Good touching, bad touching

Today’s guest post is from the irrepressible Elizabeth Case, a favorite marketing colleague and friend of mine and Principal at Yellow Dog Consulting, a sales and marketing firm in Issaquah, WA. She’s hilarious, knows marketing and loves dogs –  all reasons why I adore her. Follow her on Twitter.

I had two client meetings the other day and BOTH mentioned “it takes 7 touches for someone to buy.” So I had a couple of great discussions about touch points with prospective clients – good touching and bad touching.

Remember, not all marketing touches are equal. Are you guilty of good or bad marketing touching? (Tweet this!)

Good Touches:

  • Your Newsletter: it pops into their inbox monthly (hopefully not much more than that) and reminds them that you know what you’re talking about without nagging them to hire you (hopefully!)
  • Social Media: Follow them/friend them/Link In with them and pay attention to what they’re saying. Don’t be creepy and like EVERYTHING they post, but keep an eye on them, and hopefully they do the same with you
  • Email follow-up: if you met them at an event or workshop and you said you’d send them something, DO IT. Always follow up. “great to see you yesterday at the luncheon,” “here’s the link to that doggy daycare I mentioned,” it doesn’t have to be about work, and often times that’s better – be a resource to them, a.k.a, their new go-to person.
  • Networking: Get out to the networking events where your clients and target market are gathering. Just the reminder that you’re alive and kicking is good for a lot of people. I need to see your face to be reminded you’re around. When I don’t see you, I can make assumptions you’re too busy for new clients. When you’re out and about, it’s good to know you may have time for new clients.

Bad Touches:

  • Phone Calls after business hours: We all know this is my biggest pet peeve. If you’re having a busy day and need to call them, leave a voicemail! And I always suggest sending a follow up note. They may prefer one to the other, and you need to figure that out. I have many an un-returned phone call because I can’t call back when I hear the voicemail, but didn’t get an email reminder to say “hey call me friday at 2.” Their loss.
  • Sales pitch emails: “Hey you should hire me, hey I’m really good at what I do, hey buy this.” No one likes that, you don’t like that, so don’t do it.
  • Creepy Social Media: Don’t like EVERY POST or comment on everything, but if it genuinely is of interest to you, like it. Can’t wait to see how many of you now freak out on whether to comment on this post or are afraid I’ll think you’re creepy (I won’t this time!).
  • The obvious sales pitch “coffee meeting:” Let’s be honest, you don’t want to learn about my business, you want to sell me on yours. Watch yourself when you call for the coffee meeting. That’s a BIG ask to leave your office- offer to be convenient to them if you want the business. I live in Issaquah about 15 miles east of Seattle. I don’t expect people to schlep out to the suburbs for me. So, I’m in Seattle a couple days a week and schedule all my meetings together. Make it convenient for THEM, not you.

Photo credit: Licked Lens Photography

Thanks Elizabeth! What “Good Touching” has worked for you? And what “Bad Touching” have you seen (or done in the past) that didn’t work or soured you to a person?

Beneath the bling: Can you back up your “brand goods?”

We all know bling when we see it, right? It’s shiny, sparkly and distracts the eye from a person’s face, outfit or arrogant scowl (talking to you, Tabloid Divas). Crafters love the Bedazzler because it turns ordinary white t-shirts into dizzying love fests of color and light, temporarily blinding people as they walk past you on the street.

We can also use a little sparkle and fairy dust now and then. Hey, I love diamonds, too.

But sometimes brands get a little crazy with the Bedazzler. Instead of fixing their product or service flaws, they hide behind new bright shiny logos, cool websites, clever packaging or slick ads. Or their sales landing pages scream with neon arrows, BUY NOW! blinking icons and 80-feet of testimony and schmooze.


Maybe they think we’ll just tire out and click Purchase. Maybe they hope to distract us from their horrible customer service or cheaply made goods. Maybe they don’t really know the “10 Secrets to Creating a 6-Figure Business” and feel that with some shouting, sparkle and spitshine, they can fool us.

