Wednesday, March 10, 2010

brandom has moved!

Brandom has now moved to its own domain name!

The new website is under development, so excuse any bald spots it still has. Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Generation Y

Max Weber might be a god amongst sociologists, but is he still applicable to us today?

Weber’s theory on Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (henceforth, PWE) is simple, but brilliant, and has changed the science of sociology since its publishing. He claims  that the Calvinist emphasis on the necessity for hard work is proponent of a person's calling and worldly success is a sign of personal salvation. In other words, Protestants work harder then Catholics.

Though Millennials might not believe that amassing a large net worth is necessarily an indicator of God’s favor, might we still view making money in equivalent terms?

Considering that we are the fastest growing section of the workforce, it’s important to know how we view wealth and what motivates us to work. Here are the highlights of how we feel about the workplace.

  • We want to love our work and be good at it – Though this is not an entirely original concept, it is very important. Gen Y is very achievement oriented, and visible, positive results serve as encouragement for further work. Feeling like one is contributing to something is also important. Being a worker on an assembly line, where the final product is never seen, does not make one seem part of a team. The best results are those that are meaningful and whose results can be seen immediately.
  • Money isn’t happiness – Though a high salary is very attractive, balancing work and play is even more important. We have friends and family, and it is important to be able to fit those into your life even when trying to build a career or go to school at the same time. The more flexible the schedule, the more attractive it is.
  • Everybody is different – Not everyone is motivated the same way, and employers need to recognize that. While some people might want fringe benefits, another might need a cash bonus to get him working. Managing is more complex than just handing out paychecks – know what makes us tick, and you’ll get better work out of it.
  • Ongoing learning – We could be described as the ADD generation. Easily bored with repetitive work, throwing a curve into the typical workload can lead to innovation and rejuvenation. We love technology, and are much better at manipulating it then previous generations. Throw me a cool new gadget, and I’ll have it up and running in the matter of a few hours.

In response to my original thesis, it seems Gen Y values teamwork and balance over a fat wallet.

Think I’m wrong about motivation? Share what you think.

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Monday, March 8, 2010

Three reasons Chatroulette is not just a fad

Two black boxes sit, one on top the other, next to a large area for text exchanges. The layout is simple, unintimidating. When I visited the first time, I was surprised not to be attacked by popup advertisements. There is, in fact, hardly any advertising at all, except a single text ad at the base of the page.

Chatroulette’s founder, Andrey Ternovskiy, says that he did this on purpose. He has no business plans for his project, and doesn't think it is going to make him rich, In fact, the 17-year old Russian high-schooler admits, he doesn’t even know what Chatroullette is anymore. It started as a way to meet new people, a virtual bar, and has turned into something much larger and more complex.
Turn it on and see for yourself. The face-to-face encounters range from casual small talk to lude performances, with your 20,000 plus new acquaintances streaming live from France, Pakistan, and California. The best part of the site is the diversity of the people you get to talk to.
As you can tell from my praises, the website is more then just a fad. Here are three reasons why I think it is here to stay:
  1. Its potential is endless – Though its advertising content now is minimal, the possibilities are endless. A fledgling site, with traffic numbers growing largely due to word of mouth, that pulls in 20,000 curious visitors a night would look very attractive to advertisers for future growth.
  2. Its actually fun – I’ve been on the website twice already, and it is an awesome time killer with a bunch of bored friends.There is something very appealing about anonymous social encounters.
  3. Real people use it – The site has the danger of being adopted by a certain subculture, or being over run by smut. The encouraging sign I noticed while using it was that it has yet to be, and with careful management, it won't. I ran into an off-duty soldier, some college students in Argentina, and a man from Wisconsin with a big mustache on his lunch break. Sure, there’s the occasional naked dude or exhibitionist couple, but it is only often enough to scare off the prudish visitors. 
For those of you who don’t believe the bizarre encounters, look at these collected  screenshots by awesomer.
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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Interesting Links

I apologize for the lack of posts the last couple days. I have a few articles that will be published soon… to hold you off here is an interesting slideshow made by Slate about breakfast cereal slogans over the past century. Also, Penn Olson collected this interesting assortment of minimalist advertisements that are fun to look at.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

$77 Billion to End Prohibition

A recently published study by Harvard Economics Professor Jeffery Miron claims that the legalization of marijuana, and subsequent taxing of it, could lead to $77 Billion in revenue for the government alone. Miron breaks it down by saying $44 billion will be saved by not spending the money on police for arrests, judges and prosecutors for all the trials and prisons and prison guards for the incarceration. Another $33 billion would be obtained by tax revenue of legal drugs, like how cigarettes and alcohol are regulated. Miron even says that legalizing and ending the prohibition will reduce the violence crossing the border from Mexico.

