We Failed Robin Williams.

Published August 13th, 2014 with 2 responses.


My brave and beautiful son Danny wrote this incredibly touching post-mortem for Robin Williams. To see the original post, click HERE.

Please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 if you or someone you know is considering committing suicide.

What-Dreams-May-Come-robin-williams-26619597-1499-973Growing up, I idolized Robin Williams. The opening scene of Mrs. Doubtfire is still one of the best introductions in film, and I basically spent the entire age of three impersonating Genie. His comedy wasn’t just funny; it was empathetic. He made you feel as if he was right there with you, laughing along. This is why his death hurts more than most celebrity deaths, because he connected to his audience in a very intimate manner. The death of Robin Williams affected me twice over. Not only had a childhood hero of mine passed away, but he had taken his own life. As someone who has been engaged in a lifelong struggle with depression, learning of his suicide crushed me more than I could’ve predicted.

Depression is a monster. It’s ugly, and relentless, and manipulative. It turns you against yourself, and transforms you into a weapon with which it attacks you. It feels like a mountain on your shoulders that only gets heavier. It doesn’t give up, and it doesn’t disappear. Sure, it may leave you alone for a while and with treatment may not ever come back as strong, but it never truly goes away. Depression isolates you from everything around you, makes you feel alone and hopeless. The worst part is the self-induced Stockholm syndrome that makes you feel as though everything you’re going through is completely justified, like you’ve done something to deserve it.  It’s an infinite loop of pain.

In 2010, depression became the primary cause of disability in the world, according to the World Health Organization and there is roughly one successful suicide every 40 seconds. Even with such an obvious crisis at hand, we live in a society that stigmatizes depression, and mental illness in general. We shun those who are already shunning themselves. It made one of the most beloved and celebrated entertainers in the world feel like he was completely alone. There is a very real feeling of needing to hide your depression, from everyone else if possible. Most of the time, I actively avoid talking about it, even with people I know only have my best interest at heart. I almost didn’t write this, for fear of exposing myself.

I have no doubt that because of Robin Williams’ death, we’re on the verge of another national debate on mental illness. Every time there is a mass shooting, the conversation inevitably turns to mental health and what we can be doing to improve treatment of mental illnesses. Nothing is ever done, though. It’s too abstract and too easily hidden for most people to recognize and understand it. You can’t even begin to comprehend depression without experiencing it. It just doesn’t make sense. I can’t count the number of times someone has told me, “Just cheer up,” or “Get over it,”  or “What do you really have to be so sad about?” While possibly well-intentioned, this kind of stuff only makes it worse, because you ask yourself, “Well if it’s that easy to just cheer up, what’s wrong with me that I’m not able do it?” If someone decides to share their depression with you, take it seriously. Do not shrug it off. Do not tell them it’s just a passing phase. They are already isolated as it is, and have probably struggled with saying those words out loud for a long time. 80% of people that seek treatment for depression are treated successfully, and yet we discourage so many people from ever speaking up. It’s an absolute shame and a crime that we stigmatize people already at their lowest point.

It is said that the funniest people are often the saddest. We all knew how funny Robin Williams was. He was one of the best, and somehow, we still managed to fail him.

Robin William’s requiem reposted with permission from Danny Turkel @ TurkeyBrain.com. To see original or comment on Danny’s blog, click HERE.

Published August 13th, 2014


What’s Your Tribal Signature?

Published August 10th, 2014 with 9 responses.


Last week, Melissa Francis at FOX Business did a story on BuzzFeed’s review of fast food marketing. The site created a sliding scale format that compared the pictures of fast food presented in advertising with the actual items you’d be handed across the counter. Even though there’s a big disconnect between what you see and what you get, that didn’t stop advertisers from presenting idealized versions of their products.

Of course this is nothing new. For years advertising agencies have created compelling personas for their clients and their products to position them to be as compelling as possible to their customers. But even in the best of times this practice was only thought to be about 50% effective. As legendary retailer John Wanamaker said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

John Wanamaker's Tribal Signature

Despite all the advances the industry has made in the century since Wanamaker uttered those famous words, the situation has only gotten worse. Today many retailers and other marketers are finding that simply saying what their customers want to hear just doesn’t work anymore.

