Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Blank Page

I’m sure that there are situations in your life, the mere thought of which are terrifying.  For some folks it’s public speaking.  For others it’s hosting a dinner party.  For many business people I know it’s facing a blank page.

Many authors have delivered quotes about that challenge.  Most of the good ones welcome the empty expanse of the blank canvas as an opportunity for personal growth.  Not so much business people.  They are making commerce, not art, and so there really are wrong answers.  A faulty business plan.  An unclear presentation that won’t deliver a sale.  Maybe even a blog post that means to be thoughtful but never quite hits the mark.  I face that vast wasteland every work day morning and here is what I’ve found with respect to navigating it.

First, try to get yourself into the recipient’s head.  If it’s a presentation, your focus is on the reason they’re seeing you, whether it’s at a conference or a one on one meeting.  If it’s a piece of writing such as this, what question are you answering or what enlightenment are you bringing?  Next, don’t get too caught up in the words as you write them.  You can’t edit what’s not on the page.  I know you all believe these screeds come out of my head fully-formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus but there is a fair amount of editing involved.  Embrace the help others can bring.  Let them read drafts and ask them if anything is unclear.  Be sure you don’t ask the person who would totally understand it even if it was all over the place.  Maybe the receptionist?

Every blank page is a challenge, but the hard part isn’t in the creation.  It’s in having something to say that others will find worth their time.  Hopefully, this was worth yours!

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The Rise Of The Machines

One of the things I do to amuse myself when the weekend weather isn’t cooperative is to play video games.  I’m almost done playing the Mass Effect trilogy, which I highly recommend.  The games’ story revolves around a galactic war between biotics (humans and other species) and synthetics – machines, basically.

I flashed back to the game as a dozen articles about programmatic media buying came through my news feeds.  I don’t think it’s a shock to any of you to read that media buying has been transitioning from the personal, relationship-based business in which I grew up to programmatic.  People don’t talk to one another in today’s media buying and selling business: machines do. The days (and nights) of long lunches, emailed proposals, phone calls on Friday afternoons to sell out the weekend, and the entire one-to-one negotiating process have become mostly a memory.

I get it.  Programmatic is far less labor-intensive and a lot more efficient than the way I learned to sell media.  Efficiency, however, isn’t the total story and as the machines take over quite a few other things get lost.  The biggest one in my mind is transparency.  In many cases, the current media buying platforms primarily provide breakdowns of networks, and total schedule dayparts, and only after the campaign is complete do you see what has transpired and individual spot affidavits are shared.  Clients (the people who pay the bills, after all) are spending big chunks of their budgets on a plethora of middlemen, each of whom extracts their little pound of flesh for touching the buy.  It’s common for a third or more of the buy’s budget going to pay for services rather than media.

The biggest issue I have, frankly, is the loss of context.  Buying has shifted to buying audience delivery from buying based on content.  The machines buy and sell cookies, basically.  Those cookies might enable the buyers and sellers to learn quite a bit of information who is on the other end but they don’t add context.  Does that matter?  Indeed it does.

“While it certainly offers the opportunity to reach audiences more efficiently, our research shows that advertisers can’t ignore the strength of the publisher’s brand as a fundamental part of the ad experience and overall effectiveness of the campaign.”  That’s a quote from chief marketing officer and chief client officer at Millward Brown Digital as he reported on a study they had done.

According to Millward, as the “Brand Score” went up, so did the fit of advertisements, the consumers’ enjoyment of the ads, the trust consumers placed in the ads and the usefulness of the ads. Millward based its ratings on behavioral and attitudinal data collected about the consumers that visited the 44 sites during February 2014.

It’s not just about getting the right message to the right people at the right time.  It also involves the right place (read site/program).  I think that takes a human touch.  While beer ads make sense to a young male, those ads on a page containing “beer” and “drinking” keywords might also be a report of a car wreck due to drunk driving.

The human touch in media buying alerted us to when an episode might have subject matter that’s wrong for our ad. Buying audiences without regard for the show they’re watching or site they’re reading is allowing the machines to win at the expense of our marketing.  As the guys who spent the weekend battling them, I say no.  You?


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Filed under digital media

Caught In The Storm (Part 2)

Yesterday, we began our Foodie Friday Fun with my description of a bad customer experience and the lessons learned.  Today I’ll continue the tale with what happened after I ended up in an Irish Pub due to a blown reservation and a nasty storm.

Having been seated in a nearly empty pub, I waited for a server to appear.  The fellow who showed up had little energy and stood there wordlessly awaiting a drink order.  I asked about “espresso vodka” (don’t judge) and was told they didn’t serve espresso or cappuccino.  That was not a good sign.  I ordered a black and tan, something that’s a staple of any Irish place.  “No draft beer at all.  It’s a building problem.”   After ordering something very simple to drink, I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  I looked into the bar area – it was pretty empty.

Eventually my drink and server appeared.  I asked about specials – there was a “catch of the day” on the menu as well as a couple of other dishes that changed daily.  “We don’t have any – just what’s on the menu.”  I made my mind up then and there that I would have a little something to tide me over and head elsewhere for supper.  The artichoke and crab dip that showed up was badly made (chunks of unmelted cream cheese, very little crab or artichoke) and delivered to the table warm, not hot.  I can’t blame Mr. Personality for the food but it was his lack of attention and knowledge that changed my mind about staying, costing his employer a larger check and him a larger tip.

After the storm, I walked across the street  to the local iteration of Brio, where I met James.  I had barely taken my seat when he appeared (in a fairly full place) to offer me a drink, comment on the storm, and begin to tell me about the menu.  I asked for a wine list and it appeared in a few seconds, along with a few suggestions about what was well-priced and delicious.  The rest of the meal went the same way – highly competent service delivered with an engaging personality.  It was so good that I asked him who had trained him.  He told me he had gone to college for a degree in hospitality.  Boy did it show!  He also asked if I would tell his manager which, of course, I agreed to do.  It was the only time that James wasn’t squarely focused on me.

These were two diametrically opposed service experiences.  In one place the server had such a negative effect that I left and the business lost revenue.  In the other I ordered a dish I might not have otherwise, tipped extremely well, and left impressed by the professionalism of the entire operation.  It reinforced everything  I believe about proper training, good management, employees for whom the business was a career and not just a job (James was not waiting tables while looking for a “real” job) and customer care being a direct route to more revenue.  Was it the best Italian food I’ve ever had?  No.  The food was very good but it certainly was one of the best service experiences and it made the food better as well as the evening a lot more enjoyable.

The night ended with a dessert sent over by the manager with his compliments.  Believe me, the pleasure was all mine.  I’ll leave highly positive reviews around the web but I’m hoping you take away the business points I did.  Amazing how in the space of 2 hours one can see both ends of the service spectrum!

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints