Branding should be fascinating

“You can’t stand out if you’re trying to blend in.”  That’s the message Sally Hogshead drives home in the updated edition of “Fascinate,” her how-to handbook for making any brand impossible to resist.

“In any crowded marketplace, you have to make a choice.  Either have the biggest marketing budget… or be the most fascinating.  Otherwise, your messages will be ignored and forgotten.

Her research shows that a product or service can charge up to 400% more, without changing the product, by identifying how to fascinate buyers.  She goes on demonstrate how anyone can make anything fascinating.  Her book gives the tools to prove it.


In her original version published in 2010, Sally explained how our brains become captivated by certain people and ideas.  She shared the seven ways in which brands fascinate people, or as she puts it, “the why, but not the how.”

Her new book includes more than 60 percent new content.  Most exciting is the introduction of her Brand Fascination Profile, a process that enables you to measure your own product or service and to measure your advantages.

Another new feature is TurboBranding, a step-by-step process that shows you how to create brand messages in about an hour.

Sound like useful information?  You can’t begin to imagine how many ways you can apply this advice.  After all, as Sally writes, “Corporations don’t create brands.  People do.”

What attracts people to certain branding messages and not others?  “Every day, in every relationship, you’re ‘marketing’ your ideas to be heard,” Sally says.  “You want clients to hire you, or customers to recommend you. . . .Your influence will be measured by your ability to fascinate.”

The word “fascinate” comes from the Latin fascinare, which means “to bewitch or hold captive so that others are powerless to resist.”  Fascination is the most powerful force of attraction, drawing customers into a state of intense focus.

How do you harness this fascination?  “If you master the forces that influence human behavior, you win,” she says.  “You can win bigger budgets, more time, better relationships, greater admiration, deeper trust.”

But if you don’t attract people, you lose the battle.  She cautions:  “As a business, if you can’t persuade customers to act, you might as well donate your entire marketing budget to charity.”

You will know that your brand is fascinating if you are provoking strong and emotional reactions, creating advocates and inciting conversation, or forcing your competitors to realign.

The examples and stories that Sally shares offer convincing evidence.  One example describes how women who were given the choice between sunglasses with a designer logo and plain sunglasses were willing to pay more for the logo, although the functionality of the product was the same.  The experiment showed that they weren’t concerned about buying something that was better, but something that was different.

“That’s the heart of differentiation,” she writes.  “It’s tough to be better.  But far easier to be different.”

Fascination goes beyond rational thinking, she says, “transforming customers into fanatics and your brand’s products into must-have purchases.”

But what if your marketing budget is limited?  “The goal here is not to spend more money on marketing.  It’s actually to spend less money by marketing more effectively,” Sally advises.

“Spend less but see better results.  Outthink instead of outspend.  If you don’t have the biggest budget, then be the most fascinating.”

The real meat of this book comes in Part II, “The Seven Fascination Advantages:  How To Make Your Brand Impossible To Resist.”  She describes the creativity of innovation, the emotion of passion, the confidence built by power, the new standards set by prestige, the stability of trust, mystique’s language of listening and the rules of alert.

She next moves into tactics, a practical system to customize your message.  The seven advantages are coupled with specific tactics to position your message more effectively.  Sally also shows how to combine the seven advantages with each other to customize your branding.

The closing section sends you on your way with a five-step action plan.  The “Fascinate System” is not a substitute for a full-service agency,” she says.  But “it condenses the time-honored marketing process into a streamlined and straightforward process for identifying your brand’s message and key competitive advantage.”

In a nutshell, “Fascinate” is fascinating.  Your brand can be fascinating too.


Mackay’s Moral: Big time branding doesn’t require a big-time budget, just a commitment to fascinate.

A little fear can be a good thing

A small village by the sea depended on fishing to survive. Each year the boats they sent out had to go farther and farther from shore to catch enough fish to feed all the villagers.

But as they ventured farther away, they encountered a problem. Their usual practice was to put the fish they caught in big tanks to keep them fresh until they returned home. But the fish grew lethargic in the tanks, and many died before the boat could reach shore again.

After much thought, one of the crew hit upon a solution:  On their next fishing trip, they caught a small shark and placed it in the tank along with the fish.  The shark ate only a few fish, but the rest swam frantically around the tank trying to keep away from the predator – and made it to shore fresh and healthy for the villagers who depended on them.

