Monthly Archives: July 2008

Get Real

One of my favorite movies is Barry Levinson’s Tin Men.  Made in 1987 about 1963, it’s the second in his trilogy about Baltimore (Diner and Avalon are the bookends) and it’s my favorite of the three, though all are terrific.  Great cast, great music, great cars!

Given that it’s all about sales and integrity, there are dozens of business lessons (I’m sure that was exactly what Mr. Levinson had in mind) in this picture.  One of my favorites comes as Tilley (played by Danny DeVito) and Sam (the inimitable Jackie Gayle) are driving around and Sam speaks of an epiphany he had:

Sam: You know when I saw ‘Bonanza’ the other day, something occurred to me.
Ernest Tilley: Eh?
Sam: Ya got these four guys living on the Ponderosa and ya never hear them say anything about wanting to get laid.
Ernest Tilley: Huh.
Sam: They don’t talk about broads – nothing. Ya never hear Little Joe say, “Hey, Hoss, I went to Virginia City and I saw a girl with the greatest ass I’ve ever seen in my life.” They just walk around the Ponderosa: “Yes, Pa, where’s Little Joe?” Nothin’ about broads. I don’t think I’m being too picky. But, if at least once, they talked about getting horny. I don’t care if you live on the Ponderosa or right here in Baltimore, guys talk about getting laid. I’m beginning to think that show doesn’t have too much realism.

What Sam is really talking about is the need to be authentic.  Every business needs to resonate with its consumers.  In Authentic Leadership, Bill George defined the concept as understanding your purpose, practicing solid values, leading with your heart, establishing connected relationships, and demonstrating self-discipline. In other words, not presenting a false corporate image or trying to emulate the leadership style or characteristics of others.  I think of it as passing the BS-sniffer test that our readers, fans, consumers, or clients put us through.

Get Sam in your head – is your ranch real?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

What’s the plural of doofus?

People who know me know that I’m not in love with accounting.  I understand it, I have a brother who is a CPA, I’ve been lucky to work with some fine accountants over the years.  That said, just as reading a cookbook doesn’t make one a chef, so too does buying an accounting program not make me a bookkeeper.

I’ve railed in this space before about Peachtree Accounting.  I also realize that 90%+ of problems are user error, not software design or code BTW.

So here’s one that isn’t.  I received an email this morning with an offer of “free shipping” on an upgrade of my accounting software package that is good for 2 days only.  Having realized that there are some nice features in the next level package, I decided to investigate by clicking through the link.  Maybe, if it’s not too expensive, I’d even buy it.

And that’s when the fun stopped dead.  Ignoring the fact that an offer of free shipping on a product that is to be downloaded is kind of bogus to begin with, the link I clicked through gave me this on the Peachtree web site:

We cannot determine the product you want to review. Please use your browser’s Back button, select another product and try again.

WHAT?  A potential customer just tried to order something (the link says “upgrade now”) and you blew them up?  What doofus coded this email?  What other doofus proofed it?  Yes, I tried in IE as well as Firefox and no joy.  Even the error message is screwed up – I didn’t get to that page via my browser per se – I clicked through an email and going backwards isn’t an option – the mail opened up a new tab and this error page is the only thing in it – one can’t go “back.”

This is, to me, as bad an error as a business can make:  literally to cut off a customer as they’re trying to hand you money.  If I’m running Sage Software, Peachtree’s parent, I’m finding a new person in charge of this.

So sorry, Peachtree.  I tried to upgrade, honest.  And hopefully I’ll be more careful entering data into your software than you seem to be with the emails that promote it.

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

Playing In The Band

I took my daughter to see Bruce Springsteen at Giants Stadium last night – great show, lots of rare material, a good time had by all.  I’ve seen Bruce and the E Street Band many times over the last 35 or so years but each time I do, I’m reminded of the special bond that they have with each other as they perform.

I played in a number of bands throughout junior high, high school, and college.  OK, so we weren’t quite ready for prime time but we were good enough to get paying gigs – quite a few of them, actually.  The way I knew we were ready for them was if any of us could nod or gesture or use a facial expression to get other members of the band to do something as we were playing.  That’s the sign of an organization that’s on the same page and whether you like the Boss’ music or not, you have to acknowledge that the band is TIGHT!  Same thing with the Grateful Dead or the Allman Brothers Band – when you’re jamming and playing a song in a new way every night, the band has to listen to one another, anticipate where everyone wants to go, and keep up.  When it works, it’s magic.  When it doesn’t – well, no one goes home happy (except the promoter).

How tight is your band?  We used to practice almost daily – the general rule was 4 hours of practice for every hour of performance (yes, we still found time to go to classes!).  What are you doing to tighten up your organizaiton?  How can you “practice” so you’re all on the same page when it’s performance time?

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Where to?

Verizon Wireless announced their earnings this morning and I found something of interest in the announcement.

Data revenues grew 45.3 percent over the prior year, contributing nearly $2.6 billion. The company had 49.6 million retail data customers in June (approximately three-quarters of its retail customer base), a 25.6 percent increase over the prior year.

The above without the benefit of the iPhone on their network.  As you may know, all the evidence is that iPhone users, while a small installed base, account for a disproportionately high percentage of data usage and it’s reasonable to assume that as other advanced devices like the iPhone come to market in the next year or so, demand for data will soar, as will networks’ revenues from them.

So the question really becomes what are you, as someone who is paying an awful lot of attention to yourself on the web, doing about it?  I know – you’ve barely figured out social media for the web – how can you worry about mobile and the integration of content, ads, and community?  How can you not?

