hypocritical : talking the talk without walking the walk

March 31, 2005

Good marketing communications: Somewhere between psycho stalker and couch potato

Sometimes, my mind wanders about marketing.

You see, I don't know about you, but I spend a great deal of time thinking about how I can explain what I do to normal people in the most simple manner possible. It's not that I find myself talking to simple people on a regular basis. Although that would be welcome. It's more that what I do is so amorphous that I'm often seeking my own meaning. So playing these little head games helps.

That said, I think a great deal about how I can create analogies that cause my simple-person target market to smile and nod happily and say "Oh! I get it now." Because that makes me happy. And it makes me happy when I can translate the passion I feel about the completely nebulous world of marketing into something tangible for someone who couldn't truly care any less about marketing. And it makes me feel like I do something worthwhile.

But that's just me. I like a challenge.

So here's what was running through my head today: what is the appropriate level of communications?

And that's when it dawned on me: Good marketing communications is considerate. On a variety of levels.

One level is frequency. Even if your brand or the message being delivered is rude, communications is considerate. That is, good communications arrive when and where the target market wants them and is ready to accept them, not before, not after, not too often, not too little.

Considerate is a tricky balancing act. It's somewhere between the psycho-stalker-I-will-have-it-for-you-before-you-ask-even-if-you-don't-want-it-right-now communications and the I-really-don't-care-what-you-want-Sanford-and-Son-is-on communications.

Most, if not all, companies fall into the latter category. I don't know that I've ever run into a company that fulfills the requirements of the former category, but I needed it for comparison. And, come to think of it, there are those folks who call me incessantly that are coming awfully close to treading on the stalker angle.

Where was I? Oh yes. So consideration involves timing. Not too overt, not too detached. But it also involves voice. Ah ha. Another level. You need to communicate to the market in the language and voice it wants to hear.

Now, I don't know if you've heard it, but the latest radio campaign for "Green Foo" makes me laugh. Every time I hear it. It's a parody of a Kung Fu movie with English voice over. Sure. It's been done. But for some reason, just that childhood memory of watching Kung Fu movies on Saturday afternoon, or that teenage memory of watching Commander USA's Groovy Movies on Saturday afternoon, or that recent... oh well, you get my point.

There's something about that commercial that accesses the "happy" part of my brain in a very considerate way -- with the appropriate voice. And it's very acceptable for my brain to consume Mountain Dew's message. Now, if Ford were attempting to access that part of my brain that way, for say the Ford Focus, that would be inconsiderate. Because I do not like the Ford Focus and I would not like Ford trying to trick me into liking it. But I'm not the Ford Focus target market, so I'm not too worried about that.

So, it's good for Mountain Dew. Bad for Ford. Ford using that tact would seem like a stalker: I know what you like. I know what you want. That would be off-putting. I know Ford doesn't understand me. But, for Mountain Dew, I believe that they do. I believe it. I'm willing to trust Mountain Dew, because while their commercials have let me down from time to time, their brand has been fairly supportive. There's trust there.

Which brings me to the third level of consideration: intimacy.

Good brands seem to know what you want without being incredibly overt about it. It's because you're their market. They should be studying you. They should be understanding what makes you tick. And they should be crafting their messages in ways that sound like the appropriate way for that brand to talk to you. Seems a little stalkerish, huh? I know. That's the balance.

Marketing types like to use the word "resonate" to describe this ability to effectively interact with the market. While I don't exactly start vibrating at the prospect of the Mountain Dew brand, I do start shaking a bit after I've ingested 4 or 5 of them. Oh wait, I mean, the voice of the brand does seem to speak to me. And it keeps me attracted and interested in the product. Brands that do not have this semblance of intimacy become very offensive, very quickly.

In fact, you can probably name five or ten companies who have offended you this way in the last week, alone. They took it too far too fast. They assumed too much. Maybe they tried to get intimate. Maybe they tried the wrong-voice cheesy pickup line. Or maybe they just kept hammering you with the same message over and over through a medium where you would rather they weren't. Like those annoying mortgage banner ads that have the strange animals covered with pocks and boils that reference US states all over them. You know the ones. Where did those come from? And who, in their right mind, clicks on those things?

Okay, before I trail off on too many tangents, back to the point: If you're trying to communicate to a market be considerate. Don't be an ugly American who, when faced with a confused market, shouts louder and louder in an effort to make them understand. Don't get in their face. And don't ignore them. Be considerate. Even if your brand is rude, consider how your market wants to receive that rude behavior.

And with that consideration, that understanding, you'll begin to truly understand your market. And, if you're lucky, they'll allow you a new level of intimacy to continue the conversation.

Are you a considerate communicator, an over-communicative stalker, or the couch potato who just ignores the market? Or are you some other type? I, and the other readers here, would love to hear about it. Well, okay, maybe just me. Please comment. And please return.

 

Good marketing communications: Somewhere between psycho stalker and couch potato

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March 30, 2005

Don't recreate the wheel that has already been created: The fine art of creating a satirical marketing site (and using the word "create")

UPDATE (April 9, 2005): Unfortunately, word around the campfire is that the software is no joke. Or it is an elaborately developed joke. Or something. Fear not, gentle readers, our heroes at have prepared for a battle royale.

UPDATE (April 6, 2005): If you haven't seen , yet, please go spend some time there. If it is a joke site, then it's genius. Satirical marketing at its best. And a software tool to boot. If it isn't a joke, then it is just plain scary. And worth a look, anyway. Thanks to for the link.

ORIGINAL POST

I can feel them coming. A whole new crop of satirical marketing sites. So, I'm making preparations. Stockpiling supplies. Preparing for the worst. But most of all, I'm hopeful that the people building these things look to those who have gone before them. Otherwise all the energy they spend on funny may be for naught.

Back in the day, the granddaddy of them all was , ' satirical treatment of the vapid world of dotcom identities. At the time, the site often served as a means of relieving my pain through humor, and it remains the first thing that pops to mind when I see three-word taglines, punctuated by periods.

And then, of course, there's , which continues to run strong as your premiere source for demotivating your employees. Any type of demotivational paraphernalia you're seeking is likely to be found here. The has always been one of my favorites.

I tend to throw Pinch in there, as well. This was Brad Johnson's (co-founder of Second Story, one the premiere interactive shops in Portland, Oregon, and arguably, the world) original interactive showreel, from 1994 (!). While not a direct jab at marketing, this truly brilliant piece does a fantastic job of selling you a wooden clothespin. Heady stuff for an outdated concept. I keep my Macintosh LCIII around just so I can watch it from time to time. It really is an amazing piece.

But the rest of the satirical sites were few and far between. And apparently, not that memorable. Why didn't they stick? Where did they go? They certainly were a breath of fresh air. Especially for a young, impressionable marketing type. And this is the very type of influence and fame you should be seeking, young grasshopper. The memorable ones, not the others. Stick with me.

I am giving you these links, because it appears that the sites of this ilk are making a bit of a rebound. No doubt, you've considered building one yourself. I am not surprised. In my estimation, the pervading sense of ennui here in the United States coupled with the general distaste for continually poor marketing is again taking its toll. The satirical sites are beginning to spring up again. Ah, halcyon days.

The one that seems to be getting the most ink is . I first caught wind of this little gem in the "Off topic" portion of the San Jose Mercury News' daily email. Their tagline really says it all: We do stuff (tm). But as usual, I felt a little late to the party. My research showed that it had been around for quite some time. 2002 to be exact. Where was I?

Yet, I see it making the rounds, even today. Even B.L. Ochman, who I like to think is a bit more in the know than I, just blogged about the site a couple of weeks ago. I mean, she's been on Oprah. She should know about this stuff. And so should you Mr or Mrs I'm-going-to-make-a-funny-ha-ha-marketing-site.

So that got me to thinking. And that got me to worrying. Maybe I'm not so out of it. Maybe some people don't know about these sites. Maybe there is a reason to write them down. Lucky you. You get to read this filler. And you get to see what's already been done so you don't redo it.

But I digress. Back to Huhcorp. The site, developed by Element, is a very sharp critique of marketing consultants, pulled together in a extremely well-designed and well-written way. To wit:

Our creative team will come up with design and marketing ideas you never even thought of. How could you? You don't have the talent we do. Don't take it personally. That's our job. That's what we do. We do stuff.

Most consulting companies just provide regular marketing solutions. Not us. We provide groundbreaking solutions. Our marketing solutions are newer than anyone else's, and they sound better because we give them cool titles like "Global Awareness Paradigms," and "Market Consciousness Philosophies," and "Creative Product Re-development Support."

The other satirical site that has been getting a great deal of well-deserved praise as of late is 's Manure Madness/. Filled with the same wit as Why business people speak like idiots, the site pits hyperbolic annual reports against one another to find the one that stands above all others as the "Shining Beacon of Business Idiocy." It's a perfect example of why I say these people are geniuses, even though some of the book falls flat. Well worth the trip. (UPDATE: For a concise summary of Manure Madness and the Final Foul, see "Vacuous and Idiotic Annual Reports" over at .)

And today, I stumbled upon Herring & Waffleman. While it feels a bit forced, it's still worth a trip. You'll at least get a chuckle or two. And they deserve a few hits for trying. I'm sure it will get better with time.

No doubt, there are innumerable other such sites currently under development. I am fearful that they will become as prevalent as blogs. So, read ahead, kiddies. See what's been done. Learn from past mistakes and steal well from those memorable sites that continue to bring people in droves. Because, honestly, what good is a satire if no one ever sees it? Or worse yet, if your brilliant satire is only a dull copy of something much better?

Have some satirical sites that make you gasp for breath? I'd love to hear about it, as would the other readers. After reading this drivel, we could all use a good laugh. So please comment, and when you've created your own marketing satire site, please return.

 

Don't recreate the wheel that has already been created: The fine art of creating a satirical marketing site (and using the word "create")

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March 29, 2005

When was the last time a good communications tool sprung out of a marketing need?

I hate it when people pose questions in a headline or a subject line and then don't repeat them in the context of the message, so to be clear: when was the last time a good communications tool sprung out of a marketing need?

Seriously. I mean it.

Part of the reason that marketers have such a bad name with the technology folks is that we take over everything. We're a bunch of lecherous latchers-on. Sidling up to any newcomer and asking its sign. Any time a new technology is released, every time something starts gaining favor, we have to start mucking with it. What's the marketing angle? How can we make money off of it? Does it support branding? Does it support advertising?

It's in our very nature. It's in our blood. We, as marketers, ruin things. It's what we do. And because of that, we are indeed drivers of technology. Not because we drive the technology, but because we drive people away.

I'm willing to bet marketing Neanderthals told Og to sign his name to his cave paintings. Otherwise, our sloping-browed predecessors warned, no one will want you to come paint their cave walls. People love horses and hunting scenes. Sign your name.

And Og soon started looking for a way to get out more. To find other ways to communicate where the marketers weren't.

Literature spawned advertisements. Mail spawned junk mail. Telephones spawned telemarketing. Radio and television spawned sponsorships and "the spot." Email spawned spam. The Web spawned untold amounts of evil.

Marketing doesn't have a need for new technologies. Quite the opposite in fact. We have the need to consume and control new technologies for our own benefit. We are like a fungus. Like mold. We begin small and then spread, making whatever we touch useless. Unless, of course, it's cheese. Marketing, like mold, is always good at making cheese. Or intoxicants. Marketing, like fermentation, is effective there, as well.

The market, however, does have a need for new technologies. And that need is to escape marketing. We're Pepe Le Pew. Following the poor folks wherever they run to escape. We're the crazy uncle you try to avoid at the family reunion. You know we're going to embarrass you. You know we're going to aggravate you.

And now we're doing it with RSS feeds. How do we use these newfangled things for marketing? How do we profit by using RSS feeds?

We're horrible.

But don't think that someone isn't already trying to figure out the new way to avoid us. And don't think we aren't already driving the next spam filter, or caller ID, or ad scraper, or new delivery technology. Because we are. We are the negative driver. And technology will always improve in an attempt to escape.

Can you name one positive technological, or even communication-based advancement that was driven by marketing? If so, please comment, because I'd love to hear it. If not, that's okay. I'm as cynical as you. Why not return and continue to wallow in it with me?

 

When was the last time a good communications tool sprung out of a marketing need?

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March 28, 2005

Why business people speak like idiots

Since I have been experiencing so much angst about the misuse of the English language, as of late (and my cease and desist orders didn’t seem to be working), I decided to purchase a new book that would tell me I was right. The book was Why business people speak like idiots.

Why business people speak like idiotsIt’s by the same folks who brought you the little Bullfighter application that you can add to Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. It serves as a sanity check on your language, helping you remove fluffy nonsense phrases. Remember that one? A spellchecker for bull. Brilliant.

Smart folks. Good ideas. So I bought the book. And for the most part, I am very happy with it.

It’s a quick read. And at times, it’s laugh-out-loud funny for anyone who has ever had to edit copy in the corporate environment. What's more, it made me self-conscious about my own writing. Which was good. I need to feel more self-conscious.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. It’s well worth the jacket price. And it’s filled with incredibly poignant insight on not only what is bad, but why it is bad. And why we’ve fallen into such a pit of incredibly officious language. To that end, Why business people speak like idiots is very, very good.

I know. You’re feeling it aren’t you? You can sense the complaints. Yes, yes. You know me far too well. It’s a very good book, but… But I have one major complaint.

But Seth Godin and Fast Company recommended it, you say. How can there be a downside? I’m sorry to shatter your dreams, little one. But even those who provide pithy promotional quotes for books have to overlook flaws, at times. This is one of those times.

So, buck up. Steel your gaze. Here it is: Skip the examples.

I know. I know. Telling you not to read the examples is going to cause you to read them. I’m sorry. But don’t. I mean it. Do you need a time-out?

If you feel a desire to read the examples, you know what you should read instead? Read the Fight the Bull blog, because it’s very, very good and filled with the same smartass humor that makes the book a good read. But don't just take my word for it, the folks over at Brand Autopsy and PR Machine agree. And there's no way we could all be wrong.

But why can’t I read the examples, I hear you whining. And I can see you scrunching up your face. Examples, you say, bring the book to life for me. I’m lost without examples. I can’t think on my own. I’ll never be able to implement ideas without examples. They’re my lifeblood.

Not in this case, sister. In this case, the examples (especially the examples concerning the use of “humor” and those examples about livening up PowerPoint) will cause you to second-guess what heretofore has been very good guidance. It will make you think the authors aren’t as smart as you thought they were. It will make you think you’ve been duped. It will make you think you’ve fallen in with the idiots. Because the examples, bless their little hearts, are filled with exactly the same kind of useless excrement that the book is trying to help us expunge from corporate copy.

To be quite blunt, the examples tend to be trite, forced, and uninspired. The examples are bull.

But I don’t fault the authors for this. I know they were put up to it. I can almost feel them winking at me. But you know what? Most people won’t get the wink. So we’ll be subjected to a new wave of equally crappy presentations featuring their “movie analogy” examples. We will. Trust me. It happens every time one of these books captures the business imagination. Remember when pithy quotes were all the rage? Remember when clipart took a firm hold? I’m telling you.

But, as I said, I don’t fault the authors. I know the editors put them up to it. We need real life examples, the editors always say. (I know. I used to be one. And “find or create some real-life examples” was one of my favorite requests when I couldn’t find enough errors in the copy.) It’s a detention slip for making an editor feel useless. “Add some examples,” means “You’re not going to screw up the writing, so I’m going to impugn your creativity with the reader.” It’s a power thing.

When the writers are writing, doing what they do, the copy is lively and humorous. And Why business people speak like idiots soars. Full of wit and style. Really good. But when it hits the examples, it falls dead. Lifeless. And it makes you stop and wonder if you’re the idiot or they are.

That’s why you have to ignore the examples. Please. Because the authors are very good. And very smart. And very, very, very right. Something needs to be done about the language in business, today. And these bright, funny folks offer some very insightful suggestions on how to fix it. They cause you to examine the way you communicate. And they inspire you to change for the better.

They just don’t perform well under pressure outside of their element. They’re not PowerPoint designers or stand-up comedians. They’re writers.

So, read their writing. Take the theory and run with it. But ignore the examples. I mean it. Don’t make me come over there.

What did you think about Why business people speak like idiots? Do you agree with me or do you think I sound like an idiot? Both? Comment, critique, and return to see me weeping openly.

 

Why business people speak like idiots

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March 27, 2005

Sunkist: A not-so-hidden logo sin (the overwrought-with-hyphenated-adjectives post)

One of my less annoying look-how-smart-and-observant-I-am habits is that I tend to feel the need to highlight whenever I notice a logo or mark that has been updated. No matter how small or insignificant.

"The dry cleaner updated their logo," I will say. Or "Did you see the new UPS look? A travesty! Degrading Rand's work."

It's just one of the holier-than-thou, uppity things I do, which I tend to tell myself is an outward display of my intelligence and one of the things I must do, as a genius.

No one else, however, tells me this. They generally nod, sometimes smile, and brush me off with a "Who cares?" or "Um, yeah." Cretins.

So I guess, this time, I was a bit taken aback when my usual, look-at-me observation about an updated logo stopped me mid-sentence, and then my wife at mid-sentence. A new occurrence, to be sure.

I had just cracked open an orange pop, in an effort to parch my thirst without the ingesting a great deal of caffeine. As I stared at the can in my hand, I casually said to my wife "When did Sunkist update their..." and I trailed off.

"Update their what?" she said, feigning interest.

Quickly trotting (yes, I trot) over to where she was sitting. "What do you see here?" I asked.

"Sunkist," she said.

"No, really read it," I said.

"Oh my. Is that a mistake?" she said.

And it couldn't have come at a more interesting time. Less than 24-hours after I had completed my tirade on . About how it was a shame that a nonprofit had wasted money for that horrible logo. About how it would have been so much funnier if a for-profit company had wasted money on a logo.

And there it was. Right there in my hand. A shining example of that very thing.

Sunkist or Sinkist?. Or, as the logo says Sin-kist. Or Sink-ist. One of the two. (I swear I haven't mucked with this. Here's a larger image.)

When did this update occur? And who, to quote an Adam Sandler character from Saturday Night Live, were the ad wizards who came up with this one?

Was it the company, itself? Was it the Dr. Pepper/Seven Up, Inc. people who licensed the name for the soda? Maybe it was the folks at "Britain's most admired company," , who owns the whole shooting match? (And tangentially, isn't that a pleasant, happenstance Easter tie-in?)

No matter who it was, there is no doubt in my mind that they spent thousands upon thousands of dollars to create that logo. And no one seems to have bothered to check the spelling. I mean, sure. Everyone has heard of Sunkist. There's a sun behind it. A quick read causes your mind to bridge the gap. The "u" and the "n" kind of meld together.

I understand how it could have happened to one person. I make typos all the time. I'm sure half the people I hope to impress quit reading my blog because I do. But, I constantly re-read, trying to catch them. And if I were to engage in millions of dollars of production, you can be very sure I'd have a number of people proofing this thing.

But this happened to multiple people. It happened to multiple companies.

And I thought 's waste of money was bad. Who knows how many untold bottles of Sinkist are out there?

So then the worm starts to turn. Maybe this is a sinister plot? Maybe it was intentional? Maybe it's a stipulation of the licensing agreement? Maybe advertising has moved beyond the subliminal to just being right there in the liminal? Maybe my wife bought Sinkist instead of Fanta because of this creative technique?

Doubt it. Bet it's a big mistake. Or something that no one really noticed until it was far too late for anyone to do anything about it. Maybe if you leave a bottle of Sinkist under your pillow, the Cadbury clucking bunny will replace it with the right logo?

An even worse thought? It was intentional. It was a concept. And the creatives that pitched the concept sold it right up the chain. If that's the case, I'd love to see that pitch. That's a one-in-a-billion pitch. A selling-a-ketchup-popsicle-to-a-lady-in-white-gloves kind of pitch. One from which we could all learn something. I'd love to meet the people who pulled it off.

Just make sure my pockets are empty and my driver's license is out of reach.

Would you pay good money for a logo that misspelled the name of your company or product? Would you still pay money for it if you were already paying someone else a license fee to use the name? Would you pay for me to misspell more words in this blog? Comment, critique, and always return. It's good for you.

 

Sunkist: A not-so-hidden logo sin (the overwrought-with-hyphenated-adjectives post)

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March 26, 2005

RSS: TiVo for the Internet

I like to think that I'm beginning to understand RSS. And as I approach it, I try to think about both the benefits of the technology and how it can be used in different ways.

Since I'm sure I'm just barely scratching the surface, I tend to be tuned-in to the concept. I look for new applications. I look for new thought. I try to understand it. And I keep my eyes open for new articles on RSS.

Usually, I don't get much. But, every once in a while someone comes up with such a simple way of describing things, that it stops me dead in my tracks. And this time, the article containing that beautiful simplicity just happened to be about RSS.

What is RSS? It's "TiVo for the Internet." (There's also a good comment string over on Blogcritics.)

Brilliant.

The description might not be for everyone. But for anyone who knows TiVo, this description is perfect. Thanks to Chris Ellington for capturing the concept.

 

RSS: TiVo for the Internet

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March 25, 2005

Arlington Pediatric Center: Volunteers needed

Okay. This is bad. Sometimes, a mark can really make or break an organization. And, unfortunately, I think it's going to do more of the latter, this time. It's even worse that it's all over the building, and likely the literature, and everything else.

At first, it causes a snicker. And a shaking of your head. Maybe even an incredulous exclamation. And no doubt, some bursts of laughter. Clearly, someone at Arlington Pediatric Center was a bit too Pollyanna in their view of the world. Because, I'm not that incredibly depraved (okay, I can be crude) and it's pretty obvious to me. I'm sure it's obvious to you, as well.

So we all had a really good laugh.

But then I started to think about it. And now, I'll get all serious. Because that's what I do. When you're ready for the downer, continue reading.

This whole thing would be a great deal more humorous if it were a commercial (for profit) organization that made this mistake. (Like, for instance, .) If they paid good money to have someone develop this logo. That would be funny. And worth a few more chortles. Some more finger pointing. But, given that it's for a non-profit, it stops being funny and starts being kind of sad.

I don't know if they paid to have this monstrosity created. But they definitely paid for the signs on the building. And the literature. And other stuff. And that's wasted money. Extremely wasted. And that's sad.

I'm fairly certain that this organization doesn't have extra cash to throw away. And that's money that's going to be taken away from other programs to fix this grievous error. So someone is going to suffer ill because of this stupid mistake.

Think design can't hurt anyone? Think again.

Look at me. Boo hoo. But it's true.

So, here's the deal. It's a call to action. Non-profits have bad design because they don't get offered good design. They generally have to take care of things in house, or take the low bidder. Offer them some good design. Offer them a new sign. Offer them some new literature. For free even. Please stop this from happening again.

I'm not a designer. Maybe you are. Maybe you're a printer. Maybe you'd like to offer the center your services. I'll definitely offer my services to consult on positioning (no pun intended), language, and visual concepts before they're sent to the client. Because, that's where my skills lie. And clearly, the client needs some help in this case. And I'm more than happy to help.

And keep in mind, it can be this organization (although I'm sure they're overwhelmed with offers):

Judy Fox
Executive Director
(703) 271-8195


3045-A Columbia Pike
Arlington, VA 22204

Or it can be another nonprofit in your area. Or any nonprofit for that matter. Anywhere. Give them some time. Give them some design.

Let's do our best to save all the bad design for companies who can afford to pay for it.

 

Arlington Pediatric Center: Volunteers needed

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Stiffing Starbucks, et in terra Pax

As I sit here, finishing my whiskey sour and starting on my quad con panna, I'm a little peeved.

As you may or may not know, I'm a fan of and I'm a fan of . So, imagine my joy when I heard the two were working together to create a coffee liqueur. How interesting, I thought. (Actually, I believe "I wonder if they need a product marketing manager to lead that product?" was my first thought.) Stimulant and depressant. And likely tasty, at that.

So it turns out that not everyone was as in love with the idea as I. In fact, one company, Pax World Funds, decided to make a big stink about dropping from their "socially responsible" fund. They decided to do that now. Months and months after the announcement that this thing was going forward.

covered it. And I'm sure the discussion boards are all a twitter. Intrigue. Scandal. Outrage.

Phooey.

Yes, alcohol can be bad. I know. Trust me, I know. I have had family members killed by drunk drivers. Alcohol can be bad, but so can anything else. Have you tried reading through this entire blog on a bender? That will make you ill, as well. Everything in moderation.

What upsets me is not the action that Pax World Funds took. Or even their jumping on the demonizing-of-liquor bandwagon. Good for them. I respect that. They have developed a guiding principle for choosing investments and they stand by it. I appreciate the Pax World folks remaining true to their cause.

The aggravating part is that they decided to make a big news splash out of the most negative of news items. Shame on you, , says Pax World Funds. Shame on you for expanding your product line of luxury drinks to a different market. For shame. For shame. Shame on you for adding another drug to your portfolio.

Here's the thing: If you're so concerned about sustainability and social responsibility, why, in the name of all that is good, would you invest in a coffee company in the first place?

Let's just completely ignore the environmental impact of coffee and focus on the qualities of the bean. Coffee contains a stimulant. That is, a drug called . It has addictive qualities. To wit, "continued consumption of caffeine can lead to tolerance. Upon withdrawal, the body becomes oversensitive to adenosine, causing the blood pressure to drop dramatically, leading to headache and other symptoms."

Why was it socially responsible for Pax World to fund the promotion and sale of one drug, but not to promote another? Because it was helping them make a great deal of coin, no doubt. And most likely because their investors didn't start asking that very question until alcohol entered the picture.

Quick, they thought. Drop and make it look like we're doing it out of the goodness of our hearts.

So now, to move beyond my griping and land upon the little marketing lesson this one taught me...

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

I had never heard of Pax World Funds before today. And, now, I don't like them. I like the idea behind the company. I like their principles and their cause, but I don't like the sniping they did. I don't like the people there. And I don't think I'm in the minority. This was a poor choice of ways to put themselves on the map. And, while on the surface it seemed like the right thing to do, dig a little deeper and it smacks of hypocrisy.

It's an emotional reaction. Not logical. Kirk not Spock. Welcome to the world of branding.

I'm an investor. I try to be responsible in my investing. Why have I never heard of these people before? I should be their target market. Why would they choose to make this their initial introduction to me?

Rather than get all uppity, why not work to enlighten people on all of the positive things Pax funds do? Tell me about the positive investments Pax World supports. And share some positive stories about the role Pax plays in a generally evil society. That's a socially responsible stance.

Instead of going for the quick-hit splashy negative story, why don't they talk about the programs Pax World supports? Do they have a literacy program that's as effective as '? Are they working to improve working conditions in third-world countries?

I mean, sure, this goody-two-shoes line of news will take longer to payoff, but you've gone 34 years without an introduction, what's one more? Besides, you're the one who chose the socially responsible stance. That's your brand. Work within your brand.

What is Pax World doing that is so good? I'm sure there is plenty, but I just don't see it. And being a tattletale isn't helping their case. Unless that's the definition of social responsibility these days.

Something tells me there is something more here than meets the eye, and that this was just a hypocritical means of covering their tracks. And that's what their press release did for me. Negative negative negative. Ah, social responsibility.

Maybe I just don't get it. Maybe this is a great move. Maybe I just need some more coffee. What do you think? Please feel free to comment, critique, and, by all means, return.

 

Stiffing Starbucks, et in terra Pax

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March 24, 2005

Cease & Desist: Blocking & Tackling

Dear Sirs & Madames,

Re: Use of the phrase "BLOCKING & TACKLING" to describe roles in a organization

It has come to our attention that you have made a (rather bad and annoying) habit of using the phrase "BLOCKING & TACKLING" to describe roles in the organization, as if it were a sporting event in which you were all participants. For example, the "I will handle the strategic stuff. Bob will handle the blocking & tackling."

