Friday, December 24, 2010

The Christmas Card's Story

Recently, I discovered a wonderful card in my Mom’s things when moving her from her Beaumont Apartment into their Health Services division.  The card quoted a passage from the Lexington Herald Leader, dated December 25, 1920.  The cards were hidden among her files and memorabilia, a collection of her life time as a public relations practitioner.  Mom told me that she designed them and had them printed while we were living in England.  Dad was an Army doctor early in his career, you see, and we were stationed in Europe in the 1950’s.

The author of the story in the card was Enoch Grehan.  He was not only a reporter at the Lexington Herald but was also a professor of journalism at the University  of Kentucky where Mom graduated in 1940.  Yes, he was Mom’s teacher. She showed me the journal that she kept during that time, filled with newspaper clippings, self-authored poems and the personal insights of a young educated woman.  College educated to boot, a rarity then.

Her first job out of school was as a journalist at The Leader and I naturally thought that Enoch had recommended her but was surprised when she said, “No.”   She told me that actually it was Uncle Bud, my grandfather’s cousin, who was also a reporter there and had networked that opportunity for her.

Uncle Bud was a writer, and a good one.  You may have even read one of his books; The Way West or The Big Sky.  I think it was the former that won him a Pulitzer.  Mom met Bud Guthrie when she and Dad were dating.  I think Bud found her enchanting.  Mom said, “No, he thought I was smart.”  She told me that they had had some fun times while he visited Dad’s family in Lexington.  She didn't share the details but she has a little book Bud gave her, where he jotted funny observations in the margins on almost every one of the 20 or so odd pages. The book is about the architecture of outhouses.  She keeps it in her jewelry box.

Mom and I have always been friends and lucky circumstances made us partners in raising my girls.  But because of her aging and move into health care, this past year has been marked, for me, by this growing intimacy between us.  I love her stories like this one.  Of course, she doesn't volunteer them, I ask for them and her telling, often prompted by questions, is for me like swimming in chocolate.  So my wish for you is to take the plunge yourself this holiday and ask a loved one for a story. Enjoy!

Monday, December 20, 2010

First Steps to Going Social

You know, corporate America is by nature, not social. Most corporations are still wedded to a traditional marketing approach, based on TV, radio and print ads, and aren't sure how to integrate social media channels or where to start. There is also this sense of panic that comes from ignoring the profit potential of millions customers who are consuming media in new ways. Except for executives with their heads in the sand (like the folks that print checks for example), many fear that the new marketing train is leaving without them and that their missing out on revenues.

The solution? I start with the customer experience because it is, after all where the technology is taking us.  Social media enables marketers to engage the customer through helpful and ethical dialog (not shouting out and hoping they'll hear you). And it goes without saying, but I'm saying it anyway, customers are how you make your money. Your customers are the ticket.

First steps should include discovering best practices in your industry. Remember that social media hasn’t been around that long, 3-5 years at best. So keep in mind that your competitors’ efforts are still in “beta”. And when you’re compiling your list of new marketing tactics, focus on non-industry success stories too. Ask if those best practices fit with your customer segments.

To understand your own customers' perceptions and proclivities, next on my to-do list is listening. What are they saying about you? Conduct that customer survey. Equally important is to team up with your customer service reps. Frankly these two items should be part of your marketing plan anyway. When you monitor calls don’t focus on the rep’s response time, focus on what your customers are saying.

Also on my list is finding out about customers’ attitudes in online chatter. Online discussions (groups, forums and complaints) will also help you form an understanding of what social channels your customers use. Not everyone has a home computer but what percentage of your customers use cell phones? Maybe your product isn’t a good fit on Facebook but it’s a great fit for a mobile strategy. Find out so you can “be” where your customers are.

With customer experience improvement as the goal, your marketing strategy will include your tried and true sales methods and now will be improved by offering up social media venues. My suggestion is to start small, in the form of an A/B test. Not only is it less daunting but can lead to some wonderful rollouts and subsequent long term success.

