Somebody said we were allowed to think out loud. Pardon the mess.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

First the hippies at The Financial Times. Now, those Commies over at the Economist

Forget respecting the Office, don't these people understand that George Bush is a Solid Brand? One with serious line extension possibilities? He's not only got a tagline "I'm a War President"™, he's The CEO Administration!™ gosh darn it all. That's it. I'm cancelling my subscription!

Yes, it's real: The print editions are flying off the shelves.
Is advertising marketing?
Is marketing branding?
What is the unladen weight of an African Swallow?

Rob, over at Businesspundit has a tasty post on the Chicken and the egg aspect of Advertising versus marketing versus distribution versus selling plain old H20. The water he ponders is Coke's Dasani, of the expensive Thames River Tapwater and carcinogen-laden variety, and how, a few short years ago he was incredulous at the idea of premium pricing a thing like water.

Well, given the immutable fact of Pauly Shore movies, anything is possible. But Rob's way ahead of the median. Some still just can't get their heads around the fact that brand IS what sells. And, it IS a guiding strategic asset that derives its power from the attention it's given when being woven. It is tailoring, not an impulse buy or sackcloth. And if you buy off the rack or cobble any old thing together, don't be surprised when it falls apart at the seams or ends up around your ankles.

Call it The Fairy Dust Branding model. All dust and activity, lots of people waiting for the magic to show up. Things get put of sequence, out of synch, and out of the resonance range for all but bats and dogs.

I'm sure you've been here. People going through the motions, piling up the to-do lists, breaking up into tidy breakout groups or task forces, with the prize being one all-powerful MARKETING PLAN! -- a holy grail dictating everything brand-esque.

In many cases, with Brand usually being item number 42, after say, number 41: Logo. But before number 43: Squeeze balls with the company name on them.

Doom ensues.

Well, it was time for a little remediation today. Since nobody reads the body copy anymore--always advisable on this blog--out came the Sharpie® and pad, followed by the Powerpoint™, yielding this handy Business Plan > Branding > Marketing > Advertising > Whatever pecking order to begin the deprogramming:

[click for larger]

Fold, spindle or mutilate at will. Just note the little ©

Friday, April 02, 2004

Michael, of Canadian Headhunter comments on the Chopra/Wharton post of a few days ago:
What happens to religious or spiritual groups after the leader is gone[?] The members fight with each other. But the religions are still pretty "successful" in that they continue to capture a good share of the market.
I'd say, "You bet!" But, what's the Market Appeal?

In Michael's example, the leaders were just enablers to a deeper personal identification for people. Like any truly great product, a leader is not the end but the means to something else. Just as money is a marker for something else, or fame is, or whatever. View things this way and Lynda's job becomes an adventure and failures become lessons, not reason's to doubt how you've chosen to navigate your particular journey.

Do you like movies? Rent Sullivan's Travels or Groundhog Day. To quote Lawrence Kasdan, "...all life's great lessons are found in the movies." Want a purely business-oriented example of the viability of this approach? Read Ricardo Semler's Maverick!. Or, track the trajectory of Yum! Brands' (KFC, Pepsi, Taco Bell) Chair/CEO David Novak and the profound influence he had on his tough-as-nails mentor and predecessor, Tricon Global Restaurants' founding-Chairman, Andy Pearson. here or here. Pearson resisted the up and coming Novak and now admits to a changed and more powerful view of business because of the younger man's influence. This, from an old fart whose pride was his rep as "one of the country's toughest bosses" and whose management technique was to bark: "So What!?" at his EVPs and Division Presidents. (Click the links if your response is "Yeah, yeah, where's the money?")

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Walmart abandons Big Box orthodoxy

Hey, sometimes in my convoluted prose I find little reasons to feel half-way decent about clogging up the Internet. The Project for Public Spaces gives me my Karma fix this week:
Wal-Mart, the big box retailer that altered the face of America with its supersized discount stores, now wants to restore a sense of place to thousands of communities. PPS can claim a major role in this surprising about-face. Last January, PPS President Fred Kent addressed the Wal-Mart annual board meeting with a well-received keynote address titled "Thinking Outside The Big Box: How Wal-Mart Can Turn A Place Around." Kent's ideas seemed to strike an immediate chord with Wal-Mart executives and stockholders, and by March the nation's largest retailer announced that it will begin shifting its operations from mega stores on the edge of town to small, downtown stores with independent owners....

