Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tiger: Go to Japan!

For years Tiger Woods was an adored hero on the world stage – then in a flash transformed into a coddled celebrity falling down the rat-hole of self-indulgence and ruin.

Since his fall, Tiger has tried to show a humble, human side... and worked on his golf game to regain his winning form.

Is his rep improving? Has the Tiger brand regained value? Well, he has not won a tournament since his Waterloo. Troubled conscience?

But now: Here is a golden opportunity! Tiger is scheduled to go to Japan!

And yet – in a terrible decision! – he canceled the trip – reinforcing the view that Tiger is still a pampered celebrity rather than a humble man of empathy. Brand botch!

My advice to Tiger: Go to Japan and grab a shovel. The world will see you in the best light. You will feel better about yourself – and maybe have the confidence and inner calm to win a tournament for a change.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Naming hospital systems

Naming hospital systems

How did the Queens-Long Island Medical Group rebrand itself? – as the lovely QLIMG.

How would you re-name the Metropolitan Jewish Health System to reflect the rich diversity of its patients and staff? The chosen “name”: MJHS

What do you call the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Healthcare System? The organization decided to keep the long name – but promote a shortened form “North-Shore LIJ” – this despite the fact that the system has expanded far beyond Long Island and is not exclusively Jewish.

What do you call the group of hospitals in Eastern Connecticut organized into a more integrated network? It’s called ECHN. A current billboard along I-91 shows a happy patient proclaiming, “Thanks ECHN.”

How important is having a cool name? When your service is critically important, you may not need a cool name to be successful. That seems to be the current thinking among hospital systems.

That said, a competitive hospital system does need a name that human beings can say and remember. I predict that these organizations will come around to joining the rest of the human race and create true names, not jumbled letters.

My rule number one: The need for a cool name declines in proportion to the essential nature of the service being offered. It doesn't matter what you call a super-engineered, life-saving cancer drug.

But rule number two is: Broad-based healthcare networks will benefit by ditching the letters and adopting simple, memorable names.

After all, they have to compete for staff, patients and donors. Their clumsy initials suggest a vast, cold bureaucracy, reveal an inward-turning mentality, and insult quaking patients in cheap gowns by expecting them to say and write four ugly capital letters.

What is the value of putting a human name on the door of your hospital system? A simple, human name proclaims that a respectful, caring service begins from the moment you stretch out your hand to introduce yourself.


Friday, March 11, 2011

The Wisdom of Merrill Lynch

What's this in my in-box? Merrill Lynch has sent me a "RIC Report"? issued by their "Research Investment Committee"?

Hmmm. Interesting. Investment strategies. I should look into this report with all its charts and guidance. I see it's produced by a guy named Michael Hartnett, called "Chief Global Equity Strategist"– probably a real guru.

Yes, I might learn about global investing and find insights into key industries. So... I'll just click the link here... But hey, this is convenient – a one-sentence "synopsis." I'll read it first just to get a flavor...

"Synopsis: Two years after equity market lows, the RIC believes the cyclical bull market in risk assets is incomplete, but in the near term we are cautious until we see a peak in commodity prices."

Okay. That's... completely... meaningless. Based on this synopsis, I bet Mr. Hartnett's committee has never been sued for giving bad advice. "Giving bad advice," after all, implies that the advisor has advice to give and is able to put across an intelligible thought.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

NPR – Brand in trouble

We can add NPR to the list of troubled media brands that includes Blockbuster, AOL, Borders and MySpace. While these others are victims of forces beyond their control – like the ruthless competition from a Netflix or a Facebook – NPR has the distinction of authoring its own problems.

Today, NPR’s CEO resigned her position after one of her lieutenants was caught on tape – between mouthfuls of lunch – maligning segments of his own audience as “seriously racist.” Ah, how easy it is for a foolish senior vice president to let down his guard when tempted by a savory pot pie on a cold March day.

So down goes CEO Vivian Schiller and, with her, her senior vice president – this following the unseating several months ago of an editor who bungled the firing of a respected analyst, Juan Williams (who dared to go on Fox News and express his own views).

These guys are working overtime to run a good brand into the ground. You would think they would at least honor their stewardship of National Public Radio! – but wait. They actually monkeyed with the name itself. Last year they replaced the dignified, republican-sounding "National Public Radio" with the mundane, bland initials “NPR.”

Think about that. Replacing “National Public Radio” with “NPR” is like replacing the name Lady Gaga with LG. It’s like turning John Wayne back into Marion Robert Morrison – and star him in the Western classic Courageous River (formerly “Rio Bravo”).

