Tag Archives: Marketing

The World is Different Now from Then

My last post here was November of 2011.  Ouch.  On February 25, 2013 my friend jan finder died of cancer.  That rather dampened my interest in writing more blog posts that would push his writing back a bit.  Time has passed and I’m feeling a need to write something longer than 140 characters again.

My little New England town had its town meeting last Monday and will have its next town election on Saturday, May 17th of 2014.  This is the spring season for lawn signs extolling the names of local candidates for school committee, selectman, town clerk, and other elected positions.  The candidates and their supporters are very vocal.  Conversations about supporting one candidate or another are mostly emotional with no factual content.  Being somebody who can be swayed with a well presented fact or two, I never cease to be amazed at how people do (or don’t in most cases) vote.

The divisiveness of the two national parties is mirrored locally.  As former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill said, “All politics is local.”  That phrase means more to me as the years go by.  All politics is emotional.  Local and emotional go together.  We care about local.  Locally “party” means less than the individual positions taken and results delivered.  Still, it’s no surprise that our local elections heat up as much as they do.  The same mudslinging and behind the scenes manipulation would appear to function on all political/human interaction levels.  

As a side note, the reason marketing holds my interest is that it involves psychology and biology.  Conveying a message and having somebody else accept it requires either an incredible instinct for human nature or a studied, systematic approach to presentation.  (I’m not working on the best, most persuasive way to present this information.  I’m just ruminating.)  I’m fascinated by the state of American politics today.  It is no different than it ever was, I suppose.  It’s about power, control, money and sex.  At least nobody has been shot or run through with a sword in the Congressional halls in recent years.

There are multiple types of intelligence if you buy into  Howard Gardner’s model in his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.  One of those types of intelligence is interpersonal.  The folks who score high in that area are considered charismatic and are often leaders.  Of course, they can also be good scam artists, but we’ll let that go for the moment.  Or not.  Again, the human appeal is emotional.  That’s what drives us.  It’s interesting to think we are electing people with interpersonal intelligence but possibly not as much intellectual ability as we might prefer.

This is on my mind because recent conversations with people I like and respect are sometimes strange.  People can hold strong negative convictions about elected officials who I have never known to be anything but kind, honest, hardworking, and competent.  How good people can come to opposite emotional convictions is fascinating.  Facts are gathered or made up or stretched, perhaps, to coincide with an emotional position.  I’ve heard people make strong claims about politicians from local up through the POTUS where there isn’t a single measurable fact to be found.  Just a feeling on somebody’s part that “these people” are (insert negative term of your choice).

In my town I’ve observed that the most powerful voting block is the parents of school age children.  They appear at town meetings where a school department article is to be voted, they vote, then they leave.  When I was younger I was less interested in being active in politics because my time was committed to my job and my family.  As the family matures, you and your significant other may feel a pull to become more politically active.  (Or not!)  You have the time to volunteer and the experience which is valuable to town committees and boards.  At different ages, our interest in, and time for, political activity changes.  So why were young people so politically active in the 60’s and 70’s?  How about because the Vietnam War focused the attention of a whole generation on survival?  We fight for what’s important to us.  I had hoped that more would come of the Occupy movement in view of the serious threat the mishandling of the American financial industry was causing worldwide.  But it was not to be.

So.  Is it age and time availability or self interest or a mix of the two that make us politically active?  Some 40 years ago more than one third of all workers in the US private sector were unionized and in 2014 less than 7% belong to a union.  History tells us that unionization generally involves broken bones, blood in the street, and the use of words like goons and scabs.  Labor is always at a physical disadvantage… until it isn’t.  Why we don’t see more unionization today I do not understand.  Leadership is not exactly encouraged in the 99% by the 1% which control the US economy.  Why are all the good people in this country allowing the financial system, healthcare, manufacturing, the environment, and heaven knows what else… to deteriorate?

I keep coming back to income inequality as a root of our differences and our problems.  Yes, people have a right to be rich.  And, as the Bible says, “The poor are always with  us.”  But there’s a matter of degree today which seems unsustainable in a healthy society.  I’ve always been a fan of Bill Joy, a tech giant from years ago.  I can’t find the quote, but he was talking to a reporter once about all the money he made from Sun Microsystems, and he pointed out that he plays hockey so now and then he buys a $15 hockey stick, but other than that he doesn’t need much.  Living in Silicon Valley has never been cheap, but I appreciated his point that money, after a certain level, isn’t buying you a better life.  The 1% in the US are living a gilded, privileged life, but they could live that same life on 10% or less of the pile of cash they can access.  So the vast wealth of this nation is really sitting idle when it could be driving a better quality of life for more people.

