Wednesday, March 12

The Future Of The Everywherenet, Part 1

When people consider the convergence of social media and technology, they often make the assumption that formats and devices drive the future of the Internet. It's an easy mistake to make, given the abundance of evidence that can be snapped up with a few careless search terms.

It takes almost no time to find out how social media has become increasingly visual and video-reliant and wearable technology that quantifies the self. But then there is the problem with search engines. Google leads the world in self-affirming research. You will only ever find what you look for.

What you might not find is that we are at the end of the device era as we know it and moving toward one where the Internet becomes a system ordinary as electricity. Just like few people will think about the power grid when they plug in to get an electrical fix, no one will think about accessing the Internet.

The Internet will be everywhere. Just state your command. 

The Internet will operate much like that, but voice won't be the only option and wearable gadgets will give way to function-specific augmented reality tools and rooms or surfaces prewired to be an interface. Gestures, keyboards (virtual or physical), and other function-specific interfaces will all be options, making some of the wearable marvels today look like the digital watches of the last century.

In other words, it seems relatively unlikely that smart watches will be accessories to smart phones in the future and much more likely that portable processors that might look like watches will become the hard drive to any surface when you're away from a hard drive optional environment. The result will provide augmented reality, like the Skully Helmet, as the real driver of almost anything.


While the helmet makes sense for motorcyclists, windshields will be the next interface for cars and trucks. Desks, tables, walls, closet doors and windows all have the potential to become whatever interface we want when we want it. But even those kinds of surfaces stop short of potential.

Can you imagine ski goggles that provide topographical detail of the terrain? How about surf goggles that not only help you size up a wave, but also let you know which wave to catch? Or maybe they don't have to be glasses at all. Perhaps a hammer can assist in hitting a nail straight or a duster can pinpoint which areas of your house were missed the week before.

The point is that anything becomes possible when you leap ahead even one notch. And for as much time and thought is being given to the tools we have now, most of it will feel obsolete within the next three or five years, a drop in the bucket when you consider how quickly everything has evolved.


Even more striking than predictions delivered by Walter Cronkite in 1967 as cutting edge is how technology has leapt ahead ten times further than he could have even imagined — with entire industries being built and collapsing along the way. In that same amount of time, we said hello and goodbye to tapes, compact discs, and Walkmen, to name a few. And we'll absolutely do the same going forward.

The point ought to be pretty clear for strategic communicators and public relations professionals alike. Communication and marketing plans need to simultaneously be grounded in the present while preparing for the future. And if you are interested in being ahead of the curve in the next decade, then you might have to consider what this future will look like — a mixed medium accessible without limitations or limited to whatever function-speficic parameters we choose.

All the social media and marketing tactics you know today will change.

How will companies communicate in such a self-selected environment? Chances are that the companies who will win will be those that move away from the self-affirmation models of the present and more toward an open environment of comparisons and contrasts that help people understand the consequences of their decisions. Ergo, instead of quantifying ourselves with devices, we'll quantify the grocery store to help us balance whatever diet our doctor has prescribed and we accepted.

But then again, this assumes we're moving toward a Star Trek-like utopia and not a brave new dystopia. So perhaps it might be prudent to peer into a few shadows too in part two. But in the interim, I would love to know what you think. What do you see as inevitable change in the decade ahead?

Wednesday, March 5

The Influence Of Nobody Strikes Again. Who's Next?

Diana Mekota is a "nobody." Well, I don't think so but apparently Kelly Blazek did. She would know. Blazek operated a successful LinkedIn jobs board. She published a newsletter with about 7,300 subscribers. She was often asked to speak about resumes and LinkedIn profiles. She won the 2013 Communicator of the Year award from the Cleveland chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).

And Mekota? She was a Northwest Ohio native who was in the process of moving back to the area who attempted to join Blazek's job board and followed it up with LinkedIn invite. The response she received in return aimed to shatter her.

"Your invite to connect is inappropriate, beneficial to only you, and tacky. ... You're welcome for your humility lesson for the year, " she wrote. "Don't ever write me again."

Mekota didn't write her again. She decided to share her lesson instead, saving hundreds of other "entitled" members of her generation instead. And in doing so, the story of a "nobody" went viral.

As Buzzfeed, Reddit, and other viral hotspots picked it up, the story grew in size and scope until eventually landing on major media outlets like CNN. As the story gained more attention, dozens of people came forward to share similar experiences. Meanwhile others recognized her frustration.

The publicity and public push back was so severe that Blazek shut down her job board. She later returned her Communicator of the Year award. The Cleveland chapter of IABC reported it was "mutually agreed." Some people are wondering whether she will even be able to rebuild her career despite her apology. Others wonder if she wants to, given she has erased most of her online presence.

The Blazek story is a symptom of a bigger problem. Sociopathic media.

Call it inflated influence. Call it cyber bullying. Call it sociopathic media. Call it whatever you want but know there is plenty of it. Professionals who would otherwise help others in person become convinced that they are superior to those they see as outside their circles online. And why not?

This is the message many communicators are advising professionals and businesses to carry forward. I've met many social pros who profess that responses be limited based upon online influence, social scores, and other such nonsense. Most of them have favorites: subscription rates, page views, retweets, followers, friends, comments, or any number that currently favors them is the one to watch.

Never mind the truth. This year's favored measurement tool will be deemed irrelevant tomorrow. Most people who make this year's "must follow list" will be unseated by others next year. And as I've told various classes for better than a decade, today's inexperienced intern is tomorrow's client.

Blazek forgot all that. Many people do. Sooner or later almost everyone is tempted to chase one metric or another because they see it as some elusive but reachable objective. And for some who are bold enough to reach it, they will eventually discover that there is considerably more air at the summit than they could have ever predicted during the climb. Most is hot.

Social media is overdue for a makeover. Expect more stories ahead.

This is what happened to Blazek. As a side effect to own sense of success, she became afflicted with her own sense of self-induced entitlement. She was a "have." Mekota, quite clearly, was a "have not."

If you really want to serve yourself or your organization online, there are three things to remember. 1. Stop paying attention to "influencers" and start paying attention to the "nobodies" who are primed to depose them, for better or worse. 2. Online influence has a propensity to evaporate at a rate one hundred times faster than it takes to acquire it, which makes its value much more diluted than anyone likes to admit. 3. Some of the loudest voices chastising Blazek for her ill-advised email do the same thing, albeit more subtly and sometimes publicly, day in and day out. Good night and good luck.

Wednesday, February 26

You Have To Be In It To Win It.

As surprising at it will seem to many graphic designers, most communication professionals are unfamiliar with Sean Adams. They don't know he is a partner at AdamsMorioka in Beverly Hills.

They don't know he has been recognized by every major design competition and publication, ranging from Communication Arts to Graphis. They don't know he has had a solo exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art or that he teaches at the Art Center College of Design. And they don't know that he is president ex officio and past national board member of AIGA, assuming they have ever heard of AIGA.

They do, however, know some of AdamsMorioka clients. They include the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Adobe, Gap, Frank Gehry Partners, Nickelodeon, Sundance, Target, USC, and The Walt Disney Company to name a few. And on any given day, his work influences people not only in his profession, but also in the products, services, and experiences they choose to purchase.

So why don't more people know him or follow him on Twitter? 

The reason is three-fold. First, the greater field of marketing and communication is so expansive and siloed that it is not uncommon for leaders inside different niches to never meet or even know of each other. Second, the number of people you 'know' isn't nearly as important as which ones. And third, this prevailing notion that social media is an indicator of influence is a lie.

There are much better ways leave a sustainable impact in a profession and blaze a trail that some people will undoubtedly recognize as a legacy that will inspire others. Adams has done that. And after hearing him speak a few weeks ago at a Mohawk Paper - AIGA Las Vegas sponsored event, it's exceptionally clear that he will continue to do so.

The wealth of information he shared about his career path, design philosophy, and business approach  was only matched by his ability to connect with the audience. It's also the mark of a good teacher.

It's also the mark of a professional who understood early on that in order to succeed in your career — particularly if it is anywhere close to marketing and communication (social media, public relations, design, etc.) — you have to be in it to win it. For Adams, that meant immersing himself in his profession as a leader in organizations like AIGA and at colleges like Art Center College of Design.

It was through those organizations that Adams was able to immerse himself in his profession to learn, lead, and influence design. It's very similar to what I encourage students to do every year too.

The three most important sectors in which to become involved.

Years ago, I used to suggest that students, interns, and employees become involved in at least one professional and one civic organization. But at minimum, I no longer believe two is really enough to remain competitive. Three is a better number because many answers can be found outside the field.

1. Profession. Becoming involved in the profession is the easiest way to remain immersed in the profession. And there is no shortage of professional organizations in the field of marketing and communication, ranging from the American Marketing Association and American Advertising Federation to the International Association of Business Communicators and Public Relations Society of America. AIGA, by the way, is one of the oldest. It's celebrating 100 years this year.

Joining any one or two of these organizations (or related niche organizations) provides an opportunity to develop a professional network, discuss trends, and sometimes forecast changes to come. Don't stop at becoming a member. Become immersed by serving as a volunteer.

2. Industry. Since communication doesn't happen in a vacuum, it's also important to join an organization that isn't related to your profession but is related to your field. While many students seemed surprised to learn that some of their future peers join communication-related organizations but not organizations within their own industry, people in the field sometimes forget.

If you are working in communication for a bank, it's important to become involved in finance-related associations. The same holds true for emergency medical, hospitality, technology, or whatever. And for those that work at an agency or firm? They ought to survey a cross section of their clients and become involved in whichever industries seem prevalent.

3. Community. Last but not least, professionals who excel tend to give back to the communities where they live, work, and play. This almost always includes becoming involved with at least one nonprofit organization or civic agency that benefits their community. It's especially worthwhile for communication professionals too. There is no shortage of nonprofits that could use the help.

To be clear, any commitment ought to be in addition to the corporate philanthropy encouraged by the company. It's one thing to volunteer your time and talent to your office place, but quite another to make a personal commitment to an organization regardless of where you work. Pick something important to you and make a difference.

Good companies support professional and community involvement.

Every now and again, I meet people who tell me that their employers won't support it. If you find that to be the case, then you might be working for the wrong company. Savvy organizations know that the best professionals tend to be those who are involved and not isolated. Flex time is not negotiable.

By becoming involved in at least one organization in each sector, you will find out very quickly that influence isn't built by online scoring systems as much as the relationships you make offline first. Or, as Sean Adams said during his speech a few weeks ago: You have to be in it to win it.

Wednesday, February 19

Why Drop 'Communication' From The Crisis Communication Plan?

As the Chevron pizza remediation story continues to capture more headlines on CNNForbes, and Newsweek, there are plenty of public relations practitioners anxious to turn the tragedy into a worst case practice. Indeed, offering coupons for free pizza and soda is so dismal it almost defies belief.

Even so, it extraordinarily difficult to turn the living case study into a real life lesson plan when there is another lesson for anyone who believes crisis communication is a core component of public relations. What is the real lesson behind the Chevron pizza coupon debacle being reported by the news?

Don't be content with only the crisis communication plan. Write the crisis plan. 

Before we consider the significance of this lesson, let's recap some of the events as they happened. It mostly played out over eight days.

February 11. A fire was reported at one of the Chevron fracking wells in Green County, Pa. One employee was injured and another was unaccounted for. Employees immediately responded to the fire and called in assistance from Wild Well Control. They also opened a hotline for neighbors to contact.

By 10:50 p.m., the company was able to report details leading up to the incident, clarified that the missing employee was a contractor, and the company continued to issue assurances that appropriate measures were taken.

February 12-14. As the severity of the fire escalated, the company began to monitor the air, surface waters, and noise in the area for impact while stressing that there was no evidence of an increased safety risk beyond the immediate fire. Chevron also provided a generalized update that recognized the impact the incident has had on the local community. The worker was still unaccounted for. 

February 16. The two wells stopped burning, but the company reported it was premature to speculate what caused the flames to go out. (It is likely that the fuel source ran out before the wells could be capped.) At the same time, area residents received hand-delivered letters from the company, which included coupons for one free pizza and one two-liter drink. One worker is still missing. 

February 17-19. As headlines appeared about the pizza coupon given to approximately 100 residents, Chevron continued to provide updates and communicate with local residents. Late in the day on Feb. 19, investigators found evidence of human remains near the location. The company relinquished questions regarding the remains to local law enforcement. 

While most media outlets are focused on the remediation offer of a pizza coupon that Chevron later called a token of resident appreciation for their patience, the real error isn't in allowing community outreach to mitigate neighbor concerns, but either a flawed crisis plan, lack of empathy, or insufficient incident command oversight. Regardless of which proves to be true, it opens an invaluable lesson. 

Communication is a small part of a modern crisis plan. Get used to it.

While I have always been supportive (if not insistent) that organizations develop crisis communication plans, it is also true that most crisis communication plans are only as good as the communication plan they support. The reason this is true is because any crisis communication is only a very small part of any much larger crisis plan. 