[David Glass, Chairman:] "We're tired of being on the wrong side of the community-building equation."
The source of my good feeling? This November post predicting Walmart's coming derailment.
...Banks will not loan to smaller players where you operate due to the operational squash-power your company has over start-ups. But still, given your operating cost focus, more competent (and therefore, costly) knowledge has been driven out of your markets and been replaced by you, a low price, low product-expertise player. Again, competence generates more cashflow and disposable income. Income you need. The Lose/Lose part of this conundrum is, to get where you've gotten, you are no longer considered a positive economic force, nor a good neighbor: your markets are captive and possibly resentful of the lack of choice you've dictated; your local tax-base has lost it's diversity and thus its stability. Customers will bolt the first chance they get, the Chamber of Ex-Commerce resents you, and politicians will not like the quandary your business model has put the community in as angry voters ask them "how did you let things get this way?" You'll be big. And probably alone...

But notice: Contraction is the key word in so much of whats being said about them, positive or negative. America is an expansionist culture and a divergent, not a convergent economy. New product, not lower prices as it's first imperative. If the price of doing business means that brands and their companies and their employees must bend to the cultural and operational imperatives of Walmart, where does that leave a nation that invented James Dean or Apple or Coke?

In my opinion, Sam's America!® is a non-starter. Walmart's "great unravelling" has begun.
We'll see. Glass, the CEO and Chairman: think[s] we can take that to the shareholders and make a convincing case that a stronger local economy will be better for our stores in the long run. Smart, but tardy man, that Glass. Maybe he realized he was chewing off his own leg? Perhaps it's his prior military service that allows him to recognize a foolhardy Napoleonic march to Russia?

No. it's April Fool's. My karma's been had.

Oh well, since I'm all tingly and full of adjectives, back to finishing Brain > Metaphor > Brand, Part 3. (Yes, Walmart will be back as a case study, along with lots of real brand and ad examples for that Triune and Archetype approach.)

[Updated: Forgot to note the date and my Karmic shiner.]

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Still here...

Sorry for the light posting over the last week or so... Spring has sprung and my hair's on fire. Hoping to get things slowed down later in the week.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Josh Marshall nails the 9/11 commission hootenanny and in so doing, nails us all
What this is about isn't Condi Rice or Richard Clarke or even George W. Bush. It's about what happened -- finding out what happened.

One side wants to find out; the other doesn't. This whole story turns on that simple fact. Why else try to destroy Clark unless what he has to say is profoundly damaging? Liars are usually easily discredited; it's the truth-tellers who need to be destroyed.
Anyone who's reading the series on Brain & Brand -- yeah, yeah, I know, it's long and windy -- will recognize there's a whole lotta R-Complex playing out here. These people are some of the best educated the world has to offer, but if you look for common sense, there's no pattern, there's none there.

But why should there be? Sheltering is vital to life and, let's face it, sheltering in idealism is bi-partisan. But shelter, formed in a hurry -- backfilled, if you will -- won't stand. It never does. Ideology, in service of only itself, only respectful of its is own perfection, is doomed. It is cheerleading. It is not Leadership.

If you dig deeper and give our more primal motives the credit they deserve, there's no surprise whatsoever in the 9-11 Commission proceedings. We are creatures of hope. But we're also practitioners of sloth, vengeance, lust and pride. You're not impressed by that evaluation? Me neither. Actions count. Results matter.

Now, stop being so smug and smart.

How often do we call a spade a spade? If you don't name it, you can't fight it. And if you don't fight it, you can't slay it.

The facade of this week's proceedings is what gives me the giggles. Richard Clarke, a man with previously impeccable credentials, has come forward with a book, and now testimony, which say, essentially, I said what I had to and kept my larger concerns within the group.


His critics--his previous evangelists--are now accusing him of everything from grandstanding to disloyalty to perjury to treason.

