Thursday, September 4, 2008

"The political topic that must not be discussed..."

I rarely talk politics; it nearly always turns into a no-win conversation unless you're with like-minded people. And if that's the case, what's the point?

But check out "The political topic that must not be discussed in the USA" blog entry regarding the upcoming election. It has less to do with politics, and everything to do with the future of the USA. As a nation, we have always been able to out-innovate the rest of the world. We're losing that edge rapidly and its impact will be far-reaching into every industry (especially my beloved auto industry). The blog also (unfortunately) portrays the current state of our nation's decision-making process when it comes to politicians.

The ability to innovate as a country involves so many aspects of our society -- every level of education, public policy, taxes, immigration, technology, national security. Shouldn't it be a bigger part of the upcoming election season than the over-debated and never-to-be-resolved issues of the sex lives of teens, gun control or abortion?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

An ink blot test for brands

Web-entrepreneur Noah Brier launched Brand Tags 5 months ago as an 'experiment' to get at people's perspectives - in a single word or phrase - of brands. In other words, quickly, what's your knee-jerk to Brand X?

The site compiles all the responses and prioritizes them by prominence. Sort of a real-time consumer litmus for brands.

Perceptions are fascinating of the many things I love about this business. And, as Brand Tags shows, they can undoubtedly be a source of frustration for many company brand-keepers. For example, hit "Cadillac" to discover one of the most prominent words associated with the luxury brand is "Chrysler." Ouch.

Compare a few competing brands. Look at Toyota vs. GM vs. Ford vs. Honda. Now there's a spectrum. Look at CNN vs. Fox News. Budweiser vs. Corona. Maybe there aren't a lot of surprises in the results, but they hit squarely between the peepers in this format.

My personal favorite: 'Camaro' = 'mullet.'

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Let the octopi fly!

It's tough to pick the best story to come out of Red Wing's championship season (4th in 11 years, by the way). One of the best from last night came from off the ice.

Long-time radio voice of the Detroit Red Wings Ken Kalczynski ("Ken Kal") was a scratch for last night's game 6 Stanley Cup clincher. Laryngitis, on the night of the biggest game of the past 6 years. Even though he doesn't wear the jersey, he's part of the team.

Ken Daniels rode the mic instead. Nothing against Ken Daniels, but it wasn't the same, especially for the final championship game. So with 10 seconds left in the 3rd period, Daniels pulled a classy move when he turned the controls over to Ken Kal, and as a result likely gave up a once-in-a-lifetime chance to call the final game of a professional championship series. Take a listen as Ken Kal brings it home.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

You are a memory

I attended an event last week put on the by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. One of the speakers talked about his experiences with sports growing up, and in particular his coaches. He could sort each of them into just 2 categories, which he calls 'memory boxes.' He labels them, very simply, good and bad. (I did a quick sorting of my past coaches...the 'bad' was more crowded than the 'good.' How about you?).

There were those who encouraged him, challenged him, and brought out the best in him. They helped him enjoy the sport and want to play. They went in the good box.

And there were those who, well, didn’t. It’s not that all of those in the ‘bad’ memory box were mean or broke his spirit (though some did), it’s that they failed to have any influence or positive impact at all. After all, that’s a pretty big part of being a coach, isn’t it?

Can’t the same be said about a boss, a manager, or a supervisor? Which made me think about…me. What memory box will I be put in? If I think back to all the people I’ve been lucky enough to work with, I’m not crazy about the percentage of ‘good’ memory boxes I’ve likely earned a spot in. I can do better than that. They deserved better than that.

The good/bad memory box visual will stick with me, hopefully forever. It’s so easy to blow off or schedule around opportunities to teach, to help, or to listen – really listen – to people who are looking for guidance.

I like the memory box analogy … there’s no middle ground; it’s definitive. Good = good. Anything less = bad.

The event made me realize how I’ve let my ‘coach’ role slip. It’s given me a new resolve to use every day to do what I can to help people be at their best, be more capable, and be more marketable.

