Print it and they will still come

“Do-It-Yourself Magazines, Cheaply Slick” by Ashlee Vance (New York Times, Monday 30 March 2009).

If you’re still doing print, or have aspiration to start your own “magazine”, then HP has a new service for you: MagCloud (www.MagCLoud.com). Certainly there are other similar offerings but knowing that master of printing over at Hewlett-Packard (www.HP.com) are behind this one probably makes it more appealing. Plus, 20 cents a page for an on- demand “run” (of a brochure) is pretty darn amazing.

Nice guys finish last. Smart guys never finish.

“Curious at Amazon, but Not Idle” by Saul Hansell (New York Times, 27 March 2009). This will get you thinking a little bit. What’s odd is that the article overlooks the real benefit – at least in this case – of Mr Bezos’ curiosity. It puts him closer to his guests, both internal (aka employees) and external (aka customers). Yes, he’s learning but he could just as easily grab a Kindle and read up on cat litter. He is naturally curious because he has vision. Because he is passionate about his company.

In contrast the Detroit car executives don’t even drive their own cars. They’re too disconnected. And the growth of their companies is reflected in their ignorance. Conclusion: Sell the stock of a company next time you read about an executive who doesn’t want to get their hands dirty. Hopefully you won’t be selling you.

Lead how you would want to led

“How to Lead in Tough Times” By Paul B. Brown (New York Times, 17 March 17, 2009). It’s hard to lead even in the best of times. These days? Some might say it’s damn near impossible. This quick read probably isn’t going to save your world from worry but a little pick me up never hurt either.

No risk. No reward.

The Last Shopping Mall? New Jersey Awaits Xanadu By Sean Gregory (Time Magazine, Monday, 09 March 2009 East Rutherford, NJ). It’s easy to fall victim to the mood of the moment and immediately jump into Mr Gregory’s (half-empty) pool of skepticism. But let’s hold that thought for the moment and try to see the light.

It’s true, the shopping landscape is saturated with me-too chains, cookie cutter malls, etc. Was there really any difference between Linens & Things and BB&B? Or what about Circuit City and Best Buy? Borders continues to struggle, etc.  Needless to say Xanadu is attempting to make their destination about more than just shopping. They want to build an experience that stands out from the typical. Something that inspire people to take a 25 minute train ride out of the NYC to come visit.  Have they put a lot of money down to test their theory? Obviously, yes. But their vision is their brand and their brand is their vision. It’s not going to be easy – it never is – but it beats being a developer who just finished up yet another strip mall and is now trying to find tenants. Just like every other developer in that same boat.

Bottom line… The last thing the world needs is just another run of the mill guest experience.

Words work. Bullets help.

From communications guru Mr Steve Adubato (www.Stand-Deliver.com) comes a tight piece titled “Memo slingers should use bullets wisely“.

As a supplement to Mr Adubato’s thoughts we’d like to mention that a good thumb is to use numbers for up to 5 or 6 bullets, and letters for anything above that. Why? As the article mentions, going to 10+ can be a bit
overwhelming for the receiver. The obvious exception being a Top 10. On the other hand,  letters can be a sort of psychological loophole. In other words, people are far less conscious of the fact that J = 10. Obviously, if the list is going to be part of an ongoing conversation lack of a reference identifier is a no-no.  Bullets not only bite-size the thoughts the sender is needing to be received but numbering / lettering them makes it easier to refer to them as the conversation moves forward.

On the other hand, there is an exception. Sometimes numbers / letters can come across as too authoritative in a I-told-you-these-three-things sort of way. If the communication is of a sensitive nature  then a simple dash might be best.  Written communication can be difficult under such circumstance so be sure to choose your words and tone wisely.

While we’re on the subject of clear communication, now is yet another  good time to recommend  the book “Words That Work (It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear)” by Dr Frank Luntz. If you can’t spare the time to consumer the whole book that’s understandable. But Chapeter 1 is a must read. Chapter 12 is probably worth the investment as well.

