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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Saturday 4 August 2012

The Foundation of Canada's Future ?

Warren Kinsella's a pretty astute political observer.  He's also a pretty shrewd political player; he understands the strategic value of laying track, although he might not be familiar with the baseline reasoning of why it works.  So, when Kinsella lays out a possible scenario for Canada's future, it's not hard to tell where his interests lie - but you also can't dismiss his insight as just partisan wishful thinking either.

There is validity to each of his points; Team Harper would be wise to give them some consideration.  What can Harper do to make sure he cuts off at the pass a scenario that sees the end of his Party and the undermining of his legacy within his lifetime?

By fulfilling a commitment he's already made, one that appeals deeply to Quebecers and that has resonance nationwide.  Heck, if he does this, Harper could be assured of a legacy that lasts for generations.

Stephen Harper is as capable of reading the tea leaves as anyone.  The question is, how far ahead is he thinking - and how bold is he willing to be?  If the answer is "not very," then perhaps someone else will be.

Friday 3 August 2012

Own The Podium - Empowering Canada's Workforce

Own The Podium has provided the right holistic supports to Canadian athletes. The result? They're moving closer to their personal maximum potentials, performing better than ever. These accommodations have included psychology; the best performers in any field understand just how important the right frame of mind is to success.  

Just think of what we can achieve in our economy, in innovation, in beating the challenges of today and positioning our communities as world leaders if we apply this same approach to our workplaces and our schools. 

Let's make it happen!



Thursday 2 August 2012

Building Your Customers' Brand: When the Story Isn't About You

When the Master governs, the people
are hardly aware that he exists.

When his work is done,
the people say, "Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!”

Building Your Customers’ Brand: When the Story Isn’t About You

by on August 2, 2012

It’s funny, isn’t it? Funny, as in, ironic. Social media is all the rage, with use growing at an exponential rate.
The fuzzy, feel good business world... with rainbows (and care bears)
The fuzzy, feel good business world…

with rainbows

Many marketers (including the Level343 team) talk about engaging your customers, reaching out to them, treating them like people instead of numbers. The business world is all fuzzy, feel good warmth, struggling to embrace the buyer in friendliness. Any day now, the Care Bears will walk in and start growing rainbows out of their fuzzy white bellies.

Then we come across things like “Taking Your Brand Back from Your Customers”. Wow. That sounds somewhat military-ish, doesn’t it? It has a “village mob” flavor at the very least:

Fearless Corporate Leader: Grab your torch and pitchforks, everybody! Let’s go get our brand back!
Crowd: Yeeeeeaaaah!

Welcome to the 18th century of business.

Your Constituents Want YOU!

“Ladies and gentlemen, we promise no new shipping costs, price hikes or product defects!*”
*Except in the fine print where we state clearly that we have the right to hike prices and shipping costs indefinitely without warning and product defects are mandatory during cost cutting phases.

Politics are on our minds right now, considering that the U.S. is in line to either a) get a new President or b) keep the current one. Which brings to mind this question – do you know what a constituent is?
The free dictionary definition of constituent has several neat numbers, as definitions almost always do.

“Thank you for visiting your local dictionary! Your most wonderful word is spelled like this, sounds like this, is used as an adjective or noun, and can mean this, this or this.” For the purpose of this article, we’re interested in the definition that says a constituent is part of a whole, empowered to designate (the adjectives) and one that authorizes another to act as a representative (noun).

How does this tie into business and branding, you ask? You, dear business owner, have constituents! We call them customers in the business world, but they are:

  1. part of a whole target market
  2. that has the power to designate
  3. you and your brand as their representative

That’s right. Bet you didn’t know you signed up for politics, did you? Your consumers want YOU to represent them. They’ve voted you in with the best vote possible, the cash in their wallets. They’ve designated your brand, your business – your beautiful product – as the one that tells their story.


This Is Not Your Story

What are your customers' stories?
What are your customers’ stories?

Their story is not your story. This is your story and this is your story, but when they pick up your products or use your services, your brand becomes part of theirstory. Big brands like Wal-Mart and American Express understand that:

Wal-Mart: Save Money. Live Better.

“I got it at Wal-Mart for a real bargain,” a woman says, and smiles as her friends exclaim over the deal she found.

American Express: Do more.

“Where’d you go for vacation, Bob?”


Steve’s eyebrows go up in surprise. “Wow, really? That must have cost a small fortune. How’d you manage that?”

“Eh, it wasn’t that bad, “says Bob with a sly grin and a shrug. He and his wife wouldn’t have been able to take that vacation without using their American Express rewards, but Steve doesn’t need to know that.

Harley Davidson definitely understands that. “Live cage free,” one of their ads says. “With power comes freedom. With freedom comes anything,” says another. Their entire site lives and breathes the freedom of the road without the cage of an enclosed car. You can almost feel the wind whipping across your face and the power of the bike thrumming under you.
Rebel with a cause….

The advertising says, “This is you. This is your story and it’s about freedom!” Of course, the “freedom” theme also ties in neatly with the American dream, but that’s probably a coincidence… maybe.

BMW understands that, and targets a higher standard of living with “the ultimate driving machine”. Prada understands that; the company’s founders worked to become the very symbol of luxury, with its particular brand of “reverse snobbery”.

Do you notice the reoccurring theme with these successful brands? Many people buying at Wal-Mart are thrifty and proud of it. They look for the best deal at the best price (the best deal is not always the best price).

Many who use American Express really do end up doing more than they might otherwise be able to do, thanks to the rewards programs. For some, their “brand” is their own impression of being well off, whatever that is, and rewards programs are a great way to do that.

Have you ever seen a Harley Davidson owner that didn’t have at least a tiny bit of rebel in them? The gentleman with the pocket protector, glasses and a wicked bishop’s move in chess climbs on his Harley and becomes one with the road. It’s just him and his machine.

So Now You’ve Been Elected

Foursquare Super Mayor Badge
Mayor of the City of Brandness

So here you are – the elected official of Brandom, Mayor of the City of Brandness and Grand High Poombah of Brandonia. Your customers have voted to designate your company and products as their representative to the world. Now… are you a good politician?

  • Do you listen to your constituents?
  • Do you pay attention to what they want?
  • Do you show that you care about them(and, if so, how)?
  • Are you representing them to the best of your ability?

Or, like the article title used in the beginning, are you working on taking your brand BACK from your customers? Instead of it being an “us or them” idea, let’s focus on a little bit of “us “. Work on building your customers’ brand and they’ll help you build yours. It’s a win-win situation.

We are the nation of Level343. Thank, dear citizens, for reading. Cue the Care Bears belly rainbow.

Are Silo Walls Starting To Come Down?

The Centre Always Holds

Started my day listening to a little Jesus Christ Superstar; it has struck me of late that, with so much focus on drought, political turmoil, war, etc, there are more than a few folk with a little Armageddon on their minds. Blame it on the Tzolkin.  This, naturally, got me thinking about Yeats' The Second Coming:

Of course, we Western folk tend to be a bit on the selfish side.  We look at time through our own lens, "like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives" kind of thing.  Not everyone looks at the world through such linear terms; in fact, even when you look at systems theory in the West, there's a recognition of boom and bust cycles.  After all, every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.

Days, seasons, the rise and fall of empires, the boom and bust of economies, the spiral outwards to political extremes and the oppositional contraction to the political middle - these aren't linear things; they're turns of the wheel.

The closer we collectively get to the middle, the more stability we have.  This is what Lao Tzu meant when he said "hold on to the centre."

In the mean time, the wheel keeps turning - we're just along for the ride.

Tuesday 31 July 2012

Royson James Rant Against Intolerance

The Flame That Won't Die

The Evolutionary Advantage of Empathy


I forwarded this story to a libertarian friend of mine who had no sympathy; like some of the commenters, this friend suggested the farmer should have gotten the right insurance.  If they didn’t, it sucks to be them.  “If my house burns down,” said this friend, “should I expect government to buy me a new one?” 

This friend has also told me it’s fiction that China’s rice fields are drying up, or that climate change is shrinking the glaciers that feed China’s rivers.  Climate change is pop-science, folk trying to scare up dollars so they can do pop-research and make some easy profit.  Of course, my friend’s a staunch advocate for a Free Market, though he doesn’t believe in advocating for one.  Advocacy is too much like socialism.  And clearly, China’s approach hasn’t served its interests well.

Yet, this friend lives in a society.  Tax dollars clean his streets, remove his waste and protect his property from squatters or thieves.  He, like everyone that isn’t a hermit, relies to some degree on societal collaboration.  It’s not a handout, though – it’s collective living.  Can he individually afford to buy food from abroad if there’s none available locally, due to drought?  If supply lines are completely cut, if his house burns down, if he loses the ability to support himself and provide saleable value to society, is he on his own? 

