Can the Brand Arc, via ZOO and Google, help marketers better understand how to tell their story?

ZOO is an “agency for agencies,” or, said another way — it’s a custom solution for those trying to market/advertise across Google and YouTube. It’s run (essentially) by this guy Eric Solomon, who got a PhD in psychology (a good field to do advanced work in if you want to understand marketing) and then wrote about food for a newspaper in Boston. (Ah, love the non-linear career!) As part of his work at ZOO/Google, the teams over there have developed a thing called a “Brand Arc,” shown here:


There’s a lot more information in this post on Wharton (UPenn’s) website, but realize all these things before we analyze this:

1. Inherently, the Brand Arc is an oversimplification of how marketing works.

2. It’s a dynamic system in that a brand can be at the bottom of the arc among one group of consumers/clients and near the top of the arc with another.

3. Each step on the Arc is essentially an exponential jump for the organization/brand.

Here’s the essential takeaway, via Solomon:

We believe that all brands, no matter how well known, have the opportunity to build emotional connections that allow them to move up the Arc. To do that, marketers need to be starkly honest with themselves about what their brand stands for now, what role their brand can play for users and how committed they are to delivering moments that truly connect with people. Ultimately, brands need to ask: What content I can provide to entertaineducate or provide a utility for my users?

Concur. Saw a little bit of the same focus with the TED “Ads Worth Spreading” list, and what I think is tough in the marketing space is ultimately two-fold:

1. Marketing has been around, as a concept, for a while. With that comes a lot of assumptions and best practices on how things should be done. That’s excellent on face, but the issue is that in the past decade, the model has been disrupted by the emergence of social media, SEO, SEM, and more. At the same time, you’ve seen a greater focus in business on quarterly results and now now now, and when you combine those two things, you often don’t see people thinking as strategically as they could be — rather, you see, “We need a Facebook profile!,” with the rationale of “There’s a billion people on there!” Indeed, there are — and for the most part, they’re engaged. That doesn’t mean everything you post will be seen by a billion people; most things might be seen by a small-triple-digit number of people. There’s sometimes a headlong rush into the wrong spaces/areas because of pressure and concern — and because the way things have always been done isn’t necessarily the exact way anymore.

2. Sometimes people (organizations/brands) just share things because they’ve produced them, with no real thought as to the value they bring to a potential customer/consumer/someone finding it/whomever. Here’s a micro example: this blog. I write stuff on here sometimes that has no value, for sure; but mostly, I try to write things that 100 or more people somewhere in the world might come across via social or SEO or whatever it is and say, “Hey, that’s kind of helpful.” This is where I like the Brand Arc. There are a ton of flaws with the actual names of the steps, the size of the gaps, the progression, etc, etc. — but if it encourages people to tell relevant stories about their brands/groups and provide content that moves a conversation forward (in an effort to reach that next part of the Arc), that’s great. If you want your brand to be successful, ultimately your marketing needs to be (a) short and to-the-point and (b) telling a story that customers will understand the value of. At a certain point after that, it might all be junk science anyway.

Or, phrased from a smarter person (Solomon):

This isn’t about asking a new question, but rather posing it with an understanding of our modern context. There is no such thing as digital when everything is digital. The line between brands and people is blurry. Brands are always on and ubiquitous, spurring the need for relevant, contextual, compelling content to break through the noise and be heard. The Brand Arc certainly does not solve for what a brand needs to do to develop the right content or marketing strategy. However, we believe the Arc can be used to identify how great the opportunity is for a brand to build meaningful relationships with its customers. Perhaps more importantly, the Arc introduces a simple construct in which to frame these difficult, important conversations.



People are leaving New York, Chicago and Los Angeles for Houston, Dallas, Seattle, Charlotte and Nashville

Since the United States is a fairly dynamic place economically and socially, there are obviously multiple tiers to any discussion of its migration patterns. To simplify, since we know that Hispanic immigrants are on the rise, let’s look at it two ways, with help from The Atlantic Cities.

