the criteria. The likely front-runner on the Republican side.
  • Total Score: 3
Donald Trump
  • Unique: 1
  • Relevant: 1 
  • Top of Mind: 0 
  • Comment: The problem with Trump is everything we already know. He’s a real character, he’s telegenic, he’s honest about what he thinks, and is very smart, obviously. But running businesses into the ground and then claiming success only works in the private sector. Trump would be horrible as a President. The media would tear him apart, half the public hates him, and he would find the day-to-day work of actually being President extremely annoying. A conversation piece now, but likely not the front-runner.
  • Total Score: 2
Likely Republican Front-Runner: Marco Rubio


Joe Biden
  • Unique: 1
  • Relevant: 1 
  • Top of Mind: 1 
  • Comment: Biden is not officially running yet, but if he were, he’d have the love of the people. He served loyally under President Obama for eight years, which is something; it has been obvious on a number of occasions that he disagreed with what the President was saying or doing. Biden is also a seasoned public servant and has demonstrated a commitment to government, and a knowledge of its workings, that few others have. He seems to have integrity, and human decency. And he has a lot of charisma; when Biden gets on TV his presence lights up the camera. He is the likely Democratic front-runner.
  • Total Score: 3
Hillary Clinton
  • Unique: 1
  • Relevant: 0 
  • Top of Mind: 1 
  • Comment: The problem with Hillary, who would quite frankly be a feminist dream candidate, is that she seems to actually hate people. That famous picture of her looking at her smartphone pretty much summarizes her entire personality: She likes ideas and has vision, but doesn’t like the actual work of interacting with people. Plus she totally screwed around with everything relating to actual rules. No credibility to enforce the law. A real shame and a pity. Because I would like to see a woman become President of the United States.
  • Total Score: 2
Bernie Sanders
  • Unique: 1
  • Relevant: 1 
  • Top of Mind: 0 
  • Comment: The problem with Bernie Sanders is that he looks like he is very elderly. I would worry about him G-d forbid passing away while in office; I don’t want to elect a President with the Vice-President taking over in mind (the Sarah Palin problem). Also he is an extreme leftist and enough of that. Seems like a nice guy with real integrity though – a mensch. Also a shame – he has a lot of positive qualities that are obvious to anyone who stops to pay attention.
  • Total Score: 2
Likely Democratic Front-Runner: Joe Biden


Marco Rubio vs. Joe Biden: How Do They Stack Up?
So now we are comparing one to the other, and not looking at them as individuals.
  • Unique: Rubio 1, Biden 0
  • Relevant: Both get a 1 
  • Top of Mind: Both get a 1 
  • Comment: People will feel attached to Rubio and Biden for different reasons. And they’ll think of each of them “naturally” as President as well. But at the end of the day, Rubio is different and Biden is same-old same-old. So Rubio wins the election.
Likely Next President of the United States: Marco Rubio
All opinions are my own and not those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Chart source: Millward Brown.  Candidate photos via Politics1.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Leadership, Vision & Your Personal Brand Architecture

Hard to believe but it's been 18 years since Tom Peters wrote "The Brand Called You," first published in Fast Company, August 1997. Who can forget his call to action:
"To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You. It's that simple — and that hard. And that inescapable."
As a young sociologist trained in labeling theory, I understood instinctively that in the end you are what the world labels you.

It wasn't a far cry from the messages I'd gotten in school, and in synagogue: Preserve your good reputation above all else.

But there was something else, that Peters didn't articulate. I felt it in my bones, but didn't have words for it in marketing terms. Sociologists call it role conflict: the problem that arises when one part you play on the stage of life clashes with the others.

I personally felt role conflict all the time, especially after I got married. I felt:
  • Squashed into the little-girl image that my parents had of me.
  • Mushed into the role of a religious "young married" as envisioned in my world.
  • Crammed into the stereotype of a hippie sociology grad student in a secular school.
  • Ignored by a workplace that divided women-as-mothers into "staying at home and not working (!)" and "career mom with a nanny or daycare."
  • Invisible in the alternative economy of freelancers and telecommuters, whose virtual work was unreal to the vast majority of people.
  • Misplaced in a government job where one literally lived and died by the system, the forms and one's various ID numbers.
After studying organizational development and brand architecture for a bit, and after being exposed to enterprise architecture through my husband, my perspective mellowed and matured as I realized that the "problem" was not just in my head. It was real.

To address it, I needed to develop my own personal brand, and update it all the time. At first nobody knew what I was doing, much less what I was talking about. The closest they could come was "self-promotional," and "Why are you in the Google search results unless you're blogging all the time?"

The relief came in building up a narrative that made sense to me, and then in filtering my own work activities through that lens: brand specialist.

And then LinkedIn happened, and the ease of personal domain-building. Even my interns have personal websites to serve as resumes.

At work, brand architecture became more and more of a focus. Because role conflict in one's personal life is the same kind of conflict that takes place in a company, when there are pieces and parts that do not fit, but which are mashed together without much conversation.

It is the skilled brand architect who acts as a kind of organizational development specialist, helping to pick apart the different parts of the culture that play unique and important roles, naming those parts, and putting them back together again in a way that makes sense to all the players.

Thus in a company context we talk about the "house of brands," the "branded house," "brand endorsements," and so on. These are not just labels for products, but for the way the different parts of the organization interact.

People's personal lives are just as messy as organizational ones. But in one's personal life we rarely talk about brand architecture at all. In fact I don't think I've ever heard anybody use the latter term to describe how a person organizes their life with clarity.

And so what we need to do now is talk not just about personal branding, but also personal brand architecture as an intentional activity.

We sometimes talk about "personal mission statements," but this is different. This is the decision to label the different parts of one's life in very clear terms, decide which ones will be subsumed to the others and which will stand apart, and intentionally craft the story that ties all the pieces and parts together.

It is an act of leadership to take charge of one's life, much as it is laudable to decide how you want your personal brand to appear. Too many people just let life fall back on them.

To develop one's personal brand architecture also requires vision. "What do you want on your tombstone?" was a catchy tagline for Tombstone Pizza.

When you look back on the landscape of your life, what will the unique elements be? How will you explain them? How will somebody else write your obituary? As a worker - as a partner - as a parent - as a friend?

Maybe these are depressing things to ponder. But they are inescapably necessary, and even empowering.

Think of your personal brand architecture as an elevator speech in development.

If you had to fit not just a tagline but also a diagram on the back of a 1 x 2 business card - what would it say?
Copyright 2015 by Dannielle Blumenthal. All rights reserved. Photo credit: barnyz via Flickr (Creative Commons). All opinions my own.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Show of Jewish Unity 10 Years In The Making

Today is Tisha B'Av, a holiday of Jewish mourning for the destruction of our two holy Temples and many other terrible events that happened on this day.

We can never understand why bad things happen, particularly to good people. Nor should we, probably. Nevertheless on this day we traditionally focus on promoting Jewish unity.

We believe that pointless hatred is a principal cause of our destruction.

So it was fitting that the Beltway Va'ad sponsored a unity event aimed at bringing together Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Sephardic Jews. Here's the flier.

The event was held today at Beth Joshua Congregation, an Orthodox shul in Rockville, MD.

As soon as I parked the car I could feel the electric energy of the gathering. 

I snapped this photo of the attendees as they quickly and purposefully walked in. 

When I arrived, the room was filling up rapidly. We took our seats as Beth Joshua's Rabbi Uri Topolosky (pictured in the cover photo) greeted us. 

I sat in the back because I planned to leave early. Synagogue and classrooms are not my thing. But I heard rustling and turned around to see that dozens of extra chairs had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. 

The space in front of me got taken up, and so did the area on the right. 

The crowd was incredibly diverse.
  • Rabbi Adam Raskin from Har Shalom, whose education and learning experiences spanned multiple denominations, represented Conservative Judaism.
  • The Sephardic perspective was represented by Rabbi Ovadia, of Magen David Sephardic Synagogue.
There were shaitels on my left, tichels on my right, hats in front of me and other women did not cover their hair at all. For the first time ever, THERE WAS NO JUDGMENT OR PROSELYTIZING.

Hip hip hooray.

Here is Rabbi Ovadia. He talked about Sephardic philosophy, and explained why, unlike Ashkenazic Jewry, it has no denominations.

The main points were as follows. Some of this is me paraphrasing:
  • There is no such thing as a secular Jew. Some of us keep some of the commandments, others keep others. 
  • One manages a challenging external culture by appropriating desirable aspects while discarding the undesirable ones - versus retreating or becoming insular.
  • It is unacceptable to tell people that they must conform or leave the community. We focus on finding a practical solution that is livable as well.
  • Just as we move forward in every other field, e.g. science and technology, culture progresses also and "we cannot go back."

