Wednesday, November 27

Finding Purpose In A Post-Surgery World. Happy Thanksgiving.

A Turkey by Jenna Becker
Many of my friends already know it, but I thought to share it here too. The day before my birthday last week was one of the most significant in my life. It didn't necessarily feel that way, but it was.

Last Wednesday was the six-month follow-up appointment to the radical nephrectomy I underwent last May. The surgery was the best possible option to remove a malignant mass in my right kidney.

The intent of the follow up was very straightforward: confirm the malignancy was removed, check for any signs of reoccurrence, and assess how well the left kidney was managing its new workload.

I'm grateful for the outcome. While some pre-CT scan numbers were elevated, there is no sign of malignancy. It was good enough news to close out that chapter of my life for good. There will be more follow ups annually for the next five years, but everything else is as bright as a blank slate.

The quantity of time we have is not as important as the quality.

My recovery has been brisk. As soon as I was cleared, I planned out a suitable workout schedule at home. While it is still short of an effective low impact cardio element, I've met or surpassed most pre-surgery benchmarks. My 2-inch post surgery pouch is almost gone. I see a Spartan Race in my future.

Psychologically, the six-month follow up quelled a common side effect among cancer survivors. Most are concerned about cancer reoccurrence. And while I was never afraid of reoccurrence per se (my heartfelt support for those who are), I did find that any long-term commitments always made me immediately uncomfortable. I felt like I was trying to talk around an elephant.

I would have preferred to have it out in the open, but I also understand most people would rather not. No matter. For me it was a temporary condition, but one that has given me a permanent empathy for anyone who has been diagnosed with or survived cancer or any life-threatening ailment.

It made me realize that not only does cancer deserve a cure, but those afflicted also deserve a society that doesn't look upon them as a threat to the illusion of security. And we might not stop with cancer patients but include anyone society attempts to seclude as being short-listed by age or ailment. They don't need sympathy or pity as much as reassurance that it's all right to recognize life as temporary.

tick tock
After all, it's only in knowing that our lives are fleeting in a very real and public sense that we can keep ourselves challenged from the comfort of complacency — when one day becomes indistinguishable from the next. We really don't have time to waste on mediocrity.

Most of us know it too, even if we require something big to shake us awake. As Jay Ehret said so eloquently: "Putting duct tape on your life does not give you a different life. Sometimes you just need to let it break so that you can get something new."

He might be right. We'll see. I felt pretty broken about 180 days ago, an eternity on the Internet.

Everyone is driven by something. We can choose what drives us. 

Some people are driven by success. Some people are driven by greed. Some people are driven by fame. Some people are driven by fear. And some people are driven by their past. There are infinite numbers of them to choose from and whatever anyone chooses isn't all that important.

What is important is knowing that everybody is driven by something. And we all have an opportunity to choose what it might be. All we have to do is be aware of what it is and be conscious that we choose it.

Like anyone, looking back, I can list about a dozen drivers at different times in my life. Some of them are admirable. Some of them certainly less so. But what they were doesn't matter any more. What matters is that they're different today and I'm grateful to even have another chance. How about you?

Happy Thanksgiving. If I had a wish to give, it would be for everyone to find the purpose that fits. And then? I would want them to share it with those closest at home for this holiday and then again in whatever they do afterwards. Everyone can make it meaningful not in minutes but in magnitude.

Be grateful. Be silly. Be yourself. I know I am. Thank you for all of it. Good night and good luck.

Wednesday, November 20

Content Management Has It Backwards. Behavior Trumps Action.

screens or people
During an organizational meeting last week, I asked several colleagues what they thought the biggest trend in public relations, advertising, and marketing might be. Their answers were expected.

Someone said mobile. Another said big data. And yet another tossed in content management for good measure. As I wrote down their answers, I considered some of my own, everything from versatile display surfaces to 3-D printing — conversation threads that have become standard for my students.

All in all, we came up with a solid list of trends but none of them felt too important. Maybe it's because the answers all sounded too easy. Six months ago, any of them could have been viable topics. But nowadays, they provide a distraction as much as direction. Most answers are based on actions.

Sure, every now and again, a marketer touts transactions over actions, but transactions have a limited shelf life too. Everyone is trying to measure everything based on multiples of the one-time something.

Actions are all about one time and they cost a lot. 

