Archive for the ‘small business’ Category

Marketing Doesn’t Have to Be Evil


A recent Scott Adams cartoon shows a marketing team member complaining that engineers are paid more than marketers. Dilbert’s responds that the pay disparity might be explained “Because engineers designed and built every important part of modern civilization and all (marketers) did was misrepresent it”.

Unfortunately, the idea that marketing is synonymous with lying and that members of the marketing profession rank somewhere near or below used car salesmen, lawyers and congressmen is quite prevalent. And, of course, the TV series, “Mad Men” didn’t help.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

My sense is that part of the problem comes from the notion that marketing is a sales function. From my perspective, marketing should be the next logical step after product development. Its function is:

1)    To make potential customers aware of the product/service’s existence.

2)    To make potential customers aware of the product/service’s merits

3)    To position the product/service in the potential customer’s mind in a positive light relative to the competition.

Problems arise when marketers become disingenuous and create blatantly misleading messages about the product/service. Today’s consumers have sophisticated BS detectors So even if you fool them once it’s less likely that they’ll be fooled a second time. Exaggerating about a product’s/service’s benefits or, worse, downright lying about them simply exacerbates the problem.

A recent article in the Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School’s magazine, ONE discusses how companies have begun using neuroscience technologies such as fMRI and PET to observe how the brain functions during the decision-making process. The best way to utilize this data is not to employ it as a tool to manipulate people’s purchase decisions but instead to use the information to make a brand’s marketing more selective and to increase a campaign’s effectiveness by being better targeted.

I don’t mean to be Pollyanna-ish about this but, in the end, the marketing profession will be much better served if we can forego the temptation to be deceitful and instead make an honest attempt to put the product or service we represent in the best light possible without resorting to exaggeration or deception and let the chips fall where they may.


Time For A 21st Century Bull Moose?

Debt ceilingThere’s a scene in the HBO John Adams miniseries where the Tea Partiers tar & feather a British cargo ship agent in protest over taxes being imposed by the King. It’s a brutal and deeply disturbing scene which makes vividly clear how painful, demeaning and barbaric tar & feathering really was. As the naked, suffering man is carried away after being tied to a pole, John Adams is shown to be dismayed and concerned about the mob’s actions.

I’m reminded of that scene today as I watch the chaos in Washington as we read about the rift in the Republican party between the majority of Republicans and the Tea Partiers. Even the business leaders who originally supported the Tea Partiers are starting to realize that the group is getting out of control.

As the news media have been analyzing what’s brought us to this latest tipping point in the nation’s history, we’ve heard about how Americans have been self-selecting and are choosing to live in areas where they and their neighbors tend to agree politically. We’ve also been educated about the gerrymandering which has created partisan voting districts, both extremely liberal and extremely conservative.  And, since most Americans don’t vote in the mid-term elections or in the primaries, those hardcore ideologues that do get to control the show.

In New York State, where I live,  I’m not allowed to participate in a primary because I refuse to declare a political party affiliation. I’m an independent (not a member of the Independence Party) who prefers to vote for the person and the ideas rather than along party lines. I understand that this rule was adopted as part of some political gamesmanship in order to give one party an advantage over the other. But, it seems to me that we’d be much better off if all registered voters were allowed to participate in the primaries so that the extremists could be tempered by more moderate voices.

If I correctly recall my American history, there’s a certain similarity between our current political situation and that which existed 100 years ago back in the pre-World War I early 20th century.  There was inequality in the distribution of wealth and the existing political parties represented ideas which were inconsistent with those of most Americans. So former president, Teddy Roosevelt ran as a third party candidate for the Bull Moose Party. His platform was geared toward diminishing the influence of the wealthy and powerful in order to provide more overall balance to the system during an era which, as the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin has pointed out, seems quite reminiscent of our own.

Perhaps, we need a 21st century version of the Bull Moose Party to challenge the Democrats and the Republicans and to represent the majority of Americans whose values are fiscally conservative (sensible)  and  social liberal (open-minded).

