Saturday, September 29, 2012

"Quick - I need your help. . ."

Latest research shows that when we think too much, we're less likely to lend a hand, or a dollar, or anything that might help out someone else. Here's the reference from Ars Technica:

Cooperation works best when no one has time to think. If you need someone's cooperation, don't over-explain why you need their help. At least, that's the takeaway from new research conducted by Harvard University scientists. Through ten studies on the cognitive basis of cooperation, the researchers hoped to shed light on the fundamental question of whether humans are innately helpful or selfish. Would having time to explain the necessity of cooperation increase or decrease a subject's likelihood to pitch in and help with the task? Turns out that participants culled from around the world through informal labor site Amazon Mechanical Turk were more likely to cooperate at the beginning, but became increasingly selfish when response time was lengthened, giving them a period to think about what they would get out of the exchange. In a way, the results show an optimistic side of human nature—we're naturally generous! But they're also a bit disconcerting. The more thoughtful and reflective we're allowed to be about cooperative projects, the more likely we are to be uncooperative.
So, does this viewpoint make you feel to be a proud, noble savage whose first instincts are our best or more like a failed replacement  NFL referee ("Upon further review, I will not be of help.") ?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Shooting Groupon (in a barrel)

Criticizing Groupon these days is a little like shooting fish in a barrel, or like "piling on" in football.
"Penalty, on the defense: 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. First down."
Guilty as charged for the hit that is to come below. But sometimes it's permissible to take a shot at even easy targets when they are illustrate such a surprising lack of business sense.

While most of us have enjoyed a least a few wonderful offers from its service, Groupon has taken its share of justifiable hits - an inflated, ill-conceived IPO, debatable formulas for counting reveune, non-existent profits, you know, small things like that. But Groupon has received also credit recently for efforts (however tardy) to make its offers more relevant to potential buyers. So, how's that going?
Personalized for a Cleveland subscriber?
This is personalized for me?

Click on this link to see Groupon offers that have been "personalized" just for me and I assume for most other Cleveland subscribers. Remember, this is a town that is one of only three that hasn't had the chance to root for its home team in the Super Bowl. And despite the fact that the team is basically pitiful on the field, the end of the summer always finds fans in Cleveland enthusiastic about the prospects for the Browns.
I'll wade through and even chuckle at the bikini wax offers I receive. But a Groupon offer promoting football-themed goods that use as examples logos for. . . the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Denver Broncos and the University of Michigan?

Who cares if the whistle already blew. Go ahead and add mine to the shots being fired at Groupon - even if it is like shooting a grouper in a barrel.

As they say on ESPN, "C'mon, man."

Monday, August 6, 2012

32-character tweets (before Twitter)

Before Twitter, before the web, before PCs, before punch cards, and even before Arpanet, common citizens created brief messages that could be shared with friends, family and even strangers. Please pardon me for sharing this a few days shy of the anniversary of the creation of my first (and probably only) "Tweet" from the 60s, but here's a replica of it:

OK, so it's not a Tweet but pardon me for thinking that it's waaay cooler than any digital Tweet - here's why:
1. You think 140 characters is hard? Try 32 characters, and the only punctuation available is a period. Period. So, I had to forego the apostrophe in O'Hare. Something of value is worth the sacrifice.
2. No back space key (not the extra space between the "Gem" and "Beach" (because of that miscue, I couldn't fit the year. Rats).
3. You can wear this around your neck on a chain, sort of a civilian dog tag. Try doing that with a Tweet on your smartphone. Added bonus: the owner is conferred good luck (the other side has an American flag in the middle - as I recall, you didn't get to choose between patriotic displays or lucky charms).
4. It costs a dime, Tweets are free - as I said, some things are worth the sacrifice.
5. Highly private - you could choose who could see your message. 
Apparently, the gentleman who runs this site will create a Lucky Souvenir coin for you. . .

 You can still get these ( I think) - see the graphic above and the link.

So, anyone else have an example of another version of limited character message sharing tokens, aka, "Tweets before Twitter?" 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The right two people = "I'm thrilled"

You may be like me: whether I produce, attend, or speak at a B2B event, I always learn something. Of course, much of what I learn is directly related to the content that's presented. Whether it's:
  • a trade or technical show
  • a product or service demo
  • a speech or presentation,
I always walk away with several bits of valuable new knowledge.  (And for those among you who are astutely musing, yes, I do learn something even when I'm the one giving the presentation or speech; in fact, that's probably when I learn the most).

Recently I attended a technical session. An industry association hosted one in a series of discussions on sustainable manufacturing processes, and an application engineer from a manufacturer gave a 75 minute talk. It was a rainy morning in a bit of a remote location and the attendance was not large - probably 10 people total, with less than five prospective end-users. But the talk was interesting, the dialogue lively, and at the very end, the event producer received these enthusiastic words of  endorsement from the speaker:
Are you kidding me? The fact that those two guys were in the room made this event a home run for me.
That's because "those two guys" were from the perfect target for this speaker. One was engineering manager at a global top-10 food processing firm and the other was a principal at a large manufacturing firm that produces goods for that same firm and hundreds of others. And most importantly, both were very interested in the topic and in the speaker's approach to addressing sustainability issues.

