...goes a long way, especially when I'm thinking about brands, brand management and the power of brands to build successful organizations and careers.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Get more sales by involving sales more

The void between marketing and sales is often daunting, at best, an insurmountable barrier, at worst. Sales people don't think they need marketing people and marketing people don't think they need sales people. I struggled to close this gap while serving as marketing services manager at large ingredients manufacturer in the food and dieatary supplement business. When we involved the field sales staff - actually sought their opinions, not just told them where they should be and at what time - great things happened.

By working together, we made trade shows, for example, a multi-faceted communications opportunity. We told our story a number of different ways.

At one show in New Orleans, we set up a duplicate trade show booth with every known marketing tool we'd every used in a meeting room near the arena. The sales people set up 21 customer meetings prior to the show, and held 19 of those during the trade show. Two client companies missed the show entirely because of another comittment and a missed airplane, but made up the meetings by visiting our corporate headquarters shortly after the show.

At another, we bought an opening night reception sponsorship and, instead of relying on recorded music, we hired the Bacon Brothers - Kevin Bacon and Michael Bacon - to put on a live concert. We sent CDs to our top 25 customers inviting them to the concert, held a meet-and-greet during the sound check, and gave them seats up front during the show.

That was six years ago, and I remember the moment like it was yesterday. Over the din of the band, Doug, one of the sales managers, yelled into my ear "Mark, you're a f_____ genius." Actually, it was a success because we got a lot of people involved in the planning and execution - including the sales staff - and we asked a lot of questions and we worked hard. The industry still talks about that concert today, and concerts have become pretty common at industry shows, so I know it works.

I just hope the people organizing the concerts are talking to the sales guys.

Monday, January 30, 2006

i'm lovin' it...McDonald's is blogging

I don't know about you, but I'm impressed with the launching of McDonald's new corporate responsibility blog. There are only two posts up, but the plan is to address a number of topics including: personalities & places; balanced, active lifestyles; community; environment; people, policies and programs; responsible purchasing; and Ronald McDonald House Charities.

Based on the first post, senior director Bob Langert is taking his role as the corporate blogger seriously, demonstrating a clear understanding that the McDonald's brand extends far beyond the burgers, fries and Ronald McDonald. Yes, there's a fair amount of corporate-speak, but after introducing the concept of cooperation with vendors, Langert actually asks the readers' their opinions:

"In a nutshell, our approach is to work collaboratively with our suppliers so they can meet our expectations and advance our priorities. What's your view of this approach? For example, should we set across-the-board targets and goals for suppliers, rather than work with them to develop individual targets and goals? What should our priorities be for promoting social responsibility in our supply chain?"

Then he continues by demonstrating the corporation's commitment to social responsibility issues including it's work with the Center for Environmental Leadership in Business (CELB). I won't review the whole post, but I encourage you to check it out.

It's an inside look at how a huge corporation might want to interface with its audiences. While this is an encouraging sign that a corporation is cranking up the relevance component of its brand, it will be more exciting to see how McDonald's builds on this effort, to see if it creates a conversation with its markets, as Mike Sansone likes to say, and ultimately begins to build a new paradigm for everyone involved.

It begins to tell a different story about McDonald's. And, ultimately, it will be up to us to decide if it's true or not.

Love Cavanaugh, Love Monkey

I've watched two episodes of Love Monkey and I love it. Not only because Tom Cavanaugh is such a funny guy but because he's wickedly funny. The stories are rather average, but the story telling is engaging. Like in Ed - another favorite of mine - Cavanaugh breaks the third barrier regularly to add zip to his already-zippy repartee and keep you on your toes.

The coolness of the music industry backdrop adds to it because everybody wants to work in a funky office like his, making a paycheck by listening to musicians and arranging concerts. I'm betting that it's not as much fun at it looks. His pals - including a suddenly middle-aged Jason Priestley - aren't very interesting characters and I find myself getting up for a beverage when one of their storylines is being played out.

