Category: Politics

No Consensus on Thatcher


Posted by:
Tate Linden

Back in 2011, while railing against the tendency to settle for ‘non-objectionable’ over ‘highly effective’ brands, I cited a portion of this quote from the (then living) Prime Minister:

To me consensus seems to be —the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no-one believes, but to which no-one objects. —the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead.

What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner “I stand for consensus”?

Those are some exceptionally important words to me, and to the organization I’ve built. I reference them at nearly every speaking engagement and each new client briefing because they’re equally applicable to the fields of branding and design.

And today they seem even more relevant and true. Today there’s a new lack of consensus. Thatcher’s passing earlier this week has been simultaneously marked by loyal praise and passionate derision from those impacted by her efforts. She is now either loved or reviled by the masses for the things she held most dear and the controversial steps she took to effectively defend those things.

I can’t imagine that she would find this particularly upsetting. Thatcher didn’t stand for consensus; she stood for her convictions. And the United Kingdom as a whole and the world at large are stronger for it.

The lesson? As goes politics, so goes branding. Address the issues, don’t avoid them. Or do. After all, it’s only the wellbeing of your organization and its people at stake.

An Open Letter to the Stewards of the Progressive & Democratic Brands

Hello Stewards,

You may not realize it yet, but you need help.

I’ve been told by many in politics that there are no well-known (or even proven-effective) brand strategists focused on helping Progressive causes. (There are an astounding number of political strategists but that’s a different animal.) This may be due to the common belief that Democrats won’t pay for core brands to be developed. Dems spend a fortune on polling, message crafting, and message testing, but when it comes time to actually develop the unchanging core of progressivism or the Democratic party there’s no one willing to buy more than a quick logo invariably containing some combination of red, white and blue. And perhaps this would be fine if this were universally true across the political spectrum…

But it isn’t. Conservative leadership has long understood that without a deep and powerful identity they’re lost. The world’s greatest branding minds are regularly paid immense sums to work for Conservative initiatives. These strategists have worked hard to develop, execute and maintain a consistent Conservative brand that appeals to a broad spectrum of Americans from every economic class.

Think it’s a coincidence that every conservative issue comes down to just two things? Every thing is about either Liberty (or it’s cousin “freedom”) or faith (in our founding fathers, our business leaders, our capitalism, or our God). I have yet to find a conservative cause that couldn’t be summed up by some combination of the two ideas. And they’re a brilliant combination. The freedom and liberty to do whatever is in your best interests, backed by faith in whatever it is that you believe? That means that so long as you maintain belief in whatever floats your boat the details on any particular issue are irrelevant. It’s true because of our belief system, not because of the intricate details of an issue.

It’s one of the most impressive feats of branding I’ve ever seen.

But it’s beatable. Just not by progressives as they’re branding themselves now. Progressives (and their current host, the Democrats) we put all their eggs in the fairness basket. This is fine when our country is stable and the masses believe we are well served, but when the system is rigged to consistently sacrifice the ability of one group of our citizens to survive in order to benefit another it seems to me that “fairness” is a bad fit.

Think about the rulings and legislation passed recently. Conservatives have successfully argued that corporations are people. Money is speech. Unlimited anonymous donations can be made from individuals and organizations to any candidate through Super PACs, arguably protecting and legalizing the buying of favorable treatment from our government.

The only reason Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” has not “perished from this earth” is that corporations are now people. Astonishingly powerful people.

This isn’t an issue of fairness anymore in much the same way that it wasn’t about fairness when we abolished slavery, gave women the right to vote, or allowed workers to protect themselves from doing crazy things like, say, becoming an ingredient in the sausage they made.

I’ve recited the Pledge of Allegiance countless times in my life and I’m pretty sure that there’s no mention of fairness there. It’s not in the Constitution either. Nor the Bill of Rights. We have no right to fairness other than perhaps the right to attempt to achieve it in our pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of fairness seems better suited to squabbles involving siblings and nannies in modern vernacular.

So what might be a better fit? When we look at the pledge most of us recited daily as school children there’s a phrase that may be key. The Progressive Promise of “Fairness for All” isn’t there, but “and justice for all” is. Justice is a focal point of the first sentence of our Constitution, and makes a repeat appearance in Article 4 section 2, ensuring that not only will there be justice, but that within the borders of our nation one cannot escape it.

The recent Occupy movement isn’t just demanding fairness. They’re demanding justice. And it’s when that level of emotion and passion is stirred that progressives become effective agents of change. It’s a shift from “we need to adjust things” to “this is criminally unjust” that seems to help America make progressive leaps forward.

Progressivism’s biggest weakness is that it must necessarily ebb and flow as the perception of our government’s ability or willingness to provide equal justice under the law shifts. When the government leans toward treating everyone equally progressivism has trouble gaining a foothold. When it is perceived as oppressive to the common man progressivism inexorably rises up to rebalance or rebuild the system. Once fixed the progressive movement fades until the oppression becomes visible again. If the oppression isn’t fixed it gradually becomes the accepted way of life and we move on.

What does this mean? Well, it means that progressives have a very limited window of time in which to rebalance the system now that oppression is perceived. If progressives can’t unite their distinct voices into a single call for change that is connected to the core of their cause they will fail to have an impact in our era. And it’ll be because they couldn’t simply and powerfully define themselves.

As for who the progressives area at their core? I’m pretty sure they’ve never been able to powerfully describe it. The progressive promise shouldn’t be “Fairness for All” or even “Justice for All”. It’s should be about the willingness and responsibility to defend the rights of every American, not just the ones with money or power.

I’ll take a shot at defining the progressive core. How about:

No American Stands Alone.

I’m pretty damn sure that this is the sentiment behind every great step forward that America has taken since the time of Lincoln. It all fits. And it seems to align with almost everything that progressives are aiming to achieve today.

But time is short, the election is coming, and the Democratic brand and message is a horribly confused mess.

It’s fixable. And the election is winnable. And change can happen in this era. If only progressives would invest and believe in who they are instead solely on what they say.

If you’re not one of the stewards of the Democratic brand and think there’s merit in this idea then perhaps you can forward this letter or link to someone who is. Your Democratic Congressman, someone in the DCCC, or the White House would be a good start.

If you are one of the stewards? Don’t be shy. Comment, call, or write.  Mostly because I haven’t a clue who you are. Unless you’re President Obama, of course. (And if that’s you, Mr. President, please do reach out because as I understand it you’re not yet taking my calls.)

And in the unlikely case that there isn’t a steward for the brand, I humbly throw my hat into the ring. Or I would if someone could tell me where the ring is.


Tate Linden
(A proven brand strategist.)


Defining Brand Strategy – with Gandhi?

Posted by:
Tate Linden

This post follows on my post from last week in which I introduced a basic brand philosophy, but neglected to define all the terms. Thanks to those of you who asked that I back up and give a bit more context before moving forward.

I use two of Gandhi’s famous quotes as the basis for Stokefire’s system of understanding how and why organizations or causes succeed or fail, and what can be done to fix them. I began working more seriously with his ideas (with the very capable help of my team) as I was preparing to speak to members of Congress about why Republicans consistently represented not only their own brand, but also defined the Democrats, while the Dems could neither represent themselves nor define their opponents.

A Definition of Terms

  1. Gandhi’s Trinity or Gandhi’s Pyramid: The three distinct elements that together result in the happiness mentioned in Gandhi’s quote, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
  2. Do: Whatever it is that your organization gets paid to deliver, whether it’s a product, service, or cause, is your ‘do’. Within an organization you likely have a larger ‘do’ that encompasses what is offered to external clients, and smaller ‘do’s for internal departments such as HR, Payroll, and the like that are tasked with ensuring that the organization can survive to provide the intended service. My focus will most often be on the larger externally oriented definition, but lessons can usually be applied to either.
  3. Say: The sum total of externally viewable organizational communications. This includes almost any sort of communication that can be perceived by the senses. Verbal and visual are obvious, so you’ve got marketing, advertising, design, logo, and PR covered. But we can communicate using scent, non-verbal sound, touch, and taste as well. If the purpose of the experience is to communicate with the audience outside of the use of the product or service then chances are good that you’re dealing with ‘say’. Most importantly, any internal ‘confidential’ communication is also part of ‘say’. As you will see shortly, what we say is a window into what we think – so if we’re keeping secrets they’re going to be seen as more representative and believable than what we intentionally distribute to the world.
  4. Think: Perhaps a better word for this is ‘intent’. This is the true motivation or cause behind an organization. For those outside of the organization’s leadership circle, ‘think’ is typically only deduced by analyzing what is said and done and computing the probable cause. It takes a truthful and well communicated motivation to succeed for the long term. But it is only under extreme pressure that the true motivation can be proven. Intense positive or negative pressure reveals what is most important because in those periods we tend to embrace what we hold most dear.
  5. Perception of Intent: Somewhat related to Gandhi’s Pyramid, a second quote from Gandhi helps to explain this idea: “The moment there is suspicion about a person’s motives, everything he does becomes tainted.”
    Since our true intent (or our ‘think’) is usually not provable it becomes critically important in competitive situations to understand how our motivations are perceived by our audience. Perception of Intent is almost completely unrelated to truth or genuine motivation. It is affected by the biases of the originators, deliverers, and receivers of the intended message, and can be easily manipulated (to the detriment of the originator) when the elements of Gandhi’s Pyramid aren’t in harmony.