I don’t know. What I do know is articulating your brand strategy helps you make smarter design, messaging and yes, even packaging choices that promise to the right people what you can authentically deliver. I’m a HUGE fan of clever design and cool concepts. But as Jay Baer states in my upcoming 2nd edition of Branding Basics for Small Business: How to Create an Irresistible Brand on Any Budget (coming Apr 1, by the way – don’t forgot your Launch Week Goodies!) “Polish is the enemy of scale.”

If you have real value to offer and know how it needs to look and who really needs it, you can get away with filming useful and entertaining social media tip videos in your office like Amy Schmittauer (another expert in this new edition). You can publish a neat, well-written Word document turned PDF rather than an overly designed, fancy 90 page interactive worksheet if you can deliver the goods. You can skip the expensive Herman Miller conference room chairs if your tech start-up team is focused on building the best damn product under the sun.

Don’t write a brand check your business can’t cash. (Tweet this!) Instead, focus on continually delivering the right stuff to the right people with the right message and the rest will take care of itself. Bling or no bling.

Photo credit: Brandon Baunach, Flickr

Are you signed up?

My FREE teleseminar 5 Clever Ways to Boost Your Brand Online has limited lines so hurry and snag your spot for Wed, April 2 at 10 am PT/1 pm ET. By attending, you’ll be eligible to win a free signed book, or one of three FREE Brand Bootcamp digitial courses. It’s all part of the Launch Week Frivolity for Branding Basics for Small Business, 2nd Edition, coming next week. And don’t forget all the Digital Swag Bag launch bonuses you can get to boost your business if you purchase the book before April 7. Can’t even tally what it’s all worth!

Brand messaging made simple: Can a six-year-old understand what you do?

Be Bold. Be Brief. Be Gone.

These words hung at the desk of a software salesperson at my last Corporate marketing director gig. Ironically, the guy was kind of a windbag but the wise words have stuck with me all these years.

Clarity and conciseness are not necessarily hallmarks of my writing. I often play with words to find just the right way of explaining a concept – and have the habit of over-explaining things to the point of confusion. A flaw of which I am very well aware and try to remedy.

In the 2nd edition of my bookBranding Basics for Small Business: How to Create an Irresistible Brand on Any Budget  Alexandra Franzen, communication specialist and author of 50 Ways to Say You’re Awesome, dropped some wisdom bombs about effective messaging. She and I have long collaborated on clients – and on my own brand messaging. A wizard with words, she knows just how to say something in a carefully curated yet oh-so-simple way. Where you and I may take 100 words to make our point, Alexandra can name that tune in 20 – and do it with spark and sizzle.

Here is an adapted excerpt from the book you’ll enjoy:

Many entrepreneurs, especially those with a purpose-driven business, get wrapped up in flowery language when describing their work. But Alexandra advises that the clearest way to express an idea is best.

“Think about the last time you read a blog post, heard a TED Talk or listened to a story at a dinner party that really impacted you, that made you want to do something,” she asks. “Was it long, convoluted, unnecessarily detailed? Or was it simple, clear, direct and conversational?” Alexandra adds, “Writing about the work that you do—your ‘reason for being’—is a form of storytelling. And if you want to inspire people to take action, a simple story is best.”

An exercise I play with clients is to ask them to tell me how they would describe their organization to their grandmother or their five-year-old daughter. Often, what they say is exactly what they need to communicate to adults.

Alexandra says. “If it takes you eighty-five paragraphs to explain something, you’re probably not clear on it. Particularly in the online space, people have a shorter attention span. Customers will be skimming your site, flipping around, spending just a few seconds here and there. You need to be exceptionally simple.”

Alexandra advises taking lessons from scientist, astronomer, and author Carl Sagan, or beloved children’s TV show host Mister Rogers, or English broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough. “These people were legendary educators who had mass appeal because of their incredible skill in distilling information so that anyone from any background could understand. This is what makes them so beloved and great. Distillation is not the same as dumbing down (Tweet!). It’s about expressing the purest essence of an idea—without any unnecessary clutter.”

When crafting your messages, ditch the jargon where you can. Of course, you need to speak the language of your industry but don’t overcomplicate things. The goal is to make your target audience feel competent, not to make them feel dumb. “When crafting copy for your business,” says Alexandra, “above all, your job is to make the person reading feel competent. If they think to themselves, ‘I don’t understand the words on the screen in front of me, and now I feel dumb,’ they’ll probably click away from your website and never come back. But if they think to themselves, ‘I get this, and it sounds like precisely what I need!’ they’ll be excited to take the next step.”

Follow the lead of one of the smartest people who ever lived:

“If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Albert Einstein (Tweet this!)

5 clever ways to position yourself as a (real) expert

Guru. Master. Legend.

Wouldn’t those be nice words to hear after someone introduces you?

Maybe. Personal branding is all the rage these days. But most of us don’t have to be THE leading voice on a certain topic, but a unique, thoughtful and useful voice that is part of the conversation.

I say: Beware the lone guru.

There are so many “personal brands” out there, claiming to be expert in this, or someone who can teach you the secrets of that, or the end-all, be-all source for (INSERT TOPIC HERE).

How nice for them.

The ones who claim to be experts in helping you establish yourself as an expert make me giggle the most. I mean, you should at least have some experience or competency in your chosen field before you expect that article in Fast Company. Experts are not invented, they are cultivated. What are your special skills, talents, experiences that can form a solid, authentic foundation for you to then learn even more and become a valid expert?

My vocation of choice is as a storytelling expert: small business brand strategy, marketing, messaging. Do I know all there is to know about these topics? Hell to the no. I am one of MANY brand strategists and experts. And that’s totally cool with me.

It’s not about offering people one authoritative voice to follow, one cult to join, one Kool-Aid flavor to drink. (Tweet!) There are so many talented brand strategists out there – seeming competitors – whom I admire, follow, learn from and even cite.

No one built up their knowledge and competency on their own. They learned it from somewhere, from someone.

But if you want brand awareness for yourself or your company, if you want to get press + customers + love + speaking gigs + influence, it is a good idea to establish yourself as part of that expert tribe, as someone with a valuable perspective and keen insight into this area.  So instead of getting frustrated every time you see one of these vocal, self-promotional, personal brand “experts” instead of pouting, why not follow some simple tips to join the conversation?

Here are 5 tips on how to establish yourself as an expert

(and no, I’m not claiming to be an expert in expertise – these are just tips I’ve used that have opened up new opportunities for me to help brands + businesses). All of these assume you already have a true level of education, knowledge or experience in your chosen area:

Keep soaking up knowledge:

That’s right. Think you know all there is to know about your topic? You’re done before you even start. Read the best-selling authors out there, attend conferences, read blogs and newsletters. Find out how others are approaching this area, stay up-to-date on trends, and pick and choose which bits of wisdom resonate – or don’t (see Tip #2) – with how you view this topic area. Keep a list of 5-10 sources to follow regularly so you don’t get overwhelmed.

Present a point of view:

It’s not enough to go out there and agree with every expert you read or follow in your space. Often, if you can present a valid, contrarian point of view, people find that much more interesting – and the press may bite. I have often used contributed articles (see Tip #3) and blog posts to say why I thought a certain expert got it wrong, and put my own unique spin and experience on the situation. Being willing to challenge the status quo – for real reasons, not just to be a pain in the neck – displays confidence and authority that people will notice. For some great advice about presenting value-drive content that rabid fans will adore, check out this Jay Baer blog post.

Write & pitch contributed articles/stories:

Not every piece of content you write should be about selling your products or services. People don’t pay to subscribe to news feeds or publications to get commercials. But can you convince that you’re the perfect person to comment on 5 ways companies are actually making money from better SEO? Can you convince Katie Couric that 5 overlooked stressors are making women and mothers ill? Can you persuade TechCrunch to accept your premise that Big Data is changing the way companies roll out new products and features? Think about the macro trends and theories rather than just your own offerings and offer a thought leadership point of view that benefits everyone. Sidenote: Offering guest blog posts to robust online communities like Biznik or BizHive or influential blogs is also very effective.