While the reason is uncomplicated, the causes are very complex. But simply put, we don’t decide who we are, the market does. In the old days (read pre-Internet) it was relatively easy to craft a brand personality that matched what the market wanted without having to worry that you’d be found out if your persona wasn’t consistent with your true identity. After all, consumers — even those who had been deceived and disappointed by products that didn’t deliver what they promised — had no effective way of reaching out and letting the world know how they were treated. But today the Internet and its ever-present suite of social media sites allow almost anyone to broadcast their occurrences, observations, and opinions to millions and millions of consumers regardless of geography or budgets.

If we agree that our brands need to be congruent with what the market says about us then we have to craft tribal signatures that are true to our authentic selves AND create authentic selves that are consistent with who we are and what we believe. That way the messages we broadcast and the experiences our customers enjoy are consistent with one another. This reinforcement of the authentic brand personality by the customer experience is where true brand value is built.

In those old days, many companies used to hire advertising agencies to fashion their brand positioning simply because they didn’t have the guts to be true to their own authentic selves. But as we’ve seen, that was before consumers carried web-enabled smartphones and had the ability to instantly share their experiences with the world. Today aggressive marketing companies cannot game the system simply because ubiquitous and instantaneous online accountability won’t stand for it.

Today’s marketers must make a bold declaration consistent with what they believe and who they really are and get serious about changing their behavior, policies, procedures, and teams to reinforce this powerful declaration. Otherwise they will continue to hide behind advertising because they want to shift responsibility and not be accountable.

In simple terms, today leadership equals marketing.

All of this brings up a question that we’ve all struggled with, both personally and professionally: “Who am I?” And while the Greeks asked this question as far back as the 10th century  – even inscribing it on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi (γνῶθι σεαυτόν) – most modern companies and business people do not know their answer.

The Temple of Apollo’s Tribal Signature

Unfortunately, not knowing what a person or company truly stands for does not stop marketers from generating an inaccurate racket. But activity does not necessarily result in productivity. Or as the warrior philosopher Sun-Tzu put it, “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

Sun-Tsu’s Tribal Signature

Thanks to this, learning to uncover your authentic self and declare your genuine offer is the next logical step in monetizing your business opportunity, and often the one that successful businesses and professionals find most difficult to master. To learn more about how to solve this problem, click HERE. Because the ability to create and exploit your own Tribal Signature is the right way to respond to the ironically increasing opportunities in a world of seemingly diminished returns.

Published August 10th, 2014


Corrections on Sexist Logo post.

Published August 6th, 2014 with no responses.


My post, “A Sexist Logo is Always Sexist. Except When it’s Not,” has generated a lot of responses. I agree with some and disagree with others but appreciate everyone’s outlook and input.

Unfortunately, the article I used for my research was inaccurate and part of the story I told was wrong (since corrected).

Don McEachearn, president and CEO of North Star Destination Strategies was kind enough to call me and correct the record and I’m doing the same here. I removed Enterprise Florida’s marketing hyperbole from the following paragraph but beyond that these are their words:

In 2012 North Star Destination Strategies conducted extensive research on behalf of Enterprise Florida, the public-private partnership focused on economic development, trade, and foreign direct investment in Florida… Creative, logo development, and design work for the effort was awarded to On Ideas, (in) Jacksonville…. North Star conducted extensive research …within Florida as well as nationally and internationally and reached (Enterprise’s) target audiences of entrepreneurs, higher education leaders, C-level executives and site selectors.

Simply put, Enterprise Florida is an economic development organization, not a city and the logo mark was designed by On Ideas, not North Star Destination Strategies.

Thank you, Don. I’m sorry I got some of the facts wrong.

Published August 6th, 2014


A Sexist Logo is Always Sexist. Except When it’s not.

Published August 3rd, 2014 with 16 responses.


Last week we talked about what happens when critics judge new ideas too quickly and often risk sentencing great ideas to obscurity; in that case, Airbnb’s new logo that was compared to “certain female anatomy.” (Branding Gone Wrong) But what happens when the creative process is killed before great solutions can even be developed?

This is what apparently happened when North Star Destination Strategies, a Nashville-based tourism branding firm, was first hired by City of Clearwater, Florida staff and subsequently fired by Vice Mayor Doreen Hock-DiPolito (Read more HERE) because they created a sexist logo.

Negotiations were almost complete and North Star was about to be retained to create a brand identity for the community, when Hock-DiPolito learned about a branding job the company had done for a Florida economic organization.

Is this a sexist logo?“It’s very male-oriented and does a disservice to women who own businesses,” Hock-DiPolito said of the logo On Ideas in Jacksonville designed for Enterprise Florida after North Star completed their research. Specifically, the logo presented the word “Florida” in green except for the letter “i” that was depicted as a man’s necktie. Hock-DiPolito said she was concerned about the “company’s apparent sexist attitude toward women.”

To be fair, I don’t think the logo is very good to begin with. But whether or not you agree that the mark was a sexist logo, the bigger question is whether or not one participant’s opinion — in this case Hock-DiPolito’s — is an appropriate reason for the firm to be passed over. While it’s possible that the iconography does suggest a male business slant, it could just as easily be argued that in today’s business casual environment, a necktie simply represents a traditional or serious business attitude. And further, nobody involved has any idea whether or not the decision makers at Enterprise Florida asked for a logo with a necktie in it in the first place.

Is this a sexist logo?Look at this logo designed by Herb Lubalin for Families magazine in 1980. At the time it was created it presented a perfect representation of a family inside the word family itself. Thanks to its elegance, simplicity, strong messaging, and impeccable graphics, this mark is one of my favorites and a piece I return to whenever I need inspiration. But by today’s standards it would be pretty easy to argue that Lubalin’s Families masthead is a sexist logo and inappropriate simply because it shows a taller person (insensitively representing a male father), a shorter person (a possibly sexist view of a shorter female mother) and a single child (don’t get me started!).

So what does this logo say about families with same-sex parents?

How about childless families?

How about blended families with many more children?

How about same-height parents? How would this logo make them feel?

Of course I’m being sarcastic but the question remains – when do specific and picayune interpretations of symbolism become more important than the symbol itself? Looked at under this microscope, it’s doubtful that many accepted brand symbols could survive at all. Each one is a sexist logo.

Are these sexist logos?

Apple? Isn’t the once-bitten apple the symbol for original sin? Does that mean that religiously observant believers should buy their computers and smartphones elsewhere?

Chevy? Their bowtie logo is clearly a symbol of masculinity. Does Clearwater Vice Mayor Hock-DiPolito find Chevy’s mark unacceptable also?

Starbucks? The Lady Godiva mermaid woman is topless for Pete’s sake. Does that mean men aren’t welcome? How about mastectomy survivors?

Truly offensive logos such as The Washington Redskins’ have no place in today’s increasingly tolerant and democratic society. No matter how you try to defend it (and regardless of how long it’s been in use) the title “Redskin” is an offensive slur against Native Americans that must be changed.

But to neuter the power of symbolism, and the people who create those symbols, simply because someone doesn’t understand what the symbol represents is an egregious overreaction and sets a dangerous precedent for mediocrity.

After all, even Sigmund Freud agreed, “A cigar is sometimes just a cigar.”

Published August 3rd, 2014


Branding Gone Wrong.

Published July 27th, 2014 with 32 responses.


Is Airbnb's new logo an example of branding gone wrong?

Airbnb, the online vacation rental service that now controls more hotel rooms than all of the major hotel companies combined, introduced a new logo last week. The response from the blogosphere and myriad branding experts” was immediate and negative.

Apparently, the responses were so bad that Fortune magazine titled their article on the fiasco, “Branding gone wrong: When bad logos strike back.” Besides Airbnb, the article also highlighted the criticism around new branding initiatives from Tropicana, Gap, JC Penny, and Starbucks – amongst their gallery of “branding gone wrong.” Of course, the title, and specifically the reference to “bad logos” clearly established the author’s own opinion and instantly moved the story from observational reporting to editorial commentary. Because regardless of whether the logos turn out to be successful examples of branding or not, and regardless of how the companies and their publics responded, being lumped under the title “…bad logos…” pretty much stops any reasonable conversation before it even begins.

