Essays

On this site, in these writings we will explore the strictures of identity all of us carry and how, when understood, they can positively inform our relationships; on a personal level and on a community level.

An illustration of a head opening up like a door to reveal a universe inside

You Complete You

Prior to 100 years ago, people had fewer distractions; no internet, no computers, no TV, no radio. When you are left to invent your own world, then you put your mind to work. You create instead of consume.

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A hand blocking dominoes from falling

As you are

From dieting to drug prevention, there is much talk around behaviour change. But the problem with behaviour change is that, on its own, it doesn't mean that the person has changed. And so recidivism is high.

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An illustration of two opposing people

Evidence (De)Based

Analyzing, interpreting and mapping data and evidence are extremely important tools to both inform and direct conversations, but if they are not used in conjunction with human dynamics and a love for your audience, you risk sowing seeds onto concrete; nothing good will grow there.

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A hand reaching for a light bulb

Light Switch

How we see the world influences how we interact with it. But most people never think about what influences how we see the world, will never draw a line between far past experiences and current behaviors, or examine their learned behaviors and habits.

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A wrench broken in half.

Cheap Junk

Life lived online can become anti-life. For young people especially, who have known nothing else, it has turned many friendships and relationships from the quality-made, user-serviceable, lifetime-use model, into the low-quality, break it and replace it model, and we see its wreckage everywhere.

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Illustration of a person speaking on a podium

On Behalf of Everyone

Why go through the needlessly arduous task of actually asking other people their opinion or the reasoning behind their beliefs, if you can simply claim to know what they are?

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Connecting the Dots

The joy of connection is the biggest payday a human can have. And we quickly unravel without it.

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A black and white picture of women laying down on launch chairs, with a lifeboat behind them; mid-20th century

Titanic Emotions

When you reach the point where the guiding principle for your goals is solely to be in opposition to the other side’s goals, it guarantees a shrinking future.

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An emoji of a person shrugging

It Wasn't Me

Plausible deniability is a term well known around Washington, DC. Much bad behavior escapes ramification because of plausible deniability. Often part of the planning process for scurrilous activity is how responsibility for the actions will be subsequently skirted, if and when the piper starts playing.

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The word 'labeled' crossed out, with the word 'libeled' replacing it

Labeled

When rigidly formed emotions exist, the people holding them are easy prey for a proliferation of increasingly sophisticated manipulations via social media and self-selected “news” outlets.

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Two talk bubbles made out of people

Are you talking to me?

When people get combative in communications, it is often as a counter-punch to imagined slights and opinion. These unspoken, unchallenged and too-often inaccurate self-generated “truths” dictate way more of our interactions than most of us are aware. Which is why it's important to steer clear of conversations about "right and wrong" in communication campaigns, since that is likely to engender reflexive opposition.

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A hooded person, face not visible

Meanwhile, Next Door...

We need to be vigilant about jumping to conclusions and then unconsciously self-selecting research that only supports that conclusion. When we stop asking questions, we become very manipulable.

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A chef's hat

Cooked Up

The decision to be “funny” or “provocative” in an ad should only come from the pursuit of the most effective message. When this priority is flipped in social marketing campaigns, the under-represented party ends up paying the price because the focus ends up in the wrong place.

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A graphic of a person cupping their ear to hear better

Buy it NOW

I always saw branding and strategic communications as being protected against outsourcing or automation. But, a couple of years ago, while basking in the knowledge of my irreplaceability, it occurred to me that my obdurate certainty was based on a fast-disappearing future: that people would get to make up their own minds.

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Three monkeys, symbolizing "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil"

Mentioning the Unmentionable

For the average person, no matter the words that come out of their mouth, there is an awkward inherent stigma attached to the way we think and talk about mental health. An urge to talk quietly or use euphemisms, but by doing so, the inadvertent effect is to promulgate the stigma.

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A graphic of a person's head fading away

Sheeple Who Need Sheeple

The biggest problem with the tech giants is not their monopolistic control of the market, it is their unrestrained and growing control of Americans’ behavior. The power that the large social media companies wield over our lives and the level to which they are controlling us is frightening.

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The Thinker sculpture wearing Virtual Reality goggles

Auto-matic

Imagine if we used our current experience to reinvent schools and redesign cities. If we had a mixture of learning online with “playing” on-site; if we gave less real estate to our cars and more to housing. The beauty about going through such a time of fracture is that the opportunity cost for deploying bold ideas seems low.

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Light bulbs against background with the words: training, knowledge, skills, education

Getting Schooled?

How will it affect our society when we stop telling people that they have already lost the game of life if they don’t have a degree? What will be the destigmatizing effect when people without degrees can still be “smart”?

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A welcome mat against white background

A Snowball's Chance

Only good can come from asking questions: What are the potential negative consequences of the words and imagery you use to expound your initiative? What are people’s legitimate worries and are you taking them into account or fanning their flames?

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A graphic of several megaphones

Pushmepullyou

Recognizing that we all have a tendency to hold positions that are not as clear-cut as our indignance might tell us, is a first step toward taking a giant and well-needed societal deep breath.

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A graphic of two heads complementing each other

Relationships: A Like Story

Love and like are two very different emotions. They feel very different and they come about in very different ways. And we rarely ever think about the difference between them. We should.

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The scale of justice being erased by a pencil's eraser

Recalibration

The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago; the second-best time is today. It is critical, as we go through these extremely important times, to consider whether the state's efforts are best spent creating communities or criminalizing communities.

