Short Essays

Food Flight from China (or How I Learned to Hate Ginger & Love Yogurt)

Food Flight from China (or How I Learned to Hate Ginger & Love Yogurt)

Tom from the UK and I met over a pile of someone else's food. We were both staying in a hostel that for some reason was underground and connected to a night club in Chengdu the capital of Sichuan Province adjacent to Tibet.read more
The Tattoo Brand

The Tattoo Brand

On my 19th birthday, I told my parents that my sister and I were going out to lunch. We are only two years apart and had fought a lot growing up, so they pursed their lips, shared a bemused glance, and did nothing to rock the boat. We weren’t getting lunch. We were getting our first tattoos.read more
Strategic Plan (Carpe Diem)

Strategic Plan (Carpe Diem)

We traveled safely from Washington D.C. to New York on the 7PM train Tuesday, May 12th. The 7:10PM train which could just as easily have been our train was not so lucky. On hearing the news that we were unharmed I got an email from our client in D.C. with the sign-off "carpe diem."read more
Collaborative Conversation

Collaborative Conversation

I was reluctant to join the conversation until I jumped in when it turned to race—then I could barely contain myself.read more
The Practice of Doing Nothing

The Practice of Doing Nothing

I can think of just once where I felt bored out of my mind. Boring beyond comprehension in my current life as a hustling New Yorker, the time was a much-needed boot camp in doing nothing.read more
Burning Man and the Brand of America

Burning Man and the Brand of America

Does America have a brand? And if so, what can Burning Man tell us about it?read more
2014 Nobel Peace Prize

2014 Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel Peace Prize is tricky. I must say I do not envy those who have to decide on the recipient for such an award. Is it really even an award, or more of an incitement to do better?read more
City Brands: Dealing with a Lack of Control

City Brands: Dealing with a Lack of Control

Cities have become important actors on the global scene. Metropolitan governments are among the best ‘glocal’ players, sharpening their global influence strategy and improving the management of their brand. International city branding has its undeniable challenges, however.read more
College Brands (Can colleges save millions by having better brands?)

College Brands (Can colleges save millions by having better brands?)

How strong is the average college brand? How well are America's liberal arts colleges able to meaningfully differentiate themselves from each other?read more
Millennials and Museums: Oil and Water?

Millennials and Museums: Oil and Water?

What chance does the museum world have with millennials? Are millennials and museums really oil and water? Let's hear the story from the horse's mouth.read more
Museum Camp: Can you take it with you?

Museum Camp: Can you take it with you?

With Museum Camp (now in its second year), Nina Simon is trying to find a way to infect our thinking long enough for it to dent our obstinate surrounds. We should be trying to help.read more
The Conversation: Do we know how to have one?

The Conversation: Do we know how to have one?

Can a group of diverse and interesting New Yorkers sit around a table for dinner and have a SINGLE sustained conversation for at least two hours—no moderator, no side conversations—just a single, contributive, collective, shall I say it ... civilized, conversation on a given topic?read more
Brand Power and Its Limits

Brand Power and Its Limits

"Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind." —Walter Landorread more
The Difference Between Sales and Marketing

The Difference Between Sales and Marketing

Sales has the power to change conditions, to transform a situation through the skills of the sales person. Marketing however, generally does not possess such transformative power. Marketing needs to work with conditions as they are.read more
You need a target: What makes a marketing plan strategic?

You need a target: What makes a marketing plan strategic?

Finding out what you need to know in order to have a proper marketing strategy is not easy or cheap, but I can pretty much guarantee that what's far more costly is executing a marketing plan without a strategy to guide it.read more
Museums and Race

Museums and Race

Does thinking about race make you racist? No. Does not thinking about race make you racist? Unfortunately sometimes yes. These are uncomfortable issues and hard to look squarely in the eye, but they are standing right in front of you. Time to say hello.read more
Goals & Goats (How do you set strategic SMART goals?)

Goals & Goats (How do you set strategic SMART goals?)

Strategy is born from deep inspection of the question Why? Why is this goal important? If I cannot get to a good answer to why this goal makes sense in the context of my strategic vision, then the goal is suspect (or the strategy is suspect).read more
Marketing and Desire: What can we learn from Buddhists?

Marketing and Desire: What can we learn from Buddhists?