We’ve had third party presidential candidates in the recent past but Ross Perot  was a libertarian who hurt the Republican candidate (George H. W. Bush) and Ralph Nader was an extremist liberal who hurt the Democrat’s candidate (Al Gore).  Instead, we would need to have a candidate with the charm, charisma, and political savvy of Bill Clinton combined with the integrity of Warren Buffett.

Prior to his most recent nanny-state rules, I would have leaned towards Michael Bloomberg. Now, I’m not sure who’d fit the bill.

Any suggestions?

Staying Relevant

Paul Greenberg, author of the customer relationship management book, CRM At The Speed of Light, cites a recent blog post about an observation from the IBM Institute of Business Value’s 2012 CEO Study which states, “ The view that technology is a driver of efficiency is outdated; CEO’s now see technology as an enabler of collaboration and relationships-those essential connections that fuel innovation and creativity.” Greenberg notes, “This leads CEO’s to see that the three most important areas for creating sustained economic value are (in order) human capital, customer relationships and products/ services innovation. We are seeing the beginnings of more distributed organizations to handle these transformations.”

So, what does this mean for us Alpha Boomers? We keep hearing that the business community has been reconsidering its attitude towards that part of the work force which is seasoned in our favor although the evidence remains slim. We certainly bring a lot of expertise to the table when it comes to establishing and maintaining positive relationships with customers. And, although Alpha Boomers may not be in the top quintile of Early Adopters when it comes to technology, we are certainly more open to embracing innovative new technologies that have been previous generations.

But, as a story in the New York Times noted this past weekend, the latest economic recession hurt we Boomers more than it did Millennials or members of Gen Y. A woman quoted in the article observed that employers are afraid to hire Baby Boomers because they’re concerned that they might have a negative impact on the company’s health insurance premiums and that it might not be worth investing in training Boomers due to the possibility that they’d leave the company in five years. Personally, I find the concern about leaving the company to be a bit disingenuous since a three years is considered long-term commitment nowadays.

However, in a recent editorial, the journalist Thomas Friedman observed that “everyone who wants a job now must demonstrate how they can add value” better than the above-average software, automation, robotics, cheap labor and cheap genius that’s available to companies these days. It’s going to require individual initiative on each of our parts to develop 21st century skills which compliment new technology and, as Friedman notes, will require us to combine our PQ (passion quotient) and CQ (curiosity quotient) with our IQ (intelligence quotient) to find or invent jobs along with a commitment to consistent learning and re-learning.

So, it seems to me that a challenge to Alpha Boomers will be to make a psychological commitment to stay fit in body, mind and spirit and to do the math so that we’re able to create a cost/ benefit analysis for potential employers which honestly compares the cost of hiring us over a three year period to the cost of hiring a younger worker.

Your thoughts?

Collaboration: Boomers & GenY

I’m curious to learn your insights about a question which concerns me and many of my fellow “Alpha Boomers” (those of us born between 1946-1956). Although society and government have yet to catch up, many of us would rather pay in to social security than to collect it and have no interest in retiring at age 65. In fact, a recent report on CBS Sunday Morning indicated that, while there are currently 75,000 people in the US aged 100 or older, in 40 years there will be more than 6 million. Those will be today’s Alpha Boomers and it means that those people aren’t “senior citizens” but are “middle-aged”.

My point is that many of us Alpha Boomers are able and willing to continue working in economically productive and financially rewarding careers. However, there is an obvious preference by organizations to choose young & inexperienced over older & experienced applicants. Automation and globalization are certainly factors in the downsizing and restructuring which has been prevalent during the past 20 years. It’s my understanding that HR departments have not escaped this trend. So fewer people are left to cope with more applications. That’s led to a mindset whereby it seems that the primary function of HR systems is not as much to find the right applicant than to find a reason to say NO.

