Truckvertising

Almost exactly a year ago, I asked the question on this blog why trucks aren’t used more for advertising. All that empty space, those rolling billboards capturing countless eyeballs…seems like a no-brainer.

truckbboardsmYesterday, while enjoying dinner with my extended family in a bayside restaurant, I saw one way a company is doing this – NJMobileMedia.com has this truck driving around with (scrolling) billboards on both sides and the back. I’m not convinced that the truck carried anything but the ads, but they clearly got people’s attention, if only for the novelty factor.

Since this is not an Al Gore-approved blog, I won’t bring up any issues about the carbon footprint of mobile advertising (Al’s Gulfstream flights and palatial mansion have a much larger carbon footprint than this truck, I imagine), but I do think that certain platforms – like trucks – are quite underutilized. What other “vehicles” can you think of where advertising could be carried that would be both engaging and non-intrusive?

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My Kids don’t “get” Twitter

You know all those stats that talk about how the younger generation doesn’t “get” Twitter, or use it much.

Yeah. True.

My teens don’t understand me (how’s that for a role reversal!) They think about the little messages, but what they don’t “get” is the people.

They simply can’t figure out that I really like you folks. That I enjoy interacting, bantering, discussing ideas, sharing pictures, passing notes in class, and lending a hand or a shoulder.

The tools continue to bring us closer. But it really has very little to do with Twitter. It’s life. And it’s you.

Maybe they’ll “get it” someday.

Ask the Right Questions

Quick – think of businesses that have imploded in recent years. What names come to mind?

A lot, unfortunately. Enron. AIG. GM. And loads of others.

All of it could have been avoided if these businesses were founded on the right answers to three simple questions. Questions that, if rightly asked and answered, will save any company from a world of hurt:

    1. What are the real needs of our customers?
    2. How can we add value, immediately and in the long-term?
    3. How would our practices look on the front page of the newspaper?

Instead, many companies are founded on and driven by other concerns, which override any fine-sounding sentiments in their mission statements:

    1. What do we want?
    2. How can we maximize “the numbers”?
    3. What can we get away with?

Selfish, shady, short-term business practices are the bane of our economy, leading to lost money, cynical markets, and increased regulation. But – it opens up a wide vista of opportunity for honest, truly customer-centric business people. People who have a conscience and a heart.

Ask the right questions. Then give the right answers. Over the long haul, you’ll be rewarded.

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Bring it!

If you travel, you know that horrible feeling when you’ve forgotten stuff.

Here’s a handful of stuff you should put together in a travel kit that ALWAYS goes with  you:

1. A spare smartphone charger

2. A compact umbrella

3. A pair of sunglasses in a hard case

4. Some gum and/or mints

5. …and, if you’re going to a conference, consider bringing a power strip.

What would you add??

Free (Starbucks) is Good

I saw last night that Starbucks had published an on-line coupon for FREE pastry (with a beverage purchase) this morning. In fact, they even have a smartphone-friendly version if you don’t have a printer. Nice.

Being a bit tech-geeky, I decided to find out if there was a Starbucks in the vicinity of this hotel in Philly where I’m staying. Since my iPhone knows where I am, I just plugged “nearby Starbucks” into Google and voila! – there was a list. Very nice.

After a brisk walk of a few blocks, I found the place, which was nearly empty, and when flashing the coupon on my iPhone to the barista, she was visibly relieved that SOMEONE knew about it, because they had a massive delivery of pastries today in anticipation of the event. So I said I’d continue to promote it.

Now we don’t want all that pastry to go to waste, so get it while you can! And here’s another suggestion – think about taking advantage of Starbucks’ largesse, and give your free pastry to someone less fortunate to you. If you’re reading this, you’re undoubtedly blessed beyond measure. But there are lots of hungry folks out there. And maybe your local Starbucks is near some hungry or homeless people. Let’s show how good free can be…(and thanks, Starbucks – great promo!)

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Nutella Newfella

nutellaOn Monday night, for no apparent reason, discussions on Twitter seemed to zero in on some confection that a number of folks are seriously addicted to – Nutella.

Now I admit that I’ve seen this term tossed around before, but the rhapsodic descriptions made me, a Nutella virgin, rather curious about what the rage was all about. So I did what any normal person would do – Google it.

I liked what I saw. Without engagement of one tastebud, I was converted, and determined to become a Nutella Newfella by Wednesday night of this week.

Fellow blogger Sonny Gill also crawled out of the shadows and admitted his gastronomic naivete. So we now have a death-by-Nutella pact, to be completed in two days time.