The cessation of desire leads to the cessation of suffering. —Gautama Buddha (paraphrased). The implication of this, the second of the Four Noble Truths, is that the enlightened are generally not good marketing targets. Fortunately for most marketers this is a very small group.read more
Internet Bias and The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife

Internet Bias and The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife

The Internet is the great connector but only of what it has in it. So put yours in or be damned by it to silence. Only porn it seems had the power to penetrate the membrane that separates my pre-Internet writings from the entirety of human knowledge that we can access today at the stroke of a key.read more
Is the museum brand god dead?

Is the museum brand god dead?

In a postmodern world—the one we live in now—the AUTHORITY, the curator, the author, the expert—anyone whose charge it is to create grand classifications and assign meaning—has been demoted. This is our Internet paradigm, is it not? The authority is now just one voice among many. What does this mean for museum branding?read more
In praise of boredom

In praise of boredom

Nothing is not nothing, but something essential that we should be careful to preserve in our lives.read more
Electronics Cold Turkey (Vacation must now work harder.)

Electronics Cold Turkey (Vacation must now work harder.)

I took my family on vacation to a place with no electricity and no running water. We stayed there for ten days. It was electronics cold turkey, and at the end, the consensus among my three children—9, 12 and 15—was that we had stayed too long. I'm inclined to believe that the problem was that we did not stay long enough.read more
Brain Science and Marketing: Role of the Limbic & Reptilian Brains

Brain Science and Marketing: Role of the Limbic & Reptilian Brains

You think you are in control. "You"—your sense of self—your highly developed, amazingly capable conscious mind, housed in the big wrinkly hemispheric thing that we most often associate with the brain: the neocortex—is not really in control as much as it thinks. It's just easier for all of us to carry on with this delusion.read more
Marketing is Not Optional

Marketing is Not Optional

"There are only two things in a business that make money – innovation and marketing, everything else is cost." —Peter Druckerread more
Mixing Motivation: Danger of Extrinsic Motivation

Mixing Motivation: Danger of Extrinsic Motivation

"Virtually every type of expected tangible reward made contingent on task performance does, in fact, undermines intrinsic motivation. Furthermore, not only tangible rewards, but also threats, deadlines, directives, and competition pressure diminish intrinsic motivation because, according to cognitive evaluation theory, people experience them as controllers of their behavior." —Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deciread more
We make mistakes.

We make mistakes.

"To swear off making mistakes is very easy. All you have to do is swear off having ideas." —Leo Burnett. We make mistakes. The trick, of course, is to learn—and to make process changes from that learning—so that on our next pass through that same or a similar gauntlet we exhibit more finesse.read more
This piggy did no time sheet.

This piggy did no time sheet.

We are certainly not the first organization to struggle with getting everyone to fill in their time sheets. We've tried a variety of methods. We have made it really easy with software. We have tried asking nicely, telling regularly, assigning a person to go check and cajole each and every day. Through all this somehow consistent compliance has always eluded us. Enter the piggies.read more
The Journaling of Jane T. Heaton

The Journaling of Jane T. Heaton

Written with a pen from the funeral home where my dad was cremated just two months ago, these are my mom's last words. They are written in her journal.read more
New Tronvig Group Website

New Tronvig Group Website

Some of you may have noticed last week that our website was new, easy, simple, blue. Choosing NOT to continue under the persistent and powerful effects of "the cobbler's son has no shoes" syndrome, we forced the birth of a new Tronvig Group website.read more
Hurricane Sandy Beachfront Experience

Hurricane Sandy Beachfront Experience

My Monday night—the night Hurricane Sandy came ashore—was spent in my fourth floor apartment on Manhattan Beach. On one side I watched the ocean waves cover the roofs of the homes on the beach. On the other side, I watched the Sheepshead Bay canal waters rush in over cars and through buildings. As I saw all this I was wishing I had packed an inflatable boat in my "to go" bag.read more
The Truth Will Set You Free: The Story of Tronvig Group

The Truth Will Set You Free: The Story of Tronvig Group

Our rise from the abyss has brought us to clarity of vision: "Finding creative ways to help our clients make the world better." We are no longer doing poorly trying to do well. We are instead fulfilling a destiny that has us—to use the Quaker words of Ben Franklin—"Doing well by doing good."read more
The Science and Art of Marketing