According to the article, “Vacation rental service Airbnb unveiled a new logo last week that generated a wave of criticism for its design. Some likened it to a triangular paperclip or, even more crudely, to certain female anatomy. But the company still stands by the logo… ‘It’s a symbol for people who want to welcome into their home new experiences, new cultures, and new conversations,’ Airbnb said on its blog. Well, maybe if you squint,” sniffed the author.

Unfortunately for both Airbnb and the readers of Fortune magazine, neither the reporter nor the public is actually qualified to decide whether the logo is good or not. Sure, immediate public outcry can put a lot of pressure on a company’s CEO and marketing department and can even cause its board to forgo the new branding initiatives and crawl back to the comfortable old, folding like a lawn chair under the onslaught of negativity. But just because the first responses are loud and critical doesn’t make them correct.

Steve Jobs said that “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” However, even Jobs left out the critical notion that some new things simply require time before people can see and accept their true value. The Eiffel Tower has become a major symbol of Paris’ successful branding. The practice of disparaging the new until it becomes accepted as breakthrough—and inevitably a beloved part of the status quo—is a common trope in the history of art and innovation. In 1889, the intelligentsia of France, including Guy de Maupassant, Alexander Dumas, Emile Zola, Charles Gounod, and Paul Verlaine signed a letter of protest that read in part, “We, the writers, painters, sculptors, architects and lovers of the beauty of Paris, do protest with all our vigor and all our indignation, in the name of French taste and endangered French art and history, against the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower.”

A few years before that John Ruskin wrote of Beethoven’s music: “Beethoven always sounds to me like the upsettings of bags of nails, with here and there an also dropped hammer.”

And even Paul Cézanne, the post-impressionist master Picasso and Matisse both said was “the father of us all,” was disparaged in his day. In 1877, the artist showcased a collection of his paintings to so much criticism that he vowed to never exhibit his work again. Were the villagers protesting Frankenstein's brand? Many people are afraid of things they can’t yet understand but quick as a mob of angry villagers to light their torches and storm their metaphorical Frankenstein’s castle. Unfortunately, by the time cooler heads prevail it’s often too late to save the delicate and beautiful new idea trampled under the rioters’ hobnail boots.

I’m not predicting that Airbnb’s new logo, or any new branding idea that faces initial scorn, will ever prove to have the staying power of an Eiffel, a Beethoven, or a Cézanne. What I am suggesting is that if we judge too quickly we not only run the risk of killing ahead-of-their-time concepts that might otherwise prove to be masterpieces, but we also rob ourselves—and the world—of the potential power of a great new idea.

Published July 27th, 2014


Social Media Trends You Can Use Right Now

Published July 20th, 2014 with 3 responses.


The Condado Vanderbilt View shared on social media

Sitting in the downstairs conference room of the gorgeous Condado Vanderbilt Hotel in San Juan, I would ordinarily be staring out the window at the crashing surf except that Martin Stoll, the brilliant and understated founder of social media consultancy Sparkloft Media, is talking about SM trends we can use.

Instead of daydreaming, I’m typing notes into Evernote as quickly as I can. I’m trying to understand and capture the three social media trends Martin is discussing. Specifically, 1. Social Narcissism, 2. Digital Snacking, and 3. Complaintvertising.

1. Social Narcissism. Did you know that the vacation you take is only as good as what you can show others? Showing off the incredibly romantic sunset you’re visiting proves that you have a better life than the people who aren’t there. As we said just a couple of weeks ago, social media is the 21st century version of the old riddle about a tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear it: If something great happens to you and you can’t post it on Facebook, did it really happen?

So how do you take advantage of this social media trend? Simply by making it as easy as possible for your readers, followers, and customers to share your visible assets. By giving them ample opportunities to upload and repost their thoughts and images. And by taking what they post and turning it into highly attractive content snippets for Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and other social media outlets.

