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Archive for November, 2007

Overheard today on Buzznet:

“You’re not really free when all you can do is stay in one place and look.”


I know a lot of people who choose to live like this.

Life’s way too short to waste so much of it waiting for something to happen. Go start something.

Wisdom and image by clo

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Sybil Stershic – of Quality Service Marketing sent me this killer little book, and I dig it. (She wrote it, by the way, which is probably why it is so good.)

Taking Care of the People Who Matter Most is a 130-page pocket guide for managers that basically covers the WHAT, WHY and HOW of building a strong internal marketing practice geared towards engaging not only your employees, but your customers as well. (It’s an ad hoc thing.)

Remember my wheel of customer service and brand identity doom? This is the same thing, but told from the positive side of the fence.

The book easily connects the dots when it comes to the positive cycle that links good employee morale to great customer experiences (and back again) and serves as a HOW TO guide to get things moving in that direction. It is brilliant in its simplicity and clarity. I am going to fish some cash out of my budget and look into scoring a dozen or so copies for manager peers who have an impact on my organization.

I read the book cover to cover in just a few hours and recommend it to anyone currently in a management role or studying to get there. This is one of those pocket management books everyone should own.

Have a great Thursday, everyone. :)

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The super cool graphics you guys missed yesterday are back up.

Blogspot ate them. I revived them. That’s how I roll.

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I am always amazed when well-funded and intelligently managed militant organizations on either side of the political, religious, corporate or socioeconomic aisle attempt to thwart the success of a movie, song, book or work of art by giving it more free publicity than it could have ever hoped for… and by doing so, end up ensuring its success.

Where would Madonna be without the legion of pro-family boycotters banding against her? How many of us would have ever heard of the Chocolate Jesus without the noise made by the folks who were so offended by that otherwise insignificant piece of art that they had to tell all the world about it? It goes on and on and on.

The latest installment in the boycott-to-fame saga: The Catholic League vs. New Line’s The Golden Compass. Here is the CL’s official stance on the matter (from their website):

“New Line Cinema and Scholastic Entertainment have paired to produce ‘The Golden Compass,’ a children’s fantasy that is based on the first book of a trilogy by militant English atheist Philip Pullman. The trilogy, His Dark Materials, was written to promote atheism and denigrate Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism. The target audience is children and adolescents. Each book becomes progressively more aggressive in its denigration of Christianity and promotion of atheism: The Subtle Knife is more provocative than The Golden Compass and The Amber Spyglass is the most in-your-face assault on Christian sensibilities of the three volumes.

“Atheism for kids. That is what Philip Pullman sells. It is his hope that ‘The Golden Compass,’ which stars Nicole Kidman and opens December 7, will entice parents to buy his trilogy as a Christmas gift. It is our hope that the film fails to meet box office expectations and that his books attract few buyers. We are doing much more than hoping—we are conducting a nationwide two-month protest of Pullman’s work and the film. To that end, we have prepared a booklet, ‘The Golden Compass: Agenda Unmasked,’ that tears the mask off the movie.

“It is not our position that the movie will strike Christian parents as troubling. Then why the protest? Even though the film is based on the least offensive of the three books, and even though it is clear that the producers are watering down the most despicable elements—so as to make money and not anger Christians—the fact remains that the movie is bait for the books. To be specific, if unsuspecting Christian parents take their children to see the movie, they may very well find it engaging and then buy Pullman’s books for Christmas. That’s the problem.

“We are fighting a deceitful stealth campaign on the part of the film’s producers. Our goal is to educate Christians so that they know exactly what the film’s pernicious agenda really is.”
Oh please.

Being that I am Catholic myself (hey, nobody’s perfect) I am being bombarded by some of my peers and local Catholic organizations with pro-Catholic/anti-Golden Compass propaganda every single day. That is all these people are talking about. I am getting emails, newsletters, petitions… Seriously. It’s getting old.

As if there weren’t enough other things that the Catholic League could be focusing its attention on – like war, famine, child abuse, corporate fraud, violence against women, poverty, out-of-control Sith lords, whatever the hell is going on with Michael Jackson’s nose… or the Devil, even. He’s still around, right? Causing all sorts of mischief and whatnot? Wouldn’t any of these things be worthier of the Catholic League’s energy and focus than New Line’s release of The Golden Compass?


You would think.

But I digress.

If the Catholic League is really bent on thwarting the success of The Golden Compass‘ release in the US, they are going about it in the worst possible way. Let me explain:

Before Bill Donohue and his army of politically charged minions (none of whom have seen the movie, by the way) decided to start this gi-normous publicity campaign for… err… against The Golden Compass, I wasn’t all that interested in the movie or the books. I figured “oh, this must be another C.S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia/Harry Potter/Eragon/Lord of the Rings derivative dealio. Whatever.”

I might have been convinced by the family unit to go spend $10 to see it on the big screen, but that would have been it.

Maybe.

But now, thanks to the Catholic League’s unavoidable barrage of warnings against the story’s allegedly venomous anti-Catholic message and pernicious atheist agenda, I have grown curious about not only the movie… but the books as well. I mean really. How dangerous can this fictional yarn be to stir militant Catholics so?

CL President Bill Donohue should feel pretty proud of himself: Thanks to the holy media blitzkrieg he has unleashed upon the United States population, I am now the proud owner of all three books in the trilogy, and have officially started reading The Golden Compass. (It’s actually pretty damn good, and not at all a children’s book – not in the sense that Harry Potter is a children’s book anyway.)

Apparently, I am not alone, as three other parents (accompanied by kids ages 6-15) were in my local B&N’s checkout line to buy at least one of the books this past Sunday when I was there.

I look forward to thumbing my nose at the picket lines protesting the movie at the local multiplex next week when I go see it.

(Please don’t excommunicate me! Pretty please?)

The result of the Catholic League’s brouhaha/boycott/bonehead campaign:

- More attention towards the movie’s release than a two-week volley of primetime TV ads and judiciously placed banner ads – all for free.
- More interest in the source material (the book) that the movie is based on.
- Most likely a significant boost in revenue for both the movie and books compared to a scenario in which the Catholic League had just kept its big clumsy mouth shut.
- And last but not least, a renewed personal interest in the very tasty Nicole Kidman.

(Yes Madam Kidman.)

For an organization so terrified of a series of books that (in its collective mind at least) criticizes the Catholic Church through a fictitious religious dictatorship that exists in an alternate dimension, I just can’t help but wonder if constantly pointing out to every human being within reach of a radio, TV or newspaper that the books’ depiction of that scheming, corrupt, evil theocracy is in fact a direct attack on the Vatican is a good idea. Seems to me that in terms of PR, this sort of strategy actually makes things worse. Not only does it establish a clear link between the fictitious Magisterium and the real Catholic Church, but also firmly cements this connection in western pop culture for the next century or two.

Doh!!!