It seems to me that the US needs to focus on a way to create opportunities so that Baby Boomers who are able,willing, and (for economic reasons) need to work can collaborate with GenY’ers who need work in order to build financial security and pursue productive careers. Youth benefits from the wisdom and experience of seasoned professionals, older workforce is inspired and revitalized by the ideas and perspective of youth and the result it the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

Is anybody in the HR industry and business in general considering this perspective? Is my attitude totally Pollyanna and unrealistic?

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts

The Price of Politics

Listening to the conversation during the past year about the recent US Presidential elections, I had the distinct impression that many of my fellow citizens equate the belief that the person who holds the office of American president is “the most powerful (person) in the world” with a notion that s/he is omnipotent. It seems like magical thinking. That, somehow, an American president can just declare something   ( wave a magic wand, so to speak) and it will become so. Of course, the world is more complicated than that.

Last April, I attended Bob Woodward’s lecture at Union College and was surprised that Woodward seemed to have a negative attitude toward President Obama. I was recently reminded of that experience while listening to Jon Meacham discuss his new book about Thomas Jefferson and the similarities to our current political situations. According to Meachan, Jefferson explained to his constituents (I’m paraphrasing here) that they should expect to be disappointed in some of his decisions because he had more information about situations than they did. The idealists who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 have been actively critical of some of the President’s actions and decisions during the past four years. In this book, Woodward seems to delight in pointing out contradictions between what Mr. Obama said and what he did. Again, I’m paraphrasing: “The president said: ‘I don’t want to lecture you” and then proceeded to lecture them.”  The guy was a college professor. Is it a surprise that lecturing is his default mode of communication?

This book concerns the negotiations during 2011between the Obama administration and Congressional Republicans regarding the national budget. Woodward’s usual style is to interview as many participants and observers of conversations, both on and off the record, as possible in order to reconstruct those situations. The amount of distrust that Republican political leaders display during these interviews towards President Obama’s attempts to arrive at a bipartisan agreement is disconcerting.  I understand that during negotiations each party positions itself towards the extremes so that they can eventually create a compromise for which each side can save face and claim victory. We don’t get any sense from this book that such was the case during these negotiations. Even when Obama is making clear the administration’s willingness to sacrifice for the sake of negotiation, there’s a sense that the Republican leaders believe there must be some evil intent.

An impression I take away from Woodward’s book is that Obama senior advisors Valerie Jarrett and Rahm Emmanuel contributed to this perceptions, perhaps without the president’s knowledge.  Especially following the 2008 election, Woodward reports that both Jarrett and Emmanuel responded with arrogant “Tough luck. We won” attitudes to Republicans while President Obama was working to convey his willingness to create bipartisanship.  GOP leaders presumed that Jarrett and Emmanuel were speaking for the president but, given the problems that Obama was having with the left-wing idealists of this Liberal constituency during the first two years of his presidency, that doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

There’s one fact I recall from this book which I find to be quite ironic. The Republican leadership’s emphasis was on cutting costs.  Of course, their emphasis was on “entitlements” and they reacted very negatively toward any considerations about to cut the Pentagon’s budget. However, when the Department of Defense was asked how many people they employed, their response was “somewhere between one and nine million”.  When pressed, they couldn’t be more specific.  Republicans are the political party of business. I find it difficult to believe that any company CEO or president would react well if, when asked about the number of people their company employed, HR provided such a stunningly vague response.  If the number of people employed by the Pentagon is “somewhere between 1 and 9 million”, it seems like there much be some fat which could be cut from its budget.

As  I write this in late November 2012, President Obama has won re-election, Republicans are still resistant to returning to Clinton-era rates for those earning more than $250,000, and the “fiscal cliff” looms ahead of us. Let’s hope our leaders have all learned some valuable lessons from the experiences described in Woodward’s book.


Economic Genius

Sylvia Nasar, the author of “A Beautiful  Mind”, provides insights into the thoughts and actions of historical figures who have shaped our economic history: Charles Dickens, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, George Bernard Shaw, John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich Hayak, Paul Samuelson, and Milton Freedman are just some of the characters in this story.

Nassar’s book is stuffed with economic theory and detail which doesn’t make it the easiest read. If you’re like me, you’ll find your mind doing the equivalent of your eyes glazing over and you’ll be wondering what the information was that you’d just read.

