Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Smart Marketing: Beyond Selling Products


by Keith Yancy

Not long ago, Josh Bradley, an acquaintance of mine (via LinkedIn) sent me a message, asking me to give him my reaction to his blog post, “Can Smart Marketing Sell Anything?” (http://corporategraffiti.com/can-smart-marketing-sell-anything/).  In short, Josh argues that even poor ideas or products can be effectively marketed, if in fact the marketing strategy is smart and clever enough.  He cites several examples of smart marketing selling less-than-stellar ideas or products, including lousy movies like The Human Centipede, Bitch brand wine, and even the Iraq War.

My reaction?  Josh is absolutely right, of course.  Damn near anything can be marketed, and if done well and convincingly, someone — or many someones — will plunk down good money to buy it.  The famous quote (incorrectly attributed to P.T. Barnum) that “There’s a sucker born every minute,” is famous for a reason: it’s true.  Pet rocks, Chia Pets, battery-powered pumpkin carving knives (don’t ask)… someone will buy it, if the “sell” is effective. 

Good salespeople know this instinctively.  A good salesperson’s greatest attribute is his/her ability to determine what’s important to the customer and show how their product meets the customer’s wants and needs.  Marketing operates basically on the same principle — appealing to customer fear, or altruism, or even sense of humor.  The trick is to find the best approach and make your product stand out from the competition. 

Obviously, Josh’s position in this argument is pretty strong.  The only thing I would add to his perspective, however, is this truth really extends beyond marketing.  Josh tips his hat to this fact himself with his mention of the Iraq War, and included a description of how Colin Powell effectively “marketed” the need to go to war, despite the fact that evidence later refuted the presence of weapons of mass destruction.

Since Josh started down the road to a “broader view” of marketing, allow me to go the rest of the way: Bad ideas, cruel ideas, stupid ideas, even deadly ideas have been and continue to be “sold” to people every day.  Consider the fact that many of the “assumptions” in history were once ideas that were, in a real sense, marketed to those who would listen, believe and buy into them.  Women are less intelligent/capable than men; black people are less than/inferior to white people; celebrities are somehow smarter/wiser/better than non-celebrities are just a few examples.  The Nazis were expert marketers and propagandists of their ideology, which ultimately paved the way for millions of people to be exterminated while the local populations not only showed indifference, but in many instances, participated in the process.

At the core of all this — whether it be smart marketing or effective propaganda — is the effective use (or manipulation) of words and language.  In fact, I believe that words and language are the most powerful weapons in the human arsenal to motivate and convince others.  Just as propaganda can lead to great human failures, words and rhetoric can inspire people to fight for moral reasons (think Allies in World War II), stand up for civil rights (I read Martin Luther King’s speeches, in part, for the sheer brilliance of his writing) and champion the causes of the poor, sick, oppressed and powerless among us. 

In other words, language is incredibly powerful, and when the right combination of people, ideas and language comes together, the power of that combination can sell almost any idea, at least to some people.  Show me the greatest marketing campaigns in history, and I’ll show you that each of these campaigns were made by talented people with a powerful idea and the language/strategy to sell it. 

The power of persuasion is merely a person’s ability to sell his/her ideas.  Marketing is this attribute focused in a business context.  The best politicians, activists, and religious leaders instinctively understand this and are capable of selling their ideas to the public, sometimes with good motives… and sometimes not. 

Other factors, of course, may influence a customer’s thinking, including product placement, price, packaging, etc.  And again… these factors can apply beyond marketing to any persuasive exercise.  Leaders, prophets, and dictators understand the value of “theater” — that is, dramatic displays that underscore their message to great effect.  The next time you see a single mother or a wounded veteran pointed out at a State of the Union address, recognize that this is simply a President using examples to “sell” his ideas or policies.

Can smart marketing sell anything?  Yes, Josh, it most certainly can, and does.  Whether that “thing” is a product, an ideology, or even a point of view.  And being a “smart marketer” in any avocation — whether it be in business, politics, law, whatever — is a talent that everyone values, whether they recognize it as such or not.

Thanks, Josh, for inviting me to share my thoughts on the subject.

Until next time… 🙂

On the eighth day, God made a politician.


Political-Podium

by Keith Yancy

I couldn’t resist.

Watching the recent Ram Truck ad (click this link to see it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMpZ0TGjbWE) and hearing the unmistakable, melodic voice of Paul Harvey inspired me to create my own version of his speech.  I wish Harvey could read it with that wonderful voice and style of his.  Not really sure why, just felt like writing this and having some fun with it.

