How Dad Influenced my Communication Style


My Dad spent decades in the US Air Force collecting and communicating US military intelligence. His communication style had a lot of influence over me. Now, before the oxymoron digs start flying, let me tell you, folks who deal in military intelligence have impressive communication skills. Which, to my eye, is evidence of impressive intelligence.

Here’s what my father’s communication style taught me.

The best communications are:

1. Brief

No chatter in cockpit,” I’ve heard Dad say (he flew B52s in the 60s).

When you’re at 30,000 feet and your starboard wingtip is 6 feet from Soviet airspace, or refueling in midair at 500 MPH by connecting with another aircraft flying 50 feet above you, (in wartime, in a storm, above the middle of the Pacific) the only thing that should ever come out of your mouth is relevant, useful information. I’ll talk more about relevance in a bit. The point here is to recognize the superfluous and kill it. Resist the temptation to speak in metaphors, add context or color, frame and re-frame and re-frame and then re-frame again (like we marketers just love to do).

Just the facts, Jack — that’s what Dad taught me. Who knew that one day I would grow up to write for this crazy thing called the Internet where every syllable — indeed every pixel counts? Dad’s minimalist style comes in handy when creating web content.

2. Strong

Here’s an example I like of brief, but strong. When the request came in (after it was decoded, of course): ENEMY AGENT COMING TO OUR SIDE. CAN YOU RETRIEVE @ 8°39′ N 16°51′ E OCT 2 13:00? Dad pulled out his charts and looked up the coordinates (somewhere in Africa — yes, the Cold War was fought on every grain of sand on this planet), made a flight plan, checked his watch, and responded with these two syllables: “CAN DO”.

What I like about this example is that while YES would have been fewer syllables, CAN DO is more affirmative. It gives the requester more confidence that his needs will be met. YES leaves a little room for interpretation … was that a YES with a heavy sigh? Was that a resentful YES? CAN DO just doesn’t have those problems.

3. Data Driven

We marketers don’t know from big data. The Military has the big data thing down. I would argue that militaries live, eat, and breathe little else. Can’t fight a war with out some serious big data. They certainly do not make decisions without first looking at data backwards and forward and upside down. Positions, velocities, ETAs, success probabilities, supply chain logistics, forecasting scenarios — and by the way, you have to have all of this data on your competi — I mean enemy, too, if you’re the military.

So when I was about 14 and asked Dad if he would buy me these awesome shoes I saw that afternoon at the mall and was going to positively die without, silently, Dad rose from his chair, walked into my room, opened the closet and began counting shoes. “One, two, three, four, five … eleven, twelve, thirteen. No, I will not buy you a new pair of shoes.”

Sort of leaves a poor girl without a leg to stand on, yes? Backing up your point of view with a bit of data is pretty compelling. Dad’s data was so good, he could even skip crafting a point of view altogether — he just let the data speak for itself. But then again, that was his brief style.

4. Relevant

Relevant communication means giving the right information at the right time. Here’s what happened one night at the dinner table after my sister discovered the Beatles. Seventeen at the time, she began to wax on about their pure genius, about how they elevated popular music and made it so supremely more sophisticated. As she satisfyingly chewed her pork chop with the full confidence that she’d delivered a brilliant argument for her point of view, Dad picked up his plate, walked into the kitchen and tunelessly began to sing “Why don’t we do-do it in the road?”

Over the sound of the water faucet, the clanking of dishes being loaded, “Why don’t we do-do it in the road… no one will be watching us, why-y don’t we do it in the road?”

Then, twisting the knife just a tad, In falsetto: “Why don’t we do it in the road?”

Brief, strong, data-driven and relevant, that’s Dad. Okay, also a flare for humor and dramatic impact. But isn’t it marvelous how he fit all that, too, into such pithy little sound bites? It was like I had someone training me how to communicate as a digital marketer all my life and didn’t know till they invented the Internet.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! Thanks for the stories!

The above first appeared in CMSWire as Lessons From Military Intelligence for Content Marketers.

Feeding the Internet Content Beast


Honey, it’s time!

I remember the night a friend came home from bar hopping and said all she could hear in the background was “”, “”. That was the late 90s. I remember the number of cars on the streets of San Francisco tripling overnight. 

