Monthly Archives: June 2009

Personify or Perish

New from Geoff:
At the end of my last post, I casually threw out the idea that people relate to people not organizations, and accordingly, organizations must take on a personality of their own or risk being perceived as ordinary.

But why is this the case?

Because personification is how humans go about understanding inanimate objects. We tend to personify things that we feel the need to have an emotional bond with. We name our cars, think of our boats as women, and treat our pets like children.

My mother used to guilt me into wearing certain sweaters when I was a kid by telling me they felt sad because “they never get to be worn like the other ones.”

We also personify what we don’t fully understand as a way to be rational about what scares us. We name hurricanes and atomic bombs. We take abstracts like God, death, and the devil and anthropomorphize them into concepts that we can deal with like the grim reaper and Mephistopheles.

You’ll notice that when we lend human personality traits to objects we are celebrating their individuality, uniqueness, and importance. By naming your convertible and talking about it like a woman, you are establishing that it’s different than all other cars on the road and that it’s of emotional importance to you. Conversely, when we want to dehumanize someone, we treat them like objects and strip them of their individuality and importance. Essentially, we un-personify them. Racists dehumanize people by saying “they all look the same” and sexists treat women like objects.

Companies build brands with human characteristics to help us find a way to relate to their products and to differentiate from the competition – essentially celebrating their corporate individuality.
NPO’s and causes are don’t sell products to which we can assign human traits, so what to do? We can sell the culture the way social movements do.

The paradoxical brilliance of social movements is that they’re able to build strong, unified cultures by encouraging individuality. Freedom of expression solidifies culture not the opposite. Aside from the traditional channels of expression for social movements like language, art, and press, web 2.0 has given us the “golden opportunity” to put the onus on all organization members to lead conversations and energize the cause. All members should be encouraged to contribute to blogs, share videos, and tweet about the cause…and it must unfiltered and authentic. Encourage self-expression through any and every channel.

Let your people build the organization’s personality for you. Without it, you’ll just be another inanimate object.

– For more information on building your internal culture visit BRANDEMiX.
– To join a free webinar on communicating the personality of your brand RSVP to

Create Ambiguity, Not Certainty

Geoff Writes:
rosa_parksMy last post, regarding using stories to inspire movements by creating dissonance in people’s minds, created a lot of commentary.

Here’s what I’ve heard:

“How exactly do you create the uncertainty that makes for a provocative moral? Why does uncertainty make people act? Perhaps this can work for a social movement, but not for an organization.”

I think it’s time for a case study.

There is one story, which is credited for starting a social movement that every American knows. It’s the story of an innocent seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama who was too tired to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger and was consequently arrested. Rosa Parks’ story inspired the black citizens of Montgomery to boycott the bus system, which went out of business within a year, and ultimately compelled the Supreme Court to rule that segregated busing was illegal.

This story became a rallying cry of the civil rights movement and still permeates our culture to this day as a symbol of the effect one, ordinary person can have on society. However, the story, as it is recounted, is not entirely true. Rosa Parks was no innocent victim or ordinary person. She was in fact a long time activist and NAACP member, and her refusal to get up had nothing to do with tired feet. It was completely premeditated by her and the NAACP leadership that put her up to it. They had planned to use Claudette Colvin as the poster child for this event, but abandoned it when she became pregnant.

Why pick Rosa Parks? She was the perfect fit for the lead role in this story. A middle-aged, married, church-going, black woman would create just the right dissonance – the quintessential ordinary person acting extraordinarily.

This event and the subsequent movement it inspired, was staged by an organization. It was not the impulsive, unbridled movement as it’s framed to be (nor are many other movements). I therefore believe the argument that organizations are incapable of producing movements akin to those of organic origins does not hold water. It’s just a matter of how the story is framed.

So why did the NAACP need Rosa Parks? Why did the story have to be about an ordinary person rather than a known hero? Because it was necessary to create the uncertainty (dissonance) required to make others act.

Stories, used properly, raise more questions than they answer. Who is this Rosa Parks? What made this ordinary woman act so out of character? Am I capable of that? What’s going on in Alabama that’s making ordinary people riot? Is there something I should be doing?

If Martin Luther King Jr. had been on that bus no one would have been surprised. It would have been completely rational. When people use their rational brains they’re less likely to act. If you activate their “reptilian brain” or their emotional brain, they move. The same principle is applied to war propaganda. If you tell a story that gets people thinking rationally about the realities of war are they likely to hop into a trench?

Lastly, the NAACP needed Rosa Parks because people don’t respond to organizations…they respond to people. Companies and organizations are undefined and soulless…at least until they take on a personality of their own (read: brand).

Give your organization personality. Are you raising questions or just providing answers? Don’t be afraid to create uncertainty. If people are going to connect with your cause they must see the dissonance between the world as they see it and the injustice that you’re fighting, rather than an abstract “we’re fighting obesity” type of statement.

For help framing your story go to BRANDEMiX. To join a free webinar on communicating the personality of your organization please RSVP to

Recruiting Goes Social? Not So Fast!

I took my recent Social Recruiting presentation out from the virtual closet to freshen it up, since I’ll be presenting it again on June 23.

As it turned out, I really didn’t have much to update.

Surfing to see if there was anything new I may have missed over the past few months, I came across the newly released Arbita-Recruitment-Genome-Report. According to the Executive Summary, 80 percent of the 482 respondent companies still do not have an effective strategy for using SEM, and less than half have an effective strategy for social networks.

Developed by Arbita to delineate the best practices in recruitment, the survey is chock full of other kernels such as:

* Only 38% of survey participants feel they have the right metrics and reports to support their recruitment marketing decisions.
* 81 % feel Internet sourcing is a major part of their recruitment strategy, yet almost half confess feel their team has inadequate training on Internet research and sourcing.
* Slightly over half (55%) of respondents conduct direct marketing to candidates. What are the other half doing?

Slightly discouraged, I downloaded Deloitte LLP’s 2009 survey entitled “Social networking and reputational risk in the workplace.” From the Executive Summary I learned that almost 70% of participating companies still haven’t integrated social networking with their business strategy. 58% of executives agree that reputational risk and social networking should be a board room issue, but only 15% say it actually is. No matter. The study goes on to say that 49% of employees admit that a company policy would not change how they behave online anyway.

Surely YouTube must have some great examples of companies using streaming videos to recruit talent. But when I went there to find some samples I had no luck- I put in “jobs” as a search key. My results came back with Steve Jobs, Family Guy and a bit on Barrack. “Recruiting” got me football, a Google Recruitment Video from 3 years ago and the Czech Army’s recruitment message.

You will argue that there are a lot of new recruiting methods available such as utilizing LinkedIn and Facebook to market opportunities. And yes, I agree. LinkedIn offers free and paid products that make it easy to network in and among your circles of choice. On it, I’ve seen such selfless acts as HR professionals using their profiles to promote openings instead of themselves. And Facebook offers inexpensive “buys” to reach target groups. I also agree that Twitter is a great way to broadcast job opps as well. Assuming you have a following who has a following.

But to truly excel at Social Recruiting, one needs to build relationships. It requires a commitment and investment– one person tasked to “making it happen” instead of a “happenstance” method. And there needs to be a continuous, brand-aligned, multi-tiered approach. Unlike a job board, you can’t get traction in a day.

How many are doing this? I bounced onto to do a national job search of company’s looking to hire such a person. Under “Social Network Community Managers” I found 2 openings; under “Social Media Marketing Manager” there was 1. However, there were more than a few Social Media Intern opportunities. Draw your own conclusions.

In another recent survey, JobVite said that 66 % of their surveyed respondents who used social networks for recruiting reported that they had successfully hired a candidate who was identified or introduced through an online social network.

Hired a candidate? Hope they didn’t need to hire 2 of them.

I do know there are great companies doing wonderful work in building support through blogging, tweeting, alumni groups and employee generated Facebook pages. They are providing experiential connections and building brand equity that will serve them well.
But for those who may not have taken their first small steps yet, don’t worry. You’re not alone.

As it turned out, I really didn’t have much to update in my presentation.

Take the poll:

Recruiting on Social Networks has been very effective for my organization(survey)

Is Your Story The Same Old Story?

red_riding_hoodIn my last post, I began to discuss the importance of storytelling in turning a cause into a social movement. Movements use stories to instigate action, not just attention. So how can we use stories to transform passive donors into engaged activists? There’s a formula. This is part 1.

The 4 basic components of a story are: a setting, characters, a plot, and a moral. The setting and characters are supposed to be familiar to us – we should be able to relate to them. We know what a dark and stormy night looks like and we know how an aging but wily detective acts. Conversely, the plot is supposed to shock us. An unfamiliar conflict arises in a familiar setting. Aliens invade earth, an enormous shark attacks a placid beach, a wolf eats your grandmother. These are the stories we remember.

Here’s the point: The greater the dissonance between the familiar setting and the surprising plot, the greater the impact of the moral.

That’s why we’re fascinated by stories of “normal” people acting extraordinarily. That’s why we love books like “Chicken Soup For The Soul” and why we can’t stop watching movies like “Alive.” We can truly identify with the “everyman” characters in these stories but are shocked by their actions.

We are biologically designed to be this way. Our brain uses our 5 senses to constantly survey the landscape, pick up on patterns, and use them to anticipate what will happen next in order to keep us out of danger. It’s when this “guessing machine” is broken that all sorts of alarms go off in your body – i.e. adrenaline. Have you ever asked someone what happens next in a horror movie? Humans don’t like uncertainty and that’s what makes us take action.

This is of course how advertising works. In a 30 second story they create a familiar backdrop and then throw in something utterly out of the ordinary. A linebacker suddenly tackles your co-worker or a car suddenly totals your VW.

One of the best recent examples of this principle of dissonance being applied to cause marketing is the Truth campaign aimed at lessening teen use of cigarettes. The agency that created the campaign, CP+B, first determined a fundamental trait that all teens relate to: rebellion against authority. Coincidentally, being iconoclastic is a main cause of smoking in the first place so they knew any ad that preached the negative consequences of smoking, no matter how gruesome or evocative, would be dismissed like every other admonition coming from elders.

Instead, they used that trait to provoke ire for a different authority figure: big tobacco. Each TV spot would start the way typical cigarette ads would – cowboys on a cattle ranch or skydivers getting ready for a rush (the familiar setting). Except, instead of skydivers or cowboys there were body bags (the dissonance). The ads summoned a familiar emotion and then broke teens’ guessing machines. 66% of teens who were exposed to these ads were more likely to quit – a shocking success.

There are two components to applying this to your own causes.

1. You must find that critical insight – the human truth that links the followers of your cause. It may be a need for rebellion or it could be a feeling of duty to protect animals, but this insight must be unique to your constituency. This is, in effect, your brand.

The best way to uncover this insight is to do some qualitative research. Figure out what emotions people associate with your cause. Figure out what similarities your employees share. Or hire reserach experts like BRANDEMiX 😉

2. Once the insight is determined, figuring out how to frame your story becomes very clear. You must create uncertainty in the world and let people figure out how best to resolve it. Those that are affected will join your cause.

Check back next week for part of 2 of using stories to inspire action.

Campus recruiters hope to stay in touch

From the Financial Times and then to Bruce and onto me and the world:

Ernst & Young’s “Your World Your Vision” campus competition, which asked college students to submit proposals for education and environment community projects, made quite an impact on Samantha Ma, a new graduate of theUniversity of Calgary . “[It] was attention grabbing, and it made me think, ‘This is definitely the firm for me,’” Ms Ma says.

Traditionally, campus competitions have proved an effective way of attracting talent. Such promotional efforts may seem unnecessary in the current economic climate as graduates fight for a reduced number of places – Ernst & Young, the professional services firm, has cut the number of graduates hired by 11 per cent compared with last year.

Employers expect to hire 22 per cent fewer new graduates from the college class of 2009 than the previous year, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers in the US. Hiring for new MBAs is also expected to decline 50 per cent compared with last year, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council, the industry body for business schools.

Yet, while hiring of college graduates and new MBAs may be down, companies such as Ernst & Young are coming up with creative ways, such as campus competitions, to build their brand in the minds of potential future employees. Previous downturns have taught companies that if they halt graduate recruitment altogether, they will have an insufficient talent pipeline when the economy improves.

Master Burnett, managing director at Dr John Sullivan and Associates, a human resources advisory company based in California, says: “After 9/11, a lot of companies cut their college recruiting budgets entirely, and today there is a big empty space in those organisations [where middle managers and future leaders ought to be]. They don’t want to make the same mistake again.”

Companies will also risk falling behind on innovation because they will have a dearth of employees who understand new technologies, younger consumers and emerging trends, says Ronald Wilcox, a professor of business administration at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia.

“There is just no substitute for hiring young people,” he says. “A 25-year-old’s experience is going to be different from a 60-year-old’s experience. They know how the younger demographics think.”

In the past, companies hosted networking receptions on campuses. But with recruitment budgets slashed and fewer jobs available, they are more likely to build a presence through educational club events or on the speaking circuit.

Wendy Tsung, executive director of MBA career services at Emory University’sGoizueta Business School , says: “Even though the company may not be actively recruiting, they can be in the classroom. They are getting the company name out there. They are doing it to continue their presence in the minds of students so they don’t have an uphill battle when the economy improves.”

In lieu of full-time jobs, companies are offering internships and contract work. These positions come unpaid or with a stipend, and the company saves money by not paying benefits.

Would-be employees benefit as well as employers, according to Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at Winter Wyman, the Boston-based staffing firm.

“In a tough market, a company will try to hold off hiring as long as it can, until it can’t hold off any longer,” he says. “There are certain spots it needs to fill and candidates who are already interning there [will have a good shot at those jobs].”

Employers are also staying in touch with prospective hires via social media, such as Facebook, and LinkedIn, the professional networking site.

Adrienne Graham, who runs a recruitment consulting firm based in Atlanta, says: “Companies are using social media to engage candidates they want to hire but can’t because of budgetary constraints.”

Rebecca Brooks, who owns a PR agency in New York, has taken to “tweeting” job advertisements to her followers on Twitter, the free mini-blogging service. “Usually, I’d go to a recruiter, but in this environment I don’t want to pay $10,000 plus,” says Ms Brooks, who has been inundated with responses to her tweet. “Yesterday, I got 30 résumés at lunch.”

Other companies keep in contact with job candidates the old-fashioned way: a phone call or a meeting over a cup of coffee. Marie Artim, assistant vice-president for recruiting at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which historically has been one of the largest recruiters of college graduates in the US, says the company will this year hire 8,000, down 500 from last year. “We’re not without jobs, but it’s more competitive this year,” she says.

Enterprise has a “high touch hiring process”, she says. “If we want to hire someone we meet through campus recruiting, every time we’re back on that campus, we invite them to coffee, or to an event [even if there is no position open at the time].” she says. “We are trying to engage them and get them excited.”

Although some companies are still trying to cultivate candidates for jobs in the downturn, it is an employer’s market – and will be for some time. Emily McLellan, vice-president at Glocap Search, which specialises in financial services recruiting, says: “Ultimately, the onus is on the candidate to stay in touch.”