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In The Shell: The Power of The Individual, or There’s Always a Me in Team.

When I was in college, I rowed Men’s 8’s for the Crew team.  For the uninitiated, Men’s Eights is a physics experiment that involves stuffing 8 reasonably large men into a long, skinny, fragile rowing shell along with a small, very loud coxswain perched at the end just to see how fast we can get from point A to point B without killing ourselves.

When you row in a boat like this, everyone is in sync. With each stroke, as you pull pivot and push the massive oar in your hands, your tiny seat slides up and you temporarily occupy the space of the person ahead of you. On your return, you straighten your legs and are back to your starting position – which was, seconds before, occupied by the rower behind you.

It’s that tight.

As the boat thunders through the water, the force is tremendous. Scary even, and exhilarating because you are a piston in the engine generating that force. If someone stops for some reason, the results can be devastating. Crabbing – when the rower loses control of their oar and it gets trapped in the water – can lead to anything from broken ribs to broken boats.

Although synchronization is demanded in an environment like this, the Truth is when you’re in the race you must be incredibly focused on yourself first because, ultimately, that’s all that matters. And all that you can hope to control.

In the shell, it’s really not about Team. Fact is, as in Life, it never is. Not really.

It’s always about individual choice.

A Different Perspective: Team, Deconstructed.

If you think about it, any ‘Team’ is actually a group of individuals. In the case of Men’s Eights, the ‘team’s’ success or failure is really an aggregate byproduct of 8 simultaneous and ongoing personal choices. From that perspective, the eventual victory or loss is simply the tallied sum of all of those personal, in-the-moment decisions. Sure, that may give the appearance of synchronicity but, like the most solid object viewed at the atomic level, appearances can be deceiving.

In the shell, the reality is this: when you’re two-and-a-half miles in to a three-mile race, even the most elite athletes are in pain.  Your breath burns in your chest, everything aches, you’re gasping and pulling and trying to maintain focus on every little part of every little stroke, dropping the blade, pulling through, snapping the wrist to rotate the oar.  The coxswain’s voice becomes little more than a buzzing metronome. Again and again and again, pulling through each stroke. You want to stop, just for a moment. But you can’t. If you don’t focus on only what you can control, in an instant everything shatters.  You know this. Yet, still, again and again you’ll want to pause, just for a moment…just this once….

That’s where the battle is won or lost. Individually. Inside of each member of the team.  Inside of you.

Yes, there are benefits to working together; an economy of efficiency created by communally deciding to focus the efforts of a group on a common goal. Is Teamwork required? In the shell, absolutely. But is your value determined by your membership in the team? Absolutely not.

Ultimately, even in the most team-centric setting, success of failure is not about the team as entity; it is about a series of constant individual decisions that, when viewed from the outside, appear to be a synchronized group-think achievement.

If you’re looking to make a change in your life and feel stuck, consider this:

There is danger in always identifying as a part of the Team; if we allow our own sense of self to be determined by the success – or failure – of the Team (business, sports, society) with which we surround ourselves,  then we may become psychologically attached to the idea of the Team’s success as being a primary indicator of our own personal worth and potential.  What’s more, there is a false security in tying your identity The Team; the impact of  failure can be diluted if you can share it with others. But the same also applies to achievement.

Ultimately, a dependency on the Team – and that can be everything from our work situation to the comforts of community, family or even geography – can keep us from moving forward by ourselves. Of trying new things, and making the necessary changes to evolve our lives, our careers, and our relationships.

Corporate blasphemy?  Maybe but even – or, perhaps especially – in these tumultuous times, we need to remember that everything stems from the choice of the Individual: Your choice. In Every moment. Creates your Reality.

Once you embrace this concept, you realize that you – and only you – are the lynchpin of your own Life.  You are completely in charge of yourself, and your destiny regardless of circumstance or surroundings.  This requires responsibility.  And mindfulness. And also a realization that there is no greater force – no team or group or organization of any sort – that dictates your fate, good or bad.

The thing to remember is this: when YOU need a change and, finally, draw that line in the sand, that line is drawn individually, by YOU, not by consensus. When you recognize this, you are free to move forward into the scary and exciting unknown.

So Congratulations, you are in charge of your own success or failure. You are also in charge of how you feel.  That is true empowerment. And something that we all have in equal measure. And always have had, since birth, even if we’ve lost sight of that in the tumult of life, or been told otherwise by even the most well-meaning of people.