First, there’s net domestic migration. That means, essentially, areas within the U.S. that people are leaving, and subsequent areas that people move to:


As you can see on that map, people are actually leaving the three largest metro areas in America — NYC, Chicago and Los Angeles — and predominantly heading to Dallas, Houston, Seattle, the Carolinas, Nashville (a big block there), and central (but not necessarily southern) Florida. This is happening for a lot of reasons — one notable one is cost, and another one is the idea that social/economic mobility might be better away from the coastal cities. There’s also the idea of where to find the best talent, which for some industries might be NYC (finance) or SF (tech), but for many mid-size and small companies might be in-the-middle-college-towns (like a Madison, or a Tucson).

Now check out net international migration, i.e. where people are settling when they come to the U.S. from abroad:


That’s pretty much the reverse picture of the first map — the Northeast corridor is such a huge positive bubble it looks like it might explode, and Miami is similar (most people who choose to disparage Miami will say it’s “not really part of the U.S.;” my in-laws live there and while I enjoy it, there is some kernel of truth in that statement, for sure). Dallas and Houston are also big on the international map (makes sense, as Houston has wide swaths of Spanish-speaking communities), so this all leads you to net total migration:


In this picture, the coasts are still getting an influx of people — especially the south Florida area — but you also see insane growth in Houston, Dallas, Austin, Denver, and Phoenix-down-to-Tucson. Austin and most of that Texas energy wealth/corridor makes sense; that’s been documented for a little bit now. Denver and Fort Collins, etc. have some of the highest quality-of-life scores in America, so that makes sense too. People seem to generally be moving away from the Midwest/Rust Belt/parts of the Southeast; that’s been documented too.

Is there a broader lesson here? Probably not on an individual level, since people’s decisions about where they live tend to be extremely personal (and obviously tied to spouse/family considerations as well). From a business perspective, sure, there’s some — putting an upstart company in Denver, Nashville, Boise, or Dallas right now could be beneficial (and there’s varying degrees of cost associated with land in those places) — although in general, most people move around to what they know (or have some context with). I’ve met probably 500 people in my life who have moved, and only 2 of those were moving to a place they had never been before the move. You may see a shift in “random moves” as the millennial generation becomes a bigger part of the earning-money workforce, but still, people tend to go where (a) a good job, (b) their family or (c) their friends are, and not often to a random fourth place.

Remember also: the data above doesn’t say anything about where in an area people are moving. There can be a huge cluster around Dallas, but does that mean suburbs, city center, Fort Worth, etc? The land associated with what people construe as “Houston” is massive — are more people moving to Sugarland? Does that count Galveston? Etc, etc. So there’s some context missing from this picture, but it still provides an overall view of what people are doing when they move in the US, to the US, or generally around the US.

Brief thought exercise: In higher education, research is hard. It takes time (presumably). So is there truly any incentive to actually focus on teaching?

Two quick anecdotes to jump this off:

1. Last night, I was going to a graduate school class. I ran into my friend on the steps and we stood there talking for 10-15 minutes — in the process annoying the crap out of everyone trying to pass us, no doubt — about life and school and all that. An interesting tidbit came up: I had taken a class called “International HR,” which was essentially about managing people in different countries/cultures. He was taking a class called “International Business Strategy,” which was about the same thing, but with more of a focus towards revenue generation. They had similar professors (in previous years, I believe they had the same professor) and, oddly, each class only ran six weeks (there are entire divisions of companies dedicated to International Strategy, so on surface you’d assume this should be a full-semester class). Anyway, here was the takeaway: the classes were very similar. They started with a framework of how to evaluate countries — collectivist, individual, etc. — and moved from there, with a healthy dose of (a) PowerPoint and (b) guest speakers. A third person briefly joined the dialogue, kind of got the context of what we were discussing, and said something along the lines of, “Well, you know (Professor of Class 1) is more research-focused, and, well, so is Professor of Class 2.”

