To Communicate Effectively, Begin With The Customer's Frame Of Reference

Two speakers, two topics, a different city than my own and a completely different type of culture than I have grown used to.

But their ideas were durable and resonant. They applied to my job, my program, my world.

More than that: The program I represent effectively answers some of the questions they raised. It offers a method of closing gaps in the system, gaps that they dwelled upon at length.

I found myself talking, not a lot but some. Explaining the connections between me and this place, this time.

And as I talked, I realized that the language I had available to me was applicable to my own frame of reference, that is to say - the world of science, the culture of Washington.

But these were people not of my world. I needed to get through to them.

And so I listened to the words that THEY used, and thought: There is a piece missing here. I'm doing things backwards.

Rather than explaining my world in my words, I need to explain their world to them using my frame of reference.

It was like somebody flipped on a gigantic light switch.

I further realized that it was not my job to push and sustain an outreach program of my own.

Rather, it is to ride the wave of momentum that ALREADY EXISTS out there. There is a huge natural flow of interest in disruptive innovation, in "Made In America," in bringing jobs home.

It isn't my job to think of new themes.

It is my job to LOOK AT WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING ALREADY. Speak to that, fold in with that, ride the wave of that.

In short, to surf.

And then I realized the very big thing, the thing that has been eluding me all along, nagging at me, tugging at my brain and I haven't had words for it.

The meaning of "social" is not, as many think, "a range of tools associated with interactive, self-powered digital communication."

Well, maybe it's partly that. But that's not all of it. That's just the means.

"Social" is really about a different paradigm for marketing.

Instead of building desire where none existed before - instead of creating false need - it's about clueing in to the needs that people are articulating ALL THE TIME.

Really looking at them and paying attention to that.

And it's not about "owning" a particular and separate space from all your competitors.

Rather it's about JOINING and RISING ABOVE the competitive set so that you become a trusted part of the community, a wanted purveyor of things, services and ideas.

It was an eye-opening experience to go to that event yesterday. My Tweets went through the roof.

And I think my brain exploded along with them.

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

The Top 10 Mistakes DC Women Make When It Comes To Fashion

Yes, that's me with my astounding "Washington, DC" neon-handwritten wallet bag. And headphones.

I make no pretense to be stylish as I age. Frankly it's getting worse every year. But if I've become somewhat slovenly, maybe even a bit of a shlep, I am pointing the finger straight at this policy-oriented city in which I've lived and worked pretty much my entire career.

And not to pick on the women, but really - we can do better than this! We can. 

They are laughing at us up in New York.

Here are our top 10 fashion sins of late. I freely admit to most of them. May we repent and be forgiven:

1. Yoga pants outside yoga class, where your physical fitness level does not justify the exposure.

2. Pumps with a skinny heels. Yes, I'm talking to the ladies who get off the train at Pentagon City.

3. Sweatjackets, because you've given up.

4. Infinity scarves on women younger than 70.

5. Leopard leopard everywhere and not a drop to drink.

6. Sandals and no pedicure. Sandals and ragged toenails. Sandals in winter with open toes. 

7. Matchy-matchy costume jewelry, earrings and necklace.

8. Black on top of black "because it makes me look thinner."

9. Blouses generally. They never look good. Who even says "blouse?" 

10. ...and my all-time favorite, rhinestone lanyards with your government ID.


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

Marketing A Conference - The Pitch That Worked

I've been to a lot of conferences over the years, as a speaker and as an attendee. I know a lot of people who go to them, I've talked about them as a "thing" (i.e. are they worthwhile or not) and I've been the subject of many marketing pitches to either cover them or attend.

To begin with, there are two schools of thought when it comes to conferences generally. 
  • Some people love them, and see all sorts of opportunity lurking nearby, what with all the networking and all. 
  • Others think they are a waste of time, suitable mainly for people who don't have jobs or who are trying to change out the lousy one they've got.
Let's zero in on those who "love" them or at least are open to attending. Because when you market a thing, you want to "go with the flow" (as Wayne Dyer would say) rather than fight the river. The latter gets you very little in return, versus leveraging a natural source of energy means you expend less effort and gain exponentially more reward.