Business needs to understand, that social media is a tool and that waiting to employ it is not an option.  However, this confusion over where to start isn’t surprising. The inherent benefits of social media and networks are so revolutionary that it will take time for the technology, the methods and the key players to solidify. But don't make the mistake of waiting for that to happen. Today, market share belongs to early adopters.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Not Tricks, Just Treats

Walking by a local gift shop's display window in my quaint downtown Berwyn, PA the other day, I saw a black sweater with witches embroidered on it, a motion detecting skeleton and a dried wreath with small pumpkin lights and I wondered, when did this all happen?  Where did the inflatable lawn figures of black-cats, the plastic flesh body parts, those bats with the L.E.D. eyes, even luminaries lining driveways, where did it all come from?  

When I was little Halloween wasn't so, well, notorious.  Yes, we had the costumes and the door to door candy seeking activities (with my dad dressed up as a physician because he was one and had the stethoscope) but we missed out on the festival atmosphere that is injected into this event, today.  Okay, so maybe its a business push, the expansion of Christmas holidays right through Thanksgiving and into Halloween with hats off to good old American capitalism to getting all of us geared up early in the "buying season".  But there's also another element, a new element, tied into the age old "trick or treat" aspect of Halloween.  

My good friend, Donna Guthrie (yes she is my sister-in-law) captured it succinctly in her latest episode at MeetMeAtTheCorner, a site for 7-13 year olds but you'll enjoy it too.  The 2 minute video which highlights Halloween, also highlights this new element, philanthropy.  You know philanthropy, the desire to improve human welfare through charitable or selfless activities.  

Halloween is a great way to get your kids thinking about ways to help others and there's a huge benefit.  Just  take a minute to learn about some of the high school kids that have gotten Jefferson Awards for Public Service because they concocted ways to lend a hand in their communities.  The fruit of this type of action is greater than the gift itself because the kids involved discover how to involve others.  They find out how to organize and plan an event around a focused goal. They learn how to be leaders. 

So when you watch Donna's Halloween video episode, it's really much more than "that's nice".  Its a way to take a silly holiday where your kids beg for candy and turn it into a lesson in developing homespun leadership.  Still fun, but not so silly.  Now where did I leave my broom and the chocolate!

See pictures as my kids fend off the Zombie Hordes and other interesting stories!  

Friday, September 24, 2010

Got a job? Be a Hero.

Saw this on Forrester Research's blog this morning.  I haven't read the book yet, I haven't even put it on my Amazon wish list, so I can't recommend it.  But this passage that I've quoted is relevant to our employment dialog.  "....the challenge has shifted. The problem is not just connecting with empowered customers, it’s what this engagement does to corporations. It’s a management challenge. Because these technology projects are grassroots solutions conceived by HEROes (Highly Empowered and Resourceful Operatives), not top-down management initiatives, they require a transformation in the way companies operate.”

Leave it to Forrester to create an acronym.  But irregardless, especially for those currently unhappy workers, who may have it in their power to start integrating positive change, the message is significant.  Got a job?  Be a Hero.

It's interesting if not a little Polly Anna perhaps of me to think about an individual forecasting a future for their employer.  They certainly don't get paid for that, do they.  What does the future look like for your company? Could a horse drawn carriage manufacturer have envisioned Lamborghini or my personal favorite, (when I don't have my "green suit" on), the Porsche Carrera?    

I thought these other articles (links below) reflected a similar line of thinking. There was also one about changing stockholders expectations from a monetary basis to include a philanthropic focus, but now I can't find it, perhaps in the Harvard Business Review. (Note to self, must use Delicious.)  In any event, I do really want to hear what you think.  Send me your comments and links to kindred content when you find them! 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Older, Healthy and Out of Work...You Too?

According to my interpretation of recent facts and figures, never before have there been so many talented people out of work.  And for us Baby Boomers, you know those folks resulting from their parents happily reuniting after World War II, there are a lot of us and, thanks to medical advances, we're healthier and living longer than ever before.  

So if you're also unemployed, well you're like me - healthy, older and out of work.  At a time when employers are hiring two 25-year olds for the price of one 50 year old, you're probably running into some incidents of age discrimination.  Does age discrimination really exist?  Well it's a bit like asking if there's such a thing as ghosts and equally hard to prove. So rather than feeling afraid or defeated I try to remember that I'm not old.  I'm experienced.  

