Monthly Archives: August 2013

I Need to Watch Out

So, month end, blog reflection time.

As I near 100 posts (this is 95), I am first of all, surprised that I have been able to keep it up. Secondly, that number raises a small level of anxiety in me.

100 posts, or about 50,000 words, is a long novella or a very short novel. In other words a good amount of content that has come, more or less, off the top of my head. While I typically write posts a few days before hand and have some time to have second thoughts (there are a few still sitting in draft that likely will never get released on the world), there have been some that are slightly more rushed.

I don’t need to be looking over my shoulder, nor do I think I have said anything that would be overly offensive to anyone, but at this point I can’t be 100% sure. It was never my intent and hopefully it isn’t the case.

There have been a few cases where I don’t clearly depict context in my posts, and it has lead to some altered interactions with individuals. At times I may come off as more of a jerk than I am, but I guess that’s the risk I take.

 

Miley Marketing

That’s right, I’m writing a post about Miley’s performance at the VMAs. Everyone else on the internet is, why not me?

The disclaimer is that I honestly haven’t watched the performance from front to back, but I believe that I have seen enough news clips and memes to get the general picture.

To get it out there, I don’t think that anyone would disagree that what was done was pretty trashy and not the sort of thing that teen girls should be seeing. First off, the fact that a woman who is/was a role model to girls would perform that Robin Thicke song (which I hate and is the absolute wrong message that any little girl or boy should be hearing) is a tell-tale sign of what sort of statement is going to be made here.

Putting aside the actual content of the performance, though, it is hard to argue that it wasn’t effective. Here we are three days later and it’s still being talked about on news sites, social media and over water coolers. In the age where things are old news in roughly an hour, that is quite the feat.

Not only this, but the story has transcended channels, showing up not just as entertainment news, but a leading story. It was on the home page of CNN.com, for goodness’ sake. The same space that is used to announce Presidents, report tragedies and inform the world had Miley twerking on it.

As they say, though, sometimes the ends justify the means and this was a marketing success. We’re the ones that stay interested, so the entertainment world is going to keep giving us what we (apparently) want. No press is bad press and it would be hard to argue that with that performance Miley reached out to a new fan base, beyond teenage girls.

I fully realize that this is a small contribution to the problem. I’m just calling it as I see it, though, and from a purely marketing standpoint it’s hard to say that there wasn’t a level of success. Her having to deal with the fallout of being in what is basically an internationally broadcast strip show is a completely different matter.

So again, you may be like me and don’t personally agree with the style of performance or what this supposed “role model” is doing, but damn sure we’re all going to be watching to see what she does next.

Conveniences vs Necessities

In the news recently there has been talk of a town in rural Manitoba which is lobbying the government to force wireless providers to offer them better reception. Apparently their cell service is sub-par and according to them, if I can paraphrase, this is a basic human need and there needs to be government intervention in order to rectify the horrible situation.

If you can’t tell, I think this is utter crap. This is the equivalent to me being upset that I can’t see the Eiffel Tower from my house in Winnipeg and demanding the government bring it here for me to see. We all make choices about where we live and must live with those choices.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against a town wanting reasonable medical response time or the like, but for a town (which has land line service) to demand the tax-payers of Manitoba pay for their cell service is too much. If you see having a cell phone as a requirement to live your life, move to a place where it makes economic sense for businesses to provide reception.

This whole situation is another example of people confusing needs with desires. Just because you want something and lots of other people have it, doesn’t mean you need it. If we start gauging the success of society on the availability of these upper level conveniences, our barometer is way off. Basic needs not being met has a fundamental effect on happiness, and if we keep lumping unnecessary items into the “needs” category the chances of living a fulfilling life are greatly reduced.

This reminds me of a diagram a friend told me about. It’s an updated version of Maslow’s Pyramid, which is obviously meant as a joke. It’s scary how true it sometimes feels, though.

Comparing Generations

I had a bit of an epiphany recently that I’m pretty proud to share. I don’t come up with anything I would consider overly insightful too often, so I like sharing when I do.

There is a quasi-obsession with comparing generations to one another. Millennials work like this. Baby boomers communicate like that. As a generalization superficial information like that may be true and even helpful (I’ll also be the first to admit I’m as guilty of this as anyone), but I think that one comparison is detrimental to generational harmony: The comparison of values.