Rabbi Ovadia gave the example of married women covering their hair, citing the Otzar HaMikhtavim Vol 3:1884 (1954). A woman wanted to stop doing so, and was given rabbinic disposition based on its halachic status as a minhag, a custom based on cultural norms around modesty. Those norms had changed and uncovered hair was no longer considered immodest.

"if covering hair is the only thing that shows you're religious - that's hypocrisy."

After Rabbi Ovadia spoke, Rabbi Herzfeld introduced the panel. He said, again paraphrasing, that unity across denominations was not his experience in yeshiva. However, he learned this value later on while in school in Israel. "Over time I became fairly passionate about pluralism," he said.

He recalled visiting the church in Charleston, SC where 9 people were murdered in cold blood, by a visitor they'd let in unquestioningly. He noted that they'd done the same thing for him and Rabbi Avi Weiss, also no questions asked, and no security. But would he do the same thing if he were them? 

Rabbi Herzfeld said he felt ashamed to admit that he wasn't sure.

The panel of rabbis spoke movingly about their backgrounds and individual approaches to pluralism. Although this blog might start to feel unending if I recounted each word in detail, a couple of points are worth mentioning:
  • Rabbi Shankman talked about her background in the Reform community. (I found her a compelling speaker and apologize that technical difficulties with my iPhone prevented me from taking proper notes, so I won't pretend to represent the depth of what she said here. If anyone has notes on this, please send them to me and I'll update this.) 
  • Rabbi Raskin talked about his incredibly all-over-the-map pluralistic upbringing. He noted that when we see a large group of Jews, we say the blessing over G-d's mysteries, because G-d created every Jew as an individual with a unique set of qualities to contribute to the group, and to the world. We honor that uniqueness even as we don't always understand it.
  • Rabbi Antine said there is more that unites us than divides us, and noted that he'd never seen a pluralistic event held at an Orthodox synagogue in the ten years he'd been serving in the D.C. area (maybe ever - that's what it sounded like to me.) He further said that the "competition," if it exists at all, is not between the various denominations within Judaism, but rather between Judaism itself and the lure of the mall - or of nothing, apathy.
The clock struck 3:45 and I realized that if I was going to beat the rush, I'd have to leave right then - although unusually for me, I didn't want to.

As I walked through the hallways where my children had attended school - the building is attached to Beth Joshua - I felt really sad. In fact I started to cry, a loud and terrible cry, as I thought of the missed opportunities to connect more.

In my heart I could feel that there were other broken hearts at the shul today. 

Let's hope our cracked vessels form an opening into which the light can shine in.

We need to replace all the old and accumulated hatred with that light.


All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photos by me.

Deconstructing What Is Easily The Best Marketing Pitch Ever

Understand that I am possibly the cheapest person on the planet when it comes to buying makeup. I will cruise past the entire CVS to get a lipstick marked $1.99, because really, who's going to see the label once the stuff is on your face?
A fan letter I stumbled across in a blog post turned that icy resolve into hot steam. It's very likely I'm going to buckle and spend the $75 asking price for Stowaway Cosmetics' mini-kit.
Consider the staggering implications of this.
I am "devoted" to spending no more than necessary on certain things. And a dirt-cheap concealer, red lipstick and mascara will cost me $15 at the drugstore. (That's just the cost to throw out whatever junk has accumulated in my purse.)

This pitch convinced me to spend $75 --> 5x more.

There must be a formula behind such marketing magic.

Let's deconstruct some of its major elements. Again, here's a link to the original post if you want to read the whole thing first.
Jamie Beck, the writer and photographer, collaborates with her husband Kevin Burg on their blog Anne Street Studio together. 

1. The visuals are wow.

The cover photo on this post is the reason I was drawn to read the blog post. The content is full of similarly stunning shots. Of course, we all want to look like that.
The blog is mainly photo-based and the images do the work of a salesperson. According to the writer, it's not a Photoshop job, either. 
I love the name "Stowaway," too. I like it on an unconscious level. Maybe it's about stowing the makeup in my purse, literally, because the size of the package is intentionally small. But I don't really care.
"Stowaway" brings to mind a really positive mental image of myself, maybe on a boat, hiding in the galley somewhere, hitching a ride to some faraway exciting place.
The photography, the name, the whole look of the blog it's set in like a frame - sophisticated, modern and classy.
When I see this blog post, I see me the way I want to be.

