Archives: August 2009

Welcome Back, Tom

Welcoming oneself back.
Ye gads.

It's been a long trip to... Book Hell.

As you know, I'm working on a new book—The Little BIG Things.

Our publisher read the Success Tips that had been accumulating here, and said, in effect, "You've written a book."

Sounded good to me.

Until I started editing. And the "ready to go" book was, I thought, anything but. In short, it took the whole bloody summer (no small loss at age 66, and given VT's short summers) to do the job.

About four full edits (not to mention about 50 or so new "Tips"). The last full round of "edits" (fullscale re-writes is more like it) was done during a 2-week trip to New Zealand, from which we just returned. Susan was busy with her own thing, and I had hoped to do a lot of hiking and reading.


I do not exaggerate when I say I was up at 2:30AM or 3AM or, at the latest, 4AM every damn day we were there. The last day was 3AM to 11PM—and the next morning I sent the "completed" (for now!) manuscript of 526 pages and 92,000 words off to Erik and Cathy.

No Kubota in VT.
No hiking in NZ.

Has it been fun?

Writing, for me, is not in any way, shape, or form "fun."

On Sunday it was off to the UK (4 speeches in 3 days in Glasgow, Manchester and London) via Amsterdam—where I am as I write. On the way over (Boston-Amsterdam), of course, I did some additions to the manuscript—which I just emailed to Cathy.

So I'm back.
I guess.
(Never used so many eye drops as I did in NZ, and now back home.)

Social Media as Mass Marketing … Not the Future

"We're on Facebook."—Sign outside a nursery/garden center near my home

In 1994 I had the opportunity to work on the first hotel company website, when we pulled together 64 pages of brochure-ware for Hyatt Resorts. At that point, keyword advertising was years away and it would be another five years before Permission Marketing would be published. As people started to think of what marketing would be like on the Internet, mass marketing was the paradigm they used, because that was what they knew.

Looking back 15 years later, our mid-90s view of Internet marketing seems primitive. My opinion: In the future, our current view of social media is going to look similarly primitive, and this time we'll get smart much more quickly.

Like early thoughts about Internet marketing, popular discussions of social media tend to use a mass marketing paradigm. "Wow, there are 250 million active Facebook users!" "Twitter grew 752% in 2008. Incredible!" People talk about Facebook and Twitter user numbers with the awe that is usually reserved for late-January new stories about the power of Superbowl advertising.

More of my opinion: The big numbers won't be the big story in the future.

Already, the best uses of social media are not the mass uses. (Who cares if American Airlines has a Facebook fan page?) The best uses are the micro uses. Example: My 8th grade class, the 1973 graduating class of Lake Bluff Junior High School, has coalesced on Facebook and we're having a reunion. Now that's cool. I'll bet most of you have similar stories.

We don't know what social media's most effective marketing uses will be in the future. But if you want to get a hint of what it will be like, here's my suggestion: Don't think mass marketing. Don't think of advertising-type metrics, such as reach, frequency, big numbers, and "cutting through the clutter." Think micro. Think relationships. Think of a customer saying, "What's in it for me?" not a marketer saying, "Cool, I have another marketing tool!" Think of customers talking with each other, not companies adding social media to their "marketing mix."

Executives feel a need to be "On Facebook and Twitter," as if being "On" these sites signifies that they are up to speed on the latest marketing tools. But being "On" these social media sites doesn't mean a thing. When your customers use social media to talk to each other about you ... now that means something.

[Read more by Steve at]

Carrot or Stick?

Two key ingredients of Excellence in any professional pursuit are to master the relevant disciplines and to apply them at every opportunity. A recent choral singing experience has left me rather thoughtful about the leadership practices most likely to develop and deliver Excellence through others.

I have been a member of a 200-person amateur symphony chorus for nearly 20 years, and during that period, the chorus's performance has steadily improved. For our latest concert, we were rehearsed by a stand-in chorus master whose approach was very different from that of the chorus master who has led us throughout my membership. Both men are equally well qualified and highly gifted musicians, and both expect equally high performance standards from their choirs. But we are used to a very critical and directive style of leadership which contrasted sharply with the stand-in master's much "softer" all round approach.