Those are the key aspects within the developing philosophy.

But why define these terms at all?

Because I believe that all successes and failures can be attributed to either a lack of alignment between, or insufficient strength within, items two through four (‘think’, ‘say’, or ‘do’). It is this weakness that, in competitive situations, enables competitors or the media to manipulate Perception of Intent (item 5) and impact the likelihood of success.

Anything I’ve missed? Let me know.

The Rebirth of Effective Progressivism: It’s not what you say, and it’s also not what you do.

Posted by:
Tate Linden

Tomorrow morning (9 AM at Netroots Nation 11) I’m serving on a panel of national experts and authors of books on political messaging and polling with Drew Westen and Celinda Lake. As the lone panelist without a Wikipedia page (probably should do something about that, no?) I’m honored to be included in the group.

I was invited to speak after addressing members of Congress and their staffs on the role of branding and identity in politics, and participating in a heated round-table session (along with Drew) with the Congressmen about how to address the issues raised during the day’s many discussions.

My role on the Netroots messaging panel is to discuss three critical issues working against the advancement of Progressive ideals:
1) Progressives (as individuals and as a group) have an outmoded understanding of alignment.
2) Progressives do not discern between actual intent and perceived intent.
3) Progressives ineffectually use logic to counter Conservative faith-based arguments.

These three issues combine to make it extremely difficult for any Progressive to build and maintain the credibility and power to effect change.

The solution is to build a new model of alignment that ensures words and actions are aligned with core ideals – and to make the alignment strong enough to withstand the reinterpretation efforts of the opposition. By building Progressive initiatives on a foundation of positive intent and perhaps linking this intent to strongly positive and deeply held American beliefs (consider the great and popular historical achievements of Progressivism such as the abolishment of slavery, the establishment of civil rights and women’s suffrage, victories in two world wars) the movement can once again begin building a greater America.

You can read more detail in the attached summary (Download the PDF Version here!). If you’re attending the session you’ll get a hard-copy when you arrive. I welcome your thoughts and comments during the panel session – or feel free to approach me any time (though I’m only in attendance at Netroots Nation 11 on Thursday) to share your feedback or ask about scheduling deeper discussion or problem solving for you. You can follow the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #NN11.

Comments, questions, and opinions from across the political spectrum are also welcome on the Blog – or through the email listed on the PDF.


And it’s also the today of politics, I suppose. Shouting is just a fact of life.

Someone sent me a letter from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee that had the following header:

Seriously people. Who is going to be the one to get the Democrats to understand that ranting until one’s face turns red is not an effective way to convince people to take action (unless they’re in boot camp or perhaps in a really crappy relationship.) Nor is it the most compelling portrayal of what I believe to be a proud and storied political party. (I actually thought that this was a great trick played by the Republicans, but, sadly, it was not.)

And while you bend their ear on that topic, please also mention the following carefully researched but non-exhaustive list of terms that are likely not entirely effective vehicles for conveying empowerment and change:

  1. bluster
  2. bombast
  3. diatribe
  4. harangue
  5. bellow
  6. tantrum
  7. fume
  8. rage
  9. scold
  10. shout
  11. bait
  12. chafe
  13. bristle
  14. fret
  15. gall
  16. goad
  17. irritate
  18. miff
  19. rankle
  20. vex

Ranting is ineffective. Ranting is obnoxious. Ranting is what the Republicans say the Democrats do. Claiming ownership of the term as a badge of pride, as many persecuted groups have done, does not automatically boost one’s status. Sometimes it just makes one look out of touch or clueless.

What’s the impact of ranting? It doesn’t create change. It reinforces status quo. It indicates that the ranter believes they are owed something they don’t have, and that they believe they’re not likely to get it. And, damnit, that’s just not okay. And they believe you need to know that. Whether you want to listen or not – which they know you don’t.

