WTF Do We Do Next – And Why

WTF Do We Do Next – And Why

by Scott Gillum
Estimated read time: 3 Minutes

It’s a good question given the current uncertainty of our world. When will the economy reopen, what will be the impact, and what should we do about it? To gain better insights into what might be, Carbon Design went back and looked at what clients were focused on during the “Great Recession”. Looking at projects from 2007 to 2010 Scott found 5 interesting trends across industries, 3 which he wrote about in the article,WTF Do We Do Now. In the webinar, Scott will share the research behind the article, insights from 30+ client projects, and how you can use this information to help form your marketing, sales, and internal efforts.

Watch the webcast for insight you can use to gain a competitive advantage:

WTF are We Going to Do Now?

WTF are We Going to Do Now?

by Scott Gillum
Estimated read time: 3 Minutes

No one had to say it because we all felt it.  After months of research, repositioning the organization, and refining the messaging it all blew up in less than a week. 

With the global pandemic in full swing, I’m sure this scenario is playing out across organizations around the globe.  Whether it’s relating to sales goals, marketing budgets and/or anything in between they have all been blown to hell. 

So what do we do now?  It’s a great question that so many of us are struggling with currently.  To help answer it I went back into the archives to see what projects clients were undertaking during the “Great Recession” of 2007.  Here’s what I learned.

  • Repositioning and structural change –  I found companies using the downturn to reposition themselves in the market – shifting from product to services, from product focused to customer focused, etc.  It was a structural change as well as a change in positioning.  Be prepared to see new competitors coming into your industry once the economy recovers…or, it could be your organization entering new markets. 
  • Fixing the infrastructure – running hard for the last 10 years created very little time to fix basic problems, especially related to the revenue engine.  A slowdown is a perfect time to fix the things that can create greater efficiency coming out of a recession.  An investment in this area produces a ROI that only gets better over time.  Look at the quality of the database, opportunities to leverage AI, better tracking and performance solutions.  This requires an investment in time and focus that is rarely found in good times. 
  • Refining the value – It’s not the value proposition, it’s the entire value package.  You can count on one thing for certain about the future.  Customers will have to, or will expect, more for less.  Don’t get caught flat footed, prepare now to deliver more value for the money. If not expect to 1) be undercut by competitors, and/or 2) take a hit on your profit.  If you can’t figure out how to build in new value then figure out how to deliver the same value for less. 

In challenging times like these the first reaction is basic survival.  And for many that may be the case for the foreseeable future… as a small business owner I feel you!  Many of the plans you’re making now are built around business viability, but soon there will be light at the end of the tunnel.  Keep in mind, the items I’m suggesting will take at least 16 to 20 weeks to plan, develop and execute. 

I understand it may take all your time and energy to ride the storm out, but keep your eyes on the horizon.  Good luck, we can do this!  

Our Top Four Posts of 2019

Our Top Four Posts of 2019

by Katie Weisz
Estimated read time: 5 Minutes

The beginning of a new year can be a perfect time to pause to reflect on all the things in life and business that have shaped us over the past 12 months.

For Carbon Design, 2019 was a year of interviewing amazing people, making bold observations about sales and marketing, and predictions on what’s coming in business.

Join us as we look at our readers’ favorite posts of 2019.

#1 Do We Need Outbound Sales Anymore?

Our CEO, Scott Gillum, joined the Gartner’s Sales & Marketing Thought Leader Roundtable where he posed the question, “Do we really need outbound sales anymore?”. This question sparked a lively conversation that continued well after the meeting.

Scott delved into the topic further in his LinkedIn article, (read the comments here), that was followed up by this rebuttal from David Brock. 

Read the Article Here

#2 Scott’s Interview with Carlos Hidalgo, Author of “The UnAmerican Dream”

When asked who the book was written for, Carlos stated,

“I wrote it from the perspective of an entrepreneur and a business owner and a professional. But it’s really a book to say, stop. What is the frenzy for and reassess your personal and professional relationships and define success on your terms.”

Read more and watch the interview here.

#3 Unlocking Growth by Learning How to Message to the Value Chain

“Who invited marketing to the sales pitch?” It was said in passing, and intended as a joke, but the marketing team got the point.

The comment was made in a recent messaging workshop. The head of sales expressed his frustration at the messaging being developed by marketing. His point — there was nothing different. It sounded like the same sales pitch they had been giving customers for years.

Keep Reading to learn how to message differently.

#4 Lucky Me – The Upside of Looking Down

“The odds of it happening are 1 in 1500 or .0007%, about the same odds of being randomly selected to come onstage at a concert hall. Similar to Courteney Cox being pulled on stage by Bruce Springsteenin his iconic Born in the USA video, of course without the scripting. And now that I’ve dated myself, yes, the odds of this happening increase with age.”

Read on more on Scott’s ill-timed detached retina- and the lesson he learned during his forced downtime.

Follow along in 2020 for more tips on marketing, business, and thinking differently delivered directly to your inbox, subscribe to our newsletter at

Artificial Empathy, Part Two

Artificial Empathy, Part Two

by Glen Drummond
Estimated read time: 6 minutes

Part Two in a two part series

Recently, I published an article with a provocative observation.  While much attention has been devoted to the need for organizations to adopt Artificial Intelligence as a core capability, we should consider an even-more-pressing need for “artificial empathy.”

If you did not read part-one, I’ll retrace some footsteps here. The corporation is a creature of human invention. But the creature has grown so enormously in its size, capabilities ,and power, that we the people now encounter a diminishing sense of agency for ourselves and an increasing sense of agency for corporations to shape our future on issues including privacy, equality, safety, the environment, and the behavior of public institutions that once governed these things. Not to mention the stuff of everyday experience: stupid IVRs, impenetrable clam-shell packaging, and infuriating password implementations, just to name a few.  

The ramifications of this observation extend beyond marketing strategy. But still, people who think deeply about the relationship between people and brands will play a role in how this narrative unfolds.  

And here’s why: In our fast-thinking minds, we perceive the brands that stand for corporations as if they were other people.  

Now, people – except for sociopaths – are naturally empathetic. And moreover, we expect them to be so.  When we sense a sociopath, the hair on our neck springs, and adrenalin shocks our bloodstream.  

As social creatures, we are born pre-wired with miraculously-adapted endocrine and neurological systems that reinforce our empathy in a positive feedback system known as friends and family, community and kin. But corporations are not born with anything of the sort.

Do you see the problem?   

At least in our hearts, we have an expectation for brands to behave in a way that they are poorly equipped to fulfill.  Expectations disappointed are brands diminished. 

Organizational scale amplifies this problem. (We all know what “faceless corporation” means.)   So does the doctrine of maximizing shareholder profits. Are there signs that both society and corporate leaders are beginning to discern that the corporation has gained such power, that the power needs to be matched with greater empathy? The recent “statement of social purpose” by 181 corporate leaders suggest this might be so.       

The question is how?  Some people who read my first post may have been under the impression that I had a plan for  how “artificial empathy” could be created. Rest assured this was far from the case. I’m sympathetic to the aspirations of the customer experience movement, but I’m skeptical those aspirations are advanced by continuing to ask socially clueless questions that amount to: “How do you like me now?”    

Still, having once stumbled upon the problem of  artificial empathy, it’s tempting to speculate. So, with apologies for pairing a ten dollar question with nickel and dime answers, here are some preliminary thoughts.


If you’re familiar with the literature on biomimicry – you will know that many industrial inventions  begin with the observation of patterns in nature. Could we re-conceive the information systems used by corporations through this lens?  

In that case,  the challenge of  “artificial empathy” would cause us to think about a system involving a sensory apparatus, a cortex that integrates the signals from the senses, real-time feedback,  amplifier mechanisms and so on.   

It does not take long to see that analogues for each of these things already exist within the information systems of corporations – but what’s lacking is an architecture marshalled by the imperative of empathy.  

For humans as social creatures – empathy is essential for survival.  Embracing the biomimicry idea in an IT architecture geared to artificial empathy would mean  that the selfish subjectivity of the corporation would need to be subjugated to human experience and dignity.   Do we have engineers this creative and leaders this courageous? 