If by chance the larger  ‘team’  – be that family, society, government, or those other folks in your boat – happens to benefit from your personal choices, terrific. If not, too bad. But then, they too have the opportunity to make their own choices.

So when your legs are exhausted, your mind muddled, and your lungs on fire, choose. To push on. Or change. Or accept.

But don’t just sit there ‘for a moment’ and take stock…because moments become years.

Just know that win or lose, the responsibility – and opportunity – of your life lies solely with you.









The Only Way To Grow a Big Pumpkin – and a Big Life.

Every year I try to grow pumpkins. Every year I fail.  Except for this year.

I have a very small patch for my pumpkins. It’s not big enough, and I know it.

Still, like Charlie Brown trusting Lucy to hold the football, every year I give it a go.

My wife and daughters are amused, but supportive. They even buy me exotic gourd and pumpkin seeds to support my quest.

So every Spring I till the soil.  Add compost and nutrients. Weed. Make the mounds out of earth for the seeds. Plant, water, and wait.

Every year they sprout – maybe a half-dozen plants on each mound. I watch for rabbits and deer.

To have the best chance for large, healthy pumpkins, I’m supposed to cull the plants down to one per mound.  I’ve never done that, because it seems risky.  You see, if there’s only one plant, instead of the usual five or six, what happens if that plant dies?  I’ll have nothing, right?

So I’ve never culled down to one plant.  Plus because I want to try so many types of pumpkins, I have too many mounds for such a small space. This too is a problem. Still, I always let them ALL grow, hoping that this year will be different.

Jen, my wife, is the practical one.  She says “You really have to get rid of some of those plants so you’ll have room to grow.” I suspect she’s talking about more than plants.

Still, every year I ignore this advice.

So, every year all of the plants grow and overgrow and spill out into the lawn.  Every year I lose track of which vines are which because there are so many.  The squirrels and mice and groundhogs get in and chew up the young fruits because they’re hidden in the labyrinth of plants.

Every year I see the powdery mildew disease start, but by the time I see it, it’s too late. Why? because there are too many leaves and vines and the fungus starts where the the air can’t penetrate.  Eventually the mildew wins, methodically taking down all of the vines and cruelly exposing  all of the colorful fruits rotting beneath the canopy of leaves. All because I’ve again failed to do one important thing.

So every year I am left with maybe a couple of small pumpkins and gourds, not even large enough to carve.

Every Year… except for this year….

I live in a postcard-perfect small town on the North Fork of Long Island. It’s an easy hop to NYC, but far enough away to be rural.   It is, in many ways, idyllic.  But it is not easy to make a living here using fairly specialized skills – in my case being a brand copywriter and strategist. That said, I’ve built a very good business helping fix, reposition and grow other people’s businesses. I’ve done good work, and supported my family in the process..

Problem is my clients trust me and, over time, ask me to do pretty much everything marketing-related for them. And because I know advertising and marketing and did a lot of that before I moved over to the brand side, I can do it. But I also know I shouldn’t. For someone else, that’s a great thing; for me it’s grind-work.  Mission creep due to the halo effect. Even good problems are still problems.

I am at heart a writer and creative. For a long time now, I’ve wanted to trim down what I offer professionally. A long time.

Every year I think I should just focus solely on the writing, creative and brand strategy. It’s what I enjoy do best. It’s why new clients call and where referrals come from. Every year I also tell myself to say “no” firmly far more than “yes” weakly. That I need to cull to be strong and healthy and grow. I recognize that I am a limited resource.

But every year when I start to walk that path, I think “What if…”

So every year I take on more rather than less. And wind up with less as a result.

Less time. Less focus. Less Satisfaction. And probably, despite all of the churn, angst and effort, about the same amount of income.

You would think I’d learn.

And maybe I have….

This year I culled. Ruthlessly. And it’s made all the difference.

That pumpkin in the picture up top? That’s one of two huge ones from a single plant in my garden.

It’s big, healthy and immensely satisfying to see. And it’s still growing.

Yes, it was hard. Pumpkins don’t replant easily; culling wasn’t moving, culling was killing. But it was necessary.

I now have the pumpkins that I want. And, because this single plant has grown and thrived so robustly, I don’t miss the others at all.

