To the victor go the… branding messages?

Recently, I received an email announcing the completion of a corporate merger. The dominant brand became the identity of the new corporation, and the lesser brand now “belongs to history”, according to the company CEO.CheeringBusinessman

Is it just me, or does that sound a little vindictive?

Oh, I’m sure it was meant to be respectful. But I can’t help envisioning a gloating executive spiking the ball while he shouts to his opponent, “You’re history!”

Okay, that is just my imagination running wild.

However, the fact remains that with email – or any other written communications – the reader’s interpretation of the message is entirely based on individual experience and perspective. And it seems that people are more quick than ever to take offense these days…

Or maybe it’s just that everyone has plenty of social media forums in which to air their grievances online.

So, if you can’t anticipate how each reader is going to react to the message, can you avoid offending all of them? Perhaps not entirely, but you can at least minimize the possibility of unintended messages.

  1. Be sure to seek a second set of eyes on your copy before you finalize it. If possible, choose someone with a different background from your own; they’re more likely to bring a fresh perspective.
  2. When in doubt, leave it out. After the CEO informed that the merger was final and announced the name of the combined company, it was unnecessary to belabor the point about the other brand being history; that was already implied.

In communications, as in life, a little sensitivity and common sense goes a long way. If only we could enforce this rule on social media sites *sigh*

* Image courtesy of stockimages at
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Are we really defined by our defining moments?

MorningViewWhen historians evaluate the lives of great men – or women – in our society, they often reference a ‘defining moment’ in the person’s life. A point at which the essential nature or character of a person is identified.

Defining moments are said to test our mettle; to determine exactly what we’re made of, and influence our future actions. More often than not, they tend to be tragic events… natural disasters, serious health issues, financial trouble, etc.

I’ve had a couple of these moments in my life. The kind of events that jar you out of your comfort zone and make you completely re-think your life.

I prefer to think of these occurrences as ‘shaping moments’, rather than defining. These critical, once-in-a-lifetime events certainly shape our expectations and how we perceive the world. But they don’t define our character.

Our true character is defined by how we live our lives each and every day, and how we care for each other.

* Image courtesy of gubgib at
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Learning to banish the ‘block’

As a writer focused on a particular type of content, it’s easy to forget how many different forms our writing can take. Creative fiction, poetry, non-fiction, technical writing, marketing content, online blogs… even the Twitterati practice the craft of writing, albeit in very short bursts. Text messages? Not so much.

One difficulty all writers have in common is the dreaded writer’s block.

Dealing with writer's blockWhile some folks may be able to plow through the blockade with sheer grit and determination, that never works for me. Time and time again I’m reminded that the harder I stare at the page, trying to will the words to flow, the less productive I am.

Deadline pressure only compounds the problem.

When I try to force the process, my train of thought gets derailed, leaving the tracks Train of thought derailedcompletely to gather dust in a nearby field. My ideas just dry up and drift across the scene like so many tumbleweeds. You get the picture…

The solution that works best for me is to take my mind off the work, at least momentarily. Listening to white noise or instrumental music helps calm my thoughts and restore my focus. If I have a few minutes to spare in my schedule, I’ll get up to stretch, or step outside for some fresh air.

Of course, there is no one cure-all for everyone. It’s reported that Victor Hugo would have his valet hide his clothes, forcing him to stay indoors and write. That seems a bit extreme to me. And quite cold in the winter.

How do you banish writer’s block?

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Experience? Who Needs That?!

And they’re off and running!

Whew, the 2016 presidential campaign is shaping up to be quite a horse race, isn’t it? When I look at the crowded field of candidates, one thing that puzzles me is the large number of front-runners with no experience whatsoever in elected or appointed public office. None.

Yes, I understand that a significant percentage of registered voters are tired of the status quo. They want a fresh start; new ideas; a revolutionary approach to governing. Okay, I get that.

Original ideas are great. But does experience count for nothing at all?

What if thiExperienceWordClouds mindset was applied to other industries? Should a construction company hire a crane operator who has never before operated a crane?

How about in the business world – is it better to be a grizzled veteran, or a fresh-faced kid right out of school?

