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Defender of the brand

Some CMOs and marketing types simply do ads and promo. Give them average products for average people and some money, and they’ll do the ad thing.

And some are actually marketers. Marketing involves making a promise and keeping it. Marketers understand that your logo isn’t a brand, it’s simply a flag. The brand is the experience that people expect to have when they engage with you. It’s your benefit of the doubt.

If you’re that kind of marketer, you quickly come to learn that the single most important part of your job is being sure that you make great products and services. Because sooner or later, the experience is the brand. Sooner or later, the story you tell needs to be true.

Which means…

That your main job is persuading the people you work with to ship great stuff. No junk. No shortcuts.

If you’re not the defender of the brand, who is?

Cooperative enthusiasm

When someone shares a new idea, or makes a pitch, or describes a dream, what would happen if you were enthusiastic?

Perhaps positive thinking is contagious.

Perhaps egging on the other person will help them explore the edges.

And perhaps it will help them overcome their fear and share the very best version of what they have in mind.

You can always say ‘no’ later.

In this moment, your confidence and enthusiasm exist to make the idea better. No harm in that. For either of you.

Coiling ropes

Professionals put things away slowly so that they’ll be ready quickly when needed.

Investing time now for time later.

Asking and daring

High Noon is a cornerstone of American cinema, a sobering and memorable look at heroism and community.

In the movie, the sheriff is facing near-certain death at the hands of a killer freed from prison. He has about an hour to gather a posse of deputies, because together they’ll be able to repel the avenging outlaw when he arrives on the noon train.

As the clock ticks down, the marshal visits one part of the community after another, begging them to help him. And each finds a reason to say no, preferring short-term safety to long-term freedom, community belonging and heroism.

Howard Hawks, director of Rio Bravo, pointed out that the reason that the marshal failed to rally the community was that he was asking. In search of affiliation, he shared his fears and a story of mutual support as well as loyalty for what he’d done for them for so long.

In Rio Bravo, on the other hand, John Wayne does nothing of the sort. He regularly turns down offers of help, being selective about who’s worthy of being on his team. He shares no fear or trepidation. He’s selling status and dominance, not affiliation. “Are you good enough to be on this team?”

Humans are motivated by affiliation or by status. And in the archetypal old west, it was status that often carried the day. The same might be true for the community that you are part of.

The resolution of communication

What’s better, a phone call or a zoom call?

Which creates more intimacy, a meeting in person or a hand-written letter?

The only answer is: it depends.

It’s tempting to believe that being in a store, surrounded by sights, smells, packaging, crowds and helpful salespeople delivers more interaction and sales than a catalog. But a company like Zingerman’s manages to make a can of sardines sound far more exciting than it would at the deli.

When we communicate, the real issue isn’t how many bits of information are available. Instead, I think there are three forces at work:

Are we using all the information we can? (The baker can choose how the store smells and how the display looks).

Are we showing up with permission, in the right moment?

Is there a path to emotional connection and trust?

Whether it’s connecting with an old friend or hearing from a politician, there’s no universal hi-rez option. It’s more complicated than that.

Things to feel bad about

You might have a list of them. In fact, many of us do, and consult it quite often. The list is defective for a number of reasons:

  1. It’s not accurate. There are things that aren’t right in our world that don’t appear on the list. Our personal list tends to be organized around things that are vivid, personal and apparently urgent, as opposed to useful or important.
  2. It ignores systemic problems in favor of individual annoyances.
  3. It makes a profit for the media, but doesn’t help us make things better.
  4. It’s not helpful. Memorizing the list isn’t helping us get any closer to doing anything about it.
  5. It’s actually a trap, designed to keep us from doing the important work we’re afraid to do. It’s Resistance, in the form of buzzkill.
  6. It’s distracting. All the moments we waste focusing on the feel-bad list simply serve to make us feel bad. That’s the list’s job.

Lists like this aren’t a helpful way to avoid bad outcomes. But they do allow us to experience the bad outcomes in advance, even the ones that don’t happen. If feeling bad is keeping us from doing things that produce better outcomes, more connection or simply joy, it’s a waste.

The best use of the list might be to write it down, make it complete, carefully put it in a drawer for later. And then forget about it.

Two things we say to kids

Overhead recently:

To a 10-year-old on his way to a baseball game, “Come home with a win.”

To a 9-year-old at the supermarket, “I don’t think you’ll like that.”

It’s pretty clear what lessons are being taught.

Rethinking categories of media

It is found or it arrives.

It is hosted many places or it has a single home.

It earns and delivers on permission, or it’s spam.

It changes over time or it’s static.

It’s the work of an individual or the production of a community.

It’s valuable because of network effects, or in spite of them.

It produces energy and momentum, or it absorbs it.

It’s scarce or it’s widely available.

It thrives on the long tail or only works if it’s a hit.

It dances with the early adopters or soothes the feelings of the late majority.

It’s truly live, or it benefits from time shifting.

It launches itself or it waits to be pressed.

It enhances productivity, or it reduces it.

It is a catalyst for cultural change, or it feeds on cultural change.

It energizes and inspires, or it trolls with snark and irony.

People share it because it benefits them, or someone has to hustle to make it spread.

It goes stale very quickly, or it becomes more relevant over time.

It’s worth talking about, or it’s not.

Generation C

We’ve been naming generations for a long time. Demographers use it to begin a conversation about the changes around us. While a birth range doesn’t guarantee an outlook, the demographics and cultural shifts that a group shares tell us a lot about how they might see the world. And the name is a shortcut to remind us that not everyone sees the world the way we do.

  • Baby boomers
  • Gen X
  • Gen Y
  • Gen Z
  • Millenials

The last four are pretty unimaginative if you ask me, but I also know that a baby boomer is probably thinking of the world differently than a millennial is right now. These are inexact labels, but helpful nonetheless.

So what to call the next generation?

My co-authors Bruce Clark and Paige NeJame have coined the term “Generation C.” It’s so well-suited, I believe it’s going to stick.

C is for Covid, C is for Carbon, C is for Climate.

The combination of years of school spent at home, in a mask, combined with the significant revolution (economic, political and social) that our industrialism has led us to means that this generation will be different than the ones before. Every decision and investment and interaction is going to be filtered through the lens of carbon and remediation and resilience.

And yet, if we combine this with the c of connection, of a cohort of people who are finding solace and possibility in community, there’s a chance for all of us. It will take compassion as well. Generation C didn’t ask for any of this, but I’m hopeful that they’re up for leading the change.

Not impossible

Some folks build their work on the frontier of impossible. Breakthrough coding, an astonishing new magic trick, a concerto that takes your breath away.

It’s so remarkable that we’re tempted to believe that this is our job as well. Not every once in a while, but daily. To do what has never been done before, creating emotions that are scarce indeed.

But the scarcity of this sort of work might be the proof we need to realize that it’s not for us to create, at least not today.

Today, we get the chance to lead, to connect and to do work we’re proud of. Work we can describe before we begin, and work we’re confident is worth doing.

That might be enough.