Figures lie. Liars figure.

4 responses.

Figures Lie.

From the September 2015 issue of Men’s Journal:

“In a new Danish study, recreational runners who ran 10 miles per hour versus a slow jog of five miles per hour put 80 percent less stress on their knees. ‘Although running faster increases the load on your knee with each step, you take longer strides, so you need fewer steps to cover a certain distance,’ says study author Jesper Petersen, a researcher at Aarhus University in Denmark. ‘This lowers the cumulative load at the joint.’”

As a runner who’s had knee problems, this article seemed insightful. But that was only until I looked at the theory with a more jaundiced eye. While the article’s basic premise is that running faster may be better for your knees, there’s no further information on why the studied runners were performing at a faster pace.

In a perfect laboratory both the faster runners and the slower runners would have exactly the same physical attributes so the test results could be isolated to just the effects of speed and stride. But of course it’s unlikely that that’s what happened.

Instead the slower runners were probably slower because they’re older, heavier, or simply not as gifted as their quicker peers. And so the reasons for their increased knee pain might have more to do with the slower runners’ physical condition or previous injuries or weight than their ultimate speed.

I’m a slow runner and I’m sure a few of the reasons are that I’m just a donut or two shy of 190 pounds and my years of youthful indiscretions are long behind me. My left knee aches because of an unfortunate skiing accident when I was a reckless 19-year old and I’ve come to accept that running faster is neither possible nor a panacea for what ails me.

Of course the important question is why do you care about any of this? Because as you evaluate the products and services you buy, and the candidates you vote for, it’s critical to remember that facts and figures and surveys and studies can be manipulated to create most any outcome a marketer is looking to promote.

Since we’re smack in the middle of presidential elections, it’s fascinating to look at the proceedings NOT as a passionate partisan but as a curious marketer. And what you’ll find there proves that numbers can be manipulated to tell almost any tale the storyteller wants to tell.

Donald Trump, for example, is polling ahead in almost every count – Tea Partiers, Christian Conservatives, even Hispanics. But savvy marketing professionals will point out that while the polls may be accurate, a great number of the people interviewed fall into the groups with the lowest propensity to actually vote. In other words, while Trump’s numbers appear to be strong today, it’s very likely that the people being counted cannot be counted on to show up on election day.

Similarly, far on the other side of the aisle Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is racking up very impressive attendance figures at his campaign rallies – numbers so strong that some consider him a real competitor for the Democratic ticket. But once again, prudent analysis suggests that the people getting all hot and bothered at Sanders’ events are the very same people who often can’t be bothered to actually vote.

Remember that the two things computers are best at – counting and remembering numbers – are the exact tools the pundits and promoters use to peddle their promises and products – regardless of what thoughtful accounting would actually suggest. Be aware, too, of what researcher Jean Twenge explained in the June 2015 issue of Vanity Fair magazine: “All data and all studies are open to interpretation – that’s just the nature of research.”

Plus, there’s the “observer effect.” Simply put, it states that the act of observation can actually change the action being observed. For example, a regulation thermometer must either capture or surrender thermal energy to record a temperature, and in doing so, it changes the temperature of whatever it is evaluating.

So as you evaluate the proffered “facts” when you research your purchases or your candidates keep in mind that figures lie. And remember what former US Senator and Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

What The Hell Does Volkswagen Do Now?

13 responses.

By now everyone on the planet knows about Volkswagen’s troubles. Quite simply, Volkswagen knowingly and maliciously installed software in their “smart diesel” cars designed to provide false emissions readings to government testers around the world. Estimates are that Volkswagens pollute at levels 40 times greater than U.S. government rules allow. Not twice as bad or even three times as bad but 40 times worse.

If you think that Volkswagen is screwed right up the ol’ fahrvergnügen, you’re right. They company has already lost over $18 billion and that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg. But don’t count the world’s biggest car company out. Because if every cloud has a silver lining then Volkswagen could find out that this is a great opportunity too.