The Science and Art of Marketing

As marketers we must never be in a position where we are just throwing shit up on the wall to see what sticks. We should be applying our creativity and artistry in execution of a strategic hypothesis that is based on research and genuine insight.read more
Stories About My Father

Stories About My Father

Here I write a short hero story. It may ring true for others who loved (and hated in short bursts) their fathers, who wanted to be like them and wanted not to be like them, who were proud and ashamed, who will dearly miss them when they are gone.read more
Your Name is Your Biggest Brand Asset

Your Name is Your Biggest Brand Asset

Is it better to have a unique name like Kinko's or a more descriptive one like Staples? Is it better to have a name that's actually a person's name like Lowe's or something that really clues you in to the core business promise is such as Home Depot? International Business Machines or just a feel good symbol like Apple? There is danger and reward everywhere.read more
How Not to Vacation

How Not to Vacation

Last year I wrote about taking a solid two-week vacation and described taking the family to our remote Canadian island with no electricity and no running water. That was a really good vacation. This year, I blew it.read more
I want a new website.

I want a new website.

"I want a new website." There is a certainty in the eyes and voice that pushes back my objections. "That's what we need. Here is what we want it to do. How much will it be?" This desire and clarity of purpose is supported by the belief that a new website will make things all better, like a mommy's kiss.read more
Consumer Insight: Find Your Trim Tab

Consumer Insight: Find Your Trim Tab

What can you do that will be effective at getting the word out, but will not break the bank? Is there a relatively inexpensive tactical shift can you make right now that will yield significant long term results? The answer is yes. It's just a matter of finding it. It will not be obvious or easy.read more
Marketing Mindset: Not to Market is a Crime

Marketing Mindset: Not to Market is a Crime

If your mission, your reason for being in the world—regardless of weather you are a nonprofit, a for-profit, a museum or an educational institution—is good, then you have no excuse not to market yourself.read more
Optimism Bias in Marketing

Optimism Bias in Marketing

The warning label which works contrary to our tendency toward optimism and self-indulgence misses the potential leverage point because the possible event of a future consequence can be set aside, rationalized away, and, most importantly, simply ignored because we (most of us) are biologically wired to pay little attention to such warnings.read more
Google Makes You Stupid

Google Makes You Stupid

Always knowing that you can easily find out anything you might want to know without actually having to recall it is really quite new. It strongly undercuts the drive to try and store a lot of different things in your head.read more
Museum Marketing: Think Like a Consumer

Museum Marketing: Think Like a Consumer

Odds are you already deliver on what people need. The trick in museum marketing, as in any kind of consumer marketing, is to think beyond what you do or how you do it, and focus on why your target would want it.read more
Call me trim tab.

Call me trim tab.

So what do you call this thing that does NOT take massive effort, but has the potential for great positive effect far beyond its seeming capacity? I think one very good answer to this question was was provided in 1972 by Buckminster Fuller when he said the following in an interview ...read more
The Difference Between Marketing and Branding

The Difference Between Marketing and Branding

What is the difference between marketing and branding? In a recent conversation with a very senior person at a financial institution my colleague was told, "I think private wealth managers will have a hard time seeing the value of branding—they see marketing as a cost center, not a driver of sales." Hold it. How did we go from branding to marketing in one sentence like that?read more
Visual Multitasking

Visual Multitasking

One of our new designers is fresh out of school and exudes talent and potential. She also spent her first few working days instant messaging her friends and watching TV shows WHILE doing her assigned design work. She was doing what might be called visual multitasking. My art directors, who range in age from their mid 20's to their mid 50's, were shocked by these work habits.read more
Apparent Failure Focuses the Mind

Apparent Failure Focuses the Mind

Probably the two most valuable things that have happened to me as a business person were: 1) Being laid off from a corporate job and having to start a business on my own, forcing the question of how to survive and support a family without a regular salary, benefits, or anything to rely on but myself. 2) My former business partner's choice to walk off with all our clients, leaving me with the company debt and virtually no business.read more
Radiation, Disaster and Hubris

Radiation, Disaster and Hubris

What impresses me most about nuclear materials is the inhuman scale of their behavior. For example, what does it mean that some radioactive materials, like Plutonium 244, have a half life of 80 million years? This "half-life" is 8,000 times longer than all of recorded human history. This has to make you wonder, at least a little, if we are out of our league when we mess with this kind of stuff.read more
The many forms of intelligence: Is Snooki the smartest guy in the room?