In case you missed it, the trick is this: you need to prune and discard those seemingly safe things that actually get in your way.  You need to cull. And that’s hard.

It’s easy to rationalize: what if they all grow? Or, if you are brave and do cull, what if that One dies? Both could happen, but neither will.

Nope. You’re just avoiding the unpleasant prospect of making some hard choices in order to get some real results.  You’re hedging your bets.  And you’re letting Fear take the wheel.

That’s dangerous. You need to take the wheel.

I have. Every day I’m culling and pruning.  Even in this time of Covid uncertainty I believe that brand differentiation and perception is more important that ever, so writing and strategy has become my focus.

Can I build a website, make digital ads or cut a video? Sure. But no.

Instead, I’m managing the people who do that best according to the communications and brand strategies I create. Which means I’m freer to do what I enjoy and do best.

And maybe growing a larger healthier pumpkin – and Life –  as a result.

Why I’m Glad I Broke My Guitar.

I’ve been trying to learn guitar for years. I’d  pick it up, learn for a stretch, get into it, stop making progress, forget about it, lose my callouses Rinse and repeat. When Covid hit, I had more time and decided to, once again,  take another stab at learning the guitar. Fender made this easy by offering all of us shut-ins free lessons.

A few weeks in I was still at it, and decided I wanted to try and  change the strings on my favorite guitar. I’d never done it by myself before, so I asked Olivia, my oldest daughter, if she wanted to do it with me. She’s getting older and, though still a couple of years away from college, I already see the writing on the wall and sometimes feel pre-wistful about her eventual departure. I may be Superman to the outside world, but my girls are my Kryptonite, so whenever I get a chance to spend time with them, I carpe that diem.

Anyway, she said sure, we sat down on the floor, pulled up a You Tube video, and got to the step-by-step work of replacing the strings.

Just me and her trying to figure it out. Laughing, talking…just being. It was simple and effortless and breathtakingly fulfilling in the way that only maybe a parent can understand. At one point we couldn’t loosen one of the bridge pins that hod the strings down. I tried to use a pin-puller tool, slipped, and put a pretty good ding in the top of my otherwise near-perfect Guild D50.

No, not a hole, but, well...Aaargh!

“It’s alright” I said, and we got back to the business of changing the strings. And talking and listening and learning and just just having great time together, me and my 16-year-old buddy.

Finally we finished, tuned up, gave each other a fist bump, eventually put it back in the case, and left.

A few day later Olivia asked me if I was going to get the ‘ding’ fixed. I shrugged “I don’t know” I said.

Later that night I pulled it out to play and ran my fingertip over that chip in the finish. But when I looked at it all I could see, and feel, and relive was a great, warm, fun time with my daughter.

Not a now-imperfect  guitar. Not a ham-handed mistake that I regretted. Nope, that ding will remain forever, because every single time I think about it, or see it, a smile comes to my face.

I will never fix it.

As a brand copywriter and strategist, a lot of my time is spent shaping perception. One thing I’ve learned is that the meaning we assign to things is, in large part, more real than the objective thing in and of itself. Long story short, we have a choice about how we see the world. How we respond to everything that affects us. And how we feel.

We can choose to define something as good or the bad by what we associate with it. The meaning we choose means everything.

How we choose to see becomes our truth. Our truth becomes our Life. And our Life can be made better or worse, painful or joyful as a result.

When we remember this, even in these odd times, we realize we have all of the power to be happy or otherwise.

Every time I pull out my guitar, I see that chip in the finish. And I smile.

Choose wisely.

Are You Doomed by Definition?

Yesterday morning I was reading “The Ten Best Books of 2019” in The New York Times‘ Book Review to see if I was on it (spoiler alert: nope). Anyway, the article contained a brief synopsis of each the NYT’s top 10 picks, one of which was The Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry. I was drinking my coffee and skimming along and Mr. Barry’s book sounded pretty interesting – until I got to the last line of the review, which reads as follows:

“Their banter is a shield against the dark, a witty new take on “Waiting for Godot.”

And with that, I was done. No longer as interested as I had been. Maybe I’d pick it up, maybe I wouldn’t.


Because, I realized, while I’m not familiar with Mr. Barry’s work, I am very familiar with Samuel Beckett’s – especially on the Godot side.

As a writer, reader and former English major, I know that play.  A lot of people know that play – even if they haven’t read it, or seen it performed, they pretty much get the gist of it.  And, I’ll wager, a lot of Book Review readers are also familiar with Godot.

And because of this familiarity I immediately – and probably pretty unfairly – filed The Night Boat to Tangier away in the ‘this is like Waiting for Godot’ section of my brain.  Sure, I know they’re not the same work, but in an instant that brief description defined the entirety of the book for me from now on out.

And pretty much killed my chances of reading it because, well, I already know Godot.

Yes, I know that I am a shortsighted, impulsive, largely uninformed idiot to take this position,  and I know that I’m missing out on something here, but it doesn’t matter. You see, right or wrong, because I now have such a short and resonant snapshot of Mr. Barry’s work in my mind  I probably won’t pick it up — at least ahead of other choices of which I know less.

In my brain, the equation now reads as follows: Night Boat To Tangier = Waiting for Godot lite.

It’s a stupid position to take, but maybe I have no choice. And neither do you.

In my defense, this quick-take approach is simply a result of the way we humans are wired: our brains are designed to keep things neat and efficient, and intentionally only focus on specific things at the expense of others. It’s a survival mechanism, because if we didn’t do this we’d be overwhelmed by all of the sensory data that’s constantly bombarding us.  So when we get an idea of what something’s about, we immediately decide whether it’s relevant and then quickly package it and tuck it away on whatever mental shelf it belongs. In the Night Boat’s case, because of that easy framing, it’ll get filed on my mental shelf under ‘I already know what this is about, so no further exploration needed’.

And that’s not only a shame, but also the risk we all run when deciding how to present ourselves to the world.

Sure, I recognize Mr. Barry’s work is almost undoubtedly so much more than this simple connection I’ve made via a brief definition (it is ‘Top 10’ after all) and that I’ll definitely be missing out on a great opportunity that is likely far richer and even, perhaps, better than the work with which it is pithily coupled.

But there it is: the danger of the short definition.

It’s the kind of thing that kills opportunities, careers, brands and relationships.

So why did this idea of definition all jump out at me?  And why, right now?

We live in a world that is frantic.  We are all running and don’t seem to have time for anything.  We are all constantly taking it all in, making myriad decisions based on scant information, and somehow have convinced ourselves – or perhaps been conditioned to think –  that having the time to explore something in greater depth is a luxury.

And while I think this is (or perhaps leads to) insanity, there is a truth to it.

In my case, it’s something I’ve struggled with for years. Professionally, I identify as a Writer and Brand Strategist. But I am also an Author, Father, Husband, Copywriter, Photographer, Poet, Artist, Communications Expert, Gamer, Business Strategist, Surf Caster, Pumpkin Grower, lover of all things Halloween, Principal at LGM Creative,  Storyteller, creator of the Brandphilic method, Hater of Soulless Consumerism, and nascent Screenwriter and Videographer.

And that’s not even a complete list.

Like so many of you, for years I too have wrestled with the “how do I present myself” question. And it has been paralyzing.

On the one hand, I get it: on the professional side, efficiency can be helpful – especially if you’re a business or recruiter looking to fill a job. So maybe on Linked In you make it clean and lean: For your convenience, I am these, and only these, specific things, these are my specific keyworded skills and here’s a tidy summary of my proactive,  results-driven (retch) existence. Please pick me.

Yes, I get the convenience of quick Definition.

My business card – at least the unedited version (see pic) only says Writer and Brand Strategist.

But, I’ll argue, because it can’t say everything, maybe it should say nothing.

Perhaps this is something specific to creatives – I don’t know – but all of those things that we are beyond the quick definition with which we are tagged are those very things that inform our work.  They are the creative well from which we draw to do our thing.  And while it would be easy to suggest that if I were, say, a programmer, a tight list of all of the programming languages I knew would be all that matters, I think that that too is untrue.

Every profession needs to create and evolve and contribute and – until we’re replaced by our AI-driven robot overlords – that very messiness of definition is where our true value lies, not in the sanitized and short and concise one.

As I mentioned, I’ve been paralyzed: do I set up two sites – one as a brand communications writer strategist, and the other as a fiction writer, creative and all the rest of me?

Seriously, it’s tricky. You don’t want to be perceived as either an unfocused flake or a very basic cog or robot. And the same holds true for your business, or your brand. You don’t want to confuse people, but you also don’t want to present yourself as a parity provider either, because the latter is far more dangerous over the long haul.