Our primary issues with your use of this phrase in a business setting are as follows:

1. Even if, at some point, the employee you describe possessed the ability to physically or analogously "block" or "tackle" another individual or problem, he or she has long lost the ability to do so, today. Asking them to perform this function, especially if they previously had the ability to do so, is demeaning and rude.

2. You have continually used the word as a means of describing a way to "move things forward" or "achieve an end goal." Blocking and tackling prevent progress. They are defensive postures. They do not move things forward. In fact, they often move things backward.

You have 24 HOURS to remove the offending language from corporate literature, Web pages, internal email, instant messages, meetings, conversations, and urinal/restroom banter. Please confirm in writing that you have done so.

Failing this, we will apply for an injunction, and will also seek to recover costs and damages (plus interest) for your tortious and torturous acts and conduct.

This is our final communication to you on this matter. We look forward to hearing from you as a matter of urgency and sanity.

Sincerely,
Those concerned about the English language

cc: The Oxford English Dictionary, Webster's Dictionary, American Heritage Dictionary, Chicago Manual of Style, Strunk, White, NFL, NCAA

 

Cease & Desist: Blocking & Tackling

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March 23, 2005

What Blogger through yonder window breaks? Or wherefore art thou, Google?

I've thought about posting this a number of times. But I didn't. Because has been good to me. I've used it since early 2000. Since the early days. And I've always loved its ease. And the "Blog this!" button. I like .

And you know how I feel about .

But I can't hold back any more.

is broken. It needs to be fixed. It's getting ridiculous. And if doesn't dedicate some real resources to it, soon, it's going to tarnish 's brand. Severely.

For those of you who haven't heard, has been sucking proverbial wind lately. It's crashing more often than not. And while some folks seem to be concerned about it, the fixes don't seem to be coming with much speed. Or communication.

About two weeks ago, I noticed I was having more problems than usual with a couple of my blogs posting efficiently. They were timing out or crashing. I thought it was just me. And then I started to see the posts. Stuff was being done. Great.

But nothing has been resolved. It's still crashing. It's still haphazard. And I still see the griping posts. Like this one, I'm writing right now.

Do you get the irony here? isn't listening. And if they are, they're behaving like every other company. One of the most influential instruments in blogging, one of the original tools for having a blog conversation, doesn't appear to be listening. And it isn't blogging about it either. Because it can't. employees use . So they're just as tongue tied as the rest of us. Or so they say.

I can hear you. I can. " isn't for real bloggers. It's for a casual blogger. There are real tools for real bloggers. Quit using a free tool and put some skin in the game."

So what if it's free? So is every other service offers. Is not a real search tool? If their Web search crashed every few attempts or timed out, how happy would you be? If gmail suddenly said "inbox full" at 10k, how would that feel?

I want to use . I like . I like it because I know it. Sure it's lacking in some ways, but I like it. I've recommended it. I'm a champion for it. And let me let you in on a little secret: I'd be willing to pay for to be more reliable.

"Go to ," you say. "You can pay them for more reliable service."

I don't think you're hearing me: I like . I have a great deal of respect for the folks and the folks and the bevy of others who offer for-pay blog hosting. I do. But I like . I want to use . Why won't let me use it?

I latch things on to so that it works like other blogging tools. I hack code so that is more kind to the search engines (another bit of irony there: isn't exceptionally search friendly). I work hard to stay with .

Why won't work to help me?

What's promising a service and then not delivering? It's evil. And needs to realize that. They're starting to perturb a very, very vocal minority.

What's not blogging about the issues surrounding your blogging tool? Ironic.

Are you having problems with ? Is it affecting your perception of ? I'd love to hear your comments. Is some other tool so much better that I should switch? Tell me. But, in any case, please return.

 

What Blogger through yonder window breaks? Or wherefore art thou, Google?

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March 22, 2005

The real problem with RSS feeds

UPDATE (April 3, 2005): If you aren't already reading Stephan Spencer (and you should be), here's yet another reason to go and do it. His "RSS: Hot or Not for Marketers?" offers some incredibly thought provoking concepts for tracking RSS subscriptions and reader use. Well worth the read. And well worth subscribing to his RSS to see if he's tracking you.

UPDATE (March 23, 2005): The Blog Herald covers a Slashdot survey on RSS use, which indicates the adoption of RSS is likely to increase "dramatically." This is an indirect contradiction of the Direct Marketing News' assertion that RSS adoption (for marketing purposes) will remain relatively flat for the next 2 years. Let's see, for new technology issues, whose opinion do I trust more? If the audience is going there, the marketers won't be far behind.

ORIGINAL POST

There is great deal of hubbub circulating in regards to an article in Direct Marketing News.

It seems everyone, including me, has an opinion on this one. And if you want to read others (who are likely to be far more eloquent than I), run, don't walk, over to Marketing Studies. They have a great collection of blogs covering the matter.

Oh. You're still here? Fine. I mean, great, I'm honored. So what's my take?

First, here's the gist of the article: RSS feeds and blogging will not be the road to easy riches for marketers looking to turn a quick buck.

To wit:
"RSS is not well suited to promotional-offer-oriented content because it does not offer the targeting and personalization capabilities of e-mail, the report said. However, even for use as a supplemental or alternative e-mail broadcast tool, the adoption of RSS for marketing purposes will remain low during the next 24 months."

Shocking. I mean incredibly revealing. People won't voluntarily consume spam and hype? Strange. Seriously.

That highlights the real problem for the direct marketing folks: RSS is pure content. There's no hiding behind cheese. There's no dazzling with useless tchotchkes. There's no way to blast it out to 100,000 people who really don't care to find the one that does. There's no accidentally opening the feed and accidentally continuing to read it, time and time again. There's only pure, unadulterated personality and content. And it's pretty stark. And that makes it difficult for the majority of marketing types. Really difficult.

In fact, I equate RSS to going back to the gray-background Web in 1996 or so. Or maybe even earlier Internet communications. It's telnet, truly.

But you want to know what? That's the beauty. For those who know how to use it effectively. And for everyone who wants to "improve it" or "add to it," I say this: Whoa, tiger. There is no need for it to evolve to the congested levels that the Web has. Why? Because the Web is already there. RSS was designed to simplify what was already there. To make it more digestible, more quickly, when the reader was ready to consume.

Making RSS more and more complex defeats the purpose. Making RSS more complex would be like AOL trying to run its own version of the "Web" on top of the actual Web without ever allowing people to leave the confines of AOL space. And how silly would that be? I mean, really.

And besides, the acronym can't be RSS if it's complex, can it?

Here's the other thing. I know this may come as a shock to you, but deep breath: Everything doesn't have to generate revenue.

I'm all over the place. Do I have a point? I do. You see, kids, here's the deal: RSS could, potentially, be the most effective branding vehicle ever created.

I see you screwing up your face. Knock it off. I'm serious.

But there are no images, you say. There's no pithy tagline. No logos. No content besides, well, content. I can hear you whining from here.

That's why it's so effective for communicating brand. It's pure content and personality. That's why it's more effective than noisy attempts at branding. Because it lacks any formal construct. Because it lacks the places to hide. And because, if you don't do it right, people are going to tune out.

But if you do it right, and your target market appreciates it, it can be more powerful than any "branding campaign" you've ever tried.

You see, the real problem with RSS is not that it's not an effective marketing vehicle. It's not that it's not capable of generating revenue. The real problem is that people are trying to use it the same way they've used every communication vehicle ever created. Or they're trying to use it as the whole, and not a part. Or they just aren't thinking. Wait a second. Actually, that's the main reason.

And the problem with RSS is that it isn't different. It's a hybrid of press release and journalism. Of talking and printing. Of columnist and conversation. Letters to the Editor in real time. And all of you know how I feel about hybrids.

So here's the meat of the post: Long story short, like brand, the real impact of RSS occurs somewhere, out there, beyond our control. With the reader. The reader has to make the choice to subscribe. The reader has to make the choice to read. And the reader has to make the choice to return. And if the content isn't there, nothing is going to save that.

The emperor has no clothes. That's the real problem with RSS.

You scoff. But think about it. Besides, if you think this view of RSS is a stretch, you should read my other RSS-themed post, An Immodest Proposal: Where blogging and RSS are headed (or everything old is new again) .

In any case, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Please feel free to comment. Or just revel in your anonymity. But please return.

 

The real problem with RSS feeds

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March 21, 2005

Cease & Desist: Ecosystem

Dear Sirs & Madames,

Re: Use of the word to describe a market or company

It has come to our attention that you are continually using the word to describe a market or company, as if it were a collection of living and breathing organisms, flora, and fauna. For example, the "blog ."

You have 24 HOURS to remove the offending language from corporate literature, Web pages, internal email, instant messages, meetings, conversations, and urinal/restroom banter. Please confirm in writing that you have done so.

Failing this, we will apply for an injunction, and will also seek to recover costs and damages (plus interest) for your tortious and torturous acts and conduct.

This is our final communication to you on this matter. We look forward to hearing from you as a matter of urgency and sanity.

Sincerely,
The English language

cc: The Oxford English Dictionary, Webster's Dictionary, American Heritage Dictionary, Chicago Manual of Style, Strunk, White

 

Cease & Desist: Ecosystem

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Home Depot: A procrastinator's dream

UPDATE (April 4, 2005): Terry Storch provides an even more compelling argument for abandoning Home Depot: Lowe's does a better job. Terry may just be "one little person blogging about this," but I have to thank him for doing the research.

ORIGINAL POST

Last weekend, as with many weekends, I spent some quality time at . And every second of the eight hours I spent there was a veritable joy. Not to mention the endless hours I spent traveling back and forth to return faulty products I purchased of my own volition or products I purchased based on misinformation from one of the oh-so-helpful staff. What a service they provide.

I love , because when I go there, I never have to do anything around the house. Guaranteed. I am confident that the lack of service will translate into a 90-minute excursion, minimum, even if it's only for one item. My wife, apparently, is not as happy with this level of service. But I am. Because I didn't really want to do anything, anyway.

I live within 10 minutes of two s. I like to alternate my trips between the two, just because I'm amazed at the consistency of service. Thumbs up to the management. These s, like every other I've ever visited, are right in line with the service standards. Consistently slow. Consistently uninformed. Consistently disrespectful. Brilliant.

Did you know that claims to employ more Olympic hopefuls than any other company? It's true. All I've deduced is that they must not employ any sprinting hopefuls. And it's painfully apparent that there is no Olympic event focused on customer service. Either that or they're all out back, practicing their craft, instead of wandering the floor like their cohorts, chanting, "This isn't my section. I can't help you with that."

Maybe I'm just building the wrong stuff? Maybe if I wanted to build a triple-jump pit or a bobsled, I'd get better service at the good old ? Maybe they should rename it Olympic Depot?

And I must admit, none of this lack-of-service would have seemed out of the ordinary, last weekend, as I've grown all too used to this level of service, or lack thereof. But I blew it. Yes, all of 's hard work to make me feel worthless and insignificant was for not. See, I also made another quick trip to a local hardware store. A-Boy Hardware. It's an Ace Hardware affiliate. And it's not all A-Boy's, mind you. It's the one in Tigard, Oregon, on Main Street.

Now, my little A-Boy doesn't have the selection of . And its hours aren't always agreeable to my home-improvement schedule. And its prices may be a touch higher. But when I can go there, I do. And here's why:

1) I'm greeted at the door.

2) The person who greets me welcomes me and asks why I'm there.

3) If I need assistance, they walk me to the item(s) I need, and remain there until all of my questions are answered.

4) If they can't answer my question, they find someone who can, even it means calling someone to whom I can speak on the phone.

5) If they don't carry it, they give me a variety of options for ordering it, or they suggest other hardware stores in town that carry it.

6) If I've purchased something in a box, they ask me to open the box and check it before I leave.

7) If it's a large item, they ask me if I need help loading it.

And this isn't a random occurrence. It happens every single time I'm there. The only problem is that it's a small hardware store. So, more often than I would prefer, I'm forced to go to one of the large "home improvement" stores, like .

And in all honesty, some days (read most) I'm lazy. I don't want to do anything. And that makes my first choice. If only there were a TV to watch while I was waiting for someone to tell me they don't know anything, I would be in procrastinator's bliss.

Unfortunately, my wife has discovered my secret A-Boy resource and she has grown tired of my excuses. So my days of wasting untold hours at may soon be over. Alas and alack.

In fact, after last weekend's adventures, we've decided to hire a contractor to finish the job. I figure the money I save on gas, not driving back and forth to return items, will pay for most of the bill.

I just hope they're not billing me for the time they spend at .

 

Home Depot: A procrastinator's dream

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March 18, 2005

Public Service Announcement: New stove needed for Belmont area (Portland, Oregon) Loaves & Fishes Centers

UPDATE (March 21, 2005): Thanks to all those who participated, the goal has been reached. Nice work.

ORIGINAL POST

This request was so well done, I had to share it. It even has a graph online that tracks the progress of the campaign. Nice nice nice. So nice in fact, that I was motivated to ask you to consider helping by donating to this worthy cause.

The situation
The Belmont (Portland, Oregon) Loaves & Fishes Center is in desperate need of a new stove for their kitchen. Each day this busy center serves 80 seniors on site and 170 through Meals-On-Wheels delivery. Belmont is also home to our Weekend Meal Program, ensuring that seniors who have no other resources for obtaining food do not go hungry on the weekends. Its current stove is 15 years old, out of commission and beyond repair.

With your support we can raise $1,738 to purchase a new stove for this active center. The Southbend 400 Series Restaurant Range features fast cast iron top burners, saving fuel and speeding service. More importantly, the stove will allow the Belmont Loaves & Fishes Center to make the noontime meal even more inviting for on site diners with scratch-prepared pies, ethnic meal options and more.

Make an investment in this growing center by contributing online today. 100% of your donation will go to the purchase of a new stove for the Belmont Loaves & Fishes Center. And because every donation will be critical in reaching our goal, we invite you to track the campaign's progress.