The moral of this story is that sometimes a little fear is what we need to stay active and alive.  I certainly find that to be true.  If I begin to coast, I lose concentration and focus.  I perform best when I have a little anxiety or fear.  I am sharper and more on my game.

A little fear can be healthy.  But fear can hold a lot of people back and stop them from living life to the fullest.  I understand that feeling of being afraid.  However, there is only one thing worse than a quitter, and that is a person who is afraid to begin.  There are no hopeless situations; there are only people who have grown hopeless about them.

I have a friend who told me “There are 365 ‘fear nots’ in the Bible – one for each day.”  Never be afraid to try something new.  Remember, amateurs built the ark … professionals built the Titanic.  Think about it.

Dale Carnegie said:  “Inaction breeds doubt and fear.  Action breeds confidence and courage.  If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

Don’t let fear block your success.  If you truly want to learn to control your fear and advance in your career, I have some ideas that have worked for me.  They can work for you too.


  • Explore your memories.  Look back over your career.  What situations have made you feel afraid?  Do you see any common denominators?  When was the last time you were afraid to do something and did it anyway?
  • Look at your responsibilities.  You have a lot of priorities in your life.  Which ones make you fearful?  Why are you afraid of them?  Dig deep, and keep asking “why” until you are satisfied that you have found the root of your fear.
  • Construct a worst-case scenario.  When a certain situation makes you nervous, try to think of the worst thing that could realistically happen.  Chances are the reality won’t be as devastating as you think, and examining the possibilities ahead of time will prepare you to avoid the potential pitfalls.
  • Shift your focus.  When you’re confronted by a task that makes you fearful, stop and think about all the positive benefits it will produce in the end.  Focusing on the outcome helps to put the small worries aside.
  • Try new things.  At every opportunity, take on a new task or a different responsibility.  This will increase your capacity to take risks.  It will also expand your skill set and build your confidence.
  • Review your risks.  Look at some of the risks you’ve taken recently.  Chances are, most of them turned out OK.  Figure out what made them work.  Can you duplicate those decisions that led to success and apply them to other situations?
  • Know that your fears will resurface occasionally. Accept this fact, because there will be times when you feel like you are out of control.  Outside factors can influence situations adversely. Prepare yourself to handle disappointments and unsettled situations.  Stop and assess the circumstances so you can decide whether further actions will help or hurt.

Not knowing how to control your fear can have disastrous results.  Consider the great tightrope walker, Karl Wallenda.  He died many years ago in a tragic fall.  His widow was quoted as saying: “All Karl thought about for three straight months prior to the accident was falling.  It seemed to me he put all his energy into not falling – not into walking the tightrope.”


Mackay’s Moral:  Don’t let your fears get in your head – get ahead of them.

Self-talk has many benefits

There once was a strange storekeeper who talked to himself.  He talked to himself while he cut meat for sandwiches for his customers.  He talked to himself while he rang up groceries.  He talked to himself whenever he leaned into the candy case for the children who wanted to purchase a treat.

One day,  a woman named Francie came in and watched the storekeeper talking to himself.

“What’s wrong with you?” asked Francie.

“Ain’t nothing wrong with me,” answered the storekeeper.

“Well, then, why are you going around acting like a fool and talking to yourself?” probed Francie.

“I reckon I got two reasons,” said the storekeeper.  “First off, I like to talk to a sensible person.  And second, I like to hear a sensible person talk.”

Now I don’t recommend going around talking out loud to yourself in public, but I do recommend talking to yourself.

During most of my corporate speeches, I ask the audience, How many people talk to themselves?  People are uneasy acknowledging this, but I do typically get about a third of the room to raise their hands.  Then I say, “To the two-thirds of you who didn’t raise your hands, I can just hear you say to yourself:  ‘Who me?  I don’t talk to myself.’”  It always gets a good laugh.

SelfTalkBut the point is, I want you to talk to yourself.  Self-talk can have a great impact on your confidence.  It can be positive or negative, and have a great effect on how you feel.  Obviously I want to focus on the positive self-talk.

Some of the smartest people in history have talked to themselves.  Albert Einstein talked to himself.  According to he “used to repeat his sentences to himself softly.”  If it worked for Einstein, it’s good enough for me.

Talking to yourself makes your brain work more efficiently.  It helps you remember better, organize your thoughts and achieve your goals.

In a study printed in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, psychologists Daniel Swigley and Gary Lupya discovered that talking to yourself is beneficial.  Swigley and Lupya gave 20 people the name of an object, like a loaf of bread or an apple, which they were told to find in a supermarket.  During the first trial, the participants were bound to silence.  In the second set, they repeated the object’s name out loud as they looked for it in the store.

According to, test subjects found the object with greater ease when they spoke to themselves while searching.  Saying things out loud sparks memory.

Can I ever relate to that research!  Whenever I make a to-do list or plan my day, I make sure I not only write it down, but also say it out loud.  Use as many triggers as you can to help you remember or to reinforce your message.

Let me give you another important reason to “think out loud.”  You are your own best and toughest critic – and most enthusiastic cheerleader.  You serve two significant roles.  You can assess your abilities and chances for success because you can be brutally honest with yourself.

So when you talk to yourself, you will know the difference between true potential and flattery, commitment and apathy.  You can only fool yourself so long.  In your heart of hearts, you know what you can and cannot do.

In her book “Recreating Yourself,” Nancy J. Napier discusses self-talk:  “It is the dialogue you have with yourself about who you are, what you are doing, how well you’re doing, whether you’re good enough, what people think of you and so on.”  Your self-talk is a reflection of what you took in about yourself as a child, “particularly those things that were reinforced time and again.”

Napier says that in cognitive therapy, identifying negative self-talk and challenging it can bring about positive change.  You question the assumptions underlying the statements.  Napier uses this example:  “Joe stood me up for a date last night.  I guess I’m not attractive enough to get the man I want.”

Once you become aware of what you are telling yourself, Napier suggests you replace the statement with a positive statement.  “Yes, Joe did stand me up.  I guess that’s reason enough to realize that Joe isn’t the kind of guy I want to have around.”

I will never stop talking to myself.  After all, I have a captive audience.


Mackay’s Moral:  When you talk to yourself, make sure you listen carefully.

Lessons in discipline from long distance running

Watching the Olympic trials for long distance running events, I was again struck by how little margin there is for error in making the U.S. Olympic team.  Athletes who had trained for years lost by fractions of seconds.  The winners go to Rio for the Summer Olympics, and the losers go home heartbroken.

Individual sports like long distance running are especially tough because runners are on their own.  They are not playing as a team.  They must have tremendous desire, determination, dedication and discipline, notwithstanding commitment, enthusiasm, and mental toughness.  They have to set goals and prepare.  It’s the same in business.

To become a winning athlete or business person, you must be a hungry fighter – hungry for success, hungry for victory and hungry to simply be the best you can be.  A coach can show you what to do, how to practice and how often, and offer motivational tips.  But the bottom line is that it is up to you.  Sometimes desire is more important than talent.  You must want to succeed more than anything.  And sometimes even that is not enough, as the Olympic trials proved.

I’m as competitive as anyone.  Close friends might even say more.  But I’ve always approached life with the desire to do the best I can.  If I do that, I’m usually satisfied.


I ran my first marathon after my fiftieth birthday.  I’ve run nine more since then, for a total of five New York Marathons, four Twin Cities Marathons and the 100th Boston Marathon.  I’ve also completed three half marathons the last three years.  I’m proud of these accomplishments, not because I ever came close to earning a spot on the Olympic team or even winning the race.  I was just happy that I finished, did the best that I could do and left it all out on the course.

For amateur runners like me, the key to running a marathon is that it is not so much a physical challenge as it is mental.  Your body does not want you to run a marathon.  Your mind must make you do it.  Therefore, you have to develop a rationale so powerful, a determination so strong, that it will enable your mind to overcome the vigorous protests of your body.

The important thing is that you start off on the right foot.  Preparation is the difference between dropping out of the race and finishing it.

Bill Rodgers, winner of four Boston and four New York Marathons, said, “To be a consistent winner means preparing not just one day, one month, or even one year – but for a lifetime.”

To run a marathon is to practice a form of self-discipline based entirely on visualization.  You must imagine yourself doing the impossible. And that enables you to do it.  Time?  It’s not always important.  Anyone who finishes has won.  They have beaten the competition – themselves.

There is only one thing runners really compete against:  it is the little voice inside us that grows louder and says, “Stop.”  It is, unfortunately, a familiar sound.  We hear it all our lives – at work, at school, in all areas of our lives.  It tells us we cannot succeed.  We cannot finish.  The boss expects too much.  The company is too demanding.  The homework assignment takes too long.  My family is too unappreciative.

The truth is that many successful people are no more talented than unsuccessful people.  The difference between them lies in the old axiom that successful people do those things that unsuccessful people don’t like to do.

Successful people have the determination, the will, the focus, the drive to complete the tough jobs.  When I am hiring employees, I must admit that I take a longer look at resumes which include experiences that demonstrate the kind of commitment required of runners.

Running may not be your thing, but all of us have to earn a living one way or another.  The majority will work anywhere from 35 to 45 years.  The average person will have three to five career changes and perhaps 10 jobs before their fortieth birthday.

Statistics like these make a foot race pale in comparison to the treadmill so many workers must master just to bring home a paycheck.  Good training and the right mental preparation will help you find a job you love, that challenges you and satisfies you, and makes you want to get back in the race every day.


Mackay’s Moral:  Dedication and commitment are what will carry you through the long run.

Take the time to manage your time

Have you ever wondered where all your time goes?

You’re not alone.  People have been talking about time for centuries.  Consider this excerpt from “The Book of Fate,” written by Voltaire in the 17th century:  “Of all the things in the world, which is the longest and shortest, the quickest and the slowest, the most divisible and the most extensive, the most disregarded and the most regretted, without which nothing can happen, which devours everything that is little, and gives life everything that is great?

“The answer is time.  Nothing is longer, since it is the measure of eternity.  Nothing is shorter, since it is lacking in all our plans.  Nothing is slower for him who waits.  Nothing is quicker for him who enjoys.  It extends to the infinitely little.  All men disregard it. All men regret the loss of it.  Nothing happens without it.  It makes forgotten everything unworthy of posterity, and it immortalizes the great things.”

I have a saying that I’ve often used – “Killing time isn’t murder; it’s suicide.”  We all start out in life with one thing in common; we all have the same amount of time each day, each week, each month and each year.  Now it’s just a matter of what we do with it.

I’ve seen estimates that the average person spends seven years in the bathroom, six years eating, four years cleaning house, five years waiting in line, two years trying to return phone calls to people who aren’t there, three years preparing meals, one year searching for misplaced items and six months sitting at red traffic lights.

That’s nearly 30 years and doesn’t include a lot of what you might need or want to do.  Prioritizing your time should be a top priority.

Getting more done doesn’t always mean doing more things.  Sometimes it’s about doing less.  Don’t try to schedule every minute of every day.  When you make and prioritize your to-do list, leave yourself some flexibility to handle interruptions and unplanned tasks that are bound to come up during the day.  You should block out segments of your day for important tasks, but be sure to reserve enough time so that you don’t have to rush through things.  Taking your time can sometimes be the best use of your time.

timeDo you need to manage your time better at work?  Who doesn’t?   One of the first things you have to take control of is your time.  It always seems like there’s not enough time to accomplish everything when you’re working hard, but Bob Nelson in 1,001 Ways to Take Initiative at Work, says there are some steps you can take to rescue your time. Here is some of his advice:

  • When you get to the end of your day, make a to-do list for tomorrow.  Put whatever’s most important to accomplish at the top of your list.  That way, when you walk in, you’ll know just what you need to do and where to start.
  • Make a commitment to arrive at work a half hour early every day.  Then you can get started on whatever’s most important and work without interruption for that period of time.
  • Don’t jump down on your list to lower priority tasks until you have made sufficient progress on your higher priority tasks.
  • Use a calendar and plan.  It will organize you, and you won’t have to spend time asking what you’re supposed to be doing.  You’ll already know.
  • Go through your in-box at least once a day and prioritize it.
  • Say goodbye to unimportant meetings.  If you don’t need to be there, don’t go.  It will waste your time, and your list won’t get any smaller.
  • Focus on what only you can do.  Then, when possible, delegate to others.
  • Take a couple of hours every week to sit down and look at your big picture goals.  Are you making progress? Set or reset goals appropriately.
  • Learn to say no.  Be polite, but firm.  Otherwise, you won’t have the focus or energy to attain your goals.

Benjamin Franklin famously said, “If we take care of the minutes, the years will take care of themselves.”  A minute doesn’t seem like much, but the cumulative value of those minutes determines the quality of a lifetime.  Don’t waste another second!


Mackay’s Moral:  If you want to have the time of your life, make the most of your minutes.