Cannabis has been shown to be a relatively safer drug then its legal counterparts, alcohol and tobacco. According to a study published by Oxford University in 2000, a 155 pound human would have to consume about 70 grams to overdose and die, or the equivalent of smoking 140 average joints simultaneously. A little more than 40% of America has used Marijuana before, and 10% claim to have smoked within the last year, indicating that prohibition is not actually preventing use of the drug.

Though I could launch into a diatribe on why the drug should be legalized for political and social reasons, I’ll leave that for other bloggers. Even though $77 billion might not sound like a lot today in the wake of the financial crisis, it is still a lot of money, and right now the government needs all it can get.

Besides the government, the American public could use the jobs as well. According to Time, marijuana has grown to a $14 billion industry in California alone. Imagine the effect it would have on the rest of the country.

Refraining from moral objections, do you think there is any reason why the US should not legalize cannabis? Please share in the comment section.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

From The Diners’ Club to Amex Black

clip_image001According to, the average American has 4 credit cards, with instant access to about $19,000 of credit. From 1996 to 2005, the number of bank credit cards increased 46%.

A provision of the CARD Act of 2009, stating that anyone under the age of 21 must have a  co-signer to open a credit account, just came into effect on February 22. This will be a huge change for college freshman, who are typically bombarded with credit card offers upon their entry to school, and can sometimes get themselves into big debt trouble. Who can blame them, really? I mean, $19,000 is 316 kegs of Keystone! Or, um, like, a lot of books.

On a more serious note, the new age restriction does have some real implications. The government has always been a little sketchy on what it considers to be the age of an “adult.” Though legally the age is 18, the driving age ranges from 15 to 18, and the drinking age is 21. For those falling in between these ages, things can get confusing. Some adult privileges are afforded to you, while others are deemed too dangerous seemingly arbitrarily.

Being an adult, according to, “implies being able to make mature decisions, participate in civic matters, have self-control, and be responsible.” Have 18 year-olds demonstrated that they are not adults by getting into debt trouble?

Maybe we are missing the bigger picture here. According to the Labor Research Association, real weekly wages have fallen from a high of $331 in 1972 to $277 in 2004, and no doubt have worsened further during the recession. Average credit card debt for 18- to 24-year-olds is 11 percent higher than for the same age bracket in 1989. For the next age range, credit card debt for 25- to 34-year-olds was 47 percent higher than in 1989.


Graph courtesy of Tommy Buller

Perhaps the financial failings for 18 year-olds have little to do with lack of responsibility, but rather an increase in the demand for credit due to falling wages. Though a lot of kids can get parents to sign for them if they really need the money, consider the options faced by a foster child. At the age of 18, now legally an adult, they are forced out of the foster system and often end up living on their own. Who could co-sign for these kids? If this theory is correct even somewhat, the government has done much more harm then good.

Well, that was depressing. On a much lighter, but still relevant note, credit cards have a fascinating history. The marketing behind them is some of the most creative and innovative of any product in the world.  Take a look at this slideshow by The Big Money to get the full low down. Also, watch Jon Stewarts’ comments on the CARD Bill. Tags: ,,,
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Monday, March 1, 2010

The Handwriting Apocalypse


With every major technological innovation comes the death of what it replaces. The telephone killed the telegraph, the email killed the letter, and video killed the radio star. So why does the nearly 7000 year old practice of writing things by hand remain? Will the latest in tech innovation finally cause its imminent demise? The decline of handwriting has long been predicted, but the pencil’s rapture has yet to come.

