Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A brush with greatness.

I often talk of brand evangelism on this site. Now's the time to practice what I preach.

If you are a guy past puberty, buy one of these:

This is the Vulfix #2233 Super Badger Shaving Brush, lovingly hand-crafted on the Isle of Man. The first time I used this baby, my face was smoother than a snooker ball.

It was recommended in a detailed article on attaining the perfect shave, so I gave it a try. Now I'm talking about this thing so much, my wife thinks I've joined a Tantric shaving cult.

I procured mine from the link above, ClassicShaving.com, and they were extremely responsive. I also picked up an old-fashioned shaving mug, soap, and a Merkur safety razor which I have yet to get the hang of. (That's why I also bought a styptic pencil.)

But you must get this brush. Rush out now in a buying frenzy!

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Sympathy for the Record Industry.

Record label marketeers are nervous. They should be terrified.

The Times (London) offers a great peek into the implosion of the rickety RIAA promotion machine. A band of nobodies called the Arctic Monkeys knocked much-hyped media vamps the Sugababes (think Spice Girls without the artistic integrity) from the UK's #1 slot.

The unsigned Monkeys set up a Web site and gave the songs away for free. They also used their site to steadily chat with their fans, destroying the artificial barrier between artist and listener. Fame and fortune followed as their legion of fans began taping live shows, concert tickets were being scalped for about US$175, and a record label snapped them up.

Meanwhile, RIAA sues its customers. Oh, it'll be a pity to see these clowns in the unemployment line.

PS: It is always a wise move to include the word "monkeys" in your band name.

PPS: The Arctic Monkeys play "grok rock" ("grok" meaning "dirty" in Brit slang). I've only heard a couple of songs, but they sound a bit like the White Stripes in a crowded Yorkshire pub.

PPPS: The article also quotes Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins, Zwan) as saying music Web sites have created “a new paradigm". Wouldn't you expect a tool like Corgan to use the word "paradigm"? Gads.

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Friday, October 21, 2005

Now that wasn't so hard, was it?

Earlier this month, a brilliant writer opined, Why is it SO difficult for so many to say, "we messed up?" It's not a big deal; we all make mistakes. And whether it's Dell providing lousy computer service, a politician rapidly switching positions or a NYT columnist getting the facts wrong, just say "whoops" and briefly (but thoroughly) explain yourself.

Yesterday, the way-cool Greenville, S.C., agency Brains on Fire clearly demonstrated how this is done. Lofty kudos to Robbin Phillips for brilliantly practicing what we all need to do more of.

Hire these folks -- they get it.

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Monday, October 17, 2005

Words that must die.

Recently, Mr. Galloway (highly recommended!) detailed his loathing for the term “actionable.” This word is just one of many examples of what I call “Dilbert-speak”: business terms designed not to communicate, but to make the speaker seem more intelligent.

Matt’s post reminded me of all sorts of linguistic ticks around the meeting table. Since the readers of this impotent important site are deeply interested in making my life less stressful, would you kindly stomp down co-workers using these terms? My public gratitude shall be your reward (I don’t have any “The Inkling™” coffee mugs or leg warmers to give away just yet).

Utilize: The over-long replacement for “use” when a person wants to sound smart or high-tech. I once tried to thin out a large stack of resumes by removing every one that used this word. The problem was that EVERY ONE used it. Or should I say “utilized” it.

Very unique: Unique means “unlike anything else” or “one of a kind.” It’s binary. Something IS unique or NOT unique. There are no degrees. Can someone be “kind of pregnant?” Same with “unique.”

A whole nother: Rarely written, but ubiquitous in speech. “Nother” is not a word. Say “another whole” or “a whole other.” Or I’ll slap you.

Tentative: Another spoken gaffe – even academics and NPR types regularly get this one wrong. There is a second “T” in there that gets angry when forgotten. Ten-TA-tive, not ten-a-tive.

Leverage: See “utilize.”

Implement: To paraphrase Nancy Reagan, “just say ‘do.’”

Actionable: As in “actionable information” – why not just say “information?”

Out of the Box: We’re all sick of this one. I actually heard myself using this in a big meeting last week. I felt so… dirty.

Authenticity: Never use this self-referentially. It’s like the word “humble” – the adjective no longer applies if you use it about yourself.

110 percent: You can give 100 percent. That’s all. More annoyingly, offices are in the midst of metaphorical percentage creep. Since 110 percent is now expected, now employees are giving 150 or 200 percent. Until human cloning is commonplace, never cross the century mark.

Deliverables: I once bludgeoned a middle manager with his stapler for using this thrice in one paragraph. Stop me before I kill again.

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Sunday, October 16, 2005

Pop quiz!

Figure 1:

Word of Mouth Marketing has either:
A) Arrived.
B) Jumped the shark.

Extra Credit Question: Has the phrase "jumped the shark" jumped the shark?

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

The customer ain't always right.

Extraordinary customer service is crucial, but let's face it: sometimes a customer is full of crap. We've all seen a shrill harridan demeaning a trembling soul at the register, or a dyspeptic lout demanding the physically impossible. In cases like that don't be afraid to stand up for your employee.

CMO has a great read on FedEx and Southwest's employee-focused strategies. Happy workers make happy customers. And happy shareholders. Southwest President Colleen Barrett shares her philosophy:
"If we practice the Golden Rule every day, then employees feel good about what they're doing. They're apt to smile more and be warmer. If that happens often enough and passengers feel that proactive customer service, then they, in turn, are happy and come back more," Barrett explains.

And here's FedEx's attitude:
...FedEx's primary means of engaging employees is by encouraging what the express delivery service calls "Discretionary Effort." That means encouraging employees to use their own judgment during tricky customer-relations issues. "We encourage them to do what they think is correct," explains (Bob) Bennett. "If they have an unhappy customer and they need to send them flowers, they can. We had one courier who had a flat tire. Fifteen minutes later, he rented a cab [and delivered the package]. We didn't question it."

Your employees will be associated with your organization a lot longer than that poltroon who abused them last week. Don't be afraid at times to fire the awful customer and pat your employee on the back.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Bob Garfield has an intriguing piece in the Oct. 10 AdAge about what he calls "Listenomics":
Advertising as we know it might not quite work anymore.

Now there’s a thought.

If the conversation is dominated by consumers themselves, and they’re paying scant attention to the self-interested blather of the marketer, who needs ads -- offline, online or otherwise? This raises the question of what agencies are left to do.

Maybe the answer is obvious: to manage, focus, exploit, maybe even co-opt the open conversation. The real question may be whether the agency world is culturally equipped for the task. (emphases mine)

Ben McConnell takes Garfield to task while Owen Mack offers an understanding defense.

I think Garfield means well and is seriously trying to understand the terra incognita of the new marketing world. However, even with his language he reveals that, deep down, he just doesn't get it.

"Consumers" are things (see units, widgets, etc.). "Customers" are people. When you can honestly call these people "clients" or "partners," that's even better. These seem like simple semantic differences, but they reveal what we really think about the folks that pay our salary.

Agencies should "exploit" and "co-opt" consumers' conversations? Yeah, good luck with that. I love when my phone is exploited by a dim-witted fishwrap saleswoman at dinner time. And I adore the fact I can't use my cable Internet email account because it's been co-opted by Viagra pitchmen and Hungarian exhibitionists.

Sure, "exploit" can be a neutral term, but it usually means (or is inferred to mean) that someone is cynically taking advantage of another. Instead of commandeering a discussion, how about engaging in your customers' conversations? How about listening more than you talk? Do you think a person might like that approach? Would you?

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Sunday, October 09, 2005

Kevin Creighton over at the Organized Individualists blog is taking a well-deserved paternity hiatus. Congratulations to Kevin, Bonnie and beautiful little Dylan James!

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Following on the tremendous financial outpouring for Hurricane Katrina relief, Marc Sirkin has a great question about donations. Since less than one percent of all donations are given anonymously (according to the NYT), “is an anonymous gift better” in some way? And if it is better, how can we as individuals even make gifts anonymously?

I am surprised by the “less than one percent” figure, but I’m unclear how it is possible to donate anonymously these days. Everything online requires a debit/credit card, everything by mail requires a personal check, and any regular gift (monthly donation, religious institution tithe, etc.) usually requires a special account or a paycheck deduction. As Marc mentions, the only way to give anonymously is to drop a C-note in a tin cup.

I think a major reason for giving non-anonymously (that’s a clunky phrase. Can I just say “nonymously”?) is the tax code. Years back, as an enthusiastic 18-year-old I was surprised that people gave money to their church in envelopes with their name and address. I remember thinking, “aren’t we supposed to give in private?” Then a middle-aged gentleman kindly reminded me of that thing (still new to me) called taxes. I used to give anonymously as a young adult, but now that I’m 38 with a family and a mortgage, I save receipts for every stray buck I give to anyone or anything. I’ll render unto Caesar, but not one red cent more than I have to.

So if you want to give anonymously, I would cram a roll of $20s into the donations box for the Ronald McDonald House or Habitat for Humanity or The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. But your accountant wouldn’t recommend it.

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Sunday, October 02, 2005

Why is it SO difficult for so many to say, "we messed up?" It's not a big deal; we all make mistakes. And whether it's Dell providing lousy computer service, a politician rapidly switching positions or a NYT columnist getting the facts wrong, just say "whoops" and briefly (but thoroughly) explain yourself.

No rational person is going to hold this against you. No one but the most strident partisan will mock your admission. In fact, the vast majority of your so-called enemies will be forced into respecting your forthrightness.

Enter the NY Times editorial page. Widely read econo-columnist Paul Krugman has apparently made a series of errors -- some large, some minor -- about various issues of the day. In one particular column, he apparently misrepresented crucial facts about the tangled 2000 Florida recount. But instead of just saying "whoops" and moving on, he has offered a series of tortured "yeah maybe, but" semi-retractions which hide any correction behind Byzantine technicalities and lashing out at perceived foes.

His obstinance was so extraordinary, that NYT Public Editor Byron Calame publically rebuked both Krugman and his editor, Gail Collins. In response, Collins today offered more ornate spins, dodges and pirouettes to avoid that apparently painful term, "whoops."

On the Decision '08 blog (linked above), I jokingly offered an inducement to Krugman:
Maybe getting a correction out of Krugman would be easier if the NY Times put it behind another, more expensive subscription wall. Call it TimesSuperSelect — for just $69.95, you get not only TimesSelect, but you also have access to the weekly “For the Record” corrections warehouse. The offending columnist will then get a $4.95 kickback from each subscriber every time he admits a whopper, boner, howler or gaffe. Press honesty is at a premium; Shouldn’t the pay structure reflect that?

Jokes aside, this whole situation reminded me of the obstinance by Dell when called out by Jeff Jarvis. Whether you run a company or a column, just say "whoops" and move on. You'll be happier, wealthier and have more time to avoid making another mistake.

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Saturday, October 01, 2005

This is BRILLIANT. A video post-production house has decided to make new movie trailers for older films. Showing the power of good editing, they are making the movies seem VERY different than they should. Here is their heartwarming take on The Shining. Did I say "brilliant?"