Based on that observation, here's at least one item that I walked away with:

Sometimes, we get so caught up in driving up large audience numbers that we forget that the right message that reaches the right audience at the right time is the goal we need to work toward.

Even if it's a rainy morning in an out-of-the way venue -and you're only audience is "those two guys."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

“Sometimes, you have to go left.”

If you’re a fan of political banter, you might view this headline as a pitch for socializing medicine or taxing the wealthy. However, if instead you’re a fan of the late Al McGuire, coach of Marquette’s national championship men’s basketball team, the statement might have a different meaning. I learned this line was a favorite of the father of the Jim Abbot, the baseball pitcher, whose memoir I’ve listened to on CD while on a recent roadtrip (more about Abbot in a future post).

Seems that the most direct path that Coach McQuire took every day to practice on campus dictated that he took a right turn at an intersection near campus. One day, after hundreds of times of automatically taking the "right" path, on a whim he instead took a left.  The alternate took him away from the city into rural Wisconsin. He enjoyed the diversion so much that once every month or so he “took a left” and spent his time exploring a side of the world that he have never been exposed to during a rough and tumble childhood in New York City.

The lesson for all of us, media professionals in particular? Sometimes, when you’ve always taken a "right” and produced something in the same predictable way for an uncountable number of cycles, why not takeg a left? Always written that lead newsletter article yourself? Instead, offer the opportunity to someone who will likely bring a new vantage point. Have you always created a print narrative to tell a story or make a point? Consider a video instead to tell your story. Always used PowerPoint? Try Prezi for a change. Always produced something of a certain length? Go longer – or shorter. Never used a caricature or illustration? Ditch the photo and commission an artist to create something that will create an impact.

Of course, measure the results by looking at the numbers and by listening to audience input. But if you don’t go left once in a while, maybe you’re not living, well,  right.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

'Farming' for data

A quote from the Business Technology section of the June 14, 2012 WSJ:

Every business that exists now is a data business. 

Words spoken not by someone in the IT or business analytics industry, but by the director of development for . . . a product that's sold in the agriculture market. If farmers are now dependent on the harvesting of data, then I guess we really have become integrated into a world in which data is king.

An interesting article and an interesting vantage point on where agriculture and all businesses need to go.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A toast for raising the bar

You've probably attended a business-to-business trade show, right? You wore your comfortable shoes, walked several miles and saw lots of presentations that likely featured one or more of the following:
  • technical displays of software or hardware
  • overproduced, overly long video or (ugh!) PowerPoint presentations (given by hired talent that looks good and speaks well, but doesn't have a clue about the what's being displayed)
  •  booths long on freebies, give-aways, and if you're at a non-US trade show, often lots of food and drink.
And you probably don't remember much about what was being shown, do you? But just when you think you've seen it all, along comes a new way to engage audiences at a trade show.  Take a look at the video below. The real beauty is that it surprises with its novelty, but connects because it's very well-conceived, written, and performed. It's the unique mash-up of digital, analog, humor, informational, and personal elements that make this a winner.

Looks effortless, doesn't it? Behind the scenes, though, we know that hundreds (and hundreds) of hours and thousands of dollars (or Swedish krona) were required to pull this together. But when the trade show is packed up and done, we think that the audience who saw this presentation is far more likely to remember the message and be personally influenced by than by any ol' PowerPoint or booth giveaways.

Marketing communications productions like this raise the bar for all of us. I'll drink to that. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Who's leading the (leasing) charge?

On March 21st, this article from the WSJ tells us that Google and other digital giants and giant-wannabes are leasing large amounts of office space in cities world wide. And they're looking at the lower cost space that's available outside of the traditional California base for so many web firms.

And they're finding - and leasing - a lot of space in. . . Pittsburgh. That's all well and good, but who in Cleveland is heading up a concerted, integrated campaign to put our region's vacant assets in front of Google?

Please tell us that someone in the CLE is coordinating a well-planned, nicely integrated approach for making this happen.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

It’s Hip to be Square (and small)

Chalk it up to a delayed validation of the 1987 observation of Huey Lewis and the News. Lately, content providers and graphic designers agree that indeed, it is “Hip to be Square.”

Up until about 1995, when it came to the form factor of collateral material, the big decision that marcom professionals and other content providers needed to make: landscape or portrait? For most marcommers, especially those in B2B, easy-to-use and easy-to-create meant meeting standards and expectations. You always wanted to meet standards; of printing presses and paper inventory as well as envelope and file folder size. For the longest time, 8 ½” x 11”, either as a single sheet or folded from a larger sheet, was the de facto standard. If you felt a little rebellious, then you might print landscape, and damn the cost and extra time needed to produce.Woo hoo.