Oops … false alarm

I looked into digital jobs, but didn’t understand the value of affiliate marketing or getting “web hits”. I didn’t understand where the money was supposed to come from. I sat out the internet’s shall we say, false labor and started a small business. When tech crashed, the streets of San Francisco positively dried up. The tech workers left, businesses shuttered, and you couldn’t swing a dead cat in this town without hitting an unemployed investment banker.


But the baby survived to term and was finally born for real. The internet came back in a big way in the early 2000s and I jumped on. I love emerging tech, I love having been in on the early days of web experiences, web analytics, email marketing, marketing optimization technology, social media, big data, content marketing and now content strategy.

What a growth spurt!

To my eyes, the internet is now an adolescent. We’re still not sure what it’s going to be when it grows up. What we do know, is that right now the internet is growing by leaps and bounds every day and it’s always hungry. The internet has an insatiable appetite for content. Content marketers must radically scale their efforts in order to remain relevant to customers—and to the search engines.

But there are terrific tools and resources to help us to do just that. Here are a few I’ve been using and have been super happy with.

What’s in my content marketing toolkit

SEMrush – keyword research, competitive ranking research. I use this tool to vet keywords on my list, decide whether to go after them and how much content I’ll need to start ranking on that keyword.

Google Analytics – tracking and analysis of organic, referral, and paid traffic volume and onsite behavior. I mostly work for startups that depend on this free tool. It’s always been fine for my needs.

CoSchedule – help with optimizing content titles and headlines

WritingBunny – outsourced writing. This resource has affordable articles, blog posts and white papers with a quick turn around time. I’ve been pleased with their work.

WordPress – my favorite CMS. I’ve used it across many clients and use it for my own site.

HubSpot – email marketing. Seems like most of my clients in the past used Marketo. Now, most of my clients use HubSpot. I like it better than Marketo for email marketing and reporting.

Facebook Advertising – building awareness, driving demand. Facebook advertising is inexpensive and their tool is very easy to use. I like the ability to micro-target by location, age and interests.

Google AdWords – pay-per-click advertising. Great for driving traffic to the site, testing messaging and keyword strategies, but have to pay attention to ROI to ensure you’re really getting the traffic you want.

The Corleone Family Brand Nation


I had the occasion to watch Godfathers Part I and II recently. Start to finish, without interruption. Although I’ve caught pieces of each many times over the years flipping through cable, I can’t say how long it’s been since I’ve watched the entire story unfold.

This time, it occurred to me that this is a story of watching the Corleone brand get built, achieve enormous influence, and eventually decline.

What happened?

Corleone Began as a Social Brand

We meet our brand visionary, Vito Corleone, at his daughter’s wedding—at the peak of his power—with  so many people packed onto the Long Island estate they’re crawling up the walls.

Yet there’s an intimacy here. This is a vibrant community of interconnected people, all feeling a strong sense of belonging to the Don—and because of this, to each other. The opening sequence of our story begins with an introduction to the Corleone brand nation.

But it’s not until Part II that we see the Corleone nation’s seed, its roots, how it was cultivated and why it flourished. Part II has always been my favorite of the two. Perhaps this is why.

The first most striking thing about Vito in the early years is that he’s an enormously social animal. Dropped at Ellis Island without connections or a word of English at age 9, by the time he’s a young adult, this man is dialed in. Another 30 years, and he’s a man of colossal influence.

“You ever need a favor, you come, we talk,” we hear the future Don as a young man again and again in the streets of early 20th Century New York. Vito knew how to run a social business. Building relationships with the grocers, the street vendors, his neighbors—perhaps the original Dale Carnegie, our Vito knows how to win friends and influence people.

 The Corleone Brand Delivered Excellent Experiences

But Vito knows it’s not just about cultivating awareness. The Corleone brand is undeniably about building strong relationships by meeting expectations and over-delivering in surprising ways. When a widow from the neighborhood petitions him to speak to her landlord and overturn an eviction, Corleone not only delivers, but also gets her rent lowered by $10 a month. When his business partners are squeezed by Don Fanucci, the Black Hand, Vito offers to get Fanucci to back down. Not only does he again deliver, he disposes of the Black Hand entirely, significantly changing the day-to-day experiences of not just his partners, but the entire neighborhood.

The Corleone Brand Essence:  Loyalty

The Corleone brand was built on a culture of service. With laser focus, Vito constantly considers the world from the customer point of view.  He doesn’t think about the expense of going out of his way to provide a service for the poor widow.  He takes on enormous risk by disposing of Fanucci to benefit the neighborhood.  He sees his actions an opportunity to build loyalty—to Vito, synonymous with brand equity.

And he’s right.  In Vito’s Little Italy years, we discover beautifully how loyalty becomes the Corleone brand essence and how magically it propels brand influence.

The Height of Corleone Brand Prowess

30 years on, Vito is still the essence of loyalty. In the opening scene of Part I, we meet Vito as he is petitioned by the local undertaker to do murder for vengeance. The Don asks the man why he should do this favor—the undertaker is not a Corleone customer and he’s offended the Don in the past.

In the end, Vito decides to do business with the undertaker because he’s in the habit of building relationships, building brand equity through loyalty. (Something that will come in very handy when he needs Sonny’s mutilated body cleaned up for the funeral.)  Vito seals the deal with Sicilian affection—a kiss, an embrace, reassurances that the requisite services will be provided.

Throughout both films, we hear the phrase again and again, “provide a service”.

The Corleone brand was built on a customer-centric, culture of service, grown from the heart of loyalty. In the mature full blossom of the Corleone brand, we then see Vito outside in the sunshine, enjoying the wedding party, smiling, dancing, mixing it up with his loyal customer base—his superfans.

Life is good for the Family.


Corleone Brand Erosion

But by the 1940s, the category has matured. The competitive landscape is fierce.  As power is transferred from the aging Vito to his eldest boy, Sonny, the Corleone brand goes adrift. Sonny is obsessed with power and stamping out the competition. His decidedly uncustomer-centric decisions are motivated by the promise of quick profit. Vito warns that Sonny’s interest in entering a new category—narcotics—will alienate their loyal customer base of politicians, judges, and police. Sonny doesn’t listen.

By the late 50s, Vito and Sonny are both dead. Younger son Michael is in now control and we see the great contrast between his and Vito’s brand stewardship. Markedly unsocial, Michael’s decisions are utterly centralized, informed through interaction with only with an anointed few from an ivory tower.  The few times we see him in public—at Anthony’s first communion party, in a Havana nightclub—he barely speaks and most certainly never smiles.

Michael Corleone’s key drivers are self-protection and dominance and this now becomes the Corleone projected brand image. He seems to have no relationships with his constituency.  In fact, he seems to have no relationships whatsoever.  His perspective on the subject of loyalty has become fully warped, centered on loyalty gotten, not given—encapsulated poignantly in the new Don Corleone’s order that his own brother, poor Fredo, is murdered.

In the final sequence of this great tragic story of the rise and fall of an iconic brand, we see Michael alone on the Tahoe estate, devoid of character, standing for nothing, remembering his early years.  We flash to a scene back in New York at the dinner table when a young Michael tells older brother Sonny that he’s enlisted in the army.

Sonny is furious and demands to know why. “I want to serve my country,” young Michael replies quietly.

Slow dissolve and we are back with middle-aged Michael in Nevada who for all his wealth and power is quite clearly an empty shell. We can’t help but wonder with him, “What would the Corleone brand be now if only the culture of service had been preserved?”

This blog originally appeared on the Lithium customer community.

“You Cannot Make Friends with the Rock Stars”

screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-4-13-09-pmIn Almost Famous, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs said something I’ve always loved. “You have to make your reputation as a journalist on being honest and unmerciful”.

I’m going to expand on that. If you want to be a real thinker, you must have unmerciful observations. 

Read the NYT with the same unmerciful eye as you would the rantings of a conspiracy theorist. Listen to Fox News with the same skepticism as you have for NPR–and vice versa. Watch CNN with the same critical eye you put to The Enquirer. Treat a White House press release with suspicion equal to  your three-year-old’s explanation of why the cat is inside the piano. Look not for what is right with the messages you see everyday across social media. Look for what is wrong with them. Listen without mercy.

We think today’s media is so ruthless and unmerciful. But the opposite is true. All you and I are hearing in the media are the voices of those who have made friends with the rock stars. The sooner we observe, rather than adulate, the closer we will get to truth.