By focusing on the difference in values that apparently exist between generations, it’s like resigning our society to never even trying to understand one another, which is depressing to me. What’s more, I think that statements such as these are based (in part) on flawed logic and may not be as true as we all think.

The flaw I’m referring to is that all of the assumptions of generational differences are often based on the idea that our values don’t change throughout out lives. Meaning that all people have generally the same values when they’re 20, as when they’re 35, as when they’re 65, etc. I don’t think that’s true at all.

The values discussion largely depends on the point of live the person you are speaking to is in. I’m willing to bet that everyone sounded more self-centred when they’re 25 and single than when they’re 50 with kids. Younger people may be more altruistic but that may be because they haven’t been crushed by life as much as someone who is older.

While it’s important to know our differences so we can still have meaningful interaction with one another, I don’t think that we should be focusing so hard on the apparent value differences between generations. If they do exist to some extent (which I’m willing to bet have been overblown), what good will it do? As with all other humans, it’s easier to find the common ground an move the relationship forward from there.

Millennials 20s a Wasted Decade?

I’m apparently having a bit on an introspective week, because this is the second personal post in a row, which rarely happens. Oh well, I guess it’s true that if you don’t have anything else to talk about, you talk about yourself.

I’ve always struggled with the idea that one’s 20s are a throw-away decade. Somewhere along the line my (our) generation took some well-intended advice and interpreted it how we wanted. While I’m not against that at all, and regularly employ the tactic, I think this is to our detriment.

The advice that is often given is that your 20s are for gaining experiences, trying new things and otherwise exploring. On the surface I couldn’t agree more, but I think that there’s a number of people they choose to try new things in many aspects of their lives, but never in a serious way professionally.

It’s all well and good to quench wanderlust, seek out new and exciting experiences and meet as many people as possible. Call me a loser, though, but to me the risks that should be taken should also relate to our careers. Right now, in our 20s, while we likely have the fewest obligations we’re ever going to have, why not get out of our comfort zones and try some things out?

You know the interviews you go to when you’re told you need more experience? That’s not going to magically change once you turn 30 if you haven’t spent time getting those experiences. Although there have been studies showing the “experience” logic is flawed, it’s still a fact of life in the system we are dealing with. Go out there and do something when you’re young that will allow you the opportunities you want when you’re older.

There’s a balance to this that is unique to everyone, so it’s about striking the right one for you. How I like to think of it is that there are no “right” or “wrong” decisions, just consequences for our actions. Just be prepared to live with the consequences.

My End Goal

If there was ever a blog post my parents would be interested in reading, I think this would be the one. Like good parents they care about my ongoing well-being and true to my personality I don’t give them any sort of reassurance that I’m not just drifting through life. I’m a terrible son.

In all honesty, though, I don’t have a clear picture of how I want my life to turn out, “at the end of it all.” I really don’t have a 100% idea of what it will look like six months from now, and I’m not going to worry about it. In job interviews I hate the question, “Where do you see yourself in ___ years?” My knee-jerk reaction is to quote Mitch Hedberg and tell them, “Celebrating the anniversary of this job interview,” but so far I have caught myself and tell them the truth: I really don’t know.

While this may seem flaky to some, I think that I don’t know for the right reasons. I have certain goals that I want to meet in both the short and long term, but these are usually specific and don’t include a full 360° view of all aspects of my life. Maybe it’s because I’m lazy, but I honestly don’t see the point in going through the exercise.

The reason that I don’t firmly plan every aspect of my life is that I have had too many friends waste their time, and often money, trying to accomplish what they think they want, but never quite making it. What’s worse is the few that do make it, but then realize they aren’t happy. I never want to be in either of those situations.

So I stay as flexible as possible. By keeping an open mind and not worrying too much about the specifics, I try to make sure no opportunity passes me by. What’s more, I don’t get too stressed if things aren’t perfect in the near term. I know that whatever I’m doing now isn’t necessarily related to my long-term happiness, so with that perspective I can weather most situations better than if I was constantly thinking my entire future rode on the decisions of today.

This is what works for me, but won’t work for everyone. The one thing I would say is if there is anyone you admire, try and see the times that they pivoted in their careers or personal life. It seems to me when someone attains success their biography is re-written to reflect how they were always destined to accomplish what they had. I don’t think this is the case.