And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, I need a source of frustration — so God made a politician.

God said I need somebody willing to take both sides of an issue, argue passionately for and against the same principles, have lunch, take both sides of an issue again, pause for a photo-op, eat dinner then go to a political rally and stay past midnight reminding people of how you enjoy spending evenings with your family — so God made a politician.

I need somebody who won’t shy away from promoting family values yet brave enough to sleep with his own staff members; somebody to protest loudly, cave meekly, talk endlessly while saying nothing, proclaim your individuality while never breaking ranks with his or her political party, then tell news reporters you’re too busy to grant an interview or answer tough questions — so God made a politician.

God said I need somebody willing to fight day and night for the middle class, and watch it wither because of unemployment and higher taxes, then dry her eyes and vote for tax breaks for the rich.  I need someone who can ignore a multi-trillion-dollar growing deficit, let bankers cheat people out of their homes and savings, kiss strangers babies and hug their children while voting to cut spending for their education, refuse to take a position on difficult issues while introducing symbolic and unnecessary legislation to appear patriotic — so God made a politician.

God had to have someone public enough to accept donations from taxpayers, charities and companies, yet private enough to spend those donations to pay for his mistresses, vacations and hobbies — so God made a politician.

God said I need somebody shameless enough to call political opponents names, yet outraged and indignant when those same opponents respond in kind.  Who will smile and nod with those who agree with him the same way he does with those who do not.  It had to be somebody who would dodge and demure and not give direct answers; somebody to talk, balk, gawk, and walk in parades and shake hands and give high-fives and pat backs and nod wisely and make bold proclamations and sincere apologies and self-righteous denials all in a 30-minute span of time, and do it day after day until their 8-week recess starts.  Somebody who can rally the base and generate voter turnout with the soft, strong bonds of empty promises and finger-pointing; who would laugh and then sigh, and reply with smiling eyes when her daughter says she wants to spend her life doing what Mom does… so God made a politician.

Whatever you do, this was intended to be a joke — it’s not meant to be partisan, nor does it reflect my true opinion of politicians (though it’s not that far off).  Perhaps it leans a bit left, but I’m well aware that Democrats and Republicans are far more alike than they are different.

Until next time… 🙂

200: Another example from the city of self-destruction


Ever wonder what “major homicides and shootings” looks like? This. But only for the last 75 days. 200+ incidents, 200 protesters, 0 progress.

by Keith Yancy

Ever make a mental connection that, once inside your head, you can’t seem to forget?

A few days ago, there was an article in our local newspaper about a political rally in a Detroit park called Belle Isle.  Obviously, this park is an island on the Detroit River, and like many landmarks in Detroit, was once beautiful.  It’s now — again, like many landmarks in Detroit — largely falling apart.  Bathrooms renovated only a couple of years ago are shuttered due to lack of funds.  An aquarium that should be a wonderful attraction for tourists and citizens shuttered due to lack of funds.  Roads that lately have been used for Grand Prix racing have huge potholes and repair issues (even during the race) due — you guessed it — to lack of funds.

Well, three Detroit Council members (try not to snicker) held this rally to save Belle Isle from the state, which offered to let Detroit retain ownership while negotiating a 99-year lease for maintenance, upkeep, etc.  The local newspaper described it this way: “About 200 city residents and supporters sent a resounding message to state leaders Wednesday: Keep your hands off Belle Isle.”

What a joke.

Let me be clear: what’s NOT a joke are citizens who care, and I believe Detroiters should have a say in what happens on Belle Isle.  I can even respect the fact that 200 Detroiters oppose state intervention for Belle Isle’s preservation.  I don’t agree with them, but I respect their right to their opinion.

No, the joke here — or rather, jokes — are these:

  • The silly newspaper article, first, for declaring 200 people — from a city of around 700,000 residents — to be a “resounding message” of anything.  For the junior journalist at the Detroit News who whipped up that little puff of hot air, that represents exactly .0003% of the Detroit population — and I rounded that number UP. 
  • The utterly lame and incompetent three City Council members, second, for showing the world the power of their political and social influence by focusing their collective might to rally .0003% of the population to their so-called “rally.”  For good measure, these three — Kwame Kenyatta, Joann Watson and Brenda Jones — put an ideological cherry on top of this mess by describing themselves as the “just say no trio.”  This mentality, one that is rampant on the embarrassment that is the Detroit City Council, can be summed up thusly: “Leave your money at the door, go away and let us mismanage it like we have done for the past 40 years.  Repeat as needed.” 
  • And, finally, the complete absence of alternative ideas to save the park from further decay.  In a city that cannot keep streetlights functioning, cannot pay its bills, cannot even demolish burned out homes (with federal funds that risk being lost due to lack of use), what alternative ideas does those like the “just say no trio” have to offer?  The only one they could come up with was — you guessed it — having the state give them money and provide maintenance and upkeep while allowing Detroit politicians to have overall control.  Given their horrific track record and “it would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic” leadership, why would anyone give that Council any money for anything?