I have a rather limited range of music interests so I don't know if those are real artists doing cameos (other than country music's LeAnn Rimes) or not, but I imagine so. Rimes' 10-second appearance was teased in the ads last week and The Late Show's Paul Schaffer is highlighted next week.

Check it out on Tuesday night and let me know if you love the monkey, too.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

When does a brand consultant really earn his or her money?

When they tell the client exactly what the client wants to hear? No. They can get that in front of the mirror in the morning. And it's free!

I think brand consultants earn their paycheck when they do everything they can to help that client take charge of their brand and uses it to drive everything they do.

It takes being a pest. It takes being consistent. It takes a willingness to stick your neck out. I've found over the years that a little bit of Mark's brand talk can go a long way for the client that doesn't get it, doesn't want to get it or can't get it. They sometimes act like they can't make a decision. Sometimes, they just disappear. Sometimes they just say 'no.'

And sometimes, it clicks. That's when I hear the client repeating what I'm saying, holding others accountable to the brand and taking ownership.

It began to happen with one client a few weeks ago. We were discussing employee recruitment efforts when I told him the best tool for recruiting new employees is your current employees. If the current employees understand the brand, and wear it proudly - at the grocery, at the ball fields, at church - they'll spread the word and attract like-minded prospective employees. (The same is true for employees who don't understand the brand, who are confused and dazed. Zombies is what Mike Wagner calls them.) A few hours later, when the client dropped me off at the airport, he looked me in the eyes and said, "Mark, you really got into my head. I went out to the plant to look around a bit and started seeing our employees in a whole new way."

The brand warrior had won the battle...Stay tuned to find out if I win the war.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Coke or Pepsi?

The invitation is lost in the translation

I really don't understand why some brands use stories that are offensive to the prospective audience. They aren't 'inviting' as required by the D.I.R.T.Y. (different, inviting, relevant, truthful and yours) brand model to which I subscribe.

A posting in Walt Koschnitzke's Brand Ad vice blog discusses a local cable commercial that has the effect of fingernails on a chalkboard for him. The Capital One commercials are so negative that I don't want to have anything to do with the brand.

And then there's the cell phone commercial in which the lead actor gives a testimonial while a man in a lobster suit gets caught in a revolving door in the background. What's that about? Does anybody even hear the pitch?

On the other end of the spectrum are the Hallmark Cards commercials. They're actually little movies that invite you into a little slice of life. Even the local furniture store - pick one, any one - uses an inviting message to tell the story about this week's sale!

Do you know of other brand messages that are inviting? Which ones are not inviting?

Monday, January 23, 2006

The most strategic designer I know

Sally Cooper Smith is the most strategic designer I know. I've told her to her face that this is so, so I don't expect her to be embarrassed when she reads this. She knows it's the truth.

You see, Sally takes a sketch book into meetings, but she takes notes. She asks a lot of questions, not about the color or the font or the photos, but about the strategy. She wants to know who the audience is, what the audience wants, what the audience knows about the organization and what the organization expects of the audience.

I know because I've been Sally's client. I've heard her questions and I've seen the result of that kind of smart thinking. She's unlike many of the designers I've run into over the past 20 years; the ones who only sketch in their sketch book, who choose colors because they look good together and often use fonts that are unreadable or illegible because they're cool. They design for the sake of design. They design ESPN - The Magazine.

Sally wants to understand the brand because it drives the design.

The designers where I work are much like Sally. Jeremy and Carolyn ask questions and give reasons for their choices. They want to know about the brand.

Designers like Sally, Jeremy and Carolyn make clients better, stronger and more focused.

Whose brand does Barry Bonds represent?

If the comments attributed to Barry Bonds at a weekend golf tournament are any indication of his ability to represent a brand other than his own, I don’t want him working for me.

