Sunday, December 30, 2012

Starbucks' "Newsjacking" Attempt Falls Off the Cliff

Starbuck's attempt to "newsjack" deficit negotiations has fallen off its own cliff.

Last week, CEO Howard Shultz asked the employees at 125 Washington, DC-area stores to scribble the phrase "Come Together" on the paper cups they hand customers. 

But employees aren't cooperating.

I asked three of them why.

"We're too busy," one said.

"We can't remember to do it," said another.

"It's pretty stupid," said the third.

Lesson learned: There's many a slip between the cup and the lip. 

If you want to newsjack successfully, first get your employees on board.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Teach Your Children

Every year, Washington, DC's public schools spend more per child than any state in the nation ($29,409, to be precise). Yet DC's students continue among the nation's poorest performers in math and reading, and only 60 percent finish high school.

We understand the reason, as  our forebears understood it a century ago, when the following appeared in Gustav Stickley's magazine The Craftsman:

"Before the home can be expected to do its share toward solving this problem of education that now besets the country and puzzles the wisest heads among us, there would have to be some change in the character of the home. But of this we do not despair. The present tendency toward trivial pursuits and artificial living is merely the reaction from the hard and burdensome drudgery of household and farm work a generation or two ago. When the burden was lifted by the introduction of machines and labor-saving devices it was only natural that the pendulum should swing in the opposite direction and that work and education alike should be delegated to the organizations of trained workers outside the home.

“But it is pretty nearly time for the pendulum to swing back, and even now we are beginning to realize that lighter burdens and added leisure mean that we now have time for real life and moral and mental growth on a broader scale than we have ever known before. When we grasp the opportunity and utilize it for the training of our children, there will be no more ground for complaint against the schools.”

You can't change the "character of the home" in DC. 
But you can help increase literacy. Donate now to DC LEARNS.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Write Once. Edit Five Times.

Concerning copy, quintessential adman David Ogilvy once told a fellow writer, "I am a lousy copywriter, but I am a good editor."

To compensate for his lack of skill, Ogilvy would edit his own work.
"After four or five editings," he said, "it looks good enough to show to the client."

Lousy copy is king on the Web, where carelessness takes a back seat to craft.

Nonsense like this is the norm:

Reach all Convention attendees who opt in to receive a Convention Program (approximately 10,000) for the APA Annual Convention, Honolulu, Hawaii, July 31-Aug. 4, 2013. As an advertiser in this highly visible vehicle, you have a unique opportunity to promote your organization’s products or services in the APA Convention Program. Seeing your ad with your booth number ensures you are on each attendee’s “map”—reinforcing your booth objectives for the show.

Had the writer cared, a single edit would have bolstered her effort:

Make sure you're on the map! Promote your exhibit by advertising in the APA Convention Program, a must-read for 10,000 attendees.

Just imagine what five edits might do.

Next time you write, take Ogilvy's advice: Edit. Edit. Edit. Edit. Edit.

PS: For more good-writing tips from David Ogilvy, check out Branding Strategy Insider.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Why Your Trigger Happiness isn't Worth Our Harm

I'm troubled when a few Americans put their personal happiness on a pedestal above all others'.

That's what many gun owners are doing.

They stand their ground on the Second Amendment. But private gun ownership is a moral question, not a Constitutional one.

A majority of Americans can change the Constitution (go see the movie Lincoln, if you have any doubt). 

No one can change what's moral.

It's moral to respect another person's life. No Constitutional right invalidates that fact.

Constitutional rights may be curtailed to protect others from harms that can arise from the exercise of those rights.

I have, for example, a Constitutional right to worship freely. But it doesn't permit me to sacrifice humans (although human sacrifice might be central to my religion).

Right now, the burden is on gun owners to prove why unfettered gun ownership isn't causing terrible harm to others.

They can't.

That's because guns cause harmby designand are in too many private hands.

Americans have a moral reason to curtail private gun ownership, just as we curtail the ownership of dynamite, hand grenades and nuclear bombs.

Sorry gun owners: your trigger happiness isn't worth our harm.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

With Web Videos, Short Trumps Long

Short Web videos are more effective than long ones, according to a new study by AOL.

The study found:
  • For brand recall, short beat long by 25 percent
  • For creating purchase intent, short beat long by 42 percent
Although viewers understand that ads are the cost of free Web content, they're adopting the same ad-avoidance habits TV watchers have (changing channels, multitasking, leaving the room, etc.).

To counteract those habits, the study says, you should produce short Web videos that include coupons, contests and links.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Ho. Ho. Ho.

Kearny's Castle is a Civil War novel.

I've been working on it for several years.

I couldn't send you a fruitcake, so here's Chapter One as a gift.

Download it now.

And have a very Merry Christmas!

Note: The work is Copyright 2012 by Robert F. James

Thursday, December 20, 2012

B2B Execs Socially Unaware

B2B executives don’t get social media, according to marketer Lenna Garibia, writing for MarketingProfs.

Citing new research by Harris Interactive, she notes:
  • 43% say they rarely or never consider the social media reputation of their firms when making key decisions
  • 67% say they could not respond to a hostile social-media post within a day, and
  • 13% say they wouldn’t bother
There’s a weird geographic difference among the execs.

Those who live in the northeast are much more likely to care about the social media reputation of their firms than those who live in the west.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Under Toad

I met Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson at a conference once.

It was 1972. The country was deep in the throes of a Presidential election.

Four months earlier, segregationist and gun-loving Alabama Governor George Wallace had lost his bid for the Presidency thanks to a would-be assassin.

I asked Dr. Thompson whether he thought Wallace might change his stance on gun control after being shot five times in the chest and stomach.

"I don't know," Thompson snarled. "But I do know this. Everyone should carry a gun. We all should carry guns. The streets would be a lot safer. America would be a better place."

Thirty-three years later, depressed and deathly ill, Hunter Thompson blew off the top of his head with a shotgun.

I don't understand the pleasure of gun ownership. I don't understand the thrill of hunting animals. But a lot of people I know and admire enjoy both those things.

As a parent, however, I understand how fear and loathing due to the loss of a child could exceed any imaginable sorrow.

In his novel The World According to Garp, John Irving famously described the brutal workings of the "Under Toad," code-words for "the forces that disrupt human life and sometimes destroy it." The life of a child, in particular.

The Under Toad visited Newtown, Connecticut, last week.

Several parents will never feel sorrow-less again.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Phenomenology of Selling

Journalist Philip Broughton has written The Art of the Sale, far and away the best book on sales I've ever read.

Good old-fashioned reporting is the reason for the book's success.

"There are more lies told about selling than any other aspect of business life," Broughton writes in the introduction. "So I went in search of some truths."

Along the way, Broughton interviews dozens of top-flight sales executivesincluding Tony Sullivan (The Smart Mop), Ted Leonsis (AOL), Jeffrey Gitomer (Little Red Book of Selling), Larry Gagosian (Gagosian Gallery), Augie Turak (MTV), Marc Benioff ( and Howard Anderson (Yankee Group)in hopes of learning what makes a great salesperson tick.

He uncovers a ton of truths and, in the end, learns that, "The traits required to sell (resilience, conviction, persistence, and likability) are not just needed in business, but in life."

Rather than a quilt of Ziglar-esque adages or some impossible-to-grasp system, The Art of the Sale offers a phenomenology of selling.

If you have to drive revenue, the picture Broughton paints will inspire.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Going Broke? Maybe Your Website's Broken.

Research firm Forrester asked 5,200 customers what they do when a Website fails them.

According to the study, Websites That Don’t Support Customers Waste Millions, they:
  • Pick up the phone. 35% call when your Website lets them down.
  • Take their business elsewhere. 17% move to a competitor. 
  • Give up. 17% abandon their purchase.
Forrester also gauged the cost of broken Websites and concluded:
  • Large e-retailers are losing $47 million in direct income every year.
  • Large e-retailers are adding $47 million to their cost of sales every year.
For 14 years, Forrester has been evaluating B2C and B2B Websites. 

It estimates that only 3% aren't broken.

To learn if yours is broken, Forrester recommends you ask. "The only way to know whether a site visit was a success is to ask the customers," the report states. 

Ask visitors three simple questions:
  • What did you come to the site to do today?
  • Were you able to accomplish that goal?
  • If not, why not?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

More on Mobile-Friendly Websites

"Is your Website changing with the mobile revolution, or is it remaining stagnant?" asks online marketer Sarah Tharp, writing for Biznology.

An unfriendly site costs your business dearly, Tharp insists.
"I cannot begin to tell you the number of times I’ve attempted to access a Website online, and because of glaring functionality and usability issues, have gone back to the search results and given my business to a competitor site," Tharp writes.
What's fundamental to a mobile-friendly site?
  • Fast page-loading
  • Navigation with tabs to information most needed by mobile users
  • Pages that require little or no scrolling
  • Large buttons that can be easily pressed
  • An easily accessible search bar
  • A phone number with a “click to call” option
  • An address that can be clicked to automatically present directions
At a minimum, every business should know how its Website appears on mobile devices and how mobile users are experiencing it, Tharp says.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Secrets of Teamwork

Thomas Edison's great grandniece has penned Midnight Lunch, a 300-page book that reveals the inventor's four-faceted approach to teamwork.
  • Edison built teams from diverse disciplines. The team that invented the lightbulb included chemists, mathmeticians and glassblowers.
  • The inventor learned from his mistakes. After state and local governments rejected his electronic vote recorder, Edison decided to focus exclusively on consumer products.
  • Edison's vision kept the teams on track. When team members floundered or disagreed, the boss quickly intervened, deciding the course.
  • Edison changed direction with the market. Other inventors of the day ignored the fact that consumers wanted products powered by electricityand failed.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Want to Write Better Case Sudies? Ask Aristotle.

In Poetics, Aristotle wrote that every tragedy has three stages:

1. An inciting moment

2. A climactic struggle and

3. A resolution

Every case study, when you think about it, has the same structure as well:

1. The opening scene depicts a disturbing incident. Your customer suddenly finds her welfare threatened. Readers feel her pain.

2. A climactic struggle ensues. Your company helps the customer solve her problem. She emerges a hero.

3. A resolution is reached. Things resort to status quo. And readers are compelled to act. Because they, too, can be heroes.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

How to Win Fans and Influence Equals

In his 2,300-year old book Rhetoric, Aristotle argued, "It is not enough to know what we ought to say; we must also know how to say it."

Aristotle was convinced that rhetoric (the art of persuasion) comprised three elements: facts, language and style.

Although most of us would insist that the only thing that matters in a serious discussion are the facts, Aristotle knew that style "affects the success of a speech greatly."

Or, as in the words of British novelist Joseph Conrad, "He who wants to persuade should put his trust not in the right argument, but in the right word."

To succeed in persuading others of your views, according to Aristotle, you should:
  • Rely on plain, everyday language
  • Include a few rhetorical flourishes, to give your message impact
  • Avoid "strange words, compound words and invented words;" and
  • Use metaphors
I wish more marketers would take a look at Aristotle's Rhetoric before attempting to persuade us of their views.

The business world would become a lot more gobbledygook-free.

Consider the following statement, for example, courtesy of Facebook. (The company plans to abolish users' right to vote for or against changes to its privacy policies.)

In the past, your substantive feedback has led to changes to the proposals we made. However, we found that the voting mechanism, which is triggered by a specific number of comments, actually resulted in a system that incentivized the quantity of comments over their quality. Therefore, we’re proposing to end the voting component of the process in favor of a system that leads to more meaningful feedback and engagement.

Just imagine, for example, if Facebook's vice president wrote this instead:

Before we change any privacy policy, we always consider your advice. But a handful of users, by repeatedly posting comments, have been gaming the system. We want to prevent that.
Want to learn more about the art of persuasion?
Check out my white paper.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Marketing Lessons from the Three Stooges

For pure marketing genius, contemporary giants like Jeff Bezos, Howard Schultz and Tony Hsieh shrink in comparison to the three ur-marketers.

I'm talking about Moe, Larry and Curly.

Sure, attend all the marketing conferences you want. Follow all the blogs. Study all the books. Consume all the CDs.

You won't learn a tenth of what you'll learn by watching any one of The Stooges' shorts.

To save you time, I've boiled their innumerable brand-building insights down to three key lessons:

Make great products. The boys always innovated and never imitated! Want to make a great cupcake? Add pillow feathers. A great microbrew? Add a whole box of alum. A great soup? Add a live oyster.

Keep a laser-focus on your goals. The boys understood the paramount importance of attention to detail and keeping "on task." Which of their competitors would have spent as much time fixing a leaking pipe? Pitching a tent? Eating an artichoke?

Utilize short, snappy content. As content marketers, The Stooges were ahead of their time. They drew millions of fans by keeping their messages brief and on point. And they built a loyal following by perfecting a consistently edgyand authentictone. While you don't want merely to copy the boys, it will help if you break rocks over your head, mistake a skunk for your hat, and rip out clumps of your own hair.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

2013: The Year the Social Networks Make or Break Your Brand

Branding Strategy Insider offers 13 tasty predictions for 2013.

Among them is this morsel: brands wll become increasingly susceptible to the chatter on social networks next year.

"Watch for greater influences of engagement and purchase habits via friends and social networks," Insider says.

"Brands will have to factor in the reality that peer-to-peer communications come in three varieties: good, bad and bland. This makes companies more susceptible to consumer indifference, their conversations and social interactions."

Marketers who want to compete need to understand how social networks actually work, or risk  being marginalized.

"The brands that make it here will know the 'how' of this consumer-controlled space," Insider concludes.
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