The truth is that actions aren't moving anything forward. Transactions aren't much better. They're largely built around the same one-time sales cycle as if every prompt is a standalone metric — one piece of content times the number of impressions times a conversion percentage is a measurement.

That sounds great, but it's not efficient. And it isn't how anyone ought to be thinking as a marketer.

Instead of attempting to remind people to recycle every time they are about to toss a plastic bottle away, you want them to develop a long-term behavior so you don't have to be an ever-present reminder. Conversely, great campaigns results in long-term behavioral changes so people not only toss plastic bottles into recycling bins, but also actively seek them out by extending their threshold for convenience.

So maybe it's better to think less about systems of delivery (technology), single event triggers (response), and the minimum reach to generate an expressed conversion (reach) and think more about how you can change behavior so that your company is part of the equation much earlier in the decision making process. Some people might mistakenly assume I'm talking about brand loyalty alone, but the relationship is embedded before brand consideration, making loyalty an outcome.

The future of marketing isn't just technology. It's behavioral sciences. 

Why? Simply put, behavioral sciences investigate the decision processes and communication strategies within and between organisms in their environment. It's all about how people think.

It's what will help researchers pinpoint the root of why cardio fitness is in decline among kids, why Jeremy Grantham remains bullish on stocks, and why graduate schools are seeing a decline in enrollment. It's how one application maker solved the psychological uncertainty problem associated with waiting for taxis (hat tip Mark Harai), which is one of Ogilvy Group UK Vice Chairman Rory Sutherland's favorite examples of applied behavioral sciences. In this case, eliminating the uncertainty angst increased taxi usage.

taxi
Consider this single solution against existing marketing models. Day in and day out, marketers propose more content, more often, and sometimes at a discount as the end all to their formula. But in reality: talking to more about taxis to more people, even with a discount, would have no measurable impact beyond shifting a few fares away from a competitor. The application Hailo, on the other hand, removed one of the largest decision-making obstacles to book a cab, increasing overall demand.

The more you understand your clients and customers' decision-making processes at the deepest level possible, the less likely you need to trick them with interruptions, link bait, or empty promises. What marketers can help organizations deliver on is a better product or service though psychology.

Ergo, the shoe company that understands why children run around less, the investor who pays attention to consumer confidence, the master's program that removes enrollment barriers will outperform those that rely on creative advertising, piles of whitepapers, or tuition waivers.

How about you? When was the last time your company or your client's company invested in empirical evidence over industry trends? And if they never have, maybe this is the first "why" that needs to be answered. Why are companies investing in persuasion tactics for short-term results over sound communication that leads to long-term behavioral shifts that require minor reinforcements?

Wednesday, November 13

We're Not Ready For The Future Of Education, Are We?

what's next for education
Have you ever heard of Sam Duncan? He is the chief executive officer of OfficeMax, a position he managed to earn without the benefit of a college degree. Instead, Duncan leaned on his military experience and a lifetime of hard work that began as a bag boy at a local Albertson's supermarket.

He worked hard at it. He worked so hard that his store manager once told him that if he kept up with the same work ethic, then one day he might be president of a company. He never forgot the advice.

"If you are trying to work on today’s or tomorrow’s problems, you are too late,” Duncan said in a recent interview with Success. “You have to read and anticipate trends.” 

That seems to be what Jack Andraka did last year. He is the teenager who developed a fast, non-intrusive, and inexpensive method to detect an increase of a protein that indicates the presence of pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancer. He was 15.

Some people call him a prodigy for his discovery. Others just consider him tenacious for thinking it through and then requesting laboratory space from more than 200 professors at Johns Hopkins University and the National Institutes of Health. He was rejected 199 times.

"You don't have to be a professor with multiple degrees to have your ideas valued," Andraka said during his guest appearance on TED. "Regardless of your gender, age, or ethnicity, your ideas can count."

He reminded of me of Eden Full. She was the 19-year-old student at Princeton who designed a motor-free tracker for solar panels that improved efficiency by 40 percent. Incidentally, she didn't come up with the idea at Princeton. She invented the technology while still in high school.

Like Andraka, who made low cost part of his criteria, Full improved solar efficiency without electricity. She initially used temperature sensitive bimetallic strips that cost $10 to $20 each. And then, after testing, improved her design by using gravity power generated by water displacement.

And then there is Austin Gutwein from Arizona. While he didn't necessarily have the same medical or scientific prowess that Andraka or Full had, he fulfilled his sense of purpose by starting a free throw fundraiser when he was only nine years old. Today, Hoops of Hope is an international effort.