I got up to play golf yesterday and it was pouring.  Lightning everywhere, ponding in the back yard.  I did what I always do – go look at the radar, figure out how long it will take to pass, and proceed accordingly, especially since my course has no tee times and if you show up late, you wait.  I figured it would all be gone in an hour so I dressed and drove up there.  Got right out, played in 3 hours, no rain (OK, one tiny shower on 12 but it was gone in 5 minutes).

My point is that as marketers and content providers we need to look at the radar.  A lot.  Verizon’s announcement tells us something and if we don’t act accordingly, we going to have to get in line on the tee.

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

The Toolbox

There are two studies out this morning that are interesting to me (and hopefully to you!).

The first is

a recent survey conducted on behalf of PRWeek and Manning Selvage & Lee (MS&L) by Millward Brown indicates that just may be the case: Despite weakened economic conditions, over 75% of senior marketers say they expect spending for new media and online initiatives to increase in the next year.

The second one is

a recent study by Borrell Associates, a Williamsburg, Va.-based market research firm, uncovered three major trends:

  • Spending on online display ads (web page banners, pop-ups, etc.) have been flat the past two years and are expected to top out at $12.6 billion in 2008, then decline more than 50 percent by 2012.
  • Paid search advertising will peak at $16.9 billion by 2009 and start declining.
  • Online promotions generated about $8 billion in 2007. This category will nearly triple by 2013 to $22.8 billion, exceeding all other online advertising categories, including paid search, banners, email and online audio/video advertising.

How does one reconcile these two?  I believe they’re both right – spending on digital media will continue to grow.  It should – it’s an emerging medium and consumers’ time spent and engagement with it continues to grow.  I’m not sure why there is a giant difference between good advertising and good promotion.  If I’m reading the survey right, it seems as if the difference is that the “promotional” online ads tie to a contest or some other action.  I was always taught that all advertising is supposed to have a call to action and that, it seems, is what we should be measuring.  There are lots of other factors such as the creative to consider before blaming the messenger – the medium.

It’s unfortunate that some CMO’s will read the above survey and turn it into a self-fulfilling prophecy.  There are lots of tools in the marketing toolbox.  Digital media, and display ads within digital media (hopefully with a specific, measurable, excellent call to action) are a big part.  An even bigger, more important part is using all of the tools at one’s disposal as we continue the conversations with the public.

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Filed under Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

The Town Crier

Way back when, I suspect that no one much cared what was going on in Washington (and I suppose there are a great number of folks who feel that way now, but this is NOT a political blog!).  The things they cared about were what was going on in their own backyard and maybe the backyards a town or two over.  Media – basically the newspaper – was inherently local since in general news didn’t travel fast enough to make it timely for the daily or even weekly paper.

Fast forward a couple of hundred years.  The Times printed a story today about how newspapers are cutting their national and world reportage to focus on local.

Half of all papers said they had increased the amount of state and local news they published, especially “hyper-local” community news…the shrunken newsrooms have taken on added duties in feeding their Web sites, like producing subsites covering specific towns or neighborhoods, or posting articles in the morning and updating them throughout the day.

Given that a story in Moscow is on the web and known in NY within minutes (maybe sooner if Twitter was ever up and working), I’m not sure why this is a bad thing.  World and national news has sort of become a commodity.  Good local reporting is rare and there aren’t enough people in any town doing it.   Any brand needs to distinguish itself in some manner and regurgitating the same AP story as every other news outlet isn’t doing that.  Frankly, besides the Times, Journal, and a few other major papers, there isn’t a whole lot of original content happening outside of the metro desk.

So why do the news guys seem upset about this?  If I’m them, I get to the head of the line in my town before the radio, TV, and local web guys get there first.

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Keeping Current

When I was at the NHL, occasionally someone would ask me “what is the hardest part of your job?”  I think they were expecting I’d say something about the hours or balancing the demands of the 30 clubs and the various league departments, but that really wasn’t the hardest part.  Nope.  The most difficult thing then, and now, is staying current.  With all of the change that occurs on a daily basis in the world of digital media, I find that I spend, in 5-10 minute bursts, several hours a day doing nothing but reading newsletters, blogs, and web sites (not to mention several daily newspapers – you remember them) and trade magazines.

I’m sure many of you use an RSS reader of some sort to help get through the volume of things you read regularly.  I use Google Reader and I looked at the “trends” tab this evening.  Over the last 30 days, I’ve received around 14,250 items from my list of 66 subscribed sites.  Of those, I read 2,116, roughly 70 a day.  Of course, not many items come through on Saturday and Sunday so the total is really closer to 100 a day.  Those are the ones I read in depth – I had to look at every headline and decide if the in-depth look was warranted.  Obviously many of these items led to my reading other sites to which I don’t subscribe so they’re not in the previous numbers.

All that so when a client asks about trends or some new technology, I don’t stand there with my mouth agape.  Frankly, I feel like the more you do know, the more realize how much more there IS to know.  As I wrote before, it’s really OK not to know – uncertainty makes me want to chase down answers which is how I learn – but MAN!  The information deluge is overwhelming my mental levees sometimes.

Staying current is the most important thing one can do, whether a consultant, an executive, or just a citizen.  While I know folks who don’t like to let the facts get in the way of a good story, the reality is that most great decisions are made because someone gathered as much information as possible and did an excellent job of synthesizing it to draw a conclusion.  There are times when one doesn’t have much to go on and that’s when the value of experience really pays off.  But when it comes to information, particularly in rapidly changing times, the more the merrier!

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud