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Pret: A Brand To Watch

I love going to Pret for my coffee in the morning. It’s not just another coffee place.

Pret is love.

I can tell how much they care about the food they serve. For one thing the presentation is so appealing. (I eat kosher, but God does allow me to admire a chicken hotwrap.)

All of their food is fresh. If you don’t see it on the shelf, it’s because they haven’t made it for that day just yet.

Their brown paper packaging is not only appealing in a basic way, but also tells me they care about the environment.

The eggs are cage-free. I didn’t need for that to be true, but I like knowing it. And that fact is proudly displayed directly even on the ingredient list for a simple egg salad sandwich.

Pret is love. They love the bounty of nature, their ingredients, and they take good care of the planet, too, with thoughtfully designed trash receptacles that actually make me want to recycle.

The staff works as a team. They seem to genuinely like each other, from what I can tell.

Their good feeling translates into a customer service ethic that is very much on point and in sync.

They will even fill my filthy Starbucks cup with coffee and 2 shots of espresso. No sneering at other brands. No judging the fact that I haven’t washed it. Just because I ask.

Pret is a great brand because it is a philosophy of life that translates to every single thing they are selling. Even their brownies are handmade, and each one is carefully titled a “love bite.”

The Pret brand philosophy is obvious, but they take great care to tell you about it, too. They just seem very proud of who they are and what they’re about.

If they take this much care with a pepper…

If they go this far out of their way to tell me that unripe avocados are “horrid”…

If even their napkins proclaim their values…

Then I feel really good about being there, and buying their food.

They have a good attitude as well. Like, in order to write this post and show you all the good stuff here, I had to take photos. They asked me about it, and then let me keep going. I appreciate their trust.

Did I mention that they always double-stamp my loyalty card when I come in here? (I’m pretty sure they are making money off me anyway…they aren’t cheap but the coffee is far superior to any other chain in the city.)

As a side note, as much as I love the Starbucks brand as well, it is obvious to me that in comparison with a place like this, they are on the decline.

My main metric for this is the staff. No matter where I go, they always seem to be going through the motions.

Concurrently, and in a similar way, there is handwriting on the boards but it seems very “prepackaged.” The snacks are also pretty good, but they have the feel of something that was outsourced too much, to people who once had passion for their craft and then lost it.
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All opinions my own. Photos by me.

Fix My Brand

Typically when people ask me “how can I fix my brand,” the answer is very simple. They just don’t want to hear the answer.

Here are five examples of things people don’t want to hear.
  1. Communication is a critical function that must be heavily staffed with highly qualified people who live, eat, drink, breathe and exude the brand. Most executives pay lip service to it, but at the end of the day their assumption is that “anyone can do it, I’ll figure it out on my own.” As an extension of this mistake, organizations will sometimes hire professionals who serve as the official communicator for the organization, but only as a token — akin to hiring a great lawyer and then ignoring their advice, or a super cybersecurity professional and then refusing to take even the most basic advice about strengthening passwords.
  2. Most of the things you are saying right now are actually hurting the brand, not helping it. This is primarily because most organizations talk in a very generic way to “everybody,” rather than to their unique audience which loves and prizes them and is deeply loyal to what they stand for. I’m not going to get into the Freudian reasons why this happens but suffice it to say that it has to do with that old Woody Allen joke, “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” Secondarily it connects to a certain amount of cognitive dissonance, where we tell ourselves that “if I can’t see it, it isn’t happening.” The fact of the matter is that your brand is revealed by every single interaction your employees and operations have with the public, and to be successful you must manage each and every one of those.
  3. Your names and logos are a confusing mess. What this means: too many names, name doesn’t add value, logo isn’t professional, no clear connection between name and customer, use of acronyms, and so on. Brand value begins with an intelligent use of name and logo that clarifies who you are and how your separate products work together or apart.
  4. You’re too obsessed with your website. Get heavily onto the right social media channels and don’t over-focus on your static website. Most of the action nowadays is centered on conversation — between you and your customer, between your customers and each other, and between your customers and non-customers who include your brand in their conversations.
  5. You don’t use your brand in the real world. Branding is not an idea exercise. It is meant for the trenches: Come up with a unique way of doing business that combines your name, your logo, your vision, your mission, your values and your operating methods. This combination is your “secret sauce” — use it, protect it, repeat it, and don’t give it away.
Normally the root of the problem for these clients is that they have competing brand elements at work. They can’t bear to give any one of them up, they don’t like the idea of prioritizing, and inevitably therefore they have a complicated reason why the messed up image must stay as it is.

The key issue here is subconscious: People identify with their brands as with themselves. And because brands are really artificial souls, there is a direct parallel between the confused, disorganized psyche and the convoluted snarl that is most of our individual personalities.

(Of course I don’t mean to be snotty, as I am as aimless as anyone.) The truth is that there are microscopically few people on this planet who can truly lay claim to single-mindedness. It is a part of the human condition to struggle, evolve, grow, and make a ton of mistakes along the way, leaving your friends and colleagues wondering who you really are, anyway.

But an organizational brand is not a human being at all. Where we want to see messy humanity among individuals, our companies should not be that way. As the business guru Peter Drucker famously said, and I do repeat this in my head all the time: “The purpose of business is to create a customer.”

If your brand is so complicated that only a psychotherapist can figure out how it makes sense, then it is truly messed up.

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All opinions my own.

10 Trends To Watch In 2017

  1. Citizen Journalism Eclipses the Mainstream Media: In a trend that continues from the campaign, we will see official sources of news decline in public interest as it is perceived that they spin a pre-fabricated narrative. At the same time, the perceived honesty of independent bloggers, researchers and other citizen journalists will lead the public to turn to social media first and potentially exclusively to find out what is going on. In 2017, the "MSM" will serve chiefly as fodder for the real conversation, which occurs in public and private social media forums. Expect social media to fall into relatively stratified ideological lines, with the Left talking mostly to itself and the Right doing the same, while the media wrings its hands over "fake news" and struggles to make the case for its legitimacy.
  2. The Decline of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube: A number of factors have combined to create distrust in what can now be called "traditional" social media. These include issues related to privacy and government surveillance as well as issues around perceived censorship and favoring of specific ideological views. In response, the public will turn to new, homemade, alternative forms of communication that are not perceived as servile to anonymous mega-interests.
  3. Increased Parental Involvement, Homeschooling and Alternative Education: Many forces will power a shift away from traditional education toward home-curated forms of schooling. For one thing, there is extensive coverage of the ideological wrangling taking place at the college and university level, with extremist professors and coverage of student demonstrations eclipsing discussions of research and scholarship. Additionally, there is a longstanding concern among parents that traditional schooling, even at the undergraduate level, tends to reward those who play to a rubric rather than individualistic students, whose contributions at the level of critical thinking and creativity are impossible to measure at the quantitative, herd level. Further, parents are increasingly aware that the economy requires their children to attain significant proficiency in science and technology subjects. All of these factors will combine to make parents readier to pool their efforts or work independently to ensure their children are well-prepared to face the future.
  4. The Growing Irrelevance of Washington, DC: The U.S. presidential election of 2016 highlighted the cultural dissonance between our national capital and the rest of the country. Despite the fact that Donald Trump won the Presidency, the seeds of distrust have been sown deeply, and we will start to see the elimination of "what's going on in Washington" from ordinary conversation.
  5. The Fight to Define "Alt-Right": With the election of Donald Trump, his amorphous collection of freethinking supporters will spend much time this year defining itself. One of the more noticeable issues that has cropped up is anti-Semitism. The movement known for its frank talk and anti-establishment nature will struggle with the concept of establishing boundaries around public discourse, as censorship is seen as the ultimate taboo. Other significant questions will concern the extent to which the movement questions Donald Trump's actions, or is tied to his sometimes inscrutable choices; "new masculinism" and a strong anti-feminist bent; diversity and inclusion versus a strong distaste for political correctness; attitudes toward Islam; and the implementation of meritocracy in light of widespread economic distress.
  6. A Tiny Home for Everyone: The trend toward affordable standalone homes will continue as people move further and further from urban centers to claim their own stake of property, however small. As families face difficult economic choices, expect more bodies crammed into smaller spaces, with correspondingly more multifunctional, utilitarian home items, clothing and more.
  7. If You Can Shoot It, You Can Eat It: Expect continued interest in unorthodox sources of protein and harvesting of any and every piece of a killed animal for food. These items will be presented to the public not as scraps of food for the desperate, but as delicacies, leading to the introduction of new products for the mass market of foods formerly considered "gross."
  8. Rise of the Security-Obsessed: The rise of terrorism worldwide has in turn heightened anxieties among the public about whether and when an attack may come. Correspondingly, expect a continued increase in gun purchases and associated training; martial arts training; and increased interest in all manner of electronic devices that promise passive, no-contact protection from without. These include home sensors, protective fabrics for bags and clothing, security devices for travelers, detectors for food tampering, and even bulletproof glass for automobiles and homes. Women will lead the way in searching for protective gear that is affordable and undetectable, allowing them to enjoy fuller participation in life with less concern for their personal safety.
  9. Communal Tables: Expect more and more emphasis on "breaking bread together" in casual eateries, where relatively rootless customers seeking a social connection will eat and drink with strangers who become temporary friends. This continues the trend toward a "trusting sharing economy," which was fuelled by the rise of services that depend on customer feedback for their growth - eBay, Uber, and Airbnb.
  10. Revisiting Russian Culture: It was perhaps inevitable that Donald Trump's "bromance" with Vladimir Putin would lead to a cultural fascination with mysterious "Mother Russia." The Cold War has been over for many years, but Americans never really warmed up to life on the "other side." As world events continue to put Russia in the spotlight, expect Americans to want to learn more about this remote land, and its culture, for themselves.
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Copyright 2016 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own.

Who Is "Us," Exactly?

Growing up in the '80s I used to listen to the Howard Stern show on the radio. Now keep in mind that I also used to dress up as Gloria Steinem on the Jewish holiday of Purim. But all of us knew the difference between politically incorrect humor and the actual problems women faced in real life.

Raising my children in the late '90s-early 2000's I entered a far more politically correct world. Everybody got a certificate for everything. They watched Barney saying "I love you, you love me, we're a happy family" and they learned that any kind of intolerance was wrong. Millennials, as a result, are even more polite than Canadians.

Then they got older and there was 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security was formed, and the show "24" depicted all the nefarious ways that "bad guys" were plotting to take America down. This was followed in short order by President Bush's Iraq War, which never made any sense to anybody, and frankly, to me, neither did all the sudden hysteria about terrorism.

Even taking into account the devastating attack, I felt suspicious as to how we could go all of a sudden from a relatively ordinary discourse about foreign policy to the constant drumbeat of fear, fear, fear. Many other people did too, because the Bush years primed the pump for President Obama and "Change." Obama seemed to embody diversity, not only because he was America's first Black President but because he seemed to lift the thoughts right out of our heads. Americans are a good and giving people, and I think we all agreed when President Obama portrayed a vision of a world where all of us could live in peace and mutual respect.

But unfortunately dreams and narratives and rhetoric don't always work in the real world. By 2012 and his second term, the skies had turned more ominous. Suddenly what began as promoting diversity and inclusion became a war along ideological lines. Around this time, there were weird, crazy, artificial-seeming "Occupy" protests on Wall Street, squatters defecating on the streets, and anarchy. The Administration normalized anti-Semitism under the guise of protecting Palestinian rights, and suddenly terrorists and their sympathizers were the good guys.

Meanwhile on campus, freedom was looking like communism, radical ideologies exploded across the college campus scene, and even hinting at a moderate conservative point of view became risky.

Yet President Clinton, who was popular despite his impeachment, was a moderate at heart. I remember wanting to be C.J. from "The West Wing," or maybe Tobey, because as a fake President Martin Sheen was the embodiment, at least to me, of what a real one ought to be. And in doing so he basically espoused the middle-of-the-road Clintonian ideology that was so appealing.

In the 2016 election, of course, all the simmering tensions of the Obama years came to a head. President Trump, probably the most politically incorrect leader one can imagine, successfully won the race. But in order to do so, he had to confront a leftist movement so powerful that it literally took over the mainstream media.

Suddenly there was no "inclusion" when it came to reporting. There was no "telling both sides of the story." There was only "Stop Trump At All Costs."

This attitude is not supported by President Trump's actual rhetoric. Both yesterday and throughout the campaign, the enemy has been very clearly articulated as the D.C. Establishment, which profits off the rest of the country, and the issue is economics. (If you talk to Muslims, they will tell you the same exact thing, particularly with respect to our invasion of Iraq and the consequent deaths of 500,000 civilians there.)

From Trump's Inaugural address:
"For too long, a small group in our nation's capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth."
Repeatedly the President stated that his vision was for Americans to band together for the sake of rebuilding the physical and social infrastructure of our Nation.

In this effort any form of bias is intolerable:
"At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice."
In fact, says Trump, the issue has nothing to do with political parties and everything to do with the system itself. We must restore democracy to our democracy:
"What truly matters is not which party controls our government but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th, 2017 will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again."
It hasn't been just the media, but Hollywood lining up against Trump as well. TMZ had a story the other day about an email circulating there, threatening anyone who doesn't get in line.

So there is a huge machine arrayed to stop President Trump from succeeding. This is a problem because in order to do so, he has to get everyone on the team - all races, all ethnicities, all religions, etc. And so watching the Inauguration, I asked myself: Why wasn't an imam there to say a prayer? Why wasn't there a Black choir to sing a song? Where were the people of color, generally?

One answer, of course, could be that President Trump was sending a message. You could say that, and superficially maybe you would be right.

But another answer could be that Muslims and other minorities who do support Trump -- who do see through the effort to discredit him -- were simply afraid to show their faces due to pressure.