When he heard San Francisco manager Felipe Alou was thinking about putting him second in the batting order to give him more at-bats, the seven-time MVP reportedly said “I am going to speak to Felipe because at this point in my career it doesn’t work for me to be second bat.”

Excuse me, but doesn’t the manager do the managing? As long as he’s getting a paycheck, shouldn’t Bonds do whatever the manager tells him to do and learn to represent the San Francisco Giants’ brand, especially when he's in the San Francisco Giants' uniform?

What would happen to the Target employee who said “at this point in my career, it doesn’t work for me to wear a red shirt?” What if the Starbucks barista said “it doesn’t work for me to charge this much for coffee?” Would the nurse who said “it doesn’t work for me to use a clean needle” still have a job?

Yes, Barry Bonds still sells a lot of tickets, and yes, he’s probably going to bat somewhere other than second because of it. But it’s a good – if not over the top – example of what happens when employees don't take ownership of a brand. It’s what happens when the brand doesn’t drive the decisions, but the decisions drive the brand.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Extreme value

I went to a seminar today that delivered way more than the price of admission. Mike Sansone offered a ton of value during his business blogging seminar in Des Moines. As Mike toured the blogosphere and built his story about conversations, all the participants started thinking he needed about 12 hours instead of six that he planned.

I've read blogs for a year or so, and I've only blogged for a couple of weeks, but I thought I knew enough to be an adequate blogger, and was getting everything I wanted out of my blog experience so far. I went to the seminar to see if I can pick up one little nugget because, given the state of most seminars and conferences these days, I only hope for at least one item of extreme value in exchange for my time. After learning from Mike, touring dozens of highly relevant websites, and hearing the questions of other newbie bloggers, I realized I was only scratching the surface.

Some of the key suggestions I picked up:
  • Be passionate about your blogging - Whether your doing it for fun, doing it to make a little money or doing it to make a lot of money, make sure you're passionate for your subject. The blogosphere is littered with blogs populated with a few dozen posts, evident of a petered out passion for blogging.
  • Be ready to change - Blogs are a dynamic tool for communication so they are ideally designed to change as you change. You topics may take on new focus or migrate into a new direction completely. That's fine because we learn, we change, we have new things to say.
  • Don't use time as an excuse - Blogs are conversations, so shouldn't you want to make time to converse with customers, vendors, prospective employees and others? If you don't have time to blog, you don't have time for business.
  • Get noticed - There are several strategies to get your name out - comment and link on other, relevant blogs; link your blog to other blogs; learn to write good copy with paragraphs and complete sentences; take advantage of feeds; and ping the aggregators. Mike also outlined the power of the aggregators for monitoring the blogosphere on behalf of clients.

I hope to incorporate these strategies into my blog and into my company's website in the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, I'll be carrying on the conversation with Mike because he's a great source to learn more about these specific subjects. If you want to learn more, drop him a note at his blog.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Marriott mattress is majestic, relevant

I'm going to a Marriott property tomorrow to attend Mike Sansone's blogging seminar. Too bad I won't be staying in a room overnight, because Marriott has hit relevance on the head as far as I'm concerned. It's right there in the mattress. Those pillow-top mattresses are something to behold. They just cradle you so gently that you can't help but sleep.

Marriott decided that a good night's sleep was a relevant part of the Marriott experience, so they replaced all the mattresses in every single Marriott property over the past few years. Seth Godin blogged about the bad advertising last September: luckily, the mattress is better than the ad.

Marriott is working hard to manage its brand by focusing on performance and making sure that the Marriott brand is different, inviting, relevant and truthful. In this case, the implied promise that you’ll get a good night’s sleep is inviting, but it’s the mattress itself that is one of the most relevant brand components. More importantly for the business traveler; it's truthful.

At it again
Marriott is at it again, trying to be relevant to women travelers. In this article (registration required), you’ll read that they’re working with geniuses at IDEO to reinvent the extended stay hotel. Except for the part where they say they followed travelers around, it seems like they’re really getting to understand the female traveler so they can be even more relevant.