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An LED alarm clock against a blue background

The Time is Now

Right now, across our nation, forces and passions have been exploding in response to the homicide of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the thousands of deaths, assaults and miscarriages of justice that preceded them. It feels like we have reached a fulcrum in race relations in the US. and, perhaps, a pivotal moment in human rights. Perhaps the “created equal” part of the Constitution is finally becoming “self-evident.”

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earth with green reset button

After COVID

It is not lost on me that the USA became the great nation it is as a result of how its people responded to huge historical existential challenges. The Civil War; the Depression; the Second World War. As tough as this time is, I am focused on seeing it as a similar challenge for us all to rise to.

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screen with datab

Ticker of Doom

I have noticed a number of public health sites around the country running what I have been calling a “stock ticker of doom” across the top of their websites. It lists the number of people infected, hospitalized, under quarantine, etc. I know it is there for a singular honest purpose: to keep citizens informed. But let’s take a step back and look at how this might play out.

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Football player with Google helmet kicking a football with the facebook logo all

Google 2, Facebook 0

The two ads from Super Bowl Sunday I found most interesting were those from Facebook and Google. Both of these companies are feeling a lot of heat around the subject of data and privacy, but they took very different routes to tackling the privacy tsunami that each is facing.

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head in the shape of a question mark

Who Do You Think You Are?

I was meeting with a long-time client today who wanted to chat with me about a specific East Coast higher-education institution that is doing highly-important and relevant work and yet is on almost no-one’s radar screen. We talked about the dean of the institution and how he did not place much importance on “marketing.” My response was, “Sure he does; he is just working from a very closed definition of marketing.”

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A graphic of a person's brain made out of gears; a hand with a wrench is turning them

Stigma and Identity

Stigma comes in many forms and while most people easily understand the stigma that is essentially tied to judgment from others (imagined or real), what’s often not thought about are the kinds of very powerful stigmas we create and place upon ourselves — or how powerful (and often unconscious) is the drive to avoid doing so.

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LED blue crown

Game of Thrones

Soon after Steve Jobs died, I wrote a post that posited that we would “now get to find out if Steve Jobs was a great man, or if Apple is a great company.” My bet was on Jobs. And, although Apple still sits on piles of money, I’d say that I won that bet.

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Box with answer choices: "True, False, True for Me; False for You"

As a matter of fact...

Any time an emotion is labelled a fact, it is an opportunity for conflict. It is an opportunity to see difference instead of similarities. True facts are cold. But emotions, or emotions dressed up as facts, get people, well... emotional.

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Road splitting

Option B

A few years back, I gave one of my talks at a Ladies America conference in Washington, DC. Once I was offstage, a small line of people formed to ask me questions. One woman had in her hands a marketing mailer she had put together. She was planning on starting an executive coaching business and intended to send out the mailer to drum up business. Sadly, her mailer was not destined for success.

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Your Fake is My Real

Over a decade ago I started pointing out to clients that websites were a new leveler. Big companies can look small; small companies can look big (or vice versa). But websites also provided a new way to warp the truth. Promises can be made or implied that can be hard to suspect or disprove, except in the rear-view mirror.

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Photo of a half robot, half human

You, Robot

Do you really know what “being you” means? Because if you don’t, then how could you possibly know whether “who you are” is being manipulated?

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Who Are We Now?

Identities shift and we’d all be wise to pay attention. The way you talk to a group today may not be the way to talk to them tomorrow. Whether it is your company that is changing, or your customer base, or the market conditions, you need to stay alert to how your customers perceive you, your product, but especially themselves.

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California License Plate that reads: California AM 12

Golden State. Base Metal Plate.

Some of the things most important and most effective for brand strategy almost certainly save the company money, while at the same time pushing forward a unified brand message. I have found not realizing this to be an all too common situation in large organizations.

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Swift Thinking

It's always worth it to stop for a moment and ask, “what else could be going on here?”

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Green VW logo on a car's windshield

What's Really Bugging VW?

What is your driving force? Is it still being the best purveyor of what you do? Or has it become doing what it takes to meet the numbers?

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red hamburger against a yellow background with text that reads: Fast Food in red letter

Who Should I Be: Better or Different?

When asked to explain the meaning of “brand,” I say it is the answer to the question, “What do people think of when they think about me?”

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woman asking for a ride on the road on the side of the road

Uber or Under?

I had a conversation this week with a client about the fact that a brand is not just about “outreach” – it is about “inreach.” – What kind of company do you want to be? What kind of a company do your employees think they work for? What kind of culture are you building?

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Gray Sedan with text that reads: We Fixed The Sedan

Fix the Strategy, Tony

Here’s a nutty idea: Just start making good, attractive, reliable products.

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Guy looking at another guy

The Natives are Restless

"Shoe-horning" is no way to build a relationship. If your product or your campaign is not good enough to win customers via truth, get a new product or get a new agency.

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Thank You For Being a Friend…

When a brand is expressed correctly, it takes on manifestations of a real-life character.

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Wall of No's

When you walk into a restaurant and see that they have several "Best Of" awards but the most recent was from, say, 3 years ago. What does that mean? They forgot to put up the most recent accolades? They now suck? Well, we don't necessarily know, but as I often remind clients: "if you fail to put out a message, one will be put out for you" - perhaps by your competitors.

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Freedom to Fail

It seems that more than ever our students are frightened of failing. And so they don't risk it. Without freedom to fail I'm not sure you have freedom at all.

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Ticket Punch

How easy is it for your customers to deal with you when things are not going well? Friendships born in the crucible of fire are quite often the strongest.

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