flux branding

The Paradox of Progress


How do you feel about things today?

As things get better, there’s more to lose.

We finally reached the end of the 2020 campaign season. It’s branded as the most important election of our lifetimes. The contrast between candidates is night and day. Competitive versus collaborative. Winner-take-all versus common-ground. It feels like everything is teetering on a razor’s edge.

We’re facing existential threats of global pandemic, climate change and information warfare. Looking at these challenges, it can seem like we’re living in the end of days. But there’s also an uncomfortable truth underpinning it all: from a cosmic perspective our lives are insignificant. The universe is a really, really, really big place and it’s been around for a really, really, really long time. Our politics, crises, challenges and accomplishments may seem important, but from a universal standpoint they’re not even measurable.

Consider these facts

While we’re in the safest and most prosperous time in history, we feel like everything is falling apart. That’s because with progress comes fear of loss.

The exceptional advances in technology, business and lifestyle have simultaneously raised our quality of life and increased our concerns. This is the paradox of progress.

Progress forces us to make value judgments.

We judge the rightness, wrongness or usefulness of a new advancement based on a comparison to other things we already understand. These evaluations are often based upon limited information and are made quickly and impulsively. They are not universal. There are different evaluations because we don’t all agree on what is good or bad.

Values are learned culturally.

This is why understanding the existing mindset of your market is essential. While you might be tempted to make your brand appeal to everyone, targeting a specific niche helps accelerate its adoption. It begins with identifying the people who have the most to lose without your offering. While the optimism of empowerment, delight and virtue are noble, the paradox is that motivation is driven by fear of loss.

The Big Three Paradox Motivators

The paradox of progress is a complex dynamic and is only one of the many elements that brands use to generate loyalty. While it’s valuable in establishing messaging, it must be combined with other communications strategies to generate reliable results. Used carelessly, excessive focus on fear and loss can result in brands that fail to inspire consumers over time. But when balanced with equal parts of vision and promise, the paradox is an important ingredient in motivating action.


The pandemic is still unfolding, and there are no clear paths. Surprising new data indicates that discretionary spending is up from last year, fueled by a new mix of consumer demands. Technology continues to reshape how we work, shop and communicate. The pace of progress is showing no signs of slowing.

If you’re still thinking about your brand’s role in the new normal, now’s the time to act. One thing’s certain, the world’s in flux. Take the time now to assess your brand, and prepare for progress.


Branding vs Propaganda

Propaganda in the Age of New Media. Think you’re a free thinker? Think again. “Free will” is being manipulated by “free speech”.

Star Spangled Branding

The explosive momentum of the Internet has created a perfect environment for quickly spreading images and ideas to the public. Anyone can craft professional visuals. The barriers to broadcasting have been eliminated. It’s easier than ever to shape public opinion. And it’s all happened in less than a century.

>Meet Edward Bernays (1891-1995) 

He combined the ideas of Gustave Le Bon and Wilfred Trotter on crowd psychology with the psychoanalytical ideas of his uncle, Sigmund Freud. Bernays revolutionized public relations by combining traditional press agentry with the techniques of psychology and sociology. 

In 1928, Bernays wrote “Propaganda, considered to be a declarative work on the subject. The basis of his argument is quite simple, and bears uncanny resemblance to the essential principles of branding:

Bernays worked for presidents, governments and companies, with outcomes that shaped countries, business, perception and history. He lived until age 103, and in his obituary, he’s considered “The Father of Public Relations.”

Is propaganda the father of branding?

>Now meet Frank Luntz (1962-) 

An American political consultant, pollster, and public opinion guru, Luntz is best known for developing talking points and other messaging for various Republican causes. He advocates using specific vocabulary crafted to produce a desired effect. He’s a local Angelino, and when I run into him around town I’m starstruck.

In 2008 Luntz wrote “Words That Work” (https://www.amazon.com/Words-That-Work-What-People/dp/1401309291), exploring the effective use of language in the context of understanding the audience. Even the best message fails if the communicator does not create the message from the receiver’s point of view. 

