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March 2013

Cropped 2011 head shotFirst quarter 


March marks the end of the first quarter of 2013. Time certainly does fly. However, I think too much has been made about marking financial quarters. It is sometimes terrifying to be looking at the end of a fiscal quarter knowing the results are not what you wanted, even if business is looking up the following month. So I prefer to take a longer view. Good thing I don't have a Board of Directors or investors to whom to answer!

Marketing Government

What is the value proposition?      

I generally do not like getting into politics in this newsletter. I'm all business here. However, I've been annoyed, dismayed, incredulous, and exasperated of late by our dysfunctional government--all branches and all parties. While they all have experienced professionals working to communicate with constituents they all seem to be missing the boat when it comes to communicating the VALUE PROPOSITION of what THEY do, what the government offers to citizens, and (perhaps most importantly) what matters to the folks who gave them their jobs. And speaking of their jobs, what "normal" person would keep his or her job while missing deadline after deadline, while pontificating instead of performing, and just not showing up?


I have written often about the value proposition: it's never the price, it's always the value. Always. It doesn't matter what the product or service is; people will always spend more if they think they are getting something for their money; unless the product is a commodity, and then it's the marketer's challenge to promote the brand and its added value. Consequently, when people complain that they are paying too much in taxes it says to me that they do not believe they are getting good value for their money. Why don't the communicators in the various government agencies tell us? Is it because we really AREN'T getting good value for our money? Is it because they don't think they need to tell us? I'm not sure, but if I were in charge, I'd have cabinet secretaries and department heads in front of the media on a regular basis, showing all the programs that help people, that employ people, and that keep us safe, so that we know what our money is buying.


Of course, there's the viewpoint that they'd have nothing to show but waste: the $600 toilet seat, the billions that are spent on office space that sits empty, and redundant systems. One thing is pretty certain: without the information about what our money buys, all we hear are the negative stories about what we aren't getting.


It's pretty obvious that the government "brand" is in the mud right now (check out the graphic, above), and that's a shame. 

Corporate Culture and Branding

Which comes first?  


Last month, I attended an IABC/LI meeting whose presenter, Jeff Levy of Janusian Insights, treated us to an interesting and lively discussion of corporate culture and its affect on the fulfillment of objectives. Obviously, I'm all about branding (see above), both corporate and personal. So I began to think about how corporate culture impacts branding, and vice versa.


Jeff spoke about the Competing Values Framework, defining four directions in which corporate culture tends to go:

  • Focus on the Future (vision, innovation)
  • Focus on People (employees and customers)
  • Focus on Results (sales, objectives)
  • Focus on the Work (process)

Outbound communications of a corporate brand may depend on the stated emphasis among these four directions (products, people, success, or process), but reputation often emanates from the reality as communicated by word-of-mouth and the media. When communications and reported performance are aligned, trust builds. When there is conflict between these two corporate image sources, trust suffers. And the brand suffers. 

  • A major insurance carrier recently ran an ad about how they helped victims of Hurricane Sandy, in which they showed a house on Staten Island that had been totally trashed. It turns out that the owners of that house were never asked for permission to show it in the ad, and worse, the insurance company offered them $10,000 for what was left of the house. They hired a lawyer.  
  • What is this company's corporate culture--results-oriented? Probably not customer-focused, yet that is what they were promoting.  

Those who are charged with the care and feeding of a corporate brand should look to the real focus of the corporate culture, and make sure it is consistent with how that brand is communicated. It takes a lot of time and resources to build a brand, but very little to bring it down. We've seen it again and again, both corporate and personal brands.  If the company feels it necessary to obfuscate or outright lie, they are wasting their money on the communications. It will all come out in the end, and companies sometimes vanish when that happens. 

Upcoming Events
March 20, 11:30am-1:30pm


IABC/LI had to cancel its program in November because so many were still suffering the after-effects of Hurricane Sandy. This month they will be featuring the program that had been scheduled earlier: "Meeting With God: Is PowerPoint The Most Effective Strategy?" The presenter is Marshall Makstein of Details and registration are available on the website; or you can sign up at and pay at the door.
March 21, 6-8pm
New York American Marketing Association is presenting "The Art of Rebranding: Modernizing American Airlines For The Future" at McCann World Group Headquarters, 622 Third Avenue (41st St), 23rd Floor. This program will cover why and when to consider rebranding and the major challenges in doing so. For more information and registration, click here.
March 13, 6-8pm
New York Women In Communications is having a "Night Out" at Scalotta Ristorante, 50 W. 77th St (Central Park West and Columbus Av). Bring lots of cards! Register here.
June 23-26, 2013 
IABC is holding its World Conference in New York City! This amazing opportunity to meet business communicators from all over the world will be held at the New York Hilton. Click here to learn more about it, and to register. 
This practice is dedicated to helping companies become knowledge-driven, rather than assumption driven about strategic and tactical decisions concerning lines of business, branding, communications, and various marketing activities. For more information about how we do this, case studies, frequently asked questions about marketing research, and testimonials, please visit our web site:

Ann Middleman