Stop shooting yourself in the tongue

“10 Steps to Effective Copywriting” by Susan Gunelius (Entrepreneur Magazine, Entrepreneur.com, 16 February 2009). If you commit any of these ten to memory go for:

4 – Communicate W.I.I.F.M. (What’s In It For Me?)
5 – Focus on “you,” not “we.”
7 – Avoid T.M.I. (Too Much Information)

You’ll have to read the rest of the article if you want to get your money’s worth.

Someone has to be #1. It might as well be you

In the course of getting acclimated with a new client we came across this:  “Jo Knows Growth” by Amanda Long (Floral Management, March 2009, SAFNow.com). Yet another inspiring example of how Vision + Passion = Success.  One has to believe that Jo isn’t done yet. Go Jo, go!

Evil is what evil does

How about three quick updates on the new evil empire, Google.

“The Google OS Is Coming by Year’s End” by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols (Computer Word, 9 March 2009). Looks like good news until you read:”

“No Infinite Beer” by Frank Hayes (Computer World, 16 March 2009). Will make you want to switch your email to the (superior) Yahoo!

“Google: The Next Evil Empire? by Preston Gralla” (Computer World, 16 March 2009).  Be prepared to be fooled again.

Evidently Google’s definition of evil is somewhat different than the rest of us.

Twitter Dee and Twitter Dumb

“Web 2.0 tools like Twitter, Facebook can foster growth in hard times” By Sharon Gaudin (Computer World, 16 March 2009). Hardly a day goes by where someone doesn’t ask, “What’s Twitter?” and “Why should I care?”. Ms. Gaudin’s article is a rock solid primer for any organization contemplating launching their brand into the Twitter-verse. Enjoy!

Shortsighting the shortsighted

This was pulled from the March 2009 issue of CFO Mag (CFO.com)

Don’t Be Shortsighted

I agree that focusing on improving revenue is the surest way to maintain viability during tough times (“And in This Corner, the Price-Fighter,” December 2008). Let a third-party expert cut your expenses on a true gain-sharing model. Our expense-reduction business is up significantly, but companies should continuously be reviewing expenses for opportunities to cut costs. So much focus on cutting travel expenses and head count is shortsighted at best.

Patrick Driscoll
Director
Expense Reduction Analysts
Northbrook, Illinois

With all due respect to Mr. Driscoll, it’s statements such as these that give the beancounters a bad name. Yes, expenses should be continuously reviewed. However, the primary objective should be to maximize value to the guest (i.e., customer).  A savings today that loses customers tomorrow is no savings at all.

If you can’t lead yourself who can you lead?

“Leadership: The Next Stage” by Kate O’Sullivan (CFO Magazine, March 1, 2009). Says the article’s sub-headline: Want to ascend to a true leadership role? Be prepared to let go of what you’re good at.

Also be sure to check the self-assessment test that accompanies the article. In fact, take the test first so the insights gained from the article don’t sway your answers.

Once is enough?

Study Shows First-Time Online Donors Often Do Not Return By Stephanie Storm (New York Times, Wed 18 March 2009)

Whether you’re an NPO or not this is must-read. The article is just a few paragraphs but if you’re extremely pressed for time the best insights come closer to the end:

“Direct mail may not be a Maserati, but it’s very effective because it is very highly evolved,” said Lori Held, membership marketing director at Trout Unlimited. “We know how to ask for money using the mail, but most organizations are still trying to figure out how to do that online.”

Nonprofit groups face a number of challenges in trying to reach donors electronically, Ms. Held and others said.

For one thing, they must have a team dedicated to fine-tuning and improving their Web site and another team for e-mail marketing, both of which are added expenses. Nonprofit solicitation materials often get caught in systems that trap spam and other unwanted e-mail. Other systems eliminate the compelling images that are so effective in direct mail.

Still, the demographics of online donors are enticing for charities. The study found that of the donors who made at least one online gift in 2008, roughly a third had incomes greater than $100,000, while about one-quarter of those giving in other ways fell into that category.

“I think what we’re learning is that we need to be less worried about what channels these donors use and offer them a variety of channels through which they can give,” said Mr. Smith of CARE.”

Four things:

1) Conclusion: Most people are pragmatic in their charitable giving. This study is strictly from the NPO’s perspective. However, the real gems would be to understand the donors’ decision making process.  It might just be that your average Joe / Jane likes to “distribute the wealth”. Like it or not, if these are the rules then NPOs need to learn to play by them.

2) It would be helpful to know what unique identifier(s) were used to track each donor. Obviously there might be a big difference in the results between using individuals (e.g., Mr & Mrs Smith) or the Smith household. Also, did the study include or exclude anonymous donations? That could in turn effect the percentages calculated.

3) Evidently the Obama campaign actually did quite well in inspiring donors to give smaller amounts repeated times. What was their secret? Maybe that is their secret?

4) It’s nice to know that an AU state of mind just got a bit less lonely.

All privacy issues aside

10 Best Uses for RFID Tags by Mike Olson, Wired Magazine (www.Wired.com, Issue 17.03, March 2009). Like it or not, RFID is coming. The questions – how to use it in new and innovative ways.

1) Accept and integrate RFID into the retail shopping experience by using them to trigger video and other images on large screen TVs around the store. Using RFID to help customers get more info about a product they’re interested in would also be a big plus.  It would be like taking the web experience and turning it into a real life experience.

2) Similar to the article’s mention of Clubs using it, what about ski resorts? Why are they still using those silly barcode scanners? Yes a liftie would still have to police the line but getting rid of that handheld scanner should free them up to actually attend to the wants / needs of the  guests.

Teach them to fish

“Has IT process standardization gone too far?” by Kathleen Melymula is actually a Q & A with M. Eric Johnson (Computer World, 9 March 2009). Mr Johnson and Joseph M. Hall have an article published in this month’s Harvard Business Review. Maybe you’d also like to check out “When Should a Process Be Art, Not Science?”

While “artistic” has a nice buzz word-esque ring to it better words might be: agile, pragmatic or versatile. The truth is, if your company / brand is truly guest-centric then it is no surprise to you that  having too much standardization is often counterproductive. To say nothing of the fact of how it might effect the morale of your co-workers. More companies would benefit from putting more effort into “standardizing” the (internal) perception of their vision. When everyone shares a vision making the right decisions for the right reasons becomes second nature. Unfortuately too often management would rather push memorization over actually growth and learning.

You don’t need to be a CEO to act like a CEO

At the risk of overdoing it with NY Times posts today. If this debut is any indication, they’ve started what looks to be a must-read section:

Corner Office, a new Sunday Business feature, offers highlights from conversations about leadership and management. This interview with Greg Brenneman, chairman of CCMP Capital, was conducted, condensed and edited by Adam Bryant.”

Take a moment a read this article. If you’re looking for ideas and inspiration  Corner Office: Can You Pass a C.E.O. Test? is time well spent.  Kudos to Mr. Bryant for asking the right questions.

Passion trumps experience 9 out of 10 times

“The Secrets of the Talent Scouts” by George Anders (New York Times, 14 March 2009)

We said it before and we’ll probably end up saying it again… The economy might be slowing down but it’s certainly not coming to a complete halt. The smart money is pressing forward and looking for opportunities. The real danger is fear and in being one of those who insists on standing still.

Btw, we’d also like to point out how frequent the ideal of passion is mention by those interviewed for this article. Experience is what one has done. But passion is where one is going. The past can not be changed. However, the future – especially in the hands of the passionate – is an endless adventure. History proves that passion trumps experience 9 out of 10 times.

It’s easy to be evil

Verizon Customers – Just Say No! by Lidija Davis (New York Times)

One would like to think that this is shocking but sadly it has gotten to be the status quo. It’s outrageous what some companies will do to their guests that they wouldn’t want done to themselves. When it comes to making the wrong moves, do we really need another Facebook? What’s also difficult to understand is why don’t Verizon’s competitors use these snafus against them?

Don’t let The R Word scare you

“Take Advantage of the Recession” by Bart Perkins (ComputerWorld.com, 9 March 2009) is classic lemonade from lemons. While his target are those in the IT space, of six must-dos nearly all apply to all of us. Both on and off the clock. We like: Question practices, Measure performance, Increase agility, as well as Communicate candidly. All of which AU has had a passion for even prior to this economic smackdown. Running a business might not be easy. but it’s not rocket science either.  What seems to be difficult is remembering the basics, getting those right,  and maintaining the vision and passion to do so.

Keep your promises

“Fear and Loathing Doesn’t Cut It” by editor Pamela Kufahl  (Fitness Business Pro Magazine, May 2009). Written food for thought and inspiration. Unfortunately, FBP requires opening an account. For this short article by Ms. Kufahl we’ll spare you the effort.

Fear is spreading across the country these days. A late February poll from CNN and Opinion Research showed that 73 percent of Americans surveyed are fearful about the way things are going in the country. Fear can cause some people to do crazy things with their businesses and their money. It also can cause some to just quit when in other times they might have stuck it out. (Read an interesting column, “The Quitter Economy,” about this topic in the Feb. 2 issue of Newsweek.)

I don’t blame anyone for wanting to curl up in a ball and ask someone to wake them when this mess is over. But this mess will end some day, so no curling up is allowed. And that’s what smart business owners need to keep in mind. Smart business owners need to put aside fear and position themselves so they survive this recession and thrive once it’s over.

I’m not an expert on business or surviving a tough economy, but I have been reading about businesses that gained market share during other recessions. Procter and Gamble is perhaps the most well-known case. The company increased its status as a manufacturer of soap and other household products and increased its sales during the Great Depression by continuing to advertise when other companies cut back. In fact, the company spent money on a radical idea at that time — radio serials for homemakers to listen to while they did their housework. (Later, these programs became known as soap operas and moved to TV.)

However, plenty of other companies also saw growth during recessions. During the 1989-1991 recession, a MarketSense study found that the following companies increased sales by the following percentages: Jif peanut butter (57 percent), Kraft salad dressing (70 percent) and Pizza Hut (61 percent). How did they do this? Each of these companies increased their advertising during the recession. Taco Bell also increased its advertising and raised its sales by 40 percent. At the same time, its competitor, McDonald’s, cut back on advertising and had a 28 percent drop in sales.

A Buchen Advertising study found that companies that decreased their advertising in the recessions of 1949, 1954, 1958 and 1961 lagged in sales behind companies that did not cut back on advertising. The lag continued even after each recession ended. It makes sense that pulling out of the spotlight provided by advertising would hurt sales, doesn’t it?

Of course, advertising these days isn’t just about placing an ad in the paper or on the radio. It’s not even just about sending out direct mail. As more people turn online, club operators must also turn online (see the cover story on lead generation), and they must reach out into the community for low-cost methods of “advertising,” such as speaking at community events and meetings.

But it also means that once you have people in your doors, you must follow through with the promises that you’ve made. As Allen Adamson, managing director of brand consulting company Landor Associates, said in “Marketers: Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep,” a Jan. 20 2009 Forbes.com column, “A brand, for every intent and purpose, is a promise.” If you break the trust of those you seek by breaking promises, then no amount of advertising will help you through this time.

Advertising and keeping promises. It’s a plan of action that’s proven more profitable than simply reacting. It puts you in the driver’s seat, albeit on a very bumpy road.

If you do take the time to open an account then also be sure to consume:

“Execution of Ideas Leads To Accountability, Results” by Ed Tock. Btw, Mr. Tock’s column is consistently worth seeking out.

“Online Outreach” by Stephanie Bloyd as a sidebar to this article is another piece by Ms. Bloyd: “SEO and Social Networking”

No this isn’t a post on infomercials

“20 Things You Can Do In 20 Minutes to Be More Successful at Work” by Stephanie Overby, With the Staff of CIO and CIO.com (CIO Magazine, Narch 2008). The good news is that some of these won’t even take you 20 minutes. The bad news is ther’s actually an extra to-do… Read this article.