Category Archives: Thought for the day

Keep Exploring

Still Life by Patrick Cardinale

This is a painting by Patrick Cardinale, a friend from my days at Montclair State. Sadly, I lost touch with him somewhere over the years, but he was a very talented artist – an explorer. We traded pieces a couple of times. I think he got one of my figurative paintstick drawings and I got this wonderful still life that hangs in our entryway. He was always interested in texture and surface and I always felt this piece brought together an element of German neo-expressionism to an otherwise very traditional form.

Seeing it almost daily now for decades it, as is natural, is usually just part of that ambient visual hum that I call home. But every once in a while it calls my attention in a more compelling way and it reminds me that even in the most mundane of subjects, the most commonplace of formats, there remains room for expression and frontiers for invention if you have the will and the humility to keep exploring.

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Are you a late bloomer or a long bloomer?

Orange Hummingbird and Flower

Long Bloomer

Are you a late bloomer or a long bloomer? It seems to be a more common phenomenon these days: thirty-something’s, forty-something’s, fifty- and sixty-something’s finding that it is not until they are embarking on their 2nd, 3rd, or nth career that they feel they are really hitting their stride. It’s a time they wouldn’t trade for the world, but it is also a time when they sometimes yearn for the vitality of younger days. A time of more energy and less creakiness. Late bloomers they get called and maybe I am one too, but is this a fair label, does this give credit to the road they’ve walked? The hard work and exploration of the years spent finding their way?

The other day my girlfriend and I were sitting on the sofa, me with my nose in my laptop and Julie thumbing through a dog lover’s magazine. As she flipped a page an interesting squiggle caught my eye, “wait, go back.” There was a page of delightful cartoons accompanying an article about William Steig. The article focused on a recent collection of his work and featured many of his dog-centric cartoons. I recognized the work, but realized that I didn’t know much about the man, so a-Googling I did go…

I was so inspired by the story I found. Not only was Mr. Steig a talented and prolific young artist, he was a lifelong force of growth and creative exploration. I was wowed to learn that he had over 1600 cartoons and 117 cover illustrations published in The New Yorker. It’s kind of staggering, but it was the product of a lifelong relationship with the magazine. But it was what I read next that made me feel excited, and a whole lot less creaky: W. Steig published his first children’s book when he was 61 years old! He won the Caldecott Medal for his third book, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.

As a doodlist it has always been an ambition of mine to write and illustrate a children’s book and I’ve had many starts in that direction. And also many times when I look at the calendar and marvel at how fast the years manage to go by. Don’t get me wrong, I love the work I’m doing, and I’m proud of my past accomplishments, both in my artwork and in my business life, but I still have itches left to scratch. Yes, my bifocals have been replaced by trifocals and my salt & pepper beard gets saltier every day, but I’m resolved to still hit some of these big to-dos on my list.

I think this is the lesson of William Steig, doodler-divine, that whether we’re early bloomers or late bloomers, we can all be long bloomers. We can put growth and accomplishment on our itinerary for the rest of our lives, and there is no limit to what we might accomplish no matter how late we start. By the way you know what Steig did when he was around 83? He drew a character and wrote a book about him. He called him Shrek! They based a movie on it, I even heard it did well…. 😉

What about you? Are you a late bloomer, an early bloomer, a perennial? I’d love to know what inspires you and how you inspire others. Be a beacon my friends and keep on blooming!

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Be a Beacon Show: 2012-01-09 – Cubby-holes and such

When I was younger I used to get upset when people would pigeon-hole me. I would bristle at being labeled a math nerd, or later when an art critic would lump my work in with some known and established style.

It felt dismissive and lazy to me, but I look at it differently now. People are busy. They have their own problems, their own trunk full of stuff to lug around. They don’t generally mean any harm when they put you in cubby-hole. They just don’t have the time to thoroughly examine everything and every person that they encounter.

Putting you in a box that already has a label is actually a compliment: you’ve gotten enough of their attention to at least do that. It’s now up to you to do more. If you want people to “get” you then you have to build the bridge, you have to make the connection. You have to pique their interest so they want to know more, so they start to understand your context, so they can see all your marvelous differences in high relief.

Be grateful if someone puts you in one of their mental cubbies. And use that nest as a foundation for building a relationship, but also be grateful for the information you’ve been given: the label on the slot they used to categorize you is a reflection of how they understand your message, your story, your brand.

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Listen to The Be A Beacon Show: Personal Branding with David Cohen every Monday at 10:30AM Eastern Time on Blog Talk Radio.

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I believe in you.

Luna and Bialy star in *I believe in you*

OK you know Julie and I have pet rabbits, right? Well when you share your home with rabbits “cute” is never in short supply. Breakfast is especially cute. I come down the stairs in the morning and they get excited – they dart around in their little pen (cute), they nudge each other excitedly (cuter), they stand on their hind legs and sniff (cutest), and sometimes one of them might even do a binky – a special little twisty twitchy hop that bunnies do (cuteness extremis). The point is they know what’s coming.