 

Public Service Announcement: New stove needed for Belmont area (Portland, Oregon) Loaves & Fishes Centers

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Ca Ca Ca Co Co Co: New typography from Microsoft

I saw today, over at , that Microsoft has plans to release six new screen-legible fonts.

"Beginning in 2006, Microsoft says it will ship with its operating system and other software products six brand new typefaces created especially for extended on-screen reading."

Obviously, I am very happy to hear this. Near misty about it, in fact.

The last major launch of this sort was the Microsoft "Core Fonts for the Web" release, way back in the mid-nineties, that contained , , , and the most overused and poorly implemented typeface of all time (in my opinion), .

Aside from Comic Sans, the other fonts are still seem to be gaining traction in common use on the Web. But they are a welcome addition to most designers' font folders. They are easier to read, onscreen, and they do make create a different impression.

The more we can do to move away from the Times New Roman heavy Web, the better. The more we can do to differentiate, the better. The more we can make things prettier, the better. And while, this is a PC issue, it is always my hope that the Mac folks use those fonts, as well. And I'm sure they will. Because who doesn't want more fonts?

The weird thing about this whole release, however, is the naming strategy. They may look different, but they all sound exactly the same. Currently, the typefaces are called Calibri, Cambria, Candara, Consolas, Constantia, and Corbel. Hunh? Oh well. Maybe these are just code names for the time being. Who knows? I'm willing to let it go, because this is such welcome news. (That is, I'll remember to complain about this again, later.) I wonder how well they print...? Okay, okay, I'll stop.

All I can really say is co-ngratulations.

What do you think about the new typefaces? Will you use them? Maybe I will. But you'll never know, unless you return.

 

Ca Ca Ca Co Co Co: New typography from Microsoft

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Flashback: In a giving and sharing mood

Bear with me. I'm digging through old portfolios and files looking for something. And I keep stumbling upon stuff that I find humorous. Maybe you can make some use of it...

June 3, 1998

In a giving and sharing mood

Diversity is entering its new fiscal year with attitude and confidence. The company has spent numerous hours devising a new customer relations program, examining its mission statement, reconfiguring its equity to shareholders formula, and bringing its corporate image in line with the new philosophy.

Now, Diversity’s management has come to a startling conclusion:

We need a cleansing... a superfluous appurtenance downsizing.

Our loss is your gain! Our boss is crazy! Everything must go! No credit needed, we offer merchandise to anyone the law allows. We haven’t lost our lease... but we must make room for new inventory.

YOU HAVE ALREADY WON. Simply respond to this email in the next 96 hours and you will win a fabulous prize... a piece of Diversity’s past.
  • Show off your confidence with the infamous “No Problem” 9 X 12 envelopes (in white only). 27 count.
  • The “limited edition” kitchen sink key chain with real running water sound. Batteries included.
  • ViewMaster Super-Show Projector with 3 reels featuring that ever-popular Toy Story. And you thought PowerPoint was entertaining!
  • Happy Fun Ball Multi-color Pen. Rick doesn’t leave the office without it. It’s the only pen to make it on Oprah’s Book Club. Need we say more?
  • The commemorative roll of stickers documenting Diversity’s 20th anniversary (1974 to 1994). Handsomely boxed, self stick… a real piece of history here folks.
  • You’ll never have network problems again, after you impress your IT department with this vintage J45 10-base T cable, 1 piece, 1 foot long in PMS 290 sheath.
  • You deserve an award! Sales award trophy with solid brass (blank) plate. A handsome award by any sane person’s measure.
  • Show your support for ballot measures that won years ago! Winning campaign yard signs, assorted.
  • An autographed copy of the movie Speed. VHS format. (Losers receive Speed 2 and a party with the three remaining members of the Speed 2 Fan Club.)
  • Protect your stuff with the “DO NOT BEND” stamp w/o ink pad. Disco era vintage. A rare find.
  • Shark and Dolphin salt and pepper shakers with real flesh tearing and squealing sounds when used. Quaint, but still weird. A conversation piece for any lunchroom. (Quite frankly, they frighten us. We want them out of the office.)
  • Deafula Souvenir Theatrical Program autographed by the director/star. Guaranteed authentic. Just don’t ask to see the film.
  • Frog tie. Jovial and frisky green frogs (rumored to be cousins of the famous “Budweiser Frogs”) on a black background with frog pod prints tastefully varnished on the background. A must for beer parties. Imported silk. (Imported from Toledo, Ohio)
  • Quasi-accurate Campus maps. Tektronix. Beaverton & Wilsonville. Some buildings not shown. Some buildings no longer present. Others owned by someone else.
  • Doorway draft puppets. Hillary and Bill. They hang or spread. Indicted or not, both are priceless and guaranteed to bring big dollars in a few decades.
  • Number your stuff! Ecton Automatic Numbering Machine Model 188, Numbering starts with 960138. There’s no turning back!
  • And a lot more crap stuff merchandise.

Rules:

  1. Respond via e-mail that you wish to enter. If you wish to send your entry, use the blue envelope.
  2. You’ve already won.
  3. What more do you want to know? See rule 1
  4. We will deliver.

 

Flashback: In a giving and sharing mood

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March 17, 2005

Flashback: Web Design Yields Second Creative Award for Portland-Area Marketing Firm

Seven years ago? Oh my. Ah. Halcyon days...

March 17, 1998

For Immediate Release
Contact: Rick Turoczy

Web Design Yields Second Creative Award for Portland-Area Marketing Firm

Beaverton — For the second year in a row, Diversity Corporation has garnered a bronze in the Summit Creative Awards, a creative competition among smaller marketing & advertising agencies. This time, however, Diversity played the role of both creator and client, winning the award for its corporate web site, www.diversitycorp.com.

"We designed our web site along the same principles we apply to our client's marketing communications work—sound marketing and effective design," said Rick Turoczy, Diversity’s "interactive architect." "We know it’s a winning combination... but it's always nice to have an award to echo your opinion."

For the last eight months, the firm has improved its web-based marketing and creative services, acquiring burgeoning technology and pursuing online knowledge to complement its marketing expertise.

"We're planning to fill a very important niche," said Gary Holstrom, Diversity's President. "Most web sites have fantastic design or pertinent marketing information. Very few have both. We're looking to expand our work in the interactive market, providing the same exceptional level of content we’ve provided in print and other media."

In fact, the world of printed materials landed the company its first Summit Award, last year, when Diversity won a bronze for its work on a line of product brochures for local, high-profile, software developer, MedicaLogic.

MedicaLogic’s product brochures—and its companion corporate brochure—also translated into some early web exposure for Diversity, when portions of the brochures were used as content on MedicaLogic’s corporate web site (www.medicalogic.com).

The Summit Creative Awards began in 1994 as the only awards competition of its kind, recognizing excellence in smaller creative companies. It is exclusively for organizations with annual billings less than $10 million. The number of participants has steadily increased to include entries from every state and province. Judges for 1997 included representatives from Young & Rubicam, Weiden & Kennedy, Hal Riney & Partners, and Borders, Perrin and Norrander.

Diversity Corporation has been providing marketing, sales communications, and advertising services for 23 years. Its current list of clients includes MedicaLogic, AMX Systems, INSPECT, and Tektronix.

 

Flashback: Web Design Yields Second Creative Award for Portland-Area Marketing Firm

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St. Patrick's Day, an increasingly vulgar brand that continues to remain popular

Let me start by saying that I am a fan of ritual and tradition. I think it's part of what makes humans human. I think understanding the needs and mores behind those rituals helps us understand ourselves. And what good is understanding humanity? In this case, one of the benefits is that it gives you more power to market thoughtfully. I'm not talking about a "let's use our powers for evil" stance. I'm talking about more effective communications and a better understanding of the market's needs. That said...

So along comes St. Patrick's Day. And I think, is there any holiday that has devolved into such a negative, yet respected brand? How did this come about? And why do we gravitate to its banal and Bacchanalian enthralls?

I mean, Patrick, bless his heart, drove the snakes out of Ireland (so they say). And, as if that weren't enough, I hear he also pushed for the abolition of slavery. The abolition of slavery! In the 5th century, no less. It only took the United States another fourteen hundred years or so to pursue that line of thinking. And as far as Patrick goes, I haven't even touched on what he did for the religious following of Christianity in Ireland.

But you know what? I honestly don't think dear Patrick's accomplishments spring to mind, anymore, when we, as a society, are puking on the curb on March 17 or ogling tinted rivers for the next few months. Feel free to disagree with me here. But I think I'm right. In fact, I doubt most people in the United States, who are of drinking age, have any idea who Patrick was. (I certainly didn't know that he was a proponent for the abolition of slavery until I started digging a bit.)

Do you think Patrick would have wanted it that way? Probably not. But you know what? He never had the ability to control that. Because, that's what brands do. They evolve, or devolve, or revolve. And they do this in the mind of the audience. The brand, therefore, is always beyond anyone's control. It becomes what the audience wants it to be.

So why try? Because we can influence brands, but we can't force them. And that's the fine line which we have to walk.

St. Patrick's Day started out as one thing, but the brand continued to shift, little by little. The audience caused it to shift to a more and more celebratory mode. It's still shifting today. Just wait. Girls Gone Wild St. Patrick's Day is not far behind.

So I guess the strangest part about this whole thing is that I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I'm just saying it has happened. More importantly, I find it extremely interesting. St. Patrick's Day, which started as a celebration of a martyr, survives with a rude, unkempt brand, and we love it for that.

And here's another bonus epiphany. That thought led me to the realization that, by and large, the common perception of "brands" is that they are these buttoned-up, kempt objects of goodness and light. Common or not, that's a misperception.

Brands are not necessarily nice. Or clean. Or proper. Some brands are vulgar and rude, like punk. Some are cheeky, like Virgin. Because they have to be. Because that's what the audience wants. That's what the audience makes them. And that's how the audience wants them to remain. And when it comes right down to it, the more those brands try to remain true to the ideal the audience wants, the better chance they have of surviving and succeeding.

Interesting. I thought I'd just think about beer, today.

Maybe it's time for you to influence a not-so-proper change in your brand? Who knows? Go tie one on, and then return to comment. Or don't comment. But please, by all means, return.

 

St. Patrick's Day, an increasingly vulgar brand that continues to remain popular

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March 16, 2005

Aggravated by acronyms

For the longest time, I couldn't put my finger on it, but for some reason, I had been getting more and more aggravated by . They're really the bane of the industry in which I work. Everything, it seems, needs an acronym or it doesn't truly exist.

And the more cutesy the acronyms the better. Anyone can throw a few uppercase letters together. But it takes a real acronym pro to season them with some lowercase letters for that certain je ne sais quois (pun intended).

And yes, I do admit with much chagrin, that even I have been guilty of forming my own acronyms when forced to do so. I am not proud, but I felt I had to come clean. This however, as you well know, will not cause me to take leave of my high horse.

Speaking of said horse, you probably also realize that I'm not one to shy away from a tantrum. I throw them quite well. And I have, at times, thrown my fair share of tantrums about the use of acronyms. But I never really had anything more than personal opinion as my basis. I realized that they were confusing, and that they cluttered writing. But other than that, I didn't have much.

What usually was thrown back in my face was the "but they make sense to the industry" defense. And sure, there are some acronyms that are so widely accepted that they have attained a prominence that belies their humble beginnings. These rare instances do not seem to aggravate me. I am willing to accept them as words, more or less. (Yes, yes. Hypocritical. I get it.) I, for instance, am practically in love with "RSS" and "XML." And I do not turn beet red and clench my teeth when someone says "NASA" or "PC."

But I do for the vast majority of acronyms. The ROIs and the FUDs and the PDAs and the IMs and the IMHOs and the ROTFLMAOs. Or the endless string of VoIP and RFID and WiMAX and WiFi to which I've been subjected, as of late. Who knows? Suffice it to say I'm turning beet red and clenching my teeth on a regular basis these days. No, I haven't tried Sanka. Move on.

I realize there are several factors at work here. One, for instance, is that there is no doubt in my mind that the world of wireless personal digital assistants and instant messaging are partially to blame for this onslaught, as are the personal computers. Because, quite frankly, people do not like to type. Plain and simple. And it is much easier to type a string of letters than a string of words. But, it's a wasted effort to type a string of letters that don't say anything to the majority of people who read it (current post excluded), isn't it?

So, I propose that when it comes down to it, communications -- marketing communications especially -- should work to divest itself from this overabundance of acronyms. And what is my reasoning behind this? Crocodile tears and confusion? No, not anymore. Now, I have something solid. Now, I have a basis for my tantrums, and my resolution to curtail my use of acronyms. And it's one of those reasons that, for once, actually makes sense. Ready? Here it is: Acronyms will kill your search engine optimization efforts.

Think about it. When you have very little knowledge of a subject, how well do you know the acronyms associated with that subject? Not very well, I think. When you're searching for a resolution to a problem, do you often run to your local search engine and throw a bevy of acronyms into the search box or do you type in whole words that describe the concept you're seeking? If you do the latter, you're not alone.

Just for argument's sake, let's take HCM. Now, if you sell HCM software, you should probably have HCM on your Web site a few times. Some people will actually search for the acronym. No argument there. (They'll most likely search for it because some yutz has used it in an article or a piece of collateral, but that, gentle reader, is a discussion for another time.) But you should have a proliferation of "human capital management" and "human resource management" and so on and so forth.

I'm not saying don't use HCM, but I am saying don't just use "human capital management" once and then resort to the acronym the rest of the time. Because it won't help people find you using search engines. And if it won't work for your Web copy, then it probably won't work for your other copy. Because your collateral and public relations and Web copy should maintain a certain consistency... well you get my point.

In short, you should always strive to have solid, clear content that is intelligible by someone who has no experience with your product or the industry in which it plays. And acronyms defeat that clarity. Worse yet, they may be hammering your precious search engine rankings. And no one wants the boss to hear that, do they?

Have I convinced your kind soul to join me in hating the lowly acronym, or have I insulted your finer acronym-forming sensibilities? The only way to let me know is to comment. Well and of course, to return, to see me in my shame.

 

Aggravated by acronyms

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March 15, 2005

Please won't you help your RSS feed find a home?

UPDATE (April 4, 2005): Thank you, thank you, thank you (and throw in my undying admiration, as well) to Molly E. Holzschlag of for raising the visibility of, well, the raising-the-visibility-of-XML-feed-links issue. (Now, if she could only do something to cure me of hyphenated adjective run-ons.) Something tells me her critiques, questions, and insight will get a wee bit more coverage than my ranting and raving (read whining) here at little ol' hypocritical. It's nice to see that the thought leaders, who have followings that tend to listen, are recognizing this as an issue.
UPDATE UPDATE: Molly was kind enough to stop by and comment. Go to her site now. Quit wasting your time here.

ORIGINAL POST

Dear proud parent of an feed:

I have really enjoyed reading your insight, your pithy verbiage, and your unique view on the industry as a whole. I would very much like to add your feed to my feed reader, perhaps even my blogroll. However, your RSS feed link is buried so far down the page in 2-point font that I'm having a difficult time finding it.

Now trust me, you're not alone in this respect. Some of the best bloggers with the most popular feeds are guilty of the same offense. But, quite honestly, if we're trying to gain acceptance for this whole "feed" thing, don't you think it would be wise to make it as brain-dead obvious as possible about how to get to the feed? Because, readers, bless their hearts, aren't always willing to work hard enough to find it on their own.

And I know, some of the blogging services have developed your template. And I know that the feed is located somewhere down in the nether-reaches of that template. And I know that if you're really "in the know," you've coded the alternate link information into all of your pages for auto-discovery. I know all that, and I'm still writing this.

It's your job to give your RSS feed more visibility -- the visibility it deserves. It needs above-the-fold exposure to survive. So get to work. Grab an orange chicklet. Or go get another promotional graphic at FeedBurner, or the other feed reader services. Do something.

I can guarantee that if I find you interesting, thousands of other people will, too. But only about one in a thousand is going to take the time to scan your page for your feed link. And I think I was the one.

Please, please, please won't you give your RSS feed link more visibility? Please? (Insert tear rolling down cheek and puppy-dog eyes here.) Sniff sniff. Your public deserves it.

Thanks in advance,
Rick

 

Please won't you help your RSS feed find a home?

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March 14, 2005

An Immodest Proposal: Where blogging and RSS are headed (or everything old is new again)

UPDATE (March 24, 2005): In "Bloggers have rights, too : Congressman John Conyers," Kevin O'Keefe of Real Lawyers Have Blogs provides an interesting assessment of the impact that the "blogger as journalist" argument may have on first-amendment rights and marketing blogs. Well worth the read. As is the original entry, "Bloggers have rights, too," that spawned the summary.

UPDATE (March 17, 2005): Seth Godin provides a completely different view on the blog/RSS future, describing how blogging will move from its current broadcast-to-an-anonymous-audience stance to one that is much more personalized. Yahoo 360 anyone? Read Godin's "What happens next?"

UPDATE (March 16, 2005): Bob Wyman provides an incredibly thoughtful post on how Microsoft's sooner-than-needed entry into the world of blogging may adversely impact, or downright stifle, innovation in the market. Wyman says, "My fear is that we're only now beginning to learn what blogging and syndication are really about and that we would have learned a great deal more if the pre-Microsoft period of innovation had been permitted to last a bit longer. I am particularly concerned that Structured Blogging is not going to get the kind or variety of innovative attention that it might have received in a more open, chaotic and innovative market..."

UPDATE (March 15, 2005): News coming out of Search Engine Strategies... It's really nice to hear (literally) and read someone as excited about RSS as Amanda Watlington, who is "as excited about RSS as [she] was when [she] first started doing things in the Internet." Chris Pirillo has a great podcast interview with her, entitled "Searching for RSS Evangelism." (Amanda was nice enough to visit hypocritical and provide a comment, as well.) Also at Search Engine Strategies, Stephan Spencer provides a list of things to consider when dealing with RSS, entitled "RSS and SEO: Implications for Search Marketers." Very interesting stuff and well worth the read.

ORIGINAL POST

No doubt you have read more than your fair share of posts on how people are trying to find some way to make blogging and a profitable endeavor. Profitable as in I-can-quit-my-day-job-like-Jason-Kottke-and-blog-full-time profitable.

Currently, there are only a few (reputable) ways to try to accomplish this:

1) Solicit donations. Ala Kottke, if your reader base enjoys your content, and is fairly dedicated to returning time and time again, this may be a good route for you. Help me help you. On second thought, just help me or I'll starve. Very straightforward. Very Public Broadcasting Service. Without the pledge drives. Or with a never-ending pledge drive, depending on your view.

Everything old is new again: It's called a subscription.

2) Google AdSense (or advertisements in general). Even though I've already highlighted some things with which I have issue, running advertisements on your blog pages can be a means of creating some revenue for your site. And there are services that are beginning to offer RSS-feed advertising, like Kanoodle, so all those folks who never come to your site, but still read your content, have a chance to click, as well.

Everything old is new again: It's the tried and true, traditional publication advertising model.

3) Amazon associates (or other affiliate programs in general). I mention Amazon because, more likely than not, Amazon probably sells something that relates to your site, be it a book, music (I still wonder why iTunes has no affiliate program, but this is a topic for another time), kitchen utensils, whatever. If you are one of the lucky bloggers, you may have the ability to join affiliate programs that are more targeted to their audience, like the Guatemalan-weave affiliate program. Tres chic.

Everything old is new again: It's classified ads. Help someone sell something and take a cut.

That's not much, is it? I mean, as you can see, it's really a numbers game. Do I have enough traffic volume to bet on the fact that I'll have some revenue coming in through these services? How long can I stand the taste of ramen noodles?

It's a bit disheartening. So you begin to ask yourself, "Why? Why won't someone pay me to share my unique view and borderline-genius insights with world?" Take heart, little one, that time is coming.

So where do I, in all of my infinite wisdom see the blogging world finding its funding? (Please note that "my infinite wisdom" may already have been published as someone else's infinite wisdom which I have not yet encountered. If so, please comment and let me know where.) And why do I think that if it does, in fact, move in this direction, then we won't have to worry about a distinction between bloggers and journalists?

I'm thinking the solution to a variety of problems could be found in the following (including a revenue stream for publishers that will continue to raise the visibility of blogging):

1) Blog networks. About (now part of the New York Times) sort of started it, and Jason Calacanis' Weblogs, Inc. and Nick Denton's Gawker are making a run at it. Even ORBlogs (a collective of Oregon bloggers) falls into the category. Group a bunch of bloggers together, and en masse, they have the potential to generate enough revenue (using the techniques above) to support both bloggers and a company.

Everything old is new again: It's a magazine. It's a newspaper. It's a media outlet. Get a bunch of writers to write good stuff. Make sure the quality stays high. Target it to a particular market. Sell space to advertisers. Ta dah. It's worked offline in the dead-tree publishing industry for years and years and years. Don't think it won't work the same way online.

2) Syndication. Really simple or otherwise. We will soon get to a point where publications, desperate to have the best and the brightest working for them, but struggling to find enough of the best and the brightest to go around, will start syndicating blogs as content for publications. Perhaps even more exciting, we will see entirely new publications emerge, built completely on syndicated content from bloggers. And the ease of manipulating an RSS feed (or any XML for that matter) will make it a veritable cakewalk. You already see the publications creating their own RSS feeds and creating their own XML-driven sites. Don't you think they'll probably be capable of dealing with inbound feeds, as well?

The first people to capitalize on this revenue will be the cartoonists, like Spamusement. The syndication model is the most well recognized for the "cartoonist" group and has the lowest pain threshold for the publishers because, by and large, people don't assume that cartoonists "work on staff" at a publication. The blogerati, like Kottke, Scoble, and Rubel, aren't far behind. Then the weekly columnists will come in, and then finally, the tried and true hard-core journalists (that weren't already part of the previous groups).

Editors will be assigned to make sure the blogging is up to snuff, but in an effort to break news as quickly as possible, it will become even more "publish now, fix later" than it is today. So, in the not so distant future, you will be reading your favorite blogger on your favorite site or, even better yet, printed (gasp) in your favorite papers and magazines. I'm sure someone will coin a term for this soon enough. Oh wait, I've got it: Journalism.

Everything old is new again: Bloggers will be paid by column inch and will be able to sell the same content to multiple publications. Write once, sell again and again. This will likely be a direct connection between the blogger and the publication, until the formation of the...

3) Wire service. Combine the first suggestion (Blog networks) with the second (Syndication) and what do you get? Blog networks + Syndication = Wire service. Just as we have the AP and UPI wires for publications today, so too will we have blog-centric wire services for the publications of tomorrow.

These RSS wire services will have two flavors. One type of RSS wire will be a loosely affiliated group of bloggers, with no publication site of which to speak, much like the AP, UPI, and Reuters are today. (That is, you generally don't go to Reuters to read your news. You read it in a publication.) The second type will be a publication first, but it will provide an RSS wire so that other publications can syndicate its content. RSS will simply make this transfer of content a cleaner process.

Currently in the best position to take advantage of this? Anyone that you currently ping when you update your blog, Moreover, Syndic8, Blogdigger, and the like; the online aggregators, like Bloglines, Pluck, Feedster, and others, who will have the stats to know which blogs to pitch to subscribers next; blog-specific services like FeedBurner, Technorati; and of course, the aforementioned blog networks.

Everything old is new again: Publications will pay the wire service (which in turn will pay its bloggers) and the wire service will deliver content to the publications. Based on contractual obligations, publications will either a) publish the story outright or b) assign a blogger/writer to rewrite the story for the publication.

4) Advertorials. Finally, a way for the publishers to capitalize on the popularity of blogs, increase their advertising revenue, and highlight the value of blogs to a larger audience. Soon, just as we will see the publications approaching bloggers about syndicating blog content for their publications, so too will we see the bloggers approaching publications to move beyond traditional advertising. That's right. People are soon going to be asking for paid placement of an RSS feed in prime publication real estate. Just like when you're reading along in your favorite publication and suddenly come upon a story that doesn't look quite right. And you realize you're reading an ad. Or when you read a column that seems a bit too yellow to be traditional journalism. Soon, paid blog placement will bring that same uneasy feeling to your stomach.

Bloggers who have not entered the realm of the blogerati will use this opportunity to increase the visibility of their blogs. Placing them in front of a much larger reader base, much more quickly. This shortcut method to blog readership will be coveted, and as there is only so much real estate, it will be spendy.

Everything old is new again: Traditional publications are constantly searching for ways to expand their advertising options in efforts to attract new business. It's an advertorial.

I don't know that this stuff will ever truly come to pass. But it seems like it should. And mind you, I didn't even scratch the surface of where podcasting could take this whole thing (see "Why podcasting could be even bigger than Adam Curry's hair ever was (that's big)").

Suffice it to say that morphing the traditional models of journalism and publishing is one way to allow bloggers to make a living doing what they do, while remaining objective to their cause. You know how I like it when people refresh old ideas. And maybe just maybe, it will finally solve this whole blogger/journalist conundrum and validate blogging as a reputable means of delivering news, once and for all.

Am I off my rocker or out of touch? I know there are probably others thinking in this direction. But, all it takes is a comment to put me back in my place. And just remember, you'll never know the next crazy scheme I'm concocting, unless you return.

 

An Immodest Proposal: Where blogging and RSS are headed (or everything old is new again)

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March 11, 2005

Google AdSense: Is your brand profiting from the program, too?

There's a good article today over in USA Today on bloggers making piles and piles of money with Google's AdSense. (Which, in reality, is really saying the Google is making even more money, since AdSense participants only receive a percentage of the ad revenue the program generates.)

To hear them pitch it, blogging is the new dotcom bubble. We're all going to be rich. Hooray! With apologies to the Replacements and Paul Westerberg, I can't hardly wait. What's that? Wait a second. You need a ton of traffic to make it work? You need relevant content? What the...?

This is no get-rich-quick scheme. Phooey.

And while the Google AdSense targeting may work well, it's not perfect. And it's not for all bloggers. You see, the way AdSense was developed, it tends to help sites with focused content. So, people like me, who blog about completely random subject matter (one day I could be talking about Martin Lindstrom and one day I could be talking about Star Trek) will get completely random ads that aren't necessarily targeted to my reader base. While everything I write has a marketing bent, it's not consistent in terms of subject matter.

For AdSense to be truly effective, and here comes the marketing part for today, the content -- blog and ads -- needs to be relevant for both you and your readers. Relevant for you in that it's driving enough income to necessitate your dedicating Web site real estate to the advertisements. Relevant enough to your brand that what is advertised actually augments your blog content, and the service of providing convenient access to additional information is valuable to your readers. And relevant enough for your audience that they are actually going to click on the ads being presented to them. No clicks, no money. It's a cost-per-action model, not an impression-based one.

Do I seriously think that people looking for Star Trek paraphernalia are going to be reading my blog? Maybe as a side effect, but not as a direct course of action. (Well, and I take that back, because as of this posting, no one is even advertising on those terms.) And better yet, do I want those kinds of ads appearing on my site? As I've said before, who advertises with you and the way they advertise with you contributes as much to your brand as the content you create. Remember, your brand is articulated in the recipient's brain. And all the things that you offer up to that brain say something about you. Think about it.

So can you make money on AdSense? Absolutely, if you have a focused blog, with specifically relevant content for advertisers. And if you don't mind the ads being associated with your blog and its brand, or even better, if those ads accentuate your brand and add credibility to your stance. Sure you can make money. But I wouldn't quit your day job.

Have you had a good experience with Google AdSense, blog-based or otherwise? Enlighten me with a comment or two. And when you're rich, please return and brag about it.

 

Google AdSense: Is your brand profiting from the program, too?

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March 10, 2005

Snarky on Marqui

Well, they're at it again. They being Marqui. Just read a post over at promofo about the Marqui folks going back to the blogging community to expand the reach of their will-blog-for-pay program. (UPDATE: Scrubber at promofo has been doing a great deal to further this discussion with comments, and Liz from mamamusings -- the Marqui blogger mentioned -- has stopped by, as well. Tune in and toss in your two cents. Or visit Poynter where a similar "ethics" quandary between Jason Calacanis and Nick Denton is covered.)