If that isn’t a recipe for (Duh) WINNING, I don’t know what is.

Because Scams Need Names – The Congressional Order of Merit from Tom Cole

Yes, it’s true – if you’re going to rip someone off then the chances are excellent you’ll do better if you give your rip-off a spiffy name.

Add Stokefire to the list of businesses that have been hit with this scheme – something that seems to be almost as pervasive as the Nigerian scams that come out every few months.  Here’s how it works:

  1. Receive a phone message from a Congressman’s aide who says he wants to present you with the Congressional Order of Merit – and he leaves a toll-free number for you to call back.
  2. When you return the call you are told that as part of the award you’re also invited to serve on the Business Advisory Council and then you’re instructed to listen to a taped message from congressman Tom Cole wherein he says the National Republican Congressional Committee needs your help to fight the liberal agenda.
  3. You are asked for a donation of $495 after hearing Tom Cole’s pitch and told that your name will be added to the list of NRCC supporters (in print) to be granted the title of “Honorary Chairman of the Business Advisory Council.”  (This might seem strange, since this was supposed to be about getting the The Congressional Order of Merit, but you won’t point this out to them.)
  4. If you can’t afford (or don’t want to spend) that much they will offer you the same deal for the bargain price of $200.
  5. If you have a fat wallet and really want that award they’ll offer you a chance to have a seat at the President’s Dinner for about $5,000.  It is not actually apparent whether or not the President will make an appearance here.  Karl Rove was known to show up at past events, however, so that’s almost the same thing, right?

The only way you’ll get your hands on the Congressional Order of Merit is if you pay for everything – which seems to have a price-tag of about $5200.

End result?  You get a couple pieces of paper, a nice night out, and your name on the NRCC donor’s list.  All for doing nothing more than being on a calling list and having money.  Cool!

But think about this… would anyone ever spend money if this thing didn’t have a nifty name?

“Hi – we’re with the NRCC and we’d like you give us money for our ‘Feed the Rich’ campaign.’  We’ll even feed you lunch and dinner.”

See?  It doesn’t work.

Unfortunately the name has some serious flaws which become evident after you perform a Google search on it.  The very first hit is a story by Ira Flatow who very quickly exposes the whole thing as a charade.  You have to go through about three pages of links before you find the first mention that doesn’t have the word “scam” in it.  One wonders how many Republican fund raisers now have Earl Stevenson on their quick-dial.

So what’s the flaw?  Well, let’s look at the very first aspect of the FAINTS system: Fidelity.

Is “The Congressional Order of Merit” a name that rings true?  It seems to imply two things:  One, that the US Congress is providing the Order, and Two, that they’re acknowledging something that is meritorious.  Are either in fact the case?  Seems like the answer is no – even if we’re generous.  Sure, this thing is sponsored by a committee that is related to Congress, but it isn’t congress.  To have fidelity this should be “The National Republican Congressional Committee Order of…” but they seem to have left out a few of the words.   As for merit-worthiness.  Donating to the NRCC is indeed worthy of note from the NRCC and they may even consider a donation as deserving Merit if it is big enough.  But Congress would never (or should never) provide a similar label for something as mundane as opening a wallet.

Once this falls down on the Fidelity measurement the rest doesn’t matter.  As the Google search shows us – the entire campaign is torn apart on the Internet and the reason it draws this attack isn’t that it is a fund-raiser… it is that this is a dishonest identity.  They’re not selling (or giving away) what the name suggests.  A score of (-5) on the Fidelity scale effectively kills this very promising and powerful name.  You can’t expect to label your wheelbarrow of mud as prime rib and expect that people will continue to enthusiastically buy your product.  People may buy the mud once, but they’re going to spread the word that the steak your selling is just wet dirt.  And they’ll be pissed.

Two quick notes before I finish.
1) If you run a search on “congressional order of merit” on the NRCC website you return a sum total of zero hits.
2) The “Business Advisory Council” that we are told is an honor to participate in is listed under the NRCC Donor Programs – Individual contribution opportunities.

So – they’re offering you an award they don’t officially acknowledge (which is odd for something they tell you is their “highest honor”) and giving you a title synonymous with NRCC donor.  How much is that worth?

Lesson:  Be truthful about what you’re offering with your name and brand.  Make sure you consider the impact of overstating your product’s benefits – or your overall brand image may suffer the consequences.


Many thanks to Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma) for an entertaining morning of name and brand exploration.  (In case you were wondering what Congressman Cole does with his days – “Tom Cole spends most of his time listening to people.”  That explains why he’s still running this game… Google usually doesn’t talk.)

