Friday, February 17

Sharing Nonsense: Warner Music Group

Unlike many, I don't have anything against Warner Music Group (WMG). They have produced scores of solid albums from talented artists on their label and several dozen independent labels for more than 200 years if you trace it back to Chappell & Co. It's the third largest music publishing business in the world.

However, it is kind of remarkable that it has been able to accomplish as much as it has, given that the company is also its own worst enemy. Last fiscal year, it reported a net loss of $205 million.

The company likes to say the loss is associated with its hard work to make the transition to the digital music industry. But the truth is that the company isn't trying to transition to digital. WMG is trying to make the digital music industry transition to it.

Some might even say it is the cornerstone of its current business vision. It has long been regarded as having views that make other SOPA and PIPA supporters look reasonable. In fact, it is the most aggressive label in removing content on YouTube. And now, it seems to be arbitrarily enacting a model that cost EMI a contract with OK Go last year.

Warner Music Group in action. Disabling video embeds. 

As some people know, we run a little side project called Liquid [Hip]. It's a site that reviews all sorts of things, with music accounting for about 50 percent of the content. Yesterday, we reviewed an alternative rock/metal band called Janus. They're signed by Realid (pronounced Reality with a D), which happens to be owned by WMG.

Whenever we can, we try to include video embeds of bands to give readers an idea of what we hear. For Janus, we chose the new lyrical video Stains, which is the advance single off their new album due out in March. We think if the album is indicative of the single, it will catapult the band to the next level.

Since embedding was enabled, we thought it best represented the sound while showcasing the single. After the first hour, however, embedding wasn't disabled but the playback was replaced with a message: This video contains content from WMG, who has blocked it from display on this website. Watch it on YouTube. The message is inaccurate. It really means any website.

That's fine with me. We picked up a replacement video. Unfortunately, it doesn't represent as strong, doesn't link back to the artist's channel, and caused some people to send emails asking us about it.

It makes sense that they would. For the first hour or so, the review was read by several hundred people and shared by a few dozen. All that went cold after the lockdown. And it never came back for the band.

To their credit, Janus tried to find a solution because they wanted the lyrical video up too. They even said so on our Facebook page.

They even included a link to the lyrical video; the same video. The image capture shows how that turned out. Janus couldn't share its own video, not even on Facebook.

Given the block was so extreme, we decided to cull through all of our old posts. Sure enough, every WMG video and every WMG indie label carried the same message. So we replaced all of them, even the one that we helped give life to: it had ten views when we shared it. It has 9,700 views today.

Personally, I don't care about the drop off of interest, other than how it affects the band. I don't care because when we first launched the review site for fun, we promised ourselves to never compromise on cool. Listen, don't listen. Read, don't read. Buy, don't buy. I couldn't give a shit about going viral.

We emphasize this fact with our tagline: we cover cool, not popular. Never once did we expect the site would hit 50,000 views in the course of a month. But that's still not how we measure success.

We measure success by giving exposure to what we think is cool (which is a higher bar than what we like). And when people who read the reviews thank us for introducing a new band or a label writes us a note to thank us for what we are doing or another review site follows our lead and asks us for links to a purchase site or a band likes a review not because it is easy but because it is hard, well, it feels worth it.

WMG, on the other hand, ought to give a shit about going viral. The more people exposed to the music, the more people are likely to buy the album. The more people exposed to the music, the more likely they are to become fans. And the more people exposed to the music, the more likely they will buy Stains, Nox Aeris, past albums, merchandise, and future albums even if we never review them again.

It's painfully clear the embed block is not about piracy. It's about shrinking the sales funnel for short-term control and, in some cases, attempting to elevate views on YouTube even if most people in the business know that the majority of video views are fueled by embed views.

A different digital strategy and policy could help people help WMG. 

All of this really isn't a big deal. I removed/replaced about ten WMG locked down videos (except the one above for purposes of illustration), even if it hurts WMG and related label artists because I refuse to carry their WMG content message on our site. I don't intend to put the videos back either.

What I would like to avoid is feeling forced to omit WMG and related indie label artists outright. So instead of boycotting WMG as some have done, I wrote a few ideas for the new owner, Len Balvatnik, to pass along to the fine folks at WMG who didn't respond to my inquiry about the video block.

• Always assume the first single is an investment in the album and let people share it.
• Be courteous to reviewers by disabling 'embedding' outright and not after the fact.
• Recognize that people who view embeds follow them to the band channel (you win).
• Add advertisements that run inside the embeds to increase potential revenue.
• Include an end title card with a direct link to the purchase site of your choice.
• Weigh the merit of publishing clips (in some cases) as opposed to full-length videos.

The question ought not to be about how to prevent people from sharing WMG content outside of its social media assets, but how WMG can maximize revenue because people want to share its content.

I appreciate the concern about piracy (although embedding a video in a review is a revenue generator and not a detractor). Piracy is something everyone ought to be concerned about. But companies such as yours need to remember that most people are happy to purchase music as opposed to pirating it.

Right now, most regulations WMG wants to implement as well as the overzealous WMG lockdown and blocking practices alienate people who are paying loyalists and does nothing to curb the appetite of real criminals. In fact, almost every practice currently employed by WMG alienates people, empowers pirates, and diminishes the fading respect people once had for the brand. Please try to do the right thing.

Wednesday, February 15

Engineering Entrepreneurs: Start With Education

A few days ago, Anthony Delmedicofounder of The Little Green Money Machine and author of Kids In Business Around The World, gave a speech that he calls an "E2" during a Future of Entrepreneurship Education (FEE) Summit, which was held at the White House. His topic centered on an interesting idea: add entrepreneurship education as a core curriculum in our K-12 schools.

"While the nation's unemployment rate wavers close to 10 percent, for young adults, 16 to 30, the unemployment is closer to 26 percent. And in some cities, close to 40 percent," said Delmedico. "For those fortunate enough to earn a high school or college degree, very few are prepared for today's job market. Currently there are 2.4 million college graduates who cannot find jobs in their fields of study ... that's 80 percent."

Delmedico went on to say that America will need to create a net 21 million new jobs by 2020 in order to return to full employment. These jobs are unlikely to come from large companies. He rightly pointed out 75 percent of all jobs come from entrepreneurs with small companies. So, in order to create 21 million new jobs, Americans have be serious about creating new entrepreneurs, businesspeople whom he believes are sitting in classrooms today.

Delmedico is largely right. Early entrepreneurship is needed. 

While Delmedico's own marketing efforts sometimes seem tired and his book might be classified as motivational as much as it is business-minded, his heart and head are in the right place. Most curriculum is geared toward rudimentary skills to pass tests, perhaps prepare for college, and then on to learn theories that are supposed to help college graduates enter the job market and compete for jobs that don't exist.

The net result: a majority of young adults are unprepared to do anything except work for someone else. And, of those who are unprepared, most of them have never considered that they might be able to start their own businesses. It is very likely fewer young adults have entrepreneurial spirit because they have less experience given the government's ongoing war against lemonade stands, cupcake vendors, and other kid businesses.  

There is indeed an irony in that kids are allowed to peddle candy bars and merchandise for public schools or sports teams, but not themselves. And, right now, the Department of Labor continues to expand labor laws to prevent children from doing any work until the age of 16. Even then, there is a mountain of information to consider. 