When I take this mind set, it helps me in several ways.  First, when I prepare my resume, I format my work information around the job requirements. I don't date events like college graduation and my masters degree. I don't go back to my beginnings with Westinghouse Broadcasting implementing proprietary systems either, unless it's pertinent.  In short I focus on the aspects of my work history that are relevant to that particular job and as much as possible eliminate dates.  

More importantly, recognizing that I'm experienced, reminds me that I'm also accomplished at what I do.  And today's employers are all about accomplishments that deliver positive financial results.  For example in my top line summary I say; "grew an insurance company's prospect sales from $800K to $6M, took an unprofitable marketing and event management agency to most profitable of 16 nationwide."  Your experience shows that you can either make money or save money for that employer. So if you can translate your actions into contributing to sales and revenues or avoiding costly mistakes, this is where you have it in spades over those younger folks with no experience.   

There is one last tip, that I've only tried once recently.  And although it didn't win me the position, I did come in the second of two finalists.  After my third round of interviews, this time with several executives who were fairly high up the command chain, in my thank you emails, I suggested a solution to a business problem they voiced during our session.  I've also heard of candidates recommending a 30-60-90 day action plan to their would-be employers as part of an agreement and alliance building strategy.  Here's the advantage for us, we have the experience to understand the journey, draw a map, plan for the unexpected and appreciate the possibilities.  

The bottom line? Remember back in 1962, Neil Young drove, "Mort" (a.k.a. Mortimer Hearseburg), his beloved Pontiac hearse from Toronto to Los Angeles?  That's when he met Stephen Stills, formed Buffalo Springfield and wrote this song, a song he'd sing 48 years later at the close of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.    

This post is dedicated to my friend, Tony Swan, the good old boy at Car & Driver no, errr I mean the Old Boy Racer at Car & Driver.      

Saturday, September 11, 2010

If Your Customers Use Mobile Phones then Your Strategy Should Include...

As part of a recommendation for integrating traditional and social media channels for a Philly non-profit, I developed this SlideShare Presentation.  The direction applies seamlessly if you're a for profit.  As always, the secret is a focus on your target audience. 
Communications strategy for 2010
Interested in mobile marketing?  Be sure to check out Forrester Research's excerpt by Christine Spivey Overby"Does Mobile Marketing Matter Yet?"
View more presentations from Marion Guthrie Consulting.

Monday, August 23, 2010

My Eyeballs and The Clean Water Act

When I'm not being socially challenged, I'm a weekend gardener who has two daughters pursuing horticulture careers and a third daughter who created a suburban farm.  So I wasn't surprised when recently a client asked me to research the ramifications of the Clean Water Act as part of a project.  I found it interesting and knowing the growing focus on conservation, I thought you'd find it interesting too.

In November 2009, as a result of changes in the Clean Water Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule to help reduce water pollution from construction sites. This is the first time that EPA has imposed national monitoring requirements and enforceable numeric limitations on construction site storm water discharges. 

The ruling took effect in February 2010 and is being phased in over four years.  It is anticipated that compliance will positively impact the quality of water throughout the U.S because it tackles one of the leading causes of water quality problems nationwide, soil and sediment runoff from construction.

This EPA rule requires construction site owners and operators that disturb one or more acres to use best management practices (BMPs) to ensure that soil disturbed during construction activity does not pollute nearby water bodies. In addition, owners and operators of sites that impact 10 or more acres of land at one time will be required to monitor discharges and ensure they comply with specific limits on discharges to minimize the impact on nearby water bodies.

This monitoring requirement is a different approach for the EPA because it incorporates a technology “floor” which sets out a numeric standard on the clarity of the water discharged from the developer’s site. Clarity is one criteria that is measured and the other is storm water displacement.

Water displacement is based on the amount of rain received on a site over a 2 year period.  The volume of water is calculated and that becomes the benchmark. For example construction of a building with parking lots could be projected at 250,000 gallons of diverted water.  Rather than allowing this water to run off, it needs to be held somehow on the site and allowed to re-integrate with the soil.

Examples of available options for controlling this run off might include green roofing or a less expensive alternative is developing a “recharge area” defined as a space typically stone filled, that resides underground on the site.  Since often one tactic isn't enough both of these solutions might be needed in combination with others to meet EPA standards.