There is a branch of philosophy, “epistemology,” that deals with the question of how we know what we know.  Historically, for corporations, and indeed any large organization, to operate at scale has required that an internal representation of customers and prospects is shared across the organization. Sometimes this internal representation goes out of date. Sometimes it is simply wrong-headed from the start.  Invariably this internal representation is reductive. 

Done well, the disciplines of customer segmentation and personas offer steps in a journey away from the most reductive internal representations of the corporation’s publics. But too often in practice,  people mistake the map for the territory. In a product-centric world-view with no imperative for empathy, mistaking the customer map for the territory is standard operating procedure – “best practice” even.  In a corporation seeking to attain the capacity of artificial empathy these old habits must die.       

While corporations have raced to hire data scientists and put them to work on the analysis of customer behavior and customer responses to various stimuli, they have not been as quick or adept at hiring and training people in the discipline of keeping separate the map from the territory while the study of people is underway.  

The pairing of these disciplines feels important going forward. Data scientists are in demand now.  Data scientists with a flair for philosophy will be the rarest and most valuable of all.   

Artificial Intelligence

Setting aside the semantic arguments about the existence of AI,  we now can access algorithmic tools that can explore data-sets to find multiple features of interest about people, and discover patterns of difference, similarity and prediction that are more subtle than those derived from averages, demographic co-variates, single-touch attributions, and the other mainstays of traditional customer analytics. 

Indeed, if we are going to operate with less reductive representations for people, and if we are going to simulate the biological mechanisms of empathy within a corporation, artificial intelligence may be the disruptive game-changing technology that finally enables meaningful progress against a problem that has been building for some time.   

Final Thoughts

None of these answers by themselves is a prescription for artificial empathy. The confluence of all three may point in a worthy direction.  Still, some journeys are worth taking, even when the destination is distant and the route uncertain.

This might be one.

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Framing: The Skill That Separates Innovators from Inventors

Framing: The Skill That Separates Innovators from Inventors

By Glen Drummond
Estimated Reading Time: 3:00 minutes

Does the competitiveness of your product, or even the success of your business depend on someone else changing their mind or practices?  If so, then here’s an instructive tale.

Louis Pasteur

This name, you probably know. Historical reports indicate that by age 55 Louis Pasteur was considered a national hero of France.  He won an impressive series of honours and awards for his pioneering work – perhaps most important the germ theory of disease – a theory he developed in the period between 1860 and 1864.

Ignaz Semmelweis

This name most people don’t know. In 1846, Semmelweis was appointed to lead the obstetrical clinic of Vienna General Hospital.  In 1847, he got to the bottom of a horrendous (35%) mortality rate from “childbed fever” – drawing a link between doctors performing autopsies and then attending to birthing mothers without first disinfecting their hands.

In his 1861 book, Semmelweis presented evidence to demonstrate that the advent of pathological anatomy in Wien (Vienna) in 1823 (vertical line) was accompanied by the increased incidence of fatal childbed fever. The second vertical line marks introduction of chlorine hand washing in 1847. Rates for the Dublin Rotunda maternity hospital, which had no pathological anatomy, are shown for comparison (view rates).

In the span of one year presiding over the maternity ward,  Semmelweis established both cause and cure – instituting a regimen of physicians handwashing with a chlorine solution.  Semmelweis conceived and implemented hospital infection-control procedures resulting in dramatic clinical improvements – a full 15 years before Pasteur.  And he actively promoted his findings for all to see.  

Fifteen years later, Pasteur basked in glory for his achievements in the understanding of the cause and control of infection.  Semmelweis was ignored by his contemporaries, who refused to adopt his infection-control procedures. Semmelweis became despondent and his life deteriorated into tragedy.   What’s the difference?

The course of a person’s life does not reduce well to a theory – but the course of an idea’s progression in society is a worthy subject of study.  Some good ideas have a hard time breaking through. And conversely some bad ideas catch on and linger. What’s interesting is that in this case we have almost the same idea – but in one case it catches on, and in the other it does not.

So what is the difference?  One clear difference in this case is “Framing.” 

Semmelweis saw that the behavior of the doctors (performing autopsies and then attending to mothers giving birth) was causing the mothers to be infected with “childbed fever”.   

