Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Preying on impulses

Marketers spend quite a bit of time thinking about how to encourage impulse buying. In a sense, trying to encourage impulse buying is a form of gravity fighting. You're trying to get people to do something that they didn't really want to do.

[See my earlier posts on the folly of gravity fighting.

But although I do believe that trying to fight gravity is generally a foolish strategy, it does not fail entirely. There are ways to get people to do what they don't really want to do. There's quite a bit of art and science behind this. Good retailers study this carefully. They know which products to put near the cash registers. They know what kind of signage will "interrupt" people. And so on.

I'm seeing a lot more of this sort of behavior on the part of businesses. The poor state of our economy puts pressure on businesses to sell sell sell. So I'm getting lots more emails with all sorts of sales incentives.

But let's play around a bit with the notion of impulse buying. I think it's safe to say that, in general, the impulse purchase is one that the consumer didn't need. If it was a need, it would have been on the shopping list. One way or another, people manage to buy their needs (assuming they can afford to do so). You don't have to encourage the need based purchase. You may need to make sure that it's your brand or product that is selected to fill the need, but you do not have to convince people to buy what they need.

Impulse purchases, on the other hand, are not needs. They are wants. And they aren't even really significant wants or they would have ended up on the shopping list. Rather, they tickle some small non-rational fancy buried somewhere in our minds that we probably cannot explain or justify.

Since people don't need these, I would argue that they are harmful. Why? Because they consume resources for no good reason. People are spending money that they could have used for a need or a truly significant want, on something that will do almost no good for them. In more flush times, this may not be so bad. But now that consumers are genuinely strapped and many are out of work, can we morally defend business practices that encourage impulse buying?

I wonder whether devising marketing strategies to get people to impulsively buy more gum, DVDs, options for their new car, etc. is on firmer moral ground than prostitutes trying to drum up business by finding married men they know are sexually unsatisfied. (Assume for the moment that prostitution was legal.) Or the alcohol industry trying to sell to recovering alcoholics. Or the mortgage industry trying to sell homes to people who couldn't afford them. Oh wait, they actually did that. My point is that all of these situations involve impulses. The sexually unsatisfied man has impulses. The recovering alcoholic has impulses. And shoppers have impulses.

When you spend time developing strategies and tactics to get people to add a few more items - that they don't really need or want - to their shopping cart, how are you better than the prostitute, booze pusher or predatory lender? Because you just sold a pack of gum and it doesn't cost that much or really hurt anyone? OK, you have a point. But not a very strong point. I'll agree that there is a quantitative difference between "taking" someone for $1 and conning someone out of thousands or wrecking their marriage... But it's just a quantitative difference. The fundamental behavior is the same. You have used guile to get people to do something that is bad for them and good for you.

On one hand, I say "shame on you!" On the other hand, our economy is entirely dependent on this. Maybe it's shame on us all.

Seem my earlier post regarding excessive consumption and Tim Jackson's poignant comments on the issue.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sales without selling at Nordstrom

Below is a card I received from a shoe salesman that sold me one or more pairs of shoes at Nordstrom several months ago.

For me, it is a perfect example of how I like to be sold to. Fred knows he's trying to sell. I know Fred's trying to sell. Fred knows that I know he's trying to sell. I know that Fred knows he's trying to sell. And now you know that Fred knows that I know that he knows he's trying to sell. What I'm trying to say is that we all know Fred is trying to sell.

But here's the magic. It doesn't
feel that way to me. And you know what? Feelings matter. [Can someone pass me a hankie please?] I feel that Fred is just treating me like a human being. He's thanking me for "letting" him help me in the past. He makes no mention whatsoever of his desire to help me in the future. He doesn't say anything about hoping to see me again soon. None of that. He just thanks me for being a customer in the past.

Super classy and it makes me feel great.

Just another reason why I buy all my shoes at Nordstrom.

A "consume to live" economy

Imagine a continuum. There. Isn't that fun? No, wait, there's more. Imagine a continuum that has on its left a "live to consume" economy and on its right a "consume to live" economy.

What do I mean by those phrases? Well, a "live to consume" economy is one where people's thoughts and activities are organized around consumption. They are all about getting more stuff. They even get stuff for their stuff (e.g., useless ornaments for their cellphones). Companies are founded and people are hired to produce all this stuff. They grow by finding new types of stuff that people can be convinced they need. Other companies produce the equipment that stuff manufacturers need to produce stuff. Other companies produce the packaging that the stuff manufacturers put their stuff in. Other companies make accessories for the stuff. And yet other companies advise stuff manufacturers on what new types of stuff they can make. Then there are the companies that "help" people who don't have enough cash on hand convince stuff-sellers to let them take some stuff now under the promise (structured in some way) that they will pay later. And so on. The desire for stuff is never satisfied and in fact, it is engineered to never be satisfied. The desire or obsession with stuff creates a constant pressure for ever more and better stuff, without which the entire edifice collapses (sound familiar?).

A "consume to live" economy is not organized this way. It may be organized around many different things but imagine just one. Imagine an economy organized around people living valuable, grounded, wholesome lives in the pursuit of nobility, excellence and wisdom. In this economy, people would consume that which they needed to live their lives in the pursuit of the above goals. They would have basic shelter and adequate nourishment. They would have whatever psychic pleasure and diversionary activities such as would be needed to maintain a state of wellness.

So if we put the "live to consume" economy on the left of our continuum and the "consume to live" economy on the right, where do you think we are today? (Let's focus on the U.S.) It seems to me that we are very far to the left. Nearly all the way. We have our needs well taken care of and have been in this position for quite a long time. So we have the luxury to focus our resources elsewhere. [Note: I am well aware that we have many homeless and poverty stricken people in the U.S. My comments relate to the society in general.]

Now you might be thinking about Maslow's hierarchy now. But we are not behaving as Maslow predicted. We are not spending our resources (time, money, attention, etc.) on self-actualization. We are spending our resources on ever more elaborate means of masturbating. Yeah, I said masturbating. We spend an ungodly amount of effort thinking about stuff, planning to produce stuff, planning to buy stuff, saving up for stuff, talking about stuff... that we have no time to think about what might be important in life. We have no time to pursue wisdom. We have no time to ennoble ourselves and those around us. And we do this because, well, it feels good. OK, maybe masturbating wasn't fair. After all, we do buy stuff for others.

Is this the right way to live? The wizards that run our economy have been intent - for a goodly number of years now - on making sure we have access to capital to buy more stuff. Problem with the economy? Make sure consumers can get credit so they can buy stuff because when they buy more stuff, companies have to produce the stuff and they need workers for that production and the workers will then have jobs which means they'll get paid so they'll have money to buy stuff...

I don't think you need a doctorate in Logic to see the problem with a "live to consume" economy.

I don't know folks. It all seems like such a waste to me.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Calcified relationships are useless

I recently wrote about leaving T-Mobile for AT&T. I did it largely because I want to get an iPhone, although my employer's significant discount with AT&T definitely helped.

But I've been thinking about why I left T-Mobile and what they could have done to keep me. As I wrote in my last post on this issue, the customer service rep was really nice when I called to tell them I was switching. The language he used made me feel special. He talked about what a great customer I had been for 7 years and how if I chose to come back, they would really take care of me.

It got me thinking: where were they for all of those years when I wasn't calling to tell them I was leaving? I will admit that I have noticed - over the past year or so - that when I call them, the experience is quite pleasing. But that isn't really enough. The problem is that my relationship with them never changed. I put in more years. I remained loyal, but they never acknowledged that in any way. Only when I called to dump them, did they express their love and show appreciation for my loyalty. Too late.

Think about it. Relationships either change or they end. The change doesn't have to be dramatic. But long lasting relationships often get the feel of a very comfortable old piece of clothing that gets softer with age. Where you know its every wrinkle and it seems to know just how to fit itself onto your body. Or an old bottle of wine or an aged whiskey that doesn't radically change flavor but seems to settle into its existing flavor with more grace and dignity over time.

The value of a long-lasting relationship is huge (when the relationship doesn't suck). But only if it acquires some greater breadth or depth. Otherwise it is calcified and its uselessness screams out until you fix or end it.

My relationship with T-Mobile never changed. They never acknowledged my loyalty in any way. They never behaved differently towards or with me when I was a 7 year customer than when I was a new customer. What that says is that they don't care. It's not a real relationship.

