Monday, April 20, 2015

Political Brands 2016: Hillary Clinton

Maybe it's because I can't do much about it or perhaps America's death spiral into hopeless mediocrity is so damn entertaining, but I love watching presidential politics. I love the pointless arguing. The ridiculous posturing. But most of all, I love the way the American public will buy just about anything the media feeds it. As the Nazis used to say, "Tell a lie often enough and pretty soon people believe it."

If you're a reader of this blog, you may recall my analyses of Political Brands for the last few elections. Bear in mind, I have no skin in this game. While I personally am somewhat centrist with a conservative twist, I'm by no means a dyed in the wool Republican. I tend to vote the issue and have never voted the straight party line. I'm just a brand strategist, and to that end, I humbly submit my critiques of each candidate's strategic errors, blunders and comedies.

This time out, I'd like to call your attention to Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first major contender out of the gate, aptly referred to as The Great Democrat Hope. Many liberals and Democrats see Mrs. Clinton as a national shoo-in, convinced that the Republican party is all but dead, having been decimated by its Congressional intractability and its Tea Party faction.

I submit to you that Mrs. Clinton is going to need much more than that in order to become President of the United States. And the reason is simple: At this writing, there are all kinds of reasons why people may want to vote against Republicans, but there are almost no reasons why they'd want to vote for Mrs. Clinton. In fact, there's a certifiable mountain of doubts facing Mrs. Clinton's campaign, which at this point seems daunting, if not downright unsurmountable. If you doubt that, I've prepared a list of reasons for you to consider:

1. There's a distinct possibility that many voters will see Hillary as Obama's third term in the same way voters saw McCain as Bush's third term in 2008 -- and vote against her.
2. She might be great in person. But Nixon was incredibly warm and charming in person, too.
3. She's old news. Speaking from my own corner, she has no brand strategy. There's no reason to vote for her; lots of reasons to vote against her.
4. She's sexist -- and bear with me here -- because she's campaigning on a "Wouldn't you like to see a female president" platform. A genuine feminist wouldn't make gender an issue, because gender shouldn't be an issue.
5. She's got the e-mail thing.
6. She's got the Benghazi thing.
7. She's got the Rose Law firm thing.
8. She's got the Vince Foster thing.
9. She's got the failed national health care thing (1992).
10. She's hampered by Bill Clinton: One on hand, he's popular. On the other, she can't be seen in his shadow.
11. Nobody can name any of her accomplishments. Everyone can name at least three of her failures.
12. In the coming months, questions of Clinton finances will begin to pummel the candidate as inquiries dig up exactly how much Mrs. Clinton is worth -- and how she managed to accrue that wealth.
13. If you haven't read The Invisible Political Issue of 2016, I suggest you add it to your list, because the issue has nothing to do with Mrs. Clinton herself, but it has everything to do with the people she expects to vote for her.

If the above isn't enough, there's one more aspect to Mrs. Clinton's candidacy that nobody seems to care about: a Black Swan event. A wise man once warned never to put all one's eggs in one basket, yet this seems to be exactly what Democrats are doing. By placing all their money on a Clinton candidacy, the Democrats run the risk of their opponents saving up some really powerful scandal(s) to be dropped three weeks before the convention or the general election, irreparably damaging Mrs. Clinton's chances of getting either the nomination or the election. That kind of bomb would leave the Democrats scrambling for a candidate with the clock running out.

Think it can't happen? Try Googling "McGovern Eagleton" and see for yourself how a candidate that had been backed "one thousand percent" on a Friday found himself on the national trash heap by the next Monday morning -- literally.

Sure, the media will feed you all kinds of images and soundbytes. You'll see Hillary laughing and Bill waving and Chelsea cuddling her little baby, too. But that won't change the reality that exists in voters' minds. Recall that Mrs. Clinton had the Democrats' nod in early 2008, as well, but never made it to the finish line.

And that was when her logo that wasn't a disaster.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The Invisible Political Issue of 2016

If you read this blog, you know that every few years, I like to place bets not only on who is running for President of the United States, but why they're going to win or lose. This year is no different. The names might change, but the dynamics will pretty much remain the same.