To be clear, while the size and scope may vary depending on the incident, most crisis plans include for incident command and four sections: operations, planning, logistics, and finance. Communication, specifically public information officers, generally support incident command (along with safety and liaison officers). If there is a breakdown in any section, communication will likely be a casualty. 

Four years ago in the wake of the Gulf Coast oil spill, I suggested that public relations and crisis communication step up their skill sets by learning the four tenets of disaster planning. Although all four are still important, incident command procedures have evolved and public relations professionals and crisis communicators ought to have updated their skill sets along the way. 

In other words, not only should an incident public information officer understand the crisis communication plan, but they also need to understand every aspect of the crisis plan and be prepared to report on the progress being made by each section based on input from the incident commander. Even better than knowing the crisis plan, crisis communicators ought to ask to get involved in writing it.

If Chevron had done so in this case, it's much more likely that it would have not been preemptive in their offer of pizza remediation. And even if community outreach wanted to be preemptive, incident command or someone from another section might have advised against letting them eat pie (even if a few hardened neighbors said they planned to enjoy a slice). What do you think?

Wednesday, February 12

Social Change Starts Long Before The Message.

One of the biggest promises made by social media is that it can affect social change. There is some truth to the idea. I've developed social change projects, online and offline, on more than one occasion.

People really can change the world, but it's almost never the way marketers or social media pros think. It takes significantly more effort than a single disruptive advertising campaign. It requires a bigger outcome than asking people to sign a petition. It deserves more than a single direct outcome.

All those things help, sure. But real social change happens at a deeper level. 

There is growing evidence to suggest that the foundation for social change — the decision to share a campaign, sign on with support, or take sustainable action — is made long before any marketer sits down to write a message. According to a new study by Walden University, if social change engagement is modeled to and started at a young age, it will lead to more involvement as adults.

The concept isn't new. While working with AmeriCorps, we placed significant value on engaging a legacy of service, which was defined as a lifetime commitment to volunteerism and philanthropic service that is passed down from one generation to the next. Not all social change is accidental.

The study from Walden University provides some proof of concept. People largely agree.

• 80 percent of social change agents say they have done something to engage in positive social change because they want to set an example for their children.

• 75 percent of adults who attended college or a university say they participated in social change activities while they were students at the college or university.

• 73 percent of social change agents say they engage in positive social change because it is how their parents and family raised them to be.

• 73 percent of adults consider education to be one of the most important positive social change topics today, citing awareness and knowledge as the biggest barrier to participation.

• 70 percent of adults who attended high school or secondary school participated in positive social change activities or volunteered while they were students in high school or secondary school.

There are six prevailing types of change agents. Each one has unique needs.

The survey responses tell part of a developing story. Social change happens early, often, and with the intent of establishing a legacy. In effect, the decision to support a social change effort is largely based upon how early, how often, and who or what inspired the initial engagement. And, according to the study, these factors produce six different kinds of social change agents to identify, reach, and engage.

Change Makers. People who commit their lives to positive social change and may be involved in many different causes. They believe strongly in their ability to make a real difference in their communities, feel happy as a result of their involvement, and prefer to be directly involved. 

Faith Givers. Faith inspires their desire to support positive social change and feel there is a moral obligation to affect the community. They consider giving back to their communities an important part of their faith, do so to set an example for their children, and prefer making contributions in person.

Conscious Consumers. These individuals demonstrate social change though behavior, such as seeking out products and services from companies perceived as behaving responsibly toward people and the environment. They promote social change by example, are proponents of social justice (anti-discrimination, civil rights), and are generally supportive of the environment. 

Purposeful Participants. These are people who are more pragmatic about social change because they see it as a means to support their own educational or career goals. As such, they are more likely to be motivated by recognition, clearly defined objectives, and specific commitments. They are also more likely to take on higher levels of personal sacrifice and risk in pursuing social change. 

Casual Contributors. This group is the least likely to adopt a lifelong commitment to positive social change but more likely to become involved in a specific community need over the short term. They see social change as important but tend to take action as one-time responders to protect or provide assistance to their community.

Change Spectators. These individuals have been involved in social change at some point in their lives but may not be active now. They are not motivated by a personal commitment to social change, do not recognize their contributions as impactful, and are more likely to support a friend in favor of social change than be motivated by change.

What this means to organizations that develop campaigns to support social change.

We found that the study has two primary takeaways for organizations and agencies. The first reinforces a need to invest in the development of legacy change agents — elementary school students who will become active in social change by the time they enter high school or secondary school as well as their parents who are more likely to lead by example during this stage of development.

The second takeaway is as challenging as it is important. It requires the communication plan to consider how different levels of interaction or touch points could better align with each change agent type and thereby maximize their level of support.

For example, while short-term need-based communication can shore up support from casual contributors (provided the ask isn't too frequent), change makers are more likely to need frequent opportunities to provide continual support. If you leave them idle too long, they will start looking to change the world with a different organization.

The net benefits are twofold. The latter ensures you reach more than one-sixth of your potential supporters while the former is a long-term investment that has some immediate benefits along with dividends that pay off in as a little as four years. Specifically, it costs significantly less to engage someone familiar with a need than it does to convince them that a change is needed.

As a side note, Walden University has attached a quiz to the study. The intent is to help define which of the six categories you are most likely to fit. I found the test to be a bit wonky, mostly because of one shortfall. Some people might fit in more than one of the categories identified.

Wednesday, February 5

Why Did Some Super Bowl Ads Swim While Others Sank?

USA Today released the results of its Ad Meter, an industry tool designed to capture public opinion surrounding Super Bowl ads. Nowadays, the popularity measurement is cited most often as an indicator of which advertisements won and which lost on their $4 million bid for attention.

What's missing from previous years is a foil that some serious marketers once appreciated. For a few years, HCD Research attempted to provide deeper insight into what makes advertisements work by measuring creativity, emotion, memorability, and involvement.

The Ad Meter really doesn't have depth in its methodology, but it still provides a baseline. In previous years, the top five effective advertisements were generally among the top 25 percent in popularity.