How could they have created a real changing relationship? Here are just some ideas:
* An "anniversary" present on the anniversary of my joining T-Mobile with a gift that increased in value every year
* Every now and then just sending an email, a text or calling me and letting me know - for no apparent reason - that they really appreciated my x years of business
* Giving me a special customer service line, good for long-standing customers only
* Having special in-store events for long-standing customers

And so on. See, this is not hard. And some of these ideas are really cheap. But they would have made me feel really good. I don't know if they would have been effective at stopping me from getting an iPhone. But if they had really cared about me and really showed it, I probably would have gotten an iPhone and unlocked it for use with T-Mobile.

Relationships where one or more of the parties is human, change. Period. If you are a business and you want to have a relationship with a human customer, you should have a plan for this. How will you evolve the relationship over time? I think, perhaps, that many businesses either don't think about this issue at all, or, worse, think of customers as equipment that depreciates over time. But the opposite is true. Customers get more valuable over time. So make sure to have a customer lifecycle plan for managing this incredibly valuable asset.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Restaurant 2.0?

I've been getting a good education over the past year from people, like the indomitable Jer979, who are considerably more internet savvy than I. I understand that the pace of life on the internet is fast. Very fast.

I don't want to be the one to sit astride the internet shouting stop. [And not just because of the serious proctological damage that would ensue.]

However, I wonder if attempts by the internet savvy to bring the speed of life online to their offline jaunts and pastimes is somehow damaging. To wit:

Soup of the day is pretty current. Do we really need soup of the moment?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Innovation and mediocre sex

I'm seeing a lot of misguided application of innovation techniques. The biggest problem I'm seeing is that people are following process and using techniques but without the right attitude and behaviors. Without the soul. And the soul, I'm afraid, is the secret sauce. That's what really gets you to new and different ideas.

One way this plays out, is for would-be innovators to find a few hours where people are available in between budget reviews and other budget reviews, in some boring corporate meeting room and to try and jam in a whole lotta innovation by walking through lots of innovation steps.

You're wondering how I'm going to work the sex metaphor into this aren't you? Wait for it, wait for it, now take it:

I think the scenario I laid out above is the "quickie" of innovation. In the quickie, one or both people want or need sex but they don't have the time for it and sometimes don't even have the right space for it. There are no sweet words. No candles. No KY Yours and Mine. And very little soul. The quickie has its place. It does serve a purpose. But it isn't going to get you that soulful emotional passion and love. The soulful experience requires the right mood, the right amount of time and the right space. You cannot shortcut it.

Innovation is quite similar. You cannot shortcut it. If you need a few quick ideas, some low-hanging fruit, go for it. In that scenario, you don't really need innovation, you just need some ideation. [See my last post for an explanation of this.] But when you are looking for something really novel or unique, that big-idea, you need the right mood, the right amount of time and the right space.

When you set it up that way, the magic can happen.

Innovation or ideation?

One of the problems with encouraging innovation is that people learn to love the hammer so much that in addition to using it on nails, they start using it on screws, kitchen appliances, the air... Heck, sometimes they use it on each other. It's crazy!

Now I love me a bit of wild fun as much as the next guy. And in this day and age, who is hurt by a little reckless hammer swinging amongst friends?

Well I am my friends. I am. You see, innovation is serious business. It's not for the faint of heart, the long of tooth or... that other guy.

Innovation is appropriate for every area within business or life, and every person can and should innovate, but not all at the same time. Not every problem needs innovation. So I'd like to propose an easy way of thinking about when you really need innovation and when you need... that other thing.

Ask yourself: is the answer to your problem or challenge already to be found somewhere in the minds of your team members? Is your problem one that can be handled through the application of domain expertise? In other words, do your people already have the answer but simply lack an opportunity to come together, talk about the issue, get their thoughts out and discuss them? If so, you need ideation, not innovation. You need to bring your team together for some sort of ideation session so they can unload what they've got and you can sort it out and plan your path forward.

But, if the nature of your problem or challenge is such that it requires a genuinely novel answer and cannot be solved by getting experts to do their expert thing, then you need innovation. This requires more artfully crafted exercises to stimulate your team members to think differently. It requires time. And it requires the right space.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Kudos to T-Mobile

I've been a T-Mobile customer for 7 years. I had 3 phone lines so I was a pretty good customer. But I've decided to switch to AT&T. I'd really like to get an iPhone. Plus, I get a hefty discount because my employer has a nice arrangement with AT&T.

I ported two of my phone lines to AT&T. I only left my own number with T-Mobile because I'm waiting to see if Apple releases a 32gb iPhone in January. Anyway, I called T-Mobile to switch my rate plan to the cheapest one they have in anticipation of leaving them entirely. I told the rep that this is what I was doing.

And he was really gracious. He behaved exactly as I would have wanted. He said he was sorry to see me go, that he understood I had my reasons and that if I chose to come back to T-Mobile I would be well taken care of.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Innovation and the human soul

Below is a section of a letter I recently sent to friends. I think too much time is spent on trying to "manage" innovation and not enough on trying to get out of the way so that the human soul can do what it does best.

"Emerson wrote that "Society never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains on the other." What he meant, in part, is that although society does benefit from the accretion of knowledge, experience and technology, the true measure of society lies in the greatness and nobility of each individual human soul.

I have long believed that the primary impediment to innovation is the insistence of organizations and institutions on attenuating the connection between individual people and their souls. Institutions feel much more comfortable when we access only those parts of our souls that are deemed to support their mission. This process of occlusion begins when we are children, and, over time, we forget who we are and what we can achieve. When the need for innovation arises, we find that the only levers we know how to push are the ones we have been allowed to push in the past. Predictably, these yield only the solutions we have already produced. We can innovate only when we find a way to remove the occlusions of our soul, be they fears of failure, rules we have been taught, social mores or the like."

Friday, December 19, 2008

Where do you find god?

I found him on my windshield! Some pastor left me a flier telling me all sorts of things including the fact that Jesus loves me.

Needless to say, this was welcome news. I do not find myself in the unfortunate position of having too many people love me.

I'm just wondering though: if Jesus loves me, and if he took the time to stop by my car, why couldn't he have fixed the leak in my trunk?!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Innovation rule #7: Never say “always” or “never”

Yeah, I just broke my own rule. But the rule only took effect after I wrote this.

I have had many discussions about the future state of the world with various people who often say “but people will always…” or “people will never…” Whenever I hear that, I know that person is in for a very rude surprise.

There are very few immutable laws in this world. We’re still learning the laws of physics and we barely understand human psychology. What appears to us as a constant, is more than likely just an artifact of our own family, society, culture or organization. Whatever you think will always be, probably won’t. And whatever you think never will be is just around the corner.

So don’t let yourself get too comfortable imagining that your future will look like today except with flying cars. The future is going to be very different. Open yourself up completely to this likelihood and you may play a role in shaping that future.

Alright, this is the end of my seven rules series. I hope these thoughts will inspire you. If they do help you invent the teleporter, please let me have the second ride.

And now, if you don't mind, I'd like to toot my own horn ever so briefly. This is my 100th blog post! I have no idea why that is significant in any way. You might think that my blog sucks. Heck, sometimes I think my blog sucks. And even if you like it, 100 is just like any other number except that it is 100 and the rest aren't. Still, I feel like marking this occasion and now I have.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Innovation rule #6: Don't confuse measurement with wisdom

Many times have I heard the wise saying that “what gets measured gets done.” It is a wise saying. There is definitely truth in it. But it can also be a lazy and unintelligent way to avoid trying anything new.

Look, you already know how to measure what you’re doing today. Those testing methodologies have evolved over many years to the point where you feel comfortable relying on them. They didn’t just emerge out of thin air. In fact, wouldn’t you expect testing methodologies to follow the invention of the objects they are designed to test?

Novel initiatives are novel. There may not be a good way to test them yet because nobody has had a reason to develop the tests. What would you like to do? Continue doing the same things over and over again until you pass into oblivion, or occasionally wade into uncharted territory and evolve into a set of testing methodologies over time?

Some activities or phenomena are just easier to measure than others. If you aspire to be the expert at delivering the stuff that is easily measured, good luck. If you want to survive and thrive in a changing world, you’d better find a way to get comfortable doing something new.

So don’t take the easy way out. Sometimes you have to leap before you look.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Innovation rule #5: Don't fight gravity

I can’t tell you how many times, as a marketer, I’ve heard discussions that start with “how can we get consumers to…” Usually those sentences end with a desire on the part of the company to have consumers change in some way that is clearly beneficial to the company but of dubious benefit to the consumer.