Let's also take into account all the factors associated with conference marketing, with a focus on the subconscious drivers that people might prefer not to talk about. For a couple of reasons.
  • The subconscious drives behavior as much as, if not more than conscious or rational motivators. In particular, the less aware a person is of their subconscious drives, the more reliably you can tap into them as a source of motivation, because the subject is less able to confront and control their own desires.
  • Emotional motivators are a greater wellspring of brand equity because they're more difficult to duplicate than rational ones. E.g., you can get the same education from a website as from a liv conference, but the emotional experience is impossible to duplicate.
All that said, here's a roundup of the top reasons I think people choose to attend a conference:
  1. Status: They think it will make them look good to go there. E.g., this is an event where the "right" people go, people who have relevance in their professional world. Or, it's an "exclusive" event and they've been invited.
  2. Connections: Similar to status but not the same, they believe they will meet the "right" kind of people, who will then serve as a gateway to future opportunities.
  3. Sustenance: They think they will find a job or an opportunity to do business.
  4. Inspiration: They believe they will gain motivation to pursue their goals.
  5. Education: They see renowned, reputable, or qualified people on the roster and actually believe they will learn something.
  6. Vacation: They see it as a legitimate chance to get away, e.g. one that can be justified.
  7. Sex/Romance: They think they will find someone to partner with, albeit temporarily.
  8. Cost-Neutral: They don't experience the cost as an expense, because it's deductible, or the company pays, or it seems like a drop in the bucket compared with the potential returns, or the money simply doesn't matter; OR 
  9. Cost-Prohibitive: They believe the cost is so high that only a very few, very worthy people can attend, themselves among that group.
  10. Schedule-Neutral: They have the time, or believe they have the time to go.
If the above represents the total potential universe of key drivers, e.g. the factors that appeal to the target audience generally, there are going to be ones that appeal to particular subsets. We could characterize these as:
  1. Speakers who do their talk and then leave - influential, celebrity, high-powered types
  2. Speakers who also attend - moderately successful types (I would fall into this group)
  3. Attendees who prefer the audience role, though some may in the future be speakers
As a subset of the target audience, here are the particular factors that speak to me out of the "top 10" list above, in priority order and with some explanation:
  1. Status - attendance enhances my professional brand.
  2. Schedule-Neutral - unless it's absolutely essential, I don't travel overnight unless my husband and I are going together. 
  3. Cost-Neutral - as a government employee, it's extremely important to me that the cost be as low as possible, or free, because I am very mindful of the taxpayer's investment in my time. 
  4. Inspiration - Often I find presentations boring, but I am energized by the passion of the speaker, and it gives me the strength to manage my own professional challenges. 
  5. Education - There is always some gold within the drek, and it's normally worth my time to hear it directly and live.
  6. Sustenance  - promote my organization, do outreach on its behalf, either by presenting or by talking to people about it.
  7. Connections - I'm not the most extroverted person in a conference setting, but I do believe it's important to be around other people who are in the same "space" because it's the quality of your connections that matters, not only the quantity
A couple of recent pitches to attend came close to hitting the mark with me; one succeeded and the other did not. 

The one that was successful:
  1. Involved a personal invitation from someone I knew professionally for many years, someone involved in the professional branding space in a very forward-thinking way, someone who has the same thought-style as me. I knew that any event she organized would be the right one to attend.
  2. Was exclusive, and the invitation list was limited, and somewhat mysterious in terms of its agenda, which told me that the organizers were savvy and would not let me down in terms of the content.
  3. Was forward-leaning in terms of the workshop process, meaning highly interactive, a customized agenda, and small-group-oriented.
  4. Was offered to attendees at no charge (other than covering one's own travel) and I could fly in and out on the same day.
  5. Was beneficial to my organization in terms of being an audience I want to reach and whose interests align closely with what we're doing.
The one that was not successful involved an offer to live-blog the event in my personal capacity, and although the presenters didn't seem the most amazing in the world, the subject matter was sufficiently advanced and the organizer sufficiently forward-thinking that I seriously considered attending. However, it involved expensive flights, overnight travel and it was very far away.

I share all this to reflect back how involved conferences are from a marketing and organizational perspective. Events have huge potential for productive engagement and profit. It's worth it to hire the right person to do the job.

All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. No endorsement expressed or implied. Photo by Diana Robinson via Flickr.

Some books that really helped me understand branding

This is in response to a question on Quora. There are a lot more.
  • Brand Warfare by David D'Alessandro
  • Brand Hijack by Alex Wipperfurth
  • Brand Simple by Allen Adamson
  • The Cluetrain Manifesto by Rick Levine and Christopher Locke
  • Next: Trends for the Near Future by Marian Salzman
  • Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout
  • Eating The Big Fish by Adam Morgan
What would you add?

All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.

Design Is How We Interact With The World

We crave to be in a pizza place.

We hunger for THAT BAG.

We like people who know what bubble tea is.

We fall in love with our first car.

Design is how we know where we are, who we are, and who we want to be with.

Design is personal, but it is a unit of social currency as well.


All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. No endorsement expressed or implied. Photos by me.