Marriott is one of the ones that gets it!

Another brand disconnect

Mike Sansone shares a story about his recent visit to CompUSA, and the disconnect between promise and performance. It's another example of what happens when truth is not part of the brand. In this case, CompuUSA thought branding meant a good tagline. They didn't understand that the tagline is part of the promise, and that they have to live up to that promise. They didn't empower the employees to make good decisions and make the brand stronger by meeting that promise.

I've given CompUSA several opportunities over the years to meet that promise, and they never had. They'll go on that unwritten list of brands that are no longer relevant to me.

Which brands are on your list?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Doesn't anybody read long copy anymore?

A friend recently suggested that my posts were rather long for a someone trying to shorten his copy. While I admit that's my goal, I'm also getting a little frustrated with the widespread emphasis on short copy that seems to be chasing me. See this post for more about copy length.

So my question is: Do we have a problem with long copy, or do we have a problem with long, BAD copy? Isn't short BAD copy as much of a letdown as long BAD copy? How about if we just seek GOOD copy, no matter the length.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

I learned to write after 23 years of writing

A little more than 23 years ago, I began putting words onto paper and getting paid to do it. I started working on a trade magazine in the furniture industry and have since produced a safety magazine in agricultural insurance, an employee magazine, a dairy producer newsletter, print ads, news releases, magazines, television commercials, corporate newsletters, radio ads, posters, displays and myriad other things filled with words.

But only learned to write about a year ago.

A friend, Mike Wagner of OwnYourBrand.com handed me a copy of the
Secrets of the Wizard of Ads, a book by Roy Williams over at the the Wizard Academy. It's a wonderful book of short essays that really focus on the spirit of writing, the importance of crafting stories. And it changed the way I look at writing.

I've always had to look hard for the story in any story: my publisher used to assign me stories based on an advertiser's claim, telling me "You'll find the story when you get there!" And I was pretty good at it, but I didn't love writing and it showed. Writing was just something I did between creating big ideas, crafting strategies that build upon each other and trying to be a designer (that's another post for another day).

After reading the Wizard of Ads, I've been slowing down, digging deep for the story inside the story, trying to cut away anything that doesn't capture the imagination and attention of the reader.

Blogging is a good work out for cutting the fat in your copy. So is working with graphic designers who want less copy all the time. Just this last week, I was working on some lean copy, and I got really defensive really fast when a co-worker started saying we might cut it down even more, and use some bullets. But bullets don't deliver passion and energy and rhythm, so I went back to the keyboard and started microsurgery, trimming little pieces of fat here and there until the copy was free any any unnecessary calorie.

We'll see if it satisfies when the rest of the team get their teeth into it.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Be relevant

The problem with many brands is that they use advertising messages that aren't relevant. They yak more about themselves - features, price, etc. - than they do about the audience.

This is one of the exceptions. It's for United Sugars, selling sugar, a commodity product that is practically identical to anybody else's sugar, but it hits the relevance nail on the head. It tells a story that is completely relevant to the person who buys a lot of sugar.

The copy reads:

Another day in purchasing

At United Sugars, we know that your job is anything but easy. That’s why we’re focused on providing you with a reliable supply of sugar. And willing to do whatever it takes to help you keep your cool. Give us a call at 1-800-984-3585, or visit www.unitedsugars.com.

Simple copy about a simple promise - we provide a reliable supply of sugar. Outstanding execution, don't you think?

Full disclosure here: I had nothing to do with this ad, but I wish I had thought of it.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

In the absence of truth is disappointment.

When a brand isn't truthful, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the audience. After all, a brand is a promise or an expectation. I've also used the word reputation to describe a brand.

And what happens when a person, for example, isn't truthful? Others are hurt, distrustful and disappointed.

