david brooks

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Inward Bound

Faris Yakob (you own me a beer, Faris) is a strategy genius. Just a real shmarty pants. For all the big words he uses, and they are plenty, his ideas are quite simple and rich. Faris is a wonderful communicator, as well. He is closely associated with his oft-used phrase “Talent Imitates, Genius Steals.” Here’s a steal, or as he might put it, a recombinant idea, purloined from David Brook’s Op-Ed piece this past weekend in the NYT. (It comes from David’s new book The Road To Character.) In the article he identifies a number of way to improve one’s character. I won’t do it justice so read the piece, but what impressed me most was Mr. Brook’s call for people to see the world not through the gravity of their own lives, wants and needs, but through others.

This notion is wonderfully instructive for brand planners. I was once spanked in anthropology class for suggesting cultural anthropologists should do more than observe, record and be passive. The pimp hand that hit me related that by being more than a passive observer I’d be insinuating myself into the culture, changing it ever so much.

Brand planners need to divorce themselves from the consumer. Go all tofu on the buying journey, the “if then” decisions, the psyche of the purchasers and influencers.

It’s not easy. But it’s necessary. Inward not outward is David Brook’s advice. And mine too, for brand planning. Peace.  

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Wanna be my friend?

best friends

David Brooks wrote a great Op-Ed piece in the NYT today on friendship. He discussed its importance and necessity. He shared whys and wherefores of what makes a true friend. As great writing does, he makes you think about your best friend. Do you have one? And what makes them so? “Nothing inspires friendship like selflessness and cooperation in moments of difficulty,” he writes.

I had a boss once who I liked very much. He was interesting, full of life and inspiring. A potential friend. He told me he could never be a friend of an employee. He’d been burned once. Como se sad?

Remember when you were a child and a kid you’d never met before asked “Want to be my friend?” What was your response? For me, the question was off-putting. Instinctively, I couldn’t process it.  A lot has been written recently about a consumer backlash concerning friending brands on Facebook. Brands are getting too needy and aggressive and it is hurting them. It’s a very non-friendly behavior.

As much as I would like to suggest brand planners think about the components of friendship when making brand strategy decisions, I will pull back. But only a little. I’ve written before about the need for brands to provide help. And educate. Brands can never be friends, but it wouldn’t hurt them to act like one every now and again. Peace it up.

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On the web the most helpful people win – not always the smartest. Social app makers have created lots of online social media plays that reward people for providing good information. They get badges, status, followers, elevations in cred and klout.  It’s how the web roles – remuneration for helpfulness. I follow David Brooks, with whom I do not necessarily share political views because he makes me smarter. He’s helpful.

Enter Edward Snowden, Verizon and the govies. And privacy (in this post pronounced priv-ah-cee). Everybody wants privacy.  I don’t want to be served ads for a product I’m doing brand research on. It shows someone’s watching.  Yet I look at Google Analytics every day, hoping for spikes in traffic. I try being helpful online to build readers. So I don’t always want privacy.  Am I a walking conundrum?  Nope, just a human.

I also happen to be one of those people who has never seen a grisly body part. I was nervous riding the railroad under the river to NYC post 9/11. I sign off every blog post with “Peace.”

I’m reading Ben Franklin’s bio and wonder what he would say. Hell, what would I say? I say let’s debate. That’s what American’s do. Let’s compromise. That’s what Americans do. Let’s be helpful.  That’s what Americans should do.  Peace.  


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David Brooks had a nice Op-Ed piece today in The New York Times on the topic of big data. In one of his metaphors he states that as the data haystack gets bigger the needle becomes more deeply buried. So context is critical to analysis of data he argues. Poor contextual views of data cause failed analysis.

Another opinion leader I follow is Robert Scoble – a tech blogger. Robert is the most “on” person I know. When he sleeps he’s evaluating.  Robert’s big thing this year is context. He reviews and evaluates all sorts of tech tools that create context out of actions, locations, email and Siri voice commands (I threw that last one in there, but I’m sure he’d agree.)

Brand planners use context every minute. As they watch and listen for powerful, motivating behaviors, they seek patterns. Hay of a certain length, as it were. Planners’ brains gravitate away from the formulaic and toward the unique. And interestingly, some of the insights they glean aren’t about selling stuff. They are about people that buy the stuff – or don’t buy the stuff. The insights may provide context around child safety or home health or happy meals (lower case) unrelated to the product at hand. And so long as the insights are not too far afield of the product being sold, they are fair context and stimuli for the creative team and the creative output. In the end, it’s all about sale though.

Did the Deutsch’s Darth Vader spot sell more Volkswagen’s? Do kids ride in cars? Do families have and/or want kids? If you have the answer let me know.  Peace!

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Life and Taxes.

I do not agree with some people (David Brooks for instance) who believe closing tax loopholes and raising tax rates will squelch growth.  The economic theory makes sense but it doesn’t take into consideration human nature. Capitalists — and we’re all capitalists to a degree — like the positive side of the ledger sheet. It sets us a tingle. If the harsh reality sets in that loop holes are reduced and higher taxes legislated, capitalists will go through the 5 stages of grieving, then start to focus on da monies. There may be some hiring stasis, sell-offs and contraction, but the prize will always be new earnings.  And revival will follow. Our taste for growth is just too strong.

Everyone should ask how we are spending the country’s money. Everyone should ask where we send our money overseas. Secessionists have the right to want to secede. That’s freedom.  But don’t confuse freedom and capitalism.  I am no economist, but in this land whether the currency is wampum, beaver pelts, greenbacks or stock shares, the trading rules may change, but growth is the vitality that moves us forward. There is nothing more natural than growth.  Peace!  



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In real life, I’m told, I’m pretty funny. On paper, bound by grammar and marketing rants, not so much. Conversely, David Brooks’ “funny” comes out on paper yet he is pretty dry as a TV pundit. Please spend a minute to read his Op-Ed piece in today’s NY Times. A democratic convention speech parity, it’s a hoot.
As we get closer to the election, Mr. Brooks conservatism grows stronger and the gap between us expands, but his humor is cleansing. It is also disarming.  Marketers who use humor correctly and not with malice, can often create stronger selling arguments.  Humor me and I’ll humor you — even if you are trying to sell me something. Humor is not a strategy, it’s a tactic but if done well it can be an effective voice for marketing. Have any examples? Write me at steve@whatstheidea.com.
Peace and Happy Labor Day!
PS. He should have written McBushcain rather than Bushmccain. 😉

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News should be free. Opinion should be free. The Web should be free. This is America. (“Feel free” is our marketing mantra at Zude.)   Here’s some good news. At midnight tonight The New York Times is going to make free a good deal of the content it once charged for under its Times Select program.

Once again Nicholas Kristof’s Op-Ed pieces will be free. As will those of Thomas Friedman and David Brooks.  
The advertising vs. subscription model continues to favor advertising. The Times earned $10 million last year in online subscriptions, yet still realizes the potential of the online advertising model. Search engines help drive 13 million unique visitors to NY Times.com and all but 750,000 may be turned away if they want to dig deeper into the site.  
Are you listening Wall Street Journal. I expect you will roll-over within 2 months. And I can’t wait.

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