Apparently, all is not rosy in the City of Roses, it seems. For some, it's not worth it. Which raises some questions for me:

1) Was the backlash against the paid bloggers so severe that it made them second-guess their continuing participation?
2) Was the pay not worth the hassle to compromise editorial content with advertorial content?
3) Were the contracts too tight to blog about what's really going on with the program?
4) Am I too lazy to do any more searching, so I'm hoping someone will comment with answers?

Interesting that the last time they did this (the first time), everyone was all up in arms over the decision. News was flying willy-nilly, all over the blogging world. Now, I could have sworn I just heard a pin drop. If I hadn't read it in promofo, I never would have known about it, which is strange, considering:

1) Marqui is in my hometown.
2) I continue to read the same blogs that complained about this the first time.
3) This is a public relations program, isn't it?

Maybe I'm not the target market. Maybe the buzz has buzzed. Maybe it's no fun to complain about the same thing, over and over. (Um. Oopie?) Who knows? Or maybe the world of blog-as-advertorial isn't a working model for the campaign. It just seems like some of the luster may be tarnishing for, what was, an interesting approach to a marketing problem. And it would be really nice to know why the Marqui blog doesn't even have anything about it.

(UPDATE: Marqui has been nice enough to stop by and comment on my questions.)

And let me just say, on a positive note, while I'm not so sure that I'm a fan of the program, I do have to laud Marqui on one respect of their campaign: They have tried, on at least one or two occasions, to use comments to respond to negative posts. I've gone through a number of the blogs that are being supported by Marqui, and some adverse commentary is commented by Marqui staff. This is good. What's not good is that the positive posts are pretty much ignored.

So now comes my gripe on this one: Shouldn't Marqui be taking a more leading position on the commenting front? Shouldn't they be commenting on every single Marqui-related post? I mean, what they have done, in essence, is extend their publishing format to a variety of fronts, enabling them to post their rhetoric or to get others to do it. And if others are doing it, shouldn't Marqui be questioning and commenting on everything they're posting? I mean, seriously. This is about creating a relationship and dialogue, isn't it? If it's not, then why are they blogging?

In my opinion, Marqui should be responding to the kiss-ass posts with inquiries for additional information or refuting the position, the same way they do with the derogatory ones. They should be commenting everywhere. All of the time. Anything Marqui related on any blog with comments enabled should have a response from a Marqui employee. Better yet, Marqui, why don't you start paying people to comment? Then, we'll really see the advertorial/spam line blur.

You'd at least think they would comment on the expansion of the program on one of the sponsored blogs. Seems like their target market would be reading those blogs, looking for the opportunity to milk the cash cow.

Strange, this one. Maybe it's in stealth mode. And my blogging about it isn't going to help that. Apparently, you don't have to pay me. I will complain for free.

What do you think? Would you compromise the editorial content of your blog to get some additional cash? What's the price point for your love? Want me to complain for free about your site or product? Comment, critique, and please, by all means, return.

 

Snarky on Marqui

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March 09, 2005

Why everyone should buy fonts created by Ricardo Santos

As you well know, I am especially quick to complain or find fault. I would like it to be noted, however, that when I am duly impressed, I am equally quick at lauding those who deserve it.

Ricardo Santos deserves that sort of praise.

Last night, I was working on a little project for a friend. You know the type. "You work in marketing, don't you?" the friend says. "Do you think you could help me with this?" So, I was working on the project. And this portion of the project involved selecting fonts. Now, I don't know about you, but I'm crazy about MyFonts. If you haven't been there, you should go. Right now. Quit reading and go. Click here.

And why am I such a rabid fan, you might ask? Because it is one of the few fonts sites that has both a wide selection and incredible usability. I can find practically anything I want there and I can view the fonts using the words I want to use. This is especially helpful when you're trying to divine the appropriate font to serve as the foundation of a logotype. Really, really helpful.

So, anyway, I'm out at MyFonts, whittling down my selections. And I finally settle on three faces that I must have. So, I make my purchase. Fine. End of story? Not quite.

The next day, less than 24-hours after I've purchased my font, I receive a nice, brief note from Ricardo, the designer of one of the fonts I purchased. Ricardo has taken the time to drop me a note, thanking me for the purchase. It's not enough the guy designs a beautiful font, but he takes the time to correspond with his customers? What's more, he's offered to send me a sample of one of his pieces using the font. Are you kidding me? This is amazing!

Ricardo Santos has hooked me. Beautiful font. Beautiful customer service. Beautiful design. What's not to like? I mean, seriously.

So I fire Ricardo back a note, thanking him for his response and his font, and accepting his offer for a sample. He writes back immediately. And he lets me know that he would love to have any samples of things I might produce with his font.

I love this. I really can't even put it into words, but I'm emotionally touched by this sort of service. In a day and age of rude rude rude, and "Buy it! Now, go away!" this guy has taken the time to correspond with me (dialogue!) and actually establish a relationship. Brilliant. Flat out brilliant. I can't praise it enough.

And that's why I'm writing this testimonial. Because Ricardo Santos deserves praise for doing it the right way. Will I use his font for the logotype? I might. That depends on the market. But you can be sure that the next time I need a font, I'm going to be entering Ricardo Santos' name into the search box. Because if he's got something close, I'm going to buy it. (The font I purchased, this time, was the Van Condensed family. It's available at MyFonts.)

Sometimes, it's the small things, the extra efforts, that really make the difference. And this certainly made the difference for me. Thank you, Ricardo. You made my day. And taught me a valuable lesson. Thank you.

And thank you for stopping by to read this little ditty. Drop a comment and I'll respond. Or just read, think, and return.

 

Why everyone should buy fonts created by Ricardo Santos

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Ries and Moore: Both right, both wrong

UPDATE (March 17, 2005): I'm always happy when I stumble upon things that keep me thinking about previous posts. And today is no exception. Marketing Playbook provides some more fuel for the "strategy over tactics" argument. And, luckily, that great post references some other great posts. Susan Getgood over at Marketing Roadmaps highlights the confusion between "marketing" and "marketing communications." They are not one and the same. And Bruce DeBoer over at Synthesis takes some more time with Ries nod to the company's leadership and marketing. All of these are well worth the read (and much more succinct than my ramblings).

ORIGINAL POST

So, just to let you peek behind the curtain a bit, one of my regular habits is blogging a link and saving it as a draft. Then I desperately struggle to return to all the links that I've blogged, attempting to create something pithy and well written for your enjoyment. It's much better than adding them to favorites, which I can never seem to keep organized, despite my best efforts.

That said, one of the links I blogged this week was Al Ries' column "What CEOs just don't get about marketing." I blogged it, because something seemed to ring true to me. Now, I discover that I'm in the distinct minority. As those statements which seemed to ring true to me seem to have set off a wave of disagreement in the world of blogs. Strange. Ries ruffling feathers. I know, breaking news.

Anyway, I caught one of the retorts on Brand Autopsy (which you'll also see down there in my blogroll, because it's a great blog), entitled "What Ries Doesn't Get About Execution," and after reading it, I decided I should probably blog this sooner rather than later. (UPDATE: Thank you to John Moore of Brand Autopsy for stopping by, reading, and taking the time to comment.) Motivation behind me, I begin...

So which passage, you ask, was the one that rang true? Well for me it was "Marketing is 90% strategy and 10% execution." Although I think that it should probably read "Marketing should be 90% strategy and 10% execution," but I'm willing to overlook that.

What caught my attention was the intent. I think Ries makes an incredibly valid point. Perhaps a tad overstated, but valid nonetheless. And it's a point that is generally lost in the world of business today: We are working so hard so fast to stay out in the market with the latest clever ploy, that we're losing a great deal of ground by not doing our homework. We need to do the research. We need to do a better job of understanding our market. (Oy. And I need to do a better job of collecting my thoughts before I start banging on the keyboard.) We need to understand what they want. Because when it comes right down to it, that is marketing folks. Big "M" marketing. The rest is communications.

Today, with access to information and the Web and blogs and all of it, however, we tend to get all wrapped around the axle on the communications. Not that I necessarily think that's all a bad thing. I don't. I spend 90% of my day working on the communications and execution of strategy. I happen to enjoy that aspect of the business. Communications should have some power in the equation, but it's not the majority of the equation. We still need to do the marketing. The understanding the market.

Allow me a bit of tangent here, just for the sake of tangenting. Marketing. The word marketing. I know I get all uptight these days whenever anyone tries to make a verb out of noun. See "tangenting" at the beginning of this paragraph. It was for effect. Jeez. Anyway, I know a number of people who get perturbed at this little practice. So, I don't feel silly when it draws my ire. But I do feel a bit silly every time I use the word "marketing" as a verb when it, in fact, is a verb created from a noun. Just like tangenting. Hypocritical. That's me. And just to get it out there, this is the same kind of hypocritical argument as the one people try to make about stadiums and sporting venues being named after corporations, like Safeco Field, and then in the next breath they're wishing things were more like the old days, with great names like Wrigley Field. Um. That's a company that makes gum. Hello?

But I digress. We now return to our previously scheduled diatribe, already in progress.

I think Ries has a point. We need to put more energy into marketing. Because it will ultimately make our execution better. Which will make our knowledge of our market better. Which will make our execution better. And so on. And so on.

Now, he does throw in some other hyperbolic statements about how, with the right strategy, practically any lame-brain execution can succeed. This is a little off. And this draws John Moore's wrath.

Now, Moore grabs the wheel and sends us screaming from the gutter over into the barrow pit with the claim that it's more like 35% strategy and 65% execution. And then the worm starts to turn. I begin to think, "Maybe he has a point. Maybe the worst strategy in the world can be executed successfully with good communications."

And then two things dawn on me:

1) Moore references "Blended Beverage Bingo," a campaign he helped formulate for Starbucks. Great campaign. No qualms there. What I do have a problem with, however, is the fact that the description of the program that Moore provides does a great deal to validate Ries' claim. The description reads as the extremely strategic, well planned marketing strategy behind the execution of the campaign. Really, really good strategy. In fact, the majority of the case study, 90% or so, is about the marketing, brainstorming, strategy, and decisions for the campaign. There is very little about the execution. Maybe not even 10%. What did the promos look like? What did the bingo card look like? What colors did you use? What fonts? Nothing.

2) The dotcom days. Now, I don't know about you, but in my mind, execution gets a great deal easier when there's a lot of money changing hands. And strategy, bless its little heart, seems to flow in an inverse proportion to money. Now, back in the day, there was money. And there was execution. Lots of it. Some good. Some bad. But lots of it. More execution, we all know, than at which one could shake a proverbial stick. And most all of it failed, miserably. Why? Because there was no strategy driving the execution. "Look cool," while a desperate mantra for my teenage years, is not a strategy. And execution overwhelming strategy doth not a success make, not matter how well executed.

So Ries, you make a good point. You may have a future in this marketing game. Moore, you make an excellent point, and call Ries out where you should. I just don't think that execution can ever outweigh the strategy. It can, but it won't be successful.

You're both right. You're both wrong. And I have no doubt that I am, as well. What do you think? Post your comments or just come right out and rip me a new one, but in either case, please return.

 

Ries and Moore: Both right, both wrong

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March 08, 2005

A quick one on Apple and Think Secret

I've been reading the flying legalese on the Think Secret and Apple argument with great interest. It could be a landmark for bloggers one way or the other. I think anyone who knows me knows that I would side on the "blogger as journalist" side of the fence.

In any case, here's the most interesting thing I've found about this one. (It was featured in the Mercury News, today.) Nicholas M. Ciarelli is 19. He's been running the site since 1998. He was 12 in 1998. Almost Famous, anyone? The kid has got some chops. First Firefox developers and now this. As if I didn't feel old enough.

Now back to your regularly scheduled marketing blather.

 

A quick one on Apple and Think Secret

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Beware the immediate reaction of the vocal minority, or better yet, know your market

There's an interesting dynamic taking place on one of the discussion groups to which I subscribe. And it seems to coincide nicely with the thoughts swirling about in my head about Blink, the latest effort from the accidental guru, Malcolm Gladwell. (More on that later. I'm still thinking about it. Oh. Inside joke.)

Anyway, here's the situation: An apparently well meaning, creative-services representative sent his email newsletter to some people that he had met at a recent gathering of list members. The people to whom he sent the email either didn't remember that they had met the rep (entirely possible) or they remember meeting the rep but they don't remember giving their permission to be added to the newsletter list or some other tangent along these lines. So, the well-meaning rep sends his newsletter to the new recipients. The new recipients, not understanding why they received the email, jumped to the (somewhat reasonable) conclusion that the discussion list had been spammed or that email addresses from the discussion list had been harvested in some way. So, one recipient went to the most likely source (in his mind), the discussion list, and asked the question: Did anyone else get this?

This set off a volley of comments on the subject, and sent the fact checkers checking. Now, we encounter the second misstep in this situation: the lack of information on the creative-service rep's Web site. No contact information to speak of. In fact, little information of any sort. And some of the information that was there was incorrect. Which led to another volley of comments. The most heated of which offered that the service was nothing more than a phishing scam to steal social security numbers.

So what additional effort resulted from this seemingly innocent email blast? The list leader had to send an email guaranteeing that the list had not been compromised and that list information had not been sold or rented to anyone. The rep that sent the newsletter to people who he thought would be interested in receiving it had to send an apology to the list. Several people who already work with the rep took the time to vouch for the rep and the service. And so on. And so on. It continues to roll along.

Was the intended result achieved? No. Not at all. Quite the opposite, actually. And now, the damage has been done. And it's going to take substantial effort to recover from it with this group. I've never met the

What are the lessons here?

1) Know your market. If you're dealing with a loose-knit group of people for whom you are providing the communications structure, that is very different than if you are entering an existing network and offering a service. Bear in mind that existing communities exist and survive because they communicate. If you mess up with one, it's likely to make it to all.