This is nothing but an attempt to fight gravity. If consumers wanted more of your stuff, they would already have it. Instead of wondering how you can get them to change to make your life better, try and think about how you can change to make their lives better.

The music industry is a good example of this phenomenon. People started illegally copying and sharing music so the music industry decided that the best path forward was to sue their customers. Do they really think they are going to succeed in the effort to turn off the internet?! Again, this is an attempt to fight gravity. I don’t have the answer for them, but it sure as hell does not lie with fighting gravity. Instead, they should accept that there are changing norms, behaviors and expectations for value amongst today’s music consumers and figure out a way to deliver that value.

So don’t fight gravity. You will get very tired and then you will lose.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Innovation rule #4: Don't forget humanity

Amidst all of the interesting and good work on innovation processes, techniques and tools, I fear that we have lost sight of the fact that innovation comes from people. People are naturally wired to try and understand and gain mastery over their environment. They are curious. They are playful. They seek excellence. If this doesn’t sound like your workforce, then stop reading this right now. You don’t have an innovation problem, you have an HR problem.

In all likelihood, your people have these qualities. If you don’t see them, it may be that you forced them underground. When you did so, you probably sent your innovation down there as well.

So don’t overmanage your people. Find people that can be inspired by what your organization is generally trying to achieve and, as much as you possibly can, let them take all of their passion, energy and inspiration and figure out how they can best put it to use for you. You will never know this as well as they do. So get out of the way.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Innovation rule #3: Do ignore cannibalization

New initiatives are often evaluated looking only at the incremental sales they will generate. The cannibalized sales are subtracted off of the total sales to yield the incremental size of the new business opportunity.

This does not make sense. It relies on an untenable assumption and will force you to undervalue innovation opportunities.

The assumption is that the pie you are holding on to right now will remain intact and in your possession forever so long as you do not discard it of your own volition. The world doesn’t work this way. Your competitors are out there looking to grab a slice of that pie. If you have an innovation idea, chances are that someone out there has the same idea and they will not care about cannibalizing your business. In fact, that’s exactly what they intend to do. So your cannibalized sales are as good as gone.

When you discount your new initiatives by the value of the cannibalized sales, you are pretending that those sales would have been yours forever. Putting your hand over your eyes blinds only you. Your competitors can still see and they will exploit your blindness and leave you wondering why the heck you couldn’t see it coming.

So forget cannibalization. The world is constantly changing and what you have in your hand today will not remain in your hand forever. Just do the best job you can for your customers and the rewards will follow.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Innovation rule #2: Do see the system

Organizations are machines. The various parts work together to generate the desired output. Sometimes the parts work well together and sometimes the machine is poorly designed and there is misalignment. In either case, it makes no sense to modify one part of the machine and pretend that change will have no impact on the rest of the machine.

If you want your organization to innovate, you must design a machine for that purpose. All parts of that machine must work together to drive innovation. Who you hire, how you train them, how you measure and reward performance, how you pay people, how you communicate internally, what your physical space looks like… Every aspect of your organization is a part of your machine. It will either contribute to or detract from your success.

So build the right machine.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Innovation rule #1: Do respect the uniqueness of ideas

It seems to be the nature of large institutions to kill interesting ideas. Whether those institutions are governments or large corporations, there is an inexorable march towards blandness.

Think of an idea or vision as a crystal. It has a distinctive shape marked by jagged edges and depressions. Whether you think it good or bad, beautiful or ugly, it is distinctive and it makes an impact. When large organizations take an idea through the vetting process, each constituency sees a jagged edge they feel must be filed down or a depression that must be filled in. Before you know it, that distinctive crystal has morphed into a perfectly smooth sphere which represents the average of all points of view. Average ideas are almost guaranteed to generate average results.

This does not mean that you must cherish every jagged edge or depression. Some ideas are just plain stupid. But it does mean that you should respect the unique integrity of an idea. Inclusiveness is a respectable value, but not at the expense of the quality of your ideas.

So find the champions for your valuable crystals and let them move ahead. If there are people in your organization that cannot support a particular crystal, better to encourage them to find one they can support than to allow them to turn one into a sphere.

Seven rules for innovation

Unless you’ve been living in a wifi-proof bubble over the last few years, you’ve been inundated with articles, podcasts, blogs, emails, conferences and tweets about innovation. If you work for a large company like I do, you’ve also been subjected to a swarm of consultants, all of whom are eager to share their unique point of view or proprietary methodology to drive your business.

If you are perfectly happy with your innovation output, please stop reading this right now. In fact, stop reading everything. Your time is way too important to waste on reading. Go and invent the teleporting machine or the sock that cannot be lost.

But if you’re feeling as I am that in spite of the plethora of truly thoughtful academics, consultants and practitioners, we have not yet achieved a satisfactory level of proficiency in innovation, please read on.

After about an eight-year career in consulting and line-marketing, I moved into a dedicated staff innovation role. I have spent the past year trying to develop cross-business innovation opportunities and create a more innovative culture. It is a role that is exciting and frustrating – for the same reasons. To do it well, one must be able to simultaneously respect the realities of the current business environment and see through those realities and assumptions to the world that could exist if someone had the courage and wisdom to lead the way forward.

I am not yet doing it well. If I were, I would be too busy spending my obscene bonus or giving keynote addresses at posh boondoggle conferences. Like many, if not most, innovation practitioners, I am still struggling to better understand the concept of innovation, the barriers, and the means of avoiding or circumventing them. Through the course of my struggles, I have had a few ideas that I think can help us cut through some of the confusion or move past some of the old ways of thinking that encumber our innovation efforts. I have organized these thoughts into seven rules – three dos and four don’ts. Most of these thoughts come from earlier blog posts. I hope that gathering them together in this way will add value for my fellow innovators.

Starting today, I will publish one rule a day. I hope you find them interesting and inspiring. And if you have your own rules to add, I would love to hear them.

Is a brand a cause or an effect?

It would seem they are both.

Brands are sets of associations and impressions in the minds of consumers. Brands are the cumulative effect of the actions that marketers engage in with respect to their products and the experiences that consumers have as a consequence (direct or indirect) of those actions. Brands are, in a sense, epiphenomenal.

Brands are also causes. The associations and impressions that people have, cause them to behave in various ways towards branded products that they would not towards equivalent unbranded products. The brand acts as a heuristic and the value of that heuristic in effecting sound judgment is a function of the accuracy of the associations that consumers have with respect to the branded product(s).

So brands are both cause and effect right?

Well not so fast.

Perhaps they were in the past. In years past, a big company could launch a product, advertise it on TV, promote it at retail and stand to benefit for years to come from the associations that were created by the quality of the product and the message communicated through the advertising. Consumers would simply assume that if Brand X launched another product, it would be as trusted, as fun, as innovative as their mental representation of that brand. They relied on the heuristic because starting every decision process from scratch is time consuming.

I'm not so sure it works that way anymore. Consumers are savvier, likely because finding information is much much easier. It's all on Google for free. And, of course, there is a general societal trend towards mistrust of social institutions.

It seems to me that brands are no longer causes. They no longer cause people to behave in ways that they do not behave towards equivalent unbranded products. I think that in a world of instant free information, brands can never rest on their laurels. They must constantly keep doing whatever earned them those associations and impressions in the first place. A brand that is known for quality cannot take a vacation from quality and still expect to maintain the same associations and impressions in the minds of its consumers.

So if brands must continuously earn their associations, then it seems reasonable to argue that it is not the brand (i.e, the associations) that causes people to act but, rather, the actions of the marketer with respect to its products that causes people to act.

I know that I'm oversimplifying. And I know that I have overstated the case. Still, I think brand loyalty is declining and cycle times have shrunk. "What have you done for me lately" is the new mantra.

So I think marketers must think of their brands as effects. Effects of the actions they take. Once they have a brand that stands for something positive, they should vigorously and unflaggingly pursue actions that reinforce those associations in the minds of their consumers.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Stillborn innovation at Campbell's

Late last year, a colleague left my place of employment to go work for Campbell's soup as a Director of Innovation. She sent an email to a bunch of folks with her new contact info and at the end of her email it said "eat a lot of soup".

My initial reaction was that this wasn't likely to convince anyone to change their soup eating behavior. But then my marketing brain kicked in and I thought these email signatures could be a great marketing vehicle.

It seemed to me that since this is a free country, people are already eating as much Campbell's soup as they want. The soup is widely available, relatively cheap and everyone has heard of it. So simply telling folks to eat more of it is pretty much a waste of time.

