December 14, 2006

Always A New Way

A reader writes:
    I signed up for the 14 day trial of rhapsody.com ... As I'm enjoying Roxanne by Sting I hear Feliz Navidad playing over the track. I instantly assume that something is wrong with the stream and try to replay the song. It happens again. I then go back to the song list page trying to figure out what the heck is doing that. Then I realize it. It's the Cingular Banner at the top of the page!!! How horrible. I was enjoying rhapsody.com. Now I'm done.
Interrupt. Annoy. Lose.


December 13, 2006

Immediate Results Or Years Of Struggle?

"Focus on that which is beyond what your eyes can see."
- Albrecht Durer

Visionaries are never right in the short term.


December 11, 2006

Tell Me What It Costs

There are two ways to sell tickets. The first way is to set a price, charge that price to customers, and then pay all the interested parties (performer, venue, ticket seller, etc.) their share. The second way is to set a price for the performance and then tack on fees for the venue, ticket seller, etc.

The first way is clean, fully operational, and easy to understand. Tickets are $40. OK. Here is $40. Thank you for the ticket. Tickets show up or are printed out and you stick them up on the refrigerator or bulletin board, eying them in anticipation for weeks. See you at the show. Everyone understands what the ticket is worth. Everyone understands that all the details are included.

The second way is overtly capitalistic. Tickets are $23. Facility fee is $6.75. Ticket seller "convenience" fee is $5.25. Shipping is $3.00. Printing the tickets directly, right now, is $5.00. Greed, confusion, and miscommunication are included - free. What other charges are going to come up by the time the show starts?

Selling tickets the first way shows thought and foresight. The second tactic demonstrates that a line has been drawn between creating a customer-centered experience and creating an easy to manage ledger for the promoter.

When in doubt, easier is easier.


December 7, 2006

You Have Two Choices Every Day

1. Invent the future, be remarkable, and change the world.

2. Be a used tire in the landfill of history, wasting away over a century, eventually becoming an unrecognizable part of the landscape.


December 5, 2006

Keeping Track

While no one will argue that measuring your efforts or maintaining a diary are good ideas, the story of Robert Shields from Dayton, Washington is truly remarkable.

For the last twenty years of his life, he meticulously chronicled every single thing he did and thought. He recounts everything he ate, every piece of junk mail he received, the weather, including temperature and humidity, inside and out, medications, prayers, bodily functions, and even the time spent typing his diary.

Believed to be the world's longest diary, it also includes such curiosities as samples of nose hair taped to the pages, as well as price stickers from meat purchased at the supermarket, and accounts of how he never slept more than two hours at a time so he would be able to remember, and thus record, his dreams.

A transcript of a radio interview and a sample page from his diary are both fascinating.


December 4, 2006

The Great Firewall Of China

When considering how important it is to preserve the neutrality of the internet, chew on these observations about what China and Iran are already doing. Communism and capitalism are coming increasingly close together when it comes to regulating content that should otherwise be free and freely accessible. What would it have been like if you had to pay for certain, designated books at the library when you were growing up? Try to imagine Ted Turner in one of Kim Jong-Il's jumpsuits....


November 29, 2006

Personal Branding

You (hopefully) are memorable. Keep in mind that you are always in the process of creating a brand image of yourself. People are always forming or reinforcing opinions of who you are to them. Did you catch that... "to them"?

Cornelius Huxtabull vs. Mark Jones. How many Cornelius's have you met in your lifetime?

Mohawk vs. Shaved Head. Not always appropriate, but memorable, none the less.

Voluptuous vs. Matronly or Patronly vs. Brotherly. This one goes frequently unspoken.

Evil Prick vs. Passive-Aggressive Doormat. Nice does not equal successful. Then again, memorable does not always equal positive.

tony@megacorp.com vs. tjohnson@megacorp.com. Most people have no idea what your last name is but are happy to know you by your first.

Every interaction builds on a relationship - with coworkers, clients, baristas, doormen.... It is perfectly acceptable to bring yourself to your work. Take every opportunity to set yourself apart with your personality.


November 28, 2006

There's Something Funny About Zombies


They are even funnier when they are arrested for being terrorists. Try not to think too loudly when in Minneapolis.


November 27, 2006

Value Creation In A Startup

You Ain't Gonna Learn What You Don't Want To Know offers up some great insights on the differences between corporate and start-up thinking.


November 21, 2006

November 17, 2006

Out Of Rehab And In Denial



George Carlin's great (and funny) example of why 85% of the words that come out of a person's mouth, especially at a meeting where someone is trying to sell something, mean nothing at all. You have no idea what he is talking about or what it means, but it sounds really impressive, even though it is completely contradictory and meaningless.

People are always trying to use more words, probably because they want to be sure they never miss any topics - like a shotgun wounding innocent bystanders. If someone is uninterested in the main thrust of what you came to say, what does it matter if they miss some of the side notes?


November 15, 2006

Looks Like A Drug Rep

Doctors and their staffs can see (maybe even smell) pharmaceutical sales people from several hundred yards away. Drug reps look the same. Women wear tailored, black, wool business suits with white blouses. Men show up in black gabardine slacks and blue shirts, usually with apathetically chosen neckties.

Receptionists apply their prejudices as soon as a drug rep walks through the door he or she just held open for woman pushing a stroller. And those prejudices, good or bad, control the drug rep's upcoming experience. Perhaps there is a set of office rules governing which ones or how many the doctor will bear to see in any given day, but mostly, it is the first impression of the person guarding the door that will determine the success or failure of the predestined sales rep.

So why do they all look the same? Because same is comfortable and familiar. If they do things the same as all the others they will be accepted into offices, they will deliver predictable results, and they will keep their job. When they look like everyone else, they know there are no mistakes being made. Except, of course, the most gigantic mistake of all - the absence of an original idea.

Would a woman in a red suit or a man in carefully selected tie really shake up the status quo? No. But someone dressed up like an average patient or another medical professional might. At least it would provide a fighting chance to overcome the prejudices leveraged against them, forged by the uninventive masses which came before.

Looking and sounding like your competitors has been proven to fail. Being original, on the other hand, only fails some of the time.

November 14, 2006

The Truth Hurts, But Keep It To Yourself

The folks at Four Paws Design sound like they are constantly annoyed and wrote their company policies late at night after a long day of tolerating customers. They sound like life would be easier for them without the constant pestering of having to deal with orders. Eventually, it will be.

Contention and righteousness are no way to solve a problem. Everyone involved becomes indignant and upset and nothing is resolved, especially in the long term. In contrast, the folks at Woot! actually use sarcasm, apathy, and indignation to their advantage.


November 10, 2006

Do Something Fun As A Professional

Two robbers disguised in president masks hold up an adult video store in Austin, Texas. They back a pick-up truck through the front door. They tie up the three employees with fur-lined handcuffs and latex stockings. They steal $230 in cash, some body piercing jewelry, and an employee's car.

Not a huge loot, but what a great caper. It made the national news and will be talked about for a while because it is a ridiculous and unique story. Even though it was described by the police as "well executed", not many self-respecting criminals would have ever tried to pull it off.

While adult video store robbery may not be the best way to go, why not do something wacky or unpredictable in your professional career? Something unproductive and ridiculous, but well-executed and memorable. It never hurt to leave a legacy.

Check out the example being set by Simply Usability as they work for free for one year.


November 3, 2006

How To Destroy The World With A Smile

"Unfortunately, I find that I am taken less seriously when I wear happiness on my face."
- Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso

"There are only three occasions on which you should ever smile - those involving marriage, the birth of your child, or when you are being honored. But never in business."
- Donald Trump

"The man who can smile when things go wrong has thought of someone else he can blame it on."
- Robert Bloch

Despite the cynicism, smile like you mean it.


November 2, 2006

Ban E-Mail

What would happen if you stopped using e-mail as a method of interpersonal communication? What if you called everyone or wrote them a note? Would it build better relationships? Try it for a week and see how it goes.


November 1, 2006

Note To Self

Books are much less effective than experiences at imparting learning through osmosis.


October 30, 2006

The Stupidity Of Recycling Plastic Bags

Recycling facilities hate plastic grocery bags. They clog up the machines, interfere with sorting, and are ultimately thrown out, not recycled. Waste Management estimates plastic grocery bag related issues costs each of their recycling facilities at least one hour of productivity and thousands of dollars in maintenance every day! Like most people when faced with a problem, they looked for a solution.

They decided to launch a public information campaign. There was a well massaged newspaper article, flyers attached to the inside of recycling bins, and materials were distributed to elementary school students. A commercial even ran on a couple of cable channels. Waste Management was dedicated to stopping people from trying to recycle plastic grocery bags.

The irony here is that plastic grocery bags are completely recyclable. Waste Management simply has no desire to do it. Instead of trying to solve their plastic grocery bag problem by educating an otherwise apathetic and confused public who believes the bags should be recycled, Waste Management needs to create a mechanism by which to recycle the bags. In place of expensive public relations campaigns, they have an opportunity to build the infrastructure to make themselves more money, create a convenience for their customers, and be environmentally responsible all at the same time.

Alas, yelling at the guy who is doing something (perceived as) wrong is easier (but not necessarily cheaper) than envisioning a creative solution.


October 27, 2006

Shadows And Light

Telling people everything about a product or service, how it is made, what it does, where it comes from, is not marketing, it is education. Unfortunately, many marketers frequently confuse the two ideas. Marketing is telling people about the parts of the story they want to hear.

Apply this logic to sausage factories and you will quickly understand.

Creating shadows is just as important as shedding light, but one is for you and one is for them.


October 25, 2006

Because Life Is Serious

Every once in a while, you need to blow 20 minutes of valuable time doing nothing in particular (and be able to forward such preoccupying activities to your friends and colleagues).

Here are three favorites...


October 24, 2006

Fuel Efficiency

An advertisement arrived today from Staples, the office supply place. They were trying to sell their delivery services by listing features and benefits which included ease of ordering, huge selection, and fuel efficiency. Hmmm... fuel efficiency.

They looked outside of the office, where the ad is probably being read and where the order would be placed, for a trigger to catch a potential customer's attention. They found a rally point for almost everyone, some common ground in the real world. Their suggestion of fuel efficiency is a sign that they understand there is more to making a decision about office supply products than simply saving the boss some money.

See the space, know the people, and make an offer that helps solve a real problem. Not many people believe that a paper clip sale will change their lives or earn them a promotion, but if they can keep a couple bucks in their own pocket or have a few extra minutes so they can be on time to pick their kid up from school, that is a valuable offer.


October 23, 2006

Rock 'N Roll Marketing

Popular music is the ultimate venue for creating a worldview and marketing it. Musicians do their best to come up with an original sound, perspective, or innovation (in most instances - see Spears, Britney for exceptions). They carve out a unique position, voice, and culture then hope people buy into it. Let us repeat that... they carve out a unique position, voice, and culture then hope people buy into it. Not making stuff for their audience, but finding an audience for their stuff.

Those silly artists are crazy and egotistical enough to believe they have something to say and that the world needs to hear it. As an entrepreneur, that same attitude works, too.

Record labels push, but worldview, taste, and consumer preference make the ultimate decisions (believe it or not). Of course, that assumes musicians can find a record label to begin with, but that is another story about perseverance and talent.

Most worldviews will never flood the market, but they can make a big splash. They can influence the industry, and every once in a while, they are sold to Google for $1.6 billion.

Take a side - preferably your own.


October 18, 2006

Even Shrines Go Bankrupt


Legendary New York venue CBGB is forced to close its doors because of escalating rent due to gentrification. Once located in the slums of the Bowry shipyards full of homeless, the club spent its last few years engulfed by trendy bars and upscale apartments.

No matter how the public feels, no entity is an institution in America. The only institution here is capitalism.


October 17, 2006

Marketing Is Too Easy... To Screw Up

And the wise Mr. Godin says...
    Marketers and designers will be quick to tell you that marketing and design are critical to the success of any venture.

    That's why it's so sad/disturbing/surprising/wonderful to discover that so many successful ventures were created by amateurs. Yes, they were professionals at something (coding, perhaps, or raising money or managing or even selling) but the marketing and design was not created by a 'professional'.

    The list is long, and runs from the Boy Scouts to Google, from Nike to the New York Yankees.

    One possible lesson is that marketing is easy.

    The other, more likely lesson is that marketing is way too important to be left to professionals. Every person is a marketer, and anyone crazy enough and passionate enough to start something is definitely a marketer. It's not great programming that turns one Net company into a success while another flounders. More often than not, it's about how good a job the amateur running the marketing and design did.

Marketing and design seem simple and uncomplicated to many because it is easy to tell yourself your own story. You know all the characters, complications, and twists. You have heard all the objections and eliminate them before they arise. You know the ending before you begin. Telling your story with passion and expertise is easy. Telling your story effectively and persuasively, on the other hand, can be tricky.

Smart and successful businesses realize the importance and necessity of having a professional help them tell their story (but not tell it for them). Having another perspective interpret your story and translate it to the masses, or at least the interested few, can drastically increase its absorption.

It is the same reason you hire a plumber. You could fix the garbage disposal yourself, but it will work better and the job will be done faster when a professional is involved.


October 16, 2006

It Hurts To Watch

Watch this video done for the Dove Self Esteem Fund, then go hug your kids and stop paying attention to advertising.

When reality is distorted this much, when advertising moves away from the product and creates a fictional world, how is it possible to be honest with customers? They will find out and they will despise the lying. Even worse, they will stop buying the product.

Plaudits to Dove for their expression and support of healthful honesty.


October 13, 2006

Do Something (Epilogue)

Doing something socially conscious is not about activism, liberalism, jerking knees, or bleeding hearts. Doing something is about being responsible for a small part of the world - your part.

There are opportunities - small, accessible, and possible ones - each day in every corner of the world, from villages in Ghana to the table in your kitchen. Simply giving money lacks any investment of your person. Extend and open up more than your wallet.

Hopefully, this week has incited you to find a way to make a difference. Hopefully, this week has illustrated that the only way to make a change is to act. Hopefully, this week has inspired you to... do something.


Do Something (Day 5)

"My family history begins with me, but yours ends with you."
- Iphicrates

No supporting facts or dramatic statistics here - family conversations are simply important, necessary to support the unit, and commonly taken for granted.

Do something.




October 12, 2006

Do Something (Day 4)

"A man's work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened."
- Albert Camus

The largest urban farm in the United States was closed down to make room for warehouses to be built. The area has less than a 70% occupancy rate for similar spaces. Over 300 families had their farms taken from them. It is estimated that the 14 acre community helped to feed about 2000 people while simultaneously having a substantial impact on local air quality.

Do something.




October 11, 2006

Do Something (Day 3)

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."
- Thomas Edison

One half of the world's population live on less than $2.00 per person, per day. One out of seven people subsist on less than $1.00 per day.

Do something.

Kiva - loans that change lives


October 10, 2006

Do Something (Day 2)

"We must plant the sea and herd its animals using the sea as farmers instead of hunters. That is what civilization is all about - farming replacing hunting."
- Jacques Cousteau

In the last 50 years carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by 30% while 80% of the world's kelp forests and 90% of the world's large pelagic fish have been eradicated.

Do something.




October 9, 2006

Do Something (Day 1)

"It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish."
- Mother Teresa

Every three seconds a child dies of malnutrition somewhere in the world.

Do something.




Do Something (Prologue)

This week is about doing something with all that accumulated wealth and squandered free time of yours. Looking outside daily culture for perspectives, experiences, and opportunities, this week you will be supplied with enough thoughts, facts, and options for action that you had better go do something. Yes, it is a challenge.

We are the only obstacle in our way. No divine hand is going to intervene. Technology will not create an answer. It would be nice for our progeny to inherit something besides the mistakes of our consumption. Covering your ears will not make any difference because the volume is going to be turned way up this week. It is up to you to do something.


October 6, 2006

Be Determined And Advance

Life is about moving forward from where you are. About stopping yourself in times of hardship from slipping backward too far. About recognizing the line between opportunity and disappointment is a fine, and sometimes perforated, one.

Life is about your will to live it. Be determined and advance.


October 3, 2006

Fast Food ATMs

Arby's has created self-serve kiosks inside their restaurants. You walk up, use a touch screen to order from an attractive, picture-laden menu, swipe your credit card, and pick up your food at the counter. The kiosks themselves are an ingenious addition, but Arby's uses an even better idea to entice you to use the things.

The brilliance is in the thinking behind it all (hopefully). For each order you place using one of the machines, you receive a free size upgrade to your meal or a free dessert. You immediately think they are being cheap, cutting costs of labor by automating the order process. Then you see the offer, and suddenly, your thoughts of corporate frugality transform into a feeling of delight from the graciousness of their newly offered efficiency.

They want you to move in and out of the restaurant faster. They are sending the right message. After months of use, the offer will probably go away. People will have become accustomed to the kiosks and then Arby's will be using them as a cost cutting measure. But by then you will have forgotten about how cheap corporations are and remember only how you were trained to order your roast beast sandwich - from a robot.


October 2, 2006

As A Marketer, Remarried Women Bother Me

Because hyphenated last names (much like conglomerated brand names and professional firms piled high with partners) are imprecise and dilute the ability to be approachable.


September 29, 2006

World's Highest Paid Professional Athlete Retires

His salary approaches $50 million. With endorsements, he will make over $100 million this year. He is the first professional athlete to become a billionaire.

He is watched by almost 400 million people each time he performs with a cumulative annual audience of over 60 billion!

He has won 7 world championships during 15 seasons of competition (including 5 in the last 6 years) and is in position to win another one before he retires.

Now at 37 years old, ostensibly at the peak of his prowess and abilities, he is stepping down.

Did you even notice?


September 28, 2006

You Look Pretty Good In That Dress

It used to be the case that marketers would exhaust every effort to make you feel better about yourself in order to push a product. Stretching the truth (lying), overstating benefits (lying), or even stooping to the use of eye-fooling photography (lying) were are common techniques.

Perhaps the marketers took over product development or perhaps the product developers had their marketing caps on, but there is a new feature available on some HP digital cameras that allows you to make yourself feel better without a single lie being told by a single marketer. The technology actually slims down the subject of the photo. You heard it right - the camera makes you skinnier! HP claims the camera "can instantly trim off pounds", so maybe the marketers are still up to their their old tricks, after all.

Most interesting side effect: You end up lying to yourself and everyone who sees your photos while the marketers go to sleep with a (mostly) clear conscious.


September 27, 2006

Environmentally Conscious Graffiti



What are all the hip kids doing these days? Marketing their products on the streets, generating word of mouth, of course!

Using pressure washers and urban soot, there has been a trend to "clean up" dirty city walls and sidewalks by adding advertising artwork. The most infamous are Vision Media's campaign (top right) for the 2006 Lotus Awards and O&M/London's Ultimate Fuel promotion (bottom right) for BP.

As with most art, even etching commercial messages into dirt had its origins somewhere. This trend is usually linked with British graffiti artist Moose and his chemically etched Smirnoff reverse stencils (for which he was promptly disparaged and fined, mind you).

It is brilliant that people are finding ways to gain attention while still bringing to light an issue of social consciousness. Those city bits are pretty filthy. Hopefully, local governments and homeowners associations will find cleanliness to be a higher virtue than homogenicity.


September 25, 2006

Hogwash!

Customer surveys are great ways to figure out what your customers like or would change about your products, services, and people. Lots of companies use them to show off inflated statistics, but do they ever accomplish their ultimate goal - change? A new survey says no.

Do you use surveys to allow your customers to tell you what they never will face to face? Do you use the surveys to identify areas of improvement or to pat yourself on the back?

Lying to yourself only results in lying to everyone else.


September 21, 2006

Congress Bans Horse Meat


... and calls the process of the "proud animals" being slaughtered "barbaric". Is Congress making subjective, ethical judgments on the value of a species? Have they considered what goes on in any abattoir?

Actually, it overturns a bill put into law by President Bush two years ago enabling horses meeting certain criteria to be exported to Europe as food animals. The law allowed government-held, wild horses (about 20,000 of them) to be purchased, or as lawmakers called it "adopted", by the public. This was designed as a business opportunity, giving ranchers the ability to buy low from the government and sell high to Europe.

After their session, all the legislators retired to the Congressional cafeteria for a hearty luncheon where a mixed grill of beef, chicken, and lamb was served.

The Star-Telegram details it further with some interesting, and possibly out of context, quotations.

The Onion brings their perspective by saying, "I support this ruling. We shouldn't be allowed to eat horses, dogs, or anything else we can race for sport".

A prime example of why it is not always the action but, instead, the perception that matters.


September 20, 2006

I Used To Feel Guilty, But Now I Realize Microsoft Isn't An Easy Target Because Of Their Size, They Are An Easy Target Because Of Their Incompetence

Microsoft released their new, iTunes-assassinating, world-dominating, vertically-integrated, proprietary-file-selling, line of mobile media players and software, called Zune. They blew their horns and released doves into the air. Then it broke.

Zune is being rolled out to replace the ubiquitous Windows Media Player and to take on the formidable iTunes and iPod. Of course, Microsoft built in the most obvious feature to ensure an easy transition from the old player to the new one, right? Almost. They did manage to make the product and the packaging both look like bad, design-school, Apple knockoffs, though. Remember, Microsoft is involved.

The old files from Windows Media Player are locked up by security devices inside the program to accomplish digital rights management (DRM). DRM is the effort to control distribution and piracy of copyrighted materials which became popular after websites such as Napster, Limewire, and Kazaa had teenagers sharing their entire music and movie libraries over the internet. In typical, pathetic, Microsoft fashion, Zune is unable to play any of the protected files from Windows Media Player (i.e. all the media files a person has on their computer and would want to transfer to the new player).

Let us recapitulate. Microsoft invented Windows Media Player. Everyone used it and amassed huge libraries of music and movies. Microsoft was being left behind in the market by Apple. In order to compete, Microsoft invented Zune, the replacement and upgrade to Windows Media Player. Zune is unable to play Windows Media Player files because of Microsoft's own overreaching DRM program and their inability to compete in the lifestyle market (iTunes was released in January, 2001, by the way).

Now for the ironic part. Microsoft's J. Allard dismissed the incompatibility consequences, noting there are several third party programs available to work around the DRM problem. Was that not the big issue! First they try to control distribution and use and now they are advocating working around those controls? Poor, confused, badly handled Microsoft marketing - again.

You can tell yourself several stories about today's tale, but there are really only two conclusions to be drawn about the process of creating a remarkable product your customers will love.

1. "See, even a global megacorporation like Microsoft can make mistakes. This is complicated stuff. If we know about the problems and offer some solutions, everyone will still love us."

2. "Wow, Microsoft really screwed up. I'm glad our global microbrand (pronounced: small business) thought about how our product would affect our customers before we built it."

Buy an iPod.


September 19, 2006

Lest We Forget

"Reverence for Life does not allow the scholar to live for his science alone, even if he is very useful to the community in so doing. It does not permit the artist to exist only for his art, even if he gives inspiration to many by its means. It refuses to let the business man imagine that he fulfils all legitimate demands in the course of his business activities. It demands from all that they should sacrifice a portion of their own lives for others."

- Dr. Albert Schweitzer, from Civilization and Ethics


September 18, 2006

Fairly Odd Parents

The "cool" parent is rarely the "cool" parent because he or she is any more hip, trendy, permissive, or liberal than the "uncool" parent. The "cool" parent is the "cool" parent because he or she interacts with the kids - with frequency, with understanding, with perspective, and without bias.


September 17, 2006

I'm Not Stupid, It's Still Broken

That phrase may also be the best insight into the customer experience we have heard in a while. Customers are never wrong, not because they hold onto the money end of the transaction, but because, if they are unable to use your product, what good is it? If your customers believe your website, design, interaction, or people are malfunctioning, then they are.

Yes, always.


September 16, 2006

Land Ho!


Have you ever wondered what the ultimate in products that solved none of your problems and fulfilled desires you had no idea existed in your head could be?

It is the inflatable, climbing iceberg, of course.


September 14, 2006

I'm Not Stupid, It's Broken

That may be the best blog headline ever. It comes from the teenage blog In a perfect world Lepregnomes roam freely.

The site has no lifestyle advice, nor will you find any quirky tidbits of news. It does represent the true spirit of what web logs are all about, though. It can be a little sugary, but read it and think about it conceptually before you judge it. She writes what is on her mind, tells a good story or two, and has a good time letting the world know what she is thinking and why.

Unabashedly.

Everyone should communicate so openly and honestly.


September 13, 2006

Meticulous Adjustment

There is a young man standing outside the automatic doors of a market, hands on his waist, leaning forward ever so slightly, examining with utmost concentration, peering with intense focus. He is an employee. Walking back and forth in a triangle, looking like Groucho Marx without a cigar, he triggers the mechanism that opens the doors. Then he reaches up with some eccentric-looking tool, inserts it in the mechanism, and twists the tool a few times.

Triangle, twist. Triangle, twist. Triangle, twist. There are at least three people watching him, curiosity plastered across their faces. He is utterly indifferent. Triangle, twist. Triangle, nod. He disappears inside.

When is the last time anyone at your organization took the time to adjust the automatic doors? That young man took a considerate, prideless action in order to ensure a flawless customer experience. Do you think his manager asked him to do it? Doubtful. It was, most likely, a function of his personality fundamentals. The market benefited from having him as a part of their culture because their culture supported his unique, ingenious effort.

Precisely adjusted doors may not be as remarkable as the $18.69 jar of Himalayan banguberry jam on the top shelf in aisle nine that has a viral internet marketing campaign behind it, but every small detail considered reduces frustration by at least twelve times the effort required to address it in the first place. Does your culture support the creation of a better experience? The better question is, "How does your culture support the creation of a better experience?".


September 12, 2006

Advertising Doesn't Work, But If You Do It This Way...

... it still doesn't work.

"People have learned to distrust advertising. But, if you use [insert foolproof technique being sold here], you will set your advertising apart from the thousands of ads we all see."

That quote is from an article on advertising effectiveness published in a pharmaceutical industry journal (the name of which is left intentionally unmentioned as a sign of blatant disrespect). It went on to detail several advertising and copywriting methods that "work every time".

Here is a tip they left out: If you decide to tell a story about how horrible and broken something is (like advertising), at least give your readers the intellectual respect to wait one issue before contradicting yourself and trying to sell them your services. Interestingly enough, the company that contributed the article was absent from the journal's advertisements. Of course, their phone number, website, e-mail address, and a brief description of their business were right there at the end - just in case someone wanted to discuss the article, surely.


September 11, 2006

Famous Social Ideologues: Joan Of Arc, Che Guevara, Paris Hilton

“I’ve always wanted to be a separatist. You know, a revolutionary, living on some secret edge of society, passionately giving all my thoughts and efforts to a cause I’m convinced will free the minds and bodies of thousands of innocents. I’d love it if I could walk into a repressed village, my tight band of trusted, fellow fighters behind me, and then bite the head off of a snake, chug down the local beverage, and yell, “Follow me!”. Whew... that would be awesome.

The problem is that I have no talent for things like that. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. And as for the level of risk involved, well, I’m completely averse and have too many responsibilities. Then I look at Paris Hilton and think, hell, she wanted to be famous and didn’t have any talent, either.”.

The point is there is no reason reality should interfere with your dreams. Your reality, on the other hand, may not support your dreams, so it might need to be adjusted slightly or recreated altogether. Keeping the crease in your Seville Row slacks is pretty tough on the secret edge of society.


September 8, 2006

List Of Convenient Excuses To Avoid Change


1. "That will never work."
2. "That said, the labor laws make it difficult for us to do a lot of the suggestions you put out. And we do live in a lawsuit oriented society."
3. "Can you show me some research that demonstrates that this will work?"
4. "Well, if you had some real-world experience, then you would understand."
5. "I don't think our customers will go for that, and without them we'd never be able to afford to try this."
6. "It's fantastic, but the salesforce won't like it."
7. "The salesforce is willing to give it a try, but [insert major retailer/corporation/partner here] won't stock it."
8. "There are government regulations and this won't be permitted."
9. "Well, this might work for other people, but I think we'll stick with what we've got."
10. "Our team doesn't have the technical chops to do this."
11. "Maybe in the next budget cycle."
12. "We need to finish this initiative first."
13. "It's been done before."
14. "It's never been done before."
15. "We'll get back to you on this."
16. "We're already doing it."

And the all-time favorite...

17. "We'll let someone else prove it works. It won't take long to catch up."

All of these were actually overheard in discussions about (what I think were) pretty good ideas.

Thanks to Seth for the conversation.


Best Search Engine Optimization Advice Ever

If you have a hard time finding you, so does everyone else.


September 7, 2006

Mold For Your Fruit

Every so often, a trend pops out at you. It may even seem downright unavoidable. The train of thought runs you over before you have a chance to think about it. This week has revealed such a happening.

Here are three slightly scary examples of the progressing passion for premier produce!


Vegiforms are plastic molds inside of which fruits or vegetables are grown. As they grow, the fruits or vegetables are pressed against the mold and when they are removed, out comes an eggplant elf, or perhaps a cucumber clown.


Disney, through its Imagination Farms division, is launching the Disney Garden brand of produce. More or less like any other fresh, Florida-grown consumables but with stickers of beloved Disney characters plastered all over. They quote a grandmother who believes that she will be able to have her granddaughter shiver with the same level of enthusiasm over the Disney-laced produce as the young girl does over hot chocolate and candy.


Finally, there is the CBS partnership with EggFusion to laser engrave 35 million eggs with the broadcast company's eye insignia and catchy phrases to promote their television programming. Examples of the taglines include, but unfortunately are not limited to, "Crack the case", "Hard boiled drama", and "Shelling out laughs".

Feel free to shake your head in disbelief on behalf of everyone who has yet to hear of these.


September 6, 2006

In Case You Went To Bed Early And Forgot That There Is At Least A Little Truth In All Humor

"Anybody here from Wisconsin? All right, put down the cheese for a second. I got to talk to you. Listen to this: A guy in Wisconsin, he created a ball of twine that weighs 19,000 pounds. Nineteen thousand pounds, a ball of twine - and guess what, girls? He's single."

- David Letterman

"There's a watch for Tropical Storm Ernesto. That's the name: Ernesto. See, even the hurricanes are getting smarter. They know a Hispanic hurricane has a better chance of getting into the country."

- Jay Leno

"Apple has launched a recall on several models of Mac laptops because the battery can overheat and catch fire. Experts say a Mac fire is just like a PC fire, except it's more hip and condescending."

- Conan O'Brien


September 5, 2006

The Elite Take On The Effete

Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguistics professor and lexicographer, has written a new book titled Talking Right in which he puts forth an interesting theory about political power. He espouses that whichever party controls the language of an issue will inevitably hold power over that issue. This is because the opposition is unable to speak except in terms already created by the party in power.

While politicking has commonly become known as a marketing exercise, Dr. Nunberg's theory is impressive because he brings to attention the fact that language is the singularly most powerful resource we have as human beings. It is a tool of influence and a weapon of insight. Used well, your loves swoon and your enemies cower.

Phrases such as the inflammatory "death tax" offered in place of its more modest cousin the "estate tax" leave permanent images in the minds of decision making voters. Do you want to be the one who supports the "death tax" in an election year?

In this age of technology and instant information (which is frequently incorrect, or worse, half correct, because it is compiled for expediency instead of accuracy), words are still used to persuade and discuss. They will be for a long time.

Until all the bugs are worked out of that telepathy thing, you should consider what your words are telling people - on your website, in your correspondence, coming out of your mouth, or better yet, coming out of the mouths of others for which you are responsible.

Words are the currency of the persuasion economy, so you had better manage your money well and especially watch that exchange rate when you cross over the border.


August 31, 2006

Chalk One Up For Corporate Advertising

If you are going to mount a traditional advertising campaign, follow the rules completely.

1. Have panache. Assert some personality. Your company has one (hopefully), so what better way to show it than cleverly crafted advertising art?

2. Deliver your message. Enforce the brand image. Show the product. Make them want you.

3. Connect with the audience. Show it at the right time, in the right place. Make sure it is seen by the right people and that it is designed to impact them. No denture ads with buxom young models during Saturday morning cartoons.