Speak in public:

Nothing impacts your street cred more than presenting to group as the…you guessed it…guest expert! Have you contacted your local Chamber of Commerce, Small Business Administration or chapter of a national association? Pitch yourself as a speaker on your topic of interest (no sales pitches, please – except they may allow you to have one slide at the end to promote your book, service or special offer). Start building your buzz locally first and then you can start to point to those successes when applying to national event and conferences. Nervous about presenting? Hire a speaking coach, media + presentation coach, or other developmental coach to squash those fears and help you get your message out there. Some great resources for creating an online speaking profile and finding gigs are SpeakerMatch and eSpeakers.


Cue the groans. But I’m telling you, blogging is one of the single best – and free – ways to share your philosophy and highlight your expertise on an on-going basis. You don’t need permission or acceptance like you do for scoring a media article or on-camera interview. Think of your blog as YOUR media outlet where you can say whatever the heck you like, Wrote a contributed article about the new rules of workplace etiquette and no publications bit? Fine, post it on your blog. See a juicy new trend in your space that you’re dying to comment on? You can post it tomorrow. The other added benefit of blogging regularly is that you become search engine friendly around these topics, and the more content you have online, the better to establish your expertise when people are searching for info on those topics. Want proof of the power? I often receive both media and sales leads from blog posts that I’ve written 3 or 4 years ago. Need help on where to start and what to write about – or even just how to work with your blog? Take a session with this woman now or check out Problogger for fabulous tips.

What actions have worked for you in establishing your expert status? Which experts do you admire and follow? Share your thoughts and get some link love back to your (expert) site!

3 tips for business success on – and off – the golf course

Sure, golf and business go together like peas and carrots. And today, more and more women are taking the game by storm for business and for pleasure. No longer the domain of rich white men and plaid pants (cue joyful montage to Caddyshack), the game is changing to be more inclusive, stylish and accessible. My friend and past client Elizabeth Noblitt, is the fashion stylist and founder of Shi Shi Putter, the premiere online resource for women golfers who play like their style depends on it—on & off the golf course.

Today she shares a guest post on 3 ways to ace your business performance on the golf course. But methinks you could apply these lessons off the course as well: 

Closing deals on the golf course is a main objective for most business people who play the game.  Just like the beginning to any relationship, golf is about compatibility.  You are spending five hours with someone to see if you like them, trust them, and want to invest in them.  It could be the longest date of your life, depending on how it goes.  Here are three tips to make sure you ace it.

Be on Your Best Behavior.

In addition to the official rules of golf (of which there are hundreds), there is also an unwritten code of conduct, the basis of which is respect.  Be courteous to those in your foursome and those playing around you.  If you aren’t sure ask a friend who golfs or get a lesson on etiquette before you play.  Here is a great video with a few basics.

Be Stylish. 

You don’t have to be Tom Ford stylish, but don’t show up wrinkled like you just rolled out of bed.  Call the club ahead of time to learn what their dress code is; they are more than happy to help.  While following their rules is important, I think it’s more important to be yourself and not forget your own style.  (Tweet this!) If polos make you look boxy, don’t wear them; find a different collared shirt.  Being successful depends a lot on confidence and it’s hard to rock it when you feel like a dork.

(Extra tip:  When you are purchasing new golf clothes, be sure to try them on for fit.   Take a practice swing and bend down to see how the garments fit in those situations.  You don’t want to be water cooler talk the next day because you shared a little too much skin on the golf course.)

Have Fun. 

In a nutshell, be the person your associates and clients want to play with again.

About Elizabeth: Elizabeth Noblitt is an avid golfer, seasoned event marketing professional and fashion stylist. She founded Shi Shi Putter in 2009 to redefine the game of golf, with a confident blend of beauty, grace and fun. If you would like 1:1 help to look and feel your best on the golf course (and on the street), email Elizabeth at Follow her @shishiputter

Your turn: What tips do you have for mixing business with your favorite pastime, be it golf, cocktailing or tennis? Do you close deals or build relationships this way? Please share in the Comments!

What is your customer script?

Oh, wait, you didn’t know they needed one?

If brand is all about reputation, than nothing beats it when that reputation spreads organically through word of mouth. You can’t be all places at once, so it pays to turn your customers into your own private evangelist army.

