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The Immutable Self: Business Style Meets Marketing Strategy

April 16, 2013

From the Book

The following is content from my forthcoming book, The Honeycomb: An Unconventional Model for B2B Marketing, published here with permission from Syncopate.

Music to Read By: The Flaming Lips, Feeling Yourself Disintegrate

There is this great line from a movie called Dead Again.  Anyone remember that movie?  Cozy Carlisle (Robin Williams) says, “Someone is either a smoker or a nonsmoker. There’s no in-between. The trick is to find out which one you are, and be that. If you’re a nonsmoker, you’ll know.”

Robin Williams as Cozy Carlisle

I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam.

Cozy’s point is that we often don’t know who we truly are. In the absence of self awareness, we adopt attitudes, behaviors and beliefs based on who we think we ought to be rather than who we truly are.  The styles we adopt are almost entirely formed by exposure to outside influences.  If we’re lucky, these influences are aligned with our true nature.  If we’re not so lucky, we’re looking at a mid-life crisis.  The trick is to find out who we truly are, live with it and love it.  If you’re a smoker, be a smoker.  If you’re not, then you’re not.  Get it?

When it comes to marketing (because this is a book about marketing) it’s important to understand that every business has an immutable self.  Early in their development, companies spend a lot of time trying to find themselves. They try on different business strategies, messages, brands and campaigns like so many sweaters, hoping to land on the one that just feels right.  This is a natural process.  It doesn’t mean that the self has not developed; it simply means that the self has not been discovered and nurtured to its full potential.  But when the true, immutable self is discovered and nurtured, everyone feels it.  Not only is all the potential in a company unlocked, but people simply feel better about where they are and what they’re doing.  Everything is easier and progress happens with less friction.  People might even feel a little nervous – a little exhilarated.  They might feel like they’re having fun.

“If you’re a nonsmoker, you’ll know.”

I own a marketing agency.  Companies hire our firm to help build brands and drive leads.  But through the years I have learned that we can’t do our job very well if the client hasn’t found themselves.  In cases where the client has an identity crisis, we have a choice: we can take their money anyway and hope for the best, or we can help them discover their immutable self so that we can get on with marketing strategies that will actually work.  We always choose the latter; I would argue that’s the single reason we tripled in revenue during the recession as most other agencies were whacking people left and right.

I’ll talk a lot about the immutable self and the concept of obsession later in the book.  But for right now, I want to focus on one aspect of the true and singular self – business strategy.

Business strategy can take many forms and operate at many levels, but I only care about the most elemental level when it comes to marketing.  How do you keep score?  In my oversimplified view of business (because I am a simple man from Alice, Texas) companies can only be successful if they pursue a singular strategy and measure it with a single score.

Companies must either execute a market share strategy designed to capture a position of leadership in their market segment, or a profit strategy designed to provide maximum return on investment to shareholders.  A company simply cannot do both and expect to succeed at either.   

“The trick is to find out which one you are, and be that.”

More on that in my next post. 

When a Man Falls Through the Roof …

April 12, 2013

Music to Read By: A. A. Bondy – World without End

Is Anyone There to Pick Him Up?

The Starr Conspiracy recently won our eighth best places to work award.  At the banquet in Austin, I was reminded of my first job out of college.  It was also in Austin.

It was as a hot-tar roofer.  In the doldrums of summer, I climbed impossibly-long ladders to mop boiling tar on the roofs of commercial buildings.  Within a month, I was running the crew (I did have a college degree in Literature after all).  One morning a worker showed up hungover.  He spoke a little English and I spoke a little Spanish  so we figured out together that what he really needed was a single beer (el pelo del perro).  I climbed down from the deck, drove to the Maverick Market and returned with a tall boy, a Gatorade and bottle of water.  He chugged all three in that order.  We were now friends.

On this particular job, we were roofing a large metal building.  On this particular day, I was cutting skylights into the roof (big ones).  My new friend appeared at the top of the latter smiling.  He wobbled a little as he walked towards a stack of felt rolls.  He stopped, threw a roll of felt over each shoulder and began to sing as he swaggered towards the work area.  In three or four steps he was standing on my open skylight like Wile E. Coyote.  Fell right through with a puff of smoke.

When you cut metal with a saw, it leaves a jagged edge.  My friend tried to grab the edge of the square hole on his way down which lacerated several of his fingers.  He fell three stories.  I looked through the hole and saw a man lying unconscious.  There was a little bit of blood.  His knees were tucked to his chest like a sleeping baby.