VolkswagenFirst let’s look at why this is such a problem for Volkswagen. After all, Toyota, Audi, GM, Honda, and others have all suffered disastrous PR gaffes and come back strong. But this time it’s different. Because while those issues were bone-headed mistakes, Volkswagen’s incorrect pollution readings were not caused by an error – the company knowingly misled the regulators. This was not an accidental flub; it was a deliberately perpetrated crime.

In a perfect world, Volkswagen would be the perfect company to push their smart diesel technology. Their brand’s authentic truth had been built and confirmed across years of vehicles like the Beetle, the Bug, the Microbus, the Rabbit, the Golf, and the Eos. Volkswagens were warm, fuzzy, friendly, and trustworthy. Clearly Volkswagen’s admission of guilt violates this trust.

Worse, the drivers Volkswagen deceived feel particularly wronged because they thought they were saving the world and now that the emperor has no clothes they’ve discovered that they’ve actually been poisoning the atmosphere, pumping 40 times more pollutants into the heavens than they thought.

So how can this possibly be good for Volkswagen?

Once the smoke clears and Volkswagen has cleaned house and fixed the immediate problem, they have the opportunity to do something huge. Instead of just slinking into the corner and hoping no one remembers their crimes (a very likely scenario, by the way), Volkswagen should marshal their considerable resources of money, engineers, multinational facilities and take the leadership role in the green revolution, dedicating themselves to truly creating environmentally safe automobiles.


Besides saving the company itself, this strategy will also help Volkswagen, colloquially known as “Germany Inc.”, save face for their entire country.

Of course proper brand strategy promoting this new authentic truth will be an important part of the company’s rebirth. But before that can work, Volkswagen has to commit itself to following a new path that will not only help undo the damage they’ve already done but will also re-engage customers and build a new sense of pride and purpose for the company, the country, and its fans around the world, instead of just applying a marketing band aid to the wound.

It won’t be cheap, it won’t be quick, and it won’t be easy. But this type of brand aid will provide Volkswagen with an opportunity to not only earn worldwide forgiveness but to take off like a bat out of schnell.


5 responses.


My mortgage company made a mistake.

For some reason they did not have record of my windstorm insurance certificate on file and went out and bought windstorm insurance for me. As you can imagine, windstorm insurance is very important in South Florida where we’ve had some devastating hurricanes. It’s also very expensive, especially when the bank buys it and doesn’t really care about the cost.

But I didn’t call my mortgage company to get this problem fixed because I knew that would require interminable waits on the phone, frustrating conversations with lots of disinterested people, and the faxing – and refaxing – of a giant stack of documents.

Instead I simply scanned the form letter the bank sent me and emailed it to my insurance agent at Cabrera Benefits Group with a note: “Please take care of this.”

His response was short and sweet: “No worries, I’ll handle. No need for you to be involved. Have a great day.”

My insurance agent is my SPOC.

My wife is a very committed and talented nurse practitioner. When she’s not providing hospice care she works in a concierge medical practice where they take extremely good care of their patients. They do this by providing everything their patients need to stay as healthy as possible – from check-ups to exams to treatments and almost everything else. And when those patients need special diagnoses and treatments that her office does not provide they still handle their patients’ needs by referring them to the best specialists and then following up with the specialists’ offices to make sure their patients’ problems have been properly managed.

My wife’s officemates might not know it, but they are a SPOC too.

My friend Mike buys and leases all of his Mercedes-Benzes from Mercedes-Benz of Coral Gables. And when I say “all of his Mercedes-Benzes” I mean a lot of very special cars because my friend Mike is an extremely successful serial entrepreneur and buys lots and lots of cars from the dealership. Mike tells me that the reason he does business with Mercedes-Benz of Coral Gables is because they take care of everything he needs. He knows their prices are good, but more importantly he knows that whatever he requires will be be taken care of quickly and easily.

Mercedes-Benz of Coral Gables is Mike’s SPOC.

In this day and age where all pricing and product information is just a click of the mouse away, you really have very few options to grow your business – you can lower your prices to where people will do business with you because you’re so cheap (not a particularly healthy way to run a company, BTW), you can offer something that no one else can sell (a specialty, a patent-protected process, an unbeatable location, special software or the competitive advantage of size or critical mass) or you can develop a brand that adds extreme value to your offerings (if you want help with this, please call us).

SPOCOr you can do what my insurance agent, my wife’s medical practice, and Coral Gables Mercedes-Benz have all done. Become a SPOC and eliminate the need for your customers to ever call your competition.

SPOC is a simple acronym that stands for Single Point Of Contact. By doing everything so competently and so comprehensively for their clients and customers, SPOCs create a powerful vacuum that leaves no room for competition to sidle in.

I have no need to talk to the other insurance agents who constantly court me because I know that not only are my family and assets well covered but also I don’t have to lift a finger to make sure that everything runs smoothly. Ralph Cabrera, my SPOC is so committed to building this bond of trust that he even fixes problems he didn’t cause, such as the mistake my mortgage company made. And he knows he doesn’t need to impress me with how much work was required on his part – all he needs to say is, “No worries, I’ll handle. No need for you to be involved. Have a great day” for me to be satisfied.

Attaining SPOC status is not easy and it’s not for the lazy or faint-of-heart. But it is a very profitable and sustainable way to run your business. And in this day and age of constant change and upheaval, that’s a very powerful position to own.

How You Can Find Your Customer.

4 responses.

Today I had lunch in a local Vietnamese restaurant with a childhood buddy who runs a very successful education practice. Simply put, he researches and recommends colleges and therapeutic programs to parents looking for the best educational opportunities for their children.

Over pho and rice noodles he explained his problem: he loves doing the work (meeting with the kids and researching the schools) but he hasn’t done a good job marketing his business to his customer. As he put it: “I don’t like to talk about myself or schmooze too much.”

The more we talked, though; it became clear that his problem wasn’t that he hasn’t been promoting his business. His problem is that he doesn’t know which customer to whom he should market his services.

“How do you find a customer?” I asked.

“I’ve been doing this for thirty years” he answered. “So someone will call me and say that their neighbor’s father-in-law’s cousin knew somebody who had sent their kid to me twenty years ago and they recommended me. Or often a school guidance counselor or a pediatric psychiatrist will recommend me. But how can I tell who my customer really is?

Different types of customers

Not only doesn’t my friend know who his customer is but he also doesn’t know about the different classifications of customers.

Customer number one is the end-user. In this case the end-user is the child who benefits from my friend’s services. Parents who are relieved that their kids are getting the right education are secondary users. The parents are also the payers because they are generally responsible for paying the bill. And the neighbor, teacher or therapist who made the recommendation in the first place is the referring party.

Based on this breakdown, if you were my friend, to which customer would you market your services?

Certainly not the end-user. Even though the child benefits most from the service, they neither have the means nor the inclination to purchase. While parents might seem like the obvious customer because they have a lot at stake and they ultimately decide whether or not to purchase, they’re not the best customer to reach out to either. That’s because there are so many parents that it becomes statistically impossible to find the right parent at the moment that they need to make a decision about what to do with their troubled teen.

But pediatric psychiatrists, school guidance counselors, and pediatricians all deal with special need kids every day.  Their professional commitment is to find solutions for the children and families they work with. They read professional journals, they attend industry events, and they talk to their peers about what services are available for their patients and charges. So the customer with the highest propensity to recommend my friend’s services as well as the most interest in what my friend has to say is the referring party

Not only is this customer interested in what my friend does, they’re interested in what he has to say. And unlike the parents who are only interested in my friend’s educational consulting services at the very moment that their child has a need, the specialists who make up the referring parties are interested all the time because of their professional commitment.

Becoming the obvious expert

Knowing this, how does my friend reach out to his potential customer? And how do you find and attract your best customer? It’s simple; become the obvious expert in the field.

When you read trade journals or general market publications and newspapers about your area of expertise, have you ever noticed that the same people get quoted over and over again? Have you ever wondered why their opinions get printed time after time while yours don’t? Have you ever stopped to think about what you could do to rectify this situation?

Industry slang for the place where obvious experts are found is “the golden Rolodex.” That’s because every time a reporter needs to do a story they look through their list of contacts to see whom they can call for information. If your name and number is in “the golden Rolodex”, there’s a lot more chance you’re going to be included in reporters’ stories.

How do you find your customer?

How do you get on this list? Easy. Make yourself known to the very reporters you’re interested in having write about you. Give them a call or invite them to lunch and use your time together to let them know that you’re an expert in the field that they’re writing about and that you are available to help them create, research, and write their stories.

Recently I noticed a column in my local newspaper called “On The Road Again.” The article interviewed frequent travelers and printed their travel tips. One article was about a man who had a factory in China. He talked about always packing cigars and always reserving a specific room in his favorite hotel so he could sit on the balcony of his suite and enjoy the smokes he had brought. That was how he dealt with the ordeals of traveling half way around the world.

Another woman talked about buying pink suitcases so that she could easily find her luggage on the baggage carousel at the airport.

I called the reporter, told him I had read his stories and that I had a number of good tips to contribute to his column. I told him that I always carry my suitcases with me because I believe that there are only two kinds of luggage – carry on and lost. I explained the number of things I do to reduce the amount of things I need to carry, from bringing a foldable camping toothbrush to special travel underwear that can be washed in the hotel room sink and dried overnight. I suggested that he write an article on how I manage to travel around the world with just carry-on bags.

Not only did he write the article, but at last count twenty eight domestic newspapers and even a paper in Australia had reprinted the article.

Of course I didn’t stop there. I added the article to my blog, forwarded copies to everyone on my distribution list and made reprints to send out to my customers and prospects.

Imagine if my friend the educational consultant reached out to every reporter who writes about his subject and told them a little bit about what makes him special. Besides the fact that he has handled hundreds of fascinating cases in the thirty years he’s been working, he has visited more than 150 different educational programs around the world. Think of what a resource he can be to reporters when he can help them write about the places to which he’s actually been.

Now think about what you have to offer to make a reporter’s job easier. Your unique skill sets, experiences, anecdotes, and access to information all go a long way to helping your intended reporter write their story. Just remember that your stories should be of specific interest to your actual customer and your information and suggestions should be useful to the reporters to whom you reach out. If you first target the reporters by their ability to influence your true customer (the point of this article in the first place) you’ll find that their articles will help you reach your goals and market your business.

Mastermind Mastery.

3 responses.

Do you have a business idea that you think about incessantly? Do you noodle it around until you’ve looked at it from every possible angle? Do you obsess over every detail, agonize over every possible eventuality?

Or maybe you already run a business or a division or a department and that’s what jerks your eyes open at 3 AM – wondering and worrying about what to do, what to do next, and what to do about what you’ve already done.

Think and Grow Rich MastermindsBelieve it or not you’re not alone. Every single ambitious person who wants to accomplish something special goes through this every single day. Every. Single. One. Every. Single. Day.

If you spend too much time in your personal echo chamber you start marching in lockstep to your voice, believing your hype, getting high on your supply. And while it’s great to have a singular vision and to follow it despite all evidence to the contrary, sometimes it’s a great comfort – and a wonderful asset – to be able to discuss your ideas and concerns with others. People who have your back, care about your success, and are both honest and concerned enough to tell you the truth when you want to hear it. And especially when you don’t.

A team like that – whether assembled casually or formally, from friends and business associates or simply like-minded professionals – is called A Mastermind Group.

According to Forbes Magazine, “Mastermind groups are relatively new to most people, even though Napoleon Hill created the concept around 75 years ago with his book Think and Grow Rich. A mastermind group is designed to help you navigate through challenges using the collective intelligence of others.”

Peter Shankman, social media raconteur, founder of HARO, and professional mastermind facilitator puts it this way: “In the 21st century community doesn’t come as easily as it used to… mastermind mind groups are where you can find your professional tribe that can also go deeper to helping you with personal goals.”

ShankMinds MastermindsMastermind groups can provide new ideas, help vet concepts, provide accountability, and expose you to the honest support that can help you and the people around you achieve success.