At a recent presentation, Beth Zeisnes showed us a few simple online tools such as Tagxedo, Mozaikr, ReciteThis, and Quozio that make this as easy as possible. Simply enter your morsel, and these apps will create beautiful little pieces of art you can upload to your favorite social media sites that generate much more interest and reposting than simple text files.

2. Digital Snacking. The New York Times (NYT) has had 60 people working for over a year to figure out the future of the newspaper. One of their observations was that even though the NYT is incredibly skilled at uncovering and creating information, social media intense sites such as The Huffington Post attracts more readership for an article that the NYT created and posted in the first place. Because of this, the Times has determined that its competition is not papers such as The Wall Street Journal, but information aggregation sites such as The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed.

The NYT study illustrates Stoll’s trend of Digital Snacking, where people are looking for quick, funny, interesting, pretty, shocking, engaging snippets of data that they can digest quickly and easily. Martin calls it, “The One Thumb Rule.” That is, information you can find on social media with one click of your thumb on your mobile device. If you can’t get to the interesting piece with one click while you’re waiting for elevator or sitting at a red light, you’ll go somewhere else for your ‘fix.’

3. Complaintvertising. Finally, Martin told us about Complaintvertising. His example was the traveler who felt so mistreated by British Airways that he spent $1,000 on Twitter to send a negative tweet to people who follow the airline that told readers not to fly BA because “their customer service is horrendous.” BA’s response? They wrote back to say that their Twitter feed is managed from 9 AM to 5 PM, Greenwich Mean Time.

Social media complaintvertising

Complaintvertising means that the days of worrying about what people say about you on Trip Advisor or Yelp is over. With those sites, at least your potential customers have to go look up what people have said about you. But with complaintvertising, negative messages will be sent to the interested parties without them even asking for it. Imagine how this will change your digital social media strategy.

All three of these new social media trends are just little speed bumps in the advertising world’s mad dash into the brave new world of online marketing. But they’re indicative of what you should be paying attention to as you build your business online and off.

Published July 20th, 2014


Being Relevant, Empowering, and Significant.

Published July 14th, 2014 with 15 responses.


I was sitting in the audience at the The National Speakers Association annual meeting listening to Jay Baer, the author of the social media how-to guide, Youtility, talk about how to promote blogs. After hearing Jay list many of the things I’ve been doing with this blog for years, I elbowed my seat neighbor Scott Halford in the ribs and rolled my eyes.

Jay Baer

Jay Baer

“Now I’m really bummed about my blog,” I whispered.

“What are you bummed about?” Scott asked. “Your blog’s great.”

“That’s the problem,” I answered. “I’m not unhappy because my blog is bad. I’m unhappy because it’s good.”

Scott made a face that said I was crazy and turned back to listen to the speaker.

Although it’s been attributed to many different people, in her book A Return To Love, Marianne Williamson wrote:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’”

In his latest blog post Would They Burn Your Jersey?, Randy Gage wrote about LeBron James leaving Miami to return to Cleveland:

“If you want to be a thought leader, market leader, or change the world – you have to give up the need to be liked. Telling people what they want to hear makes you popular. Telling people what they need to hear makes you relevant, empowering, and significant.”

Relevant, empowering, and significant. THAT’S what I want my blog to be. Come to think of it, that’s what I want my professional advice to be. That’s what I want my parental advice to be. Hell, that’s what I want to be. Relevant, empowering, significant.

Looking at it through that lens it should be pretty easy to figure out what to write next, what to design next, what to do next. Being relevant, empowering, and significant means that the ideas that are shooting around through my head need to be creative and focused and delivered in such a way that they matter to others simply because they matter.

Randy Gage

Randy Gage

Being relevant, empowering, and significant means that social expediency has to take a back seat to real-world usefulness. It means we need to speak our truth even when covering it up might be the easier thing to do. It means we have to be willing to suffer the slings and arrows – literal AND figurative – that the others who don’t want to hear our message might fling our way.

Being relevant, empowering, and significant means that we have to strangle our circumspect misgivings, the ones that ask Williamson’s question, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?” and answer it with her second question, “Who (am I) NOT to be?”

Being relevant, empowering, and significant means we have to stand up and deliver what we know to be right – even when we’re not so sure that anyone wants to hear it. Because the alternative is unacceptable. Because the alternative trades momentary comfort for eternal uselessness. Because the alternative opens the door to the darkness.