He is arguably today’s most celebrated wordsmith, and I think of him as the new face of new propaganda. By testing word and phrase choices using focus groups and interviews, he learns empirically how audiences react based on emotion. Those simple words are used consistently to alter public perception through widespread adoption among his constituents. They form amazing soundbites, making them memorable and easy to promote.

Aside from my personal disagreement with his political views, I’m in awe of Luntz’ ability to shift the conversation. Consider some of Luntz’s well-known messages:

Great messages can shape perception.

Both Bernays and Luntz recognize the tremendous power that results when messaging resonates. But they’re also willing to tread into deceit in the aim of achieving their objective. With propaganda, anything goes. The goal is manipulation to obtain results, but there isn’t loyalty behind it. It takes a lot of energy to maintain deception, and in the end it eventually unravels once the effort has ended. Because ultimately, the regimes that fund and fuel propaganda are not sustainable. And that’s where propaganda departs from branding.

Take a moment to consider your brand. It’s the most visible expression of who you are. If the messages behind your identity aren’t resonating, then you haven’t closed the gap between how you see yourself and how the audience sees you. Clarity and honestly improves your brand, because the result is authenticity. 

Imagine combining the power of propaganda with the integrity of branding. 

The results are legendary when these components align. Start with the real you. Understand your customers’ motives. Generate predictable emotional reactions from consumers. Limit the range of choices. Push the audience into a binary mindset. Achieve faster, more enthusiastic decisions. By keeping it real, loyalty doesn’t require any ongoing effort because it’s the natural result of integrity.

Is branding the new propaganda?  I don’t think so (but it’s complicated)

The new face of communications has evolved at an astounding pace, but “we the people” haven’t caught up to these changes culturally. To detect propaganda, the audience needs to develop a policy of scrutiny that exposes dishonesty and discredits deceit. This hasn’t occurred yet, but experience builds maturity over time. 

Eventually, the consumer will develop the same sense of suspicion of branding that they have with advertising. We know that there’s a motive to sell driving every campaign. But we’re still naive when it comes to the newest forms of social media, especially when they target our unique preferences and behavioral profiles.

Remember, new media is in its infancy. Instagram is only 10 years old. It’s still the wild west out there. The open access we have to communications today that won’t last forever. Privacy laws and regulations are beginning to affect targeted “narrow-casting” campaigns by hiding online behavioral profiles. Many countries outside the USA have already enacted privacy laws that limit behavioral targeting.

It’s so easy to reach your audience that it is almost reckless not to take full advantage of the situation. If you’re not actively budgeting for branding, and haven’t found the right words that work, then you’re missing the boat. That’s where your competition can gain a meaningful advantage, and can end up with a trump card to win market share.

>My advice –communicate with consistency and frequency. And keep it real.

AAPEX 2019: A Strong Showing

FLUX BRANDING has been attending the AAPEX event for over a decade, supporting clients with their exhibits and marketing efforts.

AAPEX is the Automotive Aftermarket Parts Expo, and is among the largest industry trade fairs in the United States. It represents the $1 trillion global automotive aftermarket industry and features 2,500 exhibiting companies and 5,500 booths. Approximately 48,000 targeted buyers and more than 162,000 automotive aftermarket professionals from nearly 126 countries are in Las Vegas during the AAPEX and the SEMA Show, which runs currently.

Flux Branding has been attending the AAPEX event for over a decade, supporting clients with their exhibits and marketing efforts. Working with our local Vegas partner, Sructure Exhibits, this year’s event included a strong showing from 4 clients.

Motorcarparts of America selected Flux to design and produce a major exhibit for it’s 20′ x 110′ space. Consisting of 3 private conference rooms with room and A/C, the exhibit features 3 video towers and custom LED-lit product displays. Bold red, white and blue graphics give the brand a patriotic position, which showcases artistic photography of products. The 3 video towers work in sync to grab attention with products, color and bold messaging.

Flux  designed and produced a major 20′ x 110′ exhibit  for  Motorcarparts of America.