I participate in three established groups and also put together ad hoc masterminds when I have a particularly vexing problem or potentially powerful opportunity to deal with. The strength of their collective thought and concern, together with the varied experiences of the participants, helps me benefit from thinking out loud and explore different what-if scenarios.

I am so enamored of the concept that it dawned on me to create a series of moving masterminds as a business. I would invite the best minds around to get together and work with one another to challenge new ideas, expand concepts, strengthen suppositions, and test theories.

But as Michael Keaton’s character Bill Blazejowski said in Nightshift, “I thought of it first but they already had it.” My friend Peter Shankman is already travelling around the country and the world promoting his ShankMinds mastermind series (Shankman + Masterminds = ShankMinds).

Here’s how Peter promotes his sessions: “This fall ShankMinds Business Masterminds are taking place in New York, Detroit, Chicago, Orange County, San Francisco, and Seattle and we’d love to have you join us. Space is limited, as we cap the daylong sessions at 25 people for a personal, one-on-one experience.

If you think you’d make a great contribution by being part of a Mastermind, and even more importantly, if you think you can make a great contribution to others, we’d love to have you!”

If you haven’t explored a mastermind, you really don’t know what a great opportunity you’re missing. Once you get involved with the right group I know you’ll be thrilled by the meeting and the results. If you don’t know who to organize a mastermind with, register with Peter and check if he’s got room for you. I know you’ll have a wonderful experience with Peter. When you do, please do drop me a line and tell me about it.

The Secret of The Marriott Brand

9 responses.

I’ve stayed in a lot of Marriott hotels lately.

Plenty of the conferences I attend and speak at are organized at Marriott properties and I’m a member of the Marriott affinity program so the collected room nights earn me free breakfasts and occasional upgrades.

But even though I’m a frequent guest at their hotels and I also tend to pay attention to the marketing and branding messages of the products I use, the other day it occurred to me that I don’t know what the Marriott brand is nor what they have established and communicated as their brand promise.

I don’t remember seeing a tagline on their advertising or their receipts or even their new mobile app. And I don’t recall anyone telling me what the Marriott brand is all about.

The Marriott BrandWhat’s more, I don’t find much consistency in their properties. While new hotels such as their Marriott Marquis convention hotel in Washington DC can be absolutely spectacular, many of their older hotels are clean and quite serviceable but nothing to write home about. About the only thing you can count on finding in every one of their properties is the portrait of father and son Bill and Bill Marriott smiling back at you from a wall in the lobby.

Marriott restaurants are different from venue to venue and even their complimentary concierge breakfasts and afternoon snacks are as varied as the properties they’re in. For example, some hotels have 24-hour cappuccino machines and upscale breakfasts with smoked salmon and capers and fresh eggs while others simply offer big urns of hot coffee, big trays of cold bagels, and big tubs of oatmeal that’re usually somewhere in between.

Fitness centers, swimming pools, and other public spaces are all toss ups too – sometimes they are expansive and state-of-the-art and other times they’re small and basic, although always good enough to get the job done.

No, the message Marriot’s various physical plants offer doesn’t really tell their true story, either.

But just this morning I was in the Marriott in Connecticut and I got a little hint into what the brand is all about. I’d taken the train from Penn Station and pulled into the Windsor Locks’ junction late at night. A quick cell phone chat with the friendly Marriott desk clerk and they sent their courtesy van around to pick me up. It was driven by a smiley guy who helped me with my bags and got me up to the hotel.

Early the next morning I swiped my door key in the elevator slot and rode up to the eighth floor concierge level for breakfast. Joel, the elfin concierge manager, greeted me at the door with a big smile and made sure I had hot coffee and a copy of The New York Times before scurrying off to help the other travelers entering the lounge.

When I was done, Joel offered me a cup of coffee and a bottle of water for the road. I took both and thanked him for his hospitality. That got us to talking.

Turns out Joel has to wake up at 3:30 in the morning to get the coffee brewed and the oatmeal ready for the folks catching early flights out of Hartford. Despite that inconvenience, Joel told me he has “the best job in the world.”

“I work for a great company, I get to chat with the nicest people and hear about their travels, I can make their lives a little better, and I still get home early enough to spend time with my son. What more could I ask for?”

When I repeated that I was impressed with his attitude and belief that he had the “greatest job in the world,” Joel shushed me with a finger across his lips. “Don’t tell anyone,” he added with a wink, “but they actually pay me to do this!”

When I checked out, the woman behind the counter was as pleasant as could be and the courtesy van driver who took me to the rental car lot was nice enough to point out the few sites of interest along our quick route towards the airport.

Somewhere in that van it dawned on me that almost every person I’ve spoken to at a Marriott, from my friend Kimberly Wilson who now manages their Ritz-Carlton on Key Biscayne, to the young woman who checked me in at the Washington DC Marriot Marquis, to every chamber maid, bellhop, and doorman I’ve dealt with has gone out of their way to be warm, welcoming, and friendly – smiling just like Marriott father and son in the aforementioned portrait.

Maybe in a business where their physical offerings are too diverse to promise the consistency of a McDonalds or a Starbucks, what Marriott has figured out is that the Marriott brand is best conveyed and communicated by the smiling people who truly make you feel like they’re happy you’re there.

Maybe this is something your business could take advantage of too.

Traveling Light PART V

2 responses.

Traveling light is the perfect way to make your summer vacation plans as pleasant as possible. The less you carry, the less you have to worry about, and the easier it is to make likety-split decisions to follow your whims and hop on a standby flight, change hotels or add or subtract a destination from your itinerary.

Each time I’ve written about traveling light someone has asked me to show exactly how I’ve refined my travel wardrobe. This time I photographed everything before I packed it away. Here’s everything I’m taking for a two-week combination business/TV appearance/and getaway vacation.

Traveling Light Inventory

Traveling Light: clockwise from the upper left-hand corner:

  1. Four tee shirts (white, black, blue, gray). The white tee is a synthetic running shirt; the other three are merino wool/silk blends (SmartWool and IceBreaker) that don’t itch, don’t stink, and are easy to wash in the sink.
  2. Nike Free 5.0 Running Shoes. They’re not my favorite joggers but they have a collapsible heel cup so they fold almost flat. Perfect for traveling light and making sure I get my weekly miles in.
  3. To Boot lace up dress sneakers. Designed with an athletic shoe-like rubber bottom, these shoes work with jeans or a suit and are very comfortable for running through airports or wearing all night on red-eye flights.
  4. Electronics and accessories. Laptop charger plus adapters and auxiliary battery for my iPhone 6, projector plugs (HDMI and VGA), a Røde mic to record my speeches, a mini-foldable tripod for videos and Periscope transmissions, an Olympus 4/3 SLR with extra memory card and charger, Garmin running watch, my dad’s Bulova Accutron watch, Apple earbuds, custom earpiece for TV interviews, and a pair of folding scissors.
  5. Sketchbook, Pentel Rolling Writers and mini Sharpie permanent marker (for writing hotel room numbers on keycards).
  6. Apple Air laptop in its own slim case that I use as a briefcase for meetings.
  7. Half set of six harmonicas (you probably don’t need to take these!).
  8. Two Brooks Brothers no-iron button down shirts. One black SmartWool base level sweater. (This sweater’s great because it can go under or over the shirts and can be worn by its own or with a tee shirt.)
  9. Nike running hat.
  10. Lululemon Surge running shorts. These double as swim trunks when you’re traveling light.
  11. Reversible gray/blue waterproof bucket cap from Roots Canada.
  12. Black belt.
  13. Socks: Two pair gray SmartWool socks, one pair merino running socks, one pair black merino from Icebreaker. I wear them and wash them and never run out.
  14. Brown and black tweed cashmere sport coat.
  15. Patagonia crushable down puffer jacket. This little gem folds into its own pocket and takes up almost no space.
  16. Three pocket squares – gray linen, white linen with gray trim, navy cotton. Two Paul Stuart knit ties – mutli-brown stripes and navy with white polka dots.
  17. Two pair washable underwear (Saxx or Ex Officio are my favorites). They get washed every day too.
  18. Two pair of black and gray travel pants from Lululemon.

