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Depression or recession: What's in a name?

A recession road sign.

Kai Ryssdal: This is going to sound flip, but it's honestly not meant to. There is the not-small matter of what to call what the economy's going through. Debt Deflation? The Lost Decade? The tired old standby, the Great Recession? Because how we refer to something does reflect how we react to it.

Sasha Strauss is managing director and chief strategist at Innovation Protocol, a brand development firm. Thanks for being here.

Sasha Strauss: Great to be with you.

Ryssdal: Why does it matter what we call something?

Strauss: I think that you have to respect that the general consuming mind is not synchronous -- we're all thinking different things everyday. And so we often to be told what to call things. We need a common reference point, and since we're all not working together seamlessly, we need an adviser to suggest what we should call this so that we have common vernacular.

Ryssdal: So if Ben Bernanke and the president and Timothy Geithner call you and they say, "Listen, Sasha..."

Strauss: Yeah.

Ryssdal: "...give me the elevator page -- what do we call this thing that we're in?" How do you go about that?

Strauss: This economy has leveled the playing field for everyone. The races and cultures that used to be independent have finally integrated. And so, if I was taking a call with the president, I would describe this as the "Great Integration." We need a positive turn -- we can't keep calling this negative things.

Ryssdal: But it's a negative thing!

Strauss: It is a negative thing, but there's a negative term for everything, and if we keep focusing on negative energy, honestly, the consumer mind will never turn around.

Ryssdal: All right, so the president's out today on this magical mystery bus tour in the greater Midwest. Can he just start using the Sasha Strauss branding techniques, and that's going to stick?

Strauss: For a nominal fee, he can. The answer to your question is that it takes pop culture leadership to create common vernacular. I would say that you, Kai, could absolutely propagate a definition. And as long as you rationalize it emotionally with the citizenship -- explained why you came up with this term and what it implies, as long as they have that foundational definition, it can become the term.

Ryssdal: Is it different now in the era where I can go out on Twitter and talk to however many people follow me than it was in Herbert Hoover's day when he had to get on a radio in front of a couple million...

Strauss: Correct. So incredibly different. The power of social media has changed the way that cultures are influenced and vernacular is used. And so it simply takes someone with a mass audience of appeal to say something that sounds rational, and that's the trigger for it to become the way people describe things.

Ryssdal: Give me some tried-and-true branding methodology techniques that you can use to name this thing.

Strauss: Right. So, the traditional mechanism in brand development is to do research amongst the citizens, the consumers of the brand. So any time you talk about Pepsi, or Corona or automobiles -- it doesn't matter what the brand is, what matters most is they didn't fabricate the brand out of nothing. I believe that we owe the same responsibility to the citizens if we're going to name this. That way, when we do ultimately create the name, it's not a Don Draper, hypothetical moment, it's an aggregation of insights from the citizenship and then we hand them the simplified term that helps create clarity.

Ryssdal: It strikes me that there will be people listening to this who will accuse us of horrible, horrible cynicism, trying to wrap a brand around this cataclysm in our economy.

Strauss: Yeah, and I do think that brand is often attributed with negativity. It's almost an attempt to influence the mind of a market by sort of connecting with what it is that they desire. But, please! Obama, a brand -- the United States of America, a brand -- Ford Motor Company, a brand, not just an economic stalwart. Every religion is actively managing its brand. So it's here, why don't we orchestrate what we need to call this so we all can synchronize our communication, focus on the destination at hand, rather than worrying about all of the negative energy that's being distributed all the time.

Ryssdal: I'm almost ready to stand up and salute... and go marching on, man.

Strauss: Let's do this, brother.

Ryssdal: Sasha Strauss is the managing director and chief strategist at Innovation Protocol, that's a brand development firm, in case you hadn't been able to tell. Sasha, thanks a lot.

Strauss: My honor, thank you for the time, Kai.


Ryssdal: So to pick up on that idea that first you've got to find out what people are thinking, we did.

Janet Romo: Doomed. That's perfect.

Laurel Duncan: Panic for no reason.

Rick Prince: It's almost like an economic shock.

Joy Hamilton: Depressive recession?

Richard Kahn: Depression, no doubt.

Morgan Mallsmith: A mental recession.

Trevor Fisher: Bummer.

Travis Henderson: Slow and uncertain.

Matthew Mandell: What we call it doesn't really matter -- it's a mess.

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