This episode is just a glimpse at the total circus that is Detroit city politics.  Multiply this in number and scale and extend it for decades, and you can understand why Detroit has such incredible problems, and why the city has fallen so far from what it once was.

So… what was that mental connection again?

It was this: just before I read this story, I found an interactive map of Detroit in the Detroit News.  A map that showed, by location, all of the “major homicides and shootings” committed inside the city between May 14 — MAY! — and the end of July.  (Is there such a thing as a “minor” homicide or shooting?)  You can see it here: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/99999999/SPECIAL01/120606001

And, by my count, for every person who bothered to endure the “just say no trio” at Belle Isle, there’s more than one shooting or murder in Detroit.  And that’s just in the last 75 days or so.

I’m still wondering why I connected these two stories, but I think it’s because I’m so incredibly frustrated with politics in Michigan and Detroit.  It’s so bad, so short-sighted, so divisive that we not only can’t seem to help each other anymore, we can’t even agree if help is needed… in a city that’s witnessed over 21,000 murders since 1969.  21,000!  Trust is virtually gone, the political parties are an embarrassment, the so-called “jewels” of the city rot and crumble while political dullards point fingers, and progress seems further away than ever before.  How bad is it?  Reading the comments in local political stories, and you’ll find a lot of people HOPING for bankruptcy, and many who sum up their despair like this recent three-word comment: “Let Detroit rot.”

Maybe that’s why I’m open to the idea of Emergency Managers — individuals appointed by the governor to have near-absolute political power in cases of municipal bankruptcy.  As much as I’m concerned about the seeming inconsistency with democratic process, I’m increasingly convinced that local governments in Detroit, Benton Harbor and elsewhere — specifically, the incompetents and even criminals elected in these cities — have failed so completely, for so long, that such a drastic “reset button” measure like an Emergency Manager appointment is the last alternative to bankruptcy court.  These politicians have failed the people, and there are no political leaders (see the “just say no trio” above) who have the vision, intelligence, courage and political independence to make the hard decisions. 

I don’t care what party they’re from, what color they are, what gender or sexual orientation they are — just find people who will DO THE JOB and be a leader.  And if it means such a person assumes the temporary role of Emergency Manager, so be it.

200 protesters.  200 “major homicides and shootings” since May 14.  To the journalist at the Detroit News: if you’re looking for a resounding message, 200 “major homicides and shootings” is a real resounding message… a message that the days of “just give us money and leave” politics is simply another verse in Detroit’s 40-year road-to-oblivion dirge.  A message that it’s time for the rotten local, regional and state politicians to — at last — drop off the political tree once and for all, and for local and state government to work together to benefit the citizens, city and state.

Stop fighting about control and ownership when you’re on the brink of bankruptcy and the forced sale of city assets.  You’re holding a losing hand in this game of political poker, and it’s time to accept it and make the deals and compromises needed to put Detroiters first and re-build the city.  Otherwise, you’ll be hearing some new “resounding messages” from an Emergency Manager, or in bankruptcy court.  And your power, what little there is, will be gone.

Perhaps — gasp — it’s even time for Detroiters and the suburbs to admit that they need each other, and accept the fact that we need solutions that help both Detroiters and suburbanites.  Wake up and smell the coffee: suburbanites enjoy the benefits of Detroit’s sports teams, landmarks (DIA!) and businesses… just like Detroiters enjoy the shopping, landmarks and businesses in the suburbs.  Anyone who thinks we’re not all mutually dependent upon each other is fooling themselves.

Until next time… 😐

20 Opinions of An Average American Voter


by Keith Yancy

Nowadays, there’s nothing quite as controversial as politics.

Politics, whether it’s at a national, state or local level, seems to be a very, very touchy subject these days.  It’s one thing to disagree with strangers, but when you disagree with friends — and even family members — tempers can run hot. 

But unless you’re a hermit or completely “off the grid,” you’re probably just like me: constantly bombarded by political information, opinion, points, counterpoints, rants, condescension, cheap shots, and every other form of diatribe, from seemingly every point on the political spectrum.  Television.  Radio.  Internet.  Propaganda in our daily mail.  Even unwanted phone calls and text messages.