Care to join me?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Gettin' Dirty

Something occurred to me today -- creativity is a messy job.

Kids are considered the most creative, free-spirited creatures around. And they're filthy. I know, I have 3 of them. Their creativity comes through, not because they aren't afraid to break the rules, but because they don't even know the rules...yet. They try. They fail. They try something else. The shrug it off. They get elbow deep. They take risks they don't even know they're taking.

Adults don't like to get dirty. Most of us are taught that messy is bad. We like to be safe. We like rules and structure. We like nice, clean, squeaky solutions that work the first time. We don't like failure or mistakes. Or even letting other people make mistakes.

But safe stinks. It's boring, bland, not memorable, not compelling and it doesn't sell. If you can recall a TV ad or book, it's because it stood out above all the other noise, and somehow grabbed you. How may takes, versions, revisions - mistakes - did it likely take to get to that finished product? What a dull world this would be if we only accepted our very first effort.

The only way to truly be creative, though, is to be willing to try new things, take amazing risks, and fail gloriously. We have to be willing to dive deep into an issue and get dirty, often looking stupid or awkward.

Aside from being creative, there's another role we all play: letting others be creative. Do people around you feel comfortable trying new things? Or looking for new processes, new technologies and new ideas? And what's your reaction if it blows up?

You have to try new things, and let others do it as well. And, unless you're really good, and incredibly lucky, most of those new things will fail and be messy. Be proud of your messiness.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

What Drives You

Yesterday, I touched on the notion of being genuine. Let's go a little further.
Who do you trust? Think of your mentor, your favorite teacher growing up, a coach, a trusted accountant/attorney/doctor...a parent. What makes you trust them?
They all tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. They are experts in specific areas. And they stick to what they know.
Apply this to your marketing. What drives it?
  • Trying to appeal to everyone.
  • Or sticking to what you know.
In the first, you don't own your messages. You're just spewing what you think people want to hear. Guess what, it's not genuine. Too many companies take this tact. One's easier. And the result is corporate speak.
Instead, find what you do or know best, and dog it. Own the messages. Find that group of people who care. And make them trust you, need you, HAVE to use you. Simply put, be genuine. Be authentic. Say what you do in simple terms, then deliver.
I've been thinking about the lack of genuineness lately. And I'm not the only one; check this out (thanks to my coworker Jessica for pointing it out); and this.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Being genuine

The mail came. My bank is 'merging' with another bank; third time in 18 months. They sent me a beautiful packet of information. A 5-graph cover letter states "we promise very little change in the way you bank with us." Here's the catch: it's attached to an 8-page, text-intense glossy brochure that explains the hundreds of "differences" I'll notice beginning this month.
Why do companies do this? It's daily moves like these that lead people to not trust business. I've been a customer of this bank for less than a day now, and already I question their ethics and honesty.
This sound like a familiar formula?
1. Tell the customer upfront what we think they want to hear.
2. Dazzle them with packaging and words you'd read in a Hallmark card.
3. Plow along business as usual.
4. Repeat.
Here's the thing. Surely this bank must have something to offer. They must have happy customers somewhere. What makes them happy? Why is this bank better than the other 35 I pass on my way to work? Tell me that stuff. Tell me what makes you, you. Then let me choose if you're right for me. Be genuine.
How does your company communicate change? Does it insist it's business as usual, while an episode of Extreme Corporate Makeover churns backstage? At a time when trust and loyalty are at a premium, and skepticism has become a commodity, how and what you communicate can set you apart.
I suppose it's sad that telling the truth can be a differentiator...then again, it's also an easily attainable opportunity. There shouldn't be anything easier than being genuine.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Southwest, you rock!

See today's story of the two teenagers who claimed they were kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight for being 'too pretty?' It made headlines in most of the majors. Typically, a response would be to issue a statement, make a spokesperson available, and put on the 'corporate' game-face.

Southwest went another, seemingly brilliant route. They posted a response on YouTube, which cost nothing to produce and distribute. (Note the irony of the sign in the background).