If you decide to present yourself too tightly and for the perceived convenience of others, you are running a very real risk of making this two-dimensional version of yourself easily dismissed. Worse, if you do succeed in, say, attracting what you want as a result of this thin and tight definition, you may be perceived as only that, and will likely find yourself struggling for something more rewarding, fulfilling and true to yourself in a very short time.

So for me, I’m going all in and hopefully, the people and projects I want to work with will find me. Sure, I’m busy as Hell, but as of late I find myself restless and looking for new creative challenges and partnerships, and it doesn’t make sense for me to try and pigeonhole myself while looking to broaden my horizons.  If nothing pans out, that’s fine, but if it does, I want to make sure the ‘me’  I’m putting out there attracts what I actually want.

And the same holds true for how you present yourself, your offerings or your business. Quite frankly, I think that’s why branding interests me so much because, for me, your brand is simply the way people think about you. How you shape and manage that is critical, because if you present yourself in a manner that will definitely produce higher ‘engagement’, but is in some manner false to what you really are, you’re going to attract clients that may not actually value what you really offer, and the resulting relationship with be brief and likely painful. Same holds true for humans. Like I said, it’s a tricky business.

I guess my counterculture advice would be this: present yourself as big and messy hopefully also as interesting and curious and passionate as you really are, and without apology. Be clear and professional, but maybe don’t be too easily digested; instead, be interesting.  Pique curiosity. Be human.  And be true to you, and others.

If not, you may wind up being thought of as just another commodity, a one-trick pony to be used or quickly dismissed.

And that does us all a disservice.

Is putting it all out there a safe approach? No. And Yes. The safe route says work passively in the system, hold on and don’t make waves, but that doesn’t feel much like living, does it? Plus any system that values that approach does not value you, so just how ‘safe’ is it, anyway?  For me at least, if I put myself out there as thoughtfully and honestly as possible, then wherever I do land, and whatever new paths open up as result have a much better chance of being the just the right paths for me.  ALL of me, and that’s pretty cool.

Y’know, I may just read Mr. Barry’s book after all.



How to Save the Movies. And Maybe your Business.

When I used to go to the movies it was an Event. Two hours away from more of the same, and transported to somewhere new.

An escape.  Something different. I’d be excited, alert, aware. Fidgety even. Sitting in my seat. Waiting with anticipation.

There used to be a neat screensaver – oily, lava-lamp colors projected on the screen. Anticipation built. There was trivia sometimes; not GEICO trivia, movie trivia. Designed to speak to people who, well, loved movies. To encourage that love, even. The day-to-day fell away.

Then darkness. Then previews. Exciting, because I hadn’t seen them before.

Then the movie and I’d get lost in it.

Today when I go to the movies, it’s my living room transported to a public space with worse seats.

I see all of the commercials I see at home. They’re just bigger here.

Then too many previews I’ve already seen.

Then, finally, darkness, movie and larger-than-life screen – that part’s still exciting.

But if I miss it, I know it’ll be out on Netflix or DVD in the space of about 60 days or so, so if the experience is pretty much the same, but more costly and without added benefit, what’s the point?

Theaters complain. Hollywood complains.

But the simple truth of the matter is this:  they’re doing it to themselves.

They are no longer inviting us to escape. Instead, they’re asking us to experience exactly what we could otherwise at a greater cost and with less convenience. They are taking a short-term view of profitability, grasping at straws without a larger strategy. Nickel-and-diming and trying to extract every penny of built-in yet dwindling demand, instead of capitalizing upon – and amplifying – the incredible opportunity they already have.

In a world of people dying to get away, even for just an hour or two, they’re ignoring the obvious; they are uniquely positioned to succeed.

Instead, they see us as fish in a barrel; trapped and unable to get away, at least for a little while, from the old marketing game. For now, for that brief window of experience before the movie starts, we remain a captive audience. Rather than being creative with that opportunity, they ham-handedly exploit it .

The movie experience is fast becoming all too similar to what you can get somewhere – maybe everywhere – else. It is, essentially, neither special nor unique anymore – not really. It is the result of greed, fear of risk, and a lack of creativity on the part of the theater industry. And that is very sad.