Public education could be the right place to develop and rekindle the entrepreneurial spirit instead of ratcheting up legislation that nurtures dependency (e.g., young adults under the age of 21 must have proof of income or an adult co-signer; health insurance is poised to be extended until young adults turn 26). It might even be a catalyst to make a startup venture easier across the board. A turnkey program at public schools, perhaps as an elective to start, could even open the doors to make starting a business easier for young adults. Consider the possibilities. 

How introducing entrepreneurship reinvigorates students. 

By introducing an elective program into public education with various tracks, schools could provide a one-stop exemption for students to automatically receive all licenses, permits, etc. needed to start their own businesses.

Tracks could include a variety of alternatives such as invention (science and technology), service provision (for sales, like lemonade), arts and crafts (with an online component), engineering and architecture (manufacturing), etc. along with core components for bookkeeping, basic marketing, etc. In some cases, students with businesses that intersect could work together or create larger ventures that might be managed by several kids with a vested interest. And for the first time, many of these students will begin to understand why some basic information is important and applicable in their world.

More importantly, such a program could nurture what everyone wants these kids to exhibit despite not always being given the opportunity to learn: critical thinking and leadership skills. They can do it. Any student can. 

There are many studies that support the case that anyone can become a leader. In fact, most studies have concluded that no common traits (intelligence, birth order, socioeconomic status) nor characteristics (capacity, responsibility, participation) can distinguish non-leaders from leaders. What can be critical, however, is giving students leadership opportunities as early as possible so they develop confidence in becoming leaders later, people who can develop a vision, share that vision, value human resources, and become self-motivated.

Even if students who engage in an entrepreneurial program decide they do not want to start or manage a business as a result, such early experiences could still be beneficial to their future employers. At the same time, they might also gain an appreciation for small business employers.

Right. Starting a business can be challenging and rewarding, but it's also no easy task. It might even erase some of the growing disconnect between employers and employees if more people understood how taxes and regulations aimed at large employers tend to hinder small businesses the most.

Monday, February 13

Recognizing Data: Passive Analysis Pays Off

There are dozens of ways for marketers to gain insight and better understand the general public. And most marketers actively engage in such research, which means they conduct one (or more) of four traditional marketing research techniques (observational, focus group, survey research, experimental), many of which can be and are being applied online.

Where marketers miss, however, is in not conducting periodic off-topic research or considering what other studies, surveys, and experiments might reveal (passive analysis). Sometimes the biggest insights are not found in an organization's own research (products, services, etc.) but in the research being conducted by others.

Why The Better Homes and Gardens survey is important. 

As part of our ongoing study of shifting attitudes toward a new economy, we've been following dozens of studies to create a generalized composite of consumer sentiment. And one of the latest surveys by Better Homes and Gardens bears out the concept that the public is undergoing a shift, from spontaneous consumption to long-term value. Here are some of the most interesting findings from the survey.

• Consumers are taking more time to plan for home improvements (from 33% to 39%). 
• Consumers are shopping around for more deals and bargains (from 40% to 42%). 
• Consumers want value for every dollar they invest in their homes (from 56% to 61%). 
• Consumers will get rid of excess stuff before paying for more storage (31%, no change). 
• Consumers are less interested in "bonus rooms" as opposed to "multipurpose rooms" (not specified).
• Consumers are interested in some feature upgrades (facets, fixtures, etc.) (from 51% to 55%). 
• Consumers are not more interested in remodeling projects, with all types of projects remaining flat.

There was one survey point that we dismissed. According to the survey, owning a home is still an important part of the American dream (80%). But we dismissed this finding because the survey was conducted on the Better Homes and Gardens site. Obviously, people who do not value home ownership are less likely to visit Better Homes and Gardens.

The real insight in this survey (when compared to other research) follows trends toward a new economy. People are becoming more value driven (not necessarily direct response or sales driven), less consumption driven, consider flexibility more important than status, and place a greater emphasis on long-term purchases that will help them avoid more repairs, replacements, and remodels in the future. 

What does this mean for non-housing related marketers? 

Throughout the 1990s, most consumers banked on a rapidly changing future that would allow them to upgrade everything in their lives at a quick pace. People changed jobs for more opportunity, flipped homes as they advanced, refinanced for status remodels, traded in leased vehicles at a quicker pace, etc. 

In a slow economy, people are more concerned that whatever purchases they make will fit within their budgets and last considerably longer. They know their lifestyles may change, which means flexibility becomes increasingly important. They want increased reliability and security over change because they recognize that not all change is for the better. They place more value on intangible qualities of life (more time to do something meaningful) as opposed to tangible qualities of life (consumption). 

If an organization recognizes how such trends affect their niche, they can make modifications not only to their communication (highlighting long term over short term), but also apply it to research and development, with an emphasis on creating products and services that promise long-term value over short-term trades. How about your organization? Is it still catering to the shrinking pool of consumers who value consumption? Or is it trading in a short-term sales message for something better?  

Friday, February 10

Balancing Acts: #Fail vs. #Win

Michael Schechter, author of A Better Mess blog and filling in for Geoff Livingston, guest penned a post that touches at the heart of a new social media meme. The Audaciousness of Corporate Social Media Failure is a thought piece on the fascination with pointing out more failures than successes.

He is not alone in his recent assessment. Jennifer Kane called her post The Rise of Social Schadenfreude. Jason Falls recently asked What Happened To Saying Something Nice? And several weeks ago, although not in a blog post, Shel Holtz asked pretty much the same question related to public relations.

Richie Escovedo captured the sentiment in his post New Year's Hat Tip For Triumphs. Along with Holtz's thoughts, you can see my quip about it: "Many public relations triumphs go unseen, which is why they are triumphs." To which Holtz asked if the abundance of blunder-focused posts skews the perception of public relations. Escovedo believes it does. I'm not sure.

Understanding the lopsided exchange of #Fail and #Win. 

Some of it goes back to old school marketing and customer service. Even before social media, consumers were more likely to share a negative experience at a rate of 8 to 1. With social media, that ratio can expand to 8 million to 1, depending on the complaint and who shares it.

Some of it goes back to old school journalism. Negative news tends to have more news worthiness than good news, much in the same way the old adage once conveyed: dog bites man is not news. A man biting a dog is news. But it goes even deeper than that.

Anytime Bruce Spotleson, group publisher for Greenspun Media Group, speaks to my public relations class, he tells the students a story about one of the newspapers he worked for years ago. They agreed with everyone else. There is too much bad news. So, every Tuesday, they decided to make it a "good news" paper. It only took a couple months to find out what happens. People stopped buying Tuesday.

In fact, the phenomenon is not limited to communication. Watch most parents with their children after school. When "As" and "Bs" become commonplace, it will take an "F" for parents to take an interest. You can tell how influenced your children are already by the daily news they share with you. If they always lead with bad news, there's a good chance you're subconsciously ignoring their praises.

Some of it is hardwired. In one perception experiment featured in the free app Color Uncovered, you're asked to stare at a circle gray circle with magenta dots. Eventually, the magenta dots disappear. Except, they don't really disappear. We just stop paying attention when stimulus is unchanging or expected.

How to stop hating and live with the #Fail. 

Try to remember that people are not predisposed to negative. They are predisposed to ignore the expected. And unfortunately, that gives negative a leg up on everything. If the school bus makes it to school, no one cares. If it gets in an accident, it might make national news.

It's also why we never mention an 'expected' meal at a restaurant (it has to be exceptional or slightly below expected to be mentioned), why people mostly stopped tweeting about having waffles for breakfast (and were even made fun of), why negative political advertising works (even though people claim to detest it), why the media still tend to follow the mantra "if it bleeds, it leads," and why some review sites are staked with an overabundance of "1s" and "5s."

I experience it all the time too. I praised Corning Incorporated for a well-executed video and nobody really cared (not even people who claim there is too much negativity in the space). But coverage of any given crisis will always attract eyeballs. More people remember those case studies too.

In fact, after hearing from Writing For Public Relations students (last year) that I might include more negative than positive case studies, I counted them. The positive case studies outweighed negative case studies 10 to 1. They just chose to remember the negatives.

There is nothing much you can do to change human nature, but there are a few things you can do.

• Find different ways to make things unexpected by avoiding patterns that are too perfect.
• Critique negative behaviors and actions rather than the individuals or organizations.
• Stop writing for traffic and stay focused on what might benefit people to know.
• Never take social media, or even people in general, too seriously. We're all less than perfect.

Personally, I think it all comes down to intent. If the attempt is to willfully look to the next victim, the #fail #fails. But if the intent is to share an abundance of relevant stories, good or bad, and turn them into teaching lessons so people avoid making the same mistakes, then it can be great. Just use your head.

And now I have to go and ask my daughter what happened today. She always leads with good news for me because I'm interested. How about you? Are you actively looking for good case studies? And can you tell the difference between positive criticism and negative criticism?

Wednesday, February 8

Inferring Context: The Clint Eastwood Commercial

In one of the most peculiar advertising case studies in recent history, the Clint Eastwood Super Bowl halftime commercial has been highjacked by politics. The irony? The advertisement was apolitical.

The only possible way anyone in politics could imagine that the commercial was political, especially with a subliminal message, is if they loaded it with inferences that just aren't there. It seems some people, on both sides of the aisle, have done exactly that.

Some on the left say the advertisement is about them. Some on the right say the advertisement is about the left. And I say they are both full of themselves. The commercial is about America, carrying forward the message and imagery from last year's Eminem commercial on a much grander scale.

While the spot itself won't do anything to bolster car sales, it does attempt to align Chrysler with the illusion of American toughness. Never mind that the company is controlled by Italian carmaker Fiat.

Among the most outspoken has been Karl Rove, who said he was offended by the advertisement. While Rove can be considered a brilliant political strategist (even if I don't agree with his tactics), he seems to have drank his own Kool-Aid. And unfortunately, Michelle Malkin too. They see Eastwood fronting a bailout ad, with Rove racheting up the rhetoric with the claim it somehow conveys Chicago-style politics. To be fair, CNN reporter Wolf Blizter thought it was an Obama Super Pac ad too.

The impossible nature of inference and the missed opportunities that come with it. 

To really understand why they miss the mark and allowed inference to steal what could have been their own opportunity, you really need to read the copy contained in the spot (full transcription below). After, I'll demonstrate how it works both ways (making it neutral), much like Clint Eastwood saw it before he signed on to read it.

It's halftime. Both teams are in their locker rooms discussing what they can do to win this game in the second half. It's halftime in America, too, People are out of work, and they're hurting. And they're all wondering what they're gonna do to make a comeback. And we're all scared because this isn't a game. The people of Detroit know a little something about this. They almost lost everything. But we all pulled together, now Motor City is fighting again.

I’ve seen a lot of tough eras, a lot of downturns in my life. Times when we didn’t understand each other. It seems that we’ve lost our heart at times. The fog, division, discord and blame made it hard to see what lies ahead.

But after those trials, we all rallied around what was right and acted as one. Because that's what we do. We find a way through times and if we can't find one then we'll make one. All that matters now is what's ahead. How do we come from behind. How do we come together. And how do we win. Detroit is showing us it can be done. And what is true about them is true about all of us.

This country can’t be knocked out with one punch. We get right back up again and when we do, the world’s going to hear the roar of our engines. Yeah, it’s halftime America. And out second half is about to begin.

The charges that it is a thinly disguised pro-Obama ad could be argued once someone has planted the seed. But is it really? Only certain lines can carry the case forward, especially the one suggesting that we pulled together to save Chrysler with an auto bailout, but the reality of the inference doesn't hold.

The auto bailouts were a bad idea. I know the point is debatable to many people, but the reality is that when government protects big companies, it inadvertently hurts smaller companies that want to rise up and take their place. Regardless, there comes a point when you have to move beyond the argument and forge ahead. We cannot reverse the auto bailouts. We made it clear no one ought to do it again.

So where does that leave us? If someone added the direct line that Obama was at the halftime of his career, and things are going to get better, then the case could be made. Likewise, people like Rove and Malkin could have made the claim that the American people are about to take back their government from the Obama administration in the second half, which is why things are going to better.

In fact, about the only wiggle room anyone has is that the Chrysler marketing team behind the ad picked an image of protestors in Wisconsin as a visual. They knew it might be politically charged, which is why they masked the signs. Still, they could have picked a protest image that was less political (although please note that I have to really stretch the intent to make a case. I really don't see it).

The sad truth is that neither side seems to get it, even after Eastwood issued a statement. 

"I am certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama. It was meant to be a message about job growth and the spirit of America," Eastwood said. "I think all politicians will agree with it. I thought the spirit was OK ... If Obama or any other politician wants to run with the spirit of the ad, go for it."

And there you have it. If anyone wants to pick a side on the unexpected Clint Eastwood commercial debate, I suggest we forego right and left and pick Eastwood's side. His side is America's side.

Of course, the rub up shows why inferences are very dangerous things. They tend to show weaknesses in the people who make them. The conspiracy around every corner from the right. The audacity that anything good must be about them on the left. The zeal of feeding the angst machine by the media.

Along with Eastwood, Bill O'Reilly got it right too. He didn't see it as a propaganda spot either, which is no doubt why Eastwood sent his statement to O'Reilly rather than the media at large.

Monday, February 6

Working With Vision: How The Future Shapes Today

There is an old adage I learned two decades ago. There are no boring stories, only boring writers.

Sometimes executives and communication professionals tell me it isn't true. There are plenty of boring companies and not everyone needs a vision. Statistics seem to bear their argument out. As many as one-third of Fortune 500 companies do not have a vision statement. And, for those that do, only 22 percent have transformational vision statements, which strive to change the world (or the segment in which they operate).

However, most of those who cite that figure neglect the historical truth. One-third of Fortune 500 companies in 1970 ceased to exist by 1983 and more than two-thirds were gone by 1995. No company is too big to fail. And those that do fail never have a substantive or transformative vision.

Corning Incorporated Sees Its Vision. 

Corning Incorporated is a glass and ceramics company. When people hear the name, most remember it for its CorningWare and Corelle tableware brands even though the company divested those assets in 1998. (The original company, Bay State Glass Co. in 1851, wasn't focused on tableware either.)

Its vision statement has deep meaning for those who know what it means, but tends to feel flat otherwise. A portion of it reads like this: We remain steadfast in our commitment to leverage the key strands of our Diversity DNA: operate with a Global Mindset, support a Culture of Collaboration, foster a Passion for Learning, encourage Employee Development and Value The Individual.

But neither that line, nor the broader statement, really conveys what Corning is. If you really want to understand who Corning is, watch this video clip. It runs almost six minutes; every second counts.

Everything about A Day Made of Glass 2 presents a crystal clear transformative vision that changes the way you think about the company and what the future might look like. It's hardly boring; it's inspired.

In fact, it inspires in every segment of its audience: consumers, developers, partners, employees, and investors. It not only changes the way people see the world, but it also changes the way we see Corning in it.

Change The Way People See The World.

When I first watched the video on the day it was posted, only a few hundred people had found it. Two days later, it captured 180,000 views. In the days that follow,  some communicators will call it a viral success.

I do not. Going viral isn't the real story. The real story is how a company not only found its transformative vision, but also the perfect way to communicate it. The outcome is as big as the vision.

It is difficult to watch this video without thinking about Corning Incorporated differently. It's difficult to watch this video without thinking about the world differently. This future is today, if we want it to be.

Friday, February 3

Talking Complexity: So What About The One Percent?

There are dozens of economic models, formulas, and ideas that people share and cite. I tend to read many of them because I have interests outside communication. At the same time, I'm also always thinking about how these non-communication subjects intersect with communication because the ability to communicate them is equally important, if not more important, than the ideas themselves.

Yesterday, Andrew Smith reminded me about one by Dani Rodrik. The non-communication idea is sharp enough, but what's especially refreshing is the way in which two students at the Unversidade Nova de Lisboa in Portugal wrote it. They used the Simpsons to convert the idea into a fun presentation. You can find a link to the presentation in Rodrik's introduction to Disruptive Politics and Economic Growth.

What the presentation reminded me is what a terrible job Republicans do in explaining their economic position to a majority of Americans. And, until they get it together, the message will never resonate.

Communicating about complex topics can derail companies and break nations. 

There is a very good reason why the current administration's message tends to perform better than their opponent's message. Income inequality has created a lower median income, and the people who fall below that median have an increased propensity to vote for higher taxes to make up their shortfalls.

The downside, however, is that the opposition is right in actuality, if not popularity. Increasing taxes on capital endowments (which the administration wants to do) has an adverse affect on growth, which increases unemployment, which in turn moves the median income even lower. Eventually, the pattern repeats with even more people who favor higher taxes. And eventually, the economy collapses.

This economic principle is one of the primary reasons Republicans want to hold the line on all taxes. But they have trouble communicating it. They struggle with it because it is generally reframed into the sound bite that "they represent and want to protect the rich."

Of course, that isn't true either. Wealthy people call the shots in both parties, and one side is not more altruistic than the other. If they were, we wouldn't need more taxes because they would donate what's needed as opposed to raising taxes.

Sure, the current administration likes to talk about how they have extended certain "tax breaks" and nothing has happened. While this is true, they omit the psychological impact of increased regulations and the constant threat of new taxes on people with capital. In other words, it would be like your power company telling you that next month your energy bill will be ten times as much for the indefinite future. You would probably hold on to any cash you had. They are holding.

Frankly, the dynamic of all this is remarkably acidic. And I'm not sure there is a good message.

What a capitalistic model might look like if all parties rethought politics. 

A better approach might to be realign the overarching goal into objectives that are obtainable and much more easily communicated. For illustrative purposes only, consider four fundamentals as examples.

• Government. There is no question the government should never directly invest in private companies. It is especially bad at it. If it is going to invest, it ought to invest in government-owned infrastructure, with most funding in research and development (and then contracting out labor).

This is one of the reasons I am a proponent of the moon colony concept. It would be the modern equivalent of Hoover Dam. (That, and I know too much about small grant awards and waste.)

• Business. As much as many people appreciate Ayn Rand, many more misunderstand her. They must, because the takeaway that some people seem to have is that she places a high value on the individual, which is somehow selfish. When I read Rand, I take away something different.

Businesses, regardless of size, ought to invest in communities, states, and countries, not because government forces them to do it but because it is in their best interest. If businesses want an educated workforce, better infrastructure, and safeguards against taxation, then a capital investment in the communities that help them succeed is commonsense. Businesses used to do it all the time before the government took over charity. As a backgrounder, see the comment in this post, written 10 years ago.

• People. A higher standard of living might be desirable, but a society built on overconsumption is equality problematic. If the early movement toward a more meaningful economy is valid, then we might nurture it along by measuring the merit of our lives not by the cars we drive but by the values we leave behind. Legacies are not built on mountains of discarded stuff.

As long as social media remains relatively free of social scoring and continues to lift people up as opposed to protecting the higher ground, its early success can be carried forward. It has proven invaluable in finding new talent and discovering otherwise hidden thoughts from great people who make the world a better place with both inspirational and tangible results.

• Nonprofits. As long as nonprofit organizations set sustainable action in motion rather than aiming to increase their own case loads to pad budgetary need, they are vital. In many cases, they can replace the need for some government funded services, assuming they stay away from the infusion of politics that usually comes with government grants.

In fact, had someone considered it 20 years ago, a nonprofit health insurance alternative might have helped this country avoid any pressure to create an intrusive national model. And that touches on one of the key areas we need to improve because overlapping nonprofits can dilute impact while leaving other needs underserved (like health care). General guidelines might not be bad either; some nonprofits love to pad executive salaries, upgrade training packages, and receive transportation perks.

While not everyone would necessarily agree with these illustrative ideas, all four represent nonpartisan objectives that can be understood. Smart government sets the stage for success and protects it. Purpose-driven businesses make profits and then invest them. Conscientious people value education and find meaning in their lives regardless of their titles. Nonprofits help organize groups to meet unmet critical needs.

If we had all that, then most people wouldn't care about the one percent or 99 percent. I think that would be a good thing too. Because at the end of the day, we still need 100 percent to work.

Wednesday, February 1

Finding The Truth: Social Media, Psychology, And You

Two psychological studies were published on Jan. 30, with the lead news outlets being the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Depending on which story someone reads it could have dramatically altered their opinion and their reality about teenagers and the Internet. See for yourself.

Study: Face Time Benefits Preteens, Wall Street Journal 

Lead. A new study finds that media multitasking can hurt social and emotional development in preteen girls. And the researchers found a simple remedy—face-to-face tasks.

Summation. Heavy digital multitasking and more time spent in front of screens correlated with poor emotional and social health — including low social confidence, having more friends who parents perceive as poor influences, and even sleeping less. Ergo, the Internet is evil.

Researchers. Clifford Nass, communications professor; and Roy Pea, an education professor. Both at Stanford University. The paper was published in Developmental Psychology.

Shareability. Extremely shareable. More than a dozen pickups by major and mid-tier media outlets, almost all of which ran with much more negative headlines than the Wall Street Journal. My personal favorite is that "Too much social networking makes girls less happy: Study." The story was shared moderately on social networks, heavily when considering total shares from multiple articles.

The Comments. About 124 comments, mostly agreeing with the negative conclusions (and a few argumentative). Most of them were based on parental observations.

Do You Have A Blog?, The New York Times

Lead. Research has shown that keeping a diary helps soothe teenage angst. Researchers are saying that keeping a blog is even better therapy for the overwhelmed teenager. 

Summation. After the teenagers in the study were broken into six groups, two groups were asked to write about social problems, two groups were asked to write about anything, two groups kept private diaries or did nothing. The greatest improvement in mood was exhibited by the first group, which wrote about social problems and allowed comments. Ergo, the Internet is good. 

Researchers. Meyran Boniel-Nissim, psychology professor; and Azy Barak, psychology professor. Both at the University of Haifa, Isreal. The paper was published by Psychological Services.

Shareability. Not very shareable, not even the original article. There were only three other publications to run the story. All of them positive. The most positive headline "Science proves blogging is therapeutic — at least for teenagers. The story was hardly shared, either version.  