5 Ways To Unravel A Sexist System

This weekend in synagogue an elderly gentleman introduced himself to my husband. 

After a lengthy discussion about their respective careers, after talking about his daughter who is apparently highly sought-after by potential employers in a technical field, after asking my younger daughter where she planned to go to college and what she planned to study, he turned to me. 

"Do you cook or do you microwave?" he asked, very sincerely and with a kindly smile.

How do you dismantle a sexist system so complex and multifaceted, within which some women enjoy far greater equality than others, within which some great strides have taken place, one so interwoven with racism and classism that the knot seems almost inextricable?

And how do you define a "feminist movement" now, anyway? I for one don't want to be leading that synagogue service; it's quite fine by me that the role has been left to the men. But at the same time, I know there are women who do want to lead a service and who have become rabbis.

Last year, for a "women in history" class, my younger daughter interviewed my mother about her perceptions of gender roles and sexism.

Taped my mother saying, "I never knew what feminism was until your mother [meaning me] started talking about it in high school."

Continuing on, "In my household there was no such thing. Everyone just did their job."

"But who made the decisions?" asked my daughter.

"Well the men did, of course," said my mom. "Of course."

And then there's dead silence.

So sexism does exist, despite the empowerment of some women in some quarters and at some times and places in our world and throughout history. 

Frankly, so does reverse sexism against men.

The way you take down an unfair, unequal system is to attack it from all sides. As a sociologist I'm going to give you five of the secrets:

1. Remove its support beams:  This refers to taking down the interlocking aspects of the system. Very often sexism, classism, racism, etc. go together. You attack an entire problem by addressing its component parts all at the same time.

2. Make the system visible to itself: This means making our assumptions clear so that they become open for debate - often forcing the ugliness of dysfunction to the surface. For example: really examining the things people say in conversation, through video and audiotape, when they think nobody's looking. Looking at that and asking whether we really think these kinds of things are OK.

3. Institutionalize an alternative vision: This means tangibly manifesting equality - such as visible diversity in leadership roles at work, in the political system, in the religious system, in education, in healthcare, everywhere you look - so that people in junior positions see people in senior positions who look like them.

4. Empower the weak: It's not enough to do theoretical things. You actually help real people obtain real power in the system as it exists today. Mentoring is a good example of how this gets done on a practical level. 

5. Promote free speech: Oddly to me, somme think that political correctness is helpful to feminism. I would argue the opposite. It is only by enabling the free flow of conversation that flaws in the the logic of a dysfunctional system - e.g. the function of the dysfunction - become clear.


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

If You Want To Succeed, Get Hungry

"There's a line of other people who want your husband," someone once said to me. "If you want to stay married, keep that in mind."
On the just-ended season of HBO's Girls (Season 4), Hannah leaves her boyfriend Adam in Manhattan. A fancy job as well, writing words for a magazine that blur eradicate the line between journalism and marketing. 
Hannah is not just a writer by trade. She is claimed by writing. It owns her. She cannot do anything but write, real writing. She cannot think except about what her next piece will be. She cannot stop until her work is better, better, better.
Hannah leaves Adam, whom she loves. She's been accepted to the renowned graduate program for creative writers, the Iowa Writer's Workshop. 
Anyone who writes and cares about writing at all can recognize this expression on Hannah's face. It is Hannah, but it is really Lena Dunham and the show exemplifies her.
As a college lecturer I can tell which students are really hungry to learn. It doesn't matter if they're good at grammar, or if they understand the subject matter, either. 
The desire bubbles up to me. The rest is unimportant.
Same when I work with staff. I will always gravitate to people who are excited by what they're doing. Even if it seems mundane to you, they actually care about getting it right. 
It's a waste of time to deal with anybody else on that particular subject.
Someone recently said, "I've been so bad about keeping up with social media, you know? It's so hard."
Earlier I'd walked while snapping photo after photo of...garbage...houses...the sky...cherry blossoms...myself...and more garbage, and walkways.
I wanted to see what the Instagram filters could do with this.
And I said to her, "You don't want to be doing social media at all. Don't bother."
She can pay for someone to do Instagram. She can't pay for someone to round people up to go to a party, which is the thing she loves to do.
If you ever read advice to the effect that "work and passion are separate," disregard it.
You must do what you love. What you care about so much that your limbs shake when you think about it. That it burns your guts.
If you aren't then you are missing out on your mission on this planet.
That jealousy you feel when you look at someone else?
It's the thing you ought to be doing right now. 
All opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my agency or the federal government. Photo by Luke Saagi via Flickr. Screenshot via HBO via Indiewire.

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