Even the famous Steve Jobs commencement speech. You can’t tell me he always knew he was going to lead the world’s largest tech company when he was attending liberal arts school, dropping out of university, working on an apple orchard, taking pilgrimages to India, etc. Fact is, he kept his future open and didn’t worry too much how things were going to play out and look where it got him. I’m not saying he didn’t care, he especially did later in his career, but it’s not accurate to say he always knew where he was going to end up.

So why should you or I?

BC’s C3 Program

There was an article forwarded to me about BC’s new C3 program, in which the 3 C’s stand for Community Contribution Company. I would encourage you to read the article, but in short it is a new business model, “[d]esigned to bridge the gap between for-profit businesses and non-profit enterprises.” A company with this distinction will be legally obligated to operate for a social purpose(s), but there is also an aspect of financial return. The article then goes on to say how with this program, social enterprises are now able to access investment capital, while staying social.

While I don’t disagree with a model such as this in the general sense, I do have a few reservations about how this is positioned. Namely I don’t think that this is going to attract the investment dollars that the government assumes it will, because of the fundamental differences between the goals of a social enterprise and an investor.

By definition, investors want a return on investment. The VC / Angel Investor games are risky enough as it is, why would anyone want to enter that game with a company that is already at a disadvantage? Don’t get me wrong, committing yourself and/or your company to a cause is very admirable and all the best to you if you do so. You just shouldn’t expect to get rich off of it and still support your cause.

Ask the countless business owners who have pursued outside funding, only to be surprised a year later when their business didn’t matter at all any more. It all became about the investors’ return. They didn’t care how it happened, but they were going to make money off the transaction, or else. I don’t see how that can work when the organization’s goals are not growth and returns.

It would therefore be foolish for an investor to think that they will actually be getting a return on their money, after the social component is fulfilled. What’s more, if the structure of the C3 designation is anything like charitable status, any margin that is made needs to be given to the cause right away. Therefore a small piece of pie for the investor, if anything at all. The goals are just too skewed.

Going back a few posts ago, I think this structure would be better going the other way, so to speak. Rather than trying to make a hybrid in order to attract private investment, have a hybrid where the government lays off the enterprise about mandatory minimum donations, etc. Give them some time to breathe, reinvest in themselves in the beginning and grow. Even with just 5 years of operation before all profits need to start being given to the charity could mean the difference between a small, medium or large organization.

I commend the BC government recognizing the lines are being blurred between charity and private social enterprise. There is no doubt that changes have to be made the corporate structure and tax law. I just think that this change is not going to make the right kind of waves.

Credit Where Credit Isn’t Due

I really want to post a specific story from a few months ago, but I can’t seem to find the courage. I don’t want to use this as a forum to go into too much specific detail about myself or any other person, but I really think I learned a lot from this experience. It may be best to skip the story part and keep it general…

Have you ever dealt with a person who seems like they go out of their way to be unhelpful? As in, it would likely be easier for them just to do what you’re asking of them, rather than giving you the run-around, just to get upset in the end? Well, I have.

For whatever reason, this person was not wanting to help forward something that was in their best interest to complete. I’m not going to waste time speculating as to why, but I suspect that this isn’t the first time he has been like this to someone.

What was amazing in this case was the ability to deflect blame from himself onto everyone else around him, belittling them at the same time. I could almost appreciate the skill it took to do this, and maybe would have as an outsider looking in, but being in the thick of things it was just a headache that I wanted to be over with.

What was more frustrating was, as a firm believer of doing things right the first time, this guy seemed completely oblivious to the fact that if he just help out from the get-go there would be no need for future interaction.

At the end of it all, he ended up doing his job and I hopefully never have to talk to him again. Even at the end, though, once he did the thing he is paid to do, he managed to make it clear that he was the “hero” and should be celebrated as such. Like I said, could almost appreciate his skill in manipulation.

Social Media Strategy

On to day two of my social media rampage…

Last post I wrote about deciding whether or not your company should engage on social media. Now assuming the decision has been made to have your brand on social media, the question is what should you be posting about? While some may subscribe to the “no press is bad press” mentality and post everything they can, I don’t think they’re doing themselves any favours.

Like all marketing and communications, anything posted online should be:

  • On brand
  • Relavent
  • Timely
  • Meaningful

Because of this, there is a certain amount of planning that should go into the process. Determining the brand’s tone and personality will go a long way to helping coming up with appropriate content that is going to enhance your customers’ view of your company, rather than just be noise that is lost in the sea of other worthless posts.