There may well be other Newfellas (note: that term includes gals!) who need to be indoctrinated into the cult, so let’s see how many Nutella-naive souls can be rousted out of the slumber of tastebud boredom and welcomed into this brave new world of…well, tasty calories, I guess. Tweet your sweet impressions Wednesday night!

If large-scale die-offs of social media “gurus” occur because of this exercise, blame will be spread among Olivier Blanchard, Liz Strauss, Kris Colvin, Amber Naslund, and Valeria Maltoni. And Olivier will be left to calculate the negative ROI…

UPDATE: Here is my sideways (?) video on YouTube showing the taste-test verdict…

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Everyone’s an Influencer

influencerIt’s tempting to look at the A-list bloggers, the uber-Twitter users, the people with massive followings, and say, “That’s an influencer!

True – as far as it goes. But what do we say about everyone else?

The same thing.

Yes, someone with a big network and large reach has outsized potential influence because of the audience size. But the person just getting started on Twitter may be a friend of the CEO of the company you will be working at next. That blogger with a relatively modest following may have a cousin who will be President of the United States in 12 years.

And that’s one of the wonderful “soft” returns on Networked Communications. There is serendipity involved. Unpredictable and unanticipated connections happen.

Example: someone who had recently connected with me on Twitter, and with whom I had had little or no direct contact, knew that I was involved in pharma, and when someone from a biotech company approached her with a need, she thought of me and made the connection. Which resulted in a consulting engagement. She was an influencer, even with the most tenuous of connections. And, as regularly happens, we’re now in more regular contact.

Everyone’s an influencer. Including you.

But wait, there’s more…!

As I sit here early on this Friday morning, I look forward to a lunchtime tweetup with some of my networking partners-in-crime here in the North Jersey area. This is our fourth monthly meeting, an event that just started because someone (I think Aimee Evans) said, “We should all meet up!” So we did. And now, as I look forward to a backyard cookout and hangout time with these folks, I don’t really think of them so much as “influencers” any more. They’re colleagues, interesting professionals, moving along the continuum from avatars to initial acquaintances to budding friends. Yes, we may well be able to bring influence to bear to help each other in coming days…I would expect so. But there will be bright eyes, warm hugs, and encouraging words. There will be stories told and laughter shared. And that’s plenty good enough influence no matter what anybody’s network “reach” may be. (Update: picture of the NJ gang below)

NJ tweetup

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(Image credit)

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Feed People

If you’re involved in Social Media/Networked Communications as a marketer or businessperson, one of the key questions you ask yourself is: How can I add value to my community?

Take that question and look behind it to see this (more important) query: What are the unmet needs that I can address?

Always, a big need is targeted information. So, feed people.

Here are a few starting points:

    1. Almost every audience needs consolidated and/or curated content. Did you know that with a few hours work, you can create a public information portal using free (& quite simple) tools such as Pageflakes or Netvibes? And by subscribing to targeted blog and news feeds, you can filter out the most important information and post or e-mail it to your target audience. Doesn’t take much time, but adds tremendous value.
    2. And speaking of e-mail, don’t overlook this tried-and-true method of communicating. Many of us assume that our audiences are as tech-savvy as we’re trying to be. Usually, they’re nowhere close. So as you find technology and solutions* that help move the needle for regular folks to become a bit more advanced in their use of tools, share…using good old-fashioned e-mail and a personal touch. With all the networked communication methods I use, I still tend to get the best response via targeted e-mails (and, if you want to add a new twist to this, use a webcam and send a free video e-mail using a service like Eyejot.) You can become valuable to your network by introducing them to new advances, but by still using the communication methods they know and understand.
    (*Good sources for this kind of info: Lifehacker. TechCrunch. AllTop.)
    3. We all like diversions. So find interesting stuff, and share it. What are some of my main sources for finding offbeat and interesting items that my audiences enjoy? Here’s a few: Neatorama. Book of Joe. Coudal Partners. PopURLs.

It doesn’t take any special talent to become an information aggregator, curator, and communicator. It just takes a relatively modest amount of daily time, and steady effort. Your audience and network will really appreciate it, because they often do not have the time, and when you become a trusted and interesting source, you win.

That’s a few suggestions. What ideas, and other helpful sites, would you add (use the Comments)?

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Lipstick on the Management Pig

twomindsI had too much time in the car yesterday, so I was thinking about something that comes to mind a lot.

Cognitive dissonance.

Yes, I’m a little strange, but that’s not news anymore. I analyze a wide range of topics, which is both fun and confusing at times, and which can lead to…well, cognitive dissonance. When you see and/or believe things that don’t seem to go together.

Whether or not you’ve used the label, you’ve experienced cognitive dissonance. When your religious beliefs (or disbeliefs) seem to collide with real-life; when what you always thought about a person is suddenly proven untrue; when you find a PC easier to use than a Mac…all of that can create a sense that things don’t fit.

Then this morning Brad Farris forwards (via Twitter) this article from Harvard Business Review, entitled Why You Should Sell Only for the Company You Love. A few excerpts:

    There is no way you can effectively sell for a mismanaged company. A company that does a poor job of taking care of its people creates unhappy employees.

    Poor management is a deep problem that not even the best salesperson can overcome. It’s a pig that you can’t put lipstick on, and you shouldn’t waste your time trying.

    The problem of trying to sell around or in spite of poor management sometimes arises as a question about my advocating customer visits to our offices and plants. I’m asked: “What do you do if you have people in your offices you don’t want customers to meet? Or plants you don’t want them to see?” My response is that this isn’t a sales problem. It’s a management problem.

    Not only is it futile to try to put lipstick on the poor-management pig, it’s dishonorable and unethical even to try. Honesty is being truthful with others. Integrity is being truthful with ourselves. These are the essential ingredients of any sales-leadership program.

Amen to all of that. Many years ago, I sold equipment from manufacturers whose design and development processes, and whose deaf ears to the legitimate needs of customers, made selling a very “dissonant” chore. Fact is, any good and authentic salesperson wants to be a genuine and enthusiastic advocate for the offering and company he/she is representing. When the product or service is defective, or the management style is counter-productive, it absolutely cuts the heart out of the front-line sales staff. Then there are only three choices:

    1. Pretend enthusiasm anyway, for the sake of trying to make some money

    2. Tell potential customers the facts and deal with the consequences

    3. Leave

I’m a strong advocate of the third. It’s the only way to get rid of an energy-sapping, conscience-afflicting cognitive dissonance. I think the marketplace would evolve faster and better if more employees left poorly-run companies so that they run aground and better companies take their place. What do you think? How do you deal with cognitive dissonance in the workplace?

(Image credit)

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No Robots, Thank You

You’ll either take responsibility, or you’ll take orders.” The Wayne Morgan quote showed up in my tweetstream Sunday morning (thanks, Susan Young), and I promptly retweeted it, because it underscores a very important truth.

RobotNo one should aspire to be an order-taker – at least, not for any longer than necessary.

As a child, you are subject to rules, order, and authority, as you learn self-control and the boundaries of civilized behavior.

As a new employee, you take orders and follow the rules, until you learn how the business world works.

As a soldier, you take orders, and you continue to respect the chain of command as you grow in judgment and wisdom.

But all along the way, you learn to take responsibility. You aspire to be more than a robot. You internalize the lessons imparted by structure, but more than that – you embrace the fact that you are accountable to create, to lead, to exert self-control, to manage the one who is your biggest lifelong challenge.

Yourself.

Factories and fast-food joints will always need to hire robots. People who can do nothing better than take orders, who cannot manage themselves responsibly and thus need to be managed.

But smart businesses will bypass order-takers. No robots, thank you. We’re after those who take responsibility, and through word-of-mouth and the ties of social networks, we can find them. No wise person should aspire to have others perpetually responsible for them. As quickly as you can, take responsibility, and soon the need to take orders will lessen.

Every parent and teacher knows that it’s a huge challenge bringing up the next generation. Let’s enrich the world we’ll leave behind with creators and initiators – heaven knows there are enough order-takers!

(Image credit)

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Zappo’s “heels” the Barefoot Executive

zapposUPDATE: See end of this post for a major news update. The REAL reason why Zappo’s was acquired by Amazon!

In a masterstroke of brand protection, Tony Hsieh of Zappo’s, the Internet’s most famous shoe store, has bought out his main competitor, The Barefoot Executive for an undisclosed sum and a social network to be named later.

“Our shoe sales have been growing like crazy!” stated Hsieh, who measures corporate results via bottom-line profits and top-line Re-tweets. “However, we’ve noticed a disturbing trend among our ‘executive’ customers – a drop-off in sales like nothing we’ve seen before. Market research indicated that Carrie Wilkerson – the Barefoot Executive – was clearly the influence causing many Presidents and CEOs to walk around shoeless. And they’re key influencers – clearly a trend we couldn’t allow to continue. Can you imagine entire companies loaded with barefoot people trying to emulate the boss? Ewwww!”

Calling a company brainstorming meeting on Twitter using the #stopcarrie hashtag, the consensus was reached that no other shoe retailers were, in fact, worthy of competitive mention. Problem #1 was actually the Barefoot Underground – about to get worse with the release of Carrie’s upcoming business/networking/barefoot fashion book – and there was only one method that could be employed to stop this anti-footwear phenomenon.

“We bought her out,” exulted Mr. Hsieh, refusing to go into the financial details except to say that it was in the “high five figures” of pairs of stylish executive shoes over the next 10 years. “Plus, her impending book will now be re-named ‘The Well-Shod Executive,’ and will feature her discussions of the relative merits of heels, pumps, flats, and bling-blingy boots in each chapter.”

Barefoot smA quick bump in shoe sales was already recorded when Carrie, using her famous Hypno-Eyebrow Webcam Method (HEWM), recorded her first video extolling the virtues of wearing the latest fire-engine red spiked heels while blogging from home.

The surprise move may be a portent of a new trend to come. Rumor has it that @themarketingguy, Jay Ehret, is in discussions with a hair-growth company to trade in his bald pate for something more lush. Not to be outdone, Jason Falls was recently spotted pouring his favorite bourbon down the drain while talking earnestly to a marketing rep for Tab cola. Even Twitter founders Ev and Biz, famous for going against the money-making tide, were recently spotted with AOL t-shirts.

Carrie could not be reached for comment, being tended to in a local hospital after twisting her ankle rollerblading with a pair of spiked purple PamelaMartins.

UPDATE: It was announced this week that Zappo’s has been acquired by Amazon. Beneath all the congratulatory blah-blah about synergy and growth, the REAL reason has now emerged (with thanks to @techcrunch for hacking into Zappo’s computer network and unearthing secret files…).

It turns out that the announcement of the Barefoot_Exec acquisition sent the shoe business into a sudden tailspin, as thousands of former customers began returning shoes in order to join the Carrie Cult and go barefoot. The only way to halt the slide, secret documents reveal, was to “be acquired by a major book retailer and seek to quash the release of Carrie’s upcoming book.”

The documents also reveal, in conjunction with Twitter documents already purloined and published, that Twitter has finally decided on a monetization strategy and plans to acquire the new Amazon/Zappos combo, since “this 140-character market is proving blasted hard to make a profit from! Let’s sell some other stuff!”

It is not know if @barefoot_exec will be allowed to tweet on the new Twamazapp platform. Stay tuned to TechCrunch for further details…

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Prior StickyFigure spoofs

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What’s in a Name?

Today, I received an unsolicited e-mail from a company looking to introduce themselves. Since this company at least was positioned somewhere near my sweet spot of interest, I went to the website to find out more.

And found a great way NOT to introduce yourself:

What’s in a name?
When we were thinking of what to call ourselves, we looked at both the approach to what we do and the context in which we do it. Not that earth shattering, but we think we came up with a great name. _______ covers both approach and context.

Lesson #1 – I don’t care what you think of your name, nor is the process by which you arrived at it of any significance. I’m there to learn WIIF Me. Taking these intro sentences and saying, “we…ourselves…we…we…we…we…we…” all with a note of self-congratulation, doesn’t inform me about what you do and why I should be engaged.

When you introduce your company, immediately tell me what the value is – what you can do for me. You have maybe 10 seconds to make your first impression, so give me one powerful sound bite that addresses a real business need. Save the historical explanations for a footnote. Because what’s in your name doesn’t address my pain.

Crashable Mashable

firefoxcrashA few weeks ago, I noticed a behavior that I had frankly not seen before – my Firefox browser started to crash. Firefox has always been stable in my experience (note: using a Dell laptop) and I found this to be perplexing.

I noticed that it happened just after I clicked links in Twitter, and furthermore, after some days of observation, it became evident that the crashing only happened in conjunction with links from one site - Mashable.com.

Now I’d never had problems with the Mashable site before, and always enjoyed the updates from there. But I began to have a nervous tic when I’d see Pete Cashmore’s avatar in my tweetstream.

I put out several tweets over the course of a couple weeks about this problem, wondering if the Mashable folks had perhaps added some widget or other such on their site that would cause this. I had not added-on any new Firefox extensions in recent weeks. Then the issue seemed to resolve itself after upgrading to Firefox 3.5. Nice. Case closed. Except for one thing…

To my surprise, I heard from Mashable’s CTO (through LinkedIn for some reason) asking for whatever information I could give to help figure out “what wasn’t playing nice.” Now I don’t know anybody at Mashable, and I’m not a particularly important person, but I was quite impressed that Frederick reached out directly and tried to help. Since the upgrade seemed to resolve it, I’m not sure I can troubleshoot any further, but I’ll put a big check mark in the Win column for these folks, for “listening” and following up. And, I’m glad to have no more nervous tics about clicking on interesting Mashable links!

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