Being relevant, empowering, and significant means that we have to accept the importance of what we do, think, and feel and move forward with the true conviction of belief even when we’re not entirely sure we are actually strong enough to believe in the first place.

Rebecca Staton-Reinstein introduced me to the Japanese psychiatrist Shoma Morita who entreated us to, “Know your purpose. Feel your feelings. Do what must be done.”

Morita, Baer, Williamson, Gage, and so many others are trying to show us the path to being relevant, empowering, and significant. All we have to do is take it.

Published July 14th, 2014


How Perception Creates Reality. Or, Eggs Used to be Good for You.

Published July 8th, 2014 with 8 responses.


Eggs used to be good for you. Along with some crispy bacon and toast with butter, they were part of a healthy breakfast – or so they said. Then all of a sudden eggs were bad for you. Too much cholesterol. Then the yellows were bad for you but the whites were good. Now our perception is that eggs are good for you again.

For hundreds of thousands of years, before systemized agriculture, early humans lived on animal fats and proteins. Granted, we didn’t live much past 45 years old because the world was an inhospitable place back then. But sometime around the middle to end of the last century, meats – and specifically animal fats – were deemed bad for us. Nutritionists and physicians alike recommended a diet high in whole grains and low in fat. Unfortunately, after almost 40 years of this diet, obesity rates are higher than ever and we’re starting to hear that the culprit is carbohydrate – white sugar and white flour mostly, but also the formerly deified whole grains.

All of a sudden animal protein and fats are back. And nutritionists and food writers from Nina Teicholz to Gary Taubes are falling all over themselves to recommend a return to the high fat, low-fiber diets our grandparents ate. Marbled meats, butter and cream, offal, and even bacon, are making their dramatic return on trendy menus and people’s plates.

It’s good for you. It’s bad for you. It’s good for you. It’s bad for you. Wait, now it’s good for you again. How can anyone be expected to know what they should be eating, especially when the perception is that the experts don’t know either?

The pendulum of political viewpoints and solutions, too, swings from apex to apex – collecting acolytes and fanatics along the way. These folks build their worldview on the hearsay and unproven theories that appeal to them the most. They often spout personal opinions disguised as empirical evidence and use the unsubstantiated historical references they believe confirm their beliefs. If you’ve tried to have a conversation with someone who’s firmly set in their ways and lives in the reassuring echo chamber of media sources that support their dogmatic perceptions, you know it’s an exercise in futility. After all, you can’t logically talk someone out of something they didn’t logically talk themselves into.

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 12.22.48 PM

As Patrick Daniel Moynihan famously said, “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” But as we’ve seen, the problems start when viewpoints are presented as facts and perception becomes confused with truth.

This comingling of fact and fiction gets even worse in the arena of public opinion where perception serves as reality. The history of marketing is littered with examples of better products that didn’t succeed because of the perceived value of their competitors. Betamax lost to VHS even thought the former was technologically superior. Post (and pre) Jobs Apple almost lost to IBM even though the product was more advanced. GM’s Saturn — “A different kind of car company, a different kind of car” — went the way of the dodo bird as did Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and Saab because the perception of their brand value couldn’t compete in the marketplace.

What’s both beneficial and dangerous about perception is how powerfully it drives our actions. Physicians and pharmacists have long accepted the placebo and nocebo effect, where patients respond positively to the medicines they believe will help them regardless of the content of the actual drugs they’re taking.

Consumers buy based on perception. Voters vote based on perception, too. Public opinion shifts based on numerous factors, many of which have no actual basis in function or reality but still affect business and political outcomes in very real and consequential ways.

As our worlds become more and more digital and increasingly separated from physical realities, what is evident is that perception, and the ability to harness and control perception, is becoming more important than ever. And in a world of constantly changing recommendations and advice, consumers are looking for things they can believe in and thought leaders they can trust. They’re looking for the sense of Tribal Equity™ that reassures them that their perceptions are right, the world is secure and their direction is correct.

Even if they’re not so sure about eating eggs.

Published July 8th, 2014