2. But of course. Last year, around this time, I was helping with some course evaluations and I was also applying to be a TA for this year (I was in the fall). I asked a manager in my program/school about professor evaluations and how much rested on the actual teaching. “For tenure-type discussions?” she said. I nodded. “Probably very little. Perhaps almost none.”

I don’t present any of this as unique. It’s clearly not. “Research vs. teaching” has 224 million Google hits, including here, here, and here. It’s a major issue — you can easily argue it’s the major issue of academia, perhaps behind only tenure (and tenure isn’t going anywhere) — because if all the focus is on research and the teaching starts to slip, then who’s inspiring this next generation of would-be researchers? Well, the conventional answer is probably that the entire thing is a ladder — at an associate professor level (pre-tenure), you teach more and research to get yourself that tenure. You ideally inspire those future generations when you teach. As you become more established, you teach less — essentially the classes you know well and have been doing for 10-12 years, if not longer — and research more. At least, that’s how it seems to work. There are obviously flaws with the model; I was in one of those “been teaching this exact course for 15 years” courses a few nights ago, and we spent over 50 minutes discussing a legal case from the early 1990s. That would be fine on surface, but the problem was, we were discussing it in terms of “What might happen here?” (a whodunit!) and yet everyone in the class had laptops out and could have easily Googled the answer, talked about the context of it, and moved on. We didn’t need to be spending an hour there (IMHO). This all ties back to the issue of “grades vs. content” too. 

Universities make money off of research, and you’re never going to tell an organization — be it a college, a for-profit, whatever — to turn their people away from the revenue streams. So there’s clearly no easy answer here; I didn’t write this post to try and find one, either. Could there be a year-on, year-off situation where every other year your focus has to be teaching and refining that craft, whereas in your odd years you can focus solely on research and not have to worry about syllabi, grade grubbers, etc? I doubt that would be sustainable, but it’s one idea.

Look, college (and grad school) are huge investments for people, and they put said people (generally) into sizable amounts of debt that ultimately have some impact (different people will tell you different amounts) on home buying, the general notion of the middle class, etc. If you’re primarily going to grad school to ultimately get a job (or going to undergrad with the same intention), you want good teachers an good connections; the research arm of it is less relevant in that context. But it’s very hard to enter an university community and encounter those focused on or passionate around teaching — and that’s a problem if this model of “we’re falling behind learning-wise and increasing debt-wise” is going to continue. If anyone has solutions/ideas, feel free to leave ‘em in the comments.

Did Mad Men use the same foreshadowing clue as How I Met Your Mother once did?

You won’t see Mad Men and How I Met Your Mother compared that often — although Neil Patrick Harris could probably fit seamlessly on both — but they may have dropped a similar foreshadowing technique in their final couple of seasons. Above, you see a clip from 9.19 of HIMYM where Ted appears to get sad about mothers/fathers missing their own daughter’s weddings (as we now know, the mother does die in the series finale). The theory actually started in Season Eight (penultimate season) where Ted said he wanted “all 45 extra minutes with her” in an eulogy-type fashion.

Then you have Mad Men. On Sunday, in 7.2 (essentially the penultimate season), Don drives Sally back to boarding school after she came to the city for her roommate’s mother’s funeral (mother’s funerals; it’s all coming together…) / shopping and happened to walk into the giant lie he’s telling the world. Things are tense in the car, but by the end (“I love you…”), they’re no longer tense. In the middle, Don asks her about the funeral she went to, and she describes it briefly, causing him to say twice “I don’t like to think of you at funerals” or “I hate to think of you at funerals” or something along those lines. Slate actually reversed their Don Draper Death Clock via that episode — finally, it seems like a woman who can save Don — but in reality, it seems like the same foreshadowing from HIMYM. Before the end of this thing, we’re going to see Sally (and Betty, and Megan, and everyone else) at Don’s funeral. Right?

Matthew Weiner, meet Carter Bays. Actually, they’ve interacted before.