DSCC Misses The Mark… So Stokefire Tries To Hit It.

rightsticker.jpgThe DSCC had a contest… and it feels like we, the people, lost.

So rather than continually complain (as I’ve done for the last couple days) I figured I’d fix the problem.

We’re not waiting for a vote. We’re goin’ out there and developing a solution. To the left you’ll see Stokefire’s attempt at a bumper-sticker we’d actually like to see. So… we made it and are ordering them ourselves, damnit. You can order stuff by going here.

Feel free to order ’em and plaster your stuff (or maybe the neighbor’s Hummer?) with ’em. We were full enough of ourselves to think that y’all might want bags, shirts, mugs, and stuff, too, so we’re making those available.

Want to order mass quantities of something? Send us an email and we’ll work with you to cut a deal. Licensing is available…

Tell the family, friends, and politicos… the Left may just have a workable slogan.

And if this actually earns money we will donate a significant portion of the profits to a platform-related charity or non-profit. If it comes to pass we’ll let you know the percentages, amounts, and recipients.

165490142v2_240×240_front.jpg[Update: We’re still fiddling with the wording… moving stuff around… playing with the degree of the left turn… look for tweaks over the next couple weeks. But buying now gets you an Original!]

[Update 2: We’ve added a different option for the text based on feedback. Now we’re a little less cryptic.]

The Dems Put Forth Four of “Our” Ideas

Looks like the DSCC has selected the four finalists to vote on. (See yesterday’s post for context.)

They are:

  1. Sorry W – I’m The Decider
  2. Now You Know Why I’m a Democrat
  3. About Dem Time
  4. Look where voting republican has gotten us

Anyone feel moved?

Quick thoughts:

  1. The first concept references the President – even though he’s not running for office. Why would we apologize to him – or use his language to justify voting Democrat? And weren’t we all the “Deciders” last time (and the time before) when he won? If we’re the deciders then we’re worse at it than he is.
  2. The second concept makes little sense to me. I actually don’t know why you’re a Democrat – and the statement prevents me from asking any questions. We feel like an idiot for not knowing. Or at least I do. And the fact that the Dems already have the Senate (and haven’t done a helluva lot with it) calls into question the entire statement. Lastly, I thought you voted Dem to prevent W from wreaking havoc. That’s not an issue any more.
  3. About Dem Time? Cute. Slogan-like. A little bitter. And… Dems already have the Senate, so it sort of lacks punch. How can it be about Dem time when it has been Dem time for the last two years? Are we talking presidential, senatorial, or just general politics here?
  4. And the last? Where has voting republican gotten us? And why does it matter since most voters didn’t vote that way in the last election? Sure there’s the whole war debacle, but a Dem controlled Senate hasn’t fixed it. On the plus side – if we did vote red last time then this is the only message that speaks to us. But it only has teeth if we voted red and regretted it.

We can do better.


Maybe if they started by telling us what the slogan was supposed to do for the party and the platform we could’ve produced something better… That of course would require the party to have someone who knew what the heck you could achieve with a slogan.

Agree? Disagree? Thoughts?

DC Taglines – A Guest Post.

I don’t know about the rest of you name and tagline experts, but I received about twenty emails from clients, friends, and yes, even my wife about this article in the Washington Post yesterday. It’s a fun read.

Here’s what my wife sent me this morning:

On the radio this morning [she listens to the local NPR affiliate], the 7:30 factie was a list of taglines suggested by a DC blogger as the new DC motto. (The current slogan is “Washington, D.C.: The American Experience”) My favorites:

Washington, D.C.: Less of a target than New York

Washington, D.C.: Guns now welcome

Washington, D.C.: More bloggers than rats

Washington, D.C.: Come for the frisking, stay for the wanding

Washington, D.C.: Experience the Confluence of Willful Ignorance and Power

Nice find, Sarah!

…and if any of you are wondering – we’re not one of the PR firms hired to do the tagline work. We’re not even a PR firm. Actually, we’re kind of wondering why a PR firm would be involved in something like this.

I’m 95% certain that no matter what the tagline ends up being it’ll be so watered down by focus groups that it’ll have lost all significance.

I’m thinkin’: Washington DC – Putting the “us” in USA.

How’s that for bland? I could probably go even more bland and flat given more time… Save some money on the focus group investment…

Tate Linden
Principal Consultant
Stokefire Consulting Group

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