Many power brands revel in the fact that customers love them so much, those fans will generate content on their own accord – without pay – that promotes the company. Virgin America enjoys You Tube videos created by their happy passengers. Local businesses love seeing hundreds of stellar Yelp reviews from fans.

But you also want those messages highlighting the things you want your brand to represent. Meaning, you have to find some way to give your customers a script – or the main talking points – so that the message they are spreading is aligned with the one you want out in the world.  Do you want people to talk about your low prices or your artisan craftsmanship? Do you want the first thing they talk about to be your generous return policy or your quirky and fun email newsletter and brand voice?

What do you want to be known for? What is most important? One way to ensure customers know the script is to ensure that YOU do. I work with clients to build messaging platforms. Messaging platforms are internal tools designed to keep all your marketing on script for the three main messages you want to communicate about your brand. It then digs into each benefit and provides proof points that can be cited to explain why you can make that benefit claim.

Think about a conversation between a customer and a friend. What do you want them to say about you? What do you want the headline to be? Craft your messaging platform to ensure three clear benefits are conveyed in everything that you do, such as your website, your marketing, your ads. This way, you are arming your customers with the right script to share with others.

In order to control the external message as much as you can, you need to clarify the message internally first. Don’t just hope your customers will say the right things. Craft your messaging platform based on your brand and your authentic strengths and then bang the drum around those three main messages over and over again. Pretty soon, your customers will learn the script, too.

What is your customer script? What are the three main benefits you provide or things you want people talking about? Please share in the Comments!

The Seattle Freeze: How customer service differs by city

There are lists for the best cities to start a business and  the best place to be a pet.

But when I tried to find a list of “Best cities for good customer service” you know what I found? Zip. Nada. Survey geeks, get on this. Would be useful to know.

Why, you ask? Because I recently moved from Seattle back to the San Francisco Bay Area and I’ve had a massive epiphany about how customer service differs from region to region.

We’ve always inherently known this by which cities have the friendliest people. Having grown up in both Queens, New York and Columbus, Ohio, I saw first-hand how people carry certain stereotypes based on city. Most people tend to think Midwesterners are kind, honest, friendly and that New Yorkers are brash, loud and rude. There are some kernels of truths in this, but I’ve also seen the exact opposite. I guess when you’re classifying “good” versus “bad” customer service it also depends on the vibe with which you personally are most comfortable.  Personally, I like directness when it’s helpful to my decisions. I hate passive aggressiveness or saccharin sweetness because I view it as fake.

Lately, I’ve seen in sharp contrast the differences between customer service in Seattle versus San Francisco. And I’ve had this discussion with numerous people so I know it’s not just all in my own head!

I really liked living in Seattle. Truly. But one thing that always bothered me was the customer service quality in restaurants, shops, and supermarkets. To me, the service mantra seems to be one of tense tolerance rather than true customer appreciation.

This attitude can make a customer feel like you’re “bothering” them. When asking a waiter for Splenda instead of sugar, I could sense the “Really? Are you going to be that kind of customer?” Or walking into a boutique and asking for recommendations and being told, in a “well, duh” tone of voice, “It kind of just depends on what you like.”

I swear these are not one-offs. I had this experience over and over again, no matter how kind, patient or little trouble I tried to be. It actually seemed to get worse the nicer I tried to be – maybe that was irritating!

Some folks attribute this to a phenomenon known as the Seattle Freeze. Won’t explain it here, but check the link. When I learned of this about two years into my residence there, it was like something clicked. “Yes! That’s it! That’s what the strange under-the-surface tension is!” People in Seattle are indeed fun and kind – and I have a ton of great friends back there that I miss terribly and to whom I mean no offense. But customer service in Seattle often made me feel like I was in the movie Mean Girls or something: rolls of eyes, looks of slight annoyance or standoffishness and always wrapped with an exterior of passive-aggression and faux helpfulness  – so I suspect that when the tape was played back, I wouldn’t be able to really prove any specific wrongdoing. “What? I did what she asked and even smiled!” would be the defense, I’m sure. One of the best descriptions I’ve seen: The attitude is “have a nice day, somewhere else”.

