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Branding, Warren Buffett, Amazon, education and some other squirrels

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So many things caught my attention this past week (thank you, Twitter?), this blog entry may be an extreme case of “There goes another squirrel!”

And maybe "squirrel" all on its own is too much of a newsroom in-joke. You decide. Here goes.

In the realm of aspirational brands, Hilton has been golden for decades, really hitting it right about the time "jet set" entered the lexicon in the 1950s. The rich and famous hopped around the world staying at Hiltons in glamorous cities while the rest of us made do with Howard Johnsons stateside.

Would you be surprised to learn that the Hilton brand today not only remains valuable but is worth more than its actual real estate? I was. But I shouldn't be. Any marketer worth his or her salt will tell you reputation is everything. When's the last time you stepped away from the desk or the production floor to give your brand some loving care?

One behemoth brand executed a brilliant maneuver last week. You've probably not been able to escape all the "drones as business apps" chatter that followed Jeff Bezos's announcement that his company, Amazon, was working on a plan to use tiny drones for faster delivery.

Billions of pixels have been expended since to either debunk the idea or try to unravel the snarl of legalities sure to be involved.

This writer looked past all that noise to raise a more practical point. Was it a coincidence that Bezos said this on national television the night before Cyber Monday? Think about it. With all the online shopping sites eager for your business the Monday after Thanksgiving, what company was everybody talking about? How do you get people to talk about your business in a way that's likely to bring them to your door/portal?

Billionaire Warren Buffett has a powerful personal brand and he's not afraid to use it. Here's an effort he's involved in that I'm surprised hasn't gotten more attention — the 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative. How could we get this to come to the midstate?

Speaking of shopping and brands, effective taglines stick with us long after a product has faded or the ad campaign takes a different direction. "Don't leave home without it" makes you think "credit card" if not American Express (another golden brand).

Today, credit cards are so ubiquitous it seems quaint to remind people to carry them. For quaintness, I should note, though, that the original campaign promoted traveler's checks. You can still get them, but I think I used my last one about 20 years ago.

But here's a good one for the "do they really need to be reminded" category: Do people really need to be reminded not to post photos of their credit/debit cards online? Short answer: Yes. So many people do it, in fact, that someone created a Twitter account to repost the photos.

I was going to segue from there to the gloomy report issued last week on how America's students compare to their peers around the world (answer: not well) and an even more interesting report on student debt by state and region, but I'll save my comments on those for another time.

Bottom line? If you want to succeed, you can't take anything for granted, whether that's your business, your personal security, the future of the nation or your own. You need to work hard every day on what's important — and not assume nobody is looking when you screw up. Somebody is always looking.

The week ahead

What happens when a business wants to expand and it can't get the full attention of local government because it's got major distractions? The company Jason Scott writes about for the Dec. 13 issue did the logical thing: It moved.

The interplay between business and government seems to be a theme running through the issue, in fact — from pending zoning changes that could develop a Cumberland County community's business mix to renewed popularity with programs like Lerta.

And if you're not busy enough with your own business, here are this week's networking opportunities. Get out there, learn and build your brand!

The rewind

Anybody remember who the first "Don't Leave Home Without It" spokesman was? Here's a video clue. The man was nominated for an Oscar for this role, and won for a different role in another year, but on YouTube, you'll find more clips of his AmEx ads.

I couldn't fit this in but have to share it: The life and times of the humble shipping container.

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