The Answer To the Brand Riddle Is Consistent Investment

Differentiate or die. That’s the mountain that all tech startups must climb. I wrote an article about it and was kind enough to publish it.

When the Product Does All the Talking, Where Does Brand Marketing Fit In?

Reaching the Audience

In the article, I discuss how the cultures of an agency that builds brands and tech startups are fundamentally on separate pages.

Going to market with a minimum viable product is common practice, but it’s not good for a new brand. From a brand impression perspective, anything you do that is underwhelming is a major ding to your image. Yes, iterating rapidly is required, but in brand communications, you do not “move fast and break stuff.” You make a map of the customer journey and meet your VIPs (a.k.a. customers) at every step along the purchase consideration path. 

My team moves faster than most. We are lean and we can do that. Even so, we follow a well-developed process that produces desired results, and it all takes time. And time requires trust, a financial investment, and a long-term vision.

Who has time for such things?

Companies that invest in ‘brand’ and truly care about the experiences they create for customers are the companies worth significantly more at the end of the day. This is why it’s worth it and why great brands make the time and invest the money to do it right. They’re playing the long game.

Between Tears

by David Burn

Between tears
Room for unbridled fears

A change of gears
Open ears

Seeing with mirrors
Doubt reappears

The unruly crowd leers
There are facetious cheers

A cascading veil of years
A quiver of spears

Between tears
News smears and confusion interferes

Alienation among peers
Rumors that no one and everyone hears

Still, we dream of deers
We reach frontiers

We are brazen cavaliers
We enter far out spheres

The rent is no longer in arrears
Time for starry premiers

More promises from pamphleteers
More conversions from profiteers

New bridges from engineers
Let’s head to the Berkshires

There will be souvenirs
There will be mutineers

Between tears
Love adheres

Best New Music of 2020

2020 has been a mess of a year on so many levels. For one, live music came to a total standstill. We are still standing still during this last week of the year.

Thankfully, when times get tough, artists get busy.

What did not stop this year is the writing and performing of music (in socially distanced studios). In fact, you could argue that 2020’s recorded music is truly outstanding by any measure. But why discuss such matters, when you can push play and listen?

The 21 songs in this playlist are standout tracks. Each track is also a signpost to the artist’s new album.

Laura Veirs, Jerry Joseph, Margo Price, Alicia Keys, Destroyer, Wolf Parade, Chuck Prophet, My Morning Jacket, and so many more musicians offered us songs of beauty and harmony in 2020—exactly what we need to shift from chaos to peace, and from collective despair to a new hopefulness.

Two Copywriters, One Shared Vision for Fostering Creative Excellence

Two Copywriters, One Shared Vision for Fostering Creative Excellence

I was honored when a colleague reached out to me recently and requested an interview to run on his company’s blog. Todd Anthony and I have been in the same social media orbit for years. Todd, who is executive creative director at Pinwheel Content in the Bay Area asked to meet on Zoom. He recorded our chat and then transcribed it, which gives the text a conversational tone that it would otherwise not possess. Here’s a small sample from our chat. Click over to Pinwheel Content for the full interview.

Todd: How would you describe copywriters as a group? What are the unique qualities about them?

David: Honestly, they’re all over the place. Writers are artists. Narrative artists. They can be difficult, strange, and un-business-like. They’re misfits, yes, but I think of all that as being a very good thing. If you can bring that to the suits and their corporations, who are stiff and boring and scared, you can make a difference for their customers…and that’s important.

If we have to be the court jester, well okay, there’s something to that, too. I remember many times going over to Coors and the clients were looking forward to it. They’d say, “Here come the creatives, they’re going to tell us stories and make us laugh for an hour.” That’s really valuable.

So we’re the court jesters of the advertising and marketing world. It’s because we’re the storytellers. We’re ready to walk into a room and captivate. And that’s not done with your notes and screens. That’s done with your personality and your intelligence.

Design Internship Featured in Franklin & Marshall College News

Design Internship Featured in Franklin & Marshall College News

I graduated with a B.A. in English from Franklin & Marshall College in 1987.

Yuhang Wang graduated from F&M in May with a B.A. in Art.

Last summer, Yuhang reached out to me via F&M’s True Blue Network, and asked if I could help her find a job or internship. She showed me her student work in theater set design, plus her fine art, and I knew right away that she’s an extraordinary talent.

I extended her a paid internship offer and it was one of the best decisions that I’ve made in years. She’s an outstanding intern and a wonderful person.

“You want to see the fine artist in a designer, just like you want to see the writer in a copywriter,” Burn said. “Thanks to what we’ve learned at F&M, we’re prepared to infuse the business world with art, writing, and meaning.”

One of the goals of the internship is to help Yuhang find and land a great job. Thanks to recent client wins at Bonehook, I am now hopeful that I can provide the job she wants, starting in January 2021.

Ad Chatter, the New Podcast from

Once upon a time, we used to stand around the water fountain and or coffee pot and discuss ads for a few minutes before heading back to our designated cubicle.

Today, Dan Goldgeier and I meet on Zoom to chat about the business. New tech, same compulsion.

New logo by Yuhang Wang

Did you know?

Current Podstats:

  • Brands that advertise their products and services on business podcasts enjoy an average 14% rise in purchase intent
  • 54% of podcast consumers say they think about buying advertised products
  • 2 million podcasts are registered by Google
  • The podcast advertising market grew 48% last year, to $708 million, according to an IAB/PwC report

All episodes of Ad Chatter are now available on Buzzsprout \ Apple Podcasts \ Spotify \ Stitcher \ Amazon Music \ Listen Notes \ Deezer \ Podchaser \ Podcast Addict \ Google Podcasts

I Am A Guest on The Adland Podcast

I Am A Guest on The Adland Podcast

Åsk Wappling, the founder of started a new podcast recently.

I was honored to join her on a recent episode, where we discuss several timely topics that are impacting the ad industry today.

Listen now via Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

David Burn and I had a lively discussion about what it’s like to create a media that predates the existence of Youtube, Twitter, and even Facebook. How much the advertising and media world has changed since. How Internet advertising keeps missing the absolute basics of marketing. How students need to grow a thick skin because your ideas will be shot down a thousand times over in this business, and it’s nothing personal. The death of the holding companies. The trade magazines who are in bed with the companies they write about leaving us with no journalists properly reporting on our industry, and much more.

Creative Mornings Features Members On Its Intsa

Creative Mornings provides a monthly talk on a chosen topic (for free) in cities around the globe. Unlike Ted, it’s not exclusive. You can sign up or walk up and enjoy a donut, coffee, and interesting ideas about architecture, design, culture, and so on.

Creative Mornings is also an excellent marketer. The organization is featuring members from around the world on its Instagram page. I am fortunate to be one such featured member.

The answers I provided were in response to a prompt in the submission form. I now have more room to elaborate. I wasn’t happy working in the traditional agency structure, because of the daily diet of shit sandwiches that are required of most ad agency workers.

When you can’t be honest with your clients or with your peers in the agency, you can’t deliver what’s required—thinking and doing that provides a path for greater growth and a fuller understanding of brand value.



The person who runs the Communication Arts Twitter account likes to promote my writing. I am grateful. CA is the creative industry’s standard-bearer, and each Tweet sent from @CommArts is seen by a segment of the magazine’s 81,300 followers.

It’s an honor when anyone pays attention to my writing. Given that it’s CA who follows my updates and helps to promote my thinking, I feel particularly grateful for the recognition.

Accountability: It’s Missing, and This Is a Big Problem for Teams

Avoidance of accountability is one of five dysfunctions of a team, according to the author and consultant Patrick Lencioni. His book, Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable has sold more than three million copies. I can understand why, as I keep coming back to the fundamental concepts in the book to improve my own performance on teams.

Let’s take a look at all five dysfunctions of a team to see the big picture:

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If your team has any one of the five dysfunctions above, you’ve got an open wound inside your organization. A wound that you must attend to and heal.

I’m No Nurse, There Must Be An Easier Way

“Holding people accountable has about as much appeal as holding people hostage,” says Greg Bustin, a Dallas-based executive coach and author of Accountability: The Key to Driving A High-Performance Culture.

“In some people’s minds, accountability is synonymous with finger-pointing, the blame game,” he said. “Yet accountability is actually a support system built on trust. It’s about figuring out what we need to do and making our commitment to live up to it.”

Accountability is built on trust. Bustin also highlights commitment. That’s two of Lencioni’s five dysfunctions in one smart sentence!

Healthy Teams Make Progress and A Difference

Working conditions for today’s thought workers are not ideal. The conditions are not ideal because functional teams are created with intention by design. In other words, you must badly want to create exceptional teamwork and the efficiencies that flow from it, for it to have any chance of occurring.

Sadly, the operative framework in modern-day marketing organizations—to offer one primary and painful example—is the funnel. Isn’t it? The emphasis is not on healthy teams, and of equal importance, it’s not on taking good care of the customer. The emphasis is on chasing data dragons.

“The funnel” is a non-descriptive way of saying we very much would love to send you as much email as you can possibly tolerate. Where there was the art of relationship marketing, there’s now the weak science of digital microtargeting masquerading as spam. Which is a long-winded way of saying that things are seriously out-of-focus, and they have been for so long that we’ve adjusted our eyes to The New Blurry.

What Happens When You Focus On Healthy Teams

Dysfunctional teams brew a toxic workplace culture where bad habits compound into multiple headaches for everyone. Working late and again on the weekends, dealing with petty jealousies, constant backchanneling, poor leadership, no transparency, and so many other unreal expectations that confront today’s laborer, is no way to uplift people, companies, or brands.

By putting your team’s dysfunctions under glass, it lets you open up new avenues for prosperity to grow, and prosperity is the mother of generosity. When you make these conscious moves, you also shift into an “abundance mindset” and leave “scarcity mindset” behind.

Dynamic Teams Make the Best Work

One person with a lot of great ideas can act as an engine for the creative team, but it’s the team/crew/band that adopts the ideas, challenges them, reshapes them, and finally brings them to life. Therefore, the talented individual is only as good as the team she’s on.

People often wonder why so much crap gets made and why it sells. Lack of talent and absence of taste are two possibilities, but I don’t think they’re the culprits. I’ve worked in the ad agency business for 25 years and the great majority of people I’ve been around are smart and come to the table with good ideas. However, without a functional team to protect and advance their unpolished gems, their big ideas never make it into production.

Enter the Consultant \ Coach \ Guide \ Advisor

Think about how you see yourself in the mirror and in photographs. It’s human to stretch or bend reality to our liking. We don’t want to see all the flaws, we want to see our strongest features and we learn to show those to the world while hiding our personal scars and blemishes. The same holds for how we view our companies and our brands. We see the bad sides, but we either look away or learn to cover those up.

An astute and practiced outside observer sees things as they are, and this makes them/us/me valuable observers of objective reality. It’s a point of view worth acquiring, but it takes bravery and a new degree of openness. No one wants to be audited and a good outside observer will do just that, but do it in a way that feels supportive and kind. Everyone makes mistakes until they see or are shown another way. It’s not about judgment, it’s about honest assessments that lead to improved performance.

Obfuscation and rancid behavior are common on the job in so many fields, but it needn’t be that way. If your goal is to achieve great things, it can’t be that way. If you’re honest with yourself, you can see your way to a better you and better teamwork. It’s going to take a better you to uplift the team and get everyone on a trust and accountability page. It’s my contention that whatever pain and effort are required to get there is well worth it. Breaking old or bad habits is not fun, but the results are sweet.

To begin now, perform an accountability self-assessment. Ask yourself who and what you are accountable to and where you might improve. Then turn the lens on your current and past teams. We’ve all been on bad teams. Some of us are on bad teams now. Change is a process, and to get the process rolling it takes motivation and tools. The motivation can’t be supplied by anyone but you. The tools and people to help you use them are plenty available for the betterment of self and team, which ripples out and helps make a better world. Here’s to doing our part!