In a great article in The Guardian published in 2006, Stuart Jefferies argues that handwriting is here to stay and poignantly notes several reasons why he thinks so. Writing is one of the best ways to cultivate young minds, he reasons, as it helps with motor-skill development. It is also, after all, the most reliable form of documentation. If your computer were to fail, you wouldn’t want to hire a scribe just to write a grocery list.

Imagine the power is out. Your Blackberry is blinking out of battery, and your chances of finding a solar or wind unit to charge your electronics are nil. Your friends can’t lend you a computer, either. Wouldn’t handwriting be helpful here? Well, just imagine a little further. Our world is increasingly reliant on energy and computers. We use them for everything important in our lives, from managing our money to our health records. If no power is available, the least of your worries will be scrawling a note to your roommate telling them not to eat your Hot Pockets.

Should handwriting be taught to kids for its developmental value? Handwriting is shown to improve muscle control, hand eye coordination, and balance in young children. But it is not the only way to develop these skills, and emphasis of teaching proper handwriting techniques at a young age, I think, could be better spent teaching children how to type efficiently, because, simply put, typing is more efficient. The average American handwrites 31 words per minute and types 40. A professional typist typically has a WPM score of around 70. You can test your own score here for free.

clip_image001Even the use of handwritten Post-it notes is on the decline. I keep track of everything on my computer and Blackberry. My schedule is done through Microsoft Outlook and linked to my phone’s calendar; my homework assignments are all posted online. If I want to tell my friend something and he isn't around, I don’t leave him a note but rather send him a text message. Instead of leaving a note on my door telling visitors where I went, I could just update my Facebook status or Tweet it. It is not the invention of a single new technology that will lead to writing's demise, but rather a host of more efficient writing substitutes.

I do not think we should stop teaching handwriting, nor do I discount the value of a hand-signed note. But I do believe that the pencil will fade away to obscurity as technology advances and we become more adept at using it.

Do you think handwriting is an important skill? Will it ever go extinct? Share your opinion in the comments section below.

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Sunday, February 28, 2010

“Warren Buffett: Quips and Zingers”

In his annual letter to shareholders, Warren Buffett let his signature sense of humor shine through. Here is are a few of the highlights, borrowed from an article from the WSJ blog by Matt Phillips.


On Country Music:

Sing a country song in reverse, and you will quickly recover your car, house and wife.

On the fact that Berkshire issued stock as part of its BNSF acquisition:

Charlie and I enjoy issuing Berkshire stock about as much as we relish prepping for a colonoscopy.

On the upside potential for its longtime holding Geico:

An old Wall Street joke gets close to our experience:

Customer: Thanks for putting me in XYZ stock at 5. I hear it’s up to 18.

Broker: Yes, and that’s just the beginning. In fact, the company is doing so well now,
that it’s an even better buy at 18 than it was when you made your purchase.

Customer: Damn, I knew I should have waited.

A story on how a once-staid bank Berkshire owned stock in got an acute of deal fever:

Its managers – fine people and able bankers – not unexpectedly began to behave like teenage boys who had just discovered girls.

The small-bank owner was being wooed by other large banks in the state and was holding out for a price close to three times book value. Moreover, he wanted stock, not cash. Naturally, our fellows caved in and agreed to this value-destroying deal. “We need to show that we are in the hunt. Besides, it’s only a small deal,” they said, as if only major harm to shareholders would have been a legitimate reason for holding back. Charlie’s reaction at the time: “Are we supposed to applaud because the dog that fouls our lawn is a Chihuahua rather than a Saint Bernard?”

The seller of the smaller bank – no fool – then delivered one final demand in his negotiations. “After the merger,” he in effect said, perhaps using words that were phrased more diplomatically than these, “I’m going to be a large shareholder of your bank, and it will represent a huge portion of my net worth. You have to promise me, therefore, that you’ll never again do a deal this dumb.”

A closing nod to its massive acquisition of BNSF, in the section on preparations for Berkshire’s annual shareholder meeting:

P.S. Come by rail. Tags: ,
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Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Economics of Getting Drunk

As you might be able to tell, I am a big fan of infographics. Here is a really good one by Thought this might be a fun way to start off Saturday morning…

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Blockbuster: Give up.

blockbuster On Thursday, already unstable Blockbuster stock took a 20% tumble when it reported a fourth quarter net loss of $435 million and a 16% decline in one of its key sales measurements. Over the crucial holiday season, the company reportedly increased its advertising budget and added big titles to its library, apparently to no avail. Blockbuster, it seems, is in dire straits, and most analysts agree.

Unfortunately, I have no good news for the company from my perspective. I walked into a Blockbuster a few months ago and felt as if I was in a time machine back to the 90’s. The business model of a video rental supermarket is simply antiquated and increasingly dysfunctional, especially to my generation.

saupload_bbi Blockbuster’s video rental stores are now getting harder to find, too. The company has already closed 1,300 of its locations throughout the country, and BMO Capital Markets analyst Jeffrey Logsdon predicts that it will close another 545 this year. The heavily indebted company (estimates claim it owes around $200 million a year) does not rely solely on its store-generated business.

Blockbuster has made a half-assed entry into the growing kiosk rental industry. This is basically like a snack vending machine, but with DVDs.This is appealing to Gen X consumers for two reasons: first, it allows you to grab a movie on your way out of the grocery store without having to make any other stops. Simply put, it’s more skeptical-785083efficient. Secondly, I don’t have to deal with weird looks from the human cashier at the Blockbuster store when I decide I want to watch Donnie Darko and The Devine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood in the same night. Sometimes it’s just that kind of day, ok?

The company has also made entries into the DVD-by-mail service and the instant-access online video markets as well, mimicking its competitor Netflix. It was late to this trend, however, and probably missed its opportunity to use its well-established brand name to take significant market share.

Netflix, Blockbuster’s main competitor, has seen increasing annual revenues over the past five years. Since 2004, annual revenues have grown nearly 400% according to their SEC filings. It has become synonymous to conscious consumers with fast, reliable through-the-mail and online video rentals. It also enjoys a very positive outlook from nearly every major stock rating agency.

What do you think? Can Blockbuster climb out of its own grave, or will its debt and competition continue to shovel the dirt on its head? Please share your opinion.

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Google Infographic: Facts and Figures

Google is a pretty interesting company. Just to gleam a few of the more interesting facts off of this graphic, gets more traffic everyday then the population of the entire world combined. Google owned Blogger (where you are right now) has 270,000 words written per minute. Pretty impressive if you ask me. For a Gen X’er, Google may well be the most important company of the decade, if not our lifetime.

Check out Pingdom's massive infographic

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

The death of a Giant


After a long string of negotiations with Sichuan Tengzhong, GM is finally throwing in the towel on its Hummer brand. Probably. "GM will now work closely with Hummer employees, dealers and suppliers to wind down the business in an orderly and responsible manner," said John Smith, GM vice president of corporate planning and alliances.

The end of this particular GM brand is more significant, I think, then the death of Pontiac and Saturn. I don’t think a single person shed a tear when Saturn quietly passed away, and although Pontiac has a lot of important history (the GTO, anyone?) it has been defunct of innovation for what seems like 30 years.

Hummer, however, seems to mean much more considering its substantial military service, and its association with American bravado and testosterone. At least, it was associated with such until moms found all the roomy cargo space in the back could be used to carry kids instead of guns and ammo.

Despite its relatively recent transition to what I refer to as the “urban princess warrior mobile,” for most people “Hummer” still conjures up images of a camo-skinned-half-jeep-half-tank-baby. It represented a “stop at nothing” attitude, the idea that anything could be conquered with enough torque and big enough wheels.

So perhaps this particular company's demise is indication of greater system changes. Poor management aside, Sichuan Tengzhong was only offering GM $150 million for its failing brand. How is Amurica’s most iconic symbol equal in value to a single Jackson Pollack?

no. 5

Well, perhaps Hummer no longer echoes American sentiment. Americans today, after all, are more aware of the environment and much more budget conscious then one year ago. The over-priced, over-sized gas-guzzler is

no longer what Americans look to for an indication of success.

Over the top luxury is on its way out. Conscious, informed spending is the new trend. Just look at the success of Tesla Motors. Or the introduction of Audi’s upcoming E-tron. According to this WSJ article, the Luxury Institute, a New York research firm, found that younger and more-affluent consumers seek information about corporate social responsibility more actively than their older and less well-off counterparts.

In no way am I claiming that America has been castrated by the green trend. I think rather the opposite, in fact. An increase of informed consumers indicates an increase in education across the country as a whole. If we are educated and conscious of what is happening around us, maybe the world will listen next time we begin talking about something. It certainly a much friendlier image then that of the “stop for no-one” hummer. So the death of Hummer, though tragic, might actually lead to a stronger tomorrow.


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“Men don’t want to look at men”

I thought this was a really great article…

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Alexander McQueen: From Beyond the Grave


I would not consider myself a fashonista. At best, I am a sort of “clothes horse,” and like to present the illusion to those around me that I actually know what I’m doing when I get dressed in the morning.

Because of my disconnect from the fashion industry, news of Alexander McQueen’s suicide last week hardly moved me. Popular media also seemed to be aloof of what the fashion world viewed as the loss of a young superstar. Mentioning it to my friends, especially the male ones, his name seemed familiar, but nothing of note.

McQueen was a young designer who was working with Gucci when he died. He rose to fame in the 1990’s for his edgy style, and later collaborated with several very prominent brands, including Puma and Louis Vuitton, before being bought up by Gucci to begin his own line of couture products. He was said to have broken up with a boyfriend, whose name is tattooed on his arm, a factor which is believed to have led to his suicide. Other rumors claim it was the recent death of his mother.

This week, Gucci announced that it will carry on McQueen's brand, and holds strong prospects for its success. But is it possible to carry on this brand without its brains? Robert Polet, Chief of the Gucci Group subsidiary, commented that, "Lee (Alexander) is of course irreplaceable."

To me, the idea of carrying on without the primary designer is not absurd at all. After all, McQueen had years (almost two decades) to establish his brand and style. The real question I am asking is why would Gucci want to continue it?

McQueen’s brand, though highly respected and influential, never actually moved a lot of products. Though Gucci might want to remember a fallen hero by continuing his legacy, it might not be the best thing for their income statement. Last year, though doing better then expected, revenues dropped over 3%. Dropping revenues does not imply that the company should be throwing money at a largely commemorative brand that will (probably) ultimately make no money.

From the Gen X perspective, however, this might be marketing gold. The two things I appreciate the most from a company is vision and honesty. To me, continuing McQueen’ s legacy, instead of throwing away his high-brow wearable art, shows that Gucci is committed to both of those ideas. It is apparent from this action that Gucci values its vision over its balance sheet, and though this might mean the company losses value as an equity investment, it is benefitting its overall brand image and reputation.

Respect, Gucci. Mad respect.


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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Toyota’s Crisis Management

From the perspective of a young man who is marginally obsessed with cars, the name Toyota has always conjured images of utilitarian vehicles whose primary demographic was people looking for a machine that will last a long time for a little amount of money. Toyota’s brand never achieved the exciting racing connotations associated with its competitors Honda and Nissan. This, I suspect, is probably due to their lack of success as a Formula one race team, and their focus on fuel economy rather then engine power.

Despite not placing high on the “dream car” list of a young car enthusiast, Toyota is undoubtedly one of the most recognized and respected brand names in America. As of 2006, it ranked the highest in return customers for any US car manufacturer, with its luxury brand Lexus taking a close second place. It seemed like it was the Golden Child of auto makers. At least, it was

Due to its recent recall, the Japanese auto-giant is experiencing a bit of a brand crisis. The one solid concept the company was known for (reliability) has been put into major jeopardy. Nearly 4.8 million vehicles of both the Toyota and Lexus brand have been recalled due to functionality issues with floor mats and accelerator pedals.

So what has Toyota done to make amends with angry customers? Well, if you watched the Super Bowl you might have seen this Toyota public announcement:

This heartfelt ad might seem like a good idea at first. But if you examine the response to the video on YouTube you will see that the internet crowd does not buy it, especially after information came out to suggest that Toyota stalled recalling faulty vehicles for almost a whole year. One commenter says:

“If they have no respect for me why should I respect them???”

This Bay City News article asks readers to respond to Toyota’s campaign, and received some of the same kind of outrage:


Despite the backlash, these ads might be the best way for Toyota to go about repairing their image. The Big 3 US auto makers has long faced quality issues with their vehicles, and some claim that their slip into obscurity may be due to their lack of honesty with their consumers, and their perceived stubbornness in changing practices to ensure higher quality. Also, the responses on the internet aren’t necessarily the views of American consumers as a whole.

I am not one to be easily influenced by a sappy TV ad, and I think most educated American’s are in the same boat. Though it might be difficult to translate into a marketing campaign, the best way to show quality is through a good track record and word of mouth. In my opinion, the only way for Toyota to reclaim its former days of glory is to actually learn from their mistake: admit quality problems immediately when they are recognized and make sure your 2011 models are spotlessly reliable.

The fact that Toyota has shut down some of its manufacturing plants to deal with problems in current models might be a pragmatic business solution, but its marketing implications might not be as good. Stopping production implies that there are deeper problems in the company then just floor mats and accelerator pads… to me, this doesn’t seem like a good thing to be putting in commercials for the public to see.

Despite its recall, Toyota still enjoys a decent reputation among the American public. According to this NYT article, it is still ranked 3rd in reliability, and Consumer Reports describes their vehicles as, “extremely good, reliable cars.”

So, Mr. Akio Toyoda, my advice to you is to wait out the storm. Lay low and let the product speak for itself. If your commitment to learning from your mistakes is true, the consumer will recognize this as a snafu. If not, you might as well begin reissuing the Ford Pinto with a Toyota insignia on its

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Surveys as a Marketing Tool

In the 1987 classic Wall Street, Gordon Gekko said, “That's the one thing you have to remember about WASPs: they love animals and hate people.”


That's completely irrelevant to this article, however. Gekko did have another bit of wisdom that is helpful to think about, “The most valuable commodity I know of is information.”

Primarily, surveys supply a source of information directly from current or prospective customers. If correctly done, they can show you exactly where you need to improve your business by giving you information on customers perception of your product.

While conducting a survey for a client, I noticed that surveys also hold another possibility: a cheap marketing tool. This particular survey was for a client who felt their services were being underutilized by the community they served. By sending out surveys to thousands of people, we found that interest in the services we were inquiring about increased, simply because a large portion of these people were unaware that these services even existed. Without even intending to, and at very little cost, the survey had served as an educational marketing outlet for our client.

Surveys can serve a dual purpose, by gathering information from customers about how to improve your service while simultaneously educating new customers about your product.

The pitfalls to having the survey play this double role is that if you try to use an informational survey the same way you might use a poster or flyer, the data gathered will be completely unreliable. The art of taking a survey is delicate, and any hint of bias can screw up the results. A survey is not meant to champion the benefits of a product, but merely gather information about it. Surveys can only really be used as an effective marketing outlet if the product you are advertising is relatively unknown.

I received an example of this first hand when I received an email asking me to take a survey about my perception of a service offered on campus. I knew of the service, but didn’t know exactly what they did. The survey asked specifics about what I thought about each facet of the organization, and by showing me all of the different things offered, I was intrigued to investigate more about it on my own.

I think marketing was best described by Le Herron, former CEO of O.M. Scott & Sons, as, “Marketing is understanding what the customer’s needs are and communicating our solutions in ways that he can understand.” Letting a survey do the talking is one way to achieve this.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

What is BRANDom?

The name BRANDom, if you haven’t already figured it out, is a portmanteau (a word formed by combining two already existing words.) I will be gathering information from many different sources, and have no intention of keeping the blog specifically focused on one niche of the business world. BRANDom will be dedicated to distilling and posting random, interesting, and informative opinions on marketing, brand management, and business from the perspective of a Gen X'er.

I began this blog because, in the course of my week, I come across many interesting articles and studies on managing a brand name, and I wanted an outlet to publish them. I work with an organization called Hilltop Consultants, a not-for-profit group that works with local and national charities to improve their business models. Due to the fact that I work with non-profits, the methods I research and learn about aim to improve businesses through the most cost effective way.

I do not intend, however, to write this blog exclusively for non-profit brands. The articles and advice posted here are applicable to any business model, and will always be focused on giving the most bang for the buck.

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