Example: Years ago, I saw a big white moving truck with a roughly scribbled label "Two Men And A Truck” and I instantly thought “There’s a local company that is probably a low-cost alternative to the national brands. Good for them.” Then, a few years later, I saw something that disappointed me: I saw two “Two Men and A Truck” trucks right next to each other. Before I realized that it was a chain operation, I was really disappointed. I wanted to see two men and one truck, not two trucks. That lead to all kinds of questions? Where there two men and two trucks? Four men and two trucks? Or were there other men and other trucks? And where were the women?

The brand name was cute, but it wasn’t truthful. Even at the local level, shouldn’t they make every effort to hide the second, third and fourth truck?

That’s an obviously mild case of a brand without truth. Can you think of other brands that aren’t truthful?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Jim Wier is my hero!

Jim Wier said ‘no’ to Wal-Mart.

Wier is the former CEO of Simplicity, the people who make Snapper brand lawnmowers, and his applause-creating stand against the brand-killer from Arkansas is highlighted in a new book by Charles Fishman, titled "The Wal-Mart Effect" The Wier story is excerpted in the Jan/Feb 2006 issue of Fast Company.

It was in October 2002 and the vice president in charge of buying lawnmowers told Weir that he wanted to buy even more mowers. Wier, who started sweating, said “Let me tell you why it doesn’t work.”

“Wier traveled to Bentonville with a firm grasp of the values of Snapper, the dynamics of the lawn-mower business, the needs of the dealers, the needs of the Snapper customer, and the needs of the Wal-Mart customer. He was not dazzled by the tens of millions of dollars’ worth of lawn mowers al-Mart was already selling for Snapper’; he was not deluded about his ability to beat Wal-Mart at its own game, to somehow resist the price pressure. He was not imaginging that he could take the sales now and figure out the profits later.

“Jim Wier believed that Snapper’s health – indeed, its very long-term survival – required that it not do business with Wal-Mart.”

In other words, he looked to his brand to decide to whom he was gong to sell his products. Even more amazing, he actually looked at the retailers’ customer before realizing that the opportunity wasn’t aligned with his brand. His brand told him NOT to sell through Wal-Mart.

By his own admission in the except/book, no lightning bolt struck even though Snapper instantly gave up almost 20 percent of its business. “But when we told the dealers that they would no longer find Snapper in Wal-Mart,” writes Wier, “they were very pleased with that decision. And I think we got most of the business back by winning the hearts of the dealers.”

He’s now working for someone else, but I want his autograph. He’s my hero.

Note: The book's author, Charles Fishman, is a senior author of Fast Company.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Full disclosure

I talk a lot about brand. That's why I'm blogging about it; to give my friends and colleagues a break. In my professional circles, I'm known as a 'brand' guy. People know that if they ask me about marketing, communications, advertising, sales, etc. they're going to get an answer based on brand. Heck, if they ask me about sports, current events or TV they're probably also going to hear about branding.

But I have no vested interest, at leat not a lot of vested interest. Branding is not a cash cow. If I successfully convince a client that brand is the critical foundation on which to build all business decisions, I still only get a little bit of the work. I can do the video, the advertising, the brochures, but they still have to manage their brand. They still have to train their employees to manage the brand and them empower them to own the brand.

That's dirty work and the client has to do a lot of the heavy lifting.

I recently worked with a small town bank, and we created four critical issues based on an extensive strategic mapping process. Of the four, only one was marketing oriented. The other three were operational issues that they had to fix on their own.

A law firm came to us for a website a year or so ago, and we said "maybe you need a website and maybe you don't. Tell us about yourself." When we finished, there were several operational issues that had to be fixed before we could start on the website. I think I sold the fact that we focus on what needs to be done too hard because when we finished, we didn't even get to do the website: they found a friend-of-a-friend-that-does-websites to do the work.

The point is I think it's more important that my clients understand who they are and use it to drive everything they do - including the marketing communications - than it is to have a pretty logo or a nice looking brochure. And if they do it right, they don't need to rely completely on me, my firm or my services.