The world has changed dramatically in the last 50 years.  It has changed dramatically every few decades over the history of the human race, too, so my point here is about looking forward to what kind of world we want to leave to posterity.  I believe Americans should  not face a life burdened with heavy debt to pay for their education.  I believe that a certain level of healthcare is a right.  I believe people should be able to do, think, and say whatever they like as long as they don’t hurt anyone else.  I believe we can learn from Europe that dense cities surrounded by agricultural land with public transportation between cities is a good thing.  Eating up our agricultural land with suburban housing developments has been a poor decision.  And I believe that the wealthiest people in the country are more than welcome to 20 to 50 times what the poorest people have, but not 300 to 1000 times.  By freeing more people from physical and economic stress we can have a more productive, peaceful, creative and happy world.  Isn’t that what we claim this country is about?  It isn’t about giving people a guaranteed plush existence, it’s about giving people an opportunity to earn their living, making the most of their skills in service to their community.  Isn’t that what this country is about?  Or is it about “I’ve got mine,” and that’s pretty much the end of it, which I see too much of today.

Just ruminating.  Wondering how we got where we are today and whether it is possible to improve the lot of people as a whole in this world.



Updogs, Downdogs, Marketing, and Politics

Yoga gives you time to think. And updogs and downdogs get me thinking. Thinking about optimism and pessimism.  Thinking about how we view the world, ourselves, and each other.

Mothers are traditionally considered nagging, restrictive, etc. by their children. All of that is true, of course, and the species benefits by the concern of the mother (and father) for the welfare of their offspring.  “Look both ways before you cross the street.” “Don’t talk to strangers.” “Wear your coat.”  “Be careful.”  Sometimes negative sounding words are said with love and concern.  On the other hand, mothers cheer their children on, applauding every step forward, marveling at their beauty and cleverness. Downdogs and updogs?

When we are an updog, we bubble humor and positive vibes, let’s say. We look to the sun as we bend upward. We’re optimistic. Then we have to do something nearly the opposite, designed to stretch an entirely different set of muscles and ligaments. The downdog brings blood to our head, focuses our attention on the ground, and might be considered the narrow, pessimistic, protective position.

Actually both positions remind me of the Village People making large letters, but that is neither here nor there. (Peter Minister gnomes below)  Yoga is fun and I’m easily amused.

So, my thinking drifted towards the difference between blogs that are light and amusing and those which are serious and about subjects which are important to the future of life as we know it.  Various marketing analytics have proven pretty conclusively that the most popular blogs are positive.  Let’s restate that to simply upbeat and downbeat posts: updogs and downdogs.  We all have enough stress in our lives, it seems, that we do not actively go seeking more.  So it would appear that the best advice for bloggers and marketing folks is to emphasize the positive.  Dwell on the solution, not the problem so much.  And, whatever you do, do not disparage the competition.  Ignore them.  Point out how your product is strong in an area, not how theirs is weak.  Your customers aren’t dumb, they’ll figure it out.  Know what?  It works.

But this is an election year.  And while it’s true that gunfights and fisticuffs rarely break out on the floor of the US Congress today, the verbal equivalent is everywhere, all the time.  The scandals that arise, the anger expressed on all sides are amazing to me.  I’m wondering how anyone can conceivably consider THAT candidate when they are obviously a perverted, arrogant tool of corporate interests with a massive negative advertising budget.  How can that be?  In the political world, “going negative” is done repeatedly, because everyone believes it works in the political sphere.

Why would “going negative” work in the political sphere but not in business to business sales and marketing?  Even consumer products rarely go “very” negative.  A taste test, perhaps, but Tide would never say that Arm & Hammer is terrible laundry soap and just plain doesn’t work.  (And it makes you fat!  Actually I recall a beer company years ago that set up a hotline phone number you could call and they would say things like that about their competition.  It was a hoot, but it was traded virally, under the table, not advertised. It was funny because it was snarky and underground.) That would be foolish.  Hardly anybody would believe a blatant lie about a commercial product.  But people will believe mudslinging charges thrown back and forth regarding political candidates, according to studies. I don’t find negative ads engaging or educational, but that’s me.

I am much more reminded of Adolf Hitler’s Big Lie Theory, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”  I read that many years ago and rather hoped it was not true.  But time has shown that it is, in politics.  Hitler is also known for having said: “It is always more difficult to fight against faith than against knowledge.” And “The victor will never be asked if he told the truth.”  Big, simple, lies, often repeated. Sounds like a description of political ads this time of year.  So how is it that so many people vote against their own best interests?  How do we allow some of these horrible human beings to run for office and actually elect them?