And yet, despite this barrage of political discourse, I’ve never felt so disconnected from the process.

I can’t really claim any longer to be a Republican or Democrat.  In fact, I’m not even sure that — by today’s definitions — I can describe myself as a conservative, liberal, or libertarian.  I feel very much like today’s political parties have somehow drifted beyond my reach, leaving me without any choices that I can feel positive or hopeful about.

I’ve heard people like me described as “undecided.”  But, when it comes to issues, I’m not undecided at all; like most people, I have plenty of opinions, and being described as “undecided” makes it sound like I’m somehow dithering between choices, or can’t decide what I want.  

My problem is that I don’t particularly like ANY of the choices.  So, perhaps voters like me — those who, for whatever reason, can’t find an acceptable candidate — should be called “frustrated.”  Maybe we know what we want, we just haven’t found anyone — from any party — who can deliver it. 

So… what does one “frustrated” voter look like?  Below are a few of my opinions about politics, national, state and local.  You may find them naive, simplistic, or even flat-out wrong, but I’m just another average voter, and here they are:

20 Opinions of An Average American Voter

  1. On all political levels, I want at least one news source that I could honestly trust to be apolitical.  Try as I might, I can’t seem to find one.
  2. I want less “win/lose” political battles, and more collaboration, cooperation, and “win/win” solutions.
  3. I want people to stop the name calling.  And no, I don’t think one needs to be in a particular political party to be called a “patriot.”
  4. I want actual debate about issues, instead of a competition for who has the best sound bytes.  And yes, that means the possibility of trading good television ratings for actual worthwhile content and discussion.
  5. I want people to focus on performance rather than personalities, vision rather than vitriol, solutions rather than blame, action instead of words.
  6. I want people to focus on what unites us, instead of what divides us.  Can I be the only one tired of hearing the political parties endlessly “defining themselves”?
  7.  I want people to recognize that left and right, conservative and liberal, even union and non-union TOGETHER make up our nation, and that the elimination of any of these forces would hurt our country and our people far more than they realize.
  8. I want people to spend more time appreciating what’s great about this country instead of what’s wrong with it.  Yes, we should always be working to improve society, but most of the “doomsday predictions” are, in my opinion, absurd.
  9. I want fiscal responsibility — don’t spend what you don’t have.
  10. I want political accountability — the price of leadership is accountability.  If you don’t deliver results in office, it is your fault, fair or unfair.
  11. I want ethical transparency — if you are a corrupt politician, your punishment should never, ever be a slap on the wrist.  In fact, I believe the standards for conduct should be high, and the punishments for unethical behavior severe — you’re betraying EVERYONE.
  12. I want people who have the talent and opportunity to be wealthy in this country.  And I want them to pay their fair share of taxes — just like me.
  13. I want people to work.  I want people who don’t work to be obligated to contribute to society… especially if they’re getting government assistance.
  14. I want people to have access to health care, which means I want a health care system that makes sense.   I’m willing to entertain alternatives to “Obamacare,” but… what are they? 
  15. I want democracy and representation by the people.  But I also believe that, on a local level, an emergency manager is necessary when democratically elected leaders have proven that they’re simply incapable of fixing their problems.
  16. I want local leaders to be better prepared and informed before they run for office.  And I want local voters to do the same thing.  Local politicians have a surprising amount of power, and most people take that fact for granted.
  17. I want politicians to negotiate, rather than berate.  To compromise, rather than criticize.  To work for their constituents, rather than their “base.”  Political leadership should be about government “by, about, and for the people,” not “by, about and for the party.”
  18. I want people to recognize that no party is completely “right” while another is completely “wrong.”  Has anything ever created by human beings been 100% right or wrong?  Can’t an opponent’s ideas or beliefs have merit?
  19. I want a government less influenced by lobbyists and political cronyism. I want banks and “big business” to have less political influence.  But I also think government has a lot to learn from business in terms of accountability, performance oriented results and innovation.
  20. I want government — at all levels — to ensure our freedoms, protect the minority from the majority, and provide all who lack means and opportunity with help, responsibility and — yes, there’s the word again — accountability.  If the government gives you something, you should give something back in return.

That’s just 20 opinions.  I have more.  I’ll keep trying to find a candidate that aligns with my opinions and views, but so far, I’m not finding much success. 

Until then, I’ll continue to watch, learn, and try to weed out the hyperbole from fact and emotion from rationality.  Regardless of who I vote for, I’m determined to know the issues before I go to the voting booth.

Until next time… 😐