This clip is not short (2:25), but it’s a wonderful treatise on the subject of bias. You can check it out here.

Added funny tip: Each time Hoffman says “rock ‘n roll”, substitute it with “politics” in your head.


Delivering Great Social Customer Experiences—You Gotta Be Loved!

imgres-1Just wrapped an intense but very exciting project with Lithium—the release of a new survey in partnership with the CMO Council of both consumers and marketers on their use of social media. Findings analysis, a full white paper, an infograph and a webcast—whew! It was a full sprint all the way, but I admit that’s what I love about social media marketing. It’s a fast moving train.

The survey findings underscored what we at Lithium have always known—that consumers are social, that they want and like to interact with brands through social media and that they respond to compelling social customer experiences.

But we learned a great deal as well—for instance, that all the claims that social media marketing is good for word of mouth marketing have whopping figures behind them. A full 80% of consumers say that because of social media, they are willing to try new things based on a friend’s advice. For me, this was pretty pivotal.

It’s one thing when marketers claim they are getting word of mouth advantages from social media. It’s another thing entirely when an overwhelming majority of consumers state outright that social media influences their purchase behavior. That’s some powerful data.

CMO Katy Keim was featured on the webcast and it was the perfect finale for me as I believe she has what I call the 3 As: Authenticity, Authority, and Acumen. She really puts her finger on it. And she’s thinking several years ahead. (Have a look at her deck on Slideshare—How to Get Social Business Advantage in 2012).

Yep, social works, says Katy. Maybe not all brands know that yet, but they sure will soon. And if you’re going to be competitive in the social media marketplace, you’d better make sure you’re not just connecting with your social customers, you’d better make sure you’re connecting with them in the right way.

At this year’s Lithium customer conference, LiNC, Katy introduced the concept that marketers can’t just run around collecting likes from their social customers. They have to think about building brand nations—vibrant online communities of passionate social customers. Because, after all, says Katy, “Who wants to be liked when we can be loved!”

I ran across the above clip recently from an Elia Kazan film that was way ahead of its time—A Face in the Crowd. Certainly puts to mind what our recent survey revealed and perfectly distills Lithium’s position on what marketers should do about it.

Right Brain – Left Brain Integration

right_brain_integrationLast fall, it was data-driven marketing I declared as the new black when I cited a recent NYT article glamorizing what had traditionally been the realm of geeky good with numbers types (like, ahem, yours truly). Data-driven marketers, it said, are a hot new business persona that looks something like Madison Ave. meets Wall Street: Don Draper meets Gordon Gecko. At last! Those who actually enjoy manipulating spreadsheets, know the difference between a mean and a median, love to talk about outliers and statistical confidence, experimental design and hypothesis-driven adaptive strategies could come out. “Hi my name is Bonnie and I’m a dataholoic,” I could finally admit—and become fashionable!

This fall, I’ve discovered that the right brain is the new black and I’m just as thrilled. “Hi my name is Bonnie and I’m a closet creative,” I can proclaim with dignity. What’s hot this year? Emotion, context and meaning. Story telling, passion, values and experience—all very right brain and very, very fun.

But wait – am I a dataholic or a closet creative? Could I perhaps be both? A great way to find out is to ask yourself is, “Do I think in words (analytical/left brain) or pictures (creative/right brain)?”

My assessment is that I am both. I had to stop and think when that question was put to me recently. I didn’t have an immediate idea as to whether my thought patterns were language-driven or pictorial. I was told that those who stumble over this question and hesitate to choose are indeed both—equally right and left brain oriented.

It seemed a tough pill to swallow. For my left brain, anyway. It likes definition, categories, simple and neat explanations. Pondering upon this, I lamented that I can never claim complete loyalty to either side of my brain, destined as I am to live in both hemispheres, born of mixed-hemisity, bi-hemisual (don’t you love coining a neologism? very right-brain), living half my consciousness in linear analysis, words, language and the other in non-linear synthesis, pictures, and possibilities.

But then my right brain remembered a catch phrase I heard a year or two ago, “We need to stop chasing either/or and start reaching for and.” And I realized: Being bi-hemisual means I can don which ever is in season—right brain or left—and look equally as fetching.