marketing strategy

Active culture?

Is culture a screen through which we orient ourselves, how we see and experience reality? Do we surrender ourselves to the complacency of someone (lifestyle gurus?) telling us what to value on the other side of that filter?

There is a lot of discussion around culture, the first article that made me sit up was the recent How "Rock Star" Became a Business Buzzword by Carina Chocano.

And that reminded me of Natasha Singer's article about the lie that is the sharing economy. In an attempt to make our consumer society more palatable, are we co-opting the language of culture?

How we talk about business now, is that an appropriation of our cultural values? Blurring the line between work and life?

Culture is how we pass the time between hypocrisies

That's from Joshua Cohen's review of Llosa's new book on the 'Death of Culture,'  which offers many examples of the issues at stake when we begin to pass judgement on culture.

To me, what's striking about this essay on culture's decline is that Mr. Cohen, clearly scornful of an editor who demands that his reference to Eliot have a descriptor, propagates an incorrect and inflammatory accusation that, among other things, Llosa announced his new marriage on Twitter.

How should we react to a critic who laments that we don't respect audiences enough AND also has the temerity not to check sources? Has the unreliable narrator gone from a literary (or cinematic) device and become an everyday tool of communication? Why?

With all the information out there we need to renounce laziness and engage in our world. We have to use critical thinking and question not only what we do, but what we buy and why we take the actions we do and, well, you get the idea. (But if research is correct, you probably haven't read this far—)


The Ascendancy of Collaboration

Successful design is the crowning achievement of collaboration. Not because it's slick and looks good, but because it creates a relationship between a brand and its audience.

Ted Hope said, "the change from analogue culture to a digital one reminds us that nothing is ever finished . . . we can produce numerous iterations, customized for different audiences, platforms and preferences."(1) The best design today is taken from us and used, transformed and built upon by others. 

Collaboration extends the traditional borders of design. The customer experience is so fluid that today we create tools with the idea that someone else, many someone elses, will manipulate them and transform them into a campaign, into a movement. And that's true customer engagement: loving them enough to let go. It's wild—a complex process of becoming. (2)


1) see

2) Wild, the poet Gary Snyder's definition.

Why Search is Not Smart

Let's start with a cliché, an update on a supposedly old chinese proverb (1): What You Value Shows.

If you're in finance, then co-opting the faddish alure of algorithms (2) or preying on people's fear of retiring (3) can be a successful marketing strategies. in both these instances clearly the companies value sales, not helping individual people achieve their investment goals.

In the Sunday, April 19 version of the New York Times, Margaret Sullivan, the Public Editor, discusses how they are transitioning to using keywords in headlines because their current "lyrical — or even just elegantly spare"(4) qualities are not ranking high enough in search results. She also presents a series of platform-specific headlines for the same article.

While Ms. Sullivan, and by extension the New York Times, values information and inspiring thought, search values selling — especially collecting data about you to sell. That's why search does not have to learn how to decipher a linguistically beautiful headline, because it doesn't value your question, it's purpose is to inspire you to purchase things or search for things so it can track you and trace your desires. 

This is an illustration that how you present your company, from your strategy to your marketing materials to the language you choose, reveals what it's like to do business with you & what you value.

Maybe it's time to take stock and see if your business design is aligned with who you are now and where you want to go?


1) The proverb is "The soul has no secrets that conduct does not reveal"

2) Charles Schwab is (our second cliche) 'Changing Investing Forever.' The Fort Conkrite tunnel in murky blue hues means that 50s sci-fi remains the visual trope of forever-type changes

3) Fisher Investments scare tactics to alert you to the dangers of annuities


Compounding TPG's Image Problem (Not Interest)

Recently we looked at TPG's "image problem" and today from the New York Times Dealbook section comes a great column about financial firms, the importance of image and celebrity 'advisors'.

The best quote happens to be about TPG:

Bono may do better this time around, but one wonders what value he brings to TPG other than that 1980s-era hipness.

The article goes on to say how a firm's profile is key to getting deals and that celebrity stardust can help create an patina of import. 

The second best quote is: 

Celebrity investing may really be about the thing that drives Silicon Valley—networking.

But wait, there's more—and it's good. Read it. 



"TPG has an image problem right now," claimed Founding Partner, David Bonderman, according to press reports [1]. The other FP, Jim Coulter [2], was recently quoted as saying that private equity markets are undergoing a titanic shift [3].

I believe there is no image problem: while private equity markets are maturing, that's not what’s essential here. What's happening is the market telling TPG that they missed the signs of transformation and this radical skepticism towards how the market is could lead them into reacting  rather than shaping TPG’s course of action.

It's easy to see how large companies become myopic, believing yesterday is a good indication of what will happen tomorrow. Everyone can name a company that dominated once and is now gone. The market is chastising TPG because as the world's largest private equity firm it should be different. They're a firm whose value is to anticipate market changes and invest in the future. TPG's decision to willfully ignore their own public communications and branding may prove difficult to overcome.

TPG's at a crossroads. Where should they go from here? Options abound, including:

1. Continue as they are, claiming it's a transitory reflection, using in-house resources and their bias toward silence in hopes the market will keep their past reputation alive.

2. Slow the fallout by hiring an big agency who'll come in and focus group their brand so TPG can acquire a new veneer—aping the homogenized look of Goldman, Blackstone or CVC. 

3. Acknowledge they missed the change, look inward and take the time to understand how they matter in today's market. This could mean hiring a consultant to work with them on positioning for future relevancy.

When looking for advice, does one poll a thousand different sources or do they find the most trustworthy expert (e.g., a Warren Buffet)? Whatever TPG decides to do, I hope they take the advice of venture capitalist (and ex-RISD president) John Maeda, "Logo's don't matter." [4] It's true. Strategic design thinking should focus on the client experience and the business itself, it's not about the look of those three letters—it's what those letters make you think of, how they make you feel. 

As TPG found out, if you don’t manage your market positioning, the market will position you. The lesson here is that your brand exists and it changes all the time, take control and listen to your public (so you can decide if and when to go public). 



1] WSJ; Business Insider, February 12, 2015.

2] Full disclosure: I have done minor design work for TPG as a third-party and separately, years ago, I worked with Penny Coulter on a number of design initiatives & Penny is a super star: clear eyed, clear headed and smart. 

3] Private Equity News, February 24, 2015; WSJ February 24, 2015.

4] GigaOM Roadmap Conference, November 19, 2014.