Am I paranoid? Ridiculous? Maybe. But again, I’ve spoken to many folks who admitted the exact same feeling. Customer service reps seem to do as little as possible for you. There is no engagement, no connection. Just spend your money so I can get back to the more important thing I was doing before you arrived, seems to be the message.

Contrast this to where I am now. It’s been like releasing a huge breath I’ve been holding in for so long. Look, I’m not a Chatty Cathy and I like expediency when checking out or ordering food more than the next guy. But engage, smile, ask me something about my dog or my scarf. I feel like I’m surrounded by a hundred new friends every time I explore a new café or check out a new boutique. Maybe it’s the sunshine and abundance of Vitamin D or something, but people seem genuinely happy to help and it shows when they serve customers. Even if they may hate their job – or you – you might never know it.

Am I generalizing? Heck, yes, but really not by much. I’ve had more baristas, clerks, waiters and even office receptionists offer me a delightful experience in the month I’ve been back than in my 4+ years in Seattle. Up there, it was not hard to have your business stand out with friendly, engaging customer service – the bar was set pretty low. Here? There are so many positive vibes that if I have a bad customer service experience, it stands out as the exception, not the rule.

So what’s the point of this rant for you? No, it’s not to bash my former home which I still adore fondly. It’s to prove that you need to be aware of your competition across every vector and find ways to stand out. What is the customer experience for your target audience like among your competition? Ask people, do research, conduct a survey. If you live in a city known for dreadful customer service, this could be the easiest way to stand out from the pack.

By over delivering in an area of low expectations, you can really set your brand apart. Tweet this!

Photo Credit:

What do you think of customer service in your city (or Seattle!) How do you use customer service as a key differentiator? Please share in the Comments.

Do you judge wines by their labels? An adventure task…

While we are all taught not to judge a book by its cover, let’s get real. I’ve bought books, magazines, scented lotions, household cleaners (how can you resist Method’s packaging?) and yes, wine based solely on how the label looks.

I’m a marketing groupie. I admit it. I’m a sucker for cute, clever or crisp packaging.

As a former wine writer and still-active wine lover, I know that some gems are hidden in the ugliest bottles and even price does not necessarily guarantee “bottled poetry” But I’ve fallen in love with cheeky, well-designed wine labels over the years which enticed me to buy and try the product.

Nothing conveys a brand personality – and hints at the quality and delight of the wine experience bottled inside – like a wine label. And there are many diverse ones out there, all trying to communicate why they are good, how they are different and to stand out from the hundreds of options out there.

Your business needs to ensure its “wine label” stands out from the crowd. Can prospects tell what kind of product, service, or quality you offer right off the bat? If you don’t think visual identity or your website quality and design matters (“I offer amazing products/services. That is enough to convey my brain.”)  – think again. One stat suggests that in less than 10 seconds, you have the opportunity to lose or gain a valuable customer – just based on your website’s layout and visual appearance.

Your Slice of Adventure, should you choose to accept it:

Peruse the racks at a local wine shop or the wine aisle of your favorite supermarket.  Pick three vastly different wines based on their labels – don’t look at the price!! Just from the label, colors, font, copy – even the shape and size of the bottle – ask yourself four questions:

1) For what occasion would this wine be a good fit?
2) How does the wine taste?
3) Who is the winery’s ideal customer? Age, personality, lifestyle?
4) How much does the wine cost?

You will soon see in action how our immediate responses to visual cues tell a whole story that words never could. This is how people are judging your business: by your website, storefront, signage, product design. This is a powerful lesson in making sure all of your communication channels convey the right clear, consistent message that you intend.

And enjoy your wine. You didn’t think I’d skip the actual taste/experience test, did you? That’s the fun part.

PS, I’m also in love with unique wine/winery names, especially saucy ones. Here are some for your amusement:

Bonking Frog
Fat Bastard Wine
Spoiled Dog Winery
Kung Fu Girl, Boom Boom and The Velvet Devil from Charles Smith Wines

Please report back your findings below in the Comments – and of course tell us if you recommend the wine! Any faves you already have that you can share? Please do…

The “brand” of Women: Who’s responsible? What can we do?