The many forms of intelligence: Is Snooki the smartest guy in the room?

"Reason should investigate its own parameters before declaring its omniscience." (Immanuel Kant) When I was in junior high school, I remember being both arrogant and stupid. I say this because I remember thinking I was the smartest kid in the class. I thought this because I got the best grades and I spent time thinking about things that did not seem to interest others. Only later did I learn there are many forms of intelligence.read more
Nonprofit Brand Basics

Nonprofit Brand Basics

For any organization, arguably your most important brand asset is your name. Some names are better than others at explaining why you exist and why you matter. So, along with the name, most organizations also need a tagline. The tagline can serve various roles. For a nonprofit its most important role is clarification. Some nonprofits have very practical taglines that do a good job of explaining why someone should support them. Others have taken on a very catchy marketing style and are often lofty sounding but vague. Sometimes these work. More often they do not.read more
Brand as Defense Against Attack

Brand as Defense Against Attack

Branding is often managed like a propaganda war for the hearts and minds of brand consumers. This aligns with Wikipedia's basic description of propaganda: "As opposed to impartially providing information, propaganda, in its most basic sense, presents information primarily to influence an audience." Propaganda is not really about the truth, but about influencing minds, and so may resort to a variety of tactics such as errors of omission, selective truths and the straw man fallacy to make its case. Interestingly, if you look at the history of advertising and propaganda, they both came of age as vehicles of mass persuasionread more
Chinese Mothers

Chinese Mothers

A friend of mine sent me the Wall Street Journal article "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" a few weeks ago. It was sent to me, I assume, because I have a Chinese mother in my own house—the mother of my children. The article excerpts and promotes the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Professor Amy Chua, and it was actually sent to me by a few different friends.read more
Architects and Flash

Architects and Flash

Architects fell in love with Flash. I think it gave them the kind of absolute design control that they generally expect from the world. The problem, of course, is that the Internet no longer loves Flash, and it seems architects are slowly coming to terms.read more
Brand Truth

Brand Truth

Our statement about brand truth—”We prefer truth. It gets you farther faster and holds tremendous power.“—was recently criticized on Twitter for being “grand and presumptuous.” My first reaction to this criticism was humor: “We just like it better than the alternative, and it’s a lot easier to keep track …”read more
The Business of Demand Creation

The Business of Demand Creation

I was asked to explain what I mean when I say, as I often do, "We are not in the business of demand creation." I usually go on to say, "We leave that job up to the big agencies" who seem on occasion to quite successfully create demand for products regardless of their actual quality.read more
Invisible Consequences: How Branding Impacts B2B Sales

Invisible Consequences: How Branding Impacts B2B Sales

How do you get new clients? If you sell B2B, the short answer is probably “relationships.” Almost.read more
Open Source Evolution

Open Source Evolution

We all now take advantage of open source software. For our work in web development, it helps make many formerly complex and expensive tasks faster, easier, and less expensive. We tend to take this for granted, but the meaning of the open source systems that have germinated and are now prospering on the web is still evolving. We do not know how far these systems can take us. What are their limits? What can be done with them once harnessed in new ways for good?read more
Arakawa + Madeline Gins

Arakawa + Madeline Gins

Arakawa Shusaku — July 6, 1936 - May 19, 2010. It was 1991, and I was fresh from Japan, adrift in New York, and uncertain of my destiny. It was Madeline and Arakawa who found me (especially Madeline). They took me in, fed and nourished me with scraps of wisdom—and curry—from the kingdom of intellectual freedom in which they habitually dwelt. They surrounded themselves with young minds. They fed us daily from a seemingly endless supply of insight and compassion...and stories. They respected our thoughts and gave them room to grow.read more
Why Documentary Style Photography?

Why Documentary Style Photography?

People and relationships are critical in business to business transactions, and so a strong B2B brand should communicate a sense of personal connection. It should speak to who the key players are and what it will be like to work with them. Great people photography facilitates this tremendously.read more
Life and Pecans: Why Truth Matters

Life and Pecans: Why Truth Matters

Last weekend I was reading the Sunday Times and snacking. I was looking at the paper and not my food, which was pecans from a glass jar. As I arrived at the bottom of the jar, I looked down and noticed little cobwebs all around the edges of the glass. Most of the remaining pecans had clearly been munched on already, and not by me.read more