As with all brands, if you do not differentiate, you die a slow and painful death. It is what I call The Rule of the Parity Provider: when you offer the same thing as everyone else, price becomes the sole differentiator.  Margins shrink as you try to compete and, eventually,  you simply go under. This is what’s happening here.

Twelve bucks for a ticket for two hours, OR twelve bucks for a month of Netflix?

If the movie theaters understood their opportunity to position themselves as a provider of escape, entertainment and respite from the world, this would be a magical ticket — a temporary pass to somewhere else —  that anyone would buy.

They have the opportunity to provide – and capitalize on – something truly unique. But they don’t.

They should. In fact, they must. There really is no alternative.

And when it comes to your business, and your brand, so should you.

What do you provide that’s truly different?  Be honest with yourself: What does your business do that’s the same as what your competitors do?

Once you figure that out, the important question becomes what do you offer that’s different?

What’s the one thing you can identify that you do Best, and that people can’t get anywhere else?

Build on that, and you’ll not only survive, you’ll thrive. And also suddenly discover that you no longer have as much competition as you used to.

And wouldn’t that be nice?

That’s what the Movie Theater Industry needs to do. And pretty much everyone else.

Is Brand Loyalty Dead?

I was reading an article the other day in The Wall Street Journal about how major brands are finding it necessary to raise prices on consumer staples in large part, it seems, to meet profit and earnings goals.  For some reason this is being presented as news though, if you are the type of person who, say, shops for their own food, this is in no way surprising. Or news, actually.

The reality is that prices on consumer goods – despite (questionable?) inflation index reports to the contrary (if you’re getting less for the same or more, isn’t that by-definition, inflated?) – have been going up for the better part of the past three years.  The trick, it seems, has been to change the packaging dimensions and reduce the actual amount of product volume while keeping the price reasonably stable, with only incremental increases.

For example, the concept of “a gallon of bleach’ now seems somewhat nostalgic, if not archaic: things used to come in standard weights and measures like gallons, pints, quarts, liters and the like. As consumers, this was a matter of course, and not worthy of perpetual vigilance.

That is, like so many things, no longer the case.  In fact, if you buy a ‘gallon’ of Clorox bleach now – or really, any name brand – you are looking at not 128 fl. ounces, but instead, 121 fl. ounces.  And, in-step with this, comes the change in copy away from a traditionally defined unit of measure, like gallon, and toward a more subjective and slippery term, like “pack”. Curiously enough, off-brand and generics are still 128 oz, and far less expensive – a point brought up by the WSJ article as a factor with which the big name-brands must now contend. It seems that vigilance is indeed necessary.

The look and feel of the bleach bottle is about what it once was, though upon careful inspection, it’s a little thinner front-to-back, no doubt to keep shelf visibility high and create the illusion of traditional size.  If you use a lot of bleach, that 7 ounces adds up, especially when the prices creep higher.  And if you produce a lot of bleach, that skimming tactic also contributes handily to your company’s bottom line – especially when considered at a massive production scale wherein you essentially give the consumer 3{23224a7f521af97bae50b30e4728840741fbe348559ab868556c0274d88c7331}+ less product for the same price.

Now that this under-the-radar practice has become so commonplace, and repeated so often as to be accepted and made invisible to the average consumer, it appears to be safe for producers to more overtly raise the prices publicly, further exacerbating the value inequity.

And it’s not just Clorox, of course.  It appears to be every single, ‘trusted’ brand out there. Another example? I eat a lot of tuna – Bumblebee Solid White Albacore in water, to be exact. It’s quick, easy (I’m not a millennial and thus can wield a can opener) and has always been of dependably high-quality.  In fact, if you go to their website it was always pretty close to the so-called ‘steaky’ option on the right.

About 6-months ago, that changed. At first I thought I’d gotten a bad batch; the tuna was yellow, watery, chunky and smelled strongly of fish (yes, I know it’s fish, but this wasn’t quite right). It wasn’t bad per se, but much closer to a lower grade of tuna.

The price had already crept up, first in can-size back around 2010 and more recently in actual (net) product — you needed to read the print to realize that the 5 oz. can was not only 4-ounces of actual tuna — but now, it seemed, we were also dealing with additional sleight of hand from the good folks at Bumble Bee; while I didn’t want to believe it, after repeated attempts it became clear that inferior tuna wrapped in a familiar and more premium package was the new norm.