But why not put recipes in the email signature so people can learn new ways to use Campbell's soup? I thought people could either do this on their own or have their email system randomly pull recipes from a database and add it to the signature of employees that opt-in.

So I sent that idea to my colleague. She suggested that I submit the idea to Campbell's idea submission website when it launched. A few months later she wrote to me and sent me the link for their just launched website. I went in and submitted the idea.

Just the other day,
9 months later, I got a letter from Campbell's. The letter said:

"Thank you for submitting your idea through the
Ideas for Innovation program and for offering us the opportunity to give it an initial review. Although we appreciate your interest in Campbell Soup Company, we have determined that it falls outside the Company's priorities at the present time.

We wish you the very best in your future endeavors."

Are they kidding me?! They just sent me the cheesy corporate job applicant rejection notice! So let's look at the problems here:

1) They're sending me this letter a full 9 months after I submitted my idea. I had totally forgotten about sending them the idea. I had forgotten about Campbell's. But now they send me this letter basically reminding me that after taking the time to submit an idea, they didn't have the decency to get back to me quickly.
2) They're telling me that they gave this an "initial review". Just how long would a thorough review take?
3) They're not implementing the idea. This is a no-brainer idea. There's just no reason not to go ahead and do it. They have recipes on their website. They could just send out a note to employees asking them to append a recipe to their email signature and to change it up every so often. This would take 1 minute. I freely admit that my idea is not going to disrupt the soup market. But it might get a few people to reconsider the utility of canned soup. Submitting this idea to a 9 month review is just silly.
4) They're wishing me the best in my future endeavors? Give me a break! I didn't apply to work for them. I didn't invest many hours and dollars in developing this idea hoping to sell it to Campbell's and cash out and retire. I sent them a tiny little no-brainer idea for their benefit. They respond with a bad rejection letter. It's condescending and just plain dumb.

The fact that it took them 9 months to do this is so precious. A human life could have been created in this time. But they produced stillborn innovation.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Rite Aid makes the lifetime boycott list!

About a month ago I went to Rite Aid to buy some Pepto. I happened to walk by the shelf with deodorant and saw that the product I use had a $5 rebate. (There was a sign on the shelf.)

So I picked up the deodorant. I asked the clerk how to redeem the rebate and she gave me instructions. I had to go onto a website, create an account and input the information from the receipt. Reasonably convenient, nice experience.

But then I get an email telling me I didn't qualify for the rebate because I didn't meet the terms. What terms? Well it turn out I didn't buy the product during the proper rebate time period.

Huh? There was a sign on the shelf. That they put there.

I wrote back and they stuck by their guns. Are you frickin' kidding me?

I'm not angry that they screwed up. It seems they put their sign up too early. Mistakes happen. But I bought the deodorant. They made their money. They were offering a rebate anyway. But due to an error, the purchase happened a few days outside of the window. All they had to do was apologize for the error and the inconvenience and send me the rebate.

But they couldn't work that out. So now for $5 they have lost me forever as a customer.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A huge miss for Starbucks

On a recent trip to my local Starbucks, I saw a brochure for the new Starbucks Gold card. I was intrigued. I've been going there a lot and the 10% discount attracted me. But I have to admit somewhat sheepishly that I was also attracted by the thought of being in this elite club. Starbucks describes this as "Starbucks Gold is the Card for people who really love Starbucks."

So I purchased a card on their website. You pay $25 and get 10% off and several other benefits. I did the math and the 10% would have paid out for me.

But then I found out that it could not be combined with the benefits of my existing Starbucks card. Which got me wondering. What benefits that I currently have would I lose? It turns out, I would lose my free soymilk and free syrup. As soon as I realized that I would lose benefits, the luster of this card wore off.

I use soymilk every time. So this seriously eroded the financial value of the card.

Perhaps more important, I felt that this card was not the elite card. It was not the premium card for Starbucks favorite customers.

After all, I would have been switching from a free card that gave me free soymilk and syrup to a card that I had to pay for. Why the heck should I lose benefits in that offering?! If this is their elite card, shouldn't it have all the benefits of the free card and then some? Isn't that why people would pay?

Starbucks told me that I would have to choose which set of benefits was more meaningful to me. That's fine, but not if one card is free and the other comes at a price and is called "Gold". This "Gold" card is not a premium card, it is just another card with a different set of benefits. And a price tag.

This is a boneheaded move. I called to cancel the Starbucks Gold card. Moreover, I am seriously considering adding Starbucks to my list of businesses that I will never again patronize.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Is it always moral to push consumers to consume?

I am getting a lot more emails from retailers I have purchased from. These emails are offering all sorts of incentives for me to purchase. Now I haven't called this spam (I know there is a formal definition) because I don't really mind getting these emails from retailers I like. And if I do, I can always opt out.

But while I don't mind getting the emails, I'm wondering if it is moral for businesses to be doing this. As a marketer, I know exactly what is going on at these businesses and all others. There are teams of people who are looking at the macroeconomic trends and thinking about how they can get people to spend more. They may launch some products or services that are more appropriate given the times, but product development has a long lead time so, more often, businesses are looking at various incentives to increase consumption.

But should people be spending more now? Isn't excessive consumption how we got in this mess in the first place? Too many people buying houses they couldn't afford. Or buying houses they could afford and taking out mortgages they could not afford to fund a lifestyle they could not afford.

When marketing was less sophisticated, companies might have overtly tried to scare people (you need this product or else...) or make them feel guilty (Susie will be the only one without the new...) I bet many people would agree that such practices are immoral. You might call it predatory marketing. Well marketing is considerably more sophisticated today, but does that matter from a moral standpoint? Is it any less predatory?

Now the issue isn't so simple. We have a consumption driven economy. When people don't consumer, it hurts the economy. Badly.

So I don't know. But something feels a little wrong to me when I get all these emails.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Chill out for charity

A few weeks ago I participated in a fundraiser for charity, the Walk for Hope in Potomac, Maryland (info here). The reason I participated is that I was invited by a friend who is, herself, a breast cancer survivor. And, of course, I think it is a good cause. To be clear, participation meant that in addition to driving 4 hours each way to go to Maryland, I paid a few hundred dollars to the organization.

About a week after the walk, I got a letter from the organization thanking me for my participation. But then they ruined it. They asked me for more money. And then they followed up a week or so later with another request for money.

Now I have no question that this is a good cause. And my participation was not purely selfless. After all, I never participated before I had a friend who went through this. Nor will this qualify me in any way for the Mother Theresa award.

But I did feel good about having participated. I enjoyed the feeling that I had done something good in my own small way and that I had brought my kids with me to teach them these values.

The letter from the organization robbed me, in a way, of my sense of pride for having done something good because it seemed to say that I'm back at square one in my relationship with them. I did something good for them by sending them money and participating. They thanked me. And now they can start the cycle again. I felt like a mark. Like someone who is there just to be sucked dry for whatever he's got.

I want to reiterate: I know my small donation doesn't make me a hero. But the fact is that I am a human with feelings like anyone else. [Note: cue the violins.] And I am motivated at least in part by these feelings. The organization will do much better for itself by treating me like a person.

Think about your personal social life for a minute. If you ask someone for a favor and they do it for you, you don't turn around and ask for another one right away. Normal people understand in their social lives that this behavior is unacceptable. The relationship needs to get back to equilibrium. There has to be a give and take. When someone has done you a favor, you are supposed to return the favor before asking for another. The thank you letter is a pretty good "give" for the organization. Not truly remarkable but still acceptable.

But the rules of give and take don't work this way. You cannot return someone's favor and then immediately ask for another favor because that makes the relationship seem purely transactional. Some relationships are truly special and don't rely on give and take. Nobody focuses on the take. But most have some element of reciprocity at their core. We all know this. But it is considered rude in most social relationships to bring this to the fore. We are supposed to pretend that we are motivated only by selflessness when we give. When someone returns a favor and immediately requests another, he makes it clear that his "give" was merely a means of securing his next "take." He brings the reciprocity requirement to the fore. Not OK.

This is what the City of Hope did in their letter.

I write this not because I don't support them any longer. I do. I will participate again next year. And I may even donate again before then. I write this because I believe that charity is important and I want City of Hope to succeed. I think charitable organizations need to get a bit smarter about their marketing. See here for another example of charities not thinking through the real world social implications of their actions.