By the way, Vulture semi-agrees with me here, and Wired kinda does too.


Is Jeff Teague going to become a star as the Hawks beat the Pacers in Round 1?

Pretty much all the signs are there, even if you don’t want to admit them/see them:

1. The Hawks won Game 1 of their series vs. the Pacers (the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference), and it wasn’t like it was a true nailbiter: they won in Indiana, and they won by eight.

2. The last time the Pacers made the second round in consecutive years was ’03-’04 into ’04-’05.

3. Since 2006, the Pacers have won twice in Atlanta.

4. Since March 1, the Pacers are 13-13; the Hawks are 13-13 in the same span, but have only lost twice since April 8.

5. The Pacers were doing nothing on rotations in Game 1, essentially letting Jeff Teague — 16.5 PPG in the regular season — hang 28 points (almost double the season average), and letting Teague and others work the paint to the extent that the new narrative is “bench Roy Hibbert, or reduce his minutes, for the rest of this series.”

This is all predictable in some sense, because as noted above, the Pacers have played questionable basketball for the last two, two-and-a-half months. That said, though, after last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, the conventional logic was Pacers-Heat Round II, and with the Pacers having home-court advantage, things might be different. The Hawks, on the other hand, opened the year with a Mike Budzenholer DUI arrest, lost Al Horford for the entire postseason, and back-doored into the playoffs over a team the NBA would probably rather have there (the Knicks), who have a bigger market and a more definable star. And guess what? They have a real shot. Because of the Pacers’ struggles late in the season, it’s not quite as dramatic as this:

Or this:

… but it could be pretty dramatic.

Now to Jeff Teague for a second. He went 19th overall in his NBA Draft year — the Pacers could have taken him at No. 13 — and honestly, the first four-five years of his professional career were fairly non-descript. He almost went to Milwaukee — the current worst team in the NBA — last off-season, but he stuck around and started thriving in Budzenholer’s system, which makes sense, considering Budzenholer is a long-time San Antonio Spurs guy, and that’s the same system where Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili became essentially recurrent MVP candidates. Paul Millsap, who had 25 points for the Hawks in Game 1, was a No. 47 overall pick (I loved that dude in college) who often runs different screens and rolls with Teague. You see similar offenses in late-1990s Utah or mid-2000s San Antonio; those types of systems can upset even 55+ win top seeds because they can take them out of their game. (Some have argued that Horford being hurt actually helps Atlanta in this series, because his replacements will tend to drag Hibbert away from the paint.)

Teague only scored more than 28 four times this season; his season high was 34 against the Raptors (another playoff team!) back in March.

If the Hawks do get by in this series — and admittedly, that’s still an “if” — they’d draw Washington or Chicago in the next round. Teague vs. John Wall could be fun as hell to watch as a series where two upset winners from Round 1 go head-to-head, so I’ll momentarily root for that. In the meantime, enjoy Game 2.

Dakotah Quail-Dyer, Jessica Heeringa’s fiancee, seems to be cleared in her disappearance. But could it be a former boyfriend?

Jessica Heeringa disappeared a year ago Saturday from her job at an Exxon in Norton Shores, Michigan. This case has gotten a good share of national attention — and with it, a lot of different theories — but the basic concept is that she went missing on April 26, 2013 between 10:50pm and 11pm. There was a questionable minivan — potentially a Chrysler Town and Country — in the area prior to her disappearance, as detailed in the video above. There was an amount (apparently small) of Jessica’s blood on the pavement outside the store, and money in the Exxon was left untouched — hence, it likely wasn’t self-propagated or a robbery gone wrong. As of about a month ago, here was a central police statement on the issue, 11 months after the disappearance:

“The evidence obtained during the initial investigation led investigators to believe that Jessica was indeed abducted, which is why the task force was convened so quickly. We are still operating under the belief that Jessica was abducted against her will, possibly by a person whom she knew – either a customer, acquaintance or friend.”