Dixie Electric selected Flux for their 10′ x 20′ budget exhibit. The small space was elevated by using a simple, clean, modern design approach. Maintaining white walls and crisp graphics, the booth became a peaceful retreat in a sea of visual noise.

Flux worked with Dixie Electric on a 10′ x 20′ budget exhibit.


DV Electronics selected Flux for a 20′ x 20′ open area to feature industrial test equipment for electrical components. The exhibit was budget-minded, using a simple 16′ tall back-lit graphic to anchor the space.

DV Electronics 20′ x 20′ open area booth featured large testing equipment.


Recochem selected Flux for their 10′ x 20′ exhibit, reducing their footprint from prior years to lower costs. The booth featured a monumental 5′ tall replica of an antifreeze container, with a video wall featuring motion graphics of products and facilities.

Flux co-founder Jamie Schwartzman attended the event. Educational sessions included industry analysis sessions and trend forecasts. A highlight was a keynote breakfast with President George W. Bush, who spoke candidly about his concerns with the current state of US politics. He added compelling remarks about his newfound appreciation of art, which helped open his mind and heart to being more perceptive of the world around him.


AAPEX 2020 will open Tuesday, Nov 3 — which is also election day for the next US president! Flux will be there, as usual, to be a part of this important industry gathering.

Brand Karma

The concept of brand karma adds important principles for how businesses must behave. If profit was the only objective, there would be no motivation for ethical practices except the risk of violating the law. Brand karma introduces the context for a new way of thinking about goals

> Brands elevate business to higher standards.

Public trust in government’s ability continues to weaken. Brands are becoming the new international role models. Democracy swings left and right, fueled by propaganda, constrained by borders. But brands span the globe. They must function consistently across different national legal constraints. Branding therefore provides a universal ethical and moral framework for business actions. 

“Society increasingly holds global business accountable as the only institutions powerful enough to respond at the scale of the challenges our planet faces. There is no multinational government, but there are many cross-border corporations that witness how our resource constraints affect market, customers, communities and natural resources”
-Adam Werbach



> Brands are grounded in culture.

Right and wrong are universal concepts, but there are differences in how they’re perceived. What seems right to me might be considered offensive to others. Gender equality is a good example. It’s all relative to your personal feelings. 

Cultural norms set the foundation for how we feel about things. Morality and ethical beliefs are the soul of culture. It’s possible to predict the reactions to your actions by understanding the people who will see them.  Therefore brand karma is relative to your customer’s beliefs, unlike the spiritual concept of karma that is relative to religious beliefs.


Doing good depends on what people believe. Consider the following diametrically opposed philosophies that typify today’s polarized society. What do you believe?

Knowing your audience is essential in building brand  karma. Since it’s perception-based, it’s critical to decide who’s observing your good intentions. It must be authentic and honest. Make it’s motivated by your heart, not by your wallet.

When brands pander with bogus actions that attempt to engage customers without integrity, the resulting backlash can be destructive. The marketplace acts as a social watchdog to expose inauthenticity. Don’t waste your brand karma by trying to do or be something you don’t truly believe.

Brand karma isn’t a short-term strategy. It’s intended to guide your principles for the long haul. A marathon, not a sprint. Consistency is the key, with a steady flow of positive daily actions. Small steps, routinely taken, carry you great distance. 



“Profit is the applause you get for creating a motivating environment for your people and taking care of your customers.”
-Ken Blanchard




The first step is easy. Do something good for your brand today. Make a donation to a worthy cause. Send a note of thanks. Praise a team member. Find actions that bring joy, not revenue. And then let brand karma bring you the profits.


Branding: How to Differentiate your Project in a Booming Market

BISNOW BMAC west was a great success! Our strategic leader, Jamie Schwartzman, moderated an informative panel session on branding. Jamies’ infections and engaging style kept us all focused as he got the most out of his panel titled; Branding: How to Differentiate your Project in a Booming Market

The branding session well attended and informative. First of all, Jamie set the stage by reminding us all how communications are changing at a rapid pace. Did you know Instagram is only 7 years old?  No one can deny its importance in communications. Then he asked thoughtful questions to get the most out of this panel of experts. The panel featured five experts that included John Waldron, Managing Principle, Studio T-SQ; Kim Bucklew, Managing Director, Alliance Residential; Amirali Nasserian SVP- National Residential Development, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield; Richard Price, VP Development; Alliance Residential; Simon Hunter, Partner & CIO, Co-Op. They provided  the audience with a lot of insights

Below are a  few examples of the questions posed to our panel of industry leaders.

           1. How do you bridge the gap between business and branding?

               Answer: Budgeting for branding in the earliest stages of development is even more important than ever before to overall project success

          2. How does branding help you curate a community?

               Answer: The result attracts like minded individual to your project and consequently reduces turnover.

         3. How does design differentiate a brand in a world where nearly everything is designed?

             Answer: As a result, shift in focus to emotion and experiential elements of property

        4. What are you exploring in Los Angeles developments that are trend worthy? 

            Answer: combining package delivery and, housekeeping services; Dedicated Ride sharing lounges

In addition to the informative panel discussions there was an  inspiring keynote with Bobby Turner of  Turner Impact Capital. He is a social impact innovator, focusing his investments strategy on affordable workforce housing, education and healthcare. Turner Impact Capitals vision is “to create innovative and durable solutions to today’s challenges by investing in community-enriching infrastructure in underserved communities”.  Above all, Turner Impact Capital believes that building stronger communities in turn  can build strong financial returns. His message of hope was a breadth of fresh air in today’s fractious climate.

BISNOW held a speed networking session- quite a feet with so many people in attendance. The catered lunch and closing cocktail party also provide opportunity to connect with leaders in the industry. In other words, as with all BISNOW events, there lots of opportunities to network.

Finally, a big thanks to BISNOW for putting it all together. I look forward to the next time I can connect with fellow attendees.

Lead The Way

MERA is the Association for Sustainable Manufacturing. They are a non-profit advocacy organization that supports and promotes remanufacturing—an important, environmentally-friendly way of producing parts for the transportation industries.

Flux Branding was selected to develop an industry-wide certification mark that would help consumers identify high-quality products that are sustainable. The result is Manufactured Again Certification. It includes a new, 4-arrow pinwheel based on the familiar 3-arrow triangle of recycling.

Manufactured Again Certified Quality ProcessThe 4th arrow represents remanufacturing. The other three are: reduce, reuse, recycle. The benefits of remanufacturing is that it takes a lot less energy to produce a product when you’re able to reclaim components, especially the heavy castings and forgings in engine parts. By preserving the energy invested in those parts, you can save up to 91% of the energy required to produce a part for scratch.

Our creative campaign “Lead The Way” features black and white photography with green shoes. It’s a metaphor for walking the talk of sustainability and provides a recognizable visual cue.

We’re excited to be leading the way for sustainability!

Habits + Rituals: The Holy Grail of Branding (Part 1)

Habits + RitualsPeople thrive on routine. Although we seek new experiences to break predictability, and delight with surprises, having regularity is essential for long-term happiness. Since our routines are the basis for regular, predictable behaviors, marketing professionals see them as the holy grail for consistent and predictable sales.

When consumers associate brands (or even rely on them) with their routines, it establishes a tremendous opportunity for long-term loyalty. This requires a deep and accurate understanding of how consumers form routines, their fundamental needs and the benefits that are unique to your product or service. Brands that find meaning and relevance in these routine behaviors are rewarded with lifetime customers.

Some routines are habits while others are rituals. Understanding the difference is essential in brand positioning.

According to Charles Duhigg , author of The Power Of Habit:

Book cover: The Power of HabitHabits (at least from the evolving neurological perspective) are behaviors that are self-generated. A habit is a decision that someone makes at some point, and then stops making but continues doing. So, for instance, the first time you ate a donut at work, it was a decision. The 45th time, it was a habit that occurred, essentially, unthinkingly.