Last night, a therapist specializing in women and families told me girls as young as 8 years-old are dieting. That’s right….8. When I was that age, I was worried about completing my Strawberry Shortcake doll set.

What the hell is happening?!

In the last few months, I’ve had my eyes opened to how the “brand” of women is represented in our world and it’s caused me some concern. It’s my belief that it should cause everyone concern, whether you have little girls – or just hope for a better functioning society in general. It scares me – but I do believe we can change things.

I blog often about how brands impact our perceptions. Business brands carry both logical and emotional weight to them; for example, you shop at Walmart for the lowest prices, But you may pay more for Tiffany’s Blue Box to enchant, romance and delight. Branding is the story that is told and impacts how we relate to that company, cause or candidate.

I’ve never been a big “feminist” per se. I was turned off in college and in my twenties by what I perceived to be a movement that seems to play the victim, blame others and bash men. As I mature, I now see that while the messengers may have alientated some, the intent of the message is indeed valid.

First,  I encourage you to see the documentary Miss Representation. It talks about media’s portrayal of women, femininity, sexuality and the like. One segment focused on how women politicians are talked about so offensively by the press versus male candidates – and when you see the collage of clips and sound bites, you will be shocked this stuff is being said on TV in the 21st century – it’s disgusting. Another segment discusses how women in visible positions, like journalists, are just perpetuating the sexism themselves.  Female reporters sporting 3-inch heels and short skirts, female anchors wearing low cut blouses and heavy makeup, etc.  FOX News seems the worst at perpetuating this trend. But even a positive role model like Katie Couric , when she looks back at old broadcasts and what she wore, laments if she unwittingly helped contribute to this trend.

Second, I saw this insighful post from my friend Bronwyn Saglimbeni over at Sharp Skirts. It’s her “5 Aha! Feminist Moments” from the recent TEDx Women conference. She talks about the time being now to embrace women’s issues because its no longer a “pet issue” and women now make up half the population. This stuff affects all of us, people! She also talks about new ways we need to celebrate “celebrity” with positive role models (which gives me a ray of hope when I get depressed about the Kardashian-infested world my nieces are growing up in).

Women’s issues are no longer about men bashing. It’s about equality, fairness and a new world order. “Around the world, old power structures are crumbling and something new is emerging,” says Bronwyn.  Equality for women creates beter communities – for women AND men. Even Afghan men are finding that when there is equal education and opportunity for women, there is less violence and crime in the community at large.

In my opinion, the “brand” of women pervasive in our media and culture today – one of catfighting wealthy housewives, vapid spoiled rich girls, and shallow sexy “journalists” – needs to change to catch up with the REALITY of who women really are in our world. This is one case where the “brand identity crisis”  – when the brand does not match the reality – is dangerous: I don’t feel like women in the media or entertainment worlds represent me or my intelligent, contributive and supportive female friends.

The problem is that there’s a war on two fronts: the sexualization of women physically, and the juvenilization of women mentally. Reports abound about the state of “photoshopping women” for magazine covers and H&M was recently lambasted for inserting real model heads on fake bodies for their ads. Reality TV shows women competing for husbands on The Bachelor and tearing each other’s hair out in catfights on Real Housewives. Who’s fault is all of this negative  imagery? Who is demaning it? Is it women ourselves, contributing to the problem every time we thumb through an US Weekly at the nail salon to see what the Kardashian’s are up to, complain about our thighs being too big, get a Botox shot or tune into watch brides fight over wedding dresses on reality TV? Or is the men controlling many of these media outlets? I honestly can’t say for sure….

Many people (including me in the past) would say, “Lighten up! It’s just entertainment and everyone knows it’s not real.” And I get that. I confess to watching mindless TV and reading tabloid mags when I just want to escape or de-stress – it does make your own life seem like a dream! But collectively, what are we doing? Shouldn’t we start to model the behavior we want for our own young girls, so they don’t grow up thinking they will only be judged by their bodies being a perfect size 4, or that their women friends should be viewed as competitor who will only stab them in the back?