2) Ask permission. And then ask again. Now, more than ever, people hate additional anything: mail, email, spam. So use several different types of media to ensure you have that permission, especially if you're claiming to be a high-touch service. If you meet them in person, then follow up with a phone call and an email to double check. It may seem like a waste of time, but it's a lot easier than trying to clean up the mess-on-aisle-5 that upsetting someone causes. And that doesn't even begin to broach the "If he treats me this way, how does he treat potential customers?" question.

3) Don't assume that a handshake is a marriage contract. See number 2. Just because someone is willing to shoot the breeze with you about your business doesn't mean that person is actually interested in your business. Sad but true. No matter how excited he or she seems, the person will likely cool off by the next time you meet or talk. So give the person the opportunity to continue the conversation if he or she is interested. If he or she isn't interested, offer to keep him/her in the loop.

4) Don't dive without a pool. When you send someone new an email newsletter or post an advertisement or push him or her in the direction of something, make sure there is something there in which the person can land. Don't push people to a non-descript Web page if there is no information there. Because, honestly, more likely than not, that is going to cause the recipient to form the opposite perception that you intended.

5) Your service, offering, Web site, whatever, is usually not half as cool or as inventive as you think. On rare occasions, we manage to come up with really good ideas or create really good sites or offer really good services. But more often than not, it's just so-so. (This site is a perfect example.) It's good to be excited about what you're doing, but understand that your target market isn't. Not at the outset. And it's your job to show them the way to that excitement. It took you x number of years to get there. Don't expect them to get there with one email.

These are just some quick-hit suggestions. I haven't put a great deal of skin in the game, here, I realize. But I felt like I had to say something. This stuff happens every minute of every day. Why? Because of the assumption that anyone can do marketing. The assumption that it's not hard. But in reality, well-done communications are difficult. They just don't look like they are. That's what's so hard. It's like Google's identity. Every single communication needs to be more thoughtful, especially today. And remember, when it comes to marketing, the communication is only the tip of the iceberg.

When was the last time you were less than thoughtful with your target market? Let me know, and then return to discuss it further.

 

Beware the immediate reaction of the vocal minority, or better yet, know your market

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March 07, 2005

Are Spock and Kirk keeping an eye on you (question mark)

Let me start this one out by saying that I am not a Trekkie. Just as Quentin Tarantino claims there are two types of people in this world, those who like Elvis and those who like the Beatles, I seem to think there are two types of people in this world, those who lean toward Star Trek and those who lean toward Star Wars. I tend to be the latter. But enough of my providing you with information that you didn't really want to read. No, I can't give you the last thirty seconds of your life back. Sorry.

On with the show...

Just as everyone seems to have an innate familiarity with The Gong Show, so too do they seem to possess a familiarity with the construct of Star Trek. And it's usually something beyond "[Expletive], Jim! I'm a doctor!" It usually extends to knowledge of the emotional, yet well meaning, Kirk and his hyper-logical Vulcan cohort, Spock. And I am relying on that knowledge, and that construct, to convey my point.

Any brand in its infancy will generally have every member of its target market approaching it as Spock would approach it. Is it logical? Does it make sense? Is it reasonable for me to engage with this brand? Everything is based on reason. It is about, all marketing being equal, weighing options and selecting the appropriate choice. There is very little, if any, emotion involved. It's purely a decision-making process.

When asked, these Spock judgments and considerations can be easily recounted. They are based in fact. They are formed on syllogism. They are itemized considerations. Reality, not perception, holds the majority of the equity at this time.

This is where every company starts with its brand. And where every company that fails at branding ends with their brand, if not their company. The logical. The dispassionate. The reasonable.

Kirk, on the other hand, is the market for a mature, well-developed brand. Kirk acts on emotion and gut instinct. He's not going to waste a great deal of time comparing and contrasting the reasoning behind a decision. He's going to move. He acts on emotion first and reasoning second. And sometimes, he acts against reasoning because, at that point in time, it simply seems to be the right thing to do.

Now, when your market is asked to recount the reasoning behind their Kirk decisions, things become a great deal muddier. Why did you make the decision? I don't really know. It just seemed right. I had heard good things. I like the company. The product looked cool.

You see me making Kirk-like assertions in this Blog all the time: I love Google; Martin Lindstrom is a genius; I have grown fond of LinkedIn. And that's because, in my mind, those companies and their brands have made the leap. They have transitioned from a logical, Spock decision to an emotional, Kirk decision for me. And even if they stumble from time to time, I am willing to forgive them. Because my relationship with those brands is on an emotional level.

And that is the challenge for all marketers, but especially those interested in brand. How do you give your market enough logical reasons to continually choose your product, so that eventually, they shift their thinking from a basis of logic to a basis of emotion? And where are you in your brand's lifecycle? And is your market occupied by Kirks or Spocks? You can change Spocks to Kirks, and vice versa, but you need to be thinking about it. And you may need to oscillate.

Even more importantly, you need to understand the dynamic of Kirk and Spock. They work together. The work with one another. You can change Kirk's opinion with enough Spock tactics, and Spock will follow if there are enough reasons that Kirk tells him to do so. Spock will coalesce to do things that are "highly illogical." Your current product line, for instance, may have a variety of Kirks who need to convince a glutton of Spocks that your new product is worth the risk.

So ask those angels and devils on your respective shoulders to scooch over a bit and provide some room for Spock and Kirk. They need to be helping you make those decisions on a regular basis. And you need to be considering the dynamic between emotional and logical with every move you make. Because you don't want your campaign, your product, or your company to wind up being one of those guys in the red shirts.

Do you have an interesting construct you use to judge your work? Let's hear about it. And, I'll chat with you about it when you return.

 

Are Spock and Kirk keeping an eye on you (question mark)

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March 04, 2005

Proprietary software : Open source :: Traditional journalism : Blogging

There is some give and take. Many popular bloggers get cues from the more traditional media formats. They take the news, change it or comment on it, and send out their own news, either by direct syndication or through a newsletter. Some bloggers break their own news, and traditional journalists pick it up, explore it further, and publish their story, electronically or printed.

This functions much in the same way that the open-source software market functions. Some developers borrow ideas that proprietary software companies have developed, improve upon them, and distribute them freely. Others, create entirely new concepts for software, which are then borrowed by proprietary software makers, put through their development process, and released to the public.

Whether we like to admit it or not, the battle between open-source and proprietary is really a conversation. It's a conversation that centers on how something could be done and should be done. It's a way of driving the competition crazy, back and forth, back and forth, open source, proprietary, open source proprietary. So, in that way, they have a sense of obligation to one another, combative as it may be, to consistently help one another improve. And we, the consumers of the creations, are all the better for this, friendly competition.

Take the media darling of the moment: Firefox. (I may, admittedly, miss some participants here, but it will give you the gist.) Firefox began with Mosaic, an open-source program for reading documents written in hypertext markup language on the Internet. Voila, the Web. Mosaic was borrowed by Netscape, which created a new Web browser with a series of improvements. To pay for these improvements, Netscape slapped a price on the product. Microsoft borrowed Mosaic and Netscape Navigator to create Microsoft Internet Explorer. While they didn't go open source, they did discount the product to free and they bundled it with their Window operating system. This forced ubiquity, whether you like Microsoft or not, helped usher in the Web age we see today. This made Netscape an acquisition, and the Mozilla engine running the browser an open-source project. Browsers like Opera and Safari borrowed from these predecessors, and created better products for other platforms. And then Firefox took the whole open source thing and ran with it, by borrowing ideas from all the proprietary and open source predecessors. (Phew. As I said, I probably missed some stuff. Feel free to elaborate in the comments.)

And "they," the affiliation of coders who used the Mozilla technology to build the Firefox product, did it so successfully by helping one another improve the product, driving usability and quality assurance to a new high in browser development. They gave it their all, for no money, really. Just for the love. And they have a brilliant product for show for it.

Which brings me to my point. Blogging is open source information creation. Much like its proprietary counterpart. However, unlike its proprietary counterpart, it happens on an individual basis. There is no editor's desk or copywriter's desk. It all happens in one place.

Therefore, as bloggers, we have an obligation -- just as the coders of Firefox had an obligation -- to make blogged information better. To pitch in, as it were. Lend a hand. We may be writers sometimes, but sometimes we need to be clippers. As a community, we need to provide fact-checking, and discourse, and disagreement. We need to trackback like mad. We need to comment, all of the time. We need to provide encouragement and quality assurance (like sending people private notes about typos in their blog).

I guess I'm getting kind of preachy because I've read one too many bloggers as of late who say in their linking practices, "I won't link to you if you have typos in your blogs." (Not linking is fine -- and quite honestly, a great motivator -- but at least comment or email the author as to why you didn't link. And when they fix the problem, give them another chance.) I mean, I don't like typos either. I hate typos when I make them. And I don't like seeing them in other sites, but I can stomach them. There are typos in blogs all the time because we're creating at the speed of thought. I try to go back and edit on a regular basis. When my mind isn't racing. (Like all the times I type "and" for "an", or "a" for "and." Oy.) And I should be more diligent about helping people fix their errors. Yeah, hypocritical. I get it. Quit being part of the problem and offer a solution. I hear you.

Or maybe it's because I see blogging at an important crossroads. It's quickly moving toward the division of proprietary and open source. And unless those who are open source help others improve, we're doomed to fall to a more proprietary system of communication. Proprietary always has more resources and capital at its disposal. But it doesn't always have the love.

In short, we need to help one another improve what it is we're doing. Not get snippy about mistakes.

I'll step down from the pulpit, now. Why don't you take a turn? Comment away. And, as always, I hope you take some time to return.

 

Proprietary software : Open source :: Traditional journalism : Blogging

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March 03, 2005

Ack! Click fraud is coming. Click fraud is coming.

There has been a great deal of news flying around lately about the growing threat of click fraud. Everyone is in a lather all of the sudden. Even though the complaints have been growing slowly but surely over the past year or so. Apparently, click fraud is top of mind for 2005. Today, the New York Times came out with an article on the plague that is click fraud. And that means it's real, apparently. I saw that AdPulp ran something on it, as did MarketingVOX and PaidContent. And lookie here, so am I. Go figure.

(UPDATE: Interesting articles from ClickZ on the subject here and here.)

For those of you who don't follow the online-advertising market, "click fraud" refers to the practice of a) clicking on cost-per-action ads on your own properties to increase your revenue, b) clicking on competitors' cost-per-action ads that appear on search engines and other sites in an effort to deplete their advertising budgets, and c) sending bots or manually clicking on useless spam ads to make them seem like viable ads, hence raising their visibility in some engines that rank ads by applicability. There's also a good explanation in the Times article. A close cousin of the click fraud is the elder "impression fraud," which uses similar techniques to influence cost-per-impression ads, a more ancient beast.

Is it a problem? Sure it is. As both a purchaser of cost-per-action ads and a host of cost-per-action ads, I see it as a dishonest practice, and one that needs to be handled, like all dishonesty. One way or the other, it's stealing. Plain and simple. So, it's not good. Just because you can doesn't mean that you should.

But as much as I hate it, you know what? I'll let you in on a dirty little secret. This is nothing new. "Click fraud" has been a scourge (thanks MarketingVOX for that perfect descriptor) of the print industry for eons.

Now, I've mentioned before that I work in high-tech. But for those of you who have just arrived, welcome! Grab a drink and... oh wait. For those of you who have just arrived, I thought I'd let you know. It's neither here nor there, but it serves as my point of reference. Anyway. Like any industry, high-tech has hundreds of vertical publications, of which I receive about 80%. Yes, they're usually 8.5x11 or some iteration of that perspective, but I mean they're vertical in that they speak to a vertical market. In this case, it's high-tech, but everyone has a multitude that apply to his or her vertical market(s).

Now, why, you ask, would I pay to receive all of these magazines? I don't. I have free subscriptions to them. Every few weeks, I get a new "free subscription" offer from one of the publishing houses, offering me a year's worth of a book, just for providing some demographic information. Easy. Super cheap. Keeps me informed. I'm willing to do it. Yes, yes. I'm willing to trade my privacy for a freebie. Let's keep this on the up-and-up, shall we? There's no need for name-calling.

So I provide my information. Guess what? I just joined the "subscriber base." And the next time that pub goes out to find a potential advertiser, you can be sure they're reporting me as a subscriber. You can also be sure that I appear in their demographic breakouts by title and industry. And you can be absolutely sure that the next "media metrics" report they proffer as gospel will include my eyeballs. Showing those advertisers how influential their print campaign has been.

This is click fraud. I'm not a serious purchaser of most of the products in these publications. Do I make purchasing decisions for a certain amount? Sure. But I'm not running out and buying an ERP system or something. For the most part, the only interest I have in the ads is "seeing what everyone else is doing."

And that's not all. Part of providing my demographic information is providing my email address. Being one who likes to see what everyone else is doing, I always select the options to receive promotional emails from both the publication and it's oh-so-carefully-selected list of vendors. So, I'm a regular recipient of direct email marketing folks. And I regularly click on the links of the information I receive to see what everyone else is doing.

That is click fraud. While I'm interested in reading the information and seeing what's what, I'm not a valid click-through for that customer. If there were a way to eliminate myself as a statistic, I would choose that option. But there isn't. Because the next time the publication reports to a client or potential client on the success of their email campaigns, there I will be. Another digit in the click trail.

And the most critical element of this whole numbers game is the piece I haven't yet mentioned: I tell the truth on those cards and in those emails. I've got nothing to gain by not telling the truth. I'm a potential advertiser with the publication. If they won't give me a free subscription, I can likely get a comp subscription from my ad rep. But, I'm pretty darn sure there are quite a few people who don't tell the truth on those things. There are those people who are trying to work the system. Or there are those people who are trying to protect their information by providing incorrect demographic information. Or there may be a variety of other reasons. It doesn't matter. That false information is being reported as the truth to potential advertisers. And it encourages those advertisers to pay for advertising in the publication. And it encourages current clients to continue paying for advertising because of the perceived return on investment.

And what's that kids? That's right. Click fraud. People are just clicking with their eyes instead of their mouse.

