Home is where the branding is

Coffee!When I was eating breakfast at home recently, I took an inventory of the number of corporate brands that were on display to me as I sat at our kitchen counter.

The fridge, oven, toaster, etc. were obvious ones but then I started noticing brand names on things like a pair of speakers, the cookware and the ceiling fan, and the count went up to 15+.

There are probably more I'm missing. And that's before I even open up the pantry to look at food packaging - oh my.

You've probably seen the studies that say the average U.S. resident is exposed to many thousands of advertising/branding messages per day. Sometimes these studies seem a bit exaggerated, but I still think about the core point that my brain is consuming brand and advertising messaging all day long.

As I've gotten older and I feel like my brain is less sponge-like for being able to take in all the information I can throw at it, I've gotten more protective of what I fill it up with and what I use it for.

One way to do that is to not let brands advertise to me in my own home and in the spaces where I generally want the most control over how I feel, what I think about, and what messages I take in.

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A website is not a marketing strategy

Is building a website the same thing as building a marketing strategy? It's understandable that people have started to confuse the two.

With so many amazing online marketing tools available and (in many industries) a shift away from traditional marketing media like printed materials, marketing for many businesses and organizations has become an activity that largely takes place on the web. It's easy to start thinking of using those online tools as analogous to creating a plan for marketing.

But just like a more traditional printed brochure, billboard or phonebook ad, a website is a tool that you use to implement your marketing strategy and communicate about your brand. You can't build an effective organizational website without having a marketing strategy in place first any more than you can give a great speech without first having something compelling to say.

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The balancing act in political candidate debates

One of the things I've gained during this campaign is a new appreciation for how challenging it can be to produce and facilitate a meaningful and substantive political debate that is valuable to voters.  Between the spring primary and the general election, I can think of at least eight events where myself and some combination of other candidates for office were asked to debate (or converse, or discuss) the issues facing Richmond and Wayne County for an hour or more.

At each event, as a candidate I've tried to balance a series of (sometimes competing) goals for my participation, including:

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Political parties and the "So What?" test

Partisan FailAs complex human beings, it can be hard to communicate all that we stand for and all that we've experienced in casual social interactions.  "Hi, I'm Chris, let me tell you about the past 34 years of my life in the next 2 minutes...."  When it goes beyond communicating to trying to persuade someone of something - that they should vote for you, for example - it can be even harder to efficiently sum up what you're about in meaningful, authentic ways.

This is surely part of the utility, then, of having political parties: "Democrat," "Republican" and "Libertarian" (to name a few) are labels that help us identify a set of beliefs and values that a particular candidate might stand for and bring to their approach to governance.

But in recent years, the wordsmiths of the political machine have diluted many of these labels, and candidates and politicians who say they stand for one thing and then do other things have further made those labels less meaningful to voters. And just because we have labels to help us, we can't forfeit our responsibility to truly understand what a candidate stands for and how they would represent us.

This is where the "So What?" test comes in.

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Truth in advertising

False advertising?At some point when I was fairly young, I was excited to learn about the concept of "truth in advertising" - the notion that it actually matters whether what you say in a public announcement or description of products or services is true or not.  I was even more excited to learn that there was an official government entity (in the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission) empowered to enforce truth in advertising standards, and punish those who would dare publish falsehoods.  It totally knocked my socks off to further learn that ordinary citizens could submit claims of false advertising and compel advertisers to change or withdraw their deceptive advertising pieces.

What a world of pure and unflinching justice we could then live in!  To walk around knowing that the slogans and invitations on billboards, newspaper ads and television were all required by law to be true, and that onerous fines and the shame of the public eye awaited the occasional miscreant who would stray from this noble code.  No need to worry about being deceived or misled as a consumer; we could always have confidence that advertisers would stand by their claims.

Like I said, I was young.

But at the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, I do think there's been a notable shift in the standards we hold marketers and public figures to when it comes to truth in advertising.  Seems like somewhere around the mid 1990's, we kind of gave up on it.

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Scenes from election day

Today is election day in Richmond!  I hope that if you haven't already voted, you take the time to cast your vote at one of the three convenient voting centers in town, before 6 PM.  I'll be posting updates about the day on my Twitter and Facebook accounts and to subscribers of my mailing list.  The Palladium-Item is hosting a live chat all day long and you can tweet your comments/questions by including the hashtag #richmondvotes.

If you'd like to join me as the results come in tonight, I'll be on the third floor of the Richmond Municipal Building sometime after 6 PM.

All morning, I've been out at the voting centers greeting voters as they arrive.   It's been a little wet and chilly, but well worth it in terms of the great exchanges I've had with people.  Some things I've heard and seen:

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