An Open Letter to My Blog

March 16, 2009

As my class comes to a close, I want to thank you for the lesson you grudgingly provided me this semester.  Although we had our technical ups and downs, this was a most fulfilling process.  Sorry to have once thought of you as one of many “digital soapboxes” that litter the Internet with useless rants from computer-tied loners with noting else better to do. 

I have been doing marketing a long time, but you’ve showed me there is still much to learn.  And many trends in the new digital world with which I need to become familiar.  I now see how you and your millions of cohorts can have an impact—either positive or negative—on the business community.  Thanks for making me take heed.  You need to be fully embraced and feel part of the marketing community. If a consumer wants to share their thoughts and experiences with a brand, we marketers better listen and respond appropriately.  In so doing, we can create customer relationships with more sustainable value than we ever dreamed possible. 

My goal is to clean you up and make you as pretty as I now I can.  It will take some time to learn the intricacies of blog building, but I now feel up to the task,  You with me?

 

Search Engine Success: Another Sign of the Impending Demise of The Times…and all the Other Newspapers!

March 16, 2009

Our past week’s discussion on the ethics of search engines inevitably reveals their value and power, as well.  A word or two dropped into a search box and a list of links appears almost instantly, opening a world of information that was unimaginable a few years ago.  But pity the poor newspaper industry that cannot possibly compete with their dated paper and ink editions.  Once again, this makes me feel old! Newspapers were once an ever present part of any major and minor city.  I remember when many cities had two or more competing papers, plus morning and afternoon editions!  Now they are slowly disappearing.  It’s only a matter of time before newspapers are relics.

The advertising industry’s growing embrace of search engine marketing parallels their continual abandonment of traditional forms of print media.  This combined with many consumers going right to the Internet for their news and information, has exacerbated the disintegrating factors that are shaking the newspaper industry.  How can they possibly survive without readers or advertisers?

As newspapers start to circle the drain, the Internet in general, and search engines in particular, look healthier than ever.  I wonder what newer technology will come along to knock search engines off their pedestals?  I doubt we have long to wait. 

No Longer Blocked About Blogs!

March 15, 2009

You can judge your age by the amount of pain you feel when you come in contact with a new idea. ~ John Nuveen ~  

 

What a great quotation!  And one with special meaning that I kept in mind as I grappled with this, my first attempt at blogging. This experience has reminded me of the need to constantly face your fears so you can overcome them.  To not resist change but to approach it and learn to embrace it…before it gets away from you.  Change itself is not what scares us.  It’s the unfamiliarity that accompanies change that we resist.  Yet, we must force ourselves to come to some kind of accommodation with just, if not an outright understanding, in order to stay in touch with the trends that define a society that is ever-changing.  In order to be part of the world outside my self.

 

In its present state, my blog will not perpetuate any further dialogue within the greater blogosphere.  I feel confident in predicting it will have zero impact on any current event, social movement, world issue, or public debate whatsoever.  Yet, it has had a significant impact on me!  I have learned that this digital platform, with its vast array of connection and communication capacity, can help a user be quite significant if they set their mind to it.  I’ve discovered what millions have already come to realize and experience for themselves: A blog is digital outlet that offers a new and unique capacity for anyone to  find their voice and reach a larger audience, through the Internet and beyond, that is interested in what they have to say.  The tools that a blog provides, from video, to links, to feeds, to downloads, and much more, make the reach and potential impact of a single voice powerfully significant for general society, as well as the business world.  If I’ve come to that conclusion somewhat grudgingly, so be it.  But I am now properly aware and acquainted with the fact that blogs have opened-up an amazing new communication channel that has significant implications for society as a whole, and commerce in particular.  I am now acutely aware that to ignore blogs further could be at my own peril in the business world.