Rituals, by contrast, are almost always patterns developed by an external source, and adopted for reasons that might have nothing to do with decision making. Someone might celebrate Thanksgiving with a turkey not because they love turkey, but because society has indicated that’s what we eat at Thanksgiving.

In part one of this two-part essay series, we’ll focus exclusively on habits and how brands function within them.

This May Be Habit-Forming

Diagram of human brainScientists believe that the cognitive process behind habits form in the basal ganglia , the part of the brain responsible for instinctual reactions. “Flight or fight” and other automatic responses come from it, which occur without conscious thought. When engaged in habitual behaviors, higher thought functions are not required. This frees up your conscious mind to focus on other complex thoughts. It explains why you can drive a car safely, which is extremely technically complex, but barely recall the trip if you’ve been having an important conversation during the ride.

Diagram of cue, routine, and reward. These mechanics are described as a “habit loop” and are made up of three distinct components.

The Cue.

“Cues” are considered “triggers” that are instantly recognized and then prepare your mind to relax and enter an “automatic” mode. This could be a time of day, a color or a sound, but they all have one thing in common- they get your attention, but they can be subtle.

Think about your product or service. Is there a specific cue you can identify that signals the behavior required for your customers? Once you can identify a series of cues, then a solid communications strategy will align your messaging to be relevant to those moments in consumers’ lives.

Initially the cue is learned either intentionally or spontaneously. For this reason, brands can associate themselves with feelings that occur during normal life. Snickers is aligning itself with the aggressive and illogical behaviors that happen when people get too hungry. One bite delivers the protein and glucose people need to be themselves again.

The Routine.

The behaviors that follow the cue are what people usually consider the habit itself. It’s important to remember that habitual behavior happens without much conscious thought. It’s a highly practiced, regular activity that’s easy to perform because it’s been done so many times prior.

Ease of access during the routine is critical since there isn’t much conscious attention available while it’s happening. Any requirement to source or acquire your offering in the midst of routine behavior is doomed to fail, because you must exit the habitual behavior to do it.

Mobile applications are extremely applicable to routine behaviors for this very reason: they’re right in your pocket and available with a click of a button. Uber is a perfect example. Instead of the effort to call a taxi or hail one, the app does all that work for you.

The Reward.

A payoff of something pleasurable at the conclusion of the behavior ensures you remember it in the future. It’s a simple mechanism to encourage repeat behaviors and is the basis for most training methodologies.

But there’s an important and sophisticated element: the reward doesn’t have to come directly from your brand. That means that your offering doesn’t need to intrinsically deliver the reward, but instead can facilitate the consumer receiving it.

Without the cue, these behaviors don’t happen automatically.

Since we are normally surrounded by a series of familiar cues, it can be difficult for new habits to form. In fact, the best time to form new habits is when you are on vacation– the normal cues aren’t present and you are receptive to new cues that signal alternative behavior patterns. This explains some of the motivation brands have in leisure activities and why shopping is so integrated into traveling.

Figure out the cues and rewards to help shape the a behavior pattern. This is the golden rule of habit change: find a new behavior that provides the same reward that the cue indicates. Think of the cue in terms of craving, and it’s easier to frame your approach.

Febreze began as a product to remove bad smells, but failed when it was strictly an unscented odor eliminator. By recognizing that people tend to crave a good smell when things are clean, they added scent to the product, making it a billion dollar business for P&G.

Timing is everything.

Market research shows that there are specific times in life (cues) when consumers are more receptive to brands and are open to forming new habits.

Moving to a new home or relocating
Starting new relationship (or ending one)
Having a baby or adopting a pet

Look for opportunities to establish a relevant foothold during these significant times, and the result could be the key to a shift in your brand positioning, messaging and communications strategies. It must be authentic, and honestly contribute to connecting the cue and resulting behavior to a reward. Remember, it’s all about consumer perception, not your claims, that result in memorable experiences.