Top Five Super Bowl Ads for 2014 

1. Budweiser "Puppy Love," score 8.29 | 42 million YouTube views
2. Doritos "Cowboy Kid," score 7.58 | 1.5 million YouTube views
3. Budweiser "Hero's Welcome," score 7.21 | 750,000 YouTube views
4. Doritos "Time Machine," score 7.13 | 2.2 million YouTube views
5. Radio Shack – "Phone Call," score 7.00 | 1.2 million YouTube views

Alongside the USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter, Budweiser "Puppy Love" also won most TiVo commercial replays and social media scores kept by the Super Bowl Digital Index at ListenFirst. And Puppy Love wasn't the only big win by Budweiser. "A Hero's Welcome: Full Story" contributed to some 44.3 million views on its YouTube channel (as of Feb. 3). It also ranked high among the best commercials according to Entertainment Weekly's Popwatch list that put "Phone Call" on top.

Rounding out the top ten are "Sixth Sense" by Hyundai, "Gracie"  by General Mills, "Empowering" by Microsoft, "Going All The Way" by Coca-Cola, and "Soundcheck" by Pepsi. Conversely, Dreamworks, GoDaddy, Sprint, Subway, and Bud Light rounded out the bottom.

Writing Effective Television Commercials

So where did some advertisers go right and some go wrong? The biggest winner of the evening across almost any measure was "Puppy Love" by Budweiser. It easily won in emotion, memorability, and share-ability. The only area where it really doesn't win is in creativity, but only because the commercial is a rewrite of a familiar storyline for Budweiser. It frequently taps animal friendship stories.

In fact, it was a friendship between a bull and a horse growing up that helped Budweiser capture the top spot in 2010. "Bull" is arguably the better of the two, despite also being a borrowed and recast idea.

Even so, the formula for Budweiser has been working all these years for a reason. When you dig deeper and compare the top ten commercials to each other, there are some apparent consistencies.

1. Emotive. As with all top advertisements, the best of them have positive messages that attempt to make an emotional connection, with the exception of Pepsi. The lowest rated commercials do not make the connection or, in some cases, like Chevy's ill-advised "Romance" commercial about studding bulls, are very negative.

2. Authenticity. All of the top advertisements are true to their brands, especially Radio Shack (which only gave up points to anyone who doesn't know the 80s). The bottom commercials tried to be bigger than the brand, setting viewers up with big stories or big celebrities before weak payoffs.

3. Connectivity. Almost all of the top ads work hard to make a connection between the public and their product. They pull you into a story, relationship, and place they take up in your life (like Gracie by General Mills). The bottom ads aim for push messages before screaming "look at me."

4. Creativity. Every year someone tries to convince me that creative is the key to great advertisements. While creativity is important, it seldom comes in the form of special effects or celebrating itself. The one exception this year is "Soundcheck" by Pepsi (simply because it is so well done). Lower down on the list are those commercials that the authors smugly claim are clever like GoDaddy.

5. Youthful Promise. Where nostalgia once attracted significant attention because Americans were longing for what they knew just a few years prior, smart advertisers replaced the recipe with the promise of youth. Some people will claim that "kids" made the commercials work, but there is something deeper at work here. Americans aren't necessarily growing up as much as they are growing out of some hard years.

All in all, what worked this year isn't all that different from what worked four years ago. The differences are present, but subtle. And, in fact, it is in this subtlety that you can find the real genius of advertising — making minute-to-minute changes in direction to keep pace with public sentiment.

At $4 million per commercial, you would think such in-depth understanding of the public would be mandatory. It's not. The vast majority of Super Bowl commercials this year were too concerned with social share-ability and safety to be truly effective. Of them all, Cheerios took the biggest risk.

Some might say Coca-Cola deserves such honors for singing America The Beautiful in Spanish, Tagalog and Hebrew. I disagree, only because Coca-Cola seems to be trying to create controversy with the English-only crowd whereas Cheerios was making a play for our hearts. There's a difference.

Great advertising is a tricky business. And while Americans weren't treated to the best Super Bowl commercials this year (or the best Super Bowl), there were several that showed hints of greatness — good enough that you might learn something about communication anyway. What do you think?

Wednesday, January 29

Writing Is A Process That Starts Long Before The First Word.

Three minutes. That is the average amount of time a student will invest in research before they start writing a paper. Professionals aren't much better. Many follow the familiar guidelines that they learned in school, writing short essays, journal entries, or field notes.

It almost makes sense, but only because 60 percent of all student assignments consist of short essays, journal entries, or field notes. Unless they take specialized classes like copywriting, journalism or creative writing, they aren't exposed to the variety of communication mediums at their disposal.

That is, they aren't exposed to them until they need them — anything and everything from technical manuals and blog content to speeches and mixed media presentations. And more than that, they need to invest significantly more time into research, especially if they think they know the subject.

How much more time? While different sources will provide different guidelines, I usually provide students with the guideline of up to 40 percent of the total estimated project time of two hours per written page. It sounds like a ton of time, but it's really not when you stop and think about it.

Epictetus said it best: First learn the meaning of what you say, and then speak. That requires considerable more thought than simply searching for sources of affirmation. Epictetus, by the way, was a Greek sage and Stoic philosopher whose work still influences people today.

Writing is a process that requires more than one discipline. 

When students and professionals treat writing as a process, it helps curb the notion that corners can be cut or that it is ever complete until the authors agree that a final proof will be the final proof. At least that is the way it ought to be. In a world where 98 percent of all employers now rank written and verbal communication skills as highly desirable attributes in employees (higher than a positive attitude or being a team player), everyone ought to take more care about the craft at hand.

The deck helps break out the nut and bolts of writing into six different disciplines: research, form, writing, editing, proofreading, and presentation. It was created for a private session presentation designed to help bring professionals up to speed on the importance and execution of good writing.


If I were asked to boil the presentation down into a single line, I might say that great writing requires great thinking because thinking is behind each discipline. You have to ask the right questions.

1. Research. What do you need to know, who do you need to ask, and where should you invest your research time?

2. Form. What organizational structure will best present the material and how will the chosen medium limit or expand your options?

3. Writing. How will the content connect to the people we want to reach and what is required to have a maximum impact with minimal means?

4. Editing. What is missing from the first draft in terms of organization, evidence, and ensuring that the people who read our message might understand us?

5. Proofreading. Did we make sure to include all the elements of modern writing to ensure that we've clearly communicated something?

6. Presentation. And last but not least, does the content we've crafted look appealing to the eye, making it easier to digest and remember?

When you consider everything that may go into communication, there isn't any end to what you might consider to make it more powerful or impactful. And sometimes it might even remind you that despite the acceleration of communication — the speed of delivery and quantity that is produced — one single piece of quality writing can be the most potent and influential thing on the planet.

In about two weeks, Writing For Public Relations will begin at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. This 10-week course covers much of what is included in the private session presentation deck above, except we will look at it all through the lens of a public relations practitioner, applying it to anything and everything from the news release to the crisis communication plan. But even if you cannot attend, I hope you will find the deck above will make you think first before writing.