In addition to planning for water displacement, if there is a stream or waterway on a site the buffer area where construction is prohibited has expanded from 50 ft to 150 ft.  The objective is to ensure that the construction doesn’t contribute to the degradation of that waterway; that the high quality of the water is protected.  This means there is less area that can be developed and in some instances sites that can’t be developed at all.

Runoff and soil erosion are managed during the actual construction process by using techniques outlined by the EPA called Best Management Practices (BMPs) to reduce construction-related pollution.  BMPs result in such activities as minimizing land clearing, building proper site entrances, stabilizing steep slopes, and installing sediment traps.  To be most effective, several BMPs need to be used in combination.

Adopting BMPs is part of the process.  Under the Clean Water Act, certain construction sites must obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. This permit enables operators of these sites to implement steps to prevent sediment and other pollutants from washing off into nearby waterways.  The permit, which requires a plan document, in the past was available for 5 years and could be extended.  Currently however, only 2-year non-renewable permits are available.

The two-year permit is another indication that the guidelines and accompanying laws are in great flux.  There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the regulations and what will happen in the future; a fact that is born out by the case involving Crum Creek.  The case is on appeal before the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court and raises issues surrounding the development activities in the state’s special protection watersheds.

The net is that the new regulations and their interpretation need to be at the forefront of the building process but even if all the approvals are obtained and the guidelines are followed, architects and builders are in a precarious position.  What can they do to insure that their plans and actions stay within the limits of these new regulations? What do you think about the law and how it's being implemented? 

Photograph by my daughter, Jen Zwarg
Information is resourced from several of online sites, available upon request.
See Becker's Environmental Law Update, Stormwater Regulations are Flawed, EPA Needs a Do-Over

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Jesus Would Love This!

Shot like a documentary, a new viral video from Hi-Tec introduces a new sport called "Liquid Mountaineering," where participants run on water - yes, on top of the water.  The equipment that makes this all possible is a water repellent shoe, discovered by mistake (supposedly), by lake skimming athletes.  A brief product shot of the shoes deflecting water showcases how extremely water repellent they are.  It's just enough of a glimpse to expose the brand without being obvious, in fact it's almost understated.  The video experience is brief and intriguing and leaves me wondering where can I get these (light, dry, fast) shoes myself?

Currently with over 4 million YouTube views, several folks seem to think that the activity is real.  A fact that's reinforced by the water running cast in the video, blogging about the sport and their experiences as well.  And yes, of course, you can join their Facebook Fan Page.

With thanks to Megan O'Neill writing for Social Times for the insights and information!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Magic, My Brother Mark, and The Butts of Newspaper Execs

My younger brother, Mark, has a newspaper distribution business.  He has a staff of 25 folks that deliver newspapers the old fashioned way, door to door.  He delivers a variety of papers including the New York Times, Hartford Courant, Wall Street and some others.  And at a time when newspaper readership is shrinking, his business is growing.  Don't get me wrong, I don't think he's going to become a millionaire with this but on a recent rare in-person visit (and Mark if you're reading this you need to visit more often in particular to see Mom) he commented that his customer base had increased in first quarter by 6%.

I think there's some magic here.  The kind of magic I espouse to.  His business is customer focused, the customer selects what papers they want and Mark delivers that assortment.  Yes, it is a logistics nightmare with each customer getting their 'special' blend.  Customer A getting newspapers X and Y on Sunday and customer B getting only newspaper Y but daily.  You get the idea. Needless to say he seems to spend a lot of time working on spreadsheets for his delivery crew.  But his focus and the basis of his success is that he is providing a personalized product in a mass audience environment.

More magic, he's targeting Boomers and their parents.  People who still have a love affair with Sunday mornings, great coffee and the New York Times (adding "after church" is optional).  Let's not forget that Boomers have a ton of buying power, many want and can afford the newspaper and also the stuff advertised in it.  This is smart (and also is a comfort to me that provided there are newspapers, he'll have income for a long time - see my post on living to be 120). 