In the world of personal branding this is one target market that I have truly conquered. To the rabbits of the Cohen household my unique value proposition is clear: I am the bringer of parsley. There is no doubt in their tiny little rabbit minds. My consistent behavior in the marketplace has cemented my brand reputation. When it comes to the question of providing a leafy breakfast, every twitch, every binky says “I believe in you”.

So your product isn’t parsley and your market segment isn’t rabbits in the all-important 1-5 year old demographic. Maybe you’re looking for a job, or you offer consulting services, or you just opened a boutique… you know you’ve got something special to offer – are you hearing “I believe in you”? More importantly are you getting an “I believe in you” reaction? The bunnies never use the words, but their actions make it clear. And for that matter, it’s not what I say, but it’s the consistency of what I do that has won them over. (they may have big ears, but they don’t always listen)

Are your behaviors reinforcing your message or confusing it? Are your actions aligned with the brand image you are seeking?

The whole point of embarking on the personal branding journey is to focus what you offer that is unique and genuine, and then lower the barriers of understanding between you and the market segment that will find what you offer to be interesting, necessary and valuable. The first step is to believe in your own differentiation. The goal is an enduring and oft-repeated “I believe in you”.

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Last Post 2009: The Beacon Principles

Well I thought I would slide one last post under the door before saying goodbye to 2009.  It’s been a hectic year, but in some ways a great one for solidifying thoughts, testing theories, falling flat on my face, dusting off and most importantly meeting some amazing people.  People, in my view, are beacons.  They may not always be switched on, but when they are they can do amazing things.  They guide, they warn, they show the way.  Sometimes they’re in lonely places, but that’s part of the price when your job is to shine.

Look at another beacon, a lighthouse: It stands out from the shoreline, jutting up from the rocks, clearly different from the surrounding landscape. It’s context gives it meaning – put the same building in a city skyline and it becomes lost and unable to function. Move it to the middle of a field and it loses purpose.  And what is that brilliant beam that emanates from the beacon? It is focused energy – energy with purpose, a purpose clearly understood by all, but for some an absolute necessity.

Understand the beacon principles and you understand the essential questions you need to ask yourself to build your brand:

1) How are you different? Difference is the soul of branding.  Where you’re different your competitor can’t touch you. Different is what makes you memorable and can even make you indispensable!

2) What’s your context? Context is what gives meaning to your difference. Context is understanding that your difference might be irrelevant to some, but essential to others. Identify the core market, the defining context that makes you essential!

3) What’s your focus? Focus has two faces: where you put your energy and where you put your audience’s attention. Emphasize your strengths and be conscious of the expectations you set – they are the criteria by which your brand will be judged.  Do what you’re good at and get help with the rest. Start a fire by hyper-focusing your energy – once you have ignition you can spread the flame, but you’ll never catch fire if you don’t begin with focus.

As you tuck 2009 to bed and begin to the live the excitement and promise of a new year, I hope you will ask yourself the beacon questions: How am I different? What’s my context? What’s my focus? I hope you will be a guide.

I know you will shine.

Happy 2010 everybody!

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Social Media Marketing and Lemonade Stands

Ice cold lemonadeI get called “Big D” sometimes and I like to flatter myself that it is because I like to think big, however, I can’t pretend that my 270 pound, “more of me to love” frame might not have a little to do with that nickname.  So big guy, what’s your point? Well as an XXL type I’ve learned to distrust the one-size-fits-all approach in clothing and frankly, just about everything else.

I think there is one-size-fits-all epidemic in social media marketing.  There are too many experts and enthusiasts pitching solutions without regard to your business needs. I’ve got nothing against e-books, teleseminars, and online courses, but I get nervous when someone is advising that you do what they do and then point to things like numbers of Twitter followers or extensive lists of “friends” as proof of their effectiveness.  Truth is they might very well be effective at what THEY do, but unless you do what they do it may be a moot point.  Worse it can sometimes be harmful to approach your market with tactics that are out of alignment with you brand, products and services.

The point is different businesses work different ways, and the marketing that makes a success of one might make a flop of another.  Here in Atlanta it can get hot – it’s in the 60s in December today, and in July… forget about it! When it’s hot a big guy like me likes to have a little lemonade to cool off. Atlanta is a great town for a lemonade stand. Pick a busy corner, put up your stand, set your price and keep your inventory in step with demand.  The marketing approach is simple, easy to break down into component steps and therefore a very reproducible model.  You could extend it to fruit punch or sweet iced tea, however it is a lousy platform for selling enterprise software.  It’s hard to pitch 3 months of integration while sweating in the open air.  It flops for selling shoes – not enough shelves, too hard to relocate with changes in traffic patterns.  You get the idea.

If you’re enticed to jump in on the program of a social media marketer ask yourself if the one-size-fits-all formula they are promoting applies well to the services you provide. Are you in a similar price range? Are you prepared to apply all of their tactics? Are your purchase decisions made on an equivalent timetable? Are the ongoing relationships with your customers and prospects the same type of relationships that they are cultivating? Are their multi-level approvals/buy-in required to get the win?  Or can you just mix up a cold batch of product and sell it by the glass?

If the answers to these questions don’t line up well with the formula being offered, then you may be buying into magic beans – strained trust, wasted time and brand damage, not a recipe for effective marketing.

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