He theorized, and then clinically demonstrated, that a change in doctor’s behavior (handwashing after performing autopsies, before attending to living patients) could sharply reduce maternal mortality.    Do you see the framing problem? In order to get doctors to stop killing mothers, they would have to admit to themselves that their past actions had been killing mothers. The frame generated a headwind of cognitive dissonance. 

Pasteur was not necessarily a more gifted clinician. But he was certainly a more gifted framer.   He recast the narrative of infection, shifting attention from the practices of the doctor to the “infectious agent” –  the pathogen or “germ.” Semmelwies invented infection control. Pasteur invented a signifier to represent a signified that was already, but only, implicit in Semmelweis’s clinical innovation. 

From the standpoint of clinical procedures, there’s nothing in the germ theory of disease that would cause Semmelweis to act any differently in his own clinic; nothing that would improve upon the results he obtained.  But from the standpoint of convincing other doctors to change their practices, the germ theory of disease was far more effective than Semmelweis’s call for doctors to change their practices.  

We can draw a lesson from comparing  the accomplishments of these two men.  We may draw a contrast in our mind between the “real” work of innovation and the “fluff” of representation,  but to do so is to mis-recognize the way people respond to change.  

Inventors who wish to gain attention for tangible innovation should not ignore the need for a new frame to go with it.   

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Brands Need Artificial Empathy. Here’s Why.

Brands Need Artificial Empathy. Here’s Why.

by Glen Drummond
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Part One in a two-part series

Empathy.  It’s such a defining human quality, you could say it’s in our bones. For sure, it’s in our brains. Neuroscience reveals that we have “mirror neurons” that cause other people’s emotional experiences to become our own. That concept would be astonishing if it were not so familiar.   Empathy runs in our veins. The hormone oxytocin – makes us closer to those we’re close with.  

Beyond this, there are the mental gadgets that history has draped on our biology. For instance, our fine-tuned sense of justice, fairness, and balance.  These qualities also incline us to prosocial behavior, such as helping a stranger on the street, supporting a local non-profit,  separating our recycling…

So if empathy comes naturally, why call for “Artificial Empathy?”  (Presuming, of course, that such a thing could even be possible?)  The answer begins with an observation about a trend in scale. Human nature developed over a long period in which there were rewards for co-operation within groups and competition between groups.  But compared to today, the groups were small. It’s not clear that biologically-rooted empathy equips us adequately for the scale-change.    

It’s not merely that there are more of us, although the human population has tripled since 1945.  It’s that the nature of connectivity between us is transformed.   As members of media-fueled electorates, our mood-swings are damaging institutions that took centuries to build.   As members of a global economy, our collective emissions are generating planet-scale impacts on the environment.  

There are broad conversations underway about these forms of our connectivity. Less so about our participation in corporations.   Arguably, no prior form of connectivity rivals the modern corporation’s capacity to pursue its objectives with such speed, scale and precision

And big corporations are getting bigger.  The World Bank reported in 2016 that among the 100 largest revenue-collecting entities in the world, 69 are corporations; 31 are nation-states.  A decade ago, the US Supreme Court awarded corporations a human right: freedom of speech.  The Danish government has appointed an Ambassador to liaise between the midsized nation and giant tech corporations.

If you have spent your career inside corporations, you know there are instances where scale acts as a liability as much as a strength.  The world knows that something went wrong at Volkswagen, at Facebook, at United, at Boeing.   And while the particulars are different, the circumstances rhyme.  A group of people sincerely felt it was their job to do something that the public would come to hate and the owners would come to regret.   What corporation is free from this risk?  

So why does business need “Artificial Empathy?”  It’s partly because natural empathy is poorly matched to the scale of the modern corporation.  And it’s partly because the consumer and the public are not going to let corporations off the hook for un-empathetic behavior.    

Here’s the basis for my confidence in that second observation.  People imagine brands as if they were other people. The marketing practice of managing brands using a system of archetypal characters speaks to this fact.  So does the blow-back that follows when corporations act in notably inhuman ways. There’s even neuro-imaging research that shows we look at logos and faces in surprisingly similar ways.      