4. Follow up. Have a plan to involve your new, interested, taking-time-out-of-my-day-to-wander-around-your-website prospect. Really good offers, thoughtful partnerships, or a payoff are particularly effective here.

All that being said, congratulations to J. C. Penney for their campaign during the MTV Video Music Awards. It exuded persona, showed they can be hip, had interesting and alluring commercials, and was well integrated with the broadcast, both on and off the air.

If you are trying to start a relationship by using the media, take some notes from J. C. Penney's performance, because they nailed it.


August 30, 2006

Dry Sex

Check out this great article about why manuals should be more like the brochures that have the customers reading the instructions in the first place.


August 29, 2006

You're Out, But It's Safe

The Sports Authority, nationwide retailer of everything athletic, has horrible artistic and symbolic judgment.

On the doors when exiting their stores are photos of a catcher tagging a runner at home plate. Over the photo is a balloon with the words "Thank You!". Directly above the photos are those generic "Out" signs with the green circle and the arrow. Get it? "You're out!". Thank you for being out? Goodbye! Leave! Could you hurry, there is a line!

Surely, most people would prefer to be "Safe!". At the least, they want nothing to do with being congratulated for being out.

Some smarmy retail environment genius probably had a great idea on the drawing board but it lacks thoughfulness and consideration for the customers' frame of mind - not to mention that the marketer was probably clueless about the out sign above his clever graphic. All the positive merchandising and astute customer service so well crafted and trained into every last linoleum tile of their superstore will never obscure that last image visitors take in as they walk away to tell everyone they know about their experience.

Is the last image you want your customers to see that of the winning run being sent to the bench, the fans filing back to the parking garage in depression, Casey standing in the rain, mouth agape, staring at the scoreboard?


August 25, 2006

In Someone Else's Shoes, Er, Claws


Richard Feynman, populist physicist, Nobel Prize winner, and contributor to the atomic bomb, used to be fond of telling a story about helping out a friend in the psychology department at the Massachusetts Institute Of Technology. His friend was conducting behavioral experiments with rats. She had set up a corridor with several doors on each side. On one side, the rats would be let into the corridor. On the other side, there would be food behind one of the doors. She wished to see if the rats could be trained to go in the third door to the right every time, with or without the reward of food and regardless of the door at which they began.

The rats would immediately go to the door where they had found food the time before. Which door they had started from or how many doors away it was appeared to be meaningless.

Making the realization that there had to be some clue instructing the rats toward the door concealing the food, she decided to meticulously paint each of the doors to be exactly alike so there would be no visual cues. Still the rats found the food immediately.

Assuming they could smell the food, she used chemicals to disguise the food's odor. It made no difference. The rats continued to go directly to the door with the food.

She covered the ceiling with sheets in an effort to eliminate the lights as what she believed to be obvious navigational markers. Yet the rats promptly honed in on the food once again.

While his friend was confoundedly wringing her mind, Feynman began to crawl around the hallway trying to emulate the rats' experiences. What he found was that the floor made different sounds in different places. Each door had unique hollow or hard or noisy spots around it. He suggested to his friend that the rats were relying on sound to seek out the food.

The two covered the corridor with sand and then released the rats again. Sure enough, the rats were confused and could not find the food. Eventually, the rats were able to be trained to go toward the third door on the right every time.

As soon as the young scientists stopped making assumptions of what the rats were experiencing and began looking at the problem from the rats' point of view, everything was illuminated.


August 24, 2006

Leadership With A Singular Vision

You need to be a leader. You need to rise up and assert your vision of yourself, your world, and those around you. And if it is a good enough assertion, people will follow you toward your vision. Along the way, those who are uncomfortable or incapable will fall away and other passionate and adept people will materialize to fill in the voids. You will become the head of a momentum that moves your vision into the white hot spotlight of realization. It is your determination which will propel you into success.


August 23, 2006

Popularity Barometer

Ever wonder what the rest of the world (or at least the internet) finds interesting, relevant, or topical? Now you can find out in real time.

(Suggestion: Bookmark the site and look at it for a few days in a row.)


August 22, 2006

Breaking Out Of Prison

When you come into (or more accurately, are brought into) the booking room at the Orange County Sheriff's Department, there is a prominent sign in front of the administrative officer's desk. It reads...

"THIS IS THE FIRST DAY OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE."

Sometimes it takes a big, shocking event to catalyze positive change. It is usually uncomfortable and almost always full of unknown outcomes. Fear and uncertainty will abound. All that apprehension does not mean change should be avoided, because until change comes, the problem will still exist - whether it is locked securely in the closet or is traipsing unyieldingly around the office.

Of course, winding up in the Orange County Sheriff's Department may be too big of a change....


August 21, 2006

"How Much Does It Cost?" Is The Worst Question You Can Ask

Have you ever bought a three-handled credenza? Me either. But when most people walk into the three-handled credenza store, after browsing around for a while, what is the most likely first question they will ask the salesperson?

"How much does it cost?"

This is no place to start a conversation. There are no details, no needs being filled, no comparisons for value, no sparks of desire. But none the less, the question has already been asked, so the game has begun.

Let us back up. Why was that particular question asked in the first place? Because every consumer knows the value of their money but most have not considered the value of the product before they go to shop for it, especially in terms of comparison to similar items or long-term gains or losses. When consumers have no idea what questions to ask, they go with what they know - price. They know it costs money. They want to sound intelligent. So they ask the question, "How much does it cost?".

And it gets them nowhere. An eager salesperson picks up on the cues then sells them twice the three-handled credenza they needed for four times the price. But this is not about consumer intelligence.

This is about consumer needs and wants. The deep down ones. Needs that they may lie about or avoid discussing. Wants they may feel embarrassed about having. The next time someone asks you, "How much does it cost?", keep in mind that they probably need some coaching. Start at the beginning and ask some basic questions. In your particular field, you know what those questions are, and you know which answers lead to which products and services. Continually fit the right product to the right consumer and you will be selling a lot more three-handled credenzas.


August 18, 2006

You Lying Son Of A...

Consumers and salespeople lie to each other all the time.

Traditionally the consumer and the salesperson have a classic love/hate relationship. Struggle, tug, prod, and play games - then in an instant, someone wins. The consumer feels he negotiated down to the "best deal ever" while the salesperson tells his buddies about this guy who was nailed by "the oldest pitch". It all happened on the same transaction. Next time, maybe the consumer will return for another fight. Maybe not. Even though he was comfortable with the outcome, the consumer experienced a lot of conflict, tension, and stress over the deal. Those will come back to haunt him when he goes shopping next time.

The consumer hides his intentions. The consumer feels the salesperson has no interest or place knowing his life, his goals, or his interests.

The salesperson hides his profitability. The salesperson believes the consumer will hold the profit against him.

What if both sides were open with each other? What if the consumer said, "This is what I am trying to accomplish and here are the criteria. Here is what I would really like and this is why. By the way, my wife would kill me if I spent more than...." What if the salesperson said, "How much time do you have to spend with me? Why do you want this? Does anyone else have a say in this? Will your wife kill you if you spend more than....?"

Consumers and salespeople both want to make friends. A friend will give you a good deal and a friend will trust your suggestions. Alas, since most people on both sides of the capitalist equation lie to each other, those friendships rarely develop.

Be sincere, be honest, and be genuinely curious. Whether you are a consumer or salesperson, be the first one to start the friendship. You can always walk away should you become uncomfortable with the relationship. When you hit your stride and that first person opens up because of your sincerity, you will know it by the truly satisfied smiles on both of your faces.


August 17, 2006

Wackos Everywhere, Plague Of Madness

The next time you think your technology is taking too long, having too many problems, or is too expensive, just reread this article about connecting exiled Buddhists in India to the rest of the world and to themselves (especially in Tibet) so they can tell their story and continue their valiant efforts to fight for justice and freedom.

There are even subplots about secretive pornography and rampaging monkeys!

If for any instant you have trouble believing this issue could affect your life or that it lacks importance to the overall environment of the world order, join in on the discussion.


August 16, 2006

New Storytelling


The filmmakers of The Men Who Fell are taking the engineered reality of their tale to the fullest, logical level of immersion. Besides being visually absorbing, they have created an entire backstory and corporate website for the company at the center of their movie.