Below are my favourite types of posts:

  • The fun update. If your company, some employees, one of your clients, etc. has something fun and exciting going on, post about it. It’s the most “human” interaction you’re going to get with your followers, because it isn’t usually driven by an agenda and it will be relate-able.
  • Industry news. Posting information related to your industry which your clients would find relevent. This shows that you care about keeping them informed and positions your company as an expert in the field, without having to create any content on your own.
  • Event reminders (sparingly). If you have a big event coming up (holding a conference, Boxing Day Sale, etc.) then using social media to promote is a natural. Just don’t be using it too much, because you could end up burning out your list and having people unsubscribe from your updates.
  • Brand-enhancing randomness. This one is a little tricky, but could be a good filler post. Depending on what your brand is and stands for, some random internet posts could be a good thing. If your a pet groomer and see a funny cat video, why not post it? If your a financial services firm, maybe not. Up to you, but be careful.
  • Created content. I (as a blogger) would rank this as one of the most powerful. If you are able to generate content about your industry internally or through the use of a ghost writer, this is the best kind of post. Drives people to your website, shows you know what you’re talking about, all those good things.

There are also some things on social media that I can’t stand. This is obviously just my opinion, but I can’t really see this doing anything for the companies that put it out:

  • Share / like / retweet contests. This is bad for at least two reasons.
    1. If you think you’re “tricking” people into following you, they’re not the right people. They will unfollow you as soon as you’re not offering anything and won’t have meaningful engagement with your brand. If they don’t like you in real life, it doesn’t really matter if they like you on Facebook. They’re not going to buy.
    2. This is the equivalent of couponing. You’re going to attract price sensitive consumers who are only loyal to who is giving the best deal. I always think of my mom, who only has a Facebook account to enter contests. Hasn’t even friended me yet and never goes on for any other reason.
  • Constant product profiles. If all you’re doing is showcasing your product, people will get annoyed and not pay attention to any of your ads. The occasional product profile is ok, but there needs to be meaningful content along with it.
  • Nothing. If you’re not doing anything, for the love of all is good, close down the page. I would say if you’re not posting something at least once a month, there is little to no use for you to be on social media, so get off.

When coming up with your strategy, just remember it isn’t about posting the most or having the highest number of followers. It’s about meaningfully engaging those who want to be associated with your brand and strengthening your image with them. If you are doing that, then you will continue to attract and engage the right audience.

 

Scary Social Media

Mainstream social media has been around for a few years and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere any time soon. Like all new communication mediums, there is both excitement and anxiety about your company marketing along this new channel. It’s best to step back, take a breath and tell yourself it’s all going to be ok.

First, although it is something new and different, the basic principles of selecting advertising mediums still apply. Every time there is a revolution in information consumption, there are marketing opportunities close behind. In that sense, the recent boom of social media can be likened to the first online advertising, television, radio and even print media. Social media is just the latest in a long line of innovations, but it’s not likely to be the last.

While there may be “marketers” out there using scare tactics to try and make business owners and marketing managers believe that if their company is not on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest, etc. they are dead in the water, in many (or even most) cases that simply isn’t true. It all comes down to whether or not your customers are using the medium or not.

To put it another way, if the customers you are targeting aren’t going to engage with your company on social media, it doesn’t really matter if you are on it or not. The same way a company doesn’t have to advertise on tv, or in the newspaper, or on the radio, and on and on. It’s that simple.

The thing that sucks people into thinking they need social media, if I were to take a guess, is two things:

  1. The fact it’s free, and;
  2. The fact your customers have the chance to interact with you.

Neither or those are particularly true, nor are they necessarily appealing as they seem.

First, posting online may be free in terms of dollars (though Facebook is trying hard to change this), but there is always a time cost associated with everything that you do as a business owner. If you’re taking the time to come up with meaningful posts, that is time taken away from other tasks, usually in the middle of the day. This time adds up and if none of your clients are on social media, it’s spinning your creative wheels while getting nowhere.

The second fallacy is customer interaction. While it may be true, unfortunately the interaction is usually negative. Few people will take the time to say something positive on a company’s Facebook page, but everyone will post a complaint. This is a public venue and you will want to deal with it quickly, taking up more time in your day.

At the end of they day you need to decide if social media is right for your brand. If you truly thing you will win loyal customers from it, then all the power to you. If you doubt that your market is even paying attention, focus on other efforts and don’t let some marketer bully you into it.