Speaking as a slightly grizzled veteran myself, I tend to believe that experience is important (naturally). When you’re faced with a new project at work, it helps to have some prior experience with similar tasks, increasing the likelihood that you’ll reach a successful conclusion more quickly.

But I have to admit that sometimes our experiences can lead us to make assumptions based on past occurrences. As a result, we discount ideas out of hand because they didn’t work last time, or simply because “this is the way we’ve always done it”.

The more experience I gain, the more I learn that I should challenge my own assumptions.

In order to develop a fresh perspective on each project, it’s important to start with a clean slate and an open mind… you never know where it will lead you. Just be careful it doesn’t lead you on a wild goose chase. That’s where the wisdom gained through experience comes in!

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Content is King, but it’s not the whole kingdom

The unfortunate juxtaposition of this heartwarming photo and the news story that ran next to it is a visual reminder that, while content is king, consistency reigns supreme.

newspaper image

I would suggest that when it comes to successful communications, content alone doesn’t always win out. In order to be truly effective, content needs to convey a consistent message across all platforms. (And, of course, it should be good content… not a string of search keywords!)

Communicating inconsistent or conflicting messages – through words, images or actions –not only confuses your audience, but it also undermines credibility and positioning.

Run, piggy, run!

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From FAB to FAIL in one hour or less

Poor customer service is counter-intuitive; it’s like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Bad idea, in my opinion.

I recently switched to a different cable Internet service provider. Because I work from home, fast and reliable Internet is pretty high on my list of needs. The sales team sold me on how much faster their service is for both download and upload, plus a little cheaper to boot. I was skeptical at first, but their offer was too good to pass up. Plus, my former provider had recently informed me of an impending price hike.

A few days later a technician comes to my house to hook up the new cable TV and Internet. He is polite, professional and dedicated, working well past quitting time to resolve some minor issues that could possibly impact service quality. And the service is as fast as advertised – even faster, in fact.

Wow! I’m really impressed; a super happy customer.

The next morning I gladly spend some time reconfiguring my email settings to work with the new ISP. Hmmm… my Microsoft Exchange email works fine, but my POP email account can’t seem to connect properly. I can receive mail, but can’t send it. No matter, I just need to fool around with the settings a bit. Well, that didn’t work.

Let’s call the ISP’s tech support. Oh no, the automated phone runaround 😦  That’s okay, just a little patience to get to the right person and everything will be fixed in a jiffy, right? After all, I have blazing fast Internet now!

Grrr, about an hour has passed since I started dealing with this, and I’m still getting passed from person to person with the call getting dropped several times, causing me to start over from scratch. Determined, I keep plugging away.

At last, I reach the right department and speak with a tech person who understands exactly what the issue is, and even better, he says it’s a really easy fix. Hallelujah! “Fabulous, what do I need to do; is there a configuration setting I need to change?”

“Yes, that’s correct. But before I can give you that information, first you need to sign up for a tech support contract.”

Say what?? “But I’m a brand new customer just trying to configure my new Internet service. I don’t need an ongoing service contract.”

“Nevertheless, that’s the only way I can help you.”

“That doesn’t make sense. Why would you penalize me for becoming a new customer? Maybe I should just switch back to your competitor.”

“You can do as you like, but I can’t help you unless you buy a service contract.”

3 – 2 – 1 – Boom!

I just went from biggest fan to disgruntled customer in no time flat.

Stubbornly refusing to give in, as a matter of principle, I search online user forums for answers. Amazingly, I quickly discover dozens of other disgruntled customers who encountered the exact same roadblock.

Out of desperation, I contact the service provider that hosts my email server. “I realize the problem is not on your end, it’s the ISP gateway on my computer. But perhaps you’ve encountered a similar situation before, and you might be able to help me…?” I plead, hopefully.

Without missing a beat, their tech support agent replies, “Certainly, let me see what I can do to help you.” After explaining the problem in detail, she tells me that she has not encountered this issue before, but maybe one of her colleagues has the answer. Do I mind if she puts me on a brief hold?

When she returns after a few minutes, she suggests that I change the outgoing server name to a specific DNS address and change my outgoing server port setting. She provides a couple alternate port settings, and on the second try it works. Yes! I’m ecstatic and very grateful.

She thanks me and says, “Have a nice day.”

Finally, after several hours and loads of frustration, I have a simple 2-minute solution to a problem that should have been a very minor issue.

Thank you, Hostway. You’ve reinforced my relationship as your customer and won my loyalty. Well done. See how simple it is, cable Internet service provider?

Nose, meet face. Let’s be friends.

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Of life, loss and the human condition

Sometimes, life gets in the way of living.

We spend our days working or taking care of household chores; generally dealing with day-to-day minutiae, often to the point of letting life pass us by. I was painfully reminded of this recently by the sudden loss of a loved one.

My mother was my role model. A smart, committed educator who set the bar high and encouraged those around her to exceed her expectations. She also liked to laugh and would express an almost childlike delight about things that pleased her. Sadly, illness stole some of her vitality later in life. She was less talkative, becoming slightly withdrawn from others.


As I processed my grief these past few months, I found myself becoming withdrawn at times, trying to work through something personal and private. And yet, life was still moving along. My friends and family had new experiences; the grandchildren were growing up.

Life does go on, as they say, after we pass. This unfortunate fact of life has always made me sad. But maybe it’s an important lesson we all need to face. If we are constantly reminded how fleeting it all is, and how short our time is to reach out and connect with each other, perhaps we can be more appreciative of each other and more understanding of our differences.

I had no intention of writing about my personal loss, but I was inspired today by a story that moved me to tears. A newspaper article described the journey of an autistic young man and his family who founded the Golden Hat Foundation. Like many people with autism he is unable to communicate verbally; however, the young man has found ways to express himself, including through poetry and even composing music.

There are many reasons that people often fail to connect with each other. Sometimes they are too shy or sad; other times it might be due to illness or disability, or simply a lack of mutual understanding. It’s really encouraging to see someone triumph over obstacles that prevent them from sharing their thoughts and feelings, and develop an ability to make the personal connections that are so fundamental to the human condition.

Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev /
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Fear: The most powerful weapon of all

People are motivated by a variety of factors and emotions. Greed, love, financial security, envy, guilt, a sense of obligation… Take your pick.

FearI believe that fear is the most powerful motivator of all because it triggers our innate survival instinct, causing an adrenaline-fueled gut reaction. This is why fear is such a formidable weapon. The reason for heinous acts like the Boston Marathon bombing is because terrorists want us to live in fear for our physical safety.

FDR was certainly correct when he said:

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

But if we let fear control us, that one thing is more than enough.

Many marketers and lobbyists also use fear as a tactic of persuasion; albeit a much less visceral fear than the “fight or flight” response. For example, ad campaigns frequently play on the fear of being socially outcast or missing out on all the fun. Logic and reason are completely discounted in these imaginary social crises.

Likewise, the Senate’s failure to pass the Manchin-Toomey amendment this week appears to stem from fear of something — loss of campaign funds, perhaps, or backlash from a vocal minority. Reason doesn’t even enter into the argument against the amendment; opponents said that it wouldn’t stop all gun crime. By that “logic” one could extrapolate that we don’t need traffic laws because they don’t prevent all traffic accidents.

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Can you hear me now?

Just be quiet. The most essential trait of a good communicator is the ability to be quiet and listen.

Before we can communicate effectively, we need to listen carefully to our audience. What do your customers really want? How is the market responding to the competitors’ messages? Without a true understanding of the question, it’s impossible to craft a compelling response.

Of course, this essential life lesson applies to our relationships with friends and loved ones as well. I think this poignant short film is a beautiful example of the basic human need to be heard; the importance of being there for each other:

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Like many Americans, I watched the State of the Union address and the GOP response with interest last night. And, like many of my fellow communications professionals, I was aghast at the awkward lunge for a swig of water in the middle of the response speech. Within minutes, Twitter was drowning in satire.

water bottle But I have to give props to Marco Rubio (or his image consultants) for quickly deflecting the attacks by laughing along with the joke. He tweeted a photo of the empty bottle last night, and this morning was making the rounds of news shows with water in hand.


As much as we would like to do so, we can’t always control every element of every public appearance. Sh*t happens, as they say. The critical issue is what we do next.

Sometimes the best response to an unfortunate gaffe is a good laugh.

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