Does "brand" need more syllables

A co-worker tells me that brand may be getting overexposed in the marketplace, that clients are bored with it. He may be right, or maybe clients are being wooed by sexier concepts, like CEM.

Marketing Profs.com includes a new article about "customer experience management" Author Leigh Duncan writes "While there's a clear reason to become a staunch supporter of CEM, there's a great deal of confusion over what it really is. As more individuals get on board the CEM bandwagon and build services, confusion seems to be increasing. It's time to demystify the hype."

In my humble opinion, the problem is the hype: CEM sounds like another example of agencies trying to reinvent themselves into something different, something new, something else.

I saw it 20 years ago with IMC (integrated marketing communications). I went back to school to study IMC and, fortunately, the degree was paid for largely by my employers, because when I finished, all I could say was "duh!" I'd been thinking integrated marketing communications without even knowing I was doing it. I was integrated before integration was even cool!

Duncan added to Bernd Schmitt's definition of CEM ("the process of strategically managing a customer's entire experience with a product or company)" by writing CEM "represents the discipline, methodology and/or process used to comprehensively manage a customer's cross-channel exposure, interaction and transaction with a company, product, brand or service."

In another post today, Tom Whelan, seems to put customer experience management as the end-all, be-all, with brand as but one component. (Then again, he's a "customer experience management" expert and I'm a "brand" warrior so we're wearing out biases on our sleeve.) I humbly submit that his definition is correct only if you define brand as the brochure, ad or other purposeful event or activity to "brand" (used as a verb) yourself or your organization.

Unfortunately, many in our business, and the clients we serve, think that brand is a new logo, a tagline or an ad. And, thus, they are giving the concept less and less credibility. I guess it doesn't have enough syllables to be of value.

I believe the customer experience is but one component of brand, with the brand being defined as "a person or organization's reputation based on the experience with it." Unlike CEM, brand doesn't ignore employees, suppliers, the general public, media, competitors and other influencers. Don't we want to manage the brand there too? And shouldn't it be consistent?

I'll admit that I'm a simple person, and I need a simple framework for my ideas. Brand is that framework. I don't like big, complicated ideas that are hard to explain, hard to implement and hard to get paid for. I believe that if we first understand the brand - aka the reputation - and then use it to make every other decision - including how we manage the customer experience - we can't go wrong?

Sometimes, it's still hard to get paid for that realization so maybe I need to add a few more syllables to the definition.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Teddy Roosevelt was a poseur?

In another post, I mentioned the book Denison, Iowa. In the pages of that story about secrets was another that gave me reason to pause. Author Dale Maharidge, in a passage describing Teddy Roosevelt, writes: "Roosevelt owned a ranch in North Dakota and by many accounts was a poseur: he wore ornate cowboy costumes and buckskins that no real rancher would ever by caught in.” Later, he tells the reader that Roosevelt designed his own uniform…the one he wore while riding up San Juan Hill!

I was (sort of) crushed. That was such a great story…Teddy and the Roughriders, all that leather fringe in those old photographs. And it was fake. I’ll never be able to hear the name “Teddy Roosevelt” again without questioning whatever comes after it.

His brand will forever suffer in my eyes because it’s not truthful. How sad.

That's a huge problem for all brands. One of the key attributes for a successful brand is its truthfulness. How many organizations are fooling themselves about their brand.

  • How many employees think they are about "quality," but take short cuts all the time in the name of saving money or speeding production or making the boss happy?
  • How many owners think they are about "customer service" yet have store hours that are convenient for them, not their customer?
  • How many organizations think they are about integrity yet are known by their suppliers for unethical dealings?

How many brands are poseurs? Is your brand one of them?

