Category: Rants

Steve Jobs and the Wrong Kind of Dent


Posted by:
Tate Linden (@Thingnamer)

Following on my previous post about Steve Jobs’s phantom “We’re here to put a dent in the universe” quote, I can’t help but wonder if the sentiment behind it is actually a good representation of what Jobs tried to do with his life.

There’s not much point in arguing that Jobs never said anything about denting the universe. I do, however, wonder why he said it.

First, putting a dent in something is typically associated with an act of brute strength.

He may have led with a sledgehammer in his back pocket, but hope for all our sakes that bending others forcibly to his will was not his end-game.If we consider Jobs’s leadership style there’s at least a little connection. He was seen as a “high maintenance co-worker” who was blunt with criticism. He dismissed people who didn’t impress him as “bozos”. If the universe he was trying to dent was made up of the psyches of the people who reported to him then this might apply. But it would also be a pretty shallow and callous goal.

Second, dents tend to make things harder to use and less efficient.

When I think of the products that came out of Jobs’s Apple I picture clean and easy-to-use designs, not duct-tape and Bondo. The work done under his watch seems to have done the opposite of denting the universe.

I know, I know. In theory we all love the character that stuff gets as it picks up the scratches and dings of our lives. But we still go out to buy the shiny new stuff that is easier to use than the perfectly working but slightly older equipment Jobs convinced us to buy a few months earlier.

Third, the only way that “denting the universe” actually fits didn’t apply until he was no longer a part of it.

There’s a difference between leaving a legacy and changing the way the universe works. Jobs helped us to understand that great design matters, and that capability and simplicity aren’t mutually exclusive. That’s his legacy.

Jobs was brilliant. He was able to conceive of or recognize concepts and guide the development and execution of them in ways that were virtually irresistible. That’s also his legacy.

The dent in the universe that he made, though? I really hope it isn’t something he wanted to leave. Two quotes from  Rob LeFebvre’s article from cultofmac highlight it pretty well:

“Steve Jobs, however, saw their potential and, with a characteristic mixture of blind faith, naiveté, and ruthlessness, refined them until they met his own exacting standards.”


“Mr. Jobs’s own research and intuition, not focus groups, were his guide.”

The dent he was trying to make was something that only he seemed able to understand.

Is the dent Jobs made in the universe is the one left by the space he occupied so powerfully? While his legacy will live on, his exacting standards and the intuition that built the legacy are gone.

Now we’re left with a dent we have no idea how to buff out, and no knowledge of what it’s supposed to look like when it’s done. The decisions made by Apple since Jobs’s passing – at least as viewed from the outside – are looking more traditional than “insanely great”.

I miss the guy and I never even knew him.

And I’m more than a little pissed that he appears not to have taught anyone else how to use his gift. If he’d done it then wouldn’t we have something other than bigger iPhones and smaller iPads by now?

Anyone else out there hoping that Jony and the team are secretly working on some Jobsian creation and are just working out the kinks before they set the universe wobbling again? Color me hopeful, but not optimistic.


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.

The Thingnamer Sleeps With Clients?

No. I don’t.

But I’ve been asked if I do with some regularity, and while it’s all in fun (I hope,) I find that when I ask other creatives if they get similar lines of questioning their answer has always been something like, “No. But I gotta ask, dude…  ARE you?”

During the unveiling of a new ID kit for a husband and wife business team just this week I was again asked if I’d gotten a concept by sleeping with a spouse. And it was the wife asking if I was sleeping with her husband.

So, I’ve got that going for me.

Two things seem to consistently precipitate the question. First, we have a stable of improbably big clients that no one can figure out how we land. And second, our work tends to communicate an intimate understanding of our clients – as though we might’ve gotten the idea from pillow-talk.

Regarding our ability to land clients, I’m not sure exactly what Stokefire’s success rate is on pitches now, but I’m guessing it hovers around 80%. A couple years ago we were over 90%. But, as fun as sleeping my way to profits might be, I’m pretty sure I’d be a lot less successful using any organ other than my brain to close deals. Our secret is that we only go after projects and clients that we know (and can prove) we’re ideally suited for. Sure, we might win more business overall if we went after everything put in front of us, but the wasted strategic effort and insight is something that I can’t stomach. We put a huge amount of effort into our proposals, so I don’t like to see them go to waste.