So here, in a nutshell, is why brands need artificial empathy:  

  1. Because we imagine brands as if they were other people,  and 
  2. Because we expect other people to be inherently empathetic, so 
  3. We also expect brands to be inherently empathetic too, and
  4. Brands have no natural capacity to fulfill this expectation

This fabric of observations explains a lot. Corporations,  pursuing their interests without paying attention to this prevalent expectation, violate customer trust. And sometimes, public trust too. 

Only on the rare occasion does this violation happen in the dramatic ways cited in the cases of Volkswagen’s emissions masking or Cambridge Analytica’s democracy hacks.   

Far more common are violations so banal they barely register. Robotic voice response systems that remind you: “please continue to hold,  your call is important to us.” Departure lounges that add acoustic assault to the list of insults suffered by air passengers. Manipulative marketing and sales tactics like the email that arrived this morning in my inbox, by no coincidence, at 9:18 AM with the subject header, “9:00 AM Meeting.”   

Viewed through the lens of empathy, (and the lack thereof)  the distinction between the dramatic and undramatic instances becomes only a distinction of degree, not kind. And that observation is potentially helpful because it offers some guidance on what needs to be done.  

Now, you might say, “Ah, you’re talking about customer experience,” and yes, in a way that’s true.  But insofar as the term “customer experience” stands for a department, a performance measure or one in a set of parallel business disciplines,  a “customer experience” capability will only act on symptoms while failing to address the root cause. (Sociopaths are known, after all, for their ability to charm.)

Or, you might say, “Ah, so you’re talking about corporate governance.”  And yes, again in a way that’s true. But how much real capacity do the people charged with such weighty responsibilities have to intervene in the minor daily violations of the customer’s expectation of empathy?  It’s been observed for some time, that “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”   

Since empathy violations appear to take place despite the ubiquity of “customer experience” and “corporate governance” functions the empathy gap – the delta between customer expectations of empathy and the level of empathy corporations are presently organized to muster – is a real business problem.

It seems like a problem that would be worth taking risks to explore, based on the value of the potential outcome if it could be solved.  

To summarize, let’s retrace our steps.   

  • Corporations are large, powerful, engines of collective influence and action.   
  • They are growing increasingly large, powerful, and influential in the lives of people.
  • People expect them to act empathetically, but corporations have no natural inherent capacity, like people do, to fulfill that expectation.
  • So, we should expect the empathy gap will grow with the power and reach of corporations, until such time as either corporations design a technology of empathy – “artificial empathy” if you will – or face a more concerted backlash directed at individual brands (“United breaks guitars”), at industry sectors (say, “big tech,”) and at corporations in general.   

Despite all the technical progress, investment and hype devoted to it, there remains a debate over whether “artificial intelligence” (AI) actually exists.  The concept of “artificial empathy,” if it were to enter the public discussion, would be subject to a similar philosophical challenge.  

So why talk about it at all? 

Because corporations have plenty of resources for tackling challenges once they can be identified. This one is staring us in the face. 

Since the processes, which we call “artificial intelligence” will inevitably shape more of the experiences that corporations project and customers and the public will absorb, is there any question that the need for artificial empathy will grow with each passing day? 

The conjunction of “artificial” and “empathy” is a provoking framing of a problem that exists. It matters greatly to a corporation’s stakeholders and deserves far more rigorous thinking and effort than has been devoted to it thus far. Rather than being a zero-sum game, “artificial empathy” will be a project that aligns the interests of shareholders, employees, customers, and the public.  Rather than being a departmental problem, “artificial empathy” will require a systems-level response.  

I’ll leave for a subsequent article the questions of how “artificial empathy” might work and what resources it might draw upon.   For now, suffice it to say if corporations need empathy and don’t have it as a natural quality, then the commercial incentive is there to synthesize it. 

The ingenuity and organized effort that has made predictive science – machine learning, deep learning, expert systems, big data, or more generally, “artificial intelligence” –  such an important component of corporate strategy today, provides at least a framing metaphor for this initiative – and maybe some important tools too.   

But intelligence (natural or artificial)  is no substitute for empathy. No matter what strides we make in AI, brands need to make progress now on Artificial Empathy. And if AI begins to make strides on its own, there’s a good chance brands will need to pick up the pace.   

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