What am I saying to my 6 year old niece if she hears me complaining about my weight or sees me watching such trash on TV? What is she to think? Little eyes and ears are watching and learning from us all the time – even when we think they are not. Don’t believe me? Just ask any parent who has slammed their hand in the door, cursed, and then had to live with their 4 year old shouting that same word over and over again for the next 3 months in front of mixed company!

So what can we do? These are just some of my ideas….

  • USE YOUR VOICE: See what the Miss Representation movement is doing to combat negative portrayals of women and spread articles and blogs via social media that talk about this issue.
  • START AT HOME: Explain to the young girls in your life (and I mean 5, 6, 7) that models in magazines are altered and what they means. Tallk with them about the images they see and what they think and start a conversation.
  • MODEL BEHAVIOR: Don’t obsess about your weight or diet in front of young girls – show them healthy eating habits and a healthy appreciation for their bodies. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t combat obesity, but do it from a place of health not “physical perfection.”
  • FIND ROLE MODELS: Find role models of women doing amazing things and set up interviews for the young girls in your life. Tell them about extraordinary women you read about in the news. Let them play with Barbie, or watch Disney princesses if they like (this was a fond part of my childhood, too) but also expose them to women in all professions. If you have a female congresswoman or senator, draft a letter with your young gal to her. If they don’t see positive role models, they won’t know what is possible.
  • PRAISE MIND AND BODY: Praise girls for their talent and intellect, not just their looks. And speaking of looks, help them accept their bodies for all their unique qualities and strengths as well.
  • And if you have young boys in your life? You should actually try all of the above as well.

Katie Couric said, “The media can be an instrument of change: it can maintain the status quo and reflect the views of the society or it can, hopefully, awaken people and change minds. I think it depends on who’s piloting the plane.”

What other ideas do you have to combat this negative brand image? Do you believe there is or is not a problem?Would love to hear from you in the Comments?

A brand wolf in sheep’s clothing

Amen, sister! I  am loving this controversial open letter that Sharp Skirts recently posted about ForbesWoman.  SharpSkirts courageously indicts this media outlet, even after ForbesWoman named them one of the top ten entrepreneurial sites for women.

Putting aside the important point Sharp Skirts makes about this purported “business publication” talking down to business women and assuming all they care about is beauty, fashion and gossip…..which is a very important one….I just love the brand lesson this teaches:

You will piss off your target customers if you promise one thing and deliver another.

You can’t go out into the world with a brand promise of ““a magazine and Web site for career-minded women who mean business” if you are going to bait and switch and provide sensational content just to garner eyeballs. Some of the headlines cited in the Sharp Skirts post:

Beauty and the Brood‘ – Oct. 30th piece on how women with more attractive facial features want to bear more children

Halloween Costume Dilemma‘ – Oct. 27th piece advising us not to dress slutty on Halloween

Not Everyone’s Cheering J.Crew Boss Jenna Lyons Lesbian Rumor‘ – Oct. 27th piece on how Lyons’ husband is feeling about her sexuality

7 Signs Your Shopping May Be Problematic‘ – Oct. 27th piece on how to tell if you’re handling your money irresponsibly

Are Women Turned On By Financial Risk?Oct. 26th piece on how money plays into women’s selection of a mate

And two more: “Should Kim Kardashian Return Her Engagement Ring?’ and ‘Why Most Women Will Never Become CEO.” 

I can’t say this anymore eloquently than what the Sharp Skirts blog post stated, so here you go:

“The ForbesWoman Twitter profile descriptor is, “a magazine and Web site for career-minded women who mean business.” So why are they writing about naughty Halloween costumes? Or our breeding and shopping habits? I increasingly feel like I’m reading a copy of Look magazine, circa 1957.

A chorus of boos from our Facebook group has greeted these articles, but Sharp Skirt Dana Van Nest said it best: “I thought Forbes was a trusted business magazine. Seems my opinion is out of date. That article is pure tabloid.” The article to which she was referring – well, pick your poison.”

Feel free to weigh in below about both this brand deception or the quality of content available to smart career women.