But before we get into the personalities, it's worth taking some time to understand the structure of the game.

In every national election, there may be a few major, well-publicized political issues (gay marriage, immigration, climate change, the national economy, jobs, etc.) but there is always at least one invisible issue that never really gets discussed in the media. In 2008, for example, while everyone argued the standard topics in debates, the invisible issue of 2008 was far more powerful but never articulated:

America was fed up with Bush and Cheney and just about anyone who was white, male and older than their first cell phone. This is why the Democrats produced two of the most non-Bush characters they could find: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. This is also why John McCain was never really in contention: America viewed him as Bush's third term (Sarah Palin was simply the final nail in the coffin). In 2008, the invisible issue that nobody ever articulated was Anyone But Bush.

That was then. This is now. The same invisible issue theory applies, only this time out, it's not personal. It's philosophical. No matter how you may feel about them, the Obama policy of politically correct inclusiveness, while perhaps noble in spirit, is the main issue which will influence how Americans vote.

Hear me out. It's not what you think.

It's not that Americans are against issues like gay marriage, immigration or multi-racial representation -- nobody had a problem electing a black president twice. By the same token, Americans have not only tolerated illegal immigration, they've come to rely on it. And when the military openly accepted gays in service, there wasn't much protest. Most people accepted it as the natural conclusion to what Harry Truman started when he desegregated the armed forces in the early 1950s.

The real issue bothering Americans is that they see themselves constantly and consistently being imposed upon to accept others' beliefs and practices rather than expecting those with foreign beliefs and practices to conform to our own. They don't oppose those beliefs and practices, they just expect those with foreign beliefs and practices to be less resolute and more willing to adapt them as part of their embrace of America. Case in point would be muslim women refusing to remove their veils on state identification cards requiring facial photos. Or filing suit because one can't wear religious gear while on the job. It's not that Americans object to yarmulkes or burqas; it's more that most Americans can recall an ancestor who had to adapt his own language, customs and practices so that they fit squarely into America's traditional philosophy of acceptance.

Many Americans now feel like a welcoming host whose house guests have overstayed their welcome. Laws, codes, lawsuits and the media skew viewers' perceptions by featuring "those who are different" acting selfishly, as if entitled to impose their foreign beliefs on good-hearted, hard working citizens. Regardless of how true that may or may not be, it's reinforced every day on talk radio and every night on the national news -- and Americans are tired of it. They're angry. They feel that while they're accommodating everyone else, nobody is accommodating them.

Don't let this confuse you into thinking voters want an old, white man back in the White House (although I can easily see someone dumbing it down to that level). Americans are plenty sick of the 535 members of Congress, the majority of whom fit that description. But until and unless a candidate can and does articulate this issue, the American electorate is going to make two huge mistakes:

1. Conservatives are going to present someone who looks like their values as someone who shares those values. This means conservatives will come out swinging their bibles and ranting against anyone whose philosophies and values can be framed as "non-American." They'll misread the Constitution and leverage Americans' frustrations in an effort to avoid the real issue.

2. Liberals are going to make the same mistake on the other side: They'll bring out someone to attack the Conservatives as racist and depend on shallow knee-jerk reactions in order to scare the population into thinking that Adolf Hitler is is about to invade their neighborhoods.

The candidate who can clearly articulate the real invisible issue is the one most likely to take the prize. That means it has to be someone who knows how to convey the American balance of freedom against the perception of non-traditional/foreigners' entitlements. That's not an easy trick. Then again, nobody's ever really tried it.

It's so much easier to incite fear than it is to build trust.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Home is Where the Hack is

I admit, I've been called every name in the book, but none more frequently than "curmudgeon."  I don't really mind it, however, because it's a pretty apt description of me.  I question everything and take nothing for granted.  I don't trust you until you prove yourself worthy of that trust, because most of the time, I know you're trying to sell me something.

Oh, you may not think you're trying to sell me something, but you are.  And usually it's something that's going to work out really well for you, but maybe not so well for me.  No matter, though. You'll have made your money and I'll be suffering the consequences of having parted with mine and all the while, you'll have convinced yourself that you were acting in my interest.