When you have an audience interested in a story leading up to the primary story you are trying to tell... good work.


August 15, 2006

How To Live Happily With A Great Designer

Good ol' reliable Seth Godin applies his purple thinking and tells us how to live happily with a great designer. Mind you, he says a "great" designer, not a "mediocre" or "inexpensive" one. You should take notes or just print the thing outright.


August 14, 2006

Recommended Reading (Just Add Macaroni Edition)


Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs.

The first book in a seemingly autobiographical series detailing the odd and dysfunctional (to say the least) journey of a young teenager. While not as funny as its sequel (April's Recommended Reading), the characters are indelibly illustrated and fascinating to watch as they travel through the sometime-carnival, sometime-asylum that is their lives.

"[The doctor] believed that anger was the crux of mental illness. He believed that anger, unless it was expressed freely, would destroy a person. This explained the constant fighting in the house. [His] children had been encouraged not just to sing, dance and jump rope but also to vent.

Anger was like the ground hamburger of [their] existence. Its versatility was inspiring. There was Anger Turned Inward, Repressed Anger, Misguided Anger. There were Acts Made in Anger, Things Said in Anger and people who might very well die if they didn't Face Their Anger.

[The doctor's family] screamed at each other constantly. It was like a competition and the prize was mental health. Every so often [the doctor] would say, "[My daughter] has been expressing a lot of healthy anger lately. I truly believe she's moved up to the next level in the stages of her emotional development...." So then everybody hated [her] because she walked around being so smug and emotionally mature."


August 11, 2006

Now You Care

Regardless of the outcome, the historical significance, or the longevity of the story, Floyd Landis deserved to be on the front pages of American newspapers long ago. Landis' life story of rivalry, victory, and tragedy have been told but are listened to by few. Only when the perspective is culturally or socially familiar, as with sports related controversy, do stories rise to the top of the editor's desk.

Paying attention to the point of view from an insider with one eye on the outside can provide a tremendous spark. Find one and never forget that the page thirteen story is a page one story to someone, maybe even you or your customers.


August 10, 2006

Real Serifs

Typefaces are the handwriting of an organization. So, to add to the psychoanalytical complexity of your organization, here are some places where you can download gadzillions of quality fonts for free.

Thank you to dafont.com and urbanfonts.com. Be sure to check out the Top 100 sections of each site.


July 24, 2006

Gary Hall Swims With Sharks

Two articles about a controversial, but always interesting, individual...
Thanks to Wally


July 21, 2006

Le Tour De France


In one of the single, greatest, individual efforts in all of sports, Floyd Landis overcame what should have been an insurmountable deficit to pull himself into third place in this year's Tour de France. He failed miserably the day before and then made up for it through willpower and determination. He will probably win. But that is not the story.

The story is that Americans had no idea. While it made front page headlines across Europe, Australia, and Africa, it was on page thirteen of the sports section in the local, metropolitan newspaper.

While bicycle racing is one of the less popular sports here in the States, the Tour de France is consistently one of the top two sporting events in the world each year. This year, its attendance and viewership were eclipsed only by the dramatic World Cup.

Take a chance to recognize greatness, even if it is outside the boundaries of daily life. Floyd Landis' legendary effort has already been forgotten by the mainstream, even though it will be remembered for decades by the spectators, commentators, and pundits.

There is someone out there, right now, inventing the next big thing, something that will change everything without an obvious connection to the big thing it will completely revolutionize. Remember that Henry Ford fellow?

Keep an eye on interests outside your industry, your world view, and your comfort zone. Perspective is always a good investment.


July 20, 2006

Painful, Costly Trends


According to the American Society Of Plastic Surgeons, the number of elective cosmetic surgery procedures has increased 700% in the last decade, with minimally invasive procedures (like Botox) increasing an incredible 2800%!

They also note that Americans spent $16.7 billion on elective cosmetic surgery procedures last year - almost double the year before!

Wait, it gets better. It is estimated that 60% of last year's spending on elective cosmetic surgery procedures was financed!

Wondering where to spend those marketing dollars? Looking for a new market? The reality of unreality is waiting for you to introduce yourself.


July 19, 2006

All Of Them, Right Now

A hotel I stayed at recently had a switch by the bed that turned off all the lights in the room at the same time. You could crawl into bed, hit the switch, and presto - instant and convenient darkness. It was a little idea that solved a little issue. Mostly, though, it showed someone thought about what I might like to have as a guest.

I probably told more people about that switch than I did about the service, hammocks, or location - all of which were wonderful. Then again, lots of hotels have wonderful service, hammocks, and locations, but only one has that switch....


July 14, 2006

Young Blogging Punk


"Pretty cool. I am way too old to understand all of it."

That comment was recently made about this blog by a reader. Unfortunately, I think he is now an ex-reader. It opened my eyes, though. I have to wonder what he meant. Does he think this blog is really progressive and cutting edge, the newest of the new thinking? Or does he think it is unsophisticated and incompletely developed, unsuitable for matured minds?

Yet another example that gaining and maintaining an audience of any sort is all about appealing, but not pandering, to a particular view of the world.


July 13, 2006

Geek Death Match

Once you move past the overwrought Steve Jobs versus Bill Gates argument (and it is easy to do), AdverGirl brings up an interesting argument for thinking about how consumers use the things they buy and what happens when companies think their strategies and tactics for profitability are more savvy than their consumers are interested.

Lest we forget people use our products and services outside of our little proprietary universe (gasp!).


Exactly The Point

Jeff Jarvis's BuzzMachine contributes to the conversation with a great story about Dell and big business customer service. It is like I have said again and again, everyone in an organization has to convey the same story, because when any employee speaks, there is a customer listening.


July 12, 2006

Sincerity Is Overrated

Andy Monfried says...
    "I've been blessed, and had the good fortune to work alongside some VERY passionate, smart, caring, and most of all --- sincere people. I write about that fact--- it is included in my profile to the right of this post....it's a big part of who I am."

Good for him. As for me, I have definitely seen my share of talent, passion, and ambition, but I have also been witness to just as much debauchery, apathy, and opportunism. Those dark attributes have greatly influenced how I process the world.

The world is filled with awe-inspiring, captivating, and marvelous people, places, things, and ideas. They deserve attention - to have people wrap their hands, eyes, and minds around them. My experience, however, teaches me that there is an unfortunately substantial amount of people and organizations out there ready and willing to exploit those wonders and use them for purposes misaligned with the general good of human kind - using them only for their selfish gratification.

Be careful what you put into the world and how you do it. Ideas, like children, will represent you long after you have stopped involving yourself in their upbringing.

"Happiness - We're All In It Together!" (Billboard displayed in the movie Brazil.)


July 11, 2006

Creative Ego Question

Is it OK to say, "This is one of my best works!"?

In the world of Small Is The New Big, that statement seems perfectly polarizing. If you see your view of the world in the work, you instantly understand and become a fan. If not, goodbye - probably forever.

What are the risks of ascertaining your own abilities?


July 10, 2006

The... OUCH... Hard... YIKES... Way...

I learned an important lesson today. Starting in the middle of a concept and talking about it to the end makes you sound really smart, if not so smart that the concept can zoom right over your audience's head. That can be a good thing... or a bad thing.

When starting from an assumed position, whether it be philosophy or knowledge, you are going to come across as thoughtful or knowledgeable to your audience. This mostly happens because they are starting from a position of less experience.

If you want to bowl someone over, start in the middle. Being overwhelmed by information and trying to fit pieces of it together to make sense of the last half of a story is tiring and confusing. Of course, this has its place. It is like walking into a primitive village with a lighter.... By the time you bite off the head of a snake and chug down the local beverage, everyone will be ready to listen when you shout, "Follow me!". Both religion and Ron Popeil have recruited millions this way.

If you want to convert someone into a way of thinking or into an idea, start at the beginning. Fully grasping an idea makes people feel smart, empowered. They caught on - how agile! Successful long-term relationships usually happen when people have been convinced, not trampled.

As different as they are, both methods work. It all revolves back to the basic premise of knowing your audience and being in control of your rhetoric. Practice what you preach, but practice preaching it, too.


July 6, 2006

Two Is A Crowd

Were you ever the new kid in school? Do you remember how it felt the first day at lunch with all those groups of strangers sitting around, comfortable with themselves, not needing to pay you any attention?

That is exactly what having a gaggle of employees standing around feels like to customers, especially new ones. Employees will never be 100% productive and busy with work, and that is to be expected. They can, however, be 100% aware that there are customers waiting for service. Customers believe they are more important than your employees - and should be treated as such.

Learn it. Live it. Teach it.


July 5, 2006

Must... Have... Better... Gas!


I stopped in to fill up with gas today. For the first time, I noticed the instructions on the pump...

"1. Remove Nozzle."

"2. Select Grade Above."

While the nozzle was to the right of the instructions, they certainly did not tell you to "Remove Nozzle To Right". However, they did mention that you needed to "Select Grade Above" in order to choose a quality of fuel from the buttons above the instructions.

Breaking down the language, is choosing to use the word "Above" an upselling technique? Is the gas station making a clever attempt to influence the selection of a more profitable product? Are unsuspecting consumers having their minds tinkered with by psycho-semantic subterfuge?

Is it a real technique? Is it effective?


July 3, 2006

Worst Branding Idea Ever

In what is possibly the worst branding make-over in modern retail history, Cost Plus has begun to focus on itself as World Market. And to top it all off, the stores look, feel, and smell a lot like their primary competitor, Pier 1. If you think long and hard about it, you probably can not come up with a more generic, replaceable, and ineffective name.

Your name is... well, your name! It is the thing the world uses to talk about who you are and what you do. The more memorable and unique, the better. Would you remember Target, if it were called Slightly Better Than Other Mega-Stores Mega-Store? Or would your friends remember to look up the Old Fashioned Pharmacy you recommended to them?

Consider Ritz Carlton or Wild Oats. Their names alone convey their place in the world and begin to tell their stories. Before you choose a name, think about your story, your values, what you want to accomplish, and who you want to attract. If you have yet to set those outlines, you may have even more work to do.


June 30, 2006

Malpractice Is The Only Way To Practice

Have you ever tried to choose a doctor? Research all you can. The only information you can find, besides self-congratulatory advertorials in local magazines, is negative. How many times has he been sued? How many actions has the state board taken against him? No reviews. No buzz. No comprehensive community of honest patrons.

That is, unless you consider your insurance company list of approved providers good enough.

Doctors are not the only ones. There are myriads of industries that affect you, your family, your home, your business where there is no information to precede your decision.

Correction - there is word of mouth. The next time you belly up to a customer, ask yourself, "How am I being reviewed in the world?" If the answer is, "By this guy standing across from me," you had better deliver. Of course, you had better deliver each and every time as a matter of pride and professionalism, but the stakes are raised when the only way to spread a positive message is from person to person and the rest of the world is a web of cynicism and paltry, half-compiled information.

Phillipe Destouches said, "Criticism is easy. Art is difficult." Ego and apathy can allow the easy to seep out in spite of your efforts to achieve the difficult.


June 26, 2006

My Enigma Problem

While my blogging experience is limited, my creative writing experience is much more vast. That is the issue (or what I perceive as one, at least).

I am comfortable with ending a post enigmatically - trusting the reader to figure out the point on his or her own. Use a potent enough metaphor and it is inevitable that the right audience will come to the proper, profound conclusion... right?

Well, I have rethought that point of view and have found myself contradicting myself. The metaphors stay, but they are going to be fleshed out much more in the future.

Just because I understand my position in the world does not mean I should have any expectations that anyone else does. I try to stir in a little passion, a pinch of controversy, and equal parts weirdness and quirkiness to finish off my recipe for catalyzing thought. My goal is to teach everyone how I cook, not to teach them to cook like me.

Seth has a take on the issue, too.


June 15, 2006

The Little Things, They Do Bring Tears

Update

Since I posted about Oddica's unique and thoughtful way of creating an overwhelmingly positive, post-sell, customer experience, my blog readership has increased by about 20 folks per day (that number is big enough to notice around here). The reason? Oddica is not only unique and thoughtful toward their customers, they are also a karma-spewing, marketing machine and take the time each day on their news page to individually thank the people who have acknowledged them.

One more "Bravo"!


June 14, 2006

When Incremental Marketing Makes No More Difference


Because there is no one left to win over or impress (the front half of the bell curve has been well saturated), Starbucks' wave is past its crest. They need to shake up their elite beverage world.

Tall, Grande, Venti - Magno! They should introduce a new size that mirrors the excess their customers perceive as a need. Just two cents worth of advice to a gadzillion dollar marketing dynasty. You heard it here first.


June 13, 2006

How Do You Say "We Love You"?

This is how Oddica does it.

Convince you customers you care about them, especially after they have parted with their money, and they will love you forever. What better time to make a lasting, positive impression on your customers than when they finally tear open that bauble they have been dying with anticipation to receive? Invigorate them with their own enthusiasm!


June 12, 2006

Crying Versus Bitching (Part 1)

There are two types of customer personas, those who are logically responsive and those who are emotionally responsive. To confuse an apparently simple issue, most of us have some of each type and can be more of one some days and more of the other on other days.

The moral is that it is important to identify which type of customer you are having a conversation with right from the beginning. Knowing your audience is perhaps the most overlooked and underdeveloped skill in marketing. Copywriters try to do it, consultants preach it, and analysts gather data about it, but most of what those people use to draw their conclusions is information, not intelligence - and customer intelligence is what you need to close deals.

Intelligence can only be gathered by interacting with customers. Sincerely and tactfully massaging a conversation to discover the needs and wants of each individual is the only way to finalize a sale. Of course, marketing materials, websites, and commercials have to hit a mass audience, but this segment is about closing a sale with a person, not a mass market.

Once you discover an individual's needs and wants, the type of conversation comes along organically. Of course, finding true needs and wants may or may not be as easy as you think. You should have two conversations in your pocket right now - one for the logical and one for the emotional. Alas, most folks have only one sales conversation and it usually falls into one of two categories - experienced and well-honed (yeah!) or dated and tired (boo!).

Stay tuned to discuss the logical conversation in Part 2 and the emotional conversation in Part 3.


June 9, 2006

Yak Shaving


Is meandering from one seemingly unrelated task to another more like jumping into a stagnate cesspool of lethargy or diving into a bubbling cauldron of creativity? Is it passive-aggressive procrastination or pragmatic free-association?

Joi Ito considers the positive influence of yak shaving in his career.

Work Better tells a story about the horrors of yak shaving in daily life.

Seth Godin discusses how to avoid giving a yak a manicure.


June 7, 2006

Teach A Homeless Man To Fish

The Interagency Council on Homelessness took a new angle on figuring out how to deal with the homeless. The homeless were asked what would make them happy. Overwhelming number one answer? A room of their own. Some number crunching followed and the Council discovered it costs less to give the homeless a room of their own than to have them on the streets.

A preposterous idea? So it seemed at first - until someone did the research. It was simple marketing. Ask the people involved what they want or expect. Satisfy the desire. Now New York is reporting success rates of 88% and San Francisco says its homeless rates are down 40%.

It is easy to arrive at a conclusion, but the word "conclusion" in its essence means an end to a process. Why stop looking at a problem after it is "solved", especially when there are undiscovered insights waiting to be collected?


June 6, 2006

My Blog Can Beat Up MC Hammer's Blog


At least, I think it can....

Goes to show you the past means nothing and small equals opportunity, not inadequacy.

(Can someone explain why he is so obsessed with NASCAR?)


June 5, 2006

Google Search Results Stink

Big, dark internet secret #17: Google does not have the best search results. So why are they the number one search engine in the world (about 43% of all internet searches occur on Google)? Sites like AltaVista consistently deliver more relevant results pertaining to almost any imaginable search, but they barely make it onto the competitive map (about 1% of all internet searches occur on AltaVista).

Google does one thing. It is simple and easy to understand. When you go to the website, you have two choices... search or leave. In the beginning, when folks asked their internet savvy friends where to find something on the internet, those friends would refer to Google because it was straight forward and they knew it could not possibly be screwed up. It was so simple to use, it spread like chicken pox through a third grade classroom.