And I haven't even broached the "preferential discount" subscriber base. You know the "you belong to such and such organization so we're going to give this to you super cheap" subscription?

So, click fraud, as it were, is not a new beast. It's been around. It's just now, there are companies making billions of dollars in Web-based ad revenue, and that makes us stop and think. And there's a way of tracking it. And there's a way of reporting on it. And in some ways, there's the loss of a middleman, and the loss of that disavowed knowledge of any wrongdoing.

Maybe, this focus on click fraud will help clean up the whole darn mess. Or maybe it will just be perceived as the burden of those evil dotcoms that are making all the money and causing the print media types to suffer. Or maybe we'll just learn to accept it as a known evil, forcing us to take it with the same "win some, lose some, 50% of it works" grain of salt we've used to digest the big budgets of print advertising all these years.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a free-subscription card to complete.

Do you have another example of click fraud? Or do you think my diatribe is off base? Let me know. Comment comment comment. And please, return, won't you?

 

Ack! Click fraud is coming. Click fraud is coming.

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Mea Culpa or Oopie

So I made a huge error. This was a mistake of the blushingly bad, glaringly obvious type. One that makes your gut knot a little, and those beads of cold sweat start to form on your forehead. You know. We've all felt it.

This was the type of error that, had my high-school journalism teacher seen it, she probably would have called me and said, "See? I told you so." No, Mrs. Barry, I didn't misspell surprise, again, Jeez. Let it go, would you?

Those of you who caught it, caught it. And I'm sure I lost some readers because of it. But I made it, and I deserve to lose them for making it. It was a mistake. A glaringly obvious mistake, but a mistake nonetheless. And it permeated the whole site. But for some reason I just couldn't see it. I was too close or too busy. Or something. So there it was. Well, it's fixed now.

I guess it just goes to show that, even though I ride upon my high horse casting aspersions on others, I also attempt to hold myself to that same kind of standard. I try to critique my own efforts. I am hypocritical and play a little holier than thou, but I honestly try to subject myself to the exact same criticism and reassessment on a regular basis. I can always do better. Which brings me to today's topic...

First, always go back through your old work. No matter how old, no matter how dated and seemingly useless it is. I don't care if you got paid to do it or not. Whether it's a client piece or a corporate piece. Do it, because you'll discover things you didn't see. You'll see errors and omissions and screw-ups. And you should be proud of that. Why? Because you made a mistake? No. No one is really proud of mistakes. You should be proud because now you have enough distance and you have grown enough that you can see the mistake. It will seem so obvious now. Glaringly obvious. And maybe, just maybe, it will help you grow, and prevent you from making that mistake again.

When I'm in the mood for self-degradation, I often go back through my portfolio. I jump to the pieces that I thought were "so perfect," and every time I find something. Something new. Something off the grid, or grammatically incorrect, or just plain wrong. I find something that, given a second chance, I would fix. And it always makes me realize how far I have come. And how much I have learned. Sometimes, beating yourself up can be a very good thing.

And trust me, no matter how good you are, how famous, or how exposed, no one is ever going to look at the stuff you do as closely as you do. Well, I might. But then you'll be in this blog, and how cool is that? What's that, you say? Rude.

Second, always go through your current work. It's difficult. Extremely difficult. I like editing. But I am a freak. And even good editors and not-so-good editors make mistakes. (See above.) But you need to do it. And in order to do it well, you need to create some distance or find a different perspective. You have to find a way of removing yourself from something with which you have been so deeply and intimately involved that you can see it from a different angle. In the best case, so you can see it from the angle of your target market.

Maybe your target market could care less about a misspelling but a poorly cropped image would send them off the deep-end. Maybe your market is fine with simple graphics if they understand the technology under the hood is running solid. It doesn't matter what you do. Take the opportunity to look at it differently.

Read it backwards. Look at it through a mirror. Read it out loud. Test it in an old browser. Turn on high-contrast. View it on a different platform. Print it in black and white. Reduce it in size. Scale it up. Pretend you're someone else. Just look. Just touch. Just smell. Just taste. Whatever you have to do, find a way to get a different perception of the piece. Because, if you do it right, you'll see things that you never saw before. And your work will be better for it. Marketing or otherwise. I promise. And I speak from experience.

When was the last time you made a mistake big enough to knock you off of your horse? Share in the catharsis. I'm getting back in the saddle, and I'm looking forward to your return.

 

Mea Culpa or Oopie

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March 02, 2005

David Byrne hearts PowerPoint and for that I heart him

Some of you may know me as the person behind flashgeek. It's a place where, primarily, people who are forced to work with Microsoft PowerPoint try to make it prettier by embedding Macromedia Flash movies into PowerPoint slides. It's more art than science, but it does extend the PowerPoint "platform" to include more engaging graphics.

So, that said, my mind is a bit tuned to pick up PowerPoint news, always clinging to some distant hope that the need for this kluge will finally be put to rest and PowerPoint designers (why does that sound like such an oxymoron?) will have more than enough tools at their disposal to create beauty with the tool that is so often recognized for its lack of beauty. I like to think that I fight this losing battle on a regular basis. Always trying to make PowerPoint pretty, and always fighting against those who don't. I said losing battle didn't I? Yeah, it is. So it trying to beautify the Web, but that doesn't stop me from trying to help here and there, either. Martyr? No, just a glutton for punishment.

Anyway, maybe I'm a little late to the party, but imagine my surprise today when music-genius David Byrne appears in an article on PowerPoint in my local recycling-bin-filler of a paper The Oregonian (don't get me started). Apparently, Mr. Byrne has been experimenting with PowerPoint as a performance art medium. He has talks, and shows, and sites, and books dedicated to this pursuit. Crazy. Apparently, I need to get my head out of the Sand in the Vaseline. (UPDATE: More from boingboing.)

Leave it to the brilliant Mr. Byrne to tweak my thinking again. What did I get out of the article? (More than The Oregonian thought I would, I'm sure.) What I got was this: Every thing has a different application no matter how overwhelming the preconceived notions about its designed use. Every single thing. And this is critical for someone in any creative pursuit to understand. But it is essential that marketing people learn to understand it.

In marketing, we need to learn that no matter what everyone else is doing, there is a better way to do it. And it might not be through the traditional avenues. It might not even be classified as "marketing" per se. But we need to be thinking that way. Not only can you take something and make it something different, but you can play on the irony of its current perception. And if you can get that irony to work, then your marketing campaign will have even more power.

Now, I usually try to apply this sort of thinking when I'm trying to select an image for an ad, or trying to make a cute play on words, or trying to be clever with tchotchkes. I try to tweak a bit. But I usually use the device for the use it was intended to serve. And maybe, therein, lies my failure. PowerPoint isn't pretty. But it can be. And if that can work for PowerPoint, why can't it work for everything else? Why can't we leverage more of what's at our disposal to make things more clear and more pretty? Maybe the way to convey your message isn't with words?

Maybe I've just got too much Brandsense on the brain, but I'm experiencing some interesting synchronicity with this tweaked thinking string of thought. Maybe someone who ingests these ramblings can make some use of it.

What can you tweak? What ugly thing have you made beautiful? I don't care if you carve artwork with a chainsaw or do wild new things with blackened fish. Let's hear it. If you're just trying to get your head around this, as I am, then I hope you get to thinking and return with some great ideas.

 

David Byrne hearts PowerPoint and for that I heart him

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Uncle Sam wants you to improve his brand

UPDATE (March 19, 2005): The Washington Post runs a piece on the new USAID branding campaign, to wit: "Nongovernmental groups operating overseas in nasty places are not too happy with putting the USAID logo on their cars, comparing it to a bull's-eye for bad guys to shoot at."

UPDATE (March 18, 2005): If you can't get enough of the news... I caught another great post at today on the repositioning and re-branding of the United States on the world stage, entitled "Putting A Happy Face On Brand America."

UPDATE (March 13, 2005): While perusing PR Machine, I found an entry on Re-Branding America. Good links, good read.

ORIGINAL POST

I was truly worried that I wouldn't have anything to write about today. There are always some issues I'm pondering, but everything was still at the point of being half-baked. And then I read this little ditty about a charming congressman from Alaska who is working his fingers to the bone to legislate morality.

Yes, yes. Senator Ted Stevens from the great state of Alaska and Representative Joe Barton from the great state of (gasp) Texas are worried that we, as cable and satellite paying American citizens, are still subjected to too much filth and indecency.

Now, there are already a number of bloggers who are hot on this trail, like Francis Poretto and AdPulp, indecent bunch that we are. And I'm sure the coverage will expand to various reaches of the Web. We silly Web folk have the almost indecent love affair with the first amendment, so we tend to bristle when people start stomping all over it. No worries, I'm sure if the spry 80-something gentleman from Alaska can survive, he'll manage to clean up the Web, too.

In any case, I digress. As usual.

Once my bile had subsided, it dawned on me: the US Government has a terrible, terrible marketing problem, with at least 50 percent of its primary market, and a much higher percentage of its secondary market. This news, like so many other news items from the government, is going to turn into a public-relations and blogosphere fiasco. And it goes much deeper than that. In fact the marketing and promotion of the US government is in such utter state of disrepair, that it seems to be in a death spiral. Which makes me a bit sad.

And this is one, quite frankly, that has me stumped. I don't see an immediate way to fix what ails the image of the US. Why? Because while building a brand takes time, destroying one doesn't.

Maybe if they're going to "run government like a business" they need to get into the swing of marketing. Think about hiring some internal talent, appointing a chief marketing officer, and looking for an agency of record. I mean, c'mon. This stuff could use some serious spin. Our government's identity could use some polishing. And I don't even know what the brand could use. Shock therapy, most likely.

And, mind you, I'm not talking divisive party lines. I'm talking the whole thing. Democrat, Republican, Green, Liberarian, Lobbyists. They all need some help.

I don't think this is a volunteer effort. I think it's going to take some serious funds. And some of the best marketing minds available. Luckily, the US government is always interested in throwing money at a problem. And we marketers tend to like that mindset. Applying it intelligently is the biggest hurdle.

If you're in its target market (you are), what could the US government do to communicate better with you? Think about it and post your ideas. Or don't and return later when I'm engaging more light-hearted subjects.

 

Uncle Sam wants you to improve his brand

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March 01, 2005

Logo : Branding :: Face : Personality

Okay, it's time for another tantrum. Maybe I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Maybe I just got tired of reading the two-millionth site from a designer claiming to do branding... On second thought, it was the latter that caused me to start fuming. And the really sad thing is that I have a great deal of respect for this designer-in the craft of design. I don't think he really knows much about branding. Yet, there it is. Right at the end of his new company's name, "and branding."

"And branding"? Excuse me? First and foremost, don't tack "and branding " on to the end of your company name as some amorphous value-add bit of conceit. Branding is the big "B." Not an also ran. And more importantly, don't tack it to the end of your name, because, in all honesty, I see a great deal of good design in your portfolio, but I see absolutely no examples of branding.

It's strange, he said to himself. I often wonder why more and more designers are brand experts, but fewer and fewer brand experts claim to be capable of design. In fact, if designers are, by nature, brand experts, what's the need for someone who focuses on branding? I, who thanks to the aforementioned hubris like to think I am always understanding more and more about branding, do not tack "and design" on the back of, well, me.

Now, I understand that in the early days of branding, it was exactly that: a rancher's "logo" burned into cattle's flesh. But, it's changed a bit since then. I rarely, if ever, heat a piece of metal and brutally scar my target market. Rarely.

Which brings me to the topic of today's rant. (I know, finally hunh?) "Logos," and by logos I'm using the common vernacular to encompass logotypes, trademarks, symbols, and such, and identity systems are only one portion of the branding concern. Much, in the same way, as your face conveys only conveys a small segment of something about your personality.

You don't rely on just your face to convey who you are as a person, nor should you. Anymore than you should expect a logo or identity system to convey everything about your brand. Your brand, or your company personality, is conveyed through logos, identity systems, voice, copy, positioning, vision, customer, product, public relations, Web usability, actions, interactions, and so on, and so on, yadda yadda yadda. I guess what I'm saying is that your brand permeates everything your business does. Much in the way your personality permeates everything you do.

Now, if you've got a big tattoo on your face, I'm going to know something about your personality, but not everything. You could be the nicest tattoo-face person in the world. You could be nicer than my grandma (which wouldn't be hard). But see, I wouldn't know your personality. I would only know what I thought about your personality based on the assumptions I would make about the tattoo on your face. I would also have to assess your age, how you held yourself, how you dressed, how you behaved, what kind of language you used, what kind of people surrounded you. And so on and so on. Long story short, a good identity and logo help, but they're not branding.

And that little analogy also highlights the second part of my bile-belching here: Brand isn't something you create; it is something the end-user creates. You are simply trying to influence it. And if you think someone creating a logo is going to "brand" a company, you've got more hubris packed into your head than I do. I mean, seriously.

Take for instance, Nike (or Adidas or Puma or Pony or whatever). Set aside all of your emotional reactions and pre-conceived notions of Nike for a second. You have no visceral reaction to Nike. At all. Okay? Ready? A swoosh. What is that? What emotion does that evoke? What personality does that convey? Exactly. You get my point. Branding is not symbology. It's that visceral reaction I asked you to forget.

Okay, that's enough. I'm just talking in circles now. But I hope I got you thinking. And either seriously questioning or running screaming from any designer who claims to be a branding expert. Designers can help you down your path of branding, but by and large they can't do "branding" for you.

Suffice it to say, I think the whole "designer as brand expert" thing set me off this time, because I feel like this guy should know better. I think it's because I respect his design. Never met him. But I had a deep respect for his chops. Now, that's been sullied. Know what that is? That negative response? It's branding. It's a negative effect, but it's branding nonetheless. He lost credibility in my book. I formed an opinion based on the company name he chose.

Maybe he does know something about branding, after all. And maybe he's trying to eliminate me because I'm not his target market. I would be a pain in the butt client. Savvy.

Do I even know what I'm talking about? Sometimes, I wonder. Let me know. And please, return.

 

Logo : Branding :: Face : Personality

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