There’s something not quite right with messaging.

[Don’t get your hackles up, please.  We’re not maligning words or choices or their arrangements.]

In every map, every grid, every page in which we capture the essence of a business, it falls flat.  Sure, we can add emotional words, even exclamation marks (though save us from too many).  Yet the story is somehow lacking.  Words alone aren’t working … at least, for us.

Of late, we’ve been applying an idea from the design world.  Which is, the creation of mood boards, once assembled from a bunch of oversized, colorful magazines, even photography books.  With a glue stick, scissors and a generous foam core board, a collage develops that reflects themes and a vague essence of feeling.  Interior designers, artists, creative directors, fashion folks use these liberally; in fact, they guard the completed boards with their lives, keeping them ultra-confidential until the project has been revealed. 

So what stops us – communicators and branding experts – from starting our stories this way?  It connects the heart and the brain.  It helps coordinate a corporate tale.  And it quickly lets others know exactly where we’re going.  Yup, a series of pictures (yes, with words) relates the beginning and middle and ongoing events that make up a business’ life.

No Moody blues, here. 


A few weeks ago, ad agency JWT announced its first-ever report on Female Tribes.

[Do ignore the fact that the agency’s former chair might be facing a lawsuit re alleged sexist and racist remarks.]

Though the news release and subsequent coverage were sketchy (we suspect the details are being saved for current and prospective clients), it supposedly looks at the rise of “female capital” and the value women bring as leaders, wealth creators, and artists.  Twenty different tribes, from cultural icons and Asian alphas to teen activists, were identified from a base of 4,300 female respondents in nine countries (ages range from 18 to 70).

Three “arghhs” come from us: 

First, because this kind of survey – regardless of depth and breadth – appears to be a sort of typology foisted on top of what we as women know are our differences and commonalities.  After all, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to pick out Beyoncé as a cultural icon and Malala Yousafzai as a teen activist (among other tribes). 

Second, the use of the phrase “female capital.”  It reminds us of time spent in professional services firms where they categorized work in HR and talent as human capital.  A phrase that’s not really descriptive and definitely dehumanizing.

And third, the sad fact that, to our knowledge, this is the first attempt to figure out the world of women from a perspective that doesn’t involve why we buy. 

Anyone ask Gloria Steinem?


In this year of unspeakable campaigning-for-POTUS tumult, there’s been lots of conversation around spin.  Who has it.  Who uses it well (and who doesn’t).  Why they say what they say – and the gurus behind it.  And, yes, if the public knows it’s being manipulated.

Get real.

First, know that spin – the deliberate crafting of words and images for political effect – has been around since the early Greek orators honed their rhetoric to arouse and persuade.  Since Kings and Queens took forever to decide on a particular portrait or silhouette.  And since Teddy Roosevelt’s primitive press conferences or séances, when he’d ask six or 12 reporters to join him over a shave and food.

Second, John and Jane Q. Public have a good sense of the inauthentic and the dishonest, the promotions and the scripted laugh lines.  Behind unreadable exteriors (despite what pollsters say), Americans have a terrific capacity to resist spin, seeking and trusting the agreeable in very logical reasoning.  

And sad but true:  We’ve become immune to spin, since it surrounds us daily.  Via advertising in all media.  Through content marketing that pretends to be impartial and not devoted to specific brands and companies.   Even inside companies, when executives run town halls and informal chats, the words don’t always resonate.

Do we need a 21st century Diogenes?


Six billion every day.

No, not McDonald’s burgers, but emojis sent and received via the world’s two-plus billion smartphones.

Advocates (and there are many, with tops being ad agencies) claim these little pictures emulate our feelings and the expressions and gestures we use talking with others in face-to-face conversations.

Still others who have plumbed the psychology of these stimulations du jour insist they’re changing our speech patterns and expressing our authentic selves – our interests, our reactions, even innuendoes. 

We don’t buy it.

Though this trend started in the ‘90s and gained steam of late, thanks to marketers like Coke and Dove, Bud Light and Starbucks (among others), it’s simply another way for us not to talk – and, by extension, not to understand each other. 

Sure, it promotes our brain’s desire for visual communications.  And it’s definitely a convenient shorthand to capture one, maybe two emotions.  But even those frequent users insist that there are clear rules for campaigning with these Japanese little pictures:

  1. Know your audience’s emoji usage habits, like age, location, and gender
  2. Identify the most common emojis and
  3. Know how the audience speaks.

Hmm.  So if we truly studied our target audience’s speaking patterns, as number three recommends, wouldn’t it be easier to just, er, talk with them?