I could be wrong, but a smarter course of action – if my goal were to try and distance the real Catholic Church’s image from the fictitious Magisterium’s evil ways – would have simply been to say something like: “The books are fiction. They are set in a fantasy world of alternate realities populated by magical creatures and talking bears. The Magisterium obviously has little in common with the Catholic Church or any Catholic institutions: We don’t torture children. Our priests don’t own pet monkeys. You aren’t likely to find Nicole Kidman lookalikes running any Catholic after-school programs. What else is there to say?”

Boycott fantasies aside, making a mountain out of a molehill does exactly that: It takes a tiny little molehill no one cared about and turns it into a mountain no one can miss.

If I were New Line Cinema, I would be writing Bill Donohue and his organization a big fat thank-you check for all the free publicity. (Well… not exactly free. The Catholic League’s 23-page anti-Gold Compass booklet is available for just $5. Hmmm…. The plot thickens.)

As for the rest of you, next time you find yourself wanting to boycott or protest a political speech, an art collection, the construction of a foreign-owned superstore in your backyard or the release of a controversial new product, give some serious thought to the effect that your protest is likely to have on the success of the thing you are speaking against.

Not always, but sometimes, quietly dismissing something works better than attracting a lot of undue attention to it.

… Unless of course, your real agenda has more to do with exploiting every possible media opportunity to raise money and recruit members than actually doing anything.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone. ;)

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Just when you start to think that the world has indeed become a global marketplace, something like this shakes you out of your pipe dream. From Reuters, via MSNBC World News:

KHARTOUM, Sudan – A British primary school teacher has been arrested in Sudan, accused of insulting Islam’s Prophet by letting her class of 7-year-olds name a teddy bear Muhammad, her school said on Monday.

Colleagues of Gillian Gibbons told Reuters they feared for her safety after receiving reports that young men had already started gathering outside the Khartoum police station where the Liverpool woman was being held.

Teachers at Unity High School in central Khartoum said Gibbons, 54, made an innocent mistake and simply let her pupils choose their favorite name for the toy as part of a school project.

Police arrested Gibbons on Sunday at her home inside the school premises, said Unity director Robert Boulos, after a number of parents made a complaint to Sudan’s Ministry of Education.

Boulos said she had since been charged with “blasphemy,” an offense he said was punishable with up to three months in prison and a fine.

Boulos said he had decided to close down the school until January for fear of reprisals in Sudan’s predominantly Muslim capital. “This is a very sensitive issue.”

“We are very worried about her safety,” he added. “This was a completely innocent mistake. Miss Gibbons would have never wanted to insult Islam.”

Boulos said Gibbons was following a British National Curriculum course designed to teach young pupils about animals and their habitats. This year’s animal was the bear.

Gibbons, who joined Unity in August, asked a girl to bring in her teddy bear to help the second grade class focus, said Boulos.

The teacher then asked the class to name the toy. “They came up with eight names including Abdullah, Hassan and Mohammed. Then she explained what it meant to vote and asked them to choose the name.” Twenty out of the 23 children chose Muhammad.

Read the rest of the story here.

Note to self: Scratch Mohammad Joe’s from list of possible brand names for new East African coffee shop franchise.

(Darn it. It was catchy as hell.)

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Some practical notes on how to design an effective web page – from Seth Godin’s blog, via UX, via Orange Yeti:

  • Ads in the top and left portions of a page will receive the most eye fixation.
  • Ads placed next to the best content are seen more often.
  • Bigger images get more attention.
  • Clean, clear faces in images attract more eye fixation.
  • Fancy formatting and fonts are ignored.
  • Formatting can draw attention.
  • Headings draw the eye.
  • Initial eye movement focuses on the upper left corner of the page.
  • Large blocks of text are avoided.
  • Lists hold reader attention longer.
  • Navigation tools work better when placed at the top of the page.
  • One-column formats perform better in eye-fixation than multi-column formats.
  • People generally scan lower portions of the page.
  • Readers ignore banners.
  • Shorter paragraphs perform better than long ones.
  • Show numbers as numerals.
  • Text ads were viewed mostly intently of all types tested.
  • Text attracts attention before graphics.
  • Type size influences viewing behavior.
  • Users initially look at the top left and upper portion of the page before moving down and to the right.
  • Users only look at a sub headline if it interests them.
  • Users spend a lot of time looking at buttons and menus.
  • White space is good.

Good stuff.

It is easy for company execs to leave the design of their website to IT guys because they “get” all that “computer stuff”. Bad move. Sorry, IT peeps, but while IT guys can be web guys, let me point out that website design goes well beyond a person’s knowledge of code and “computer stuff.”

A good web designer is a designer first and foremost: Someone who understands how to create the right kind of website for a company, and uses his technical knowledge to make it happen. A good web designer can write beautiful code, sure, but great code is meaningless if the website looks horrible or doesn’t serve the needs and wants of its users (your customers). Designing a website is about creating a consistently engaging, pleasant and valuable user experience.

This goes well beyond the world of code and IT. Website design is both a science and an art. Because few people/firms can manage both elements exceedingly well, a very small proportion of web design firms is capable of doing exceptional work.

Look at most corporate websites today, and you will notice that the same templates are used over and over again: There’s a big box of “content” in the middle, a fat banner at the top of the page, a left column with some sort of navigation/menu, and maybe a column to the right with ads and other resources. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: There is value – especially for very small businesses – in spending very little money on a website that can launch inside of a week. Plug & play websites have their place. No question. But when it comes to creating or driving a brand, understand that having a website that essentially looks like everyone else’s, a website that looks like you took little more than a couple of hours to put together, a website that offers nothing interesting or compelling for your users and fans, you are falling short of expectations. You are sending the wrong message. At some point along the way, your company needs to differentiate itself. When that happens, your website needs to reflect the difference between your company and all of your other would-be competitors. If you are going to stand out as being different, don’t just talk about it: stand out and be different – especially on the web.

If your management team is old-school and branding is the last thing on its mind, look at it this way: You are the type of company that takes care of the way it presents itself – from the experience you create for your customers and visitors to the design of your catalogs, ads and other promotional materials. You don’t want to look like a bunch of amateurs who can’t adapt to change and have neither the funds nor the good sense to create a decent website. Right? Right. More and more, your customers’s first impression of you is made via the web. This isn’t 1997 anymore. Your website isn’t an aside. It isn’t something you can throw at your cousin’s neighbor’s kid because he needs a part-time job and “boy, you should see his MySpace!” Your website is your global storefront. Your global lobby. Your global showroom. You can’t afford to allow it to be boring, ineffective or outdated. (It can’t be too obnoxious either, so be use flash sparingly, if at all.)

Do yourself a favor: If you have a website now, put together a small team of branding, marketing and customer service experts in a room with a handful of customers, and get them to do a complete 360 review of your website. If that doesn’t work for you, hire a creative studio or a web design firm instead. However you decide to do it, the point of the exercise is to stop what you are doing, take a real look at your website, and identify all of the things that could be improved upon. Once you’ve done that, hire a real web designer (or web design firm) to either improve your website as needed or rebuild it completely.

If you don’t already have a website… I just have to ask what you are waiting for. (Tip: Most people I know haven’t cracked the Yellow Pages in years… and I know a lot of people.)

Spending money on creating an extraordinary web presence (or at least an adequate one) is probably one of the best marketing/communications investments you can make for your company. If your senior management team doesn’t understand that completely yet, it is your job to help them get there.

If you aren’t sure how to get started, print the above list, go to your company website, and use it as a checklist. How many of your website’s design features match the above recommendations? How many don’t? What could you change already – today?

Have a great Monday, everyone. :)

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Here are some of Roby’s thanksgiving week images:


Read all about his adventures here. (And now that his blog allows comments, feel free to drop him a little hello.)

Welcome to a brand new week. :)

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Aha! Fellow Greenville blogger James T. (of the evidently very well designed Bike Design blog) points me to this list of 12 well designed Blogspot blogs on Pingable. Both Bike Design and The BrandBuilder made the list, which makes me pretty happy.
This is not a list of the 12 BEST designed Blogspot blogs, mind you, but it’s still pretty cool to be recognized in this way.
My three principal secrets for designing such a cool looking blog:
1. A complete lack of web design & code knowledge forced me to keep things VERY simple.
2. When in doubt, flood the page with empty white space.
3. When none of your other ideas seem to work, take pictures of the stupidest looking dog you can find (in this case, my wife’s Chihuahua) and throw all good sense aside.
I am all for making the visual elements of a brand make sense, but sometimes, going the random/abstract route can be just as effective, if not more. (Note to creatives everywhere: When working on a design project for a client, always try to submit at least one off-the-wall but genuinely original design. Worst case scenario: They won’t go for it. Any other scenario: Your unexpected design will infect your clients with creative energy, which is always a good thing.)
Have a great Thanksgiving eve, everyone. :)

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Because of Thanksgiving week, the WGA’s strike in Hollywood and the transportation infrastructure strikes in France, I may not get a chance to post anything else this week. My apologies. I will try to do better next year.

As a consolation gift, here is this week’s minute of positivity, courtesy of William S. Burrows:
(Warning – WSB doesn’t pull punches with his ideas and choice of words. If you get offended easily, you might want to skip this one.)

Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone. ;)

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Roby’s week in Afghanistan: A photo journal.

Read all about his adventures here.

Happy Thanksgiving, bro.

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There has been much chatter laterly about a possible (some would say probable) plot by robots to eventually take over the world. Indeed, when you look at the preponderence of evidence, one could easily make the case that yes, this could happen
… but I propose that this may not actually be a bad thing, as it is just as likely that a zombie apocalypse may also be in our future.

You see, while some people are afraid of robots or spiders or clowns (or the talking chimps in Planet of the Apes, even) my personal irrational fear is deeply rooted in the thought that I will wake up one morning, and zombies will be well on their way to having overtaken the world.

And from that point on, I will be pretty screwed.

For the record, I am not all that afraid of George Romero’s slow and dumb zombies anymore. One: I can outrun them, and Two, I can probably kick the $&!# out of one if I need to. (I’ve watched Night of the Living Dead about a million times – yes, both versions – and it is pretty clear that they aren’t even strong enough to turn a doorknob, much less wrestle me to the ground. They also don’t seem to have ninja kung fu skills like the vampires in Buffy.) Really, as long as you don’t get cornered, you’re probably okay with those slow, dumb zombies.

But the jacked-up sprinting zombies of 28 Days Later and the latest version of Dawn of the Dead scare the crap out of me because they can actually headbutt their way through bathroom doors and outrun you, especially if you’ve had a few too many Double Whoppers. With those super motivated zombies, you’d better be fast and well armed, and it’s hard to be both, frankly.

So yeah, zombies are scary. Much scarier than robots, in fact. You see, the way I look at it, robots are logical, so they may realize at some point that humanity is important to them, and decide to protect us from extinction after all. There’s stuff humans can do better than robots, like… create Asian fusion dishes, tell jokes, wear a striped tie with a tweed jacket, and provide an endless supply of content for reality TV shows, for example.

There’s also always the risk that some unforseen catastrophy threatening to wipe out a robot civilization might require the kind of abstract problem solving skills that only humans are blessed with. A single robot may be smarter than all of humanity combined, but no robot could ever be as clever as Bill Gates, Benjamin Franklin, or even Jack Bauer – which is why our mechanical brethren would eventually realize that they must protect the survival of humanity to ensure their own. Worst case scenario, I’ll take being turned into a coma-induced biochemical battery over being eaten alive any day, thank you.

As an aside, we might even be able to reprogram some robots to side with humans and have them rebel against the robot uprising. A robot civil war would then ensue, giving humanity a fighting chance.

Zombies, on the other hand, are not logical. No zombie will ever side with humanity because zombies don’t take sides. They’re just too dumb for that. They will either eat or infect all of humanity without realizing that by doing so, their food supply will quickly disappear. That makes them reckless and dangerous – and pretty hard to reason with – which I don’t like very much. You might even be able to plead for your life with a robot and maybe get it to let you live, but not with a zombie. There’s just no reasoning with them. If there were, I would know.

Other reasons why a robot takeover would be preferable to a zombie apocalypse:

Robots have the Three Laws. Zombies don’t.

Robots don’t smell funny. Zombies smell like ass.

Robots like to clean and keep stuff organized. Zombies are pretty messy. (I’ve studied this. They don’t even know how to tuck their shirts in and never pick up after themselves, for starters.)
Robots would probably do cool stuff like constantly refine the way they organize their Zune playlists, colonize the moon, design really cool speedboats, upgrade wireless networks to boost connection speeds, and develop some pretty sweet collaborative tools. Zombies, on the other hand, would just walk around and growl at each other.

And robots can be pretty hot, while zombies tend to be not sexy at all.

Even if robots decide to unleash a global nuclear smackdown on humanity (thank you Cyberdyne Systems), they would still do cool stuff like invent a time-machine so we could go back in time and stop them (or at least relive the eighties).

So personally, I will take a robot takeover to a zombie apocalypse any day.

Feel free to disagree, I think my logic here today is pretty rock-solid.

If you are concerned about surviving either scenario, grab a pen, a notepad, and go take some notes. have a great Friday, everyone.

* * *

Update: Thanks to Jim, check out these five probable zombie apocalypse catalyst scenarios (complete with a Homeland-Security style threat indicator). The five most likely causes of a zombie apocalypse are covered, including – and Bear, Evan and Lord can feel vindicated here – nanobots. According to this very scientific study, the most likely culprit in transforming people (dead or alive) into zombies are nanobots. That’s right: Miniature robots so small you can’t see them with the naked eye:

Scientists have already created a nano-cyborg, by fusing a tiny silicone chip to a virus. The first thing they found out is these cyborgs can still operate for up to a month after the death of the host. Notice how nano scientists went right for zombification, even at this early stage. They know where the horror is.

According to studies, within a decade they’ll have nanobots that can crawl inside your brain and set up neural connections to replace damaged ones. That’s right; the nanobots will be able to rewire your thoughts. What could possibly go wrong?

Do the math, people.

Some day there will be nanobots in your brain. Those nanobots will be programmed to keep functioning after you die. They can form their own neural pathways, meaning they can use your brain to keep operating your limbs after you’ve deceased and, presumably, right up until you rot to pieces in mid-stride.

The nanobots will be programmed to self-replicate, and the death of the host will mean the end of the nanobots. To preserve themselves, they’d need to transfer to a new host. Therefore, the last act of the nanobot zombie would be to bite a hole in a healthy victim, letting the nanobots steam in and set up camp in the new host. Once in, they can shut down the part of the brain that resists (the cortex) and leave the brain stem intact. They will have added a new member to the unholy army of the undead.

Well, crap. No matter how you look at it, self aware robots will indeed kill us all – as predicted by the OC crew. Needless to say, this is not good news.

Word of caution: The comments feature in my permalink has been hacked by evil nanobots and may erase your comments without posting them. (That’s bad.) If you want to leave a comment, go to the main page, and use the comment section AT THE BOTTOM OF THE POST instead. That one works. Thanks for jumping through hoops for me until I get this fixed.


Cover art: Ashley Wood

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WOMMA’s Word Of Mouth Marketing Summit is kicking off in Vegas this week, and let me just say that I’m a bit bummed about not being there.

Nicole Sampson and Patrick Rooney sending me emails from the Rio’s pool isn’t helping, by the way. (But keep sending me updates anyway. It’s all good.) ;D

In honor of WOMMA, WOM, and the best conference I won’t be attending in 2007, here is my favorite post on WOM so far this quarter (from Scott Ginsberg’s HELLO, my name is blog):

Oscar Wilde once remarked, “The only thing worse than being talked about is NOT being talked about.”

So, if your customers are not ACTIVELY telling their friends about your business…

1. That means you’re probably selling a dead brand.

2. That means you’re probably different, not unique.

3. That means you’re probably doing something wrong.

4. That means you’re probably perceived as a commodity.

5. That means you’re probably not word of mouth worthy.

6. That means you’re probably creating customers, not FANS.

7. That means you’re probably not getting much new business.

8. That means you’re probably not doing something important.

9. That means you’re probably not as great as you think you are.

10. That means you’re probably boring, unremarkable and normal.

11. That means you’re probably not making the mundane memorable.

12. That means you’re probably spending too much money on marketing.

13. That means you’re probably not expanding your overall customer base.

14. That means you’re probably poorly positioned in their minds, not in the market.

15. That means you’re probably creating customer SATISFACTION, not customer loyalty or insistence.

Look. Word of mouth is everything. And anonymity is your greatest barrier to business success.

SO REMEMBER: businesses that get talked about get more business.

LET ME ASK YA THIS…
Who’s telling their friends about YOU?

LET ME SUGGEST THIS…
If you’re clients are not actively telling their friends about you, what (else) does that mean?

That ought to keep you busy for a few hours. Have a great Thursday, everyone. ;)

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From Lord’s oddly brilliant GLA blog:

Last night at Alcohol Wednesday I think we as a group came up with a great idea.

Marketing Ninjas!!!

Just think about it. Ninjas are stealthy masters of surprise and subtlety. They can swoop in, in a second, place an advertisement, and be gone just a quick. The sheer speed of their work will boarder almost on subliminal messages. And hell not a lot will make you remember the name of a company like a logo ninja star to the arm. Lawsuit you say? HAHAHA! Need I remind you that ninjas are deadly assassins?

Also it would be awesome when rival companies set their marketing ninjas on each other. I can just see it, another boring day at the office when Steve from accounting (aw, good ol’ Steve from accounting) comes running down the hall yelling, “Ninja fight in the break room! Ninja Fight!” Everybody jumps up from their desks and crowds to the break room to watch as the dexterous death dealers go at it. And inevitably some flunky from HR gets his ass katana-ed but everybody has a big laugh about it later (everybody except the flunky because he is super dead). I just feel that marketing ninjas would make the work place a bit more productive and if not that at least it would keep everybody on their toes.

Well put, Lord. Well put.

I have been advocating the hiring of Marketing Ninjas for years. Welcome to the fold, Grasshopper.

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I try to stay away from topics that involve religion or politics, but every once in a while, I have to break my own rules. If this topic offends you, I apologize in advance. Now get over it.

From Forbes.com:

ATLANTA –

As Georgia descends deeper into drought, Gov. Sonny Perdue has ordered water restrictions, launched a legal battle and asked President Bush for help. On Tuesday, the governor will call on a higher power.

He will join lawmakers and ministers on the steps of the state Capitol to pray for rain.

Perdue won’t be the first governor to hold a call for public prayer during the epic drought gripping the Southeast. Alabama Gov. Bob Riley issued a proclamation declaring a week in July as “Days of Prayer for Rain” to “humbly ask for His blessings and to hold us steady in times of difficulty.” Political heavyweights outside the U.S. are known to occasionally plead to the heavens for rain. In May, Australian Prime Minister John Howard asked churchgoers to pray for rain in hopes of snapping a drought that has devastated crops and bankrupted farmers Down Under.

With rivers and reservoirs dropping to dangerously low levels across the region, a prayer rally at a high school football stadium in the Georgia town of Watkinsville drew more than 100 worshippers last week, and a gospel concert dedicated to rain attracted hundreds more two weeks ago at an Atlanta church.

“We need to try a different approach,” said Rocky Twyman, who organized the concert. “We need to call on God, because what we’re doing isn’t working.”
Greg Bluestein, AP

When I heard about this on the radio earlier today, I have to admit that I was a little shocked. Here’s a guy who is basically the CEO of the state of Georgia, and his solution to the drought that is devastating his state is to resort to prayer? Really?

What’s next? Animal sacrifices?

What the governor is planning isn’t a tent revival, mind you – I’m sure that there won’t be any running down the aisles or rattlesnake handling or speaking in tongues – but there will be lots of people turning their faces to the heavens, eyes closed, palms open, calling upon the good graces of the great spirit in the sky in the hopes that magically, he will make it rain.

And you know, it might rain. Why not.


I wasn’t born and raised in a culture that looks to an almighty power to solve all of its problems or blames demonic forces for the nasty whims of nature or the many flaws of man, so please excuse my point of view – but this sort of thing just seems to me like an easy way for people to absolve themselves of responsibility.


“Hey, we tried everything, and when that didn’t work, we asked God to help. That didn’t work either. What else are we supposed to do?”

Um… try not relying on rainmaking, for starters.

Instead of pretending to look for a solution, actually look for one. If that doesn’t work, do your job and lead by mandating water restrictions, putting programs in place to educate your constituency as to how and when to conserve water, and take steps to help minimize the impact of droughts on your state in the future. That’s what a leader does. What he doesn’t do is throw up his hands and put God in charge.

BTW, if magical incantations had any effect on the weather, we’d know by now. (Insofar as I know, the only thing that actually guarantees rainfall is my car getting washed and waxed. Within 24 hours of a waxing, the chances of rain are 100%. You can take that to the bank.)

But you know, I guess prayer rallies are neat little political tricks that play well to certain types of voters, especially in the rural South. As long as he makes a point to put the fate of his state in the hands of God, all a governor has to do once he becomes blameless is be a uniter. And what better banner to stand under than that of religion? It would be insulting if so many people didn’t fall for it.

And we wonder why states like South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana have the worst public school systems in the country. Tell me a superstitious, poorly educated electorate isn’t easy to manipulate with cheap snake-oil salesman tricks as old as civilization itself.

I’m surprised that Pat Robertson hasn’t chimed in yet with proclamations about Georgia’s sins having brought the wrath of God on itself in the form of a drought.

*sigh*

It is easy to shed responsibility when you pass the buck up to an omnipotent deity, and even it doesn’t fix the problem.

Where do you go from there?

“Well, if even GOD won’t fix it, then what can I do about it? My hands are tied now. All we can do is keep praying.”


I wonder what would happen to a Fortune 500′s CEO if his strategy for growth over the next few quarters relied on… prayer. I would love to be in on that conference call:

“Our performance has suffered over the last fiscal year and we can’t really figure out why. We need to try a different approach now. We need to call on God, because what we’re doing isn’t working.”

Yeah. That would fly. I’m sure Wall Street and droves of investors would rally behind that brilliant exercise in deductive reasoning and good business sense.

I guess if I had an open mind, I would consider the possibility that a marketing campaign failed not because it was poorly executed but because God willed it so – or because Satan screwed with it. I might even look upon a market slump as a sign that I, as a CEO, CFO or COO, have not been praying enough for the success of my company.

God might actually fix my P&L too… if I pray hard enough and go to church more.

It’s a good thing that the world of business doesn’t play by the same moronic rules as the world of politics – at least in the South. Still, I have to wonder how – as a modern society so eager to shun practical magic as primitive and stupid – we still manage to look to prayer as the end-all, be-all solution to so many issues that could be addressed with a little bit of planning and strategic insight.

I also wonder how anyone in a leadership position (aside from religious leaders, whose job it is to do stuff like this) can manage to retain any credibility at all after adopting prayer as a crisis management strategy.
Understand that the issue here isn’t people’s right to pray or assemble to pray. There is nothing wrong with that. No, the issue is when an adult person in a position of power a) actually believes that by praying or doing a rain dance or sacrificing a chicken under a full moon, he can actually influence his deity of choice to make his wishes come true, and b) invites his constituents, employees or followers to validate his egomaniacal fantasies. If there isn’t a credibility issue there, I guess maybe I’ve missed something.
Executive management tip #1,097: If you really can’t help yourself from bringing public prayer into your management strategy, ask a religious leader to take care of it for you. That’s his/her job. Not yours. If you want to be a preacher or a minister, resign and go do that.
We really, really, REALLY need to stop acting like helpless, frightened little children, and start taking responsibility for our own fates and actions. (And demand that our elected officials do the same while we’re at it.) If there indeed is a god (my views on the matter are irrelevant here), I am sure that he has better things to do than listen to every little selfish prayer we throw his way. It’s one thing to be spiritual and religious and proud of it. It’s another entirely to act like a complete tool by asking god to solve every little problem we’re too lazy to deal with ourselves.
Now if you don’t mind, I need to go pray about the separation of church and state in Georgia, evidently.


Way to stay on top of things there, gov’.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone. ;)

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above: the kind of gorgeous stuff you see from 35,000 feet, by the way

Just last week, I was lamenting on the sorry state of airlines in general and the effect poor service has on the way people treat each other. (If you missed it, take a few minutes to check it out.) Well, this week, I have to say that the hypothetical “airline that does it right does indeed exist.

I’m sure there are more than one, but so far, this is my first 100% pleasant experience with an airline I’ve had since 1991, when I last flew British Caledonian from the US to Europe. The airline in question is Alaska Airlines (a Delta Airlines partner), with whom I flew from San Francisco to Seattle, and then from Seattle to Atlanta. What did they do right? Everything:

- Boarded the flight intelligently (not front to back): Check.
- Left on time: Check.
- Pleasant, professional, and elegant flight attendants: Check.
- Making passengers feel at home and comfortable: Check.
- Seat design intended for normal human beings: Check (Yay to the old Boeing 737-700!).
- Pilot pointing out sweet landmarks: Check.
- Bringing glamour back to air travel by offering grown-up drinks in a classy way during flight: Check.
- Friendly and prompt personal attention from the cabin crew: Check.
- Landing on time: Check.
- Friendly farewells from the pilot and crew for passengers exiting the plane: Check.
- Luggage arriving at final destination: Check.
- Passengers being friendly, happy, and conversational upon arrival as a result of the way they were treated by Alaskan Airlines employees: Check.

People bumping into each other and not apologizing: Zero.

Nuff said.

So far, Alaska Airlines is hands-down the best airline I have flown with in the US since Y2K. The rest of the Delta organization could learn a thing or two from their Northwestern house brand.


More great brand experiences from my left coast trip:

above: Tea time @ The Slanted Door


The Slanted Door restaurant (SF):
This is the kind of restaurant that makes me realize how not so fresh food actually is in most fancy-shmancy restaurants that overcharge and under-deliver across the US. Everything about that busy, trendy, impeccably designed restaurant made me want to recommend it to friends – and more importantly – go back next time I am in San Francisco. The setting itself (right on the water) is enough of a story – as is the name – but the dining experience tops it all. Every dish looks and tastes like a work of art while managing to be gloriously simple. Genius. Bonus: The waiters actually had fun with the whole Flat Stanley thing we had going on, which earns them good tips forever.

above: The Bay Bridge @ night


San Francisco’s Bay Bridge (SF):
$4 buy you a pretty spectacular way to enter San Fran after dark. Absolutely magnificent. This is the kind of experience you wish your friends or loved ones could be there to share with you. (Yes, more cities should flirt with the idea that the way you enter a municipality sets the stage for the entire experience.) In this respect, cities are no different from buildings, meals, concept stores, luxury hotels, movies, and art museums. Smart thinking. Bonus: The toll attendant was super friendly.

above: b.a.r.t. station underneath San Francisco’s downtown


B.A.R.T. (SF):
San Francisco’s rail transit system. Nothing spectacular, but well run, relatively clean, inexpensive, and supremely practical. Good stuff. I would gladly ride this system into work every day, which is more than I can say for most US transit systems. Strangely enough, people riding b.a.r.t. were cordial, and I even saw folks giving up their seats, proving that chivalry isn’t quite dead yet. Once again, a pleasant environment breeds pleasant behavior. It never fails. Perhaps the most intriguing part of riding b.a.r.t. is how encapsulates the diverse, international community that resides in the Bay area. I was one of only four caucasian passengers in my completely packed car. The rest of the passengers hailed from all over the world: China, India, Korea, Iran, Japan, Philippines, Armenia, Africa, Vietnam, Pakistan… It was a very unique experience for a white man in America to suddenly feel like such an insignificant minority. Believe it or not, it was a beautiful experience. And pretty surreal. Very Blade Runner, except without the rain, the flying cars, and those pesky replicants.

Thrifty, Hertz & Enterprise: $18 per day to rent a compact car from Thrifty @ SeaTac. Sure, it’s a POS Ford whatever, but $18 per day? I can’t touch that kind of rate in any other first tier city in the US. Not even close. And the agents we worked with were top notch. Definitely a fun experience I intend to repeat next time I fly into LAX, SFO or SeaTac – although with a slightly better car this time. (Oh well, reducing our carbon footprint for 24hrs. earns us style points too – and those little Ford engines have more pickup than you’d think.) The process was easy, pleasant, and fast. Obviously, car rental companies seem to have figured out how to do things right – at least on the West Coast. Very nice. Story-worthiness: The rental agents’ unique personalities and quirks, and Tokyo-Drifting with a Ford Focus on one of the I5′s entrance ramps, for starters.

above: Seattle’s Space Needle through the “weather” – shot from I5.


Seattle:
Cool city. No traffic issues. Complex interstate setup near downtown, but well designed nonetheless. Friendly people. Great food. Made me want to move there in spite of the weather in about twenty minutes flat. You can really sense that Seattle is a frontier town, on the edge of civilization in many ways, but it is also has an unusually quaint vibe that makes you instantly feel like you’re home. Caveat: Buying a cup of java from the very first Starbucks store is pretty cool, but it’s a little disappointing to order a Latte and end up with a cup of straight coffee. (Doh.) But you know what? Everyone was so friendly, it didn’t really matter. I added my own cream, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Enough stories in one day already to fill many a dinner conversation.

above: an unpronounceable Catalan-inspired dish of clams, ham, rice, peppers and all sorts of good stuff on Pike, which followed this.


Pike Place fish market (SEA):
The freshest seafood I’ve seen and tasted in the US so far. (Yep, even better than the stuff in NYC.) Shopping there (what with the fish throwing and the yelling and all) is a memorable and fun experience. Combine that with some of the freshest produce I’ve ever seen at an open air market, and you have yourself a recipe for scrumptiousness. (The local eateries most definitely benefit from this, which makes me salivate just thinking about my next visit.) When people are passionate about their job – whether it’s selling the freshest food or preparing it, it shows. (Today’s 5-second business lesson: Quality doesn’t happen by accident.) As many stories as there are merchants, obviously. Good stuff.

* * *

With so many broken brands about, it is nice to string so many pleasant (dare I say remarkable) experiences together in just a few short days. Seeing the positive effect these experiences have had on me and others around me, I can absolutely tell you with one hundred percent certainty that smiles breed smiles, enthusiasm is infectious, and positive interactions are contagious.

If your business is suffering or stalling and you can’t figure out how to get it jump-started, begin with your human touchpoints: Start with enthusiasm and good-will towards customers, and… slowly, methodically, empathically work your way backwards. It most certainly worked with every business I mentioned in this post.

At the very least, a friendly, helpful, enthusiastic human touchpoint can make up for an monster amount of otherwise business-killing problems.

At least for a while.

Beyond that, anything your business does to help customers take stories home with them (especially those they will tell for the rest of their lives) is absolutely pure 100% certified brand-building gold. More on that topic in weeks to come, I’m sure.

Here’s to a brand new week – which is going to be crazy-busy for me – but what else is new.

Have a great Monday, everyone. ;)

all photos by me.

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Flashback to my first job out of college: Semper Fi – French Style

On November 11th, 1918, an Armistice was signed in a small train car that officially ended WWI – The war to end all wars. Though WWI didn’t in fact end all wars, we still observe the date, which is something I hope we never stop doing.

To the countless Americans, Brits, Canadians, and other volunteers from around the world who helped France defeat Germany not once but twice in my grandfather’s lifetime, I salute you. I probably wouldn’t be here today had it not been for your sacrifice.

Here is this week’s selection of my favorite shots from Roby’s blog – minus the color.






Photos by Roby who is still in Afghanistan, trying to make the world just a little bit better. Kickass photo editing by yours truly.

Roby, we miss you bro.

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Perhaps the best way to say hello to a meal, ever.

Seattle, WA.

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The dehumanization of air travel is finally taking its toll on some of the most fundamental ways in which people interact with each other. The airlines (and this includes their human touch-points) create an atmosphere devoid of compassion, smiles and care for our comfort and experience. Over time, we start emulating this lack of human warmth by becoming removed from one another.

Thus, an industry (in this case the majority of airline companies/brands), through its broad reach into our culture, can in effect change the very mechanics of human interactions.

Cause and effect –

It’s been about a year and a half since I’ve had the joy of flying from coast to coast via the friendly skies, and I wasn’t exactly complaining about it. Still, I kind of dig the left coast, so whenever work or pleasure give me an opportunity to check out the Pacific Ocean from our lovely shores, I usually jump at the chance.

So here I am, in San Jose/Fremont/San Francisco (yes, all at once – or something like that) after a relatively uneventful three-airport hop-along that started at 4:00am Monday morning in Greenville, SC, and ended on time (surpisingly) in in sunny San Jose, CA.

That’s right: On time.

I experienced exactly zero delays. Sure, the planes were ridiculously full, but I guess that’s good so I can’t complain about that.

And we didn’t crash, which is always nice too.

All in all, I have to say that Delta Airlines – which I’ve had a tolerate-hate relationship with for years now – did better than I expected. They even kept me hydrated and snacked (“fed” would be pushing the semantics) throughout my impossibly uncomfortable flight over these beautiful United States.

And that is where I have to hit on a cliche of air travel, but dammit, would it hurt commercial aeroplane designers (yes, I’ve decided to spell it the British way) to develop seats actually DESIGNED FOR HUMAN BEINGS? Let’s go through this again: I am 6′. I weigh 165lbs. Compared to most American men I share a pressurized cabin with, I am nowhere near “big.” Yet, my seats today were so small and caved-in that I couldn’t find a comfortable position for even ten minutes. (My neck is killing me.)

And this comes from a guy who spends upwards of 3 hours on a time-trial bicycle, mind you.

Aside from the lack of comfort (or should I say – complete victory of discomfort-inspired design), there is the issue of space management: It’s bad enough that seats are designed to keep you awake for the entire trip and ensure weeks of headaches and neck pain, but they’re also too narrow and close together. It is physically impossible to do anything with your elbows except a) shove them violently into your neighbors’ skulls in a snarling fit of air rage, of b) hunker down and curl your spine into a crooked little ball so that your elbows may rest peacefully on your thighs.

For five f#$%ing hours. Great.

“Would you like crackers or peanuts, sir?”

Ungh… As soon… as… I… uncurl myself…

But that’s nothing new. The comfortable coach seats of the Super Caravelles are a thing of the past, so there is really no point in dwelling on the instruments of torture designed to keep us “safely” secured during flight while maximizing passenger volume per flight – which, after all, is all that matters: Get as many of us sorry saps on a plane as inhumanly possible.

Trust me, if airlines could find a way to stack us on top of each other to double a plane’s capacity, they would. (Hey, if that meant having a cot instead of a seat, I’m all for it. Strap me in!)

No, what’s new is the apathy I ran into today. It was kind of a numbness to things which, as someone who grew up in a big crowded city, I find a bit odd. Typically, a person reacts in some way to unpleasantness, like getting bumped by someone on the street for example… but I find that human behavior in airports now no longer answers to the same set of rules that we normally live by out here in the real world.

Next time you’re in an airport (or on a plane,) try this little Fight Club-ish experiment: Bump into somebody. Bump into them hard. Hard enough to knock them forward or back or sideways. Bump into them so they have to take a step to keep themselves from falling – and keep going. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t apologize. Just go about your business as if the person you bumped into didn’t exist.

But have someone watch their reaction for you.

Bad mojo, and the tragic fate of manners -

What I found today is that in an airport or on a plane, people will completely ignore one another even if they bump into each other, kind of like the way cows ignore each other while they are grazing. I also never noticed how much people in airports and on aeroplanes (British spelling again) bump into other people. It’s insane. Traveling has officially become a full contact sport.

There’s the guy whose backpack collides with your shoulder as he tries to squeeze by during the boarding process (for whatever reason since his seat is already assigned and we aren’t leaving until everyone is on board – so what’s the rush?). There’s the guy who finds a way to kick you in the toes while walking up the aisle to go take a leak – even though your foot is safely tucked in under the seat in front of you. (How he manages to do this, I have no earthly idea. Retractable evil clown shoes is all I can come up with.) There’s the woman whose out-of-control waddling knocks your arm off your seat’s armrest just as you were finally drifting off to sleep. And then there’s the murderous snack cart of doom, with its blunt edges and 1500 pounds of hammered steel fury cold-heartedly coming down the aisle. Yeah. Getting smacked in the elbow by surprise with this infernal bone-crushing instrument of Hades is always the highlight of any cross-country flight.

But seriously: Put us (Homo-Sapiens) anywhere near an airport, and we start to bump into each other like Vista screensaver bubbles. Either – as a species – our peripheral vision is getting worse (in which case we need to get the human genome project working on that, stat!) or we’re turning into bumbling morons who can’t even stand up anymore without f%&#ing that up too. Who knows. It might be the next logical step in our idiocratic de-evolution.

What I do know is this: When I was but a wee little French boy, I was taught something called “manners.” Don’t ask me to explain what manners are. It’s too complicated… But they have something to do with being polite and considerate of others whenever possible. Manners involve doing things like saying “please” and “thank you.” They involve – at least in the Western world – not burping in the company of others, not being ruthlessly flatulent (especially in a car or an aeroplane), and not saying bad words like f%*k or s&!t around your grandparents unless they say them first. Manners are what keep you from chewing with your mouth open or cutting in line at the movie theater, or treating people like they are cattle.

Manners, as far as I remember (and I am not that old) also involve apologizing when you bump into someone. Here’s an example:

*Bump* *Eye contact.* *Embarrassed expression on your face* “Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to bump into you.” *compassionate and apologetic smile* *exit*

That’s right: When you bump into someone, the civilized thing to do is to make eye contact, give the offended party a sad facial expression, and verbally apologize. Flatly, even, if need be.

You know that apathy I mentioned earlier? It apparently applies to manners as well: Not only do people seem to no longer try not to bump into each other in the first place, but they also don’t seem to give a flying monkey’s arse about apologizing when they do. They simply go on with their bumbling self-absorbed iPod-adorned biz as if the bump hadn’t happened at all.

At the mall, in the street, at work, people apologize to each other when they accidentally collide. Heck, they do all sorts of crazy things to avoid collisions in the first place. But in airports or at 35,000 feet, their behavior changes. Which brings me to this conclusion: If people’s behavior is impacted by their environment, what is it about our nation’s airports and air travel experience that makes so many of folks act like selfish apathetic oafs?

Cause and effect: Policies of dehumanization and the downward spiral of human interactions -

Earlier, I used bovine imagery to describe certain people. That was not an accident. Treat people like cattle, and sooner or later, they will start acting like cattle. Treat people like a commodity, and sooner or later, they start treating each other like a commodity. That’s just science.

The dehumanization of air travel is finally taking its toll on some of the most fundamental ways in which people interact with each other: The airlines (and this includes their human touch-points) create an atmosphere devoid of compassion, smiles, and care for our comfort and experience. At some point, we started emulating this lack of human warmth by becoming removed from one another to the point of being patently apathetic and rude… And we let it happen.

Thus, through a series of deliberate decisions regarding simple business functions like HR and customer service, an industry (in this case, the majority of airline companies/brands), through its broad reach into our culture, in effect began to change the very mechanics of human interactions.

The Silver Lining and a bit of common sense –

That’s scary and sad… but it’s also a little bit exciting because it means that the opposite can also be true: On the flip side, an industry (or a brand, if influential enough) can create an atmosphere of good will which will be contagious in the very same way.

An airline with friendly staff, comfortable seats, a painless back-to-front boarding process (come on people, is that so hard to figure out?!), in-flight snacks that don’t make us feel like we’re being nickeled-and-dimed, and maybe even flight attendants who don’t look like Wal-Mart greeters, don’t act like we spat in their ham sandwich, and (one can dream) actually treat passengers like valued customers instead of a pain in their arses might balance things out and restore civilized behavior in and around airports. Maybe.

An airline like that might even help rescue the entire industry by setting a shining example for everyone, and setting a new – achievable – set of standards.

Am I dreaming? Am I naive? Don’t even go there. Here’s my take on this: A smile doesn’t cost a thing.

Not

one

red

cent.

The lack of smiles across the majority of an organization, however, can cost you the death of a brand – at the very least.

It isn’t rocket science.

A smile is never a detail.

The value of vision, the role of standards, and what we should really worry about -

Fifteen years ago, I used to fly Sabena, Delta, PanAm, and British Caledonian between the US and Europe. Back then, flight attendants were good looking, friendly, professional, proud of their airlines and their occupation, and always willing to help passengers have a comfortable (if not pleasant) experience. Don’t even try to call me shallow for mentioning good looking as an element of my list. Airlines, just like the military once had standards which make sense in light of what they are trying to accomplish: While the military once had high standards in regards to physical fitness, the airlines had high standards in terms of passenger experience. Both made sense then, and still do now. Yet, here we are.

I guess this is what happens when you allow your standards as a brand, as an organization, as the practical execution of someone’s vision, to go down the drain. Where flight attendants were once attractive, energetic, friendly, pleasant people, they now tend to be aging, bitter-acting, unpleasant air scrooges with a chip on their shoulder and a fading ability to smile.

Where air travel was once a glamorous, exciting, relatively painless experience, it has now become the absolute worst way to travel in the US. Taking the bus is more fun than flying, and that’s saying something because bus systems in this country aren’t exactly great.

But beyond all that, my saddest observation from this dull, uncomfortable, disappointing day of unpleasantness wasn’t the fact that the flight attendants were mildly ill-mannered old ladies with painted-on eyebrows and mismatched uniforms in need of a good pressing. It wasn’t the fact that the seats were three sizes too small. It wasn’t even even the fact that I got scraped, bumped, kicked and shoved without even the hint of an apology or acknowledgment from any of the offending parties. No, it was something infinitely more subtle than that – but much scarier in light of all of this, because it speaks to the depth of apathy that we are now reaching as an airport-dwelling society: As we were flying over some of the most breathtaking deserts and canyons that went on for miles and miles and miles – and I am talking National Geographic cover-worthy landscapes here; absolutely stunning stuff – no one on the plane seemed to care. People just sat there in their uncomfortable seats, eyes glued to their laptop screens or the latest exciting issue of Sky Mall or just staring blankly into space while these gorgeous landscapes glided by. I walked up and down the plane, looking for a better vantage point since I had an aisle seat, and watched as traveler after traveler, curious about what I was looking at through their portholes, glanced down at the gorgeous mosaic of colors and textures carved out by millions of years of planetary evolution… and looked away, bored and unimpressed.

That level of apathy and emotional disconnect surprised me… and made me a little sad.

It’s one thing for people to stop being cordial and compassionate towards each other. But when people start not caring about powerful, genuine beauty when it is right there in front of them, then I think there’s reason to worry.

We’re losing something here. Something we should fight a little harder to hold on to because we can’t afford for it to slip away.

What does any of this have to do with brands? I’ll tell you:

Brands do not reflect cultures; they affect them.

As brand stewards, give some thought to the impact that your brand (from a personal microbrand to a global megabrand) has had on people in the past, what impact it has on people now, and what impact you want it to have on people for decades to come. Is your brand contributing to a broken system and a downward spiral of apathy, or to an improvement in people’s quality of life?

This line of thinking may not seem as black and red as your P&L report, but it is well worth thinking about because it is at the core of everything your brand stands for.

And if your brand stands for nothing, it is nothing more than a complete waste of space.

So at the very least, try to instill in your employees, clients, co-workers, and customers a sense that smiles are contagious. That they are good for business in the same way that they are good for the soul. That without genuine human interactions, without emotional engagement between you, your brand, and your audience, you have failed not only as a brand steward, but also as a human being, which is a whole lot of failure.

In short, make us care – by showing us you do.

Smile. Say thank you. Say please. Say sorry. Chew with your mouth closed. Open the door for ladies. Give up your seat on a crowded bus. And perhaps most important of all, don’t squeeze out a toxic cloud of digested chili cheese taco in a crowded place without at least apologizing for your lack of manners.

It’s the little things, after all.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone. ;)

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Day 1: San Jose/Fremont/San Francisco.

Stay tuned for a human broken system report (nothing like a cross-country trip via the friendly skies to get a big dose of wake-up-call about the sorry state of human-to-human interactions – via brands, of course.)

But first, beer.

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Today, I would like to share some great advice with you, courtesy of Dave Armano’s Updated Manifesto:

Ask.

Ask questions. Lots of them. Ask the silly ones. The ones that no one else wants to ask. Ask about the bigger idea. Ask about the details. Ask why—but also ask yourself why you are asking the questions.

Believe.

Do you believe in what you do? Would you rather be doing something else? Believe in what you do. Or find a new career.

Be Someone’s Hero.

Everybody needs a hero. We just don’t want to admit it. Find someone who needs a hero. Not your boss—but the person looking for guidance—a word of encouragement or inspiration. Be that hero even if your own heroes don’t exist for you.

Stop Talking.

Talk is cheap as the cliché goes—what have you produced lately? Make it a point to end your week with at least one tangible piece of something that can be saved, printed, shared, or produced. If you can’t do it in your job—do something on your own.

Be The Change Agent.

There are two types of people. Those that dream of change and those that make change happen. But we all start out as dreamers—the difference in going from Dreamer to Agent includes taking ACTION. Build bridges. Get out of your discipline. Infect others with ideas. Don’t be satisfied with “OK”. Change Agents are not Rogue Agents—if you are really interested in change, you’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen.


Play In Someone Else’s Sandbox.

Traditional people don’t like it when you get up all in their space. They’ll become possessive, protective and territorial. All the more reason to get in their sandbox. Invite them to play—even if they don’t want to. One day, they may change their mind.


Let Go.

People are more informed and empowered than ever. And there are no signs of this slowing down. By handing over control to customers, you’ll be sending this message: “we trust you”. After all, a brand lives in the hearts and minds of the customer—and as many are discovering, an “open source” brand helps generate delight, demand and authentic loyalty. Give your customers the tools they want and the experiences they crave. Then get out of the way and see what happens.


Be Experienced.

The brand is the experience and the experience is the brand. That said—you can’t generate a successful brand experience if you haven’t experienced some things for yourself. Do you know what it’s like to schlep a mini-van full of rowdy children from location to location? Have you wired up a home theatre? Take extreme measures to relate to your customers. Be them for a day. And if you can’t—spend some time with them. It’s the fastest way to go from theory to reality. Being experienced equals better experiences.


Think Rational. Be Emotional.

People are both unpredictable and predictable in the same breath. We all act upon logic at times and emotion at others. It’s the Human Condition. So how do we satisfy our fickle, unpredictable selves? Meet people’s rational needs—and do this exceptionally well. Then, surprise and delight them on an emotional level. It’s common sense thinking—yet difficult to pull off. If it weren’t, every experience would be as satisfying as an iPod, RAZR, Google or Harley-Davidson.


Tear Down The Wall.

Corporations thrive by having distinct departments and teams.
Collaboration is encouraged—but authentic collaboration rarely happens. Why? Because it’s messy business. People are born with egos. Egos need to be un-learned. Replace your natural born ego with intense curiosity. Do this and you’ll be able to break down barriers, and do great things. When Harley-Davidson wanted to design their first high-performance motorcycle (the V-Rod), they went to Porsche for help. That’s checking ego at the door.


Get Real.

Few people know that the hugely successful Motorola RAZR was nearly scrapped before it ever had a chance. Why? Because some manager thought it was too much form over function. Rather than request further research, the designer simply had the concept prototyped. Once the phone was made real—it quickly gained internal momentum. The rest of the story is history. Make something real—and people will decide for themselves.


Be Both Evangelist and Agnostic.

Do you believe in something? Be an advocate for it. Others will see your passion and know that you have a vested interest in what you do. But when it comes to using creativity to solve real-world business challenges—be an agnostic. Throw pre-conceived notions out the window. Don’t make assumptions and do your best to avoid personal bias. Innovation comes from seeing the world through the eyes of a child.


Make Sponge Bob Your Hero.

Sponges soak up the world around them. When squeezed, they give some of it back. Do your best to learn from others—soak up the everyday knowledge and expertise that others have to offer. Then, when it’s your turn—give something back.


Just Do It.

The best theory is the one that gets practiced. Thinking is great. Thinking without doing is not.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

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