Nevertheless, Nasar provides some interesting insights. For instance:

-Prior to 1870, Economics was mostly about what one couldn’t do. After      1870, it’s focus became what one could accomplish.

-Less than 150 years ago, most people in the world lived in a state of persistent starvation.

-In 1867, only 7% of English households had an annual income of at least 100 pounds (About $10,000 in 2012 dollars)

-There are disturbing similarities to the days pre-World War I and today.

-John Maynard Keynes as described as having a “gift for synthesis and a diagnostic mind”.

-Between 1921 and 1929, the US economy grew by 21%.

-RCA and AT&T were the Microsoft and Google of the 1920s.

-During the 1920s, most roads between New York and Boston were unpaved, rutted, and potholed.

-During the 1920s, the average lifespan in the US was 58. By 2000, it had increased to 82.

-The average person in China lives today as well if not better than the average Englishman did in 1950.

-The fraction of the world’s population which lives in abject poverty has dwindled by 5/6ths during the  last 200 years.

-Gains in productivity are the primary drivers of wages and living standards.

-Education and a safety net can reduce poverty without producing economic stagnation.

-The world’s population is 6 times greater than it was in the mid-1800s but is 10 times more affluent.

-The average lifespan of someone living today has increased 2 ½ times that of someone who lived in 1820 and our lifespans continue to increase.

-The recession of 2008-2009 HAS NOT reduced gains in productivity and income.

Here’s how her story is described on the book jacket:  “In Nasar’s dramatic narrative of these discoveries we witness men and women responding to personal crises, world wars, revolutions, economic upheavals, and each other’s ideas to turn back Malthus and transform the dismal science into a triumph over mankind’s hitherto age-old destiny of misery and early death.”

Sound like your kind of book?

The Return of The Rascals

Steve Van Zandt of E Street Band and Sopranos fame has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $100,000 by October 24th for a combination concert/ theatrical event he’s producing for the reunited Young Rascals “Once Upon A Dream”. The concept is being described as “a Rock “N Soul dance party meets The Jersey Boys.”

The project has exceeded its $100,000 goal. In return for support, Van Zandt offered ways to make donors part of the show including what’s described as “killer merchandise”. Donors could pledge as little as one dollar although some pledged at the $ 2,500 level and some at the $ 5,000 level.

If you were a Rascals fan in the 60s  here’s a link to learn more

Useful Information…Possibly

Writer Bill Bryson owns a house in the English countryside. While searching through his attic one day, he discovered a door which led to a small roof and a view of the surrounding area. The experience led Bryson to start thinking about the history of his new community and his new home. Those thoughts, in turn, led to his study of the various rooms in which we live, the contents of those rooms, and their origins. Here are a few of the insights which Bryson shards:

*The dining table was originally just a plain board which was put up at meal time. Eventually, the term “board” came to signify not only the table but also the meal itself. Thus, the expression “room & board”. Also, expressions such as “above board” meaning honest because ones hands were visible and “under the table” meaning dishonest.

*The creation of the fireplace changed everything. It enabled a building to have two stories which added more rooms and the opportunity for privacy.

*In 1884, just 128 years ago, a New England company introduced the concept of preserving food during ocean voyages by using ice from Wenham Lake in Massachusetts.

*Thomas Jefferson created the American French Fry.

*English clergymen preached against eating the potato because it grows underground (the domain of the Devil) and because the potato wasn’t specifically mentioned in the Bible.

*Ironically, people like Thomas Chippendale whom we no admire for their craftsmanship are also the people who created mass manufacturing.

*Christopher Columbus never set foot on the American continent. One significant accomplishment of Columbus’ voyages, however, was to introduce syphillis to the population of Europe.

*The Pacific Ocean was much bigger than Magellan anticipated. His crews ran out of food and were reduced to eating a mixture of rat droppings and wood shavings in order to stave off their hunger. (Yummy!) Only 18 members of Magellan’s original crew of 260 men survived the voyage. They became the first humans to circumvent the globe.

