Confused about the sell by and use by labels on grocery foodstuffs?  As well as the “I’m all natural” claims?

Rest assured.  You’re not alone. 

According to a recent Consumer Reports survey, nearly 2/3rds of respondents believe, for instance, that ‘natural’ implies the item is a better food and that it contains no artificial ingredients, chemicals, pesticides, or GMOs.  It’s food that is simple, less processed, and genuine (whatever that means).



The US Food & Drug Administration hasn’t defined it yet.

Which, of course, got us to thinking:  What about the labels we in the marketing and communications biz blithely toss around, like logo and tag line and slogan and campaign and … ?  Do our key audiences (for example, the C-suite) really understand what we’re talking about – and are we all on the same page?  And do all our labels result in further confusing the folks we’re trying to reach – and persuade?

You get our drift.  Obviously, we apply labels to simplify a complex world.  The words and phrases we use to describe things and ideas, according to a 1930s’ linguist (and proven true for decades and decades after), actually determine what we see.  Think of it as a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Twizzlers is a low-fat snack.  Natural cheese is simply that, without cellulose powder to keep it from sticking.

So is time to clear up our own noise – and, perhaps, set a great example for the manufacturers of this world?


There’s something about “culture” that everyone wants to own today.

Gigantic corporations are tasking their leaders and managers to figure out how to create genuine, authentic, and entrepreneurial innards, environments that will attract millennials who prefer to work in fast and nimble start-ups.

Ad publications claim, though a handful of case histories, that marketers should own the culture fit bit and make sure that brands reflect company values.  And vice versa. 

Even recruiter Egon Zehnder adds its two cents by revealing its 100-person survey results:  Ninety-five percent believe perceived culture affects the brand.  Sixty percent say culture supports the brand – and   20 percent say it’s an underminer.  Ergo, CMOs need to embrace that word.

Yet culture needs to be owned by the right individual(s).

The creation of culture – and its values – clearly belongs in the province of the leader.  It’s s/he who reflects the organization, shapes (or re-creates) its values, and acts to show the way.  It’s not marketing speak.  Nor solely developed by the CHRO.  And, for sure, not locked up in a wordy company manual.

Culture needs to live, to breathe, and to, if needs be, adjust to current realities.  Companies do, during crises or turnovers, rethink values … and re-cast them, with smart planning, to inspire, motivate, and transition to the new way.  After all, if culture is the way we work around here, why shouldn’t (eventually) everyone own it?


It’s always puzzled us why there’s so little fertilization among our communications disciplines.

Take the creative brief, for instance. 

A staple of advertising agencies, somehow the brief seems to have skipped corporate, public relations agency, and consulting worlds.  Outside vendors that take on, for instance, an annual report or the re-do of a Web site may, indeed, pull together some sort of framework that guides the project.  It’s considered a necessary (okay, even mandatory) road map, the architecture that not only keeps the messages aligned but the people as well.

When it comes to those internal professionals managing a major deliverable, we haven’t seen that kind of detail.   For sure, key messaging will almost definitely be established.  But the straightforward language and the thinking behind a brief isn’t always developed.  Such as:  Brutal honesty about what stakeholders believe and feel.  Visual and verbal statements that truly define the brand without ambiguity.  And identifying what’s important, what’s not and the metrics involved. 

Sure, there are templates to follow.  Lots of questions to be answered, from the whats (the project), and whys (reasons for being) to the whens, wheres, and hows. 

On the other hand, it’s not a deck or a massive tome.  In our heads, a creative brief needs to be true to its definition:  something that inspires (creative) and something that’s short (brief). 

What’s been your experience, dear readers?



Recognize our headline? 

We (ahem!) borrowed it from a well-known tech company’s marketing campaign.

After all, the same sort of principles apply when talking simplification, whether in work or in words.  At least, we think so.  Route out the extraneous and the unnecessary (according to customers and users) and streamline, right?

Not.  So.  Fast.

Ownership of words within corporations tends to be (pick one) 1) mandated by the brand, 2) dominated by corporate functions like marketing and HR, 3) supervised by leaders, and/or 4) required by message stewards.  When interminably long documents and three-paragraph sentences dominate, it’s clear that someone isn’t paying attention to the eight-second rule.

Which is now the length of our attention span.

There are all sorts of reasons why business text is so hard to understand.  Like these:

“Defensive compliance” (consider annual reports and 10Ks)

“Bureaucratic tradition” (think government forms, even do-it-yourself instructions)

“Mindblindness” (the term psychologists use when folks are numb to their own knowledge).

What we know for sure is that someone (perhaps the author, maybe not) isn’t checking with his/her prospective readers, calibrating reactions, answering questions, and ensuring that at least a handful of audience members understand the points.  And when the average 10K in 2013 accounted for 42,000 words, someone, somewhere just didn’t want to be understood.

Mark Twain had us at this:  “I would have written that shorter, but I didn’t have the time.”  [Or was it Blaise Pascal?]