And then there is Oren Rosenbaum. He was only 17 years old when he dreamed up what would become P'Tones Records. It's a record label that helps youth explore their musical, professional, and artistic talents in ways no one else thought possible. Today, his educational label is strategically aligned with Warner Music Group.

How are these kids managing to change the world without a full education?

Teach imagination?Every now and again, I have to remind people that not all students are failing at the same pace as public expectation. There are plenty of exceptions out there. There might even be more if we looked to lift these exceptions up instead of proving community fears that lead to Common Core standards.

While I'm not going to debate Common Core standards today, there does seem to be an emphasis on holding all students to a certain standard of knowledge. On the surface, that seems fine. But in reality, someone forgot that measuring knowledge is not a measure of intelligence. Why is that important?

As Albert Einstein once put it, "the true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination." 

And when you look at any of the students I mentioned above, all of them seem to bear this out. Their successes weren't based on what they knew but instead on their tenacity in finding out what nobody else knew.

Who's going to teach them that? Based on some feedback from early adopters in education, it won't be taught by Common Core. While problem solving is claimed to be a criteria, creativity and imagination   cannot be accurately measured — as they tend to manifest themselves in the least likely ways.

Andraka in medicine. Full in engineering. Gutwein in charity. Rosenbaum in music. Before any of them, Sam Duncan, the clerk who would become a chief operating officer. How do we test for this?

We can't test for it because there is no benchmark for innovation, which requires thinking, creativity, tenacity, and self-motivation. It's precisely the kind of stuff that employers have found to be lacking in recent college graduates. And it's precisely the reason that Mark Cuban might have a point.

Save education?
Cuban thinks that we are overdue for a meltdown in college education (hat tip: Ruthie). His reasoning feels right as the return on investment for tuition increases has become unmanageable. Ergo, the student-debt ratio has outpaced graduate earning potential. And without the infusion of easy money in the form of government grants and loans, the university system as we know it will likely face a collapse.

He might be right. The university system has adopted economics that aren't sustainable (with fewer and fewer full-time professors in exchange for underpaid ad hoc instructors) without a considerable infusion of easy money. At the same time, there is a segment of students that are becoming less empowered and more entitled — people who expect a free education in the field of their choice with guaranteed employment to do the status quo work that they learned was permissible in middle school.

This is never going to work. And worse, trying to fix what exists now harkens back to the opening of the article. It's always too late to fix today's problems; and online classrooms are tomorrow's problem.

The classroom of the future won't be "online" exclusively. 

If we really want to develop an education system for the future, we need to start with a blank slate and establish a vision and values that are important such as a program that is affordable, flexible, applicable, and with post-program opportunities. And then we need to ask how those qualities might be realized in programs across a variety of fields.

This kind of thinking doesn't necessarily have to preclude the liberal education experience, which can prove useful when combined for a maximum effect. But before we even consider what might be worth salvaging, we might establish a new format — taught partly online, partly in person (as workshops to augment online instruction), partly on independent projects/study, and partly on group projects/labs with peers that produce something with a tangible value like any of the outcomes developed by the aforementioned students.

Classroom futures.
Who wouldn't want to hire them in their related fields? And if they aren't hired on by someone else, then perhaps they can start their own companies or organizations instead. Three out of the four I mentioned above started something. So why not expect undergraduates to do the same?

Even in my 10-week truncated Writing for Public Relations class, I offer students the same opportunity. One of several optional assignments asks them to develop a physical media kit for the nonprofit organization of their choice (with the permission of the organization). They can create an online version too, but the physical model helps them produce something tangible.

Naturally, my example is small scale for anything students might do in pursuit of a bachelor's degree. Much like master's and doctorate programs sometimes require a thesis, students deserve more hands-on opportunities that carry real world consequences. At least, that is what I think. What do you think?

Wednesday, November 6

Do Do Do On The Internet Works Until It's Done.

Wait while I click this.
It's no secret that actions rule marketing. It was the marketing answer for online measurement, one underscored by any number of antecdotesclick it to win it and jab, jab, jab, right hook among them.

There is nothing wrong with actions, but sometimes it can short sell the impact of social media just like it used to short sell the impact of good advertising. In the wrong hands, it can undermine the customer by giving them less credit than a doorknob. They're not stupid or sales marks.