Of course he isn’t.  If his house burns down, his friends (including me) would donate items, maybe hold a fundraiser.  If he’s injured, some of our resources will go to making sure he isn’t left behind.  It would feel wrong to do otherwise.  In fact, when we see examples of people being mistreated or not supported in times of need, we get angry.  If, that is, we see them as people, like us.  Empathy, it appears, occurs in a context of commonality.  You have to recognize that another creature can experience the world in the same way you do to have compassion for them.

It’s not just us that engage in empathetic behaviour; gorillas will go so far as to dismantle traps and warn others, even other primates, of the threats traps present.  There must be an evolutionary advantage to altruistic behaviour; otherwise, it wouldn’t be so common.  Genes don’t think in terms of systems, though – sheep didn’t develop wool so that we could make wool clothes any more than sea anemone and clownfish developed a symbiotic relationship for proactively altruistic reasons.  These traits were developed for selfish gains, with the collaborative aspects being advantageous but unintended side-effects.

What, then, could be the selfish justification for empathy?  What’s in empathy for me?  Here’s a thought:

Theory of mind and empathy allow us to understand and avoid consequences that impact others within our social context.  If we say “so what” to the challenges of others, are we paying attention to avoiding those consequences ourselves?  If we feel superior/distinct/removed from our peers, what incentive do we have to learn from their mistakes?

Mel Brooks famously said, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger.  Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.”  Because tragedy is something that happens to us that is beyond our control; comedy happens to someone else.  If it had been you cutting your finger, lord knows it would be a result of inattention on your part.  If it had been Brooks falling in the manhole, it was because someone else didn’t cover it up, or distracted him, etc.  In war, soldiers always think it’s someone else who will get shot; in accidents, it’s always someone else that will fall victim.

On the other hand, if we empathize, we can internalize.  If we could picture ourselves in the shoes of the man falling into a sewer, we can consider causes and context and hopefully, plan to avoid such consequences ourselves.  If we can empathize with the neighbour whose house burns down, we can put ourselves in their shoes and perhaps learn how to proactively avoid that happening to us.  The act of wanting to help would be a sidebar, but a useful one.  When we are motivated, through selfish interests, to look after others, we help foster a climate where the same level of empathy gets returned to us.  Then, we can share.  Then, we can specialize.

Which brings us back to our farmer.  Government isn’t some nebulous entity that exists separate from people, any more than politicians are non-humans that don’t think and feel the way we do.  Government, ultimately, is a tool of specialization, an aggregate for collective interests.  We do want government to be there when we need it, but if we don’t proactively support government, that won’t be the case.

This is equally true for ideas as it is for financial resources.  When we starve government of ideas – or when government starves itself of ideas – we’re essentially denying our collective interests.  That’s all well and good in times of plenty, but when a crisis hits – and it always does – the only way forward is together.

Love thy neighbour – it’s more than a commandment, it’s a social imperative.  We can either live together... 

Monday 30 July 2012

Patient, Heal Thyself

Knowledge is power; as such, we aren't so fond of sharing it.  Why teach what can be sold?  Specialized knowledge also requires specialized skill; you don't want any random person providing, for instance, surgical services or legal advice.  It takes a lot of effort and money to become a professional and, for that price, you want a return on investment.  Which leads us back to the first point.

Yet, we do educate people, don't we?  Our school system is designed to empower youth to succeed in life.  We take it for granted, really; reading, writing and arithmetic skills, historical context, basic anatomy, hygiene, science, civics, etc. all come from our public education system.  This publicly provided (and publicly paid for) grounding in fundamentals allows for society to function.

Could we do more, though?  Could we get more bang for our buck and reduce costs in the process?  Looking at healthcare - is it possible to empower people more, provide them more knowledge, better access and more streamlined processes so that they can avoid becoming patients?  We don't want the average bear doing surgery, but what about doing exercises at home, learning little tricks to make bigger differences?  An easy example - if seniors sit up for a couple of minutes, then stand for a couple of minutes when they get up in the night to go to the washroom, they can reduce their risks of falling and thereby, reduce their chances of breaking bones.  A simple piece of knowledge that could make a wealth of difference in our healthcare system.

Of course, we're doing some of that now.  We can do even more; we can even do it online.  It's where society's headed; the question is, what are we all doing to get there faster?