Wednesday, January 22

Why Is Marketing Still Wrong About Social Sharing?

Talk to most people in social media, content marketing, or public relations and almost all of them agree that sharing is what makes social media tick. How often something is shared speaks to the relevance of the topic, quality of the content, and influence of the person creating or curating it.

For evidence, look no further than search engines and social networks themselves. They have made this measurement mission critical. Search engines look at shareability, authorship, and freshness. Social networks validate influencer rank and reach to quantify importance. Some news outlets now pay journalists bonuses if they bring in more impressions per article than their colleagues.

Even Facebook recently announced that trending will become an all-important means of measurement. Brands will get more exposure if their content is featured as a top story. To do it, all they have to do is create or curate popular content that gets more shares, clicks, and comments.

Why?

By placing an overemphasis on sharing as a measurement, search and social platforms create competition among content creators and curators that can only be won by investing in more time, better connections, more content, paid content, and potentially popular content. At the same time, search engines and social networks thrive because this draws attention and people to the platform, which makes it more valuable to content creators and curators. If you sense a vicious cycle, it is.

And yet, people who participate on social networks use a completely different set of criteria than marketers and content creators. There is a different psychology to sharing among consumers.

Five primary drivers behind the psychology of sharing.

The majority of shares can be attributed to five primary motivations. People share content to be valuable or entertaining to others (self-esteem), define themselves as human beings (identity), grow and nurture relationships (reciprocity), to get the word out about content and brands (persuasiveness), and to complete there own sense of self-fulfillment (affirmation). Let's take a closer look.

1. Self-Esteem. There are dozens of studies that link volunteerism and self-esteem primarily because helping others makes people happy. One special report put out by Harvard Health Publications even revealed that the more people volunteer, the happier they become.

While some advocates might argue that social sharing and volunteering are vastly different (and they are right in terms of tangible outcomes), our brains disagree. Knowing that an article we share helped someone or the joke we tell gives someone else a laugh produces the same positive mental impact as donating hard time and dollars (sometimes more).

2. Identity. Marketers aren't the only ones who want to establish their identity online or online identity. It's human nature to project oneself into written and visual communication (hopefully with authenticity). And most social platforms are designed with tools and categories to help people do it.

To do it, we tend to highlight aspects of who we are by sharing likes and interests (and commenting on the likes and interests of others) that reinforce whatever identity we want to project. Interestingly enough, this was especially important among early adopters in social media because it gave them an opportunity to establish their identity based on their passion and ideas over experience and expertise.

3. Reciprocity. The concept of reciprocity goes hand in hand with the connectivity social platforms provide. Just as people develop friendships based on proximity (location) and intellectually/emotionally (shared interests), they create similar connections online and then share content to reaffirm their connections.

As long as the desire to demonstrate reciprocity doesn't conflict with an established identity, sharing not only demonstrates an interest in what we share, but also supports the ideas, beliefs, and interests of  friends, groups, or networks. It demonstrates that we belong based upon similar reactions to the same content. And sometimes, people share just to support to the content creator or curator.

4. Persuasiveness. Although most people self-select their connections online, it is still very unlikely (and perhaps impossible) that all friends and associates will unconditionally agree with and support every idea, interest, and position. And yet, people are all hardwired to find more similarities.

When it doesn't occur naturally, people turn to persuasion. Even when we don't recognize it, people have a tendency to share things not because it helps others but because they know it will help others — content from self-selected sources (or other connections who already agree). Ergo, persuasion not only demonstrates our affinity to something, but also solicits others within our network to agree.

5. Affirmation. One of the most interesting aspects about social networks is the degree to which different networks satisfy ego needs through self-affirmation. In other words, people are not only content with trying to help others, establishing identity, making connections, and occasionally persuading people to their way of thinking, but they also need affirmation that whatever they did, said, or shared was worthy.

This is why almost all social networks provide self-affirmation actions supplied as likes, favorites, comments, shares, retweets, and other indicators that marketers covet. But unlike marketers, people aren't necessarily counting conversions. They're content in knowing someone will affirm their share.

How does this reconcile with with your organization's marketing efforts?

When marketers, content creators, and social media professionals develop a content strategy, they often obsess over organizational messages and some sort of conversion metric. But when you compare their strategies to the psychology of sharing, they come up short. Why?

If you want people to share content, you need to develop content that allows them to help or entertain others, reinforce their identity, or provide a persuasive argument (assuming they agree with you) to reinforce what they already believe or reaffirm their belongingness to a group that believes it. And then? Be prepared to provide reciprocal support and affirmation in return.

If this doesn't sound like a sound strategy for your organization, you are probably right. The model that social networks have devised for marketers to compete in is different than the model consumers participate in on a daily basis. You see, consumers aren't just looking for content that is worth sharing. They share content that contributes to their self-worth. How does that change your strategy?

Wednesday, January 15

Your Writing Is Almost Never As Good As You Think.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), slightly more than one quarter of all students, grades 8 and 12, are proficient writers. The majority achieve a basic level.

Basic almost sounds acceptable until you read the definition. It is considered partial mastery and allows for spelling, grammar, usage, capitalization, and punctuation errors even if these mistakes impede the meaning of the work. Consider it poor writing, passible if the reader makes an effort.

The NAEP also asked students if writing was one of their favorite subjects. About half of the students agreed, likely believing they are proficient writers. As many university professors can attest, the average student is more confident in their ability to write than their assignments indicate. It's a false confidence that many will take with them into adulthood.

Many people think they are good writers, and some people really are good. But most aren't good writers as much as they are "better" writers. Better than what? Better than those who write poorly. How can you tell if you are a good writer? Start by asking yourself some honest questions.

Ten questions that will help you assess your writing for improvement.

1. Do you use a thesaurus to find to avoid word duplication? If you do, stop it. The only reason to use a thesaurus is to find a more accurate word. All too often, writers who lean too heavily on their thesaurus create new problems with improper substitutions. A synonym is similar and not the same.

2. Do you pay attention to where words land in relation to others? Good. Misplaced modifiers cause more writing errors than almost any other style and usage error. (e.g., While driving down the street, a tree began to fall toward the car.) Read every sentence as if it stands alone to improve it.

3. Do you understand the difference between affect and effect? Affect and effect are two of several dozen words that people misuse and confuse. There are dozens of others: who and whom, immigrant and emigrant, jibe and jive, adverse and averse, etc. If you don't know the difference, know when to look them up.