For example, he regularly took the time to tell us what we were doing well, as well as correcting us when we were getting things wrong. He was often quite generous in his praise, in stark contrast to our regular master. He challenged us to perform one of the movements in the concert from memory—no mean feat when the text is in Polish! He assured us from the first rehearsal that we were good enough to take this on, and kept reminding us of this throughout the rehearsal sequence. He even provided us with some novel support materials to help us all to practice our Polish at home.

On the day of the concert he cancelled the normal pre event "warm up" session, which is usually quite an ordeal for us to get through just before a live performance. He said he had been more than satisfied with our performance at the dress rehearsal in the morning. This is totally unheard of!

Our performance was one of our best ever and acclaimed by the critics. The movement we had learned by heart completely stole the show. But ... here's my question ... did the stand-in chorus master succeed because of the disciplines that had already been drilled into us by our regular leader? What would happen to our performance standards if we worked with the new chorus master in the long term? Would his approach result in a gradual reduction in standards?

I tried these questions out over a drink in the pub with my choir mates, and the opinion was divided 50/50. What do readers of this blog think?

To Mark His Passing

All of us at would like to acknowledge the passing of an important man, Senator Edward M. Kennedy. We wish his family well, and we will miss his influence in the U.S. Senate.

To read more—and more eloquent—encomiums, see the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. If you find anything else that gives good insight into Ted Kennedy, please drop a link into the comments.

Design is…

[Joy Stauber is the designer of our gorgeous banners (see more here) and one of our favorite people. Learn more about her at her site.]

I got an email this morning [08/24/09] with this Tom Peters quote: "Design is... an understanding that all the senses were created equal."

It's true. And it's interesting to think about what that on earth that might really mean.

I was talking with a marketing colleague this morning about a potential project she has for a website aimed at moms. As a mom, I'm always very suspicious of any kind of "marketing to moms" because it's often like other marketing to women... lots of pink and cuddly photos, as if that is all it takes to be relevant to me as a female consumer.

What does any of this have to do with "Design is... an understanding that all the senses are created equal."?

It is this:

Design is not about making something look cool (or cute, or mom-like, or macho, or techie, or whatever it is you think the audience is).

Design is about making something relevant.
It is about making a connection with your audience.
Which means you have to truly understand them, and you have to have a clear communication strategy.
The messages need to be relevant to the audience.
The way in which they are delivered needs to be relevant.
Remember which senses to address. (Is the color palette friendly or serious? Is the nomenclature for website sections based on an internal organizational structure or does it support the user's needs? Does the paperstock feel rough or smooth, heavy or light? How should all of these elements, and more, feel to the user/audience?)

Designing a website for moms, like any website, requires the integration of a site architecture with a communication strategy and a careful prioritizing of messages. (Written and/or visual messages.) Then the final design and all of the details of its execution (words and images used, color palette, type styles, and so on) supports the higher communication goals, serves the end user well, and tracks back to what you figured out needed to be done in the planning stages.

I wholeheartedly agree with Tom that "Design is... an understanding that all the senses were created equal." Creators (marketers, designers, writers, technical developers, etc.) of websites or any type of communication have to remember that all of the senses truly are involved. The eyes, hands, heart, brain.. a website user or brochure reader takes in many elements and processes them via all of their senses. All of the elements require careful attention and need to be considered from a user's point of view. If the visuals are strong but the naming of website sections isn't right, the user won't respond as well as they would otherwise. If the brochure copy is great but the typesetting makes it feel like a chore to read... oh no! All of the details need to work together in a holistic, integrated way to support each other and the user experience—and thus build a relationship with your brand.

In Your Next Sales Call, Don't Go For The Close

Most successful sales conversations don't end by closing the sale.

This may not be true for you if you're a timeshare salesman, a clerk in a retail store, or an airline reservations agent. But for most everyone else it is true.


• You are an independent graphic designer and you meet someone at a party ... the sales conversation is successful if the future customer enthusiastically remembers the conversation, and goes to your website to check it out when he returns home after the party.

• You sell large software projects and you have finally been invited to meet the CEO of a company you are trying to sell ... the sales conversation is successful if the CEO tells his team he really likes you and your offerings, and tells them to move forward with you.

• You are a CPA, and you have breakfast with a long-term client ... the sales conversation is successful if the client shares his fears about his own business, and gives you the name of a friend desperately in need of your services.

The common thread in each of these examples is that your relationship with the customer was better at the end of the sales conversation than it was at the beginning. Successful selling is usually not about going for the close. It's about advancing your relationship.