So City of Hope: chill out a bit. Let me savor my admittedly overblown feelings of having selflessly saved the breasts. Send me a nice note or even email (to save money). Then wait a bit. Let the relationship return to equilibrium. Then you can ask for more money. I think you'll do better that way.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A miss by Ben & Jerry

I saw that Ben & Jerry's advertised free ice cream on election day.

So I told my future ex-wife (FEW) who was home with the kids today. She took them and found out that they were only giving ice cream to the voters.

That's a big miss as far as I'm concerned. They should have assumed that there would be moms and kids coming in. And when you make a big deal about free ice cream and then disappoint the little kiddies, you've made a big mistake.

So now I "owe" my little guy some ice cream. Good for me. I love taking him. Not so good for Ben & Jerry.

We'll be headed to Coldstone.

How about we actually educate kids on election day!

What is the deal with closing schools on election day? I think it's all wrong. Kids should be in school learning. It's not like we have such a high-performance education system in the US that we can afford to cancel a perfectly good day for learning.

Now I've read that many public schools cancel classes because their buildings are used as polling places and they have security concerns. That is legitimate and I will offer some solutions below. But my kids go to private school and their classes are canceled as well. Why? Voting is a pretty simple matter. It took me 15 minutes this morning. Surely my kids' teachers could find a way to do their jobs AND vote. Now I can understand that teaching and voting at the same time might be a bit difficult. (Although people seem to manage singing and showering at the same time.) But teachers can vote early in the morning before school. Or in the evening after school. And kids could learn.

Now some thoughts on solving the safety problem in schools on election day:

First, don't have voting take place in schools! Schools are for kids to learn. Not for adults to vote. Would we hold voting in hospitals and kick all the sick people out?

Here are some alternatives:
1) Wal-Mart. Good way to juice the economy. Plus many people probably have to go shopping anyway so it saves them a trip.
2) Soup kitchens. People can vote and then volunteer their time.
3) Bowling alleys. C'mon! Who doesn't love bowling?!
4) Airports. People are waiting for delayed flights anyway. Find a way to let them engage in the process of democracy while being subjected to the tyrannies of the process of travel. ["The process of travel". Now that's a felicitous turn of phrase. I'm well on my way to being the next Poet Laureate... Of Kazakhstan!]
5) Bakeries. They smell good. Enough said.

I'm sure there are many more good ideas. Hopefully we can solve this problem before next year. It is quite silly to vote for candidates - who have spent time talking about their education plans - in a way that displaces kids from their schools.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The consequences of over-regulation

We live in an over-regulated society. The government tells us what kind of toilets we can use, how our homes must be built... It's crazy!

Well apparently, all of the regulations that could possibly have been created by our way too intrusive state, have already been created. So now all that is left is for our government to create regulations that contradict other regulations.

Next, there will be new regulations specifying when to follow the original regulation and when to follow the newer one that contradicts the first.

This is what happens when government is run by lawyers. I think we need to try something else. Maybe we should have government run by chefs, or clowns (the literal kind, we already have the metaphorical variety). Or maybe even monkeys. You know that old saying that if you sat a monkey in front of a typewriter and gave him a few hundred years he would eventually produce a Shakespearean play? Well let's give it a whirl. But in order to speed things up, let's just get a few thousand monkeys and see if they can do better.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

On satisfaction guarantees

I posted yesterday about an off-putting experience at Starbucks. Basically, I felt like I was watching an Italian cafe experience production machine as opposed to a bunch of people making me a good cup of coffee in a nice setting.

I started thinking about Starbucks' satisfaction guarantee. I don't remember the exact language, but they guarantee that your beverage will be exactly what you want or they'll fix it (i.e., make you another I suppose).

OK, that's nice. But it brings me back to my earlier comment about the experience being manufactured with all of the professionalization and sterility that "production" implies vs. a true human experience.

Who can really guarantee 100% satisfaction? Well, a machine. One that's been built and tested rigorously to produce and reproduce over and over with no variance. But is that what I want? Do I want a "perfect coffee experience" each and every time I go to Starbucks because they have a detailed training manual, a coffee college for baristas, rigorous processes...? Or do I want a really good experience that isn't exactly the same each time. That has texture due to all sorts of factors including human variation.

I think I want the latter.

But humans cannot guarantee perfection each and every time. We get tired. We get cranky. We forget.

So what should a satisfaction guarantee really offer?

Well maybe they can just guarantee that if they screw up, they'll take care of it and make you happy. Maybe sometimes they just add the cream they forgot. Maybe they make you a new beverage. Maybe they offer you a $10 gift card... Maybe Starbucks doesn't have to tell its employees exactly how to make people happy.

In the end, I want a human experience. Now I don't want it to come with all of the crap that life throws at me. I get that for free. But I also don't want to feel like I've stepped into an experience assembly line.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A manufactured experience

I had a strange feeling at Starbucks this morning. Strange and unpleasant. While waiting for my coffee, I was just sort of watching the process as customers came in and ordered their whatever and the order were taken, relayed to the people towards the back, prepared and then handed to the consumer.

This was a very clear assembly line and for the first time, I felt like just another cog. Not a very good feeling.

Starbucks is obviously a manufactured experience. A sort of Disney World for adult coffee lovers. Howard Schultz liked Italian cafes and thought Americans would too. He was right. And that level of phoniness is OK with me as far as it goes. (Phony because Starbucks is not actually an Italian cafe.)

But Starbucks is clearly a place with a manual. What I mean by that is that there is probably a book and a training course on how to produce this customer experience. See how insidious this is? I just used the word "produce" without blinking an eye (you'll have to trust me that I didn't blink). This is what I mean by a manufactured experience. And this level of phoniness is not OK with me.

I have no reason to assume that Starbucks frontline employees are not genuinely nice people. I'm sure they are. But it feels very much to me that Starbucks tells them in minute detail just how to be nice to me. How to produce that Starbucks experience. I felt it very much today (this is what happens when I don't bring my Blackberry - I notice things). And now it feels fake. From the lingo they use. The staccato drone-like relaying of the order to the back...

I don't actually feel like this is a real human place. And now that I have seen this, the magic of Starbucks is totally gone for me.

BTW, I think Disney works even though we adults know it is totally fake, because we don't really have expectations for seeing real princesses and genies in life. We get it. We suspend our disbelief. (Oh, and their primary target is the little ones who are less jaded.) But we do have expectations of getting a cup of coffee from a genuine human being who is not programmed. In my opinion, Starbucks is not delivering this.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Stupid branding and a sad commentary on our country

My brother sent me the attached article on a pizza eating contest. Now I love pizza as much as the next guy, but I have to tell you that these eating contests are both ridiculous and slightly evil.

Ridiculous, because the eating is not about nutrition or pleasure. It's about a silly ego thing which has nothing to do with food. Do we really need to make a contest out of everything? Honestly people. This is just dumb.

Evil, because there are people starving in this country and others. And no, I don't intend to sound like your mother who told you to finish your peas because of starving kids in Africa. My point is that food should be respected as a source of nourishment for human life and/or as a source of pleasure. An eating contest treats food as worthless, as just a toy. Of course the pizza that was consumed here would not have helped someone starving in Africa. But even if it also couldn't have helped someone starving in NY (which it could have), the excess consumption merely for the sake of a game shows genuine callousness.

As for the branding issue, Famous Famiglia sponsored this event. What exactly do they intend to say about their brand? Generally speaking, people do not shovel food down their throats because they enjoy it. So are they trying to portray themselves as the brand for people who don't care about the taste of their pizza? Or are they the Marie Antoinette of the pizza world - hahaha! We can just throw food away. And the masses? Well let them eat cake! Or, are they the brand for big fat guys? I don't get it. I cannot see a reasonably positive association that they would realistically communicate to consumers with such a ridiculous event.

And just in case you aren't yet sure of my credentials as a crotchety old bastard, I have to say that the fact that our society seems titillated by such events and the fact that they are reported on with amusement, does not say anything positive about us. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves.

Now get off my lawn you damn kids!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A little oasis of reliability

It's nice to know in this crazy world that sometimes things are just what they purport to be.

Monday, October 13, 2008

So close!

On my way home one evening, I passed this pickup. The signs on the back were so remarkable that I stopped to take a picture.

Now that's a pretty big deal. I stopped on my way home after a full day's work before having dinner to look at this truck because I thought the signs were so cool.

I wanted to call the owner just to let him know. But I couldn't find the phone number! Ouch!!!

The next day when I saw the truck again, I walked around it and found the phone number on the side. But this was because it was on my way home. Otherwise, it would have been gone and off my radar screen forever.

If you're going to create a remarkable sign to generate buzz, make sure people who respond favorably know how to find you. Otherwise your sign is just a sign and not a new business generator.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

So how did I do?

I just came back from a wonderful weekend with great friends. Had a chance to check out the Dogfish Head Alehouse in Gaithersburg, MD. Awesome place and the beer was really good.

I also joined the City of Hope, Walk for Hope to cure breast cancer.

Of course,
I felt much more hopeful immediately after finishing the run. But, sadly, I do not get to be judge and jury of my own performance.

So I really need to know: did you all feel more hopeful around 11am EST today? I really hope you did because I have no intention of getting up at 8 in the morning on a Sunday again anytime soon. Even if it is for a cause as worthy as healthy breasts.

Doesn't this ruin the joke?

Why would anyone go if they already know?

Monday, October 6, 2008

On 5 minute vs. 5 year bombs

Innovation is tough. We all know this. It has become an article of faith. Right?

I don't think so. I don't think innovation is any tougher than anything else we do. Marketing is tough. Sales is tough. R&D is tough. Life is tough.

I think the bigger challenge for innovation is not how tough it is, but how seriously we take it. That is, we just don't take it seriously enough. We don't invest in it enough. We don't give it enough sunshine, air, nutrients and time. We want it to produce results on a time line that is appropriate for other endeavors but inappropriate for innovation.

So if the primary barrier to innovation is one of volition, how can we move innovation along?

I propose the ticking bomb framework. There's a lot of hand wringing about innovation. How do we do it? How can we fund it? What are the right organizational structures or processes?... But really, these are not the questions we need to focus on. Not yet.

If a leader knew there was a ticking bomb that would go off in 5 minutes and 1 second and that would take 5 minutes to disarm, he would instantly go about getting it done. The need for innovation, however, is really a ticking bomb that will go off in 5 years and 1 second. So it is perceived as always less urgent than the bevy of 5 minute bombs that can be plainly seen in the moment. But the reality is that while innovation is a 5 year plus 1 second bomb, it will take a full 5 years to disarm. So our leader needs to jump on it with the same sense of urgency as he does the 5 minute bombs. It is the same problem.

Once we understand and accept that, we can then move along to the tactical questions of how to innovate. And I bet we will find that suddenly the questions do not seem so big and scary. In fact, I expect many of them will seem as silly as asking whether one should use a regular or needlenose pliers when disarming the 5 minute bomb. There's no time to discuss the philosophy of pliers when you're disarming a 5 minute bomb. And it doesn't matter anyway. You just do it. Well the 5 year bomb is exactly the same.

So let's just do it!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sustainable for whom?

I just picked up some oatmeal from the company cafeteria. They've just switched to more environmentally friendly cups, plates, etc. Yay.

The paper bowl I just carried back to my office is green and white - a very soft friendly green mind you. It's called an "ecotainer". Clever! It's got a little slogan on it: "making a difference one cup at a time". Well don't I just feel like a swell guy!

No. I don't. I feel like an idiot because I just walked back to my office with piping hot oatmeal burning my frickin' hand!

It seems to me that "not burning hands" would be one of the basic design principles of a bowl. Along with "holds stuff in it".

So here's where the environmental ethos runs into a brick wall for me. I do care about the environment. Really. And I am willing to do certain things to keep it clean. If my jeans look to you like I've worn them 200 times without washing them, just know it's my abiding love for Mother Earth that is responsible. But products have to work. Period. They have to at least capably perform their basic and defining functions. Cars have to safely get people from one place to another. Cleaning products have to clean. Coffee cups have to insulate the hand from the burning hot coffee.

Oh sure, there's a warning on this bowl: "Caution: Contents Hot". OK. First of all, how they know what the contents are baffles me since they sell empty bowls. But anyway, NO! You don't get to sell a product with a warning that disavows the basic functionality of the product. You cannot take a sieve, call it a bowl and slap a warning that says: "this product doesn't actually hold stuff in it." That's crap! Yes, I know the oatmeal I just put in the bowl is hot. Oatmeal is supposed to be hot. And bowls are supposed to make sure my hand doesn't get burned.

So I'm asking you environmental folks to go back to the drawing board with this nonsense. Honestly, I do care about the environment. But I'm not really losing sleep about it and I'm not really willing to go very far out of my way to help out. I'm just not. Deal with it. And there are many many folks out there that are in this camp. Probably the vast majority of people. I would like to use more environmentally friendly products. But please go back and figure out how to make these products work. I'm OK with not cleaning the countertops as often. Heck, it's a great excuse. (Yeah, I just don't want to use harsh chemicals. They hurt the seals.) But I'm not OK with deciding to clean the countertops with one of your green products and finding it ineffective.

I would rather you gave me good ideas on how to use less stuff than push products my way that suck.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I don't really know what to say, but it feels wrong to me to let this day pass without acknowledging the terrible event on 9/11.

I don't want to do this in a partisan way. Like most people, I have some partisan leanings and I have a worldview that informs and is informed by my perspective on 9/11. But I want to acknowledge 9/11 without generating any controversy or strife.

So all I will say now is that I truly hope for a world where this sort of thing does not happen. Both the 9/11 attack and the aftermath. It is such a waste. Of time, energy, money. And, perhaps, most importantly, of human potential.

Our hearts and minds should be devoted to more noble pursuits.

One day...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Jer979: Marketing Messiah

You gotta love Jer! Check out his recent blog post on how he deftly concluded a meeting with some Jehovah's Witnesses at his door by offering them some very good marketing advice.

Any of you in the religion bidness should get in touch with Jer. He can help!

And Jer: Perhaps now that you have hung out your shingle, you should go knock on their door :)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A constitutional amendment

I recently posted a critical new piece of social legislation that you must all follow. See my original post here.

My dear friend Tawana has pointed out a flaw in the original legislation so I am amending the rule. This amendment is effective retroactive to my original post. [Tawana's critical counterexample was a person we both know whose first name was "M." It wasn't short for Matilda or anything like that. Her name was just "M." And it worked. I consider it a fine example of innovation.]

It's not that you are prohibited from having a letter or initial as your first name. It's that you are prohibited from doing so if you are going to use your middle name as an official part of your name. [If you have a middle name as a contingency plan should the three name thing become the ticket to a life of luxury or simply a requirement to get on a life raft, then you're in the clear. In such a case, the middle name is not an official part of your name.]

I will now illuminate the rule with some examples. Let me start with L. Gordon Crovitz from the Wall Street Journal. [I am using Crovitz as an example for the sake of consistency with my original post but let me state on the record that I enjoy Crovitz's writing and I'm sorry to have to pick on him here. I will eagerly transition to another example momentarily. And, of course, it is my sincerest desire that Gordon drop the "L."]

As you can see from Crovitz's name, he is using a middle name, Gordon, as an official part of his name. So his use of "L." as his first name violates the rule. Jan Michael Vincent also uses his middle name as an official part of his name but he is in full compliance with the law because he uses "Jan" as his first name and not "J." I'm sure you can tell immediately that "J. Michael Vincent" would be a heinous affront to decent society. Of course, "Michael J. Fox" or, even "Michael J. Vincent" would be OK per my original post because the letter is used as a middle name and not the first name. [Note: While "Michael J. Vincent" would be in full compliance with necessary regulation, I cannot assure you that such a person would be functionally equivalent to Jan Michael Vincent. I daresay he wouldn't.]

[In case you're wondering who Jan Michael Vincent is, well I'll tell you. He is a "virile, handsome and square-jawed youthful star of the 1970s and 1980s." Check out this picture of him. It's not entirely clear to me that he is, in fact, square-jawed (I invite comments on this critical question) but you will distinctly see that this man is not burdened by the angst of having a socially proscribed name.]

I'm sure most of you have an intuitive sense of the evils of the letter first name in the pre official middle name position. But there may be some of you who are arriving from distant shores or who are just awakening from a coma and still feel mildly disoriented and who are confused as to the reason for this very important prohibition. So let me explain.

When you have a letter as your first name followed by an official middle name, it's as if the letter is there to warm us up and get us ready for the real thing. It assumes that we need to be eased into someone's name because, well, we can't handle names. YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE NAMES!

Well I tell you (and I think I speak for the entire platoon when I say this) that I don't need to be warmed up. I speak English. I know names. Just hit me with your real goddamn name from the start and drop the preamble.

