My writing philosophy, in brief

Over the past few months I’ve been working closely with one of our clients to help them define their written brand voice and further develop their team’s writing skills. The work has been rewarding. They’re smart people who care deeply about the communities they serve. Having a clearer, more consistent voice helps them carry their message further.

Throughout multiple writing workshops I’ve shared guidelines and checklists and example after example. Including all of my favorite advice collected from learning to write as a journalist and then for the past 15 years writing and developing written brand voice for organizations.

But if I had to sum up my writing philosophy in three simple statements, it would sound something like this:

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Getting your brand story heard in a social media world


This article was originally written for and published in IABC’s CW Bulletin, September 2011.

Brand communicators today have a unique opportunity: We can get our messages into the marketplace at a cost and speed that would not have been possible a few short years ago.

However, we are also not alone anymore. Today everyone is in advertising and in PR. Social media has allowed everyone to have their own megaphone.

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Time to chase a new kind of dream

Last week the time had come for me to say goodbye to Red Hat. I joined the company on the third day of the year 2000. Red Hat was 350 people then. Today the company is over 3500 and is the largest and most recognized open source company in the world. I may have left the company, but in many ways I will always be a Red Hatter.

But today I’m chasing a new kind of dream. Today is my first day at New Kind.

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When it’s time for change: Recycling and Redesigning Logos

Branding is about articulating the clearest, truest expression of who you are. For most brands, that expression is summed up in the logo identity.

If you’re a new company, a new logo is a chance to introduce yourself to the world and make a good first impression. But when your logo and brand are already in the marketplace, it presents a different challenge. What do you want your brand to say about you? And is that the message your logo is sending your audience today?

The fantastic book “Recycling & Redesigning Logos” by Michael Hodgson is all about redefinition–when your logo no longer represents who you are or who you want to be. Hodgson is the principal and creative director of Ph.D, a design firm in Santa Monica, Calif.

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Sharing the story of Red Hat’s brand and culture

Last week I was asked to speak about brand and culture to a group of visiting MBA students from the Mason School of Business at the College of William & Mary. They came to Red Hat to learn more about the company, and I gave a talk on how brand and culture align at Red Hat.

I love telling this story.

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Why do we love lists? Here are 5 reasons.

You see the headlines in Twitter all the time: “Top 5 WordPress themes for small businesses.” “10 ways to build your personal brand.” The lists go on. Especially right now when best-of and worst-of lists are everywhere. Not to be outdone, Time Magazine created a list of lists, the Top 10 of everything in 2009.

We can’t resist clicking on these headlines. Why? What makes lists such a compelling way for bloggers and magazines to deliver content? And if we know this is true, how can more organizations take advantage of the format to get their messages read and remembered?

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Lessons from my favorite brands: Be more than a brand. Be a philosophy. – MUJI

Essential products. Minimalist sensibility. Restrained beauty and effortless simplicity. MUJI may just be the world’s most poetic brand.

And it’s not a brand at all. Or at least they reject all of the traditional definitions. MUJI is a Japanese company whose name means “no brand quality goods.” For MUJI, it’s not about being a brand, but about promoting a philosophy.

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Building brand through storytelling: Seven elements great stories have in common

Here’s a quick story:
A friend of mine and I had stopped at a gas station for a soda on a summer afternoon. I was probably about 10 years old. As we were drinking, I was mindlessly tearing the plastic label off my bottle and shredding it into pieces. He watched me do this for a few minutes, then said, “I hate tearing off the labels because it makes the soda taste bad.”

This was my first lesson in branding.

Few ways of communication are more universally human than storytelling. Stories give full-color context to black-and-white facts. They’re designed for sharing: Easy to tell, easy to remember. Simply start at the beginning and let the story unfold.

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My rule of thumb for delivering a message? Less prose, more poetry

We all know how fast the world is moving. Attention spans are short. Our mission is to get our ideas read, remembered, and retold. It doesn’t matter whether you’re crafting company strategy or writing marketing copy. When you need to inspire change, you need to make your message stick.

Which means the communicator has to do the hard work of organizing, curating, and designing the message–so the reader doesn’t have to.

In other words: less prose, more poetry.

Case in point: Last weekend I picked up the book 52 Rules of Thumb a smart, well-written book that compiles and curates some of the best business advice the author, Alan M. Webber, has collected in his career.

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How to sell an idea: Seek informed simplicity

“We must strive to reach that simplicity that lies beyond sophistication.” -John Gardner

Too often we think simplicity means simplistic. Lacking in intelligence. Stupid. And when we’re trying to convince people of our way of thinking, the best way to do this is to prove what we know by showing complexity in agonizing detail and then beating you over the head with it until you’re convinced. I’ve found spreadsheets and slide decks work well for this purpose.

We complicate. We use big words when small ones would do. And along the way we forget why we’re here: To communicate to an audience and compel them to act.

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