So what? The obvious, which doesn't get acknowledged or pricked by media or responsible folks is this: When you're IN, nobody does much to OUT themselves--at least not on purpose, or without motive. Clarke maintains he was asked during his four-administration tenure (Reagan, Bush41, Clinton, Bush43) to spin the facts in a positive light.


But for the political players, this draws claims of "Shocked, shocked, that [spinning] is happening here."

What a cruel and dishonest ploy. What damage to the nation. What a farce.

How? Who amongst us has not been in that position? If our careers extend longer than 12 months, who amongst us hasn't honed this spinning skill to a craftsman's edge? Likewise, what "Leader" worries that the everyman will consider the details for a simple second beyond the ONE minute that evening news gives it before it launches things into the ionosphere? And so, there's a creepy aspect to language that flows within organizations: If it's said, it becomes "Truth."

But logic, nor media proof, neither, finally, is Truth the high ground in question here.

"Perception" of victory is.

We weed and weave stories and directions so as to lie to our supporters and to fudge our detractors. We spin an imaginary unachieveable future. We create depression where we hoped to create enthusiasm. In this, we foment institutional distrust and further the innate belief that a "A Company" or "An Organization" can't have my best interests at heart. Here, the subtlle irony kicks in for me: The "CEO" administration is falling back on techniques that highlight the dark side of popular perceptions of the CEO. This is that they are self-interested, vicious, arrogant and intolerant of criticism.

Welcome to R-Complex territory.


They're not fooling anybody. The M.O. is painfully obvious to persons with two opposable thumbs and a resume: This is the common fight for the primacy of a perceived competitive advantage we've all witnessed occuring on high before. The old ways die messily, swinging fists, swords, memos or layoff notices, and leaving bodies in their wake. 12 months or 12 years later the fight is proven to have been a folly--by tragedy (another WTC? Or 6? Via ship? Or by RV?) or by mere whimpering failure (the truth and dissembling by the responsible is revealed, post election.) Everbody has a martini, shakes their heads in mock chastisement, and moves on to begin repeating the mistakes of the past under the guise of "reform":
[Wiki]...fed clues from a source with inside information, Feynman famously showed on television the crucial role in the [1986 Challenger] disaster played by the booster's o-ring seals with a simple demonstration using a glass of ice water and a sample of o-ring material. His opinion of the cause of the accident differed from the official findings, and were considerably more critical of the role of management in sidelining the concerns of engineers. After much petitioning, Feynman's minority report was included as an appendix to the official document.
...After much petitioning...
On Sept. 29, 1988 shuttle Discovery returned America to space. It wasn't long before the shuttle program regained confidence, renewed its status as a symbol of technical superiority and resumed its role as an icon of the American spirit of exploration.

Then on Feb. 1, 2003 Columbia and its crew of seven astronauts was lost.

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board will say that despite the success the shuttle program has enjoyed, NASA has become too familiar with the program, like an old friend whose buddies have overlooked its quirks and flaws. In a word: operational. Instead, NASA must treat each shuttle mission as a test flight.
...quirks and flaws...
Karl Weick, U of M Biz School: There is an interesting story ... about ... Wernher von Braun. When a Redstone missile went out of control during prelaunch testing, von Braun sent a bottle of champagne to an engineer who confessed that he might have inadvertently short-circuited the missile. An investigation revealed that the engineer was right, which meant that expensive redesigns could be avoided. You don't get a lot of admissions like that in organizations today. But all it takes is one such story to make an individual in the company buck up and say, "Hey, these folks are serious about facing up to failures, so I'm going to take a chance and speak up." [This interview is no longer online--link archived on this server]
In each of the above cases, scientists and administrators--Smart Professionals--were balancing organizational imperatives against the realities of life. I use that in Italics for a reason. They were leading. Von Braun took a step to deny the realities he'd been handed. He really wanted to know. He wanted to lead, not to appear as a leader.

That's an important distinction. One has to earn leadership by unconventional acts. More and more, the simple act of tellling the truth qualifies as unconventionality. A brand, a person, a group becomes differentiated by merely being honest? It seems so. But who amongst us is willing to do that, to take that step? Who do we vote for or follow, once we're tired of and inured to mediocrity?

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