2. The endorsement is voluntary and from a cool person.

"I was not paid for this post, I am 100% in love with Stowaway."
I like that the author just wanted to do this.
I like that she says things I didn't know, like "IRL," which stands for "in real life," whooaaaa. As in:
Since we are being super honest here I opted to NOT beauty retouch Chesla’s skin into some sort of idea of beauty industry perfection so you can see the real product in action, the way we actually look IRL." 
I like how she is friends with the founder of the makeup company, who - as we learn in the post - is associated with brand name cosmetics herself.
I like that she used the phrase "some sort of idea of beauty industry perfection," too. It brings to mind the idea that this makeup defies gender norms.
I feel really good from reading all of this, and I suspect I will feel equally good from buying this stuff.
That's great marketing.

3. The blog post made the product look easy to use. 

I have always been amazed by women who know how to use makeup. It just seems like a very complicated deal. 
Maybe they're mystifying it so they can feel good about this skill, or charge money for their abilities. But there are so many brushes! And sponges! And wedges! And a bewildering array of products for every single thing having to do with one's appearance.
Makeup as a sport just never seemed really winnable to me. 
Have you ever visited a cosmetics counter and had a makeover "just for fun?" I have. I'll be the first to admit that I have screwed with countless makeup ladies, who no doubt see me coming with some kind of instinct known only to those who can sort the profitable humans from the unprofitable ones, and now they warn me away with a kind of supra-conscious glare if I so much as turn their way at Macy's.
But here's the thing. Each and every time, forty-five minutes and $250 worth of product later, the results are good but the techniques they describe are both expensive and un-repeatable.
Invariably it will go something like this. They concentrate very, very hard and I am supposed to sit there and keep quiet. Then they pull out the mirror and I go "Wow."
"It's easy," they'll then say, as if on cue. "Here's how you do a smoky eye."
Which prompts me to think the following, basically all of this exactly at once, simultaneously, yes I can think a lot of things at the same time:
  • "Andy (my husband) is going to say, 'You spent what?'"
  • "It is a sin to spend forty-five dollars on foundation."
  • "I will never remember this."
  • "This is not how I actually look."
  • "I still can't find that quarter I dropped in the car."
What I loved about this blog post was that I could see how, in pictures, you'd go from looking shitty and raw to looking great in five minutes or less.
With just a couple of small and easily manageable products. 

4. The model is the founder of the makeup company.

What this tells me is that the founder of the makeup company is confident enough about her product that she is staking her entire personal and professional brand on advertising it.
This also tells me that they're doing some pretty forward marketing here, i.e. using social media to get the word out, collaborating on a pretty sophisticated-looking blog post, and so their audience is going to be sophisticated as well.
I like the idea of being associated with this whole "thing," whatever you'd call it.
Again, genius marketing.

5. The value proposition picks up on themes that have been percolating somewhere in my consciousness.

For a long time I subscribed to an online health newsletter that contained warnings about the garbage they put in makeup. I never took those warnings too seriously, but others turned out to be accurate - such as the one about keeping cellphones away from your head.
Then I saw on Keeping Up With The Kardashians that Kourtney won't let anything artificial near her body. I know your personal opinion about the whole "K" brand is probably bubbling up right about now, but the point is that for me her focus on "nothing artificial" really resonates.
And then in the blog I read that the makeup is beyond "natural," in fact natural is such a stupid word to use, as I've always thought, because lots of bad and unhealthy things are natural.
No - the makeup is so carefully made with such good-for-you things, and it's even got an expiration date. I loved the connection the author drew between that and spoiled milk. 
"Would you drink expired milk? I don’t think so, so why is it ok to smear expired makeup on our skin?"
So sensory that sentence is. I can smell it. I can see it. I can almost taste the horror of that spoiled stuff.
I also like how she uses the words "why is it ok," as if to say, "we are worth more," or "we deserve better" than the typical makeup product. 
Does my cheapo tube of lipstick even have an expiration date on it?
Do I even know what is in the tube?
Seriously, I have no idea.
All in all, this was such a great post from a marketing perspective.
It's also a superior example of marketing, specifically, as opposed to someone intentionally "building a brand."
So how would you repeat this? Here are some practical tips:
  • Obviously, get other people to write about your stuff. What you say means very little to the user. So network with people who might want to write about your stuff. And of course, make sure photos of your product, and verifiable information, are readily available.
  • Speak only to your user. This post is brilliant marketing because it appeals to a very specific demographic. Show the copy to your demographic for feedback - not to the whole world.
  • Write as though you're talking. Now more than ever, with all the lies and scandal we're exposed to every day, people are sick and tired of bullshit. That includes artificial-sounding language. Generate language that sounds like someone off-mic, not in front of a curtain. I personally think profanity is okay, in limited doses.
  • Make social media your #1 marketing tool. We live in social, we run from ads. How you do that is up to you, but interactive platforms should never be reduced to an afterthought.
Sometimes people ask me how I can be so fascinated with marketing. It's all been done before, they say. There's nothing new under the sun.
I say nothing could be further from the truth. Just by watching my RSS feeds, I see a million different topics worth exploring. Each could be a dissertation.
If you want to get good at making people want things, don't let the sand slip from within your fingers. Pay attention to stuff, and consider the implications of what you see very carefully.

All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo by Jamie Beck, Anne Street Studio.

3 Ways To Stop Sexism Now

If I were a man in the modern workplace, I would be confused about how to treat my female colleagues.

I would want to treat them politely, just the same as everybody else. But sometimes being polite can also be perceived as sexist, overly personal or condescending. For example:
  • I wouldn't know if I should hold open the door for them, or let them walk in through a doorway first.
  • I wouldn't know if I should ask them about their families and kids.
  • I wouldn't know if I should offer them help or not with a work assignment.
The list of confusing situations goes on and on. Can one make a joke? Can one ask a female colleague to do something, if they are not a subordinate? Can one mentor a female subordinate, without that being perceived the wrong way?
The first thing to know is the Platinum Rule: Treat others as they want to be treated.
But of course if things were all that simple, we wouldn't need a whole bunch of specific rules, right?
Let's face it, complication is a part of the picture, because we are all human. Misunderstanding comes with the territory.
  • Most of us are set in our ways. It's tough to put oneself in somebody else's shoes, and then we're surprised when we don't understand one another.
  • We are controlled by our unconscious drives. We aren't aware of what we aren't aware of, which means that other people see us as we cannot even see ourselves.
  • We are shaped by culture and environment. Our parents, our friends, our teachers and our peers all influence how we think about things. The influence of culture is often so taken-for-granted as to be invisible.
  • It's genuinely difficult to understand the opposite sex. We will never, ever stop debating whether women and men think differently or not and once you add layers of class, race, religion and nationality into the picture, the complexity grows exponentially.
  • We are all very busy, and the busier and more stressed-out one is, the more rigid one's mind becomes. Anxiety actually makes the brain shut down and roll into defensive mode.
So I get it. But still, here are 3 fairly straightforward things I feel pretty confident about suggesting here, regardless of whether one is male or female.
Because we often forget: A woman can be sexist against other women. Men can be sexist against other men. A woman can be sexist against men, too.
Here are some things I personally keep in mind. I don't pretend to have invented them, nor to be a perfect practitioner.
But they are important. The big incentive is that they help you avoid unnecessary problems at work at a minimum. At a maximum they provide you with the strength and stability you need to achieve an executive-level position.
  • Know what things other people are likely to find offensive, and do not do them. You don't have to overthink this; just start by thinking about the other person as a person; know what things are typically not okay; and really stop to consider how they might feel before you act.
  • Don't take it personally when other people are offensive. Most likely it has nothing to do with you, and it is also possible that you are misreading them.
  • Calmly and clearly communicate to other people about behaviors you will and will not tolerate. Often people don't say anything, and then they expect the other person to magically know what is weighing on their mind. Also, choose your battles; if you frequently feel like there is a problem, that particular environment might not be worth your time.
Beyond this, what specific behaviors do I find sexist at work? Honestly I find that most people are pretty careful about this. But if there's anything that bugs me, it's condescension. For example, take my profession: Many think communication is somehow natural, automatically female, and not really a skill - especially when women do it. I think communication is pretty challenging!
What else? It's things that are so very subtle they escape ordinary notice. But when men talk to men, almost over the women's heads, I find that very annoying. Or when there is this assumption that women will somehow, again, automatically play the role of "office housewife," like making plans for group events, or bringing food or even cleaning up after we've eaten together, that just drives me up the wall.
I invite everyone join the conversation. What do you see as hidden sexism at work? What do you find confusing or unclear? What would you recommend as a way to make things fairer?
This topic can generate discomfort, I know. We've all seen other people at their best and worst. So here's a plea to be respectful. Your professional colleagues want to hear what you have to say.  
Photo by st. steele via Flickr (Creative Commons). All opinions are my own and not those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.