Next month, we’ll explore rituals and the deep cultural connections that are the foundation for their multi-generational consistency. Rituals are characterized by formalism, traditionalism, invariance, rule-governance, sacral symbolism, and performance. More about that in our next essay.

Interested in branding? Check out our portfolio.

Habits & Rituals: The Holy Grail of Branding (Part 2)

Understanding consumer behavior is essential in branding. Unlike marketing, where the goal is to match your offering with a targeted prospect in hope of generating a lead, in branding we position the offering to appeal a relevant audience and generate a feeling.

Last month, we explored habitual behaviors. In part two of this two-part series of essays, we’ll focus exclusively on rituals and how brands function around them.

Understanding the difference between habits and rituals is essential in brand positioning.

According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power Of Habit:

Habits are behaviors that are self generated. A habit is a decision that someone makes at some point, and then stops making but continues doing. So, for instance, the first time you ate a donut at work, it was a decision. The 45th time, it was a habit that occurred, essentially, unthinkingly.

Rituals are patterns developed by an external source. They are adopted for reasons that might have nothing to do with decision making. Someone might celebrate thanksgiving with a turkey not because they love turkey, but because society has indicated that’s what we eat at thanksgiving.

Rituals are done out of respect for tradition, and we are trained to adopt them as a symbol of acceptance within a larger context of community. While we can have good or bad habits, rituals are beyond judgement. They are demanded and require acknowledgement, if not participation, as part of your cultural identity. 

We “perform” rituals by doing prescriptive behaviors in order and at a designated time. It’s an act that proves our desire to be connected to a community of like-minded individuals who also make it a priority.

Holidays are perfect examples of rituals in everyday life. Brands have found lucrative opportunities by establishing their products as symbols of those celebrations. It’s easy to see it in candy sales, but the results are surprising.

Although Halloween and Valentine’s Day are both associated with candy, it turns out that Easter is the sweetest. Sales volumes tracked by Neilson showed that Americans purchased 146 million pounds of candy in the week before Easter. That’s nearly half a pound of candy for every man, woman and child in the country. And more than was purchased that those other candy focused holidays. It makes sense, Easter is an evergreen ritual; it’s celebrated regardless of age or courtship.

Because of the lucrative opportunities inherent in ritual-oriented products, brands have fun taking creative approaches to participate in them. Consider this list to begin discovery of the rituals that might be aligned with your brand. They’re excellent opportunities for content development that resonates in marketing, especially social media.

  • Greeting cards
  • Parties & Events
  • Historic or Factual Information
  • Recipes/ Formulas/ How-to’s
  • Sales/Limited Time Offers
  • Gifts

But it’s not all fun and games.

Rituals are sacred and must be respected. There’s real risk of offending your audience if not tactfully executed. This requires accurate working knowledge of the real cultural and spiritual foundations of the ritual. Making incorrect assumptions can have negative consequences, so intelligence gathering and testing is essential.

How does your brand find opportunities by engaging in consumer habits and rituals?

Consumers form habits as part of performing their rituals—and that can be the best approach for opportunities. Those habits can be rethought, making it fertile ground for brands to find ways to interact with consumers when the ritual cues the habit.

That’s a tradition that will always endure.

The bread is crack. Explore Tartine DTLA

Flux is a busy branding studio and sometimes it is hard to get out of the office… except for food. The Arts District of DTLA just got better with our new neighbor Tartine Bakery. The Manufactory, as its called, just moved in to an enormous space at the THE ROW. It includes the Bakery, Market, Tartine Bianco and Alameda Supper Club. This is a great way to get people to THE ROW. It finally got me there, but I always follow my stomach.


Tartine bread has a reputation and it did not disappoint. I tried the oatmeal county loaf Basically as addictive as crack in bread form. Seriously. I also had the patty melt at Tartine Bianco that was amazing but needs to be shared due to its size. Split that and a salad with a friend. Your body will thank  you and wont need a nap in at 3pm. Top it all off- indulge in a croissant or my favorite the giant walnut chocolate chip cookie. Delicious.

That nap might be necessary after all.