4. Do you punch up words to make your writing more exciting? I hope not. While some marketers like to drop in words like "stunning," "exciting," or "best ever," unsubstantiated superlatives are equally likely to drive customers away. Worse, too much hype can ensure a negative experience.

5. Do you know the difference between active and passive writing? Even good writers sometimes confuse passive writing with writing in the past tense. The difference between active writing and passive writing is whether the subject is doing something or an object is having something done to it.

6. Do you look for words that will make your writing sound smarter? I hope not. Smart writing doesn't require fancy words. It requires accuracy and economy of language. So you don't have to write "he stated" when you mean "he said." Said and says is fine almost 95 percent of the time.

7. Have you double checked your work for redundancies? The reason writing tight becomes the mantra of great writers is because they know that time is valuable. No one wants to waste it by having to circle around, briefly summarize, or repeat it again. Not even for $5 million dollars.

8. Do you assume that every writer develops their own style? They do to a degree, but that ought not be your first thought about style. Style simply means putting your content in an acceptable form. This post, for instance, is a conversational style that pays homage to the AP Style Guide. But there are many more forms than this one.

9. Are you such a great writer that you can bang out an article? While there are a few people in the profession who can do it, great writers wouldn't dream of it. They recognize that writing is a process, requiring at least three steps: writing, editing, and proofreading. All three are different.

10. Does your content lay around like a rug? The great show vs. tell debate deserves its own post. Suffice to say that writers who like tell vs. show have confused showing with being unnecessarily descriptive. It's not the same. Showing is about substantiation, accuracy and vividness. It's about knowing whether to write "angry man" or "he fumed," "luxurious sheets" or "Egyptian cotton."

How did those questions turn out for you?

If some of those questions stumped you or if you would like to brush up on your writing, I teach a half-day Editing & Proofreading Your Work session at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas every now and again. The next class is scheduled for Friday, January 24. It would be great to see you there if you can make it. It is especially good for students planning to take Writing For Public Relations in February.

If you can't make it, there are other options. I develop customized sessions, programs, and curriculum for select organizations upon request (schedule pending). Or, if you're an aspiring writer or independent professional, drop me a note and suggest a topic. I'll be happy to explore the subject in two directions.

Wednesday, January 8

Whatever Your Vision, It's Probably Right.

If there is one common thread being spun in the first few weeks of 2014, we can sum it up to stories about vision. Everybody wants it. Few people have it. Nobody really knows what it means.

Let's start there. Inc. ties it to jotting down 3-, 5-, and 10-year goals. Harvard Business Review says it is all about a core ideology and a "big, hairy, audacious" goal. Fast Company calls it a future state. It's a fair summation from those articles at least. All three magazines have published dozens of ideas.

I don't really see visions like that anymore. I've come to see it as an achievable state of being without a definitive conclusion, not just for organizations and nations but also for individuals. It's conceptual and complete, non-comparative and never confined by time (even if we need time to move toward it).

Do you know who was great visionary? Gene Roddenberry. 

He didn't settle on an individual, organization, or nation. He peered into the future to find an ideal outcome for humankind. He envisioned a future for his fiction that centered squarely on hope, achievement, and understanding so humankind could reach for, explore, and master the stars.

The vision was so comprehensive that it has an "optimism effect" on its viewers. It's a phenomenon that isn't confined to fiction either. It's the same kind of optimism that keeps the hope for a Maslow Window alive. It's also why I'm supportive of any space program, public or private. The nation that sparks the next international space race and wins will likely dictate the ideology of our future.

Regardless, the point is made. People feel good when they think about Star Trek, doubly so when they start counting up how many of those innovations came true — everything from cell phones to tractor beams. Some of these technologies might not be mainstream, but iPhone isn't even a decade old.

The optimism effect can radiate from people too, vision pending. 

This is the reason successful people are successful. They always seem to find a way and other people gravitate toward them. Even if something doesn't work out, they quickly find something else to engage in.

It comes from their ability to objectively assess where they are and then move toward a better state of being in every aspect of their life, not just a goal or a singular objective. They consider the entire life — career, finance, health, family/friends, romance/intimacy, personal growth/education/spiritual, fun/recreation, and physical environment/home/community.

Don't get me wrong. I don't subscribe to the notion that all of these need to be balanced all the time. They don't. As long as someone makes progress in each area of their life, other areas can receive more attention. It isn't until someone starts to make long-term concessions or sacrifices (or short-term cheats) that things will start to break down and even whatever dominated their life is compromised.

The same holds true for organizations. They have to consider their mission, values, and culture just as much as market share, revenue, or stock price. All too often, organizations forget themselves and set singular objectives ahead of their vision like increasing a profit margin or cutting a budget.

But what happens over the long run? Much like marketers have found deep discounts can increase conversion rates but cheapen a brand, companies can lose everything by chasing one thing. Case in point, frozen foods have suffered from a sales slump that they hope marketing can fix.

The truth is that once premium frozen food brands like Marie Callender's frozen dinners aren't as good as they used to be. ConAgra thinks it's a perception issue, but it's a quality control issue. The meals they made ten years ago are not the meals they make today. The meals they make today aren't even as good as the ones they made last year. The sales decline matches recipe cutbacks, not consumer moods.

Think of a few companies that have been shuttered. Borders shrugged off an earlier vision to embrace merchandising and so chose a mission to change people (outside of its control) instead of seeing its place within that environment (inside its control). Circuit City adopted a vision that saw its team working together but never really outlined what they were working toward. Blockbuster had a mission and vision that defended its value proposition even when it no longer had value.

Barnes & Noble has an odd mission/vision too. One wonders how long it can compete without recognizing the critical need to better integrate the physical-online-mobile landscape (among other things). I can see a vision for them, but wonder if it will see it before it is missed as a company.

Whatever your vision, it's probably right. 

If you really want to develop a successful vision for the new year, start with assessing where you are and then dream up some ideal outcomes. Develop your vision from there by shifting away from the outcomes and more toward the qualities that epitomize them because it's the verb that gets you there and not the noun.

Once you have it down, it all becomes a matter of making personal progress. Organizations and nations aren't much different either. As long as the people who make it up can agree or believe in the vision enough to take action toward it, it will be infinitely more likely to realize than if it never had one.

Wednesday, December 18

Happy Holidays And Thank You For 2013

A very dear friend of mine tends to look at the holidays and upcoming new year as an end. It's the time to say goodbye to the old and, for those unfortunate souls, another reminder that all those big dreams and plans haven't come to fruition.