Tis a puzzlement to me. Updogs and downdogs are both designed to do us physical good.  Optomistic and pessimistic blogs may not be equally successful, but they can each have been written with good intentions.  Not every product review on CNET is a glowing tribute.  We seem to have invested so much emotion and faith in our political views, that a party which aligns itself with one important political view of yours would appear to capture your heart without your brain considering ALL the views of that party.  Belief is strong.  And unquestioning.

There is a 2004 book (with an awful cover) called Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate — The Essential Guide for Progressives by George Lakoff,  Howard Dean, and Don Hazen.  They raised questions about how the right was so successful in framing the debate and winning the hearts and minds of Americans.  Well, it seems simple enough.  When you control the media, all the media, you are likely to be able to get your point of view across better and more persuasively than any other view.  Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, and Lucy were shows of another, more restrained age.  I’m not arguing for their return.  Far from it.  In recent years I’ve enjoyed Chuck, 30 Rock, Psych, Burn Notice, Glee, and bits and pieces of other shows.  I can’t abide the bad manners, anger, and side of humanity I see in so much of TV: reality TV, Fox News, and so on.  These are values we’re transmitting to our children.  We’re teaching them that those behaviors are acceptable…. or they wouldn’t be shown on TV as part of our commonly shared (accepted?) culture, right?  Tipper Gore wanted warning labels on rough rock lyrics.  The  poor woman must faint dead away if she listens to what passes for some “rap music.”  Why do people watch these things?  Why do people listen to these things?  They presumably reflect something already in their lives.  Or their lives come to reflect them.

Is there a conclusion here?  The same one that’s been around for hundreds if not thousands of years: we are each responsible for our vote.  That people are trying to manipulate us and make finding “truth” very difficult is pretty much the human condition. The search for The Truth is an arduous, but worthy goal.  I can’t help but believe that a strong vision of the future and an expression of specifics the person would fight for makes better political advertising than mudslingging.  Or do I mean “better” in terms of how I would like to think of our society, as opposed to what constitutes effective political marketing?  Which is why I like business to business marketing, and not political marketing.  Please vote next Tuesday.

Customer Service: the best and the worst

Working with B2B technology companies, I am sensitive to customer relations.  Both as a consultant and in considering my clients’ customers.  There is always competition and always another vendor for your customer to patronize.  B2B customer relations tend to be easier to manage than B2C communications because there are fewer points of interface.  B2C companies have many customers and many points of contact with their customers, all of which ultimately reflect management’s view of the company.

Now then, let me tell you two short stories that illustrate the best customer service I’ve ever experienced and the worst customer service ever. 

The Very Best

The very best customer service experience I have ever encountered — and I still tell people about it very happily — was with Head N.V.  Head is a sports equipment and sportswear company founded in Maryland and now headquartered in Holland and Austria.  They do comfortable, well made ski clothing among other things.  I own, and have owned for many years, a pink and white Head powder suit.  I love it.  Here’s a picture of the front:

While skiing some winters back, an out of control (small) young person knocked me over and skied over my back.  No big deal.  I wasn’t injured.  I got up and kept going throughout the day. Any day on skis is a good day.  Right?  That evening I discovered that the little monster had managed to slice through the fabric on the back of my beloved powder suit.  Sigh.  I was prepared to either try to repair it or to retire it if necessary.  Hope springs eternal, so I called Head to ask whether they might have any more of that fabric.  Now my expectation level was very low here, believe me.  To my pleasant surprise they not only had some fabric left, they knew they had it.  I actually spoke with somebody who knew the style of the powder suit I was talking about, and they told me they had the ability to repair it for me.  $25.  You have got to be kidding me.  I mailed them the snowsuit and a few days later it came back to me with a patch on the back that looks like it could have been part of the original design.  See:

Now THAT is customer service.  Surprisingly good customer service.  Outstanding customer service.  Exceeding your customers’ expectations is guaranteed to give you a lifelong enthusiastic supporter.  I tell this story every chance I get.  I buy Head sportswear every chance I get… for myself and for gifts.  The quality is excellent and I love being able to support a company that connects with its customers in the best possible ways.

The Very Worst

Crocs.  You will not believe this, but I swear this story is true.  First let me say that we all agree Crocs are not attractive footwear.  Granted.  I would never have bought them at all except that I did something very stupid that resulted in dealing with plantar faciitis for a while. 

Ok, I’ll tell you what I did because you really don’t want to do this… I swim.  I love to swim.  I do laps.  So one morning I was doing my laps and for reasons I cannot imagine, I hyperextended my foot toward my shins and was kicking.  I discovered that if you do that really hard with both feet, your kicking will take you backwards instead of forwards.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  That’s what I told the podiatrist a couple days later when I was practically crippled from doing this.  He said it was plantar faciitis and recommended I get shoes with very good arch support.  Blah.  (And that’s why your swim teacher never taught you to do that!)

Meanwhile I had a paper catalog from Footsmart (which is a nice online source for shoes) that had various products for normal folks, such as I had been, and for folks with foot problems, such as I had become.  Online I researched their plantar faciitis products and found that they had Crocs that were especially designed for that condition.  They were relatively inexpensive compared to the other shoes I stocked up on to deal with the situation.  Turns out the Crocs people use different density plastic in different products, so the Crocs RX are soft and supportive while their regular Crocs are, I think, hard and dreadful.  But the Crocs RX were very nice to me during my recovery, so I was positively disposed to the products and the company.  (I’m just fine now, thanks.)  I even went to far as to bring a Footsmart catalog explaining same to my physical therapy lady who had a low opinion of the products. 

I was now on the Crocs email list, which results in your receiving WAY too many emails, but I finally saw one that had some cute Crocs women’s shoes that looked like Mary Jane flats lined with supposedly warm fuzzy stuff.  I figured that even if the plastic was hard, the liner would make them comfortable, so I decided to try them.  I placed an order in on December 8.  I waited.  I waited some more.  I kept checking online and the order was always listed as “in process.”  So, on December 30, I phoned.  You will love this…

The Crocs customer support lady said they cancelled my order.  I said “What?”  Poor lady, I must have made her say that four times because it was absolutely incredible to me.  Like most online ordering procedures, the Crocs site told me the product I was ordering was in stock and available in my size.  The customer support lady said that when they run out of inventory, they cancel the order.  That’s simply what they do when they run out of inventory, she tells me.   They did not notify me of this.  The online account area still showed the order “in process.”  She told me they would leave the order in that condition online, forever, as far as she knew.  When they are out of inventory, even though they told you it was there, they cancel your order, don’t backorder it, and don’t tell you.  I thought that was absolutely unbelievable.  Surely she must have misunderstood.  We went over and over it, and she made it clear that this is the company’s policy.  I have told this story to a number of folks, some of whom have been even more stunned than I was.  (And I thought that was impossible.) 

Lands End, L.L. Bean, Footsmart, Amazon, Staples, and any other company I have ever bought from online, have the simple approach of backordering something if necessary and delivering it when it’s available.  That has to be the basic, fundamental tenet of online customer service.  The very least you would expect of a retailer.  Just so you know… if you buy online from Crocs, be prepared to enter the Twilight Zone of customer service. 

If you have any best or worst stories about customer service, I’d love to hear them.

Marketing in the Summertime

I’m largely concerned with B2B high tech marketing.  That means that the sales cycle tends to be long, complex, and involve a number of decision makers.  In the summertime – as you know – getting a group of people to agree on a major purchase is not an easy (possible?) thing.  People are on vacation and just plain not available.  So, what is the most useful thing for marketing folks to do in the summer?

The goal of my marketing efforts has always been to generate significant numbers of self identifying prospects.  The sales cycle is driven by the customer’s need to solve a problem.  (Unfortunately not by our need to sell stuff to stay in business. )  So really we continue to do what we’ve always done.  We make sure that our products and company have visibility to the individuals with the problem(s) we solve.  And whether they come across our hard work the day after it’s done or a year later, the work we’ve done has value.

These days problems prompt us to use a search engine to find a solution.  “Trade rags,” as industry-specific magazines are called,  are just not as important on paper as they once were (now they’re websites).  That doesn’t mean they should be ignored!  A good article placement now and then is still worthwhile (and lets you put links to it on your website… presumably on theirs as well).  Reprints for handouts at tradeshows, etc. are all good reasons for placing articles.  We all know an article has more credibility than a paid ad.  Particularly if you have it written by someone outside your company.  The best articles are written by happy customers and you can offer to help write such an article.  Any happy professional will appreciate the publicity for themselves as well as for a product they happen to use and like.

This is not going to degenerate into musing about the best way to do SEO or some such.  You can read that in a zillion other places.  But you DO need to read about it and you do need to do it.

You need a website with constantly updated information.  And a corporate blog is a good idea.  If your CEO can do it, great.  I recommend companies find a smart engineer with some sales support experience to do a bit of blogging.  Encourage them to write about the types of questions they’re asked on sales support visits.  And, yes, you have to remind engineers not to mention any customers or prospects by name or company unless that has already been cleared – blah blah blah.  But you do need to explain that.  You might even offer to look over the blog entry before it’s posted.  A bit of editing never hurt anyone:  spelling, grammar, terminology and so on.  A consistant editorial voice is helpful to all your readers and that will likely come from the marketing and/or product management side of the organization.

Mind you, I love engineers (but that’s another story).  And we all have our strengths and weaknesses.  Clear, clean writing is a gift not often given to engineers.  So a little appreciation of what value we each bring to the party is important on all sides.

So:  articles, case studies, website updates, blog entries, traditional PR avenues, and you are using Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social tools that are popular with your customers – right?  Anything that can be searched is a place for you to gain visibility.  People search for the experience of others with the same problem(s).  I’ve read that the largest number of online searches is done on health related topcs.  And that figures.  We search for information important to us.  So when your prospect is looking for an answer, be sure they find you.

That’s it for today.  Driver just delivered “veggie soil” for my raised garden beds.  Got some exercise ahead of  me!

January 1, 2009 – a time of new beginnings

One really must do a personal blog, mustn’t one? It’s so 2008 and 9. (And beyond.)

I have been here before, I swear. The science fiction fandom world used to create “apazines” (APA = Amateur Press Association) in which friendly young folk wrote their thoughts about what mattered most. Apazines were printed on letterpresses (mimeograph machines). Each person would write and print their own entry and the group would get together, monthly, for a party and collation.(Collation, the very word puts me in mind of cotillions.) How primitive, hey? But it was a lot of fun. Very social. Great memories of those people and those evenings. Will people have equally great memories around blogs? I wonder.

While the potential to spread one’s ideas further is certainly there, it is a much more isolated experience. The internet does a fantastic job of connecting us, but it lets us sit in our rooms alone for many hours on end, which life has taught me is not such a good thing. Hmmm. What I think I’m saying is, go find a bunch of friends and have a barbeque or ski/bike (depending on the season) or some such.

The point of a personal blog is self expression and sharing, a place for friends and family. A personal blog is not directly about building business. A personal blog may create a fleshed out persona which is useful for a professional whose future depends on their skills being recognized.  If you want a professional presence, create a professional website.

The point of a corporate website is to provide customers with something of value and to build business.  A corporate website is a destination for potential customers and for the support of current customers.

The point of a business blog is to convince customers there are real people in the corporation who are sharing additional thoughts about matters of mutual interest. It adds a human touch. And maintains a personal connection which may have originated at an annual tradeshow or whatever.  It really is a small world, after all.

Just because we can do something is no reason to do it. A thing not worth doing is not worth doing well; and a thing worth doing is worth doing badly, as someone once said. So is a blog worth doing? As an experiment and an exercise, I assume it is. This is worth revisiting, of course, as technology evolves.

So then, it is January 1, 2009. I look forward to the Obama administration. I look forward to never having to listen to George W. Bush again (though I confess I tried to avoid listening to the man). We have, as a nation, pretty much agreed on the issues that need addressing, if not the end solutions we would like to see. More on these over time, but, briefly, I look to see progress on…

  • a national healthcare program:preferably single payer, universal healthcare,
  • increased alternative energy use and encouragement of same,
  • movement toward energy independence for the USA and other countries: the end of the Oil Age
  • removing the religious-fueled restrictions on scientific work in this country,
  • separating Church and State (the way it says in the US Constitution, remember?),
  • massive improvements in our educational systems and how we fund them,
  • federal regulation of hedge funds, speculators of all sorts, mortgages and investment managers, (the list goes on),
  • increased basic scientific study funded by the federal government:NASA, NIH, etc., and
  • an improved position of the United States in the eyes of the world with respect to our foreign policy and behavior within the world community.

I’ve probably missed a few. These things will bring our country to a renewed position of strength and purpose. The standard of living for everyone (well, let’s ignore the top maybe 5% income level for the moment) will be improved and additional real wealth created if we pursue scientific study which in turn throws off economic opportunities. A rising tide lifts all boats.  Not “trickle down economics” which was always a lie.

That’s it for today. The dog needs to be walked and has been patiently lying at my feet as I write this. Let’s hope for the best, even though the New England Patriots are out of the playoffs.