The results? Take a look at the comments from viewers - they effectively (and measurably) started to build a visible groundswell of support for the airline and its actions. Plus, it gave major news outlets a resource to use in follow-up articles.

A great example of using social media in the corporate communications tool kit.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Reputation is not a part-time job

There are a number of 'scandalous' story lines in the news today, including Roger Clemens' session with congress and, closer to home, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's ongoing 'Text-gate' and secret deal investigation.
Both of these have share common elements. Both involve extensive lying (opinions of who is doing the lying aren't relevant). And both are said to be "bad PR."
PR has nothing to do with the stories at this point. The 'bad PR' happened when the lying took place, and the current state of these issues is the fall-out from that lying, and an attempt to cover it up. PR is about communicating and truth; the total opposite of covering up.
You are your own personal PR machine every day. Ethics, style, relationships, integrity, values, and the company you keep - these make up your reputation over a lifetime.
Same goes for organizations. Companies use PR professionals to help promote and communicate what is great and right and true about them. It has nothing to do with overshadowing negative stuff with bright-shiny-happy fluff.
Clemens said during his testimony "No matter what we discuss here today, I am never going to have my name restored." Yep. Damage done.
Your reputation is a precious thing...handle it with care.

Monday, February 11, 2008

It starts at home

We volunteered to conduct a message session late last week for MichAuto, a non-profit dedicated to promoting, sustaining and driving the growth of Michigan's place as "the global center of the automotive industry."
For background, our message development process takes companies through a rigorous session that forces leaders to look at how their company is currently positioned in the market, then challenges the credibility and memorability of this position. The goal is to identify what's truly special about a company, create messages and evidence to support these claims, gain consensus from company leadership, and then use these messages as the foundation for all communications moving forward. Among other things, it's great for creating strategies that are measurable.
The MichAuto session brought together a dynamic, energetic cross-section of the auto industry: a supplier, an attorney, media, finance, technology, economic development. We explored everything from the industry's current business model to talent retention.
An interesting sidebar centered around Detroit's image. The question was posed: why, as metro-Detroiters, are we hellbent on apologizing for our city? We seem to have an ingrained, self-depricating, low-self esteem issue that forces us to lead with something negative before saying something positive about Detroit.
Each of us in that meeting had a story to share about hosting out-of-towners who, at the end of the conference or meeting, asked - bewildered - why we eagerly apologized for requiring them to 'endure' Detroit, most times before they even took one step off the jet. In most cases, our guests were impressed, thrilled and excited about Detroit. They raved about the nightlife, culture, architecture and entertainment options.
Is it that so many of us who live here think our city is not worthy of such praise? Do we want to cut our town down before anyone else has a chance? Have we been conditioned to just expect anyone outside the 248/313/586/734 to scoff at our city? Do we try to paint an ugly picture to set low expectations; expectations that even Detroit could outdo?
MichAuto will do what it can to correct this. Groups like One D are also focusing on the situation. I have a meeting with Detroit Renaissance in a couple weeks to brainstorm what else can be done.
In the meantime, here's a challenge: police yourself. See if you can say positive things about Detroit without injecting a negative statement or sarcasm. Can you do it? It's grass-roots PR at its most basic level.
What those outside of Michigan think about our town will never improve if all of us who live here continue to remind them that the stereotypes are accurate.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Give it up for the D

Browsing through the Northwest in-flight magazine on my flight back from New Jersey on Friday, I found 37 outstanding pages on Detroit! Great photos, history, recent successes (lots and lots of them) and future potential. Topics range from entertainment, business people, culture, sports, environmental innovation and beyond. Check it out:

In the Driver's Seat - an overview, history, cool facts

Detroit-style Renaissance - the arts scene, entertainment, sports, development, the auto show, going green

Detroit Revs Up - retail development, collaboration, business accelerators, looking ahead

It's done very well; meaning, it doesn't read like a travel brochure. Enjoy.