Along came digital publishing and the rectangular window we used to shape content was reinforced. Computer screens are rectangular, of course, although they’re oriented landscape. As a result, the integration  between collateral that is printed and what's shown on a screen is rotated 90 degrees - and no matter what you do, PDFs of most online documents are unfriendly. And even as “digital” increasingly means “mobile,” the rectangle still rules on smart phones and tablets.

Lately, though, a trend has emerged, at least on print collateral. Hip is now squarer – and smaller. Since our audience has so much content to choose from, we all need to differentiate what we create. One way to invite readers is with “smaller” (in size) print items. The small, square form factor sends a “go ahead, pick me up” message. The trend has been helped along by printers that have advanced in producing non-standard sizes without breaking the budget or the project time frame. Using a sheet-fed digital press, a printer can produce a small, square document two-up on a 13” x 19” sheet, trim, fold, and bind pretty quickly, at a reasonable added cost. The result is a piece that stands out from the rectangular crowd.

Case in point is this piece I picked up at Cleveland State University. By the way, it's refreshing to see the effect that effective, professionally produced content can have on an organization. Lots of good marcom work being produced at CSU over the last few years – a big upgrade. From highway billboards to web to print to canvas wrapped posters to table tents in the cafeteria, all of it is consistent without being cookie-cutter (not an easy feat over the long haul). Pleasing, creative design, cross-media integration of the main “Engage” message – and clearly a belief in investing in quality photography (what a concept! Actually hire a professional who can produced well-composed photos!). All well done.
And this piece can’t match the perfect square shape of an LP sleeve or CD-music case, this piece is more of a square than a digest-sized rectangle. At 5½” x 7”, it’s a distinctive, pleasing size; not quite square, but small.

So if you want to stand out, just consider that square - and small - is the new hip.

(NOTE: click here to listen to the song  – and watch a vinyl record spin, so I guess it
really is a music video; a unique mash-up, to be sure).

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The failure of failure

The digital age has not only it possible to try multiple approaches and solutions  – from a competitive standpoint, it's made it a necessity. Since it often costs little or nothing to quickly try multiple ways to create new products or services, others may stumble upon a better solution by virtue of simply trying new and different ways - lots of them.

Clearly, however, some level of failure is unacceptable. At an amazing City Club Friday Forum held late in 2011, the director of the National Institute of Health (NIH) talked of the wonder of modern bioscience - and the frustration of not being able to do more. Dr. Francis Collins, a former Clevelander, is the lead guy at the NIH, the nation's lead agency for directing the highest levels of medical research. Listen to the audio clip and you'll hear someone who is centered on the target of how we must get better at making mistakes - and better at not making them again.

After all, technology allows us to quickly create and edit words, shoot multiple images from multiple camera sources, create multiple pharmaceutical compounds and test them on multiple disease models, and other tactics to find an answer, make a million, or cure a disease. But if we don't use same similar digital technology (advanced and predictive analytics, performance intelligence, etc.) to also improve our success rate, we will continue to move faster and faster, but we won't get much more successful, either.    

The attached media link (at the top of the page) takes you to a one minute audio clip from the event. NOTE: the audio level is low, so turn up your speakers.

If you'd like to see the complete Forum, including video, click here.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Nouveau gorille

Begin a conversation in your non-native language and you  face a risk. Too awkward and unskilled? Maybe the natives will enjoy amusement, if only privately, at your expense. And if you seem too proficient, then you'll likely be hit with a barrage of phrases, slang, and technical terms that may find you wishing you had relied on expressions, body language -- and having others try to speak your language ( or maybe that cafe in Paris has an English menu after all).  Although wishing for mediocrity is never a noble notion, AJ Hyland of Hyland Software recently explained that success brings on its own unique challenges- here's why.

Hyland Software is the largest software company in the Cleveland area, and one of the fastest growing companies in the region. Hyland has nearly 1400 employees who help organizations around the world manage the vast amount of content that is created everyday and stored by governments, medical centers, Fortune 1000 companies - every type of customer. Name a continent, an industry or an application and chances are that Hyland has a presence. And chances are that compared with a few years ago, Hyland's market presence is now more like that of a gorilla, and less like the wall flower it was when it first entered the content management room.

 Hyland's CEO touched on this very topic when at recent executive lunch meeting he remarked at how different it is to be the "disrupter" in a market versus the "gorilla." It's easy to assume that it's more fun - and easier - to be one of the biggest players in the market. What most of us don't realize is that the skill sets and disposition required change dramatically. The leader of even the biggest "gorilla" organization needs to create a sense of urgency, educate on how we care about customers, continually create a leadership team, manage channel partners and channel conflicts- all while fending off challengers who would have been indifferent to you in the past.

 So as you move from your role as "niche ankle biter" to "gorilla," remember that even as the financial rewards increase, the challenges increase, too - and often change. When you become the gorilla, remember what got you there because you'll need to think like both a disrupter - and a gorilla - at the same time.

To download an MP3 of the entire luncheon panel, which also includes
Steve Potash from Overdrive, click here. 


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

An Instagram Poet

Who knew an entrepreneurial rock star
was also. . . a poet?