Besides these things in my bag (22” Tumi duffel), I’ll also wear cotton khakis, Adidas Gazelle sneakers with another pair of running socks, washable underwear, and a navy polo shirt and carry my iPad.

Why no jeans? They’re heavy, take up a lot of space in luggage, dry very slowly, and aren’t that comfortable on planes.

Why the choice of ties and pocket squares? They instantly change a look even if you’re wearing the same basic colors underneath.

Why the puffer jacket in the summer? Mountain nights can be chilly and airports and planes can be freezing cold. A collapsible jacket like this one is a great comfort and can double as an in-flight pillow.

Why the bucket hat and running cap? Water resistant headwear is great when it rains and is also a terrific way to block the sun when you’re outdoors. And they’re a lot easier to carry than an umbrella.

Regardless of how you put together your travel wardrobe, remember that the less you take, the less you have to worry about. And since there’s only two kinds of luggage – carry on and lost – traveling light is the best way to make sure you’ll enjoy your trip.

Perception is Reality.

6 responses.

Joe PaternoLegendary head coach Joe Paterno led the Penn State Nittany Lions from 1966 to 2011. In 2007 Paterno was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and in 2011 Paterno won his 409th game, becoming the winningest coach in Division I college football history. To people who lived in University Park or attended Penn State, Paterno was an icon of almost religious status.

On November 4, 2011 a grand jury report accused Paterno’s former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, of sexually abusing eight young boys. One month later the number of victims was increased to 10. On June 22, 2012, Jerry Sandusky was found guilty of 45 of 48 criminal counts and on October 9, 2012, Sandusky was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison.

Just a few years later a poll of over 1,000 adults was conducted by the survey research firm Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion. Surprisingly, only 55% of Americans questioned knew that Penn State head coach Joe Paterno was not accused of molesting children – 45% of those polled believed that Paterno was the attacker.

By this point, Paterno had already been removed from his post at Penn State and had died of complications from lung cancer. But the truth didn’t even matter posthumously. Perception is reality and Paterno’s legacy was forever tarnished.

Did you know that Al Gore never said, “I invented the Internet”?

During an interview on CNN’s “Late Edition” with Wolf Blitzer, Gore’s exact words were, “During my service in the United States Congress I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country’s economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system.”

You are free to interpret that statement as Gore claiming responsibility or you may choose to see his statement the way the myth-busting site does. Their interpretation is that Gore “…was not claiming that he ‘invented’ the Internet in the sense of having designed or implemented it, but rather that he was responsible, in an economic and legislative sense, for fostering the development the technology that we now know as the Internet.”

Regardless of what Gore actually said (or meant), and regardless of how you look at it, the damage was done – the common belief is that Gore said, “I invented the Internet.” Because perception is reality.

Did you know that Sarah Palin never said, “I can see Russia from my house”? The quip was actually made famous by Tina Fey on “Saturday Night Live” when Fey parodied the then-vice presidential candidate. But regardless of who actually said the words, they followed Palin throughout her short-lived national political career.

It’s a common belief in the marketing world that “Perception is Reality.” That is, what people perceive is what establishes their reality. In a more practical sense, if we believe Starbucks coffee is better than the unlabeled stuff then it is better – we will go out of our way to find Starbucks and pay more money for it even though we really have little way of knowing if it actually is superior, or even different, from cheaper coffee.

If we believe a Volvo is a safer automobile than the others we could drive, then it is – at least in the showroom. We will pay a higher price for the car because of its perceived value of enhanced protection. Of course the true determination of whether the car is actually safer is established by investigators after an accident but that occurs long after the product has been selected and purchased.

In 1897 Mark Twain published one of my favorite books, a travel guide titled “Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World”. In it Twain writes, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

Truth might be stranger than fiction but often times fiction is more interesting, more exciting, more replicable, and ultimately more powerful and compelling than the truth. And those who don’t embrace this reality of branding and perception do so at their own peril because perception is reality.

Just ask Sarah Palin. Or Al Gore. Or Joe Paterno.

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