In addition to Mark being in the newspaper biz I have a friend, a consultant, working with a newspaper that evidently hasn't updated their subscriber list since sometime in the late 90's.  All I can say is, "Unbelievable" as I come from a direct marketing background, and know from personal experience that customer files need to be "scrubbed" routinely, at least every 6 months in my book.   

Based on this experience, I have questions like how do newspapers update their customer files, what's the frequency and what's the current list status?  Who determines if the paper is "deliverable" and is that determination up to date?  How is new customer information integrated into the files?  Don't they have a business plan and is it being used?  What do their advisers say? 

Or is the commonplace scenario, one that Greg Satell described in his post Newsweek's Failed Strategy about Meacham's plan evidently enacted without customer research.  I also offer you Peter Kafka's insights on the value of newspapers as information resources in his article, Google's Secret Plan to Save Newspapers.  And I'm wondering, if some of the financial bleeding couldn't at least be slowed by a serious review of the operations structure, in particular as it relates to meeting customers' desires.

Perhaps GSI Commerce's CEO, Michael Rubin, isn't the only chief that needs to go undercover.  Maybe the folks at the top need to get off their butts and out of their safety silos and spend sometime with the folks involved in the actual delivery of their papers.  I bet they'd discover some ways to fortify their business while seeking profitable ways to evolve their product, not the paper product, the other one - information.

update on Newsweek and a perspective from David Carr, June 7, 2010,   The Media Equation:  Changing the Course at Newsweek

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Seven Steps to "Social" Enlightenment

About a year ago, in order to learn about social media, I made myself a to-do list.  Here it is.  

1.  Build and start a blog – My first attempt was using Google Sites and then I moved here, to Blogger.  Now I’m experimenting with Wordpress.  These easily accessible and free tools enabled me to understand many of the technical aspects like hosting and connectivity; embrace design obstacles; and learn the basic how-to’s like purchasing URL’s.  Something I wasn’t expecting though was that blogging has challenged me to create original content on a regular basis (okay well a fairly regular basis) and gain insight on how the social web works.  
2.  Build a case study file – I’ve always kept a large black portfolio which contains mementos of my marketing projects.  It is full of tear sheets, brochures, letters, commercials, pivot tables, plan summaries and financial results.  My hope is to add the details of my social media exploits to this archive some day soon.  But right now I’m collecting case studies authored by other marketers because understanding the logic and the tactics behind successful campaigns is the key to building my own.  

3.  Network – I have a shy streak and am still somewhat cautious about my “social knowledge” but I know that to be considered “socially” competent, I need to associate with and learn from people who have leverage in the industry.  So I’ve been attending industry conferences, going to local meet-ups and building my network.  Twitter helps with this objective because I follow information leaders like Adam SingerLinkedIn is another good tool that connects me with the people I meet.  Networking ties well into my job search, and helps me personally and professionally.  

4.  Make personal friends in the industry – This is an off shoot of networking and I do have a few industry friends with whom I can share ideas and get input.  They keep me motivated and on target.  I want to grow this list so get in touch. 

5.  Improve my personal search standing (SEO) - This has been fairly easy because my name isn’t that popular.  If you happen to be Mary Smith, it may not be, but don’t be dissuaded. Work to get your name ranked in the engines.  Inevitably someone is going to type your name into Google or Yahoo.  You really want to be first in the results or at the very least on page 1 somewhere.  A by-product of this is that you’ll gain, experience with organic search which is a key element in marketing successfully on the web.  

6.  Learn web based analytics – I've discovered that this is a basic requirement of today’s marketers.  I had a leg up since financial analysis is the life bread of effective direct marketing, a tool I used to drive acquisition sales for one company from $800K to $6M.  So I was already fluent in conducting research, interpreting analytics and using the data for actionable next steps.  I just needed to learn what and how data is measured on the web.  Even if you're not a math lover, you'll appreciate the reward having this skill engenders as there's nothing more powerful than possessing the financial results that support your great idea.