"And so we cling on desperately
to fleeting routines and comforts
until they slip away. Already gone, 
long before the loss grabs hold."

— Rich Becker, 2013

But I've never really seen it this way because none of those big dreams and plans deserve to be mourned. They were gone a long time ago, assuming they ever got started.

Looking back on them with any sense of despondency would be akin to a tree reflecting on its thinnest rings with regret. But nature doesn't see it this way. While some years are more fruitful than others, we can always be grateful that there was any ring at all. And then even more grateful that every year is a blank slate, with an equal potential for harsh or heathy seasons. You get to decide how to fill it.

How to measure the potential of a new year while being grateful for the last.

The holiday card I sent out this year included an illustration of a drummer boy. It was inspired by an old print that my grandmother had shellacked to a piece of wood. I always liked it so I recast it by drawing a minimal-line freehand version before porting it into my computer for color.

The song, The Little Drummer Boy, has remarkable depth to it. It's about a boy who arrives at the manger to see the new born king much like the three wise men did. But unlike the wise men, the boy didn't have the foresight to bring a gift. So he plays his drum and it turns out to be greatest gift of all.

Faith doesn't necessitate value in the story, even if it is likely tied to Job 34:9 — It profits a man nothing when he tries to please God. While the lesson is meant to remind us that nothing makes God happier than when we use the talents He has given us, it turns out that nothing makes us happier either.

And so, as simple as it seems, that became part of my holiday greeting this year in just two words. Play on. Play on, with your talents ahead of everything else you do and next year will be your best. Merry Christmas. Happy holidays. Good night and good luck.

A quick look back at the most viewed posts here before we wrap the year. 

1. Five Things I Wish Every Advertiser, Marketer, And Pro Knew. Five lessons confined to a single post, ranging from the difference between a content strategy and marketing strategy to how it takes more than being clever to break through the clutter. My favorite is in taking the effort to be something other than a noun.

2. Five Monkey Wrenches For The Future Of Public Relations. Everyone knows that public relations is at a crossroads, but not everyone considers how they might overcome those challenges. Public relations owes itself the opportunity to thrive on its strategic merit.

3. Will Automations Steal The Soul From Social? Anyone who knows me, knows that this is one of my favorite discussion points in regard to social media. It never seems to get old because people continue to count the wrong measurements anyway.

4. Teaching People To Write Requires A Contradictory Approach. Several people have asked me to write more stories about writing. It's too early to say what next year will look like, but writing will be given a lift in priority. This one was fun because it debunks the need for too many rules for writing.

5. Changing Creative: Did Fans Dictate Days Of Our Lives. If you want to see the kind of impact social media has made on our society, take some time to read the comments. Almost 100 fans chimed in on how they felt about one of the few remaining soap operas. Marketing is seldom so exciting.

6. Big Data Will Be A Blind Spot For Marketers. Everyone keeps talking about big data, but the science of it is less important than the art. Measurement requires much more than numbers. Marketers need to invest more time in the murkier waters of behavioral science.

7. Put People Ahead Of Platforms If You Want To Succeed. There were several associates of mine who said my subhead would have made the better headline. Had I retitled the article, we would have called it: Five Areas Of Focus To Make You More People Centric.

8. Networks Drive Discussions. People Drive Networks. Long before writing about the algorithm changes taking place to Facebook right now, I was challenging my social media students to stop prioritizing social networks based on popularity because popularity is subject to change. The post includes my social media deck for 2013.

9. Bob Fass Beats Everyone In Social Media. Good Morning, 1963. If anyone accidentally influenced me this year, it would be Bob Fass. Without ever knowing it, he developed the formula for free flow social media long before the Internet made it possible and smart phones made it popular.

10. Killing Me Softly: Cancer. Perspective can be your adversary or ally. Cancer certainly ensured this was a thin ring year for me, but it would be impossible for me not to be grateful in the wake of it.

Those were the most read posts this year, a fraction of a small collection written. Thank you for reading them, sharing them, and — most importantly — finding the time to respond to them. I look forward to many more great discussions ahead. My next post here will likely be Jan. 8, 2014.

If you want to keep up weekly, subscribe here. You can also find more creative content here or here next year, along with eclectic reviews or segments about something called shadow management. Aside from those outlets, there will be a few more surprises in the new year. I hope so for you too.

Wednesday, December 11

When Does Facebook Surrender Its Social Network Status?

Facebook
When most people hear the term 'social network' nowadays, they immediately think of the brands that populate the Internet — anything and everything from Facebook to LinkedIn to Twitter. Most of them don't know that the true terminology isn't confined to digital. Such structures exist offline too.

In fact, the theoretical construct of a social network is simply based upon social entities voluntarily connecting and interacting or conducting an exchange. They are always self-organizing, and frequently create any number of complex patterns and shapes by their own volition.

It's largely what makes them so interesting to study. Even before social networks became akin to being defined by online service, different groups of people always came together in unique ways. Except this self-organizing theory might not be the case anymore, especially on places like Facebook.

Since its inception, this network has slowly evolved away from the self-organizing arena. Whereas once the network asked its members to self-organize, the network now defines social entities differently. And in doing so, the ability to interact is largely dictated by compensation or algorithm.

Why some marketers feel like they are losing out on Facebook. 

Last week, several stories broke around the headline Facebook Admits Organic Reach Is Falling Short, which talked about a new sales deck that Facebook sent to its marketing partners. The emphasis on the article was the bluntness of the company. It said marketers have to pay up.

For many in the advertising and communication industry, the article was confirmation that convincing people to like your Facebook page was not enough. Fewer and fewer people will see the content you share unless they interact and engage with it by sharing or commenting on the thread.

Simply put, a Facebook post might only reach (or be seen) by 15-35 of the 3,500 people who have liked the page. This is an amazingly paltry number in the eyes of most marketers, especially those who have already invested time and marketing dollars to attract those people in the first place.

Worse, many marketers are ready to toss their hands in the air because even if they do up the ante for greater reach among the Facebook followers they have already attracted, they will always be bought out by larger companies with bigger budgets. In short, they are going to lose. Game over.

Not everyone sees it this way. Some call it sour grapes. 

Sour Grapes
The opposite tact was taken on Kairay Media, stressing that maybe marketers were confused. In his generalized rebut, Brent Csutoras offered up that Facebook is not reducing organic content views (hat tip Amy Vernon). It seemed more likely that supply and demand is the culprit.

Csutoras is right in that the trend cited by Facebook didn't necessarily translate to the social network claiming to be the cause of the trend. People can only consume so much content. And even if they volunteer to consume more of it, Facebook is attempting to manage it with a prioritization algorithm based on its engagement values. When it doesn't, marketers get flagged as spam more often or abandon the service.

So, in essence, while everything is relative, the algorithm aims for some unknown threshold so content doesn't scroll faster than it can be seen (and even then there is no guarantee). And with this perspective in mind, it's easy enough to think of Facebook looking out for its membership.

But is Facebook really looking out for its members? Or is Facebook, like some ad-revenue based program channels, looking out for its bottom line because network content consumption works a bit like a Ponzi scheme? Since people can only consume so much, the rates will only climb higher.

Facebook is fine with that. It will be crossing the $2 billion per quarter mark soon enough. It currently has the number one mobile app in the United States. It would like to say the world.

Is Facebook a social network, marketing platform, or something else? 

This is very much what Julie Pippert warned PRSA Houston about two months before it happened. Her message was pretty clear. If you think you have a game plan for SEO and Edgerank, you don't.

Not everyone believed her, but she's right. A strategic approach to social media is adaptability over game plan. The winners are almost always those who cultivate a network as it becomes mainstream and seldom those who read the best practices about how they did it. By the time they do it, it changes.

But this isn't the extent of the change. When networks remove self-organization they cease to be social. And when you consider the most recent privacy issues that Danny Brown recently addressed, the pattern becomes clear. The lion's share of reinvestment by the network is to make it a better revenue-generating marketing platform and not necessarily a better social network.

Facebook Stock
It makes sense that it would. Facebook used to measure success by membership and usage. But nowadays, it is more likely to measure success by quarterly earnings and stock valuations. And the best way for the company to do that is by creating an environment where companies are willing to create content for the network, advertise this content outside of the network in order to populate it, and then pay to be seen by the same people they populated it with.

In return, the network will continue to chip away at privacy sensitivity, which will give marketers more insight into consumer behavior (which, ironically, companies cannot decipher anyway). And there is nothing wrong with any of it per se, but only because most people volunteer to do it. For now.

Online, people are social nomads and where they gravitate today will not necessarily be where they gravitate tomorrow. Facebook doesn't want to believe it, but they know it. While I wouldn't go so far as to say teens are abandoning Facebook, they are using the marketing-saturated snooper less.

Simply put, teens want to self-organize their social networks rather than have a company do it for them, especially one that no longer makes self-organizing a priority and never placed any value on privacy. If that's true, then social networks aren't turning into marketing platforms as much as television series. And those, as everyone knows, have a finite shelf life.

And if that's true, it would be a shame because I personally like Facebook, even when it does things that I am not fond of as a member or a marketer. How about you? What do you think?

Wednesday, December 4

Why Amazon PrimeAir Drones Transcend Publicity.

It would have cost somewhere around $3 million for a retail outlet to buy 15 minutes of airtime around CBS's "60 Minutes" on the Sunday night before Cyber Monday. But Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos secured his spot for free. He appeared to talk about the future Amazon drone delivery program.

"I know this looks like science fiction — it's not," Bezos said, words that have been echoed a million times over. The maelstrom of media attention that has followed can't be quantified. Every major and mid-level media outlet has covered the "60 Minutes" segment, many finding their own angles.

A few story spins include validity vs. publicity, regulatory updates, retail delivery disruption, practical applications, test site applications, civilian safety concerns, law enforcement issues, consumer laziness, and countless others. It also makes the case for the power of brand equity. Other companies have announced drone delivery programs, but none of them had the brand equity of Amazon.

Bezos could have said Amazon was testing miniature sleighs powered by eight tiny reindeer and piloted by chubby guys in warm winter suits and it would have been new. But a majority of pitchmen would have laughed at or even blacklisted him. When mediocre pitches come from big companies, they can still move something from the future potential pile to the future possible pile. Bezos went further.

Why the Amazon Drone Delivery System story wins attention. 

The reason the Amazon Drone Delivery System is such a success story is that it found the sweet spot between publicity and public relations. The reality is that Amazon, like many companies, is testing drone delivery programs that will one day be mainstream.

Never mind that the application will likely take longer than Bezos suggested, with some estimates putting drones off until 2020. Even then, such a program will likely be confined to rural or select suburban areas as opposed to high density urban centers. But then again, you never really know.

Technology can sometimes be fast tracked if people want it bad enough. And based on the chatter alone, people really want to see delivery drones and orders that arrive in less than 30 minutes. People want them, but not only for their ingrained predisposition for instant gratification.


Part of the Amazon drone delivery system allure is about the increasing need for Americans to regain their footing on the future. After the constant bombardment of stories best summed up as "failing empire syndrome," consumers are ready for drone deliveries because it represents an ideal.

Launching a drone delivery program would prove American business, technology and affluence are still part of the equation. It's just far out enough to feel like science fiction but just close enough to feel like science fact. And along with that, it touches our psyche to say anything is still possible.

What the Amazon Drone Delivery Program accomplished. 

In the weeks ahead, some public relations professionals and entrepreneurs will likely dismiss the story as a publicity stunt. But the Amazon drone delivery program isn't just a publicity stunt. The company is working toward shorter delivery times; which ones get off the ground or not won't matter.

The notion that Amazon succeeded in usurping attention from any other major retailer on Cyber Monday is icing on the cake. The real accomplishment is that Amazon has once again affirmed itself at the forefront of technology — playing at the same scale as Apple, Google, Nike, etc. — while nurturing publics that want Amazon and Bezos to succeed in innovating a better world.

They want companies with a penchant for big ideas. They want more people like Steve Jobs. They don't even care if companies succeed or fail on big ideas like PrimeAir (which is what the drone program is called). They want what Seth Godin might call a Purple Cow or Malcom Gladwell might call another David. They want these things because we've seen too much dismantling in a decade.

Bezos is a smart CEO because he tapped into this need and fulfilled it, even if it might be premature or a little bit fanciful. That isn't a trite publicity stunt like sitting naked on a wrecking ball. It's a strategic move to build brand equity as an innovative retailer, one that people will support.

Think about that before your company pitches a teleportation segment. PrimeAir isn't a publicity stunt, even if the story generated (and is still generating) an epic amount of publicity. PrimeAir is a well-timed real story that reinforces the strategic position of a brand that people genuinely like and how it is really doing something that could change our perception of what's possible.

When was the last time your company did that? If it has been a long time, then perhaps it would be worthwhile to explore the possibilities. Instead of worrying about the packaging of a company (like marketing and public relations tend to do), maybe it's time to think about what's inside the box.

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.
 

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