The Comments. About 40 comments, mostly disagreeing with the story and "reportedly" suggested that the comments were written by youth. The net consensus, overall, was that the idea of publishing their social problems for strangers was creepy and, in general, that they (teens) were much too busy living their lives to worry about the Internet. 

The Net Summation Of Two News Stories And A Different Reality.

When you weigh all of the observations, you might come up with an all together different observation. (It's admittedly tongue in cheek, but amazingly accurate at the same time.) Enjoy.

Two non-psychologists conduct an anecdotal study that they admit is non-conclusive (but they provide a solution anyway) that is wildly believed by parents who spend all their time online worrying about their kids online. It spreads like wildfire. 

Meanwhile, two psychologists actually conduct a study with control groups and prove the opposite might be true, but the kids in question say they are too busy living their lives to engage in a practice they consider creepy. And nobody cares. 

There are plenty of takeaways and you are welcome to take your pick. News isn't as important as it is sensational. Popularity doesn't make something true. Stanford professors should stick to their fields. The parents are a bigger problem than the kids. If you think this is bad, you should see how the political coverage has been lately. And so on and so forth. 

Please feel free to invent your own takeaways in the comments. I would love to read them because sometimes you need to treat the death of objective journalism with a good laugh. Wakes are more fun than funerals, after all.

Monday, January 30

Thinking Big: Why Not The Moon?

Although many people laughed when presidential candidate Newt Gingrich suggested the pursuit of a permanent moon base by 2020, and a rival candidate said he would fire an employee who came to him with such proposal, there is another question to be asked. Politics aside, why not the moon?

For many years, NASA has struggled with a public relations problem. In 2006, even NASA administrator Mike Griffin made the point that the agency's scientists and engineers are not very good at explaining to the public why what they do is important.

Interestingly enough, journalist Taylor Dinerman almost pinpointed one of several problems for the space agency. It cannot control what its employees say about the agency's programs and goals.

The reason I inserted an "almost" into the sentence is because it's not so much that it "cannot" control what its employees say. The real problem is that the employees have no centralized vision to follow. A return to the moon would give them that. A return to the moon might even enamor Americans with NASA again. And a return to the moon might give the United States a leadership position that doesn't involve globetrotting and nation building all over this world.

Thinking Big Is What Makes People Great. 

I don't mean the person who proposed it, but rather the people who will do it. And I don't just mean a revived space program, but rather any organization that dares to recast entire industries. There are dozens of examples, modern and historic, but even keeping the moon in focus can illustrate the point.

What could the benefits of going to the moon really mean? Almost anything you can dream up, and I don't just mean the idea that humans need to find a way off planet or one day face oblivion (a true argument, but one that most people cannot fathom). There are benefits to shoot for the moon.

• Economic Shift. We have reached a crossroads in that it is difficult to employ Americans in manufacturing for what people want Americans to earn, which is compounded by the fact that the public will not spend more for products to support higher salaries and better benefits. The lone exception is highly-skilled manufacturing jobs. A space program could help change the negative perception of highly-skilled manufacturing because it transforms factory workers into robotic technicians or rocket builders, people who earn the higher salaries and benefits Americans crave.

• Education Shift. We cannot go a few days without hearing how dismal the eduction system has become in America. The problem is three-fold. Students are not being taught critical thinking skills, have a difficult time connecting the dots between the subject matter and their futures, and don't always think pursuing an education will lead to anything worthwhile. A viable space program with a defined mission could renew interest in math, science, and engineering.

• Energy Shift. Most people agree that the United States needs to place an emphasis on sustainable energy. Unfortunately, most debates get mired down in polarized issues like climate change and never produce intelligent solutions. The prospect of a moon colony kills the debate. There would be no choice but to pursue technological advances such as solar energy or other energy sources we haven't dreamed up yet because people stationed on the moon would need it while people on Earth would benefit too.

• Agricultural Shift. You cannot look around the world and not notice that a majority of people on this planet do not have enough fresh water or food supplies. Whatever innovations would have to be dreamed up to build a sustainable moon colony would no doubt benefit people right here on planet Earth. At the same time, nutritionists and medical professionals would have to work even harder to understand the physiology of people and place a greater emphasis on prevention and cures as opposed to symptom-control via prescription medication.

• Attitude Shift. Many Americans have grown sensitive to risk aversion. People are increasingly voting for security over opportunity. People want high-yield retirement accounts with zero risk. They want jobs to employ them indefinitely, with the flexibility to leave companies anytime they choose. They want bulletproof medical care that extends life indefinitely, but the freedom to eat junk food in wildly impressive quantities. They want space programs to be accident free, but are willing to hold daily transportation to a much lower standard, provided they can drive 10 or 20 miles over the speed limit. A space program, particularly one as aggressive as a moon colony, might reinvigorate our spirit.

• Who Knows? There is really no way to know what the future of space might hold. But there are plenty of possibilities. Mining could produce any number of new materials that could fundamentally improve life on earth without gobbling up our resources. Space tourism could finally become a viable industry, giving people a destination that is as brilliant as visiting another part of the world used to be in the 1900s. And much like previous space programs did for five decades, all of it comes with benefits that will outlast the initial return on investment.

Right now, the United States is not the only country on the planet setting its sights on the moon and beyond. In fact, we may be the only country that has shrugged off its own program without having a viable alternative beyond hitching a ride on the technological achievements of other nations.

Such a course of retreat cannot last or else the nation will languish in its own abandoned destiny. The benefits and advancements of science, technology, engineering, and knowledge by pursing a space program that places us on the moon and then beyond the moon is by far the most important undertaking this country could revive, reinvent, and remain in the lead with peaceful intent and empowered purpose.

While I have no sense of what candidate (or incumbent) I will vote for in the coming elections, I do vote to go to the moon. I vote to go to the moon because throughout history, this world is made better by companies, organizations, and nations of people who dreamed, dared, and did as opposed to those who have rested, have retreated, and have long been forgotten.

It is the very pursuit of the improbable that makes things possible. It is a singular overarching purpose that could correct the decades-long lackluster public relations program at NASA. And it is pursuit of space exploration that could be the catalyst this country needs to push itself out its current stalemate.

Friday, January 27

Leading Without Labels: Transformative Action

At the age of 14, Manuel Scott dropped out of school and his English grammar was so poor that he was classified as an English as a Second Language student (ESL). By the age of 16, he had already lived in 26 different places. And he began using drugs and alcohol.

Looking at his biography, you would never know it today. He is a transformative speaker working on his Ph.D. He often speaks about education, encouraging people to renew their commitment despite any issues or challenges they have. He encourages them because he was once encouraged to turn his life around too.

We have something in common, he and I. Based on our labels, neither of us should have "made it."

The trouble with labels.

Since watching Scott's Martin Luther King Jr. Day keynote speech on the recommendation of a friend, I've viewed and listened to several videos by Scott. And almost all of them come back to a similar subject I've written and spoken about before. Most people are predisposed to believe in labels.

Rich and poor.  Healthy and ill. Educated and ignorant. Employed and unemployed. This party or that party. And even when any of those things are summarily equal or readily dismissed, people make up all sorts of new labels like titles or scores or ranks, usually touting the importance of one based on nothing more than their own placement, temporary conditions and meaningless anecdotes. None of it matters.

Whoever you are. Whatever your title. Whenever you graduated. However happy/unhappy your home.

It will change, for better or worse. There isn't even anything you can do about it, except to be continually doing something about it. The act of doing tends to offer up its own remedy of sorts.

Elsewhere on the net today, I reviewed the book The Fault In Our Stars by John Green. You can read the review if you like. I wanted to mention it here because the teenage protagonist shuffles along as a terminally ill cancer patient until someone enters her life and has a transformative affect on her.

How to lead without labels. 

The person who transforms her life isn't a parent. He isn't a teacher. He isn't a politician, statesman, or community activist. He isn't a businessperson, journalist, or social media superstar. He's just a boy.

Although there are a great many other things to take away from the book, the fact that this boy can have a profound and lasting affect on the protagonist, no matter how long she lives, seems to be an important one that the author never intended. Anyone can be the spark in another's life. Anyone can be a leader.

It requires two things. The leader has to believe that someone can overcome whatever temporary condition afflicts them, probably because they themselves have already learned the lesson. And then, the person being transformed has to believe they can overcome it too.

There is no other requirement, which leads me to believe that leadership doesn't come from the measure of temporary conditions, but rather the character of the person making the effort. We learned as much last year in Egypt. Nobodies become somebodies, and the rest is just scale.

In the book, Augustus Waters transforms three people. In real life, Scott transforms thousands.
If we want to transform education or even the economy, it seems to me we could start the same way.

Wednesday, January 25

Loving It Too Much: The McDonald's Campaign Backfire

In recent years, McDonald's has been making a real effort to change itself from being the flagship of unhealthy fast food to the pinnacle of quick service with healthy choices. The change has been mostly prompted by continuous assaults: Some are are fair. Some are not fair. And some are ridiculous.

The net sum of these varied stories is that the corporate giant is trying to make an admirable change, even if the totality of it continues to be trial and error. Sometimes, they get it right, like adding fruit to choices to the Happy Meal. And sometimes, they get it wrong, like the #McStories campaign.

Why McStories is a beautiful campaign with insidious results.

When I first saw the series of YouTube videos, I almost wrote a post about them. They are beautiful slices of Americana, featuring farmers who take great care in the produce they provide. I love the commercials. But I also hate the commercials.

I don't hate them because of their message or the personalized stories from the farmers. We could use more stories like these, given our country's bout with self-loathing. In fact, that was the reason I decided to pass on critiquing the campaign. The farmers certainly didn't deserve it.

Unfortunately, it was just a matter of time before someone else did. Yesterday, someone did in a tremendously coordinated and catchy fashion. It was only a matter of time before the whole thing went semi-viral. McDonald's has lost Twitter for awhile. It might even lose the entire campaign.

The social media crisis could have been simple enough to spot. The hashtag #McStories, which was meant to support the campaign, was more or less jacked. It was first jacked by PETA and then everyone started piling on with one rancid story about McDonald's after another. #McStories isn't about farmers anymore, at least not for the short term and maybe never.

The attack is no longer confined to Twitter either. It will migrate to other assets. The media coverage of the crisis only attracts more of the same, usually three-fold: people with agendas (like PETA), people with real gripes (like some of the tweet authors), and people who see an easy way to get attention (the attention-starved majority).

McStories is mostly true, but it comes across as a classic overreach. 

If there is one thing advertisers and marketers might take away from the McStories backlash, it's that forcing the marketing message, especially when it is supported by social media, will eventually backfire.

And that's why I hated the campaign. Anybody on the strategy side (because it's too much to ask the creatives to see it) could have seen the backlash coming miles away. Despite many successes, McDonald's house is too dirty to rest its laurels on a handful of true but spectacularly crisp stories.

On McDonald's side, Snopes investigated such beef claims years ago and found them to be mostly true. McDonald's also made progress to be more environmentally friendly, but it tends to miss some goals every year. And then there is always the question about nutrition, especially in terms of carbs, fat, and sodium. All in all, it's one giant hit and miss machine. That's not good enough for a McStories message.

Besides, the problem isn't so much where McDonald's gets its stuff. It's what McDonald's does to this stuff once it leaves the hands of conscientious farmers. It's the processing, recipes, additives, production, freezing, unfreezing, distribution, and in-store preparation that makes you wonder.

Those beautiful cows, lettuce heads, and potatoes are all destined to become something that ages at an impossibly slow pace. And until McDonald's begins to address that fact its operational systems have reached their carrying capacity to deliver the quality I once associated with them, it will continue to face stiff criticism as the the biggest quick service chain.

Personally, I think it's all too bad. McDonald's has plenty to take pride in, ranging from being a massive employer for first-time employees and iconic marketing successes to being a sound investment and a corporation that has blemishes but is trying to do something to clean them up instead of sweeping them aside. However, to make the case that the hamburger joint represents the backbone of family-owned American agriculture in order to deliver near farm-fresh ingredients to consumers ... sigh.

Monday, January 23

Reducing Reach: Advertising And Public Relations

Although a recent comScore study was tied to a product launch of Validated Campaign Essentials (vCE), advertiser and public relations professionals can still take note. As many as 31 percent of all online advertising impressions are delivered but never seen by a consumer.

While the study itself was confined to digital advertising, the same holds true for print. Much like site visitors may never process an advertisement that appears on a site or social network page (whether a digital news site or Facebook page), circulation often dictates the number of impressions even if consumers don't pore over every printed page (whether advertisements or stories).

Digital advertising highlights from the comScore study

• Across all study campaigns measured, 69 percent of the ad impressions were classified as being ‘in-view.’* The remaining 31 percent were delivered but never seen by a consumer, a likely result of a consumer scrolling past the ad before it loaded or a consumer never scrolling the ad into view. In-view percentages varied by site and ranged from 7 percent to 91 percent.

• An average of 4 percent of ad impressions were delivered outside the desired geography, but individual campaigns ran as high as 15 percent. In many cases, ads were served in markets where the advertised product is not sold, meaning wasted ad spending and sub-optimal effectiveness results.

• 72 percent of all study campaigns had at least some ads running next to content deemed “not brand safe” by the advertiser, meaning that the content is deemed objectionable by the brand. This type of unsafe delivery has the potential to damage the brand, creating a difficult situation for all members of the digital advertising ecosystem.

“The display advertising market today is characterized by an overabundance of inventory, often residing on parts of a web page that are never viewed by the user. This dilutes the impact of campaigns for advertisers and represents a drag on prices to publishers,” said Dr. Magid Abraham, president and CEO of comScore. “Conversely, some ads below the fold are quite visible and deserve more credit."

*The study included 12 national brands, 3,000 placements, 381 site domains, and 1.7 billion ad impressions.

The dilution of impressions is higher than the study suggests.

Looking over the study and the numbers, it seems that vCE is taking a step in the right direction. However, even with vCE campaign delivery notifications, advertisers, marketers, and public relations professionals ought to be establishing better outcome measurement systems instead of attempting to calculate expected outcomes based on a percentage of impressions.

This is especially true because digital and print are generally judged by two completely different systems. So is television, which is based largely on cost-per-thousand and cost-per-point, which begins with the ratings system. Smart phones and tablets are developing slightly different measures too (especially because many ads are 'hard' screen views).

While counting impression measures can be useful to make apples to apples comparisons, marketers and small business owners will see better results if they pay more attention to two other ingredients: focusing efforts on finding outlets to reach consumers who have an expressed interest in their product or related topic and investing more time on advertising that isn't 'noticed' more (e.g., flashy and splashy) but rather can deliver a value proposition that entices those consumers to take the next step (or at least remember the company). When combined with benchmarking, the outcomes will become apparent.

Ergo, it's not the number of throws you get. It's the number of times you hit the target.

Friday, January 20

Feeling Invulnerable: Clients With Messages

A few weeks ago, we had a discussion with a prospective client. And we decided not to take the account.

It really wasn't a big deal, and not anything to write about. But then I read Roger Dooley's article about Solving The "Invulnerable Customer" Problem and realized that there was a teaching opportunity.

His article touches on why consumers don't always buy products — even when risk exists — because they think they are invulnerable. The example he uses is classic: frequent hand washing (or lack thereof) among people in the medical profession.

There are plenty of other examples too. Invulnerability is why people talk on cell phones while driving, eat too many snacks, and smoke cigarettes. It's why teenagers want to stay up too late, shortchange their study time, and dismiss wearing a jacket when it is cold. It's why clients want to talk about themselves, not address customer grievances, and think spam can be a good thing.

That is not to say some sense of invulnerability is all bad or that worry is better (it's not). But we can still appreciate that overindulgent invulnerability can be as entrenched and irrational as the polar opposite of victimhood. There are, after all, an equal number of people who know their children will always catch a cold and believe every ride to the store will include at least one close call. They may even be more likely to be overinsured and underinvested.

These two opposites make for some fascinating research. However, there was something even more striking about Dooley's article. He offered a solution, one that is as easy as changing the pronoun emphasis in a message.

Considering Pronouns As Part Of The Message. 

The hand washing message solution was right on target. While posting signs that said "Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases" had no effect, an alternate sign that read "Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases" increased hand washing by 10 percent and soap usage by 33 percent.

That is amazing. It's also only one example of how powerful pronoun choices can be, especially if the marketers or copywriters have insight into the environment where the message will be delivered and the current mood of the audience.

It's also why we knew the prospect wasn't a good fit with our firm. He wanted to concentrate on a message that talked about "I" and "you." However, we recognized the current climate suggests people want to hear more about "us" and "them." (Specifically, people want to know what are we going to do as a country, and what can be done to help people who need it.)

Pronoun choices might seem tiny. The impact they can have is huge. Doubly so because there are generally four choices — I, you, we, them. And depending upon the context, product, service, audience, and general attitude, choosing the wrong one can make or break a message.

While picking the right pronoun is reliant on existing circumstances, there are some commonalities that can help make the right choice. Leadership and innovation are more often tied to "I" messages. Transformation and empowerment are often tied to "you" messages. Engagement and empathy are often tied to "we" messages. And perspective and compassion are often tied to "them" messages.

Case in point. The difference between "You Can Change The World" and "We Can Change The World" are miles apart. So are "We Are Helping Them" (an "I" message in plural form) and "They Need Our Help" (an "I" message, structured to place more weight on "Them"). Picking the right one has everything to do with understanding the motivation and mood of the intended audience. In fact, you can even attract certain types of people based on how the messages are framed with which pronouns.

For example, people who gravitate toward "10 Ways To Improve Your Blog" are looking for empowerment whereas people who gravitate toward "10 Secrets I Know About Blogging" are looking for leadership. They are very different propositions. They can attract very different people.

Just for fun, consider pronoun usage while you browse the Web today. Or, if you want to have more fun, take a look at your last ten blog posts or the last ten messages (advertisements, etc.) put out by your organization. Is there any pattern? Have the messages been effective? And if not, could different pronouns be all that separates you from success?

While you look around, always keep in mind that what we communicate is never really about us. It's almost always about them, the people we want to reach. Which, when I really think about it, is why we ultimately passed on the account. It's impossible to win with people who think they're invulnerable, especially if they don't care about the people they want to help.

Wednesday, January 18

Playing With Fire: Ron Paul And Public Relations

Part of the art of public relations is always appreciating that you are communicating to more than one public at a time. Some candidates participating in the South Carolina debate forgot that on Monday.

Much like mainstream candidates mistakenly did during the 2008 Republican primary, they largely ignored Ron Paul. When they did acknowledge him, it sometimes included backhanded comments designed to label Paul as a little bit kooky. That is a mistake, much bigger than most people realize.

Note: This is not an endorsement of any candidate nor political analysis beyond the often unseen impact of public relations in the field. For companies, it is a worthwhile observation on brand loyalist reaction, especially as it relates to aggressive jabs at the competition and dares people to take sides. 

The Potential For A Ron Paul Public Relations Backlash. 

Although many mainstream campaign strategists (national and state) dismiss and distance themselves from unflappable Paul supporters, many of them need Paul supporters to win, whether it be the primary or general election. They don't like to admit it. But they do.

So when candidates such as Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum attack Ron Paul with characterizations that allude to the idea that Paul is from another planet or perhaps irrational, they are playing with fire. Paul supporters are not like any other base in the bid for president. 

Paul supporters are better organized than any other base (especially on the Internet), regardless of any direct involvement by their candidate. Paul supporters remember every rub, rib, and rude comment aimed at their candidate or their ideas. And Paul supporters are unafraid to make it their mission to make someone lose, even if it means tossing the election to someone who they politically disagree with on every level and even if someone eventually earned a Paul endorsement.

I know. I listened to Paul supporters take delight in damaging campaign signs (among other things) in several state races four years ago. Never mind that the candidates they attacked were ideologically closer to their views than the opponents who won. They were out to teach lessons. Even after accepting apologies, it didn't matter. They are quick to forgive, never forget, and always extract retribution.

In fact, it doesn't even matter that Paul was booed at various points during the debate by the audience, which no doubt fueled a few of the more brazen comments from his rivals. His supporters still took note of how each candidate reacted to and responded to Paul in turn. And that's why Paul won Twitter, even if Gingrich won the debate (according to most analysts). 

Always Pull Publics Toward You; Never Push Them Away. 

There seems to be little doubt that Paul has the ear of the nation when it comes to many domestic policy points. He tends to attract and empower younger voters and, according to a recent poll, older voters.

Analysts can pinpoint any number of specific issues that rally people around Paul (they especially like to draw out his stance on drugs, leanings toward isolationism, and abolishment of income tax), but the overarching message that resonates more than any other is that Paul sees things differently and will not back down from what many say is the hopeless cause to restore a Constitutional government.

This platform raises two questions. Can he really deliver a Constitutional government and are Americans ready for one? The answers are why many people wonder about his electability.

However, even if some of his ideas are so surprisingly foreign to most Americans that mainstream voters cannot even grasp the basic tenets of his platform and Paul cannot always articulate those tenets in a way that makes sense to the mainstream, whoever wins the nomination cannot afford to push Paul supporters away (about 20-25 percent of primary voters). Already, some of those who used to say anyone but Obama are now saying Ron Paul or no one.

The same holds true for companies and organizations. For example, consider what AT&T did when it started targeting heavy data users by penalizing them. They have turned people who used to be AT&T loyalists into people who may choose anyone but AT&T on their next contract.

In both cases, the decisions being made have short-term solutions. But over the long term, both strategies could backfire. Not everyone who is pushed away for short-term gains will come back.

Monday, January 16

Striving For Leadership: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Although the civil rights movement of the 1960s was a struggle for many — both black and white, side by side — Martin Luther King, Jr. has come to epitomize it. There's a reason. And this reason is more subtle than obvious.

Martin Luther King, Jr. didn't just speak to and for African Americans as some people like to think. He spoke for all Americans, regardless of color. And it's one of the reasons even King was often criticized by African Americans who wanted revolution over reformation. But it's how he built a broader base that didn't pit more people against each other and instead rallied people together.

The consensus builder and conscientious speaker. 

Behind the scenes, King was notoriously quiet. He listened while others argued. And it often wasn't until everyone had finished that he'd quietly sum up everyone's feelings and then find a way forward. What he did, which is often overlooked today, is find the overarching objective of many people and focus the attention on the core as opposed to fractured special interests with specific needs.

As a speaker, he often succeeded at focusing this attention on the possibility of racial or socio-economic catastrophe while simultaneously holding out the promise of racial and socio-economic peace. He understood what people wanted, which was an equal opportunity. And he understood that they could obtain it, provided they had access to housing assistance, improved education, and income assistance.

But King saw something different while looking at these often cited three pillars toward reformation. Housing fluctuates on the whims on legislative bodies, educational reforms are entangled by bureaucratic stalls, and most income assistance proceeds with coordinated bias.

Not much has changed in his assessment, with most legislative solutions geared toward stymieing symptoms at great cost and lackluster results. And the one change that has occurred, would have no doubt prompted King to revisit his assessment. A guaranteed income, especially in a more competitive global environment where higher skilled workers compete for the same jobs, is no longer a cure for poverty.

But no matter what solution he might think up today, he hit on a tangible gain to solving the socio-economic challenges of his time by pointing to importance of lifting up the dignity of the individual. Martin Luther King, Jr. believed that when the decisions concerning an individual's life are in his own hands, when he has the assurance that income is relatively stable, and when he has the means to seek self-improvement, then personal conflicts — both domestic and communal — diminish.

What does that mean? It means that in regard to the strife caused by a plodding economy that has placed more people closer to poverty in the last four years, the psychological goals of the current administration are off the mark because they neither nurture individual choice, economic stability, nor the means to seek self-improvement. What is needed is a leader who can appeal to the psychological needs of people, delivering them not the bureaucracy of life management but the freedom to make choices that eventually lead them in an upward trajectory that mirrors their personal goals.

A gifted leader meets the less tangible needs of people. 

It seems unlikely there will be a national reformation that recognizes the less tangible needs of people immediately, given one side feels a need to hand out temporary rewards stolen from those struggling to preserve their own labors and the other side is poised to stop them. Still, there are principles that organizational leaders can embed into their corporate cultures that will deliver a competitive advantage.

• The recognition that the newest employee and the oldest have equal value, just as the janitor is equally as indispensable as the executive officer.
• The understanding that economic stability doesn't come from national economic policy but rather an individual's regard to their contributions within an organization.
• The wisdom that more autonomy, along with greater responsibilities, is often viewed by people as a greater reward than monetary bonuses (especially irregular ones).
• The educational support needed to excel not because an association offers training but because the training is needed and can be immediately implemented (or at least tied to where it may be needed later).
• The merit in developing a culture that appreciates all experiences somehow have meaning beyond the monotony of meeting deadlines, regurgitating policy, or ticking off to-do lists.

I am sometimes perplexed that the simplest solutions are frequently overlooked by many organizations and equally at the stalled impetus of a nation. If you want to be a better leader or understand why Martin Luther King, Jr. had the wherewithal to appeal to a broad base of people, I suggest looking at how he listened not to their wants or needs but to their underlying desire to better themselves now while leaving a greater legacy to their children than they themselves inherited.

Can you do that for yourself? Your organization? Your country? If you can, then you may be moving in the direction of being a great leader, not someone who simply delivers the countable objective but someone that fulfills the less tangible outcomes that create a corporate or even national culture of excellence.

In observance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Good night and good luck.

Friday, January 13

Being Temporal: Communication Trend For 2012

If there is one trend to watch that consumers want and candidates, consumers, and companies do not, it can be found in the art of being temporal. It may be the biggest communication shift this year. And I'm not convinced everyone is going to survive it.

Last year, I sat through many meetings listening to voices of dissent at the very mention of the idea. Most people want to stand up on a singular specific statement and ride it for as long as it will carry them (or try to operate with no message at all). In most cases, it can be the biggest mistake that can be made or just as big of a mistake as not having any message.

Don't misunderstand me. I've been a proponent of well-defined messages for some time. Within the confines of a single advertisement or blog post or television spot, one point sticks better than 20, especially if everyone talking about you has a different or conflicting story.

The average person consumes an entire novel worth of content every day. So we can't expect people to remember every detail. In fact, the more details they are exposed to, the more likely they are going to remember the least preferred message. And if there are any contradictions, they will be remembered.

Messages that are too rigid don't hold up either. In communication and especially politics, singular messages make people look scripted, inflexible, and disingenuous. The same holds true for companies. There were dozens of companies that said the same thing over and over last year, and the only message that stuck was they weren't to be trusted or, worse, they were complete idiots.

The Art Of Temporal Communication.

Temporal communication could be defined as the art of crafting ever-present value-based messages that are reinforced by clusters of as-needed supporting messages, which allow for flexible communication in a variety of circumstances and demonstrate a contrast between them and their competitors.

Or, in using the illustration above, (a.) an overarching, ever-present value-based message with temporary circumstance-specific (b.) messages and actions that reinforce (a.). Some companies already do it. And they do it well.

• Apple is an example, with innovation being its overarching message. Everything — its products, services, storefronts, customer service, delivery systems — reinforces innovation. You don't have to be an Apple fan to agree that it often leads the charge toward innovation.

• Zappos is an example, with personalized customer care being its overarching message. Everything — product choices, shopping cart, customer service, delivery policies — reinforces customer care. Even if you have never ordered a single product from Zappos, you might have heard about a mountain of great experiences.

• Dreamworks is an example, with free-spirited creativity being its overarching message. Everything — its movies, creative process, employee perks (like on-campus art classes) — reinforces free-spirited creativity. Even if some movies are better than others, the brand Dreamworks conjures up fun.

None of these messages limit employee communication nor do they require memorized definitions. On the contrary, it empowers communication by delivering the overarching message wherever and whenever possible to customers and non-customers alike, and in as many ways as possible. These companies do it so well, their messages are the primary contrast point between them and everybody else.

The Oversimplified Example Of Temporal Communication.

When people decide to go on a diet, they often tell people they are on a diet or dieting. The statement conveys a very narrow message. The message might even be accurate, but it isn't really a good one.

Besides reinforcing a negative stereotype (being overweight) and concentrating on scarcity (giving something up), dieting places the dieter in one compromising position after another.

If someone bakes homemade cookies, the dieter is forced to break their diet or reinforce that they are too overweight to make an excpetion. If someone doesn't gradually lose weight, they see it as a failure (and sometimes other people). If they do start to gradually lose weight, it's not uncommon for other people to derail them by telling them that they no longer need to diet.

What if they had a different message? What if they decided to be health conscious or fitness focused instead? What if that was their overarching core message instead of being on a diet?

A health conscious or fitness-focused person can more freely adapt to a rapidly changing environment. They can eat one cookie. No one is going to argue for them to stop. They aren't going to over do it. And it doesn't even matter what their temporary weight might be. As long as they are doing, they are succeeding.

It also opens up new messages that reinforce the primary message. For example, if someone says they are on a diet, only not eating proves it. If someone says they are health conscious, any number of actions or messages can reinforce that message: hygiene, exercise, food choices, etc.

Did you see so-and-so today? They ran a mile. Did you see so-and-so today? They ate an apple. Did you see so-and-so today? They're looking great! Well, of course. They're always health conscious.

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