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“Lipstick and Eyeshadow on a Pig” + “Nail Polish” April 21, 2012

Posted by Chris Mark in Industry News.
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Since I am heading to the Piracy event in Hamburg, Germany this week and (here is a plug…will be speaking on Cybersecurity), I thought it appropriate to re-post this particular post with some added commentary. You can read the previous posts on vetting armed security here.  I have added four techniques used by companies to project a skewed image.  I call them: “Sitting With Cool Kids” ; “Wining and Dining”; “Bravado Impresario”; and “Rambo-ing a Client”.

This is a bit off topic but I think it is interesting.   In a previous life I used to manage number of competitive intelligence projects for clients. It is field I find fascinating and very interesting and I put quite a bit of time into learning about CI and it’s application.  Today I was reminded of a CI signal and thought I would pass on.  When I was a younger man I liked to race my motorcycle around the streets and highways of Texas.  I remember my friend told me once: “Never race a car or bike that has a primer paint job.”  I asked why and he said: “Because they don’t care about looks and they put all their money into motor.”  It makes perfect sense in street racing and in business.  One of the trends that I look for is companies suddenly “painting their car” or announcing that they are about to “paint their car” for no real reason.  While companies should always be focused on improving their marketability, often a radical change like a total re-branding or a shiny new website suggests something more sinister.   Often these changes are calculated to occur at an opportune time like right before a major industry event.  

Companies that have had internal issues or are struggling may try to ‘gloss up’ their image in an effort to assuage the concerns of their clients, the industry at large, or analysts.  It is often a common trick of small companies trying to convince investors of their viability. I like to call this putting lipstick on a pig.  Since that title was used in another blog post, I will call it putting eyeshadow on a pig.  When you see a radical change to image and the company is announcing it before hand, then it merits a closer look.  Often, it is simply a company trying to continually improve their image but sometimes it is an indication of past, or current issues within the organization.  By spending money on a glossy new website when they don’t have extra cash on hand they may be trying to project the idea that: “We are fine.  We have money to spend as you can see by our new website.  We are growing and there is nothing wrong here.”  My personal experience suggests that when a company feels compelled to announce a future change, it usually is indicative of something that is not quite right.  Companies tweak branding all the time but it is rare to see a company announce that they are going to tweak their branding.  Always look closely at a company that decides to modify their brand…it could be harmless or it could be more.

Another comment ‘trick’ is what I call “sitting with cool kids”.  A company may join a number of industry organizations in an attempt to gain credibility by association.  Remember, associations are little more than ‘member group’.  Simply being a member does not indicate anything about the company.

Yet another common trick is what I like to call: “Wining and Dining”.  If a company is spending hard earned revenue on overblown parties, and dinner events in an attempt to impress a potential client, it is akin to putting a shiny new coat of paint on a car.  Companies should question why they are not being provided a discount instead of being treated to Foie Gras, and Beluga Cavier?  There is nothing wrong with treating prospects to a meal to talk about business or treating an existing client well.  The objective, and motivation of this tactic should always be viewed carefully.

There is also what I call the “Bravado Impresario”.  This is best explained through an example.  I was reading a whitepaper by the CEO of a company and in reviewing his bio, he states that he has: “He has spoken at numerous events and written extensively about the (insert topic here)”  Based upon his self-authored bio, it sounds pretty impressive.  A quick Google search however, returns NO experience speaking and NO published articles (unless you count the article he was accused of plagiarizing which was removed from the publisher).  The point being, don’t take their word for it.  Do some research and find out for yourselfwhether the author is more into fiction than fact.

Finally, (and I hate to bring this up) but my experience has shown that many people are impressed with military heroics and rarely check the facts. This is what I call “Rambo-ing a Client”  I have worked for a person (actually two) who told numerous stories of heroics including being wounded in battle and being a decorated combat vet.  The stories all turned out to be false.  Unfortunately, numerous clients were taken by the seemingly accurate military speak and stories.  One individual actually tried to claim credit for rescuing Scott O’Grady.  It so happened I was a little more familiar with that particular event than the person thought…it has seen been removed from his Linked-In profile. Often the most telling aspect of these Walter Mitties is when they refuse to answer detailed questions.  The “top secret”/”classified” excuse is used…alot.  I have actually herd this story: “I was a sniper with Delta in Afganistan man…blown up by an RPG…it was heavy man!….heavy sh%t to deal with bro!  All my friends were killed and it was just me…fighting off 100…no, no, wait…1,000 Taliban Bro…I just try to get through the day with all my wounds and sh&t…at least I’m alive…f**ked up, but alive man…”

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1. Competitive Intelligence 201; Locating & Protecting Your Web IP | Global Security, Privacy, & Risk Management - May 5, 2012

[…] In several previous posts, I have introduced basic concepts of competitive intelligence and vetting organizations. (you can read the posts here One, Two, Three, Four) […]


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