The difference between brand and stereotype

I just finished reading Denison, Iowa, a fascinating book by Dale Maharidge about the transformation of small-town Iowa in the wake of increasing Latino immigration. The subtitle says it all: “Searching for the Soul of America Through the Secrets of a Midwest Town.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning Maharidge tells the story of the year he spent in the tiny (pop. 8,000) northwest Iowa town of Denison, hometown of the late actress Donna Reed, the Donna Reed Museum, the Donna Reed Foundation for the Performing Arts and two meatpacking plants. And, as the book documents, it's also home to a certain amount of underlying racism, lies, fear, pride, courage and, ultimately, glacier-like change that make up many small towns in flyover country.

As I read the final third of the book this evening, I also watched one of my favorite movies, Remember the Titans. You may remember Remember the Titans was about how a newly integrated football team in 1970's northern Virginia struggled with the same issues, ultimately overcoming them and winning the state championship.

While reading and watching, I came upon an interesting brand management lesson.

Q: What’s the difference between a brand and a stereotype?
A: Truth.

Brands are based on experience; stereotypes, on ignorance.

The movie ended on an upbeat note. Once Denison gets a chance to read the book, think about what was written and consider its truths, I have high hopes that it will start a winning drive, too.

Friday, January 06, 2006

She was glamorous

I once worked for a woman who understood the meaning of fabulous. And she knew how to get it. Fabulous was her brand.

Her name was Karen, and she was a vice president of marketing in a small, growing, entrepreneurial, creative division of a big, entepreneurial company. I was her only employee when I joined her company and she expected fabulous things of me and the cool, interesting and like-minded people she hired. She also created an environment where being fabulous was possible.

She sent me out to pick the most powerful laptop - because I would be traveling a lot - and a big monitor, and all the important graphic design software. I was the only person I knew designing with a IBM Thinkpad and a 21-inch monitor!

She told me to visit the local art supply store with a company credit card to get inspired. She said I should attend trade shows outside my industry just to see other ideas.

She asked my help to put our favorite sayings on the wall, not little posters with mission statements. Large, colorful, sprawling visions, inspirational quotes.

Even after we grew up and into new surroundings, she insisted that I be part of the team that was outfitting and decorating the new office. Even though we used cubicles, we used cool, colorful, inviting cubicles, and set them at odd angles.

On a trip to Chicago, she made me eat French food overlooking Michigan Avenue. I had to wear one of those borrowed jackets because that was the rule in this restaurant. And she asked my opinion on the expensive suits and ties she bought for her husband at a men's store on the Miracle Mile. When in Milan, she pointed out the Prada store and the other centers of fashion and design.

She expected - no, demanded - creativity, and knew that often meant asking forgiveness instead of permission.

When she spun off a company selling to the cosmetics industry, she wrote this as her vision statement: “Surround ourselves with smart, creative people. Inspire a driven, entrepreneurial spirit in each of us. Develop and exceed big, hairy, audacious goals. Have fun in all our endeavors and be glamorous.”

Karen died unexpectedly a few years ago, but I think of her often. I miss her and I miss her glamour.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Now stepping up to the plate

Another blog. And it's about branding. You're probably thinking "Jeeeesh, can't these brand people get someone to pay them for their ideas so we don't have to read them on blogs?"

Yes, it's true. There are a lot of bloggers whipping out brand missives. And there are a lot of well-known brand experts using up bandwidth, but I think that's part of the lifelong learning that seems to be rampant among some of the best and some of the not-yet-known. The people I have the pleasure of talking brand with are always reading, always looking at new ideas and always updating their own thinking. They read the latest business books, they dig through business magazines and they observe what's going on around them. And they use blogs - and the amazing quality of community that blogs can build - to give shape to their ideas.

That's what I hope to do. While I write for my firm's website I don't always think my comments warrant that amount of effort. And our website isn't built for blogging. Therefore, I'll give it a shot here for awhile and see what happens...just like millions of others who have turned to the internet because they think they have something to say.

If you read it, good. If you write back, even better. But if nobody comes to this site, that's okay: it will give me a chance to work on my writing, flesh out a few ideas and not waste anybody's time doing so.