Another reason for this prohibition is that the letter first name is a bit arrogant. It makes a statement that the owner's name is so goddamn important that if your attention happened to be somewhere else for a nanosecond and you missed the first phoneme of the name, it would be a catastrophe. First of all, don't be so damn arrogant. It's wrong. And even if you want to be arrogant, at least educate yourself on the phonemic restoration effect. People will most likely manage to accurately interpret your name even if they weren't paying attention to the first letter and you didn't include a warmup.

Well, I hope this clarifies matters for everyone. You all owe my wonderful, beautiful friend Tawana a debt of gratitude.

It's called "hurricane season" for a reason

My heart goes out to people whose homes and possessions are destroyed or damaged by hurricanes. But I'm really tired of seeing news coverage of hurricanes in the U.S. It's ridiculous already.

These hurricanes happen every year. And we even know pretty much when they're going to happen. It's called "hurricane season." So why the hell do people live there? Is "hurricane" not a scary enough word? What if we called it "really awful and scary shit is going to happen and destroy all your stuff and kill you season?" Would that get people finally to move to a place that nature has not designated as a person-free zone?

This all reminds me of Sam Kinison's approach to ending world hunger.

And I'm still perplexed by the insistence of the media to pretend that these hurricanes are news. Why don't they have stories every day about people's difficulty seeing outside between the hours of about 8PM and 6AM?

Monday, September 1, 2008

At least I made sense

Check out Business Week's Innovation site. I am now a featured commenter. Scroll down about midway and look on the left side. Sorry about the photo. I didn't have much to work with. But I think the point I made is a pretty good one. I was responding to some point about why VCs are more innovative than big companies.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Another good get to know you question

In a previous post I shared my take on the sorts of questions people ought to ask each other when they meet rather than the standard "what do you do for a living" sorts of questions.

an opinion piece from the WSJ on Obama titled "What Would Obama Die For?" I'm not that interested in the content of the piece but I think it's a great question to ask people in an effort to really understand what they're all about and whether you could be friends with them.

Yes, it's a bit ghoulish and I'm not advocating whipping that one out right out of the gate. But, in the end, it may be the best way to demonstrate our essence. That which we prefer or value a lot could, arguably, be considered merely instrumental to our own well-being. But that for which we would sacrifice our life to protect, is our highest ideal and it is our lives that are mere instruments thereof.

I don't think people ought to spend too much time contemplating what they would die for. But I think some amount of introspection on this important question is a good idea. Making it up as you go along is not an intelligent way to live life. And having some sense of what you stand for (and, therefore, what you do not stand for) is an enviable position to be in.

Oh and by the way, dying for anything when you could serve it just as well by losing an eyelash or even a finger is just plain stupid.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A rare sweet moment

I went for a walk in the country with my 15 year old son yesterday. It was such a beautiful day. Crisp air. Clear blue sky. Not a sound other than those produced by nature.

We were walking to an overlook point with a beautiful view of the
countryside. Just as we reached the point where we could see the view
(a few hundred feet from the lookout point), my son exclaimed what a
beautiful view it was. He broke into a run and said "let's run and get
there quickly". I was about to take the opportunity to remind him that
the journey is as important as the destination... But I stopped

I hadn't seen him run in an awfully long time. My sullen moody
teenager was reacting to natural beauty with all the glee and
wonderment of an unsullied child.

It was so sweet.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I have arrived!

I check out the Google Analytics report on this blog from time to time. Just to see how many people visit, what they read, etc.

Apparently, I am doing a great job! Check out this part of the Google report. It shows the network locations of people who visit this blog. That's right folks. Not some also-ran internet service provider. The largest!! Oh, I can see the money coming in now.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A new rule

I just read an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal by L. Gordon Crovitz.

Here's the deal folks: You can't have a letter or initial as your first name. It's just not allowed. Honestly, enough with the nonsense. I'm not even going to go into all the reasons why this is absurd. I'm just telling you that it is and ordering you to cut it out!

This rule applies to you even if you are an artist of some sort. It applies to you even if you are very wealthy or occupy a position of considerable power in government, business or religion. It applies to you no matter what language you speak, what ethnic background you claim as your own or what country you live in. The only exceptions are for people who live in countries that have no diplomatic relations with the U.S. and do not aspire to such or for people who's native language includes those clicking sounds or any sound that might reasonably make an American want to hand that person a tissue or point them in the direction of the closest spittoon.

If you really enjoy the simplicity of a single letter or are just too lazy, you may have a letter as your middle name or use an initial as your middle name.

But that's it.

[Note: I liked the op-ed piece. But that's not the point. Rules still have to be followed.]

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Emotional littering

I just came back from a hike in a state park that has become, over the years, a sort of sacred haven for me and a place to experience nature's quiet beauty.

As I got in my car after the three hour hike, I realized that I had not experienced the serenity and the connection to the eternal that I usually do when I hike.

Rather than letting the beauty of this place impress itself upon me, I had brought my thoughts and troubles into the park and, in a way, challenged nature to rid me of them. This was a violation of the peacefulness of the place.

We all know not to drop our physical garbage in the park (although not everyone is so enamored of that rule either). But do we think enough about ridding ourselves of emotional garbage before we encounter nature?

This was a wasted opportunity to experience the divine and I have really disappointed myself.

Movie review: Batman

This movie has been talked about as the third coming (too many other things have already been compared to the second coming).

Sorry folks. I just don't agree. It was a blur. Too much plot. I felt like there were two good movies in there. But they were smashed together as if to make me feel like I got my money's worth.

If I want War and Peace, I know where to get it.

And yes, Heath Ledger was brilliant. But the movie wasn't.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A great morning

Got to bed early last night. And was wide awake at 4am. Not my thing and I don't recommend it. But there was no point in fighting reality so I got out of bed and headed to the office.

My local Starbucks was not yet open. When the institution that is supposed to fuel your morning has not yet opened for business, you know something is wrong. Mildly annoying.

But as I was driving to work, I saw the deep blue sky bravely trying to maintain the peacefulness of nighttime before yielding to the sun. And I thought there are much worse things than starting off the day with such beauty.

Note: Lightning rarely strikes the same spot twice. If tomorrow as I am grumbling about being awake at the bright and early hour of 10am, you remind me of today's morning glee, I will hit you. (Don't worry too much. My aim sucks in the morning.)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A let-down at Best Buy

I went to Best Buy on Friday. I'm in the market potentially for 2 flat screen TVs and 2 home theater systems. I milled around the TV and home theater section for around 15-20 minutes. Not a single salesperson offered to help. In past trips to this store, I always found the salespeople quite helpful and proactive.

So I decided to leave.

On my way out, I passed around 7 employees in the blue shirts waiting right in front of the door chatting with each other. So nice that they were waiting to say goodbye. But maybe Best Buy could have found a better way to deploy these folks.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

It won't attract the Mormons but...

Unless Starbucks is going to start playing church music in their stores, I think the word "emergency" should be taken off of this SUV.

"I'm sorry Janie, you can't have a new kidney. Someone needs his macchiato. Now come on, yellow skin isn't the worst thing in the world. We didn't raise you to be so self-centered..."

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Who's right: me or iTunes?

I bought the soundtrack from the movie La Vie en Rose on iTunes last summer. Now iTunes in its "Just For You" section is recommending the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack for me.

I'm wondering what about me enjoying the beautiful voice of a Frenchwoman makes Apple think I will enjoy the soundtrack from a movie about gay cowboys?

I see three options:
1) They are concluding from a very superficial analysis that I simply like soundtracks.
2) They can tell that my appreciation for Edith Piaf means I'm secretly gay.
3) They can tell that my appreciation for Edith Piaf means I'm an aficionado of the wild west.

Well I don't have any special "thing" for soundtracks. I do like Clint Eastwood westerns but I don't believe Clint was in Brokeback Mountain.


You know, if I'm gay I really wish Apple would have told me a long time ago. I could have saved myself a lot of trouble. Not to mention the alimony.

Anyway, I'm hoping that tomorrow iTunes recommends the soundtrack to "How to spend the billion dollars you have stashed away in a Swiss bank account you never knew you had."

It's not good to be cheap

Nobody can place a value on your soul but you and those you select to help you stay true to yourself.

But in the realm of economics, you are worth what other people say you are worth as expressed in their buying behavior. If you are not fetching the prices you think you should, then you are either offering the right product/service in the wrong place or your product/service just isn't as good as you think it is. [See Seth Godin's post on this.]

Look, everyone says they want lower prices. But don't give it to them if they will pay more. And sometimes you have to help them understand what they are getting when the features that drive price are not salient to the uninformed.