Don't sweat it. You're in good company.  Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and a host of other techno-tycoons have done the same thing. They've invented stuff to do stuff we've never had to do before, convincing us that their stuff will make our stuff that much better.  As a result, Steve Jobs has you paying for equipment upgrades in months instead of years. Bill Gates has made sure every virus on the planet has a home on your hard drive. And Mark Zuckerberg has mastered the art of making you feel both lonely and left out using nothing but a screen.

Everyone, it seems, is bent on selling you technology you don't need (yes, I still wear a wrist watch and no, I don't own a smart phone - yet), but none can be more questionable than the latest offering from your cable provider and ISP:  Remote Home Security networks.

In case you've been on Mars for the last few years, Remote Home Security networks allow you to check on and manage everything in your home from a remote location via the internet. Most people use their smart phones to check if the lights are turned off, the thermostat is lowered or the doors are locked.  You get the smart phone app for free.  Installing the system costs a modest sum, but the real pain begins with the monthly access charge. Now and forever, buyers of these pointless systems pay a minimum of $39 a month -- we're talking $500 a year -- for life.

Did I say pointless? What I meant to say was dangerous.

You can't go two days in a row without hearing or watching story devoted to someone, somewhere hacking into systems or fortressed corporations and stealing millions of credit card numbers or people's vital information.  The only reason you don't hear about it every day is because the media has to allow enough time to inform you about the day's murders. But that's another story.

I guess the cable companies and ISPs figure since they're already selling you internet access, they might as well sell you more uses for it, and by that measure Remote Home Security systems make sense.  It's something that makes them money, but is it really in your interest?  Think about it. If hacking has surpassed soccer as the world's most popular sport, why wouldn't hackers take aim at Remote Home Security systems to not only find out when you're not home, but disarm your alarm system, unlock your doors and have their buddies ransack the place?

Especially if they can do it from two continents away?

If you believe Remote Home Security is going to make you and yours safer and more secure, that certainly your choice.  As for me, I'm a curmudgeon. I'll continue to make sure my German Shepherd stays hungry.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Yes Means Nothing

I'm not a big fan of rape or the rape culture.  It's never made sense to me why any man would attack a woman, even one that whines a lot. There's simply no excuse for a man physically assaulting a woman, with the possible exception of self-defense.  And even then, she'd better have a really big gun aimed in the right direction to justify a roundhouse right.

When it comes to sexual matters, I really don't understand why any man would force himself on a woman.  Oh sure, I get the psychology that rape is all about misplaced anger and not about sexuality.  But violent rape isn't what I'm addressing.  I'm talking about the pushy date who doesn't take no for an answer.  For the life of me, I can't figure out why a guy would even want a woman who doesn't want him.  The whole point of great sex is -- or at least I thought it was -- the two of you doing your best to make each other feel wonderful.  Why anyone would want to advance on someone fighting them off is simply beyond my ken. Do any men really subscribe to that whole "conquering" thing any more? Don't they have enough friends in jail for taking things that weren't theirs to take?

Ask anyone who's been wanted by someone who doesn't want them and they'll all respond the same way:  It's icky.  Mind you, I have no idea why anyone would go out on a date with that person in the first place, but that's beside the point.  I'm sure they have their reasons.

Here's something I do have an idea about, though, and it's just as puzzling:

In January, 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed the Yes Means Yes legislation into law.  The well-intended bill applies only to the state campuses of California's colleges, no place else.  And the law sounds pretty simple:  It changes the standard of woman's of sexual acceptance from  a lack of her vocal utterance of "No" to a verbal assurance of "Yes."  So the guy has to hear the word yes from the girl before advancing any further.  The notion was to clear up any misunderstandings about rejection of sexual advances.  Apparently, "What part of 'no' don't you understand" isn't understood by enough Neanderthals, so the legislature has opted for an affirmative indicator.  She only means "yes" if she audibly vocalizes the word yes.

At first, this sounds like a great idea.  Unfortunately, it's a really bad law.  And here's why:

The way the law is written doesn't specify when a woman can change from yes to no.  A couple could be in the midst of mutually approved physical rapture, well on their way to sexual Valhalla and a woman can suddenly say no.  After that, there's no time limit involved for a man to figure out what to do next.  Of course, the hard core feminists among us will stick to the letter of the law and insist he just stop, but that's hardly realistic, especially if she changes her utterance once again a few seconds later.  

And then there are those whose worlds of fantasy could come crashing down on them.  Visit any online dating site and you'll find at least one question along the lines of, "Would you participate in a rape fantasy if your partner asked?"  Yikes.  Talk about a high risk situation.  If she says yes on the questionnaire, does that assent still cover her suitor's liability after the handcuffs click? How long does yes last? Is there a time limit or does a man have to continually feed the meter?

The Yes Means Yes law is a beautiful example of our country's misplaced belief that laws can resolve the complete abdication of any kind of self-respect or individual accountability -- not to mention common sense.  A few decades ago, pundits lampooned the arcane laws of sexual preferences and opined how government has no place in the bedroom.  Today, those same voices clamor for ridiculous laws that sit squarely on your pillow.  

We don't need more well-intended, badly-written laws.  We need more people understanding how to be good to each other and why being good is such a great thing to do.  Mothers and fathers are supposed to do that.  It's their job.  In the meantime, who knows how many young lives will be derailed by Yes Means Yes. 

Sure, you worry about your daughters.  But now you get to worry about your sons, too.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Wristwatch Man

As anyone who's ever read anything I've ever written would know, "branding is about being perceived as the only solution to your prospects' problem."  The most important word in that definition is "only," because once you're perceived as the only solution, there's simply no place else to shop.  You're the only game in town, which means your brand is practically impervious to price issues.

The bottom line, so to speak, is that profitable revenue increase is what real branding is all about.

But right behind "only," running a close second, is the notion of perception.  More than what you truly are, perception projects how you want others to see you.  It's about making a statement, projecting not only what you are, but also what you are not.  That aspect has never been more important than it is right now, and it's never been more apparent than at the face to face meetings I've attended of late.

More than likely you've had the same lunch meetings I have.  You know the drill:  The initial small talk, followed by the check of the smart phone, ordering the food and talking business.  But if you notice, there are two types of people whose style and manner telegraph the kind of people they are:

The Digital Slave and the Wristwatch Man.

Let me state flat out that I'm not a twenty something. Or even a thirty something.  And while I've always admired and adopted new, efficient technologies, I've never been a technology lemming who upgrades software at the first available moment or -- God forbid -- lines up the previous night at a retail store to buy a piece of just-released hardware.  

I think that's just kind of stupid. 

Yet increasingly, this is the behavior I see emanating from those who are supposed to be adults but are actually more like large children in business suits.  These are the Digital Slaves.  The people who park their smart phones just east of their salad forks, well within view lest anything, anywhere happen to alert them.  These alerts, by the way, rarely have anything pressing to announce; certainly nothing that can't wait an hour or two while important business is being done.  Digital Slaves don't care.  They're seemingly unable to discern the difference between a crisis back at the office and their pals' latest Facebook post, often disrupting or derailing their real time conversations to the point they often forget what they were talking about prior to the alert.

Decades ago, Chicago columnist Bob Green (the man who invented the "yuppie" moniker) called it the "twitching of America."  Digital Slaves are prime victims.  They over-rely on technology when simpler analog solutions often to a better job.  Digital Slaves love to eat in restaurants where plasma screens are pasted to the walls, showing varying content -- with no sound or means to download any real data.  It doesn't seem to matter, however, as long as the Digital Slave feels as if he's receiving information -- none of which is even relevant to him.

It's important you be able to recognize a Digital Slave, because they tend to be shallow thinkers, unable or uninterested to delve into issues at more than the depth of a soundbyte.  They're so busy absorbing so much useless data that they simply have no time to get a true understanding of the events and issues sitting across the table from them.  It might make them feel self-important, but it also makes them dangerous and undependable.

Contrast the Digital Slave to the Wristwatch Man.  This is the person who favors the appropriate use of technology over the myth of technology.  The Wristwatch Man gives careful consideration to each and every opportunity, knowing that there's always more time than people think.  He devotes his full attention to situations so that when he acts, he gets it right the first time.   The Wristwatch Man doesn't require a 24/7 wireless connection to know what time it is: he simply looks at his wrist.  And chances are that if you're meeting him for lunch, he silenced and stowed his phone long before he sat down at your table.

The Wristwatch Man understands how to listen, focusing on what you say rather than the latest bits of useless information being sprayed into his face by some pocket appliance.  Because he listens with intensity, his thoughts and recommendations spring from a deeper level that those served up by Yahoo or Google news alerts.  

This is a guy you can trust.

The ability to focus and listen and think and exchange thoughts about one topic for an extended period of time is rapidly becoming a lost art, as Digital Slaves overrun the nation, passing themselves off as busy -- not to be confused with professional or productive.  The Wristwatch Man stands quietly to the side, taking time to listen, observe, analyze and respond with surgical precision and lethal accuracy.  Solving problems through genuine thought instead of slapping on this week's hyped up miracle tech.

It's a busy, fast-paced world. And the Wristwatch Man is getting harder to find.  But he's easy to spot if you know how to look for him:  Ask him what time it is. 

If he doesn't pull out his cell phone, you've got the right guy.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Globalism Sucks

Maybe it's my impatience with the spiraling decline of modern man as it descends into a netherworld lacking education. Or maybe it's because pop culture has elevated it to religious status.  I know this much, though:  This whole "globalism" thing makes no sense as we know it.

Oh, I know that young people with no real concept of human nature or world history will argue the point.  They like the idea of the whole world holding hands while doing nothing other than watching meaningless music videos promoted to end world hunger. It's a fine idea to have the whole world get along.  In fact, it's been a fine idea for a few thousand years now.

Newsflash:  The "one world" myth isn't happening any time soon.  And that's probably a good thing.

The main reason why globalism is such a foolhardy myth is that everyone has his own view of what globalism really is.  To an American, globalism means a market-based democracy with lots of freedom to open WalMarts and McDonalds anywhere at any time.  The American notion of globalism is, like just about every other culture, simply a replication of its own society on a planetary level.

Americans want everyone to vote democratically.  They want women to be equal to men. They want you to love Jesus and personal freedom, because, you know, if everyone on the planet did that, we'd all get along just fine.  And it could work, except for the fact that just about every other culture has pretty much the same type of agenda with different specifics. The Taliban, for example,  doesn't want women to be equal to men, doesn't want you to love Jesus and has no place for personal freedom.  By now, it should be pretty obvious that the two sides won't ever converge.

Oddly, one of the few global constants throughout human beings (besides classifying incest as taboo), is people's chafing at being told what to do -- especially by a foreigner.  Oh, the masses love shifting personal accountability off their backs and onto the shoulders of their regional leaders who tell them what to do, but that's because those leaders pretty much share the masses' own views and tastes.  On a day to day level, though, people want to be left alone to tend to their own affairs.  It doesn't matter if you're a native in Nairobi or a muslim in Morocco: people hate any authority demanding they shift their customs to a foreigner's arbitrary dictates.

The funniest part about the myth of globalism is asking proponents to accept a global culture that isn't their own.  For example, Americans have no problem imagining a Sunni muslim shaving his beard, donning a business suit and working on Fridays, but I highly doubt they'd consider growing beards, not working on Fridays while wearing veils and burqas.

At one level, it's all pretty amusing.  But the same arguments get a little hotter when you move the cultural, social and political dials accordingly.  In America, nobody likes the idea of strongmen and thugs using oppressive -- or even murderous -- tactics in order to keep their populations under control.  Most Americans view the brutal treatment of women in those same foreign cultures as backward and primitive.  Yet year after year, century after century, those populations perpetuate those customs and practices without much internal opposition.  Which means as distasteful as American might find them, maybe those cultures -- and the people who observe them -- are actually just fine with what they have.  Maybe Americans should simply start accepting each culture for what it is, as it is.  

After all, if self-determination is a paramount American virtue, shouldn't that virtue apply to every global citizen?

Globalism, as it turns out, isn't about uniformity.  It's about acceptance and accessibility. It's about understanding  differences and navigating them according to one's self interests.  If the world's economy has become internationalized, that's fine by me.  But that's about internationalizing commerce, not culture.

So maybe instead of sending soldiers to foreign lands to sell the American Way, we should simply send our salesmen and buyers to the edge of foreign borders, where foreign buyers and sellers can meet and exchange goods and services, each one restricting his duties to commercial interests while leaving his moralistic laundry list at home -- where it belongs.

I'm not talking about helping to defend an ally under attack.  That's a wholly different story.  I'm talking about basic acceptance of other people and other cultures, regardless of how different or distasteful we find them to be.

I know.  It's never going to happen.  But I can dream, can't I?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Try Knocking On The Door

You can draw as many logos as you like.  You can come up with a dopey name nobody can spell.  And I suppose you could call that branding.  God only knows that most of the industry does it that way.

And then there are those who confuse branding with awareness, which is another misconception I could never understand.  Especially when advertising and marketing and public relations people whip out their charts and exclaim, "Look at how high your aided awareness numbers are!"

For the record, aided awareness is the most notorious loser in the Advertising Hack's arsenal.  The term refers to people who recognize your brand after you've helped them recognize it.  There might be a more pathetic statistic out there, but I can't think of one just now.  Unaided awareness is only slightly less anemic.   I mean, what's the point of everyone knowing who you are when they don't know why they should know who you are?  That never made any sense to me, but I'm sure it's confuzzled a lot of clients. 

There's a lot about branding that people simply don't know.  They like to cover up their ignorance by making it far more complicated than it has to be.   For those people, let me make one thing excruciatingly clear:  

The whole point of branding is to make more money

That's it. See how easy that is? The bottom line is a brand's most important deliverable.  If it's not increasing profitable revenue, why even bother?

And yet, I watch as a whole world of social media, business development services and networking tools flood the web space.  All kinds of new technologies and applications, seemingly designed to take your money and promise to help grow your business.  You can pay people to blog for you.  To post to Facebook.  To tweet and whatever the verb you use is to keep your Pinterest and Instagram accounts up to date.  There's no shortage of sites that want to link you to everyone else who wants to link to you, but nobody seems to be able to generate revenue from any of it.

So maybe it's time we got back to basics.  If it's really new business you're after, maybe you should take a cue from Clint Eastwood in this classic clip from Magnum Force: 

See how easy that is?  Who needs digital technology when all you really have to do is contact the prospect and ask for his business?  True, not all prospects are easy to get to on the first bounce, but you'd be surprised at how many truly are if you simply try knocking on the door.  Dialing a phone doesn't require an engineering degree and I'm fairly sure sending an e-mail isn't much tougher.  The trick, of course, is knowing what to say when the other guy picks up the phone.

Years ago, I had a conversation with Burt Sugarman.  If you don't know Burt, let me save you a ton of Google time and tell you he made a ton of dough producing early rock and roll television shows and then went on to make several tons more while marrying Mary Hart.  One day, as I was struggling to launch my own business, Burt was nice enough to lend me his ear.  I asked him, "How do I get in contact with higher end clients?"  He just cocked his head and asked, "Have you tried picking up the phone and calling them?"

See how easy that was?  And he was right.  One of the big myths of digital services and social media is that it sells you the promise of business-made-easy, which rarely, if ever delivers.  The fact is you can't offload your new business duties by paying your way out of them.  It simply doesn't work. At the end of the day, nothing beats cutting through the bullshit and simply reaching out to the guy you want to meet.  

It's not only more effective.  It's a lot cheaper, too.  After all, what does a phone call cost?  And e-mail's even cheaper.  

So now that you've paid your fees and gotten nothing in return, if you're really serious about developing new business, junk all those digital diversions and follow Clint's advice.

Try knocking on the door.