As for sleeping with clients to get better creative concepts? I’ve never tried it. I get results by putting the client under seriously uncomfortable pressure while I’m building their brand. I challenge their stated beliefs and test their commitment to their principles. It’s like Seraph from The Matrix Reloaded said, “You do not truly know someone until you fight them.”  Every one of our break-out successes on behalf of clients has come from pushing past what they said they wanted to expose a deeper truth that they couldn’t previously express or were perhaps even trying to hide. We build the brand on that newly exposed, raw, and unchanging truth so that regardless of what challenges lay ahead for our clients, the brand’s foundation will remain strong and stable enough to surpass them.

Great branding work does require intimacy, but only in a pants-on kind of way.

So, no, I did not have sexual relations with that client.


Dearest potential applicant:

In our eight year history we’ve never brought on a single intern nor employee who started their cover letter with “Dear Sirs” or “To Whom it May Concern,” and then perhaps followed it with body copy that could just as well introduce someone trying to break into the laundromat business, or maybe rocket science.

The unofficial policy doesn’t hit home for you? Consider what it would be like if a purportedly reputable organization was staffed by people so lazy that instead of taking the time to understand and address each applicant individually, they just posted a blanket rejection statement on their blog and left it at that.

The Painful Truth about Working With Stokefire, And How To Fail While Doing It.

Posted by Tate Linden

Arthritis Campaign by The Classic Partnership Advertising

Arthritis Campaign by The Classic Partnership Advertising

The truth about working with Stokefire? It often sucks.

I mean it.

Working with Stokefire is frequently extremely painful. Intentionally so. There’s a core belief at this firm that we can’t ensure a brand’s greatness until we have proven that it can withstand immense pressure. As our regular readers might recall, the philosophy supporting our work is structured around a quote from Gandhi, and though he may never have directly said as much, I personally believe that if Gandhi hadn’t gone through the painful challenges that he did he wouldn’t have made such an impact on the world. His philosophies would never have been tested and found to be powerful and effective. While we’re not known for putting our clients under the sorts of extreme pressures over which Gandhi triumphed, we are pretty damn good at making clients uncomfortable and even angry when it’s called for. And, for what it’s worth, it’s almost always called for.

A brand built by staying in your happy place may be fun, but it won’t help get you through the challenges that real organizations face during a crisis. My firm has had great success earning accounts that a little shop like ours “had no right to even pitch” (as one of our competitors put it) by going after that pain, and warning our prospective clients in advance that we’re here to cause harm but that the end result will be a battle tested brand that will get them where they want to go. We’ve had clients Google, Motorola, Charles Schwab, Heinz, the US Department of Defense, and the entirety of the US concrete industry. C’mon people; you must admit that our little shop in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia doesn’t seem like it should be able to even get business cards from the people that work at the agencies that land clients like those. (And candidly, we tend not to get those business cards. The people who work in the big agencies are not my biggest fans, from what I can tell.)

We don’t surprise clients with the bad stuff after they sign. No. We tell ’em the first time we see them. Pretty much open the door and say, “You know, working with us is pretty much going to suck for you, right?” And then we tell them all the stuff they’re going to hate about working with us.

Among the things we cover are all the decisions and actions that they’ll want to make or take that we tell them in advance are off the table if they want to have a chance at a successful project. That list is about a dozen items long – and every one of the items has at some point caused more than one of our projects to end up less effective than it should have been. Clients are still able to go against the advice, but must acknowledge that in so doing our team is entitled to make changes to timeline, budget, and/or scope, or goals to compensate.

For the first time – that I can remember, anyhow – I’m sharing about half of this this list with the world, reworded in such a way that it might be Internet-ably digestible.


Method 1: Avoid Risk, (Because Not Doing So Is So Gosh Darn Risky.)

Without risk you won’t get noticed. Without notice you can’t engage. Without engagement you can’t achieve any meaningful organizational goals, except perhaps downsizing, which you really don’t need our help with.

The most common way to avoid risk is to look at the industry and figure out what everyone else is saying and doing, and then find a designer who can mash it all together into something resembling a brand image. No need to hire a strategist because the work is already done! Go to the website of any competitor, then just cut, paste, and BAM! You just saved all sorts of time, effort, and money. Go ask for a raise.

Method 2: Insist on Consensus for the Wrong Things.

It’s critical to come to consensus about the goals for the organization and the brand, but when it comes to whether or not people like the resulting work we actually find positive consensus to be an indicator that the work isn’t as powerful as it needs to be. One thing that every great brand has in common? Someone out there absolutely hates it. We’re actually pretty pleased that most of the time there’s someone out there that truly despises our work, though often as not it’s the competition that screams the loudest.

Method 3: Keep the Decision Makers Out of the Process.

Keeping the decision makers out of the creative and strategic process is like making a baker’s favorite cake without access to the baker, and without access to the baker’s closet of ingredients or recipes. No matter what you come up with there’s little chance that that the baker will approve it because the result won’t match the recipe to which you never had access in the first place. If a decision maker is too busy or important to participate then they should delegate authority to someone who has the time and interest required to get it right.

Method 4: Demand that the Purpose of the Organization or Brand Include the Word, “AND.”

“And” is the bane of singularly effective brands and strategies. The moment you require a proverbial bullet to hit both the primary target and a second (or third, or twelfth) one you’ve made what should’ve been a relatively straight-forward shot into one that is effectively impossible. This is not to say you can’t hit all the targets, but the chances are better that you’ll end up winging them rather than nailing the center of any.

Method 5: Change Requirements or Assumptions Upon Which Work Was Based But Leave The Resulting Work Unchanged.

It’s like telling that aforementioned cook to prepare a meal for a meat-lover, then upon delivery of the delectable meat-infused foods being told that they made a typo and meant to say that the eater was vegan. There is no option except to restart from the step right before the assumption was made. The moment the assumptions in place are changed the work that resulted from the old ones either must be thrown out, or used for some other purpose. No matter how delicious that TurDuckEn may be, the first instinct should never be, “Well, maybe we can still use it if we just add more vegetables.”

Method 6: Keep the Project Hidden from Staff, Clients, and Stakeholders Until It’s Done.

Done right, the result of a strategic rebranding process should seem like you’ve scraped off a battered (or poorly chosen) coat of paint to reveal the beautifully crafted bones of the original structure that had been hidden before. That’s very hard to do if you don’t have any first-hand knowledge of the people who helped to build it in the first place, and those that live there now. Imagine coming home and finding someone you don’t know has repainted and repositioned everything in your home without asking for your permission or input, and then stuck you with the bill. Oh. And they appear to reeeeealy like pink. It’s likely you’ll find that the work covered up everything you loved about your home. That’s what happens when an employee comes in one day with new logos and mottos spread all over the office. It’s seen as “just another marketing thing” instead of what should be a powerful tool for helping the organization get where it needs to go.

No matter how risky you might think trying to engage existing staff or clients in the process might be, that’s nothing compared to the backlash that can occur when you try to sneak one over on them, or aren’t completely transparent with the reason for a change.

You may notice that almost all of these methods that lead to failure involve some sort of attempt to overtly or covertly avoid risk. Having leadership stay out of the process means that they’re not to be blamed for the direction the project has taken, requiring consensus spreads blame so that individuals can duck risk, having multiple goals means there’s no risk of alienating anyone, allowing assumptions to change without consequence means no one will have to risk their employment by asking for more funding, and keeping stakeholders in the dark means that we don’t risk blowing the project schedule by letting in rabble that could turn the whole thing to a muddled mess.

We’re not unique when it comes to recognizing that risk is a critical ingredient in a successful brand. Most agencies acknowledge this now – but I think the extent to which we’ve codified the ways risk avoidance can creep back into a supposedly risky position is less common. If you’ve got stories to share on risk avoidance or acceptance gone wrong I’d love to hear about ’em.

When it comes to branding and strategy choices, I’m finding that almost every time the right choice for the client is the one that makes them the most nervous. Not in an “anyone who would do this is an idiot” way, but in a “can we really do that? Because no one in our industry would ever in a million years try something like it” sense. Which is kind of the point. Any retrenching towards what’s comfortable and familiar results in an avalanche of undone decisions that turn brand positioning and strategy into a mishmash of platitudes that no one finds objectionable and never gets mentioned outside of annual executive strategy sessions.


That’s it…I’m out of practice on this whole blogging thing, but I’ve got some more stuff I’d like to share in the coming days and weeks, so here’s to hoping I can continue to bring it back to life.  Thanks to my Twitter followers who helped nudge me back on the hamster wheel. You can find me being my own bad self at @Thingnamer or tune into to the business-esque chatterings of the team (and me) at @Stokefire.


TrueTwit, Extortion & Other Synonyms


Posted by:
Tate Linden 

Getting those annoying TrueTwit validation messages from people you follow on Twitter? So am I. And I’m not happy about it. Read on to learn how TrueTwit’s leaders have created a league of unwitting sales zombies, and wasted over 80 years of human effort, while building a badly aligned brand.

While I must admit that the business model TrueTwit uses is brilliant, it’s also pretty damn creepy.

Here’s how it works.

  1. You click follow to track someone interesting on Twitter
  2. You immediately receive this direct message: “SoAndSo uses TrueTwit validation service. To validate click here: […]
  3. If you click the link soon after you get it you’ll be sent to a page with a huge 18 word ad for TrueTwit, followed by a paid Google ad, followed by a slim 32 words telling you how to validate, followed by 47 words telling you that if you inflict the service (for free!) on your own followers you’ll never see this annoying message again, followed by 70 words telling you how awesome their paid service is. Some paraphrasing may have occurred above, of course. Only then do you actually get to enter the two captcha words to prove you’re human.
  4. If you don’t click the message shortly after you receive it you may get the same two ads as above and a message saying “Sorry, but it appears the person you followed may no longer be following you.” That means that the user (or more likely TrueTwit) classified you as not worth following back. Opportunity to make a connection is lost.
I am not a subscriber of the service and I’m not willing to waste the time of my select few followers or my own money to try it out, so I don’t know every detail about how it works from the inside. And while the website has a FAQ sheet it doesn’t give the kinds of details I want to hear about. Honestly I don’t really have questions, though. They’re more a seething pile of visceral responses to the business practices I see being used by TrueTwit. Stuff like…
  1. By far the most egregious issue is that TrueTwit says it has the technology to automatically ensure that human users are identified and don’t need to go through the validation process at all. It’s a formula that the paying users are able to utilize. Fine. But for the non-paying users there is no legitimate ‘validation’ reason to make a human follower go through ten validations in a row to prove they’re human. The only reason to require it is to annoy the Hell out of the follower and get them to sign up and annoy others – or buy the service.
  2. While I do get Twitter spam occasionally, most spam I receive is from TrueTwit. And worse, it’s exactly the sort of bot spam that the service is supposed to prevent. If I want to get rid of it all I have to do is agree to do everything TrueTwit wants me to do or pay them money. Sounds an awful lot like a protection racket, since the only thing I’m trying to do is have them stop wasting my time – and potentially billable hours – to prove something they already know (see my first complaint) – that I’m human.
  3. By having the basic TrueTwit service automate the validation process via DMs it turns its non-paying users into the very bots that it claims it is trying to eliminate.
  4. TrueTwit isn’t a validation service at all. The DM spam sends the follower to a page with 32 words telling people how to validate buried on a page with three links to sign up for the service, a paid ad, and 135 words trying to get me to do something other than what the link said they were going to give me? Just counting the words alone that’s worse than a 4 to 1 ratio of advertising copy to information. TrueTwit isn’t in the validation business – it’s in the ad business.
  5. The basic service preys on selfish people who value their own time over the time of those who choose to follow them. They’re fed up with all the spam and shut it of for themselves, making the rest of their new followers similarly annoyed, spreading this time-wasting ad service like, sadly, a virus.
  6. TrueTwit admits that the service doesn’t actually stop human spammers – saying “If a spammer is human they will get through. The point of TrueTwit is to eliminate automated spam software from grabbing your attention.” Which is exactly what TrueTwit basic is doing to the world. Worse, all it takes is a human to click the link and validate so that their automatic tweets can hit your stream, so a human can dig through piles of TrueTwit DMs at about 15 seconds each to validate and then auto-spam at will.
  7. Want to break the system? Pay $20 and spam as a “validated” user. While TrueTwit can terminate a user for any reason, they don’t specify Twitter spam (only listing email) or unwanted DMs as a cause. And most of the limitations under “USER CONDUCT” as currently written only apply to international users. So if you’re American and want to send unlimited tweets without having to validate through the annoying TrueTwit service then you’re home free!
  8. As great as TrueTwit’s (Google owned) reCaptcha is, it has been hacked as recently as 2011, and has allowed bots to bypass the security check, so the whole thing is pretty much not as (overly) advertised.
TrueTwit turns its users into bots for no reason other than increasing its own advertising reach and increasing income. The validation it provides is intrusive, wasteful, and ineffective.
If they want to be useful I think there’s a simple fix. Stop spamming mandatory site links to everyone. Let some of the more advanced services trickle down to the free service and change how your validation works. How about:
  1. If someone has just validated on your site then let that validation stand for a period of time for all the people they follow – even if it’s just an hour that’s better than nothing. Perhaps let your validated and trusted users decide how long that period should be – give them a range and make it easy to find and adjust. After all – they’re human and your service is not.
  2. Once a Twitter account is validated within that specific time-frame you can have your auto-DM (still spam, mind you) indicate that the follow was approved by TrueTwit automatically and if they want to know more they can click the link. That turns you into a service rather than an obstacle.
  3. Consider using your algorithms to keep specific accounts validated for longer periods. New accounts may need to re-validate frequently, while established accounts with tens of thousands of followers and low spam profiles might only need validation once a week – or perhaps never.
The real reason this is so annoying for me is that it is an example of organizational leadership completely out of alignment. What they think, say, and do in the name of the organization is a mess.
TrueTwit says: “What if you could know for sure that your followers are truly human and not some cyborg?” But TrueTwit does: send cyborgian links to actual humans who universally don’t want them.
TrueTwit says: “Avoid Twitter spam” but does send the same Direct (DM) Twitter message advertising the TrueTwit service from multiple TrueTwit users to a single follower multiple times in a single day.
All of this makes it seem that the motivation (what TrueTwit thinks) is to get free advertising or lots of money – or both – by breaking the rules they say they enforce.
That’s not a recipe for long term success and respect. Unless you maybe the mob, in which case you are totally awesome and I have no complaints at all with your methods. (And it has just dawned on me that since there’s not a single indication of who runs the service on the website and no owner attribution on whois this could conceivably be run by them. So… apologies if that’s the case. I like my kneecaps and shall retract this post if that’s what it takes to keep them.)
I’ll share you with the saddest part of all. On the right side of TrueTwit’s Welcome Page there’s a statistics sheet that currently shows over 4.2 million verified followers. We’re looking at about a minute to read and digest the page copy and enter the Captcha codes – assuming we get them right the first time. If my math is right (and it probably isn’t) that’s more than 80 years of lost human effort. More than a literal lifetime wasted responding to an automated process that never had to happen in the first place.
It’s time to practice what you preach, TrueTwit. Stop causing the problem you say you’re here to solve. Trust us to willingly advertise services that we like instead of forcing your message down our throats with Sisyphean cyborgs.
Love the name, by the way. After looking into the organization in such detail I find it somewhat descriptive.

What Makes People Want To Follow A Brand? An Infographic Explanatory Attempt

Posted by:
Tate Linden


According to Get Satisfaction if you’re following us it’s probably because of our special offers, an existing client relationship, our sparkling wit and humor, because your friends are doing it, to get news, or the infamous and infuriating “other”. But as cool-looking as the infographic may be, I wonder…

Do the multiple choice responses above really answer the question, “what makes people want to follow a brand?”

I suppose it does if you’re interested in the narrowly defined social media definition of ‘follow’ coupled with the most broad definition of ‘brand’. The largest group of followers identified ‘special offers’ as the reason for clicking the follow button. Thanks to organizations such as Groupon and LivingSocial ‘special offers’ is now nearly synonymous with ‘discounts’. To my mind there’s a huge difference between following a brand and following discounts. Wouldn’t a true brand follower (stepping outside of the limited social media context here) follow a brand irrespective of deals or discounts?

I think perhaps the question actually being answered here is “what makes people want to follow a Twitter account representing an organization.” Once we look at it in that context the vast majority of answers start to make more sense. Being a current customer, looking for discounts, copying your friends, or being entertained are all legitimate reasons to follow a Twitter handle. But which of these actually drives engagement to the point of being a true brand adherent? Only five percent of respondents said they were interested in service, support, or product news – which seems to be the only response that has the hallmark of someone who truly follows a brand in spirit. (Yes, I’m being picky and suggesting that just indicating that you’re a current customer isn’t enough to be considered as anything other than taking a test-drive.)

Counting your social media followers is a fine activity, as is trying to figure out why they’re following you. You’ve gotta have some kind of metrics. But trying to equate a follower on Twitter with a follower of a brand is folly. Even tracking stuff like amplification probability and true reach (as provided by klout) doesn’t measure the one thing that matters in the long term.

Success in social media shouldn’t be measured in audience size or amplification probability. It should be measured in the same way that success of real brands should be measured – by tracking the brand’s ability to change the behavior of the target audience. A large audience helps increase the spread of your message, but if your message sucks or your brand elements are out of alignment (see: Gandhi’s Pyramid) all it will do is make your inadequacies apparent to more people who you’ll then need to reeducate if you ever invest in getting your brand right, or help you lose the clients you already have.

Two final thoughts:

1) I am very impressed with the research collected by getsatisfaction and this post isn’t meant to disparage their talented team in any way. What they uncovered is true when we limit ourselves to the social media universe. Unfortunately the vocabulary they (and most of us) use to distinguish a follower who defined themselves by clicking a single ‘FOLLOW’ button to receive a coupon from a follower who has spent a lifetime collecting brand memorabilia has a lot of overlap – and it probably shouldn’t. We’re running into this blurring of the two “fan” states more and more these days.

2) If your organization is focused on churn-and-burn tactics that depend on being at the leading edge of a trend and you aren’t needing to build or maintain a long-term client relationship then disregard all of the stuff I wrote above. Get in, get followers, be humorous, offer discounts, make scads of money and get out quick. Just don’t ask me how to do that without also selling your soul, because I don’t know. And, truthfully, if I did (even if I had to sell my soul in the deal, perhaps) chances are good I’d be trying to convince you that the answer was just a click (and three easy payments) away.

Here’s the original infographic-o’-coolness:

The Top 5 Reasons I Hate Your Damn List.

Posted by:
Tate Linden

Yep. I’ve had it. My incoming tweet-stream and my Google Reader are stuffed with “The Top Five Reasons To X” and “The Ten Must-Do Activities If You Want To Be Y”.  They’re shared by re-tweeters and bloggers with such frequency that if there was actual business value in the stream somewhere (and I’m not promising that there is) it scrolls by in a blur of numbers and canned advice before I’ve had a chance to notice it.

But I can’t control the path of the river without first understanding its flow. So with that in mind, I’m plugging my nose, writing my own list, releasing it downstream, and letting the current take it where it may.

And so… Here it is… The Top Five Reasons I Hate Your Damn List.

  1. They’re usually just simplistic link-bait.
    The last time I saw a tip-list not manufactured (effectively or not) to go viral was… Actually, I can’t remember. They all tend to link to famous people known to be active on social media, or talk about whatever seems to capture the day’s zeitgeist, like seven ways to meet Justin Bieber (virtually always) or the three things you didn’t know about Evelyn Lozada (on this particular day.)
  2. They’re self-promotional.
    Like USA Today’s college site telling you the five things you should be doing RIGHT NOW to get into grad school. It’s written by a guy who makes a living helping thousands of people get into grad school. And what’s this? Number five says:Ask for help. There are so many resources out there – websites, books, admissions consultants – and it can be dizzying. […] But you must be willing to reach out and ask for help when you need it.

    Subtle. Especially with that helpful link to the site offering the services in the bio. Hmph. We at Stokefire ensure that our exceptionally talented staff doesn’t stoop so low.

  3.  They’re regurgitated
    While there might be a single gem of an idea that we haven’t seen before, most of the list is made up of stuff available elsewhere. Look at enough lists on similar topics and you end up reading the same stuff everywhere. The the thousands of lists of reasons to tweet, how many actual powerful and new ideas are really there? And are you willing to read through the 25,000+ ideas in those lists of 5 or 10 “reasons to tweet” to find the few crumbs you didn’t know before?
  4. They’re arbitrary
    Especially when you read especially when you consider lists of reasons to engage in some activity or how-to lists that start with the words, “The Top” and are usually followed by a number from three to ten. I’m fairly certain that most of those lists didn’t use a formula of any kind to figure out what order those lists should go in or what bits of information deserve to be shared.
  5. They’re irresponsible
    Using a list removes all responsibility from the list-maker. It’s usually just a random list of bromides from which people seeking help can pick and choose stuff to try. It’s ignorance disguised as expertise. Enough with the suggestions disguised as answers, people! We don’t need lists, we need systems and arguments that work.

That’s it.

It’s time to admit that lists – as effective as they are at getting people to look at your site – are pretty damn ineffective at actually helping people understand topics meaningfully, or improve their situation in any way.

It’s also time to admit that, as with almost every list out there, this one is simplistic, self-promotional, regurgitated, arbitrary and irresponsible. And other than instinctual Google searches performed as I wrote this I didn’t research a single bit of it.

If I’ve done the math right I’ll get a billion hits by tomorrow. And a comment or two from Guy Kawasaki, natch.

But definitely not Justin Bieber, nude. Because that wouldn’t be cool.

Want more? Because I rant about other stuff, too. Like strategic designacronymsbrand naming, creative evaluation, name generators, ranting with a purpose, pre-made brands, and political branding to name a slew.

Marketing – Paper, Ink & Integrity, Too!

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I am generally the one to answer the phone at the small-but-feisty Stokefire.  The other day our account rep called from an office supply vendor.  It didn’t go so well.  As a little background… we never asked for an Account Rep – this person is self-appointed or other-appointed. That’s fine.  But in an earlier call with said account rep he unsubtly told me that his main purpose was to do all he could to “get more business out of us.”  Well, talk like that puts a person on alert, you know?  Mr. AR is being abundantly clear that his mission is to solve HIS problem (sell more stuff), and he’s trying to incite me to join in this mission.  He’s not doing it by trying to understand my problems and help solve them, but rather just tosses perks my way that he thinks would “incentivize” me.  Ugh.

Fast forward to the recent call.  This time I barely had to say anything in the first few minutes.  Mr. AR proceeded to recite my shopping habits on behalf of Stokefire – location, volume, types of products, etc.  Now am I being oversensitive, or is this just a little unseemly?  Sure, I know lots of companies have the inside scoop on our detailed spending patterns, but isn’t it just a bit crass to bluntly expose it all in the first few moments of conversation?  Would it not be more shrewd to utilize the information gained without being so explicit?

Apparently my spending pattern revealed a gap – I was doing okay on paper and ink, but not so well on janitorial supplies. How strange to be assessed in this way!  I actually thought I was doing okay on all fronts – our office is stocked with what we need, and not stuffed with excess.  But the push was on.  Mr. AR did his darndest to convince me to purchase these products from his company.  It made no sense from my perspective.  So I said no, and eventually declined to pursue the conversation even further about my shopping strategies and future plans with respect to janitorial supplies.  It was getting… Dull.  Boring.  Exasperating.  He eventually thanked me for my honesty – hmmm… did he mean that?

At Stokefire we talk a lot about being “in alignment” as an organization (though it’s important for individuals, too).  Corporate “happiness” or integrity happens when the things we think, say, and do are consistent.  At Stokefire we know we have a valuable skill set that can help organizations solve problems with their identity, strategy and messaging.  Our starting focus is always on helping clarify the problem to be solved for a prospective client.  Once there we can assess whether or not we are the right fit to help solve that particular problem.  If the answer is “no” we let the prospective client know that and walk away from that potential business.

I have a great appreciation for that kind of organizational integrity.  It’s part of what made me glad to join the Stokefire team initially.  It is also what makes me a bit more sensitive to those whose approach comes across as primarily self-serving.

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