I took the picture below on my commute into work one day. [Not while driving of course.] This guy makes a great point. You can get quality. And you can get a cheap price. But you're not getting them together. It's easy to think you can when you look at the job and don't see all of the little touches that go into quality. But eventually, you find out. And that's when you start cursing yourself.

Kudos to John E. Bezold for having the guts to tell it like it is.

Why buy the cow...

Here's a comment on one of my recent posts submitted by a reader to me via email as he was unable to do so via Blogger. [See my original post here.]

"Look, New Jersey sucks, by and large. About the only good thing that came from New Jersey is my wife. And she doesn't smell like the rest of New Jersey. (And her father was born in NYC, so she's half New Yorker).

New Jersey smells like what would happen if you took Brooklyn and Queens and fermented them in the hot sun for a few days. I largely blame New Jerseyans.

My most fervent prayer, when we were living in NJ and expecting our first child, was that my wife would not be early, so that my child would not be born in NJ. Thank God, my prayers were answered."

Now I'm not about to engage in debate with this capitol fellow. NJ doesn't pay me to do marketing or PR for them. And frankly, there are too many people around with just the New Jerseyans. I'm not looking for more people to come and create more traffic.

But I do have one question regarding the above comment: If you had reservations about NJ, don't you think you should have started by dipping your toe in first? Say, buying a pint of blueberries (they are really good here). How did you get from "I hate NJ" directly to "Let me git hitched with one of their big haired women"? (That's a comment on the general appearance of NJ women, not your wife.)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Welcome to New Jersey. We suck!

I just drove back from Philly to New Jersey. I live in NJ. I've lived there for most of my life. I like it. Most of the state deserves the name "Garden State." Come visit. It's nice.

But not the Turnpike. You know, that large road that a gazillion cars and trucks drive on every day. That smells like what shit would smell like if shit decided it was far too popular with the ladies.

So I'm wondering which moron decided that 'our least attractive feature' and 'our largest audience' deserved to meet each other. Did this guy get to keep his job?!

Now I'm sure this decision was made decades ago. Back when people thought that in the year 2000 we'd all be whizzing around in our Jetson's style car-planes and would enjoy swooping down from time to time to get a whiff of mustard gas. And I'm sure that it is monumentally expensive to either move the smelly stuff away from the massive audience that might otherwise be persuaded to visit the Garden State (or at least stop laughing at all those NJ jokes) or move the audience away from the smelly stuff.

OK. A bad decision many years ago and now we're stuck with it. (Although the powers that be may want to visit Chicago where they moved part of Lake Shore Drive away from the lake to create a better lakefront experience for locals and tourists in the crazy assumption that if a city seemed nicer and more fun, that life would be better.)

So maybe we're stuck with this. But we can still change people's perceptions by changing our attitude. Let's at least acknowledge and apologize for the problem. We should erect massive billboards that say:

"Dear motorist [that's government-speak for driver]: You are about to be overwhelmed and repulsed by the foul smell of our own proprietary NJ stank. We can't reveal the secret ingredients, but it has something to do with the visually unattractive refineries and power plants you see all around you. We sincerely apologize for what you are about to experience. Years ago, some idiot with a rich daddy managed to gain a government position of some influence and decided that it would be smart to put the nastiest smelling industry right near the road that forms many people's first impressions of our state. And since we're too busy spending tax dollars on all sorts of inconsequential nonsense, we can't do anything productive like fix this problem. Please don't hold it against us. After your surgery, we hope you'll come back and visit. If it's any consolation, your sense of smell is probably permanently impaired. Yours truly, the elected idiots of Noo Jerzee."

Monday, August 4, 2008

A great time in Philadelphia

Had to go to Philly for an all day meeting today. So I drove down last night and stayed downtown. Went to Monk's Cafe which is a very well known beer bar (see the Beer Advocate review). Had two fantastic beers. Then, because I had never done this and feel that all Americans should, I went jogging from my hotel up the famous Rocky Steps. At midnight. On my way up, someone shouted "Hey Rocky" because no tourist has ever done that run! Hey, it's not original, but neither is breathing. It's just something you've got to do. It should be required before anyone can get a Green Card or become a citizen of these United States.

It was such a beautiful crisp night. On my way from the run back to my hotel, I spent about an hour taking photos because there was so much to photograph.

World-class beer. The Rocky steps. Beautiful scenery. Perfect weather. It doesn't really get any better than that. [And no, it would not have been better to jog while drinking the beer. That would work for Bud or Miller. Not for first-rate Belgian brews which deserve to be savored.]

Friday, August 1, 2008

A note to the airlines

Dear airlines:

On behalf of a friend: you suck. Please stop sucking. It will make us all much happier. And who knows, it might improve your business.

Thanks very much,

Tooting my own horn

Winning the lottery is cool. But it doesn't say much about you other than that you were lucky (and maybe foolish to bet on such a longshot).

But what I just won is awesome. Check out my friend Jeremy's blog to see the windfall that has just come my way.

And if you have a winning lottery ticket and want to give me half, I won't turn you down.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I did it! This is a landmark day!

This morning I stopped off at Starbucks on the way to work as I am wont to do. As always, I ordered in English: a "large" iced coffee with soy. Today, I got a newbie Starbucks person and when she relayed the order to the person who was making my drink, she also said it in English! She said a "large..." and then corrected herself and used the Starbuckese fake word for "large".

What a victory!!! Today one new Starbucks employee, tomorrow the entire chain!

Note: Look folks, in America, there are 3 sizes: small, medium and large. Small has to be bigger than what would be considered large in France. And large has to be really huge. If you're going to add a 4th size it has got to be XL. Your 5th must be XXL and so on. But you're really better off sticking with 3 sizes and using the word "small" to signify what anyone with eyes can plainly see is gargantuan. This way, we can all tell ourselves that it's really small and we're not pigs but really actually be pigs.

And when I say that the sizes are small, medium and large, I also mean that those are the words used for sizes in this country. Period. I have lots of respect for Starbucks' ability to get people to pay $4 for what they used to pay 50 cents for. But we can't have any more words. We already have too many words in this country. Bringing in phony words from somewhere else is exactly the opposite of what we need!

Frankly, if Starbucks really wanted to be extraordinary, they would make great coffee AND eliminate words from the English language. They could have a calendar with a word of the day, but the word of the day was the word that was being excised from English that day. And it would have no definition because you don't need to know it anyway because you are prohibited from using it ever again.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New poem

From a city tree (7-15-08)

Let me breathe the air I was meant to breathe
I am not your plaything
Nor your prisoner

The captive wind you let through
Is not enough for me
Or for you

And I can see what you won't let me see

Let us be free

Monday, July 14, 2008

Don't start out on the wrong foot

I work for a very large company. Many agencies and consultancies want to work with us. I met a consultant at a conference some weeks ago and we talked for a few minutes. He then reached out to me via email to ask if we could meet. I said yes and we arranged an appt. All good so far.

This morning he sent an email confirming the meeting (still good) and asking for directions to our office.

Now we hit the problem. He didn't tell me where he's coming from. So I have to send him an email asking where he's coming from. He responds, but doesn't give me specific enough information to suggest proper directions. So I have to send another email.

Not good. I'll be meeting this guy tomorrow and already I'm annoyed. He could have demonstrated how together he is and how unbelievably helpful he can be to me by telling me he is coming from Manhattan and will take the George Washington Bridge and needs directions from there. Or, better yet, he could have just asked for our address and used Mapquest, Google Maps...

These little things contribute to the impressions people have of you. They are part of your brand. And this fellow is coming to see me tomorrow to talk about his branding firm!

Bring your A game if you want to survive

I had to pickup a prescription for someone today at a small independent pharmacy. I didn't know when they opened but I figured 9am was a reasonable bet. And I figured if it was 10, I could hang out and get some work done at the Starbucks down the block.

I showed up at the store at 9:11am. The lights were mostly off and the door was locked. And on the door was a sign with the store's hours. They were supposed to open at 9am.

I thought the story was that the big bad national chain box stores were destroying Main Street and the personalized service and attention that only the small independents could give us. I guess not.

Now to be fair, the guy at the store was nice enough. The transaction was fast and efficient. And it might also be true that they do provide great personalized service. But that is not going to be enough. When I show up at my local CVS first thing in the morning, they are open. Period.

If you are a small independent, your B+ game is not enough. You A- game is not enough. You need to show up every day with your A game.