Try it today ... don't go for the close!

[Read more by Cool Friend Steve Yastrow at his website.]

Cool Friend #141: Kathleen Colson

There is debate over the most effective way to eradicate poverty in Africa. Our new Cool Friend Kathleen Colson believes listening to Africans is the first step. She's listened for years, and, as a result, founded the BOMA Fund to put what she's learned into action. Through three programs, the Rural Entrepreneur Access Project (REAP), Agents of Change, and Cows For Kids, BOMA helps groups in northern Kenya learn how to run businesses, become leaders, and start on the road to self-sufficiency. In her interview, Kathleen discusses how foreign aid disrupts African markets and how helping to bring viable new trade to Kenya could lead to a brighter future for people there. Learn more by reading her Cool Friends interview or visiting the website of the BOMA Fund.

Whole Foods in Unhealthy Situation

We have been thinking a lot recently about the "permanent set" of changes that will remain when the world's major economies come out of recession. If you trust the statistics, Germany, France and Japan already have. One thing that is with us for the duration is the influence of social networking sites on business.

A case in point: the firestorm that has followed Whole Foods Market founder and CEO John Mackey's recent Wall Street Journal piece on heathcare reform. Whatever you think of the merits of President Obama's proposals, or the UK's National Health Service (please, no more folks!), you can't argue with the fact that over 16,000 people (and growing) have signed up to and are actively rubbishing the Whole Foods business on Facebook as a result. Using social networking sites to respond to the actions of businesses and their leaders is a phenomenon that is here to stay.

Goodness knows what it would have done to the career of the fledgling Sir Richard Branson when he was building his Virgin Group. Some of his public outpourings and political affiliations early on might have proved fatal to Virgin if Facebook, Twitter, and the like had been around at that time. I do think it is good to get insights into the personality of the people who are running our iconic businesses. Sadly, I suspect that Mr. Mackey and his ilk will be a bit more careful with their personal opinions in future.

Link Roundup #5

First, apologies for a false start this morning when a draft version of this post went live. Here's the post in full:

BusinessWeek has an in depth piece on Starbucks' Howard Schultz. Not only does he still visit 25 stores a week, but he prefers the feedback he gets that way to focus groups' input, regardless of the mega-scale of the business he runs now. The piece also covers how the new concept store began, by asking a few employees how they'd compete with Starbucks.

800-CEO-READ lauched after Jack Covert and Todd Sattersten published The 100 Best Business Books of All Time so that people could weigh in with their own favorites. Their new ebook includes a submission by our very own Cathy Mosca.

Addicted to checking your RSS Feeds/Facebook/Twitter? Turns out, our brains are hardwired for this. Find out more about it in "Seeking: How the brain hard-wires us to love Google, Twitter, and texting. And why that's dangerous."

A short, online documentary coming out in September, Lemonade tells the stories of advertising creatives and what they did after losing their jobs.

"Why Be an Ethical Company? They're Stronger and Last Longer." Enough said.

Think you've lost your chance for entrepreneurial magic if you're over 30? Think again. Read about the results of a new Kauffman Foundation study in "The entrepreneur whiz kid myth: What does the average entrepreneur look like? A 40-year-old cubicle refugee."

And to wrap things up, if you're wandering around Heathrow this week, you may spot Alain de Botton, Heathrow's writer in residence.

Woodstock Remembered

As the only member of who went to Woodstock, I've been assigned to write the commemoration of its 40th anniversary. (Tom was too old, Erik was too young, and I was just right. Forget Shelley; that young talent was not even close to being born.) Also, I had a car to take me from my home in Massachusetts to the farmland of New York. And I had tickets, which as I left home with a friend, I had no idea would be irrelevant. What should we celebrate about Woodstock on this occasion? My choice is the shared optimism. It pervaded the gathering. Everybody spoke with everybody else as if they were old friends, or at least acquaintances. There was an all-encompassing air of "We're in this together." Sure, there were those who had "dropped out," but even that was from a sense that there had to be a better way than the prevalent practices among adults we knew then. We thought we could change the world. And we did. Is your life now, at the age of __, what you thought it would be then, at the age of __, and as a member of Woodstock Nation? (Even if you didn't get there.) And, if, like Erik and Shelley, you're too young to have been there, do you approach your career as if you can Change the World? Every day?