 

It startling clear that there is an absolute necessity for marketing professionals (especially this one!) to take heed and understand the power and potential blogs now have on products, services, and companies.  In fact, the balance of power has dramatically shifted in favor of the consuming public.  Any marketer worth their salt must recognize this fact and respond accordingly.  This impact can be both positive and negative.  Starting only with a blank computer screen, young and old citizens alike have at their fingertips the ability to craft a blog that can have a significant impact on a brand’s health or very survival.  All is certainly not lost, however.  The potential blogs offer to influence a brand’s image also cuts both ways.  Companies can utilize them to build a relationship by showing their interest in their customers and a real desire to respond to their needs.  Yet, it also requires companies to avoid a defensive posture towards blogs, and for them  to welcome the insight they provide from the consuming public.  Good and bad.  Moreover, companies need to embrace their own blogging efforts and integrate them in to their larger marketing and communication efforts so they can move closer to their target customers and prospects.

 

Marketers must be ready to track blogs that are both favorable and unfavorable and be ready to respond.  But not just with competing words that attempt to offset a bloggers musings, and only clog cyberspace and impede a helpful dialogue.  They must foster and develop the dialogue between the company and its constituents—even the ones who use their blogs to bash the company.  In fact, I’ll argue that these are the ones they should reach first since they reflect some sort of problem that has the potential to dominate the dialogue between the company and their publics.  Perception is reality so it must be managed!

 

What a great experience diving in (or was I pushed?) to the blogosphere!  It has shown this experienced marketer that there is still much to learn and many great communication channels available, if you just open up your mind to new ways.  The near instantaneous influencing ability the Internet provides the general public is one that marketers need to recognize and adapt to or they will be facing a digital tide they cannot hold back.  In fact, I think that is the most important point of all: don’t try to hold it back at all!  Embrace the opportunity and use it to get closer to your critics and fans alike.  Learn what they have to say.  Show them you’re listening.  And encourage them to share more.  Facebook?  My Space? Twitter?  Bring ‘em on!  The marketing world has never before had this opportunity to develop such strong, beneficial, and lasting relationships with consumers.  Or to piss them off.  The choice is ours.  And it sure is exciting.

 

I now know I will be more receptive to the new concepts in digital communication that will continue to percolate into society.  I also know that as quickly as I “master” them, the younger set will bail, searching for a social networking or communication refuge from fogies like me and my peers.  That’s ok, they’ll be in our shoes some day and it will be fun to watch.  And I’ll continue to grow but try to never age!  Francis Bacon said it well: “(People) of age object too much, consult too long, adventure too little, repent too soon, and seldom drive business home to the full period, but content themselves with a mediocrity of success.” 

 

Here are a few more to thoughts I’ll keep close as I travel along the digital path and try not get ossified:

 

The surest sign of age is loneliness.     ~ Amos Bronson Alcott

To keep the heart unwrinkled, to be hopeful, kindly, cheerful, reverent that is to triumph over old age.     ~ Thomas B. Aldrich  

The only time you really live fully is from thirty to sixty. The young are slaves to dreams; the old servants of regrets.  Only the middle-aged have all their five senses in the keeping of their wits.                                                                ~ Hervey Allen ~  

I‘m not interested in age. People who tell me their age are silly. You’re as old as you feel.                    ~ Elizabeth Arden ~  

Aging seems to be the only available way to live a long life.                                                         ~ Daniel Francois Esprit Auber ~  

To resist the frigidity of old age, one must combine the body, the mind, and the heart. And to keep these in parallel vigor one must exercise, study, and love. ~ Bonstettin ~  

The tendency of old age to the body, say the physiologists, is to form bone. It is as rare as it is pleasant to meet with an old (person) whose opinions are not ossified. ~ J. F. Boyse ~  

There’s Hope for Boomers and The Digital!

March 14, 2009

GREAT exchange this week in our class discussion on the ethics of search engine marketing.  My classmates seem like a group that skews older.  They certainly are not shy or hesitant to offer their admissions of not being totally up-to-speed with many facets of today’s digital media. Just like me! Yet, we Boomers and soon-to-be-Boomers can take heart based on the quality and quantity of the discussions that went back and forth.

 

What I found so fascinating and encouraging was the overwhelming reactions defending the practice of sponsored links, paid rankings, SEO, etc that form the foundation of the search engine business model.  They majority were able to see these practices within the larger context of it making the search engine tool available to the public at large.  Again, many of us are still neophytes in the digital media world, yet we seem to be very understanding of the basic functions of commerce that make such a great tool like search engines available.  Is this a sign of our maturity?  I’d like to think so!

 

We are also in general agreement that the onus is on John Q. Public—young and old— to familiarize themselves with how search engines operate.  No, they don’t need to know all the ins and outs and technical dynamics, just like they don’t need to know how to rebuild carburetors in order to drive a car.  (Do cars still have carburetors?).  But they must have an inking that search engines need to make money somehow in order to bring the free service to them.  They understand that ads run on (non-satellite) radio and (non-cable or dish) TV so they can get it for free.  So why the shock and awe about how search engines fund their sites?  People sit through videos and dodge banner ads so they can access free content on the Web.  They know this pays the bills.  So why are they so surprised about search engines?

 

I’m not saying that deceptive practices are acceptable.  I am saying that search engines are a great service and they deserve to be able to make some money.  PLUS, they need to stay in business so we can use them!  The cream rises to the top (read: Google) and the junk will drop to the bottom.  If a search engine employs unethical or deceptive practices, the results they provide will inevitably be disappointing.  Then, guess what?  People will stop using the site.  People stop using the site, advertisers stop funding the site.  The site goes away.  This is self regulation at its best!  The Internet allows the public to vote with their fingers, not just by stopping to click on a site.  Blogs, instant messaging, YouTube, Twitter, email, Facebook, et al. also allow disgruntled consumers to tap out their gripes– to the whole world.  So if a search engine offers tainted results driven by adverting funds rather than sophisticated and objective techniques, the word will spread in a hurry.  The demise of that search engine will be pretty quick, too.

 

A Business Generation Gap?

March 13, 2009

Maybe it’s me being curmudgeonly again, but a classmate got me thinking about today’s Web designers. Many of these tech savvy young brats sport an underlying contempt for their elders who don’t understand the ways of the Internet as well as they do.
Well, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic to start my point. Or maybe I’m just enjoying the unbridled writing freedom that comes from blogging! Probably a little of both. But back to my point. The classmate was sharing her experience working on the redesign of her company’s Web site. She related how the Web design firm they chose was more intent on pushing their own concepts than listening to what her company wanted. She said they promised so much and provided so little, never really responding to the company’s guidance, seemingly interested only in glitzy features that had no place with the target audience.
Talk about not being on the same (Web) page! I responded that my experiences were sadly similar. As I thought about it more, I saw this as a manifestation of what results when a generation grows up with a medium in which the previous generation lacks understanding. I’m convinced that the young Web designers who are “forced” to deal with older coots like me revel, in their own brand of condescending behavior by not even listening to our input and focusing solely on what they want to design. I can hear the derisive “they don’t get it” comment as they meet amongst themselves, knowing so well what is best for our customers! If they listened more to what we know about our target audience, and combined that with their skill with the Web, what a combination that would be. Yet, I still think there is a business version of the generation gap going on that is preventing such collaboration in many cases.

The times they are a changin’? Maybe not as much. Just the tools.

March 11, 2009

 

I read an article about web design, a subject with which I am just becoming acquainted.  However, it was a good boost for my aging ego, as it made me feel that my early training in the advertising and marketing Dark Ages can still be of good use in today’s digital world.

 

The author wrote that attention to detail is as important today as it ever has been. He drew parallels to the old days that I remember well.  Where an ad agency had a full in house art department with people who set type, pasted mechanicals, airbrushed photos, went to press proofs, etc.  Those were labor intensive days and every detail mattered because changes were costly.  And the further along you were in the production process, the more the change cost.