Either way, whatever the reason, the portrayal of Trump's America as White America needs to be corrected, and quickly. And we can't count on him to do it: We will have to just ignore the pressure from haters and unite around moving forward ourselves.

We should remember that this is America. In our country, diversity is welcome. We are a nation of immigrants. That's the definition of us. It's not the exception, it's the rule.

More importantly than that, however, is what diversity is really about. It's not just skin color, not at all. It's not just gender or age or ability. It's what's under the skin -- it is heritage, it is culture, it is ideology, it is belief.

If you are American, you will stand up for the freedom of everyone to speak. Even those whose views make you, personally, squirm with discomfort.

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All opinions my own. 

Two Kinds Of Workers You're Better Off Without

Worldwide, many employees do not have any rights at all: They are slaves and therefore treated as property.

As of March 2016, WorldAtlas.com reported, based on multiple sources compiled into a “Global Slavery Index,” that there are an estimated 35.8 million slaves globally and that approximately 1 in 4 of them (26%) are children. “Adult male slaves, meanwhile, are often forced into labor due to financial debts, while females are often exploited for prostitution.”

Although today every country in the world “condemns” forced labor, according to the International Labour Organization, someone is still making money from it. Even if you subtract forced sexual labor, the world’s 14.2 million slaves generate an estimated $51 billion per year.

Michael Hobbes, writing for the Huffington Post, notes that consumers have for twenty years now tried to avoid slave labor in the products they buy. And although many lists have been published in the name of providing transparency, truly achieving this goal remains elusive. However, eventually technology and the worldwide trend toward greater and greater recognition of universal human rights will likely shut down those who continue to rely on this illegitimate form of “staffing.”

Some employees are lucky enough to choose where they work. Although they inhabit a far more privileged place in the world, they do suffer from workplace bullying, which is a pervasive problem.

A 2008 study by Dr. Judy Blando, cited by Forbes in 2016, found that 75% of employees had either witnessed bullying or been bullied during the past year. Blando cited research showing that 82% of victims did not remain in their jobs; replacing a worker costs 25%-200% of their annual salary; and that in at least one survey of Canadian employees, bullying cost $180,000,000 in “lost time and productivity” (Blando, p. 3).

In the United States, is no federal law against bullying yet, but in certain cases at least, an individual may be protected if they are victimized in such a way that other federally protected rights are violated (for example, if it is combined with racial discrimination at a federally funded school). Nearly every state has both a law and a policy dealing with the educational environment.

Additionally, there is a nationwide campaign in the United States to introduce the “Healthy Workplace Bill,” which would make workplace bullying illegal and allow victims to pursue legal action both against the workplace and against the alleged offender.

Even if an employer is not yet legally bound to remove bullies from the workplace, the reasons for taking proactive steps to do so are similar in nature to those pertaining to forced/child labor. Not only is social media easy to access, free and pervasive, but the trend worldwide is for citizen to take matters into their own hands and report what they see as wrongdoing. From a risk management standpoint, ensuring a healthy workplace environment as well as an ethical labor chain is essential to maintaining goodwill and avoiding negative publicity.

In the future, as informal pacts and formal policies turn into strictly enforced national and international laws, keeping slavery and bullying out of the workplace will no doubt be essential.

If you want to build a sustainable business, don’t build it on the backs of people who are mistreated for your living.

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All opinions my own.

On The Indispensable Nature Of "Straight Line Thinking"

"The truth at any cost lowers all other costs." - Robert Steele, former CIA Officer and intelligence reform activist 
Adbusters uses the term "straight line thinking" to describe "logic freaks" focused only on "more technology, more rationality, more surveillance, more consumption, more control."
But that isn't what I mean. From my perspective, "straight line thinking" is:
  • The ability to clearly articulate what your desired outcome (goal) is.
  • A commitment to getting there as efficiently (shortest number of steps, cheapest cost) and effectively (highest quality result) as possible.
  • Encouraging debate regarding the best method of achieving the goal.
Great communication facilitates all three aspects of "straight line thinking." Not only does it enable different kinds of people to understand what you're saying, but it also makes it possible for them to participate in achieving the goal.
In order to enjoy the benefits of "straight line thinking," though, one's organization must be healthy enough to handle painful feedback. It's like going on a diet: At some point you have to get on the scale. This point is exemplified by Jack Nicholson's classic line in A Few Good Men.
The inability to tolerate reality is symptomatic of a society on the decline. 
Accordingly, when propaganda becomes a substitute for real news, it becomes impossible for people to know what's going on, and to make decisions based on that information -- a point made by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange made in his interview with Fox News journalist Sean Hannity.
To put it bluntly, if the public does not have real information, there is no democracy. There cannot be.
We need to have the truth in order to make society better.
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All opinions my own.