In these cases, the significant other / husband / fiancee is usually the first person they look at; that was the same in the Jessica Heeringa case, but he appears to have been cleared. In fact, the semi-full list of those cleared includes:

Chief Shaw also said numerous people have been cleared, or are “no longer the focus of the investigation” – those people include, but are not limited to, Jessica’s current fiancé, a former boyfriend, two acquaintances, the owner of the gas station and a person who was driving a sliver van resembling the one last seen in the area before Jessica went missing.

There was initially some confusion as to whether someone had witnessed the actual abduction — essentially, a witness claimed that her and her boyfriend were driving past the Exxon, saw something weird, circled back, and saw a guy closing the latch on his minivan — but it’s now confirmed that no one actually saw the abduction.

The owner of the Exxon station in question has dropped a “no comment” on the situation. He’s likely doing that because of the whole idea of “anything you say can and will be held against you…” and/or safety concerns (the cameras at the Exxon weren’t working that night; all video of the van and such is from a nearby bar), but of course it makes him look a bit suspect-y. Here’s some stuff from a blog I wouldn’t necessarily trust, but it’s still moderately interesting:

  • Ciereman put up a help wanted ad on Craigslist to replace Heeringa 24 hours after the abduction.

  • He ran off friends and family from a vigil on the store property and has hired an attorney and will not comment about the case.

  • According to a post here, “FRED CIEREMAN. Owners name. Told the family to stop bothering him about her, or he will have them arrested. Told press he would send them home in body bags if they didn’t leave.”

  • Ciereman hit on his female employees.

  • Ciereman’s lizard son gets dental work here and also has connections to this place; more DORy SSers. (Dentists have access to drugs that could be used to knock someone out.)

Apparently there are around “a dozen” persons of interest, and the witness mentioned in the paragraph above may actually be the sister of one of Jessica Heeringa’s ex-boyfriends. This guy was also considered a person of interest (he had been at the gas station on the night of the disappearance):

Here’s the initial 911 call reporting that the Exxon clerk is not at the store:

When I used to watch Unsolved Mysteries, some of the most terrifying ones ever were gas station disappearances involving female employees/attendants. Eileen Mangold is one case. As a result, this Jessica Heeringa case resonated with me / terrified me. Again, I have no idea what happened — although I’d guess she’s potentially deceased, as going a year without her child seems dubious (unless, of course, she’s imprisoned or something akin to that) — or who could have done it. Clearing the fiancee was a strong move, but it seems like there are a few other men in her life (ex-boyfriends) who aren’t completely cleared, and it seems like this minivan suspect needs to be totally tracked down and cleared as well. There’s an idea that one potential suspect was “being really flirty” with Heeringa, and when you factor in the idea that so much was left inside the station — money, purse, etc. — it’s quite possible that whoever abducted her met her outside, engaged her in dialogue, and commenced with his plan there. The area police repeatedly classify Heeringa as “social,” so it’s possible that her customer-service-driven nature led to the situation.

The case is still active, and the FBI is not primarily involved, apparently. Here’s hoping that the one-year anniversary shakes loose some media coverage and additional tips, one of which might lead to the actual facts surrounding this case/disappearance. It’s already begun, a little bit:




Brief thought exercise: is showing your emotions at work likely doomed to stagnate your career?

This is a pretty nuanced issue, and I’m not sure I’m going to give it the most comprehensive treatment available (simply because there are huge gaps in own knowledge), so I’ll try to keep this (comparatively) brief as a potential discussion-starter. I feel like a numbered list may be the way to go (but I could be wrong).

