Approach Branding like it’s a 500- Word Theme

Fred McGaughan, Gowan Group 1/6/15

As an English major and former teacher, now a branding professional, I’m struck by the similarities between savvy strategic branding and positioning and the old 500-word theme. In middle school, high school, or college, you may have found expository writing to be a chore, but love it or hate it, the 500-word theme remains a wonderful model for strategic thinking. And the application of that disciplined approach to writing holds some uncanny similarities to your branding.

Think about it: In sophomore year, you had just read The Great Gatsby, and you had a 500-word theme due in one week. A daunting proposition for any student, right? But your English teacher had spent most of the first marking period stressing that a step-by-step strategy would lead you to a. Do some close re-reading b. Brainstorm with impunity to get all your ideas down on paper c. Organize your thoughts to look for trends and “Ah-Hah!” topics d. Decide on a thesis statement that is important, compelling, and original e. Stick to that message with two or three topic sentences and f. Support each topic sentence with two or three supporting statements or quotations. Voila! Now you had a message of interest for your reader, an outline--a path to follow as you polished up your phrasing, sought your “grabber” opening line, and developed a conclusion. With this disciplined approach, in a short two and one half pages you had something clear, original, intriguing, and memorable to say.

It’s easy to see the similarities between this disciplined approach to theme writing and your branding and marketing. There are so many moving parts and so many things to say, but you don’t want to move forward without a. Conducting research to test your assumptions of who you are and what you do best (close reading) b. Gathering leadership and key stakeholders to hold candid, free-ranging discussions about current and emerging issues (brainstorming) c. Analyzing the plethora of information (organizing and looking for trends) d. Creating important, original, and sticky mission and vision statements (thesis) e. Affirming those statements with at least two or three of your signature program elements (topic sentences) and f. Drilling down with specific examples that irrefutably buttress your claims (supporting evidence).

Huzzah! By taking this disciplined approach to your branding, you and your “reading” audience now have a much better understanding of your brand. You’ll still need that “grabber” (tag line) and a compelling conclusion (delivery on your promises), but your teacher (Board Chair, President, Head) just might just upgrade you from a C+ to an A by the end of the term (praise and raise).

To learn more about Fred, our Managing Director, please visit our site at

Join Me in this Movement of Educational Reform

This past week I was fortunate to play a role in a most important event at my school. Harbor Country Day School hosted a screening of Race To Nowhere, the nationally acclaimed documentary about our Nation’s educational system and the dramatic effect it is having on our children. By now my most trustworthy readers know this topic well. If you are new to The Wheel and have not heard of Race To Nowhere yet, please click on any one of the many links to their website in this post or on my sidebar for more information. While the movie was brilliant and certainly challenges us as champions of educational reform, as parents, as teachers, and as administrators, inspiration came from the panel discussion afterwards. We assembled an excellent group, to whom I am now indebted, that included heads of school, college admissions officers from the Harvard Graduate School and Stony Brook University, and an insightful and caring child psychologist. Each one spoke eloquently and directly at what should be some of our Nation’s highest priorities and what definitely are our parent’s deepest concerns. Both the panelists and the members of the audience spoke passionately about childhood depression, stress, the overscheduled child, homework, the “teaching to the test” teaching methodology, the college admissions process, the lack of 21st Century skills being taught in the public school and the way in which we as parents speak with our children. We did not set out to solve any issues, but we debated over the source of them. Did they begin with the college admissions process? Perhaps it all began with the bureaucratic school systems that are focused on funding as a result of test scores. We also examined our own family values and how the values of society seem to become more powerful the older our children become. Societal values eventually compete with our own family values in the household.

When I first saw Race To Nowhere, I felt helpless. I was determined that the goal of educational reform was too large, my Goliath. Desperate for a voice and challenged to find a suitable venue, we created a website dedicated to dynamic teaching, and gave voice to promoting a healthy lifestyle for our children. Harbor Currents is found on Harbor Country Day School’s website and is meant to be a warehouse of resources and an opportunity to speak. Ultimately, Harbor Currents should take off on the national spectrum. Ideally, it will be a collaborative effort with the added voices of guest bloggers. Have you written an article that would help further our mission? Do you have suggestions for websites, books or articles that I can link to the site as resources? I am searching for a collective voice to send our message. I believe that awareness is the first step and those bold enough will take the second step, which is one of action. Please join me and become one of the authors of Harbor Currents. You can email me at, if you would like to join the movement.

Why the Power of Social Media? I Blog, I Tweet, I Listen and Learn

The power of blogging has changed how we think, how we seek out pertinent information, and how we communicate with the world. In all honesty, before I began blogging I didn't communicate with the world -- at all. Blogging for me was the gateway to the world of communication. Blogging introduced me to the world of social media: twitter, facebook, youtube, LinkedIn. I now use all four consistently to further and strengthen my message, connect with friends, network with colleagues and for professional development. I subscribe to several blogs of interest, follow brilliant people on twitter, and learn each day from all of them. If you glance at some of the websites of interest on the sidebar below, you will be introduced to some of the brilliant people I learn from on a regular basis. Social Media has become one of the greatest professional development and network tools of my career. I found that because of the people I follow on twitter and the blogs to which I subscribe, everything of great interest comes directly to me. I rarely have to search for anything. There is another important reason why I blog that far surpasses my desire to connect: my desire to think. Seth Godin and Tom Peters explain the more cerebral reason to blog far better than I ever could. Watch the video below to learn a bit more about the real, more cerebral purpose of blogging.