Did anybody read what Graham Hill noted in his column? A one percent response rate is now acceptable in some marketing channels. One percent? A few years ago, the only thing a one percent return in direct mail meant was that you were going to be fired. Industry standard was four percent.

Four percent was remarkably low too. Double-digit returns was one of the reasons direct mail became part of my portfolio. My response rates were higher because I didn't believe the customer was stupid.

In essence, the most brilliant move among modern marketers wasn't in developing great campaigns. It was making themselves superstars by lowering the bar to its most banal point in history, and then convincing their clients that the only way to make more revenue was more frequency and reach.

David Ogilvy said it: Consumers aren't morons. She is your wife. Or friend. Or neighbor. 

The idea was introduced to me by Borne Morris, who joined Ogilvy & Mather in 1960 as a writer. She worked there until eventually becoming head of Ogilvy & Mather in Los Angeles. Some agency accounts included Mattel, Columbia Pictures, General Foods, and Baskin-Robbins. 

Among all of the bits and pieces of knowledge I've collected, the Ogilvy quote remains one of my favorites. In fact, that is why I elected to paraphrase it in the subhead. The concept behind what he said has outgrown its original intent. It isn't about protecting consumers from being maligned as dunces. It's about something much bigger.

When you remember that the consumer is your wife or friend or neighbor, you are also advocating that they aren't looked at as "them" but rather someone close to you. It makes you one of them.

You can research, plan, and think but social will be what it wants to be.

Followers
The real benefit of being one with the consumer as opposed to the person trying to reel them in for a quick fix is that it addresses what ought to be the golden rule of social media. That rule is simple.

"Any social campaign is going to be what it wants to be. You have to be ready to go with it, follow it where it goes, and deal with whatever it becomes. If you do, brilliant. If not, you're a blowhard."

I was reminded of this over the weekend while managing the realtime social for the Vegas Valley Book Festival. I had some hard plans for what needed to be done on the day of the event. I spent several weeks considering how to best cover it live. All that was tossed out when I caught a cold.

There are more than 100 panels and lectures and presentations (many occurring simultaneously), live social coverage had been bandied about for a month, and now you're too sick to attend. What do you do? Since sending someone else to cover the event wasn't an option, I was straight up with them.

I told them that I was too sick to attend and needed an assist, making my base camp about a half-hour away at my home office. Without any hesitation, one of the young adult authors and a local reporter jumped in to help direct the stream of participant-generated content, using a designated hashtag.

By 10 a.m., the social stream across Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, and other networks became too big to retweet and recapture with the hashtag. There was even one hour when the Vegas Valley Book Festival account was tossed in Twitter jail. It made attendees even more excited to share their experiences at the event. Insights suggest the event's online reach outpaced last year tenfold.

Every experience has three parts. Most marketers only worry about the first.

The event might be over, but the social work needs to continue. Many attendees already know that the event will be followed up with ongoing exhibits through November, permanent author lists on Twitter, event photo boards on Pinterest, and other post-event offerings. All of it is a great way to prolong the good feeling that so many of them experienced during the event.

Not many marketers consider channeling additional effort into post-event occurrences, especially when there is no "sale" incentive. But since my firm has been working on social as a community service and extension of my position with AIGA Las Vegas, no one had to approve anything. I think post-event communication it is a critical component of any outreach.

Ogilvy
This runs contrary to most marketing plans, which tend to put all the emphasis on pre-event activities in an attempt to build actions and concern themselves very little with the purchase experience or customer retention. In other words, marketing is overly concerned with pushing people to the cash register and not concerned enough with the experience or joy of ownership (tangible purchases or intangible memories) that eventually pays bigger dividends in brand equity.

If they did realize it, then these marketers would stop worrying about trying to make people do, do, do until it's done. Why? Real marketing realizes that we don't want people to complete a transaction. We want to leave the ticket open so our customers have a longer lifecycle than direct response action.

For the Vegas Valley Book Festival, this means prolonging the great experience people had at the event and having a better opportunity to outline next year's event as new authors are lined up. It doesn't mean trying to make them like, share, promote, or otherwise participate in empty engagement on a social network. Make sense? I hope so. Nobody needs to learn the hard way.

What do you think? Are there any companies out there proving themselves to be effective at creating a viable customer lifecycle? I know about a few, but would love to read some other thoughts too.
 

Blog Archive

Google+ Followers

by Rich Becker Copyright © 2010 Designed by Bie Blogger Template