1. There was a big buzz a few years ago — and in some ways, it’s around right now — about EQ, or your emotional intelligence. I always thought this was pretty relevant. We’ve gotten to a point in 2014 and beyond where the basic work you do — the actual functions of your job — are probably fairly technology-driven (of course, relative to industry) and if you don’t know exactly how to do something on one of your platforms (say, Excel or SalesForce), you can likely Google or YouTube search what you’re looking for and see a demo. The broader point is: the actual work is almost interchangeable in some respects, and even if you don’t believe that, you probably do believe that most people with a basic skill set of “A, B, C” can be taught to do “D.” If that’s the case, then shouldn’t your hiring focus on finding the best fits? After all, you can teach a person to use Google suite; you can’t teach a person to stop being an asshole. Don’t you want people to have empathy, to react to things, and to ultimately be the type of communication-focused individuals who might eventually be good managers? Again, I would think. So, essentially, EQ should be important — and to some companies/organizations, it truly is important.

2. The tricky aspect of this question is women. Let me say this first and foremost: I honestly believe it’s 5-10 times harder to be a woman than to be a man. Obviously pregnancy and childbirth is at the forefront of this discussion, but even beyond that, there are so many assumptions made about women, especially in an office context — that the path they really want is children (not always 100 percent true), that they’re more emotional, that they’re less rational, that they’re not decision-makers, etc. I actually don’t believe any of those things; I’m just typing out things I’ve heard others (mostly guys) say from time to time in different jobs I’ve had. Women enter these situations with more stigma around almost everything related to their careers — which is perhaps why the journey of Peggy Olson is so fascinating to millions of viewers — and emotions is a huge part of that. So when you talk about “showing emotions at work,” most people assume you’re discussing females. Females tend to occupy less leadership positions — so if you want to talk straight correlation, one could say “The more emotional you are, the less you’re likely to rise up the ranks.” Of course, that’s correlation, which is not causation. A woman not rising up ranks and a man not rising up ranks may have very different contextual background stories.

3. I’ve worked in some places that are very different contextually from a “traditional office environment,” but I also have worked in traditional office environments. I was trying to think about guys I’ve worked with who were more emotional — talking about their feelings, their life outside of the office, even reacting more viscerally to certain proposals — and what their career arcs looked like. I came across about 11-14 examples in my head. In each case, the guy in question stayed at about the same level for 5-7 years or more, whereas other guys in their positions — who were more put-your-head-down-and-do-it/be-there-at-8-and-leave-at-7 guys — were being promoted. Again, this is a small sample size and could be a correlation rather than a causation, but I do find it interesting. It does seem to me that while the idea of “EQ” is valued, the actual concept of “emotions” (or “being emotional”) have no place in a work environment — at least in terms of potential advancement.

4. Obviously this all goes back to some basic psychological assumptions — for example, if you are an overly emotional or emotive person, your narrative will surely include questions about “being in control,” which is a prized attribute for organizational leaders. If you look at this list of qualities of a great leader, most are things that would pair well with EQ — but again, concepts like “being in control” and “guiding steadily” come through a lot in the text. Those, for many people, are not compatible with being emotional/showing emotions. Maybe this sums it up better than I can:

For the past few months, I have been hanging out with people of my age. I’ve realized they have a lot of unchecked emotions and drama in their lives. This, in turn, has made me more emotional, which has started to affect my business decisions. I have slowly started to cut these emotion-filled people out of my life.

If you want to succeed in the business world, you have to learn how tomake decisions based on logic and not emotion. It’s not always going to be easy, but it’s what you have to do to make wise decisions. If for some reason you aren’t able to think straight, don’t make any decisions. Sleep on your emotions until you have a logical answer or get some guidance from a peer.

5. I wrote this post because this was something that always interested me — we seem to be bad at hiring/promoting managers in business, for example, but some of the top qualities we want in leaders do positively associate with those that are more empathetic/emotional/in touch — and I’ve always wondered why logic and grit seem to be valued more than emotion and transparency. It could be because the whole idea of “business” evolved as a boys’ club — women have only had active roles for the last 40-50 years, if that — or it could be because of the increasing shift towards quarterly earnings and now now now, which leads people to believe that decisions must be made swiftly (emotions would be seen as interfering with swift decision-making, I’d presume). I’m not sure. If anyone has any thoughts on the role of emotions at work, and what it might mean for professional development/advancement, feel free to leave ‘em in the comments.