Then, when I discovered THIS, it all became quite clear:

This isn’t just solid white tuna – oh no, this is Prime Fillet!

Ooooh. Take in the majesty of the gold can. The aspirational, pinkies-up font choice of Prime Fillet…. The far higher price.

I cracked open this golden can of wonder and, gasp! It was, as near as I can tell, filled with my old Solid White Albacore Tuna in Water!

Now, I don’t like to think bad things about anyone, especially corporations, which are apparently people, but the evidence would suggest that there was a bait and switcheroo going on here! I don’t know for sure, of course, but as a loyal consumer of Bumblebee Solid White Albacore Tuna – for years, mind you – and presented solely with actual tangible experiential evidence, I dare say the Good Folks at Bumble Bee might be playing games.

And testing my Brand Loyalty.

Is there any reason for Consumers to remain blindly loyal to Brands anymore?

It’s a good question, and as a someone who works with brands for a living, and helps shape the way people think about them, an important one.

From the consumer side, the short answer is no. And that should be frightening to brands, both large and small.  Sure, publicly traded companies have an obligation to their stockholders, but they shouldn’t think only in quarterly terms, and sacrifice consumer trust for shareholder profitability – that’s slow suicide.

It is my experience that, despite a million bits of content to the contrary, your Brand is simply the way people think about you, your product or service.  That’s it – everything else details.  And the details are important, the way that is accomplished and the strategy behind it.

The best thing you can do for your brand is to ensure that people (1) understand what you do, and (2) always have a genuinely positive association with it whenever and wherever they encounter it.  That little, deceptively simple piece of brand-philosophy forms the basis for a Brandphilic™ approach to branding. Brandphilic™ is a process I developed after years of working with brands and figuring out what works universally and consistently. Also, yes the trademark is real – as was the struggle to secure it 😉

Think about this:  if Clorox – a name synonymous with bleach – or Bumble Bee, a Brand similarly associated with tuna – cannot be trusted to deliver on their core value proposition, what does that mean for the strength and value of their brand?

It’s not a good sign. Trust is the key to a strong brand. Consumers are forgiving, but not stupid. And they communicate their approval or disapproval for a Brand and its actions with their pocketbook.

Now, this would normally be the place where, in the past, I might suggest that Brands need to shape up or they will eventually take a beating.  And, yes, that is true, but no, it will not change their behavior — not anymore.

I asked whether Brand Loyalty is Dead and, despite identifying the problems, I believe that we’ve moved into a new era. Bottom line: the corporations no longer care, and are brazenly overt about it.  They are no longer scared of – or really, even beholden to – the consumer, because they’re far more scared of the shareholder, and the potential blowback from missing e.p.s. estimates by a penny.  So they will continue to wring out and wrangle every drop of possible profit.

To the detriment of their customers.  To the detriment of their employees. But ultimately not to their detriment – especially if they are one of the last few conglomerates standing, because they will simply be Too Big to Care.

As I wrote at the end of Cogh and The Machine, we are fast moving into a future which will ultimately see merger and acquisition activity increase: it is a simple matter profitability through economy of size, a matter of their survival and a matter of time.  In the end, there will be a handful corporate behemoths to which we are all beholden – regardless of whether the vast majority of the populace – or perhaps even the government –  likes them or not.

It is a matter of scale, of economics and of – whether we say differently or not –  consumer behavior. Yes, the onus is on us. Every time we buy a product from an Amazon or a Walmart, we are choosing convenience, which is certainly understandable. But we are also voting for a certain future in which only the largest survive, and once the corporations become few and giant and the only choices, then Brand loyalty won’t matter because there ultimately won’t be that many brands left. And if a brand is really a matter of perception, and the brand no longer needs to care about how people think about them, then what?

The question then moves from ‘Is Brand Loyalty Dead’ to  “Does Brand Loyalty Even Matter?”

And in that future, the answer is still no.

The Good News? Please? Anyone?

That future has not been written yet. It’s still a 2-way street where the consumer can — and does — strongly impact the behavior of the corporations and businesses they choose to have a relationship with.  And the better news is that that somewhat apocalyptic economic scenario need not happen – but mindfulness is key.

Voice is powerful.  Action is necessary. And your Choices matter.

