Honest Feedback Is Not “Being Hurtful."

A few months ago I went back to teaching marketing, and the first thing I did with the class was an exercise.

The students broke out into groups of two, interviewed each other about their personal brands, then returned to sit in front of the room in pairs. One group at a time, each pair had to sit in front of the class, with Participant A describing the personal brand of Participant B and vice versa. (Each person also had to say whether they had been characterized accurately.)

Sitting around the pairs in the audience, the rest of us watched and commented.

Yes, this was a brutal, brutal exercise.

“NO!” I called out, after someone described his partner in a way that came across as vague and inaccurate.

“NO!” I called out, after someone said that her partner was “cheerful,” and her partner readily agreed.

On and on it went. (In a previous post, I’ve talked about how ruinous “personal branding” is to the human psyche; this exercise was a good example of why, although it did help get across the concept of positioning.)

This was a class of adult students, most of them working in a marketing capacity where consumers made hair-trigger choices about whether to buy or not.

Nobody was yelling, or rude. Yet some of the students were shaking. Others blinked. One was clearly angry. And for about fifteen minutes, we talked about how “branding” and “racial profiling” can look, smell, walk and talk very much the same.

If you take a class in branding with me, I will confront you. Some of you will like it. But others will no doubt be shocked, and some will find the whole entire exercise “offensive.”

But that’s too bad. Because as a teacher, my job is to help you. And if you want to be effective at marketing, the first thing to know is that the market does not care about your feelings.

So yesterday, I ran into one of the students from this class at the coffee shop.

“Thank you Professor Blumenthal!”

“What happened?” I asked.

“I got another job, and they asked me my philosophy on branding.”


“I basically told them what you said.”

“And are you earning more money?”


At this, the student beamed, and so did I.

The real test of feedback is not whether it makes you feel good.

The real test of feedback is whether, delivered properly, it helps you make a better life for yourself, as well as those you love.


Copyright 2018 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author’s own. Photo by Tania VdB via Pixabay (CC0 Creative Commons).

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