Look, the central problem at NPR is that leaders have lost sight of what the brand stands for. It’s not a bastion of political correctness – it’s not a private club for anti-tea-partiers to pass judgment on conservative voters who prevailed in the last election and are among the taxpayers dragooned into supporting NPR.

Months ago NPR could have highlighted Juan Williams as an example of diversity of views and voices. Instead they fired him for not toeing the line. Talk about strategically inept.

NPR is actually National Public Radio – a beautiful concept in its day. It promised open airways and thoughtful content for the enlightenment and entertainment of all Americans. These days the organization has sunk to petty partisanship, and the brand reveals a mean spirit. Time for a radical repositioning.


Melville's liberal education

A postscript to my potshots at the high valuation placed on book-learning at an expensive college: For professional and personal reasons I'm reading Moby Dick – and just came upon this passage – Melville's advocacy of learning by doing:
As for me, if, by any possibility, there be any as yet undiscovered prime thing in me;...if hereafter I shall do anything that, upon the whole, a man might rather have done than to have left undone; if, at my death, my executors, or more properly my creditors, find any precious MSS. in my desk, then here I prospectively ascribe all the honour and the glory to whaling; for a whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.
A whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard! By luck, I stumbled upon this picture of Melville in a freshman seminar at Harvard:

Let's write it once more: "A whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard."

Mark it well ye applicants to college – and those who wind up paying!


Monday, March 7, 2011

Is Spring a brand?

Hey, what's that yellow on the trees? Where did that come from? And those red tips. Were they here yesterday?

Tick tock… You can feel it coming.

The dirt is moving down there. And that sun – it rose up earlier today, and it will be out even earlier tomorrow, I bet. What are you planning to do with all that extra light!?

Spring has its own tempo. Slow… then not so slow… then really fast.

Snow has changed to water trickling along in the yellow beams… now rushing somewhere while you sit around looking unproductive.

Hey! (That’s the brand voice of spring – it’s a shout.) Hey, pal! (Spring calls you “pal.”) You better get moving. You better step it up, pal. The dirt is alive under your own feet.

Tick tock. Tick tock. Spring is coming. Fast.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sewanee and the value of higher education

If you consider Steve Jobs (college dropout), Warren Buffett (Univ. of Nebraska), and Sarah Palin, youngest person ever to be elected governor of Alaska (Univ. of Idaho), you might wonder about the value of an expensive undergraduate education. It’s hard to imagine these talented, charismatic leaders being any more successful if they had gone to Yale. Would the iPad be any thinner if Jobs had stayed in college? Probably never been invented.

On a personal note: I did stick it out for four full years at the very college Jobs abandoned. Would I have been better off leaving early as he did? Okay, never mind. Don't imagine my life as a drop-out. Professional kite flier at 19. Extended disability at 22. Card dealer at 40. Magazine distributor at 41. Speechwriter for Senator Harry Reid at 42. It would have been a grim trajectory.

Fact is, I often look back on the years I plodded up the rungs of higher education – all the while dulling my mind and perfecting my jump-shot – as time that would have been better spent in, say, an Oregon cannery. At least there I would have had time to choose what I needed to learn rather than be told what I had to study. Glory be to the cultural heritage of Western Civilization! – but exposing me at 18 to a book by Emmanuel Kant was like putting a Stradivarius in the hands of the Three Stooges.

It’s boorish to deny the worth of liberal arts study. But here’s the question – at what price? Today – in whispers and in shouts – Americans are questioning the value of a four-year term at an esteemed, high-priced college. It’s worth something, sure. But how much? And how much compared with what’s offered at Brand X College?

The University of the South – known as Sewanee – is an exclusive, high-priced liberal arts college that recently made national headlines: It lowered next year’s tuition by ten percent, knocking about 4500 bucks off the cost of a year’s study. Instantly Sewanee became more accessible to some families – and more price-competitive than similar colleges.

Malcolm Gladwell – author of Blink – just ranked the nation’s top law schools and produced this: 1: Chicago 2: BYU 3: Harvard 4: Yale 5: Texas 6: Virginia 7: Colorado 8: Alabama

Gladwell’s methodology was eccentric but logical: He took into account something USA Today never considers: price. For the price, says Gladwell, you get a better deal at BYU Law School than you do at Harvard or Yale.

Does this methodology factor in the brand value of an Ivy League name? If BYU grads wind up in good law firms for less money – then I suppose it does.