7.  Keep on top of communication trends – Today, technology is driving changes daily in communication trends, and to be an effective marketer, I want to stay on top of that change.  The only way is to embrace it.  It’s an intellectual marathon of reading case studies, industry trades, and relevant blogs, while attending industry events, conferences and webinars.  The most challenging part for me continues to be finding a way to stay in front of all that information.  My current system, which includes Google Reader and Alerts, needs improvement.  Ideas welcome. 
I’m sure there’s more but that's my list.  What else do you think marketers, like you and me, can do to learn these new tools and position ourselves for future success?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ways to Go Green Today, Earth Day, 2010

Today, April 22, the United States observes Earth Day, a day for celebrating our planet. In conjunction with this celebration, Brita has launched in Canada, an impactful Earth Day TV spot, which is a great use of cause marketing to drive consumer awareness and encourage product purchase. The spot called "Change" chides residents, without saying a word, for buying plastic water bottles.

"Change" shows how intrusive plastic water bottles are when accumulated throughout a household. A closet door opens, only to have countless water bottles spill out. A woman exercises with bottles strewn nearby, a man reads a newspaper while surrounded by bottles. My personal favorite is the woman longing to swim in her pool, only to see it's overrun with bottles. "Ever thought about how many plastic water bottles Canadians bought last year? The Earth needs Brita," concludes the ad, shown here and created by DDB Toronto.

Also check out this excellent article from Mashable on  5 Ways to Go Green for Earth Day


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

It's an Itch, Everyone is Scratching - Brand Karma.

Craig Davis, Chief Creative Officer at Publicis Mojo just launched a wonderful site to help people distinguish between good (karma) brands and bad (karma) brands. It’s called BrandKarma and it’s the first brand-centric social media platform.

For more information check out Simon Mainwaring's April 6th blog post, "Is your brand on its best behavior? Ask Brand Karma."

Related link on Bisbane Times, from Julian Lee's April 2 post "So Far the Karma isn't That Good."  

Friday, April 2, 2010

"So Shines a Good Deed in a Naughty World"*

In the news and on TV these days are an increasing number of messages that focus on philanthropic activities by companies.  We're in a new age, a technology age, and it seems that doing good to engage and retain customers has become a best practice.  Karma is all the rage.  

Loosely defined, Karma is the idea that the beneficial or harmful effects one has on the world will return to oneself.  The short version is: "what goes around, comes around."   My good friend, Louise, paraphrasing the Bible, explains it's like casting your bread on the water and it will come back to you.  Not talking about soggy bread here, Louise's 'bread' is a good deed or a talent you share that makes the universe a better place. 

Personally, I think this is a good thing.  Even if  my motivation is still selfish - I'm motivated by my desire to not be alone but be part of a community (**see Seth Godin's video link below) - this new philanthropic agenda resets the benevolence standard while the technology makes it possible.  We focus on what others are doing for others and what we might do too, because we want to be part of it.   When I donate to relief in Haiti using my mobile phone, I connect with a community of like minded people who also want to make the world a better place.  

The cartoonist and marketer, Hugh MacLeod***, developed this simple and impactful visual that communicates this idea well.

*"How far that little candle throws his beams!  So shines a good deed in a naughty world." (The Merchant of Venice, V, i, always worth a read) 
**Video:  Seth Godin argues the Internet has ended mass marketing and revived a human social unit from the past, tribes.  Founded on shared ideas and values, tribes give ordinary people the power to lead and make big change.  He urges us to do so. 
***Hugh MacLeod's cube grenade case study:  karmamedia
Photo of Louise by Jenny Zwarg! 

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Here's what was in my urban dictionary alert this morning, tree-book.  As opposed to what?  Well e-books of course. According to UD, a tree book, is printed on dead trees, i.e. paper, as opposed to an e-book, which exists electronically.   I'm interested in getting a job at Elsevier here in Philly so I've been reading up on the publishing industry and I'm very curious about the impact that Apple's much-anticipated iPad (due to launch this Saturday, April 3!) will have.

No surprise that big publishers are flocking to distribute electronic versions of their bestselling books on the iPad.  And even smaller houses are making the move, like the self-publishing service Smashwords.  Yes, e-books are upon us even in the self-published world.  But doesn't it make you wonder how this new channel will impact the publishing industry?  Well, how about school text books for starters.  Those big expensive missives represented a significant outlay of my meager student income to say nothing of my outlay for my three college-educated daughters. 

The technology will make e-books not only readily available (just use your PayPal account and download it), they'll also be cheaper.  According to an article in Digital Beat by Dean Takahashi, Apple requires the price must also be less than the print counterpart. The distribution cost to get the book on the iPad is free.

So how will this technology effect the publishing houses' profit margins, and their shipping and printing vendors, in fact, the structure of the publishing business itself?  I think given the cost difference between buying books online versus buying them offline, especially when it comes to higher education requirements, it is going to be cheaper over all for us to buy an iPad and buy our books on line.

The ramifications to the publishing industry are well, lots of change.  How will they adapt?  What steps are they taking now?  Of course with the ability to self-publish (and the growth in this category), do we even need the screening and acceptance process that established book publishers provide?  Then there is this other question about how book stores themselves will adapt and libraries.  What do you think? 

For me, as a consumer, I'll enjoy the lower cost plus the convenience and immediate gratification of downloading the most recent James Patterson novel, but I'll miss being able to write in the margins.  Writing in the margins is probably over-rated.

photo source: Thanks Kristen -
additional reading: NYTimes, "In E-Book Era, You Can't Even Judge a Cover", and University handing out iPads to students and E-book prices to rise as Amazon, Sony adopt agency model -

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Uncover a Customer Touch Point & Be Engaging Too!

For the past year while searching for full time work and consulting assignments,  I've been networking, interviewing and looking at job descriptions.  I've probably read well over 500 descriptions online.  I've read some good ones and I've read some bad ones.  For example, one description called out "looking for awesome people" and I thought how nice.  Everyone who works there must think of themselves as exceptional.  I'd like to be part of that.

Another one stated, in their list of requirements, "must have sense of urgency" and I had to laugh imagining a situation of drinking six cups of coffee and seeking a bathroom. (Better phrasing here might be something like "results driven.")

And although there are plenty, the last example I'll share with you is the company description that announces joyfully, "Hey, leave your coat and tie at home."  But I don't have a tie.  So what is this company implying?

Moral?  If you're hiring take time to stand in your applicants' shoes - be empathetic:
  • Read the position description out loud, share it with some outside observers like friends and family to get a non-company perspective
  • Test the online application form yourself - not from a standpoint of making it easier, but making it smarter. (Like under address, which state do you think most applicants live in Pennsylvania or Palau?) You'll find items that need improving.  I guarantee it.
Why should you bother?  Your customers and prospects may be applying or have family members and friends that are applying. (Check out Seth Godin's book, Tribes.)  It's a compliment to your company and an opportunity to communicate to and engage an interested audience.

P.S. For an expanded view see Jeremiah Owyang's March 28th post - Evolution of Social Media Integration and Corporate Websites

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Live to be 120!

I actually know someone who is projected to live to be 120, my grandson.  Zane just celebrated his first birthday and has 119 years to go, at least according to the morbidity and mortality tables in his pediatrician's office.  That means that when Zane is 60, he'll only be half way through his life.  He'll be middle aged. 

His longevity got me to thinking that age and aging is impacted not so much by the passing of time but by the "time" we're in.  In point of fact when Franklin D. Roosevelt signed social security into law in 1935 the retirement age was 65 but life expectancy at birth was 58 for men and 62 for women.  These numbers were a result of the high infant mortality rates.  Rates that have significantly improved over the last 80 years.

The good news is we're living healthier and longer lives.  Living longer means we have more time, more time to grow up, have families, find a career or two or three, and more time in the work force.  The bad news is that living longer results in a disruption of our predisposed ideas of when things should happen like marriage, work and family. A good example is my 40-something friend who recently got married and is now pregnant with her first child.  I see her story not as an anomaly, but as an indicator of changing behaviors and new proclivities.   

When I look at the state of our economy and my current job hunting experience, it's obvious that never before has the U.S. had so many able-bodied, educated people looking for work. No wonder the unemployment rate is so high.  There are more people, young and old, seeking jobs than ever before. 

Living longer is significant because it isn't cyclical, it's here to stay.  We need to assimilate this fact into our behaviors as they impact our living patterns, our adoption and use of new methodologies and our perceptions of what constitutes old.  Frankly if I can create for myself a life that serves a greater good and is vibrant with self-discovery, I'd like to live to be 120.  Wouldn't you?