The boss just happened to be driving up.  Of course he didn’t call an ambulance or anything like that.  He just loaded the guy in the back of his truck and drove him to the hospital.  Probably just dropped him at the ER.  The next day, my friend’s teenage son showed up to work his father’s shift.  It was a school day.

I’d had enough of that shit.

Hard core capitalists and profiteers can’t connect with the benefits we offer our employees at The Starr Conspiracy.  Admittedly, our unlimited PTO policy is an easy target for cynicism.  But one thing that will never change about The Starr Conspiracy is our dedication to providing quality medical coverage to our folks and their families.   Because it’s the right thing to do.  You shouldn’t have to see a guy fall through the roof and send his son to work in his place to come to that conclusion.

What kind of ruler will you be?

“Strap them to a chair with feeding tubes.”

The government will do what the government will do.  For us, the cost of quality benefits is priced into our business model.  Where do they find these small business owners who complain on television that the government is going to put them out of business if they are forced to take care of their employees?  If you can’t run a profitable business and take care of your employees at the same time, maybe you’re not cut out to run a business.

It all comes down to what kind of society you want to create and live in.  Do you want to live in a country where people are exploited for the maximum benefit of shareholders?  Or do you want to live in a country where being a business owner is a privileged responsibility and an opportunity to make people’s lives better?  I’ve met with hundreds of business owners and I can tell you that there are no noble motives in going cheap on benefits.  I once heard a business owner say, “Strap ‘em to a chair with feeding tubes.  What the fuck do I care?”

Owning a business is like being the ruler of your own little country.  What kind of ruler will you be?  What kind of country will you have?  And how will it all end up?

Look – the system is screwed up, I get that.  But should we let our employees suffer until it’s fixed?

It’s Own Reward

January 14, 2012

It’s hell to get old. Harder to keep up. Harder to slim down. Can’t remember shit. Whiskey don’t treat you the way it used to (sic).

And then of course there is the inescapable feeling that the world is spiraling out of control – which is usually paired with the irresistible urge to set the younger generation (who really is screwing everything up, by the way) on the right course.

So here are my scratches on the wall of oblivion:

  • Global warming is real;
  • Nothing good happens after 8 PM; and
  • Brush your teeth (as often as humanly possible).
I dropped my weed over here.

Why do you hate me?

And, um, oh yeah – stop looking for a piece of candy under your pillow every night.

Positive reinforcement is awesome! (Catch that? Cynicism … not irony). But settle down folks. Time to change your diet from sugar to … I don’t know … something healthier and more substantial than sugar. Patience really is a virtue. And meaningful work really is its own reward.

All the bonuses, raises, promotions, virtual achievements and atta-boys in the world aren’t going to make your shit job any better; and they certainly won’t heal the emotional wounds you suffered as a child.

Want my advice, Youngster? (Don’t care. Here it comes.) Fix it all from the inside out. Start with the voice in your head, because it’s probably telling you all kinds of lies. Once you’ve calmed the tempest in the tea pot, focus on what you want to do rather than what you think you’re supposed to do.


  • Stop tailgating;
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo sucks; and
  • For the love of polar bears, if you are sitting behind me on the plane, do not try to exit before me or I swear I will cut you down like sugar cane.

Welcome to the Jungle…I Mean, Carnival of HR

August 17, 2011 2 Comments

This week’s Carnival of HR comes to you from Good ‘ol Fort Worth, Texas.  A huge thanks to all who submitted posts this week.  I feel special.  Now, let’s get this ball rolling.

“Some Overtime Required” – or, Human Resources

Can HR make a difference in a time of despair and dissent? Ian Welsh of HR Toolbox offers hope that it can and suggestions on how to throw cynicism to the curb and accept positive change in HR in “The Summer of Our Discontent! HR Making it Better!

Is job creation on the rise? With “diamond in the rough” reports, John Gibbons of I4CP discusses the possibility of growing employee optimism and job growth in “Beware the Shiny Objects.”

Managers make use of a disturbing trend in hiring:  excluding the unemployed from job postings. Jennifer Miller of The People Equation explains why “Excluding the Unemployed is No Silver Bullet.”

Who would have thought? Eric B. Meyer of The Employer Handbook writes “Apparently, Sex in A Supply Closet is Not Sexual Harrassment based on a recent case in Utah.

We’ve all had to work with hall monitors or our own personal Dennis Rodman before. Ben Eubanks of upstartHR has some tips in “Communicating with Difficult Team Members.”

Think your LinkedIn profile can replace your resume? Think again. Jessica Lee of Fistful of Talent writes an open letter to LinkedIn in “Dear LinkedIn: A LinkedIn Profile Makes a Resume Doth Not. (Love, Jessica).”

Bill Kutik is getting married! Also, a discount to the HR Technology Conference and cats! Of course! Laurie Ruettimann of The Cynical Girl shares in “Bill Kutik is Getting Married.”

Is new technology taunting you? It’s okay. Steve Boese of Steve Boese’s HR Technology has some suggestions and questions to help you out of your fetal ball and into the world of up-to-date in “New Technology and Staying Relevant.”

Crying fits in your cubicle? Complete separation of emotions and work? Cindy Janovitz of Meet Cindy Elizabeth talks about balance in “Emotions in the Workplace.”

“Engage & Synergy” – or, Marketing & Social Media

Naming is really not a one-size-fits-all proposition.  Learn more about naming your company in “What’s in A Name for an HR Tech or Services Brand?” by Steve Smith of Starr Tincup

Google alerts can be a great tool to staying on top of the latest industry trends…until a Jaws-like Internet troll comes and takes all your information. Melissa Prusher at The Devon Grouphas some tips on protecting your identity online in “Me on the Web = Me on Google?

Want to be in the “in crowd?” Follow these “Top 100 HR & Recruiting Industry Pros on Twitter” suggestions by Jennifer McClure of Unbridled Talent.

If you’re avoiding social media sites for recruitment, you’re missing out. Susan Heathfield of tells you why in “Use Social Media for Recruitment.”

“The Decisions Matrix” – or, Leadership

The Army says that there are “toxic leaders” in its ranks. That’s a problem. But 97 percent of officers and sergeants have experienced an exceptional leader, and Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership says that may be part of the solution in “The 97 Percent Solution.”

Whether your talent pool is full of loveable idiots or brilliant problem children, Dan McCarthy of Great Leadership says stop tolerating crappy behavior in exchange for results with “A Simple High Performance Model.”

Do you have what it takes to make a mentoring program work? Lynn Dessert makes “The Case for Not Creating a Mentoring Program” on Elephants at Work by bringing up questions you should definitely consider before you go blindly in pairing people up at work.

Make your employees wash your car, move their office to the dark, windowless basement…there are plenty of easy ways to drive your talent quickly away. Dwane Lay of Lean HR has three more for you in “Three Ways to Demotivate Your Employees.”

Giving up your dream of becoming an astronaut…or “Daydreams of an OD Mechanic” by Prasad Oommen Kurian of Simplicity at the Other End of Complexity.

Before anyone will support change, they have to see the need for it. Heather Stagl of Enclaria gives “Seven Tactics for Instigating Change.”

“Sweaty Palms” – or, Networking & Speaking

For those who get sweaty-palmed and nervous before public presentations, Steve Roesler of All Things Workplace suggests “Just Have a Conversation” to feel more at ease.

Don’t be that jerk at conferences. Franny Oxford of Do the Work has some tips on networking and being more comfortable at events and conferences, without being a jerk in “How to Meet People at Professional Conferences.


This isn’t your grandpa’s ADP. Naomi Bloom of In Full Bloom talks about the “Four Pillars of ADP” and the balance between sales, services, financial management and technology in business.

Connect with Bret Starr and Starr Conspiracy on Twitter and like Starr Tincup on Facebook for updates on the world of HR and general shenanigans.

Make sure you have an idea of what you think you will achieve and how with social technologies before you roll them out. Mark Bennett of Talented Apps warns, “Be Careful of Social Cargo Cults.”

What a Double-Dip Recession Means for Ethics

August 5, 2011 2 Comments

mmmmm …. Double-Dip.

Music to Read By: PARIS – The Devil Made Me Do It

Back in the Crucible

Sure.  I watch True Blood, Weeds and Breaking Bad like everyone else.  But here’s a startling admission:  I also watch old plays all the time.  My favorites are old TV productions of plays from the fifties and sixties.  Late last night, I watched an old recording of The Crucible by Arthur Miller.  Man I love that play.

I’ll spare you the full synopsis, but I will remind you that the play centers on a young woman, Abigail Williams, who uses Salem’s fear of witchcraft to her advantage – specifically to accuse people of witchcraft whom she would like out of her way; like the wife (Elizabeth Proctor) of a man she had an affair with.

The Starr Conspiracy

She's definitely a witch. I asked her out like three times. What does her husband have that I don't?

So … stay with me here … Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible as an allegory to McCarthyism.  Miller felt that politicians were using the fear of communism to forward personal vendettas and agendas.  I think history proves that to be an accurate portrayal of the situation.  And, of course, many people now argue that the recent debt ceiling situation, and associated brinksmanship, was also political theater meant to cement pre-election positions and strategies. What a shame that it seems to be having a counter-productive impact on our economy (too early to call, I know … but if you believe what you read on the Interwebs, we’re headed for a double dip recession).

Which brings me to my point.

People use the specter of terrifying scenarios as an excuse to behave badly.  When enough people believe that we’re headed towards another recession, and when enough analysts and reporters make compelling cases in important newspapers like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, perception will become reality.  And then the funny business starts; it’s already started in fact.

I remember the last recession like it was yesterday (because it was, like yesterday).  Companies used it as an excuse to reduce benefits, reduce salaries, slash the workforce, pay their vendors late (if at all), renegotiate terms, reduce customer service … you get the picture.  And they all said the same thing … “Man … this recession … these are tough times … I hate to have to do this …”

I call bullshit.  The way most companies approached our last recession was embarrassing for America.  Our collective actions broke the loyalty equation, screwed the employer brand of individual companies and the U.S. in general and left a lot of people amazed at how, given the opportunity, a lot of people will use a situation to go all Machiavellian on your ass.

Here’s the deal; if we’re headed for another recession, let’s do this one different.  Keep your commitments.  Treat people humanely.  Consider the good of the many over the good of the few (it actually turns out to be a good business strategy).  Help people find jobs.  Don’t screw your vendors.  Sacrifice for the big picture.

We’re never going to get back to the halcyon days of the nineties if we don’t work together to fix what’s broken in our companies … one company at a time … until our employer brands are strong again, people feel safe in their jobs and can be creative once more.

My advice?  Don’t let anyone use the specter of a recession to make a decision that impacts your life or your company.  Don’t let them off the hook that easy.  There were no witches in Salem (no matter what you see on True Blood).  There was not a communist conspiracy that required the creation of a “House of Representatives’ Committee on Un-American Activities”.  And there is no double-dip recession unless we let some sucker in first class drive us all into a panic.

Just relax.  And don’t take any shit.








You’re Gay? I Love Lamp.

June 26, 2011

Music to Read By: What the World Needs Now, Burt Bacharach

F*ck yeah.  Gay marriage is legal in New York.  Finally.

So, at least in one more place, people can marry whomever they wish.

Come on.  Sing it with me:

What the world needs now is love, sweet love

Give me some sugar.

It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of

What the world needs now is love, sweet love,

No not just for some but for everyone.

Sweet gay love.  Sweet straight love.  Love is love.  What is love?  Brick Tamland loves Lamp.  Who cares …

Laws about love are as stupid as policies about love.  It’s illegal to love.  It’s against the rules to love someone you work with.  If you’re gay, it’s probably best not to tell anyone.  What a ridiculous waste of time.  Instead of debating the economy, let’s debate marriage.  Instead of focusing on a healthy business, let’s find out if that dude is gay.  Whatever.

Trending: love is more important than work.  I would quit my job for the love of my wife.  I would have back then, and I would right now.

As a business owner, I’ll tell you right now: if someone is good at their job and they make my company better, I don’t care who they love.  Like Brick Tamland, they can love carpet, desk or lamp.  I also don’t care if they keep their love a secret or stand on their desk and shout it to the high heavens.  I hire adults.  We can all handle it.

I want everyone I work with to be happy, because happy people are good for business.  Happy is contagious.  Happy people make others smile.  And love and friendship are the most important ingredients to happiness.  I bet it’s a pretty big bummer when you can’t marry the person you want to marry.  I could see how that would make people sad.  Sad people aren’t good for business.  They’re really only good for art and occasionally perspective (as in, “well at least I don’t have it as bad as that guy …”).

I look forward to the day when gay marriage is legal in Texas and the rest of the country.  Because I know my marriage is a significant source of happiness for myself and others, and I think everyone should get a slice of that pie (if they want it).

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