11/10/2014 09:44 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Dear John Letter to the Speaker of the House

Dear John,

In my line of work, the way we talk about something can make the difference between building a successful brand and losing market share. No small thing, it's pretty much corporate survival. In the ad world, there is, what could politely be called, a cheap trick. This is where you slam a competitor to get quick attention. You can see plentiful examples of this on billboards and magazines daily.

This was something we were acutely aware of when I worked at Starbucks. We wanted to show confidence in our brand as a market leader and an innovator. We did so in the way we developed products and created experiences for our customer. If we would have taken the 'competitor comparison' approach, we would have been 'lowering' ourselves to their level.

A few years ago McDonalds decided to take this tact by erecting billboards in the Northwest (including one within sight of the Starbucks headquarters) with copy that said, "Four bucks is dumb." And, "large is the new grande."


There is a current broadcast commercial example where a tablet computer is comparing itself to the market leader by shaming the competitive tablet with the few things it can't do.

Is it effective? Yes, in the short-term. But, you are using your competitor's success and strength as a base to build on, as opposed to starting with your own strength or uniqueness. The long-term danger is that you are not building anything of your own, it's the equivalent of building a house of your own on top of someone elses' foundation.

And so, dear House Speaker Boehner, you have a great opportunity to move forward on issues that you care about with the continued strength of the majority on your side in the House. And now combined with your colleague in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, as majority leader, at your side.

Using negatives to get to a positive is a lazy approach, it is the equivalent of the playground tactic of, "oh yeah, I know you do that, but what about this?" It starts with the accusatory tone in order to get attention. Instead, lead with what you are good at, and the intent of what you want to achieve.

By starting off on the negative and accusatory foot, you aren't earning any points, except by those waiting at the castle gates with their pitchforks, and in doing so, you are poisoning the well of conciliation and progress.

With good wishes, Stanley