To passively accept the increasingly unacceptable behavior of many – though to be fair, not all — corporate entities is to allow this behavior to continue. Even encourage it. In an age where most people are treading water financially, it’s difficult to make the hard choice. But if you look downstream, and see where the path may lead, it becomes necessary to step back for just a moment and say Enough! And say it loudly, and rationally – don’t just scream, because no one wants to hear that.

And vote with your wallet, and encourage your friends to do likewise.

Perhaps then those Brands That Listen, when they respond appropriately to that particular line of financial reasoning, will have earned your Loyalty and it will begin to Matter once again.

Here’s to optimism, choice, discourse and dialogue in a world that sorely needs it – cheers!






How To Fix Everything

Ever interrogate a 4-year old? If you’re a parent, you probably have — and usually after something has mysteriously become broken while you weren’t there.  The routine is always the same: there’s a little watery-eyed shrug (which almost always effectively turns your heart into a puddle), and then the magic words:

“It just happened.”

The thing is, that wasn’t true then, and it’s equally never true for adults.

Which is to say, there’s a cause behind every effect, but we spend too much time reacting to the effect than we do unraveling the actual cause.

For example, let’s say I come up with a new tagline for a client’s brand.  Now, I don’t just reach into my magic bucket of words and crank these things out, hoping something will stick. Nope, instead coming up with a tagline is mid-stream in the process; I’ve already spent lots of time unearthing their USP, developing a strategy and we’ve worked through the process to come to an agreement on direction and how best to present their brand over the long term.  The tagline needs to capture and convey all of that, so once the initial legwork’s done, it’s my job to do just that.

So when, on those rare occasions, a client comes back post-presentation and says it doesn’t work for them, well, the 4-year old in my wants to stamp my foot and say ‘No! You’re wrong! I’m right! And I’m taking my toys and going home!”.

As a strategist, I’ll let you in on a little secret: That’s NOT a good strategy.

But as an experienced adult, I also know that it’s time for me to respond, rather than react. And also to recognize that this didn’t ‘just happen’. There was, somewhere during the process, a miscommunication, or misinterpretation, where something didn’t quite click.

In short, there’s a cause for the effect.

I know this seems like common sense but, again, often times we seem to try and fix the effect, rather than the cause.

If your car stalls, it didn’t just happen. 9/11 didn’t just happen. If the stock market tanks, it didn’t just happen. If you’re significant other packs up and leaves you nothing more than a hastily written note, it didn’t just happen.

The good thing is, if we can just remember to just take a single breath when whatever happens happens, and remember that we have a breadcrumb trail back to the source, we can fix pretty much everything.  Which makes life less scary and hopeless.

And one final thought: good things don’t just happen either, so try and unravel what’s going right, understand that cause, multiply as needed, and enjoy the effect.


Ever Want to Start Over?

Sure you do.  Most people do — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, when done for the right reasons, it can be a sign of growth.  Here’s the thing: if you think you’ve reached your limit in the old, and want to move on to the new, to that place where you can be the next best version of yourself, then starting over doesn’t always mean starting from scratch.  Sometimes it just means recognizing that you need to be a ruthless editor — of your life.  And editing starts with getting rid of some things so you can make room for better ones.  And maybe in the process, you also discover that some of those things you were holding on to so tightly were also holding on to you.

Maybe holding you back.  From the new. And the better.

All of which is to say if you’ve arrived here expecting to see my old blog, well, I dumped it.  All of it (though I did back it up – you know, just in case).

And if you’re seeing this message, know this: it’s temporary.  Like everything else, really. Change is always happening, but when you step back and take a look and realize it and then embrace it, well, that can be liberating.

Long story short-ish, I’m restarting the whole thing. Building out a new blog about 3 topics: Branding, Creativity and Life.

For me, that’s enough categories and pretty much capture everything I do as a writer, brand communications strategist, author, creative, human, husband and father.

Much of what I do is driven by a desire to help people.  These days, most of the work I do is by referral and usually involves figuring out what’s broken and finding ways to fix it.  I unearth brands and shape the way people understand and think about businesses. I write about things that matter and do my best to make a difference whether it’s profitable or not because, in the long run, people count a whole lot more than profit.

Which means if there’s something you need help with, feel free to reach out to me directly and I’ll do my best to help, because we need more of that these days.

About the blog? It’ll be a work in progress, pretty much like life. It’ll mostly stick to those three categories, and hopefully will provide you with some value and a little entertainment along the way.

And thanks for playing along 😉