*60% of the world’s food varieties today originated in the Americas.

*The first coffee shop was created in London in a shed behind a church in 1652 (very pre-Starbucks!)

*In his diary entry for September 25, 1660 Samuel Peeps recorded the first known English language mention of tea.

*Bryson suggests that classes on the history of marketing begin with the story of how the British encouraged opium sales in China.

*If you flush a toilet with the seat up, germs linger in the air for up to 2 hours.

*During the early days of indoor plumbing, water closets were reserved for the servant class. The upper classes thought indoor toilets were demeaning and preferred outhouses.

*In 1716, Thomas Jefferson built Monticello on the edge of the known world. It’s telling that he faced the front of the house toward the wilderness rather than toward civilization.

*When Jefferson died on 7/4/1826, he was $ 100K in debt. His daughter tried to sell Monticello for

$ 70K but eventually sold it for only $ 7,000.

*Prior to the Revolutionary War, the British enforced a law which ordered that goods sold to America had to first pass through England. Consequently, something produced in Cuba would have to first travel across the Atlantic to England and then back to the American colonies.

*Falls from stairs rank as the 2nd most common cause of accidental death.

*Amazingly, we’ve had electricity and phones for as long as we’ve known that germs cause disease.

*The invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney, who lived in Massachusetts and was a Yale grad, increased the amount of slavery in the South. Prior to the cotton gin’s invention, slavery was on the decline. Its invention also turned child labor into a necessity because the kids were small enough to access problem areas and paved the way for the Civil War. (Talk about unintended consequences).

*Bryson makes Charles Darwin’s sometimes tragic story come alive in a way that I’ve never heard it told before.

*It takes the average citizen of Tajikistan a whole year to produce the same amount of carbon emissions as it does for the average European to produce in 2.5 days and for an average American to produce in just 28 hours.

These are just a few of the interesting insights which Bill Bryson brings to our attention about many of the things we take for granted in our daily lives. If you’re as fascinated about this stuff as I am,  I think you’ll enjoy this book.

In closing, Bryson gives us something to think about: Is it possible that in our endless quest to fill our lives with comfort and happiness that we’re creating a world that has neither?

My Enhanced CX (Customer Experience)

Yesterday, I was having a problem renewing a couple of my website domains via my GoDaddy account. So, I called the customer service hotline.

The guy who was assigned my call was efficient, learned about my issue then promptly fixed my problem and explained why I had encountered the difficulty. That was standard operating procedure.

What surprised and delighted me was what happened next.

Based on my information, GoDaddy’s rep knew that I lived in Saratoga Springs, New York. So, he asked me what I thought about jockey Ramon Dominguez’s accomplishment of winning 6 races at Saratoga Race Course over the weekend.

His question started a conversation about the work I’m doing for the New York Racing Association this summer at Saratoga Race Course and about his family’s love of horse racing. He told me that he often takes his kids to Santa Anita in California but that his relatives have been to Saratoga and have recommended that he visit, too. He then told me that he and his family were planning to vacation in Saratoga Springs next summer. I told him that I thought they would really enjoy their visit, wished him well, thanked him for his help, and we ended out conversation.

For me, it was a terrific customer experience. Yes, we resolved my business problem but there was also an emotional connection and exchange of humanity. My opinion about and trust of GoDaddy was definitely improved by the experience.

In GoDaddy’s follow-up questionnaire, I suggested that they give that man a raise. I hope that they take my recommendation seriously.

The Health Of The Nation

On Thursday, the United States Supreme Court, SCOTUS to the politicos among us, will announce its decision on the Affordable Health Care Act or as master of rhetoric Dr. Frank Lunz has repositioned it, “Obamacare”. This collection of political cartoons pretty much summarizes the extent and divisiveness of the debate on this issue:

Of course, most of us have been more inclined to listen to the rhetoric of this debate than have actually bothered to read about the details. Here’s a link to the summary provided by the US Senate: