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Monday, April 29, 2019

A Higher Marketing

Last week, I delved into the very hip marketing efforts of creating a “lifestyle brand” for your product or service. This New York Times headline made me laugh out loud: “When is a Burrito More than Just a Burrito? When It’s a Lifestyle.” Lifestyle burritos. Who knew?

If you’re late on the scene of lifestyle branding, Wikipedia has a profusion of background to read up on. To help our discussion, here’s the definition they provide:

“Lifestyle brands operate from the idea that each individual has an identity based on their choices, experiences, and background (e.g. ethnicity, social class, subculture, nationality, etc.). Lifestyle brands focus on evoking emotional connections between a consumer and that consumer's desire to affiliate him or herself with a group.”

This pursuit of branding for goods and services is very hot in marketing. Not everyone buys into it. Say, for example, Jeff Swystun. Jeff simply defines his business role this way: “I write. And I brand.”

Since he’s on top of the topic, I read with interest his article from 2016 titled, “A Brand is Not a Way of Life: The Fallacy of Lifestyle Brands.” What? Is this not heresy?! A dissident within the marketing guru cult?

His resistance in a sentence is summed up by saying, “It seems any brand can be a lifestyle brand. The definition is exceedingly generous and preposterously vague.” And he adds, “In fact, I think every brand believes they are a lifestyle brand in some way.”

Since I am an Apple aficionado (iPhone, iPad, MacBook Air), I appreciated Jeff’s observation that “Apple never claims to be anything.” They’ve decided that their customers will identify them in their own way. Because Apple dominates personal technologies, they’re labeled a “lifestyle brand.”

Jeff’s thinking is so juicy he’s fun to quote. Note this perception: “Lifestyle branding breaks down because it assumes a rational human would actually make a brand a way of life…Then there are the brand owners. Most pursue the lifestyle brand strategy not to influence or connect with the consumer but rather because it seems like a really cool strategy.”

In his article, he cites a piece in The Motley Fool by Rich Duprey. Rich challenged Burger King’s efforts to be a lifestyle brand. He concluded that their marketing jive proves it’s a company that has “nothing left to offer.” Dupree calls Burger King’s efforts “delusional.”

My overall take on lifestyle marketing is twofold. One, it’s fickle. Our tastes change. We’re not the product of what we wear, own, or eat. As time passes, our lifestyle finds other connecting points. Second, let’s not kid ourselves. The marketing game is all about making money. Even the so-called noble efforts of helping the poor with socks or shoes or whatever, still lines the pockets of the company’s founders. If that were not the goal, the company would keep quiet about its giving.

God’s perspective on developing the right lifestyle isn’t based on what’s hip or popular. In fact, the apostle Paul states, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, ESV)

John the apostle teaches it this way. “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you…For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” (1 John 2:15-17, NLT)

Good luck trying to market that lifestyle. Better have a higher calling.

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Monday, April 22, 2019

Put a Sock in It

I’m still trying to figure out my “lifestyle brands.” At 67, perhaps I’m just not as style conscious as I used to be. Or maybe I never was.

Marketing is now advancing this concept of lifestyle brands. It’s certainly happening with men’s socks and underwear. I know because I see the ads…everywhere.

Take the men’s briefs ads. We have the Tommy John brand. We have your Mack Weldon…which are supposedly very “well done.” (insert snicker) There’s the Jack & Jones brand. There’s even Buck Naked Underwear from Duluth Trading Company. (Let’s pass on more information about that.)

Get this. According to Marks & Spencer, the Official British Empire of British Underwear, women are starting to buy men’s underwear. The British retailer claims half of their men’s underwear is currently bought by women. Apparently, they must not think the men in their life know great style in that department.

Then you have your socks. Bombas ads bomb us with messages like, “8 reasons why people are obsessed with these socks.” Or my favorite, “The most comfortable socks in the history of feet.” (Really? How far back can we really trace this?) Their bonus Bombas offer to the buyer is that they donate one pair of socks for each pair purchased. This alone made me fear looking at the price.

The folks at Hidden Peak Outdoor pitch this: “Hidden Peak Outdoor™ performance socks were created for you, the adventurer. With unmatched style, comfort, and quality, Hidden Peak Outdoor will keep you comfortable beyond the journey. Explore the possibilities with Hidden Peak Outdoor.” Explore the possibilities?? In my sock drawer?

This more recent development of lifestyle branding in marketing of goods and services is big. In fact, the business world has taken to this in such a grand way that the term “lifestyle brand” has its own Wikipedia page! More on that next week.

Last summer, the NewYork Times ran a piece to educate us on this topic. The article is titled, “When is a Burrito More than Just a Burrito? When It’s a Lifestyle.” And you guessed it. Lifestyle branding includes food.

The opening paragraphs explain how the new chief marketing officer for Chipotle restaurants redefined the vision for the well known company. He’s got plans to develop your feelings about their burritos and tacos. Can’t wait.

Said Christopher Brandt, “Our ultimate marketing mission is to make Chipotle not just a food brand but a purpose-driven lifestyle brand.” What exactly did he mean? “Chipotle will become a brand that people want to know about, want to be a part of and want to wear as a badge.” Okay. Now with my socks and underwear I’m wearing the badge of Chipotle. Is that a good thing?

There’s more. The Times noted that Godiva has more ways to grab your dollars. Their desire is “to be seen as a lifestyle brand by leveraging their culinary expertise to expand beyond chocolates.” Other companies mentioned include Pizza Hut, Blue Apron, and IHOP. These all now describe themselves as lifestyle brands.

Why would you have such a brand affinity? Mr. Brandt believes, "When you walk down the street with a Starbucks cup, it can be a badge for people, it says something about you,” Yeah. That I like STARBUCKS COFFEE!

You mean there’s something else? Yes. It’s the effort brands are making to show they represent “something larger than the mere goods they sell.” Something meaningful in life besides…money.

In the world of church and the spiritual life, many brands exist. Jesus followers have LOTS of brands. Many compete for your allegiance. The great apostle Paul saw this happening way back when — in the early church. And it bugged him.

People were bragging about their “brand” of faith teacher. To this Paul wrote, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31, ESV) All churches need this reminder.

As for me, I have my own brand of socks. They’re called, “Hole-eez” You don’t want to know.

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Monday, April 15, 2019

You're in my Space

My blog last week focused on the reported unwanted touching by former senator and vice president, Joe Biden. We’ve now heard from several women who complained that the politician, often called “Uncle Joe,” gave them the creeps. Including one who claims the vice president pulled her close to “rub noses.”

Many people use human touch to help create a relational bond. When sadness or pain comes upon another, a hug may seem in order. A hand on a shoulder or a pat on the back is not uncommon. In sports, well, men are seemingly ALWAYS slapping or patting somebody’s back end. No lawsuits or major complaints on that. Yet.

This issue does raise an important question, captured well in the headline of a recent New York Times story, “Beyond Biden: How Close is Too Close?” Several points made in this article bear repeating here.

Before “touching” on those, note what Uncle Joe said in the video he released earlier this month. Regarding personal space, he said, “Social norms have begun to change. They’ve shifted, and boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset—and I get it.”

To me, this sounds like an excuse. Have these boundaries really shifted? Or do all of us have certain proclivities toward the way we want or don’t want to be touched? I can almost guarantee those preferences do exist—recognizing that it’s possible to see variances in other cultures.

Here’s what the Times discovered. They cite, for example, the work of American anthropologist Edward Hall. His research from the 1960s was based on field work in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. His conclusions?

People tend to prefer a zone of about 18 inches—“intimate space”–– (as Hall termed it) for close friends and family. Our need for what Hall termed “personal space” is from 18 inches to about 4 feet. Acquaintances and colleagues are expected to honor this. Lastly, “social space” is the appropriate range for strangers or new colleagues and that grows from 4 feet to 12 feet.

As I read that, I leaned back and questioned that social space distance. Seems excessive and unrealistic. I mean, 12 feet???

So how does the brain process spatial safety? The amygdala detects threats. It sends signals when spacial boundaries are crossed. One woman that brain scientists studied had a badly damaged amygdala. Apparently, strangers could approach her within a foot without her feeling uneasy.

I admit that I get quite uncomfortable when someone stands and speaks with me leaving less than a foot of personal space. It’s feels WAY too invasive. I’ve often wondered if there is a power issue going on with people who do this.

Verifying my observation earlier about the healthy power of touch, the Times wrote: “People who develop a hands-on style, who are free with hugs and touches, generally do so because they have learned what a powerful bonding mechanism such nonverbal communication can be.” Recent studies document this.

Psychologists report that even small touches can have dramatic effects on both brain and body. This can include stress reduction and lowering anxiety. Less so with a stranger than with a connected friend or loved one.

Lisa Harper is a long time ministry leader. Sharing about the power of touch, she wrote of Jesus of Nazareth:

“He intentionally used tactile methods—hugging a leper, placing His hands on a crippled woman’s spine—in most of His healing miracles. When the disciples tried to keep little children from interacting with Jesus (like most kids, they probably had sticky hands and dirty knees and, therefore, the disciples thought they were too messy to interact with the Messiah), the Lamb of God beckoned them to pile onto His lap (Mark 10:13–16)."

Jesus offered a true “Master’s touch” that was healing and welcoming.

Perhaps the best determinant of how to guide yourself on this issue is motive. And unless someone clearly understands what yours is, be cautious with touch.

If there’s unwanted touch, remember the power of the phrase, “You’re in my space.” That speaks clearly.

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Monday, April 8, 2019

Touch n' Go with Uncle Joe

Joe Biden has become #enigma.

The former senator and later vice president now has several women explaining how he made them feel uncomfortable with his unwanted touching. In the #MeToo era, undesirable advances can quickly knock you out of the game. But the aging politician many refer to as “Uncle Joe” has not had to face the music yet and step aside from his presidential aspirations. The key word is “yet.”

Biden’s apparent pattern of “touchy-feely” politics came into the spotlight recently because of an essay for The Cut. It was here we learned that former Nevada lieutenant governor nominee Lucy Flores endured a kiss, big and slow from Uncle Joe, on the back of her head during a 2014 political campaign.

Other accusers are stepping forward. According to the Hartford Courant, a former political fundraiser accused Uncle Joe of putting his hands around her neck in order to draw her in and “rub noses.” Then there’s Caitlyn Caruso. This 22-year-old was at an event dealing with campus sexual assault several years ago. She accused the former Veep of resting his hand on her thigh at that event.

We can add another to the list. This takes us back to a 2011 fund-raising event in Minneapolis. A writer named D.J. Hill was in attendance with her husband. The two prepared for a photograph with Uncle Joe when he apparently put his hand on her shoulder and then started sliding it down her back. The action made her feel “very uncomfortable.” Ya sure.

The moment did not go unnoticed by her husband. He placed his hand on Biden’s shoulder and made a joke. It seemed to ease the tension of the moment.

Thus we have our human enigma. As defined, “a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand.” Uncle Joe seems to be staunchly defending his hands (or lips) on policy as quite innocent gestures. He has his supporters.

The New York Times reports of a supposed “counternarrative” beginning to emerge. The paper cites women like Stephanie Carter, the wife of the former defense secretary Ashton B. Carter. She claims “that a photograph of Mr. Biden with his hands on her shoulders has been widely misinterpreted.” Her view was that she saw the gesture as “means of offering his support.”

Obviously, his critics disagree. So…where does this leave us?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the Politico Playbook, “I don’t think it’s disqualifying.” Then she added, “He has to understand in the world that we’re in now that people’s space is important to them, and what’s important is how they receive it and not necessarily how you intended it.”

Biden himself recognized that damage control must be done. Last Wednesday, Uncle Joe released a video discussing the importance of personal space. In his words, “Social norms have begun to change. They’ve shifted, and boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset—and I get it.” 

Get it?? Got it? Good.

Actually, I have a bit of sympathy for Biden. Some of us naturally want to “reach out and touch.” You can even notice it in handshakes. Some folks stiffen their hand as if almost trying to force you to stay back. Others grab your hand—and maybe your arm as well—and try to pull you in. Some are huggers. Others aren’t.

But in our culture, you have to draw the line at rubbing backs and kissing. Cut it out, Uncle Joe. Check with your own wife before trotting down that road.

Biblical examples of human touch are worth noting. One in particular arises in this season. Judas…betraying his Master with a kiss. It gives us a lesson. You can’t always trust what is supposedly a gesture of affection. (Matthew 26:47-49)

With Uncle Joe, that situation can easily be “touch and go.”

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Monday, April 1, 2019

There’s No Fool Like an Old Fool

It seems appropriate today to consider the nature of a “fool.” After all, it is “April Fools Day.” We view the day as an annual game of mostly harmless, practical jokes that are played on others. Our potential embarrassment is supposed to be softened when the prankster states, “April Fools.”

Truth is, most people I know don’t like being fooled. Especially the folk who have been around the block a while. Thus the phrase, “There’s no fool like an old fool.” The obvious meaning is that the more seasoned among us are expected to know better than to do or be suckered by outrageously foolish things.

The origin of that proverbial saying is found in a comprehensive collection of English proverbs. This one is John Heywood's 1546 glossary, A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the englishe tongue:

“But there is no foole to the olde foole, folke saie.”

(My computer really didn't like those spellings!)

All of us seniors can take a good practical joke or two. It’s part of the fun of life. And we enjoy pulling an innocent fast one on grandkids once in a while.

Where it stops being funny and harmless is when it comes to taking people’s money. The National Council on Aging offers advice on a number of topics to seniors. One article particularly worth noting is titled, “Top 10 Financial Scams Targeting Seniors.”

In the opening summary they write, “Financial scams targeting seniors have become so prevalent that they’re now considered ‘the crime of the 21st century.’” Why? Because seniors are thought to have a significant amount of money sitting in their accounts.

Many of these scams apparently go unreported for a couple of reasons. One, because they are either difficult to prosecute or, two, they are considered “low-risk” crime. These can particularly hurt the elderly who are short on time to recoup losses.

Think it’s only strangers targeting seniors? Not so. The NCOA reports “Over 90% of all reported elder abuse is committed by an older person’s own family members, most often their adult children, followed by grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and others.” Thieves are equal opportunity criminals as well, targeting both the low income crowd as well as the wealthy.

So what’s on the the NCOA “Top 10 Financial Scams Targeting Seniors?” Here’s the list and links to each can be found in the article:
  1. Medicare/health insurance scams
  2. Counterfeit prescription drugs
  3. Funeral & cemetery scams
  4. Fraudulent anti-aging products
  5. Telemarketing/phone scam
  6. Internet fraud
  7. Investment schemes
  8. Homeowner/reverse mortgage scams
  9. Sweepstakes & lottery scams
  10. The grandparent scam

Since I recently went on Medicare, that one is certainly worth knowing about. Here’s what happens: “In these types of scams, perpetrators may pose as a Medicare representative to get older people to give them their personal information, or they will provide bogus services for elderly people at makeshift mobile clinics, then use the personal information they provide to bill Medicare and pocket the money.”

Another one that intrigued me is “the grandparent scam.” Here, a call is made to an elderly person. When the phone is picked up, the caller says something like, “Hi Grandma, do you know who this is?” After the unsuspecting grandparent guesses the name of a grandchild with similar voice tones, “the fake grandchild will usually ask for money to solve some unexpected financial problem to be paid via Western Union or MoneyGram, which don’t always require identification to collect.” The scam artist also begs the grandparent “please don’t tell my parents, they would kill me.”

The Bible offers this review of the evil pranksters, “Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death, is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, ‘I am only joking!’” (Proverbs 26:18-19, ESV)

Proverbs 11:3 gives us the end game for deceivers, “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.” (ESV)

Need I say, “No foolin'!”

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