Friday, July 30, 2004

Learning From The Convention

I've been watching the convention with interest, mainly because I am a Democrat and a still dyed-in-the wool liberal, fomer hippie in spite of working in a conservative industry---and as a marketer.  I'm sure that the Republican convention will have many of the same attributes that I will tout today.
  1. Drama:  Events are about creating a sense of drama, a sense of connection with the human spirit that takes the participants and observers out of the daily grind and entertains, educates and reinforces values, messages, perceptions and myths.  The convention certainly did that although it was much quieter than others in the past, the unifying thread being that President Bush is universally disliked.  Think of Kerry's entrance into Boston with his "Band of Brothers" at his side.  Think of the documentary on Kerry's life in order to build a foundation of who he is, what he's done and how it defines him.  Think of Teresa Kerry's speech where instead of being a liability for her outspokenness, she was positioned as a champion for women's rights.  Think of John Edwards and his ability to bring a grass roots, "I've been there" tone as the son of a mill worker.  Think of Max Clelland, one of my heroes and fellow Vietnam vet, who was so depressed after losing his Senate seat and then rallied for Kerry and has been his point man on the road to the presidency ever since.  Think about Kerry's speech last night as the climax of a play with twists and turns when he laid out his vision and spoke as passionately and as down to the ground as he's ever done, dashing the pundits' laments that no one knows the real John Kerry.  And so it goes.  It was as much a rite of passage for John as it was for those who watched it, and it brings to mind the best in marketing since it was well orchestrated, with great attention to detail, with compromise on the issues, with an integrated approach to telling the message and with a call-to-action to "join us." 
  2. The Value of Blogs:  The Democrats credentialed 35 bloggers to observe and get the word out showing the power of this free flow of information in an overloaded world.  Apparently, the Republicans have credentialed 20 bloggers. 
  3. Symbols:  From donkeys to flags and everything in between, the visual candy of the convention shows how powerful symbols are in our world.  It's definitely a branding world even if one wraps the American flag around the ideas. 
  4. Public Relations:  Although the merchants in Boston were hurt somewhat with the closing off of streets and security measures, Boston is a hearty town and full of pride.  The PR of showing the best of the city to the nation and the world is coverage you can't buy at any price.  The "bad" PR was carefully contained away from the convention and protesters were either not covered or scarcely heard.  In crisis management, that's the best scenario.

Enough to a client. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Blogging, Spam & Other Sundry Items


Great article in Wired this month on blogging and the intrinsic value of inbound links to get traffic and credibility.  While we've all been focusing on the number of unique visitors, blog-indexer Technorati reports that inbound links are the way to get people excited about your's the online word of mouth and it works.  The independence and reach that blogs offer is not being lost on the Democrats in the convention in Boston as they've credentialed 23+ bloggers to cover it, knowing what those of us who are addicted to them know:  they work to get the word out. 

Equally interesting is the fact that nine blogs are created every minute.  And as I've     learned, not all of them are functional as a blog can become burdensome.  All depends on how much energy you want to put into it. On the business front, blogs are also gaining popularity, but most businesses don't quite yet know how to incorporate them into their business communications process. 

I read where spammers make money if 1 in 40,000 spam emails is responded to.  That's truly amazing since it feels that I get at least that many each day.  Besides the usual spam filters, I also use challenge response on my website, which kicks the email back until it identifies that a real human being sent it since spam is machine generated en masse.  So when I hadn't heard from a good client on a follow-up project for about a month, I got concerned and called.  They were a little peeved at me since I hadn't responded.  When I explained we got back on track, but it shows how intrusive and destructive spam is no matter how well we think we're protecting ourselves.  And spammers feel they have the right to spam us.  Give me a break!
Church On The Way:
Ad in my local rag sheet for the above church service offering Dr. Jack Hayford as a speaker.  His topic is Five Keys for Pre-Positioning Yourself: Securing Today's Plans and Tomorrow's Hopes.  See, I told you that marketing is in everything.  This is obviously for those of us who need spiritual salvation to have a plan, or as the bumper sticker I saw the other day said, "Jesus is Coming.  Look Busy!"
From The Eyes of Babes
The LA Times ran a story on Saturday, July 24th about research from Vanderbilt and Harvard Universities about which comes first, the idea or the language to express it.  By peering into babies' eyes, they've learned that children appear to think before they obtain the language to express their thoughts.  And, sadly, language alters their thoughts as they acquire it.  The Harvard scientist, Elizabeth S. Spelke, succinctly stated that "As you grow, you become less attentive to the distinctions that your language does not use."  That seems to be especially true in English.  When I was in the Peace Corps in Kenya, I recall that on the coast above Mombasa the locals had several different words to describe the blue of the ocean so that each distinction told you the context.  That's because they were fishermen and the blue of the ocean told them quite a bit about how they were gong to fare that day on the open seas.
As marketers we know that everything we do is based on communications.  We also know the limitations of language on the impact of what we are trying to emote  If I hear another ad saying "We care" or "Quality is what we're about", etc.   Well, you know what I mean.  My theory is that ideas are strong, feelings are powerful and language fails us miserably.  If babies are the hint of what happens to us as we age in terms of our relationship with the world, is it any wonder that in our fast paced country, we don't understand what goes on beyond our borders and thus we are not held in such high esteem. 

Monday, July 26, 2004

The Value of Silence

I have been out of touch since May for a variety of reasons, mainly because I felt there wasn't much to say, and secondly because I am always reassessing my life and simply wanted to focus on that without comment.  That being said, it's been helpful being silent on marketing issues and just watching the rest of the marketing world repeat itself. 

I have also been reading as part of my life reassessment.  I've been repeatedly delving into a book I highly recommend, The Visionary's Handbook:  Nine Paradoxes That Will Shape The Future of Your Business, by Jim Taylor, Watts Wacker with Howard Means.  It's a thoughtful read that engages you to more clearly understand who you are, what you do, what you value and what you bring to the game. There are exercises in the book that are well worth doing.

I've also been focusing on my personal life with an older son who is only remotely aware of what life is about and seems to me to be incredibly lazy---I'm sure it's a typical parent thing on my part.  It's hard to see your legacy pass by opportunities that I would have probably passed by myself at his age, although I was in Vietnam struggling to understand the meaning of that experience and staying alive.

The most basic "truth" in my life these past several months has been my seven year-old son, who seems to have more wisdom about life than anyone else I know.  His world is structured into diving into all experiences that feed his curiosity, creativity, sensitivity, incredible energy and most of all are fun, from early morning to late night.  I am even more challenged by him than ever as he asks me more complex questions that nicely bracket my days as a consultant.  I have just made him my senior vice president in charge of life.
Equally challenging has been the work I am doing with a national chain of specialty hospitals, which are facing incredible challenges with a new reimbursement system that was passed by a Congressional Act as part of the constant tinkering to fix a broken healthcare system in the richest nation in the world, but that in the long run creates less affordable access to the healthcare people really need.  I guess you have to destroy the village in order to save it? 
In the process of working with this organization , I have met and am working with one of the most ethical, focused and kindest CEO I've ever had the privilege to work with....It makes the work worthwhile and exciting.  And even more amazing is that as I meet more executives in this company, the quality and professionalism is outstanding.  These people really believe in what they're doing and know they're good at it.  They know how to shift to better understand the market and are willing to adopt any best practice or suggestion that enhances quality care and the bottom line.  That's the way it should be.   
Keeping one's own counsel seemed the best way to go these past several months since I wasn't sure that the advice was working (although I believed it would)...until a couple of weeks ago when the CEO and I turned the corner.  We could see it before we felt it and it started me towards the written word again.  That, and the fact that several readers have emailed wondering if I had given up the ghost. 
So, I am back, a bit more humble, a bit more realistic about what I do and still as optimistic that the answers we all so desperately seek are inside of us and our organizations, it's just that at times we need a shaman to help us root out that knowledge that we hide from or didn't know how to open the door.  That's what I see consultants, books, workshops, etc. do...give direction, light up the gray matter, inspire and provide tools to achieve whatever you are dedicated to.  Just like Lance Armstrong with his spectacular sixth win of the Tour de France, it's not about using performance enhancing drugs, it's about persistence, strong self image, preparation and discipline...and a vision of the end game that never really ends. 
I lost my way for a bit and it's good to be back.  Stay tuned:  I may have run to ground but I still quietly observed the world and have, as usual, many things to say again.