Good does not have to be complicated or overwrought. Want an idea to spread? Make it easy to use, easy to talk about, and easy to recommend. That way, when your competition is more effective, less expensive, or more reliable, you can still be number one.


June 1, 2006

Nauseating Quantity Of Rhetorical Questions


You built a story about your organization. You have told it to yourself over and over again, refining the details until it has become seamless and believable. You think it is a complimentary and believable representation of your organization's personality - its "brand".

What if it isn't? What if you have told yourself a story about what you think your organization is or what you desire it to be? What if the personality of your organization is not as seamless and believable as you think it is? What if the leadership or employees or customers are not what you think they are or want them to be? What if they are all delusional? What then?


May 30, 2006

Proud Owner Of 382


Authentic. Creative. Passionate. These are all adjectives that add up to the holy grail of a great story - Original. And they are all perfectly demonstrated by a Swiss artist named Sala in his latest effort. His One Thousand Paintings have already become instantly valuable (people are already being solicited to donate them to MoMA).

This is the first idea of its kind. It started in February when Sala displayed his newest works at a show in Basel, Switzerland. Before today, he had sold 109 paintings. Someone picked up the story and broadcast it across the internet this morning. Today alone he sold 208.

Remarkable stories and ideas spread quickly and without much effort. Reminisce about Sala's story next time you spend too much time thinking about advertising or marketing campaigns and consider spending more time thinking about the fundamental story your service or product tells your customers and prospects.


May 26, 2006

Small Enough To Be Hugely Successful

For centuries, putting something on paper (disk, etc.) and distributing it has been exclusive to huge media companies. Anyone can create a website or a start a dry cleaner, but publishing has been traditionally dominated by gigantic media houses. No more.

Along comes Lulu and enables anybody to publish a book. A real book - with hearty paper, professional covers, and a listing in the Library Of Congress! One at a time, they turn them out. For less than the price of a DVD player you can even have your book distributed through the same mainstream channels from which companies such as Barnes & Noble and Amazon buy their inventory. The book certainly will not market itself, but it is definitely there in front of decision makers where it would never have been otherwise.

Lulu has turned an entire industry on its ear by giving power back to creators and customers, alike. For industries like pharmaceuticals, where huge companies took the power of independent pharmacies, the pendulum is swinging backward, too. Small grew too big and now hopes to be small again.


May 25, 2006

Converting Infidels

An usable idea to bring in web traffic without enlisting technology.


May 24, 2006

$31.2 Billion

That is the estimated amount of money I have personally been offered for assisting the relatives of rulers/activists/businessmen whose uncles/fathers/mentors have been unjustly exiled/assassinated/sent into hiding from their native countries. Too bad they are all scams. $31.2 billion would be pretty useful....

This week 565 people were arrested in five countries in connection with similar e-mail fraud scams. It is terribly unfortunate that over 2.8 million people have already been victimized. The criminals can manage to weave a convincing tale, but we as consumers are seemingly unable to manage protecting one another.

The ridiculous part of this whole scenario is that foolish, greedy opportunists have discounted an entire media into a state of capitalistic torpidity. Advertising? Disintegrated. Direct marketing? Flushed. Story-telling...?


May 23, 2006

Pet Peeve


Do you really think the girl in the picture has anything, anything, at all to do with the quote next to her?

Delivering an effective message is more than simply finding a photo you like, pairing it with the best customer testimonial you have on file, and publishing an advertisement. Every time you put something out into the public it tells a little piece of your story. Consider how those pieces add up. Take the time to ask some questions and to think as your audience would when they see your message.

To whom is it speaking? What does it say? What does it mean?

Is it offensive? Is it insightful? Is if funny? Is it supposed to be?

What is its goal? How does it accomplish that goal? Why is it trying?

Marketing is (no surprise) all image. The best images are refined. How refined is your message?


May 22, 2006

"Hey Phil, Is Slow Decision Making Costing Us Money? I Can't Decide."

In an era of information on demand, decision-making tools are more available than ever. Of course, as technology increases and is implemented sooner and with more efficiency, information will be even more readily available. According to CIO Magazine, information is the leading tool for quality decisions. So why do folks still take forever to make up their minds?

The Harvard Business Review has some ideas. It is about fear of change. Correction - fear of being different. In most cases, decisions take longer, far longer, than they need to because the decision-maker is afraid of stepping outside the lines of what is currently being done by the industry, by the company, by the world....

Those organizations that are unafraid of failure make decisions quickly, bring products to the market first, and are on the leading edge of profitability. They know they will fail. They move forward with the understanding that risk equals reward in spite of the obvious risk of failure. They do not focus on the opposite of what they hope to accomplish. It only takes a few rewards to achieve great success and it takes a lot of failures to arrive at demise.

You know your industry, your organization, and your people. Use your instincts and your knowledge to create belief and trust within all three areas. You probably already have all the information you need. Go, make a decision!


May 19, 2006

Soap Box? Check.

Have a goal? Tell someone about it. Actually, tell everyone about it.

Why keep your goal to yourself? When you spread the word about what you are trying to accomplish, people will help you. Most folks want to be part of something and, if they like you or agree with your perspective, that want will translate into action. Whether it be telling other people, blogging, sharing a contact, or introducing you to an opportunity, any little bit helps.

Of course, there will always be those who are convinced their idea will be stolen and run off to success under someone else's agency. Once a vision has been shared with the world (that is the eventual point, right?) it will be fair game for plagiarism and corruption, anyway. Like children, ideas can only be coddled for so long before you have to let them into the world to fall and scrape their knees.

Good ideas beg to be spread and people starve to hear them. They make no difference any other way.

Evangelize.


May 18, 2006

Flex Those Tiny Muscles!


Because we, like most of our readers, are small (although, almost medium-sized is an appealing goal), this musing makes a lot of sense.

As the world comes closer together, "mom and pop shops" can now be "global micro-brands" (pretty good spin, eh?) without much more effort than it would take to build local business, perhaps even less, as the internet is a genius form of communication when used correctly.

Stay small, stay in control, and stick to your vision. There is a lot of hope and success out there for the little guy!


May 17, 2006

Big, Gay Oil Company


Can discrimination (or discernment, as it may be called) be viewed as simply another facet of a company's culture, like dress codes or corporate mottos?

Read on...


Spiritual Leader, Insightful Marketer

An e-mail with a link to these "Instructions For Life" came through this morning. Even though they probably did not come directly from the Dalai Lama himself (can you imagine the global leader of Buddhism in front of a laptop, typing a chain e-mail?), they are certainly some great guidelines.

    1. Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.
    2. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.
    3. Follow the three R’s: Respect for self, Respect for others, and Responsibility for all your actions.
    4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.
    5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
    6. Don't let a little dispute injure a great relationship.
    7. When you realize you’ve made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.
    8. Spend some time alone every day.
    9. Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.
    10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
    11. Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you’ll be able to enjoy it a second time.
    12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.
    13. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation. Don’t bring up the past.
    14. Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality.
    15. Be gentle with the earth.
    16. Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.
    17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.
    18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.
    19. Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon.

It also makes you think about where good ideas come from - and they are definitely not exclusive to best-selling books.


May 16, 2006

Necktie Piracy


    "Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief."
    - U2, The Fly

Steal. Yes, I am advocating it. Steal with fervor.

When you hear an artist say, "It was inspired by..." what he really means is, "I tried to emulate the techniques, format, or functionality of...." Of course, in creative circles, people have come to uncomfortably accept such practices as compliments.

It can be interpreted the same way in the rest of the world, too. Use the best practices of others. Allow them to sharply hone and refine their systems and ideas, then guiltlessly seize them and make them your own. Assuming nothing proprietary (and thus illegal) is being displaced, most of these best practices are leadership skills - ways to teach success.

Find successes and leaders you admire, learn their stories and their ways, and then use them. Adaptation will follow, and before you know it, someone will be stealing your best practices.


May 15, 2006

Inhale Deeply


You installed the trendiest Turkish travertine flooring, hand-blown lamps from Florence, and thousands of dollars worth of Japanese maple cabinetry. But what have you done about the smell?

The more senses an experience invokes, the easier it is to relate to, and the more memorable it becomes. Remember Play-Doh?