 

With today’s emphasis on creative content, design, functionality, and interactivity, those working in the Web medium must still be as diligent with the details on the site or it will be totally ineffective.  As I mentioned, this stuff is new and mostly foreign to me.  I work with much younger colleagues who grew up with the Internet and can kick my butt in discussions over navigation, browsers, JavaScript, etc.  But I bet without Spell-check these young bucks would be at a loss if I were to take them on in a spelling contest.  And forget about decent grammar.  I want to jump out of my skin every time I hear, “Where is (fill in the blank) at”?  There no longer seems to be any hesitation in ending a sentence in a preposition.  Where has good grammar gone to? (JK, as they say in SMS parlance.) A small complaint, yes, but one I find telling.  In fact, crutches like Spell-check make them so lazy they miss the details which can come back to haunt a project.  I started off my career as a Copy Proofer back when type galleys were prepared before they were cut and pasted onto mechanical boards.  Sounds like an incredibly laborious process, doesn’t it?  This was even before Wang Word Processing came on the scene.  Yet, it was a great if tedious way of catching spelling, content, and grammatical mistakes.  Before signing off and releasing the copy, I even read it all backwards!  Did it talk a while?  You bet. Sometimes it seemed like forever.  But I invariable caught errors this way.  I still do it.  And it still works.  I wonder if anyone under the age of 30 would “waste” their time with this level of detail.

 

In this day and age, one should do everything they can to help with their own job security.  Attention to detail is another way to do just that.  I wonder if it is possible to teach generations of computer users that their work is not over after they hit the Spell-check icon.

 

The article can be found at www.alistapart.com/articles/thedetailsthatmatter

Perks of Being Over 50?

March 11, 2009

 

A friend sent this to me and I wanted to share it.  Pretty clever…but almost all true!  Ouch!

·        Kidnappers are not very interested in you.

·        In a hostage situation, you are likely to be released first

·        People call at 9 PM and ask, “Did I wake you?”

·        People no longer view you as a hypochondriac

·        There is nothing left to learn the hard way.

·        Things you buy now won’t wear out.

·        You can live ‘without sex but not your glasses.

·        You quit trying to hold your stomach in no matter who walks into the room.  

·        You sing along with elevator music.

·        Your eyes won’t get much worse.

·        Your investment in health insurance is finally beginning to pay off.

·        Your joints are more accurate meteorologists than the national weather service.

·        Your secrets are safe with your friends because they can’t remember them either.

Marketing to the GLBT Community: Echoes of the Civil Rights Movement?

March 11, 2009

 

Here’s another change in the marketing world that was inconceivable when us Boomers were in short pants:  The open courting by companies of the GLBT market.  That is, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I have no problem it.  In fact, I think this shows great progress towards us having a more tolerant and cohesive society. I’m just old enough to still find it amazing.  It’s a great sign of how times have changed.  I can still remember race riots in the 1960’s.  That seems like forever when you think about GLBT marketing efforts coming out, so-to-speak.  But I think it holds some parallels. It was not that long ago that few if any companies would dare be so open about their courting gays and lesbians–never mind bisexuals or transgender individuals.  How long ago was it when there were separate bathrooms, water fountains and everything else for whites and blacks?  Now we have an African American president!  I hope Bull Connor is rolling over in his grave.

 

One of my classmates wrote about American Airlines web site (www.americanairlines.com/ rainbow) that is part of their major marketing effort towards the 15 million member strong LGBT community.  American even has a sales and support team as part of this effort, dedicated to making the total experience with the airline friendly and accommodating.  Not only is this an impressive integrated marketing effort, it shows that companies can be bold and take some risks.  I didn’t even know what a transgender person was a few years ago, now we have a major airline courting them.

 

I know there will be some on the fringes that will cringe and curse American for doing this. But I applaud the airline for trying to develop a large, loyal market, and for helping along the process of moving past social stigmas.  They deserve credit for being bold and open about their marketing plans and goals.  They should also be applauded for their courage. They could be the target of protests and boycotts by those fringe elements who lack any bit of tolerance at all.  I some ways, this has the feel of those courageous souls of the civil rights era who had the convictions and courage to help change the world.  Nice to see that is still possible today.

Mmmmmmmm…Penny Candy!

March 11, 2009

 

This week we were discussing company Web sites aimed at minority groups.  I took a look at Wal-Mart’s “Our Voice” effort to demonstrate their commitment to African-Americans.  As much as a mere mention of the giant retailers name can evoke strong passions from many quarters, I have to be fair.  I found the site a fine educational and historical offering covering the contributions of numerous African-Americans in civil rights, politics, education, entertainment, and sports.  Check it out at www.wmourvoice.com.

Yes, they did a nice job on the site, but that is not where my thought process is now going.  In fact, not even close.  I’ve been thinking about how different retailing has become as a result of the big box strategy Wal-Mart pioneered.  There’s the electronic retailers (at least the one’s that still exist in the current economic climate) that carry dozens of dazzling varieties of TV’s, cameras, recorders, music, and more.  These stores crushed that Mom & Pop stores across the country who could not compete on price.  They could not buy near the volume as these giant retailers, so they were never even in the ballgame once Circuit City, Best Buy, and the like started dotting the landscape.  Same impact by Lowes and Home Depot.  The last of our small hardware stores in town closed their doors last year, surrendering to the fact that they were surrounded by both behemoths. And we’re a town of only 30,000 people!  Makes my how much business there is to even sustain the two giants.

But in my estimation, the biggest assault on our small town way of life was the retailing phenomena wrought by Wal-Mart, which unleashed a crushing blow to the beloved corner stores of this country.  Remember them?  We had one literally at the end of the short street on which I grew up.  It was the centerpiece of the lives of the young kids in the neighborhood.  Ours was actually “Bud’s Penny Candy Store” and that is exactly what it was.  Filled with Jawbreakers, spearmint and orange leaves, Bazooka Bubblegum, Pixie Sticks, Squirrels, Fireballs, Mint Juleps and more.  Plus, there were baseball cards, nickel bottles of Coke, and colorful Flair pens.  Enough great stuff to drain a good portion of paper route, shoveling, or carwash money every week.  But oh so worth it.

Then a 7-11 “Quick Mart” moved in to town, across the major road, but still within walking distance.  They didn’t have near the same variety of candy as Bud.  The guy we thought was the owner, but was really some kind of manager, was not anywhere as friendly as Bud.  And the place seemed too clean to a ten-year-old kid.  But we did notice they had much more soda (or “tonic” as we called it back then); the baseball cards were cheaper; and they had Slurpees!  Instead of 100% of our weekly earnings going to Bud, we starting splitting them more and more between him and “The Quickie”.  Bud hung in there and I remember going in just because I would feel guilty of passing his store and going across the street because my Mom wanted me to buy milk from the less expensive 7-11.  When Stop & Shop, a major supermarket chain, came to town, Bud had had it.  He closed up shop and, to our horror, the small store that was so important to us, was unceremoniously knocked down and replaced by a gas station.  Later on Wal-Mart moved to town and made a huge dent in everyone else’s business.

I know that Wal-Mart does bring consumers very low prices on countless products, offering substantial savings to many who don’t mind the long checkout lines.  But at what cost to the fabric of small town life?  I am far from the fist person to voice concern over the impact of “Sprawl-Mart”, but maybe I’m the first one to reflect on its devouring of penny candy shops that are nearly impossible to find any more. Maybe I’m just waxing nostalgic over a great time in my life when penny candy was what it said it was, and cavities were never a consideration.  Ah, youth!

Now That’s A Really Smart Phone!

March 6, 2009

 

I recently heard of one of those types of amazing applications that make me wonder how people dream them up.  This is for a Smartphone and it’s the kind if thing that brings some real fun to technology.

 

On these mini computers you can download an incredible amount of applications for just about anything.  The most wonderfully devious I’m learning about is called “Fake Call”.  In my humble opinion, I think the person who wrote this program is nothing short of a genius.  And a very clever one at that.  Dubbed as “A secret weapon against boring meetings and bad dates, the folks at www.trinkesofware.com/fakacall/ have a program that helps you escape social and business situations by sending yourself an incoming call.  You can schedule a call in advance or generate one on demand.  It has user interface that simulates the entire calling experience, complete with call progress timers and pictures of the “caller”. Your phones Talk and End buttons work just like they do on a real call.

Now this is progress!  In the old days, say 12 months ago, when technology had not advanced so far, I utilized a rudimentary strategy to rid my office of jaw-flapping visitors.  I would send an email from my laptop to my Blackberry and act like it was a phone call.  But that is such an old trick, right?  I need to upgrade my sneakiness with “FakeCall”.