Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Home is Where the Hack is

I admit, I've been called every name in the book, but none more frequently than "curmudgeon."  I don't really mind it, however, because it's a pretty apt description of me.  I question everything and take nothing for granted.  I don't trust you until you prove yourself worthy of that trust, because most of the time, I know you're trying to sell me something.

Oh, you may not think you're trying to sell me something, but you are.  And usually it's something that's going to work out really well for you, but maybe not so well for me.  No matter, though. You'll have made your money and I'll be suffering the consequences of having parted with mine and all the while, you'll have convinced yourself that you were acting in my interest.

Don't sweat it. You're in good company.  Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and a host of other techno-tycoons have done the same thing. They've invented stuff to do stuff we've never had to do before, convincing us that their stuff will make our stuff that much better.  As a result, Steve Jobs has you paying for equipment upgrades in months instead of years. Bill Gates has made sure every virus on the planet has a home on your hard drive. And Mark Zuckerberg has mastered the art of making you feel both lonely and left out using nothing but a screen.

Everyone, it seems, is bent on selling you technology you don't need (yes, I still wear a wrist watch and no, I don't own a smart phone - yet), but none can be more questionable than the latest offering from your cable provider and ISP:  Remote Home Security networks.

In case you've been on Mars for the last few years, Remote Home Security networks allow you to check on and manage everything in your home from a remote location via the internet. Most people use their smart phones to check if the lights are turned off, the thermostat is lowered or the doors are locked.  You get the smart phone app for free.  Installing the system costs a modest sum, but the real pain begins with the monthly access charge. Now and forever, buyers of these pointless systems pay a minimum of $39 a month -- we're talking $500 a year -- for life.

Did I say pointless? What I meant to say was dangerous.

You can't go two days in a row without hearing or watching story devoted to someone, somewhere hacking into systems or fortressed corporations and stealing millions of credit card numbers or people's vital information.  The only reason you don't hear about it every day is because the media has to allow enough time to inform you about the day's murders. But that's another story.

I guess the cable companies and ISPs figure since they're already selling you internet access, they might as well sell you more uses for it, and by that measure Remote Home Security systems make sense.  It's something that makes them money, but is it really in your interest?  Think about it. If hacking has surpassed soccer as the world's most popular sport, why wouldn't hackers take aim at Remote Home Security systems to not only find out when you're not home, but disarm your alarm system, unlock your doors and have their buddies ransack the place?

Especially if they can do it from two continents away?

If you believe Remote Home Security is going to make you and yours safer and more secure, that certainly your choice.  As for me, I'm a curmudgeon. I'll continue to make sure my German Shepherd stays hungry.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Yes Means Nothing

I'm not a big fan of rape or the rape culture.  It's never made sense to me why any man would attack a woman, even one that whines a lot. There's simply no excuse for a man physically assaulting a woman, with the possible exception of self-defense.  And even then, she'd better have a really big gun aimed in the right direction to justify a roundhouse right.

When it comes to sexual matters, I really don't understand why any man would force himself on a woman.  Oh sure, I get the psychology that rape is all about misplaced anger and not about sexuality.  But violent rape isn't what I'm addressing.  I'm talking about the pushy date who doesn't take no for an answer.  For the life of me, I can't figure out why a guy would even want a woman who doesn't want him.  The whole point of great sex is -- or at least I thought it was -- the two of you doing your best to make each other feel wonderful.  Why anyone would want to advance on someone fighting them off is simply beyond my ken. Do any men really subscribe to that whole "conquering" thing any more? Don't they have enough friends in jail for taking things that weren't theirs to take?

Ask anyone who's been wanted by someone who doesn't want them and they'll all respond the same way:  It's icky.  Mind you, I have no idea why anyone would go out on a date with that person in the first place, but that's beside the point.  I'm sure they have their reasons.

Here's something I do have an idea about, though, and it's just as puzzling:

In January, 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed the Yes Means Yes legislation into law.  The well-intended bill applies only to the state campuses of California's colleges, no place else.  And the law sounds pretty simple:  It changes the standard of woman's of sexual acceptance from  a lack of her vocal utterance of "No" to a verbal assurance of "Yes."  So the guy has to hear the word yes from the girl before advancing any further.  The notion was to clear up any misunderstandings about rejection of sexual advances.  Apparently, "What part of 'no' don't you understand" isn't understood by enough Neanderthals, so the legislature has opted for an affirmative indicator.  She only means "yes" if she audibly vocalizes the word yes.

At first, this sounds like a great idea.  Unfortunately, it's a really bad law.  And here's why:

The way the law is written doesn't specify when a woman can change from yes to no.  A couple could be in the midst of mutually approved physical rapture, well on their way to sexual Valhalla and a woman can suddenly say no.  After that, there's no time limit involved for a man to figure out what to do next.  Of course, the hard core feminists among us will stick to the letter of the law and insist he just stop, but that's hardly realistic, especially if she changes her utterance once again a few seconds later.  

And then there are those whose worlds of fantasy could come crashing down on them.  Visit any online dating site and you'll find at least one question along the lines of, "Would you participate in a rape fantasy if your partner asked?"  Yikes.  Talk about a high risk situation.  If she says yes on the questionnaire, does that assent still cover her suitor's liability after the handcuffs click? How long does yes last? Is there a time limit or does a man have to continually feed the meter?

The Yes Means Yes law is a beautiful example of our country's misplaced belief that laws can resolve the complete abdication of any kind of self-respect or individual accountability -- not to mention common sense.  A few decades ago, pundits lampooned the arcane laws of sexual preferences and opined how government has no place in the bedroom.  Today, those same voices clamor for ridiculous laws that sit squarely on your pillow.  

We don't need more well-intended, badly-written laws.  We need more people understanding how to be good to each other and why being good is such a great thing to do.  Mothers and fathers are supposed to do that.  It's their job.  In the meantime, who knows how many young lives will be derailed by Yes Means Yes. 

Sure, you worry about your daughters.  But now you get to worry about your sons, too.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Wristwatch Man

As anyone who's ever read anything I've ever written would know, "branding is about being perceived as the only solution to your prospects' problem."  The most important word in that definition is "only," because once you're perceived as the only solution, there's simply no place else to shop.  You're the only game in town, which means your brand is practically impervious to price issues.

The bottom line, so to speak, is that profitable revenue increase is what real branding is all about.

But right behind "only," running a close second, is the notion of perception.  More than what you truly are, perception projects how you want others to see you.  It's about making a statement, projecting not only what you are, but also what you are not.  That aspect has never been more important than it is right now, and it's never been more apparent than at the face to face meetings I've attended of late.

More than likely you've had the same lunch meetings I have.  You know the drill:  The initial small talk, followed by the check of the smart phone, ordering the food and talking business.  But if you notice, there are two types of people whose style and manner telegraph the kind of people they are:

The Digital Slave and the Wristwatch Man.

Let me state flat out that I'm not a twenty something. Or even a thirty something.  And while I've always admired and adopted new, efficient technologies, I've never been a technology lemming who upgrades software at the first available moment or -- God forbid -- lines up the previous night at a retail store to buy a piece of just-released hardware.  

I think that's just kind of stupid. 

Yet increasingly, this is the behavior I see emanating from those who are supposed to be adults but are actually more like large children in business suits.  These are the Digital Slaves.  The people who park their smart phones just east of their salad forks, well within view lest anything, anywhere happen to alert them.  These alerts, by the way, rarely have anything pressing to announce; certainly nothing that can't wait an hour or two while important business is being done.  Digital Slaves don't care.  They're seemingly unable to discern the difference between a crisis back at the office and their pals' latest Facebook post, often disrupting or derailing their real time conversations to the point they often forget what they were talking about prior to the alert.

Decades ago, Chicago columnist Bob Green (the man who invented the "yuppie" moniker) called it the "twitching of America."  Digital Slaves are prime victims.  They over-rely on technology when simpler analog solutions often to a better job.  Digital Slaves love to eat in restaurants where plasma screens are pasted to the walls, showing varying content -- with no sound or means to download any real data.  It doesn't seem to matter, however, as long as the Digital Slave feels as if he's receiving information -- none of which is even relevant to him.

It's important you be able to recognize a Digital Slave, because they tend to be shallow thinkers, unable or uninterested to delve into issues at more than the depth of a soundbyte.  They're so busy absorbing so much useless data that they simply have no time to get a true understanding of the events and issues sitting across the table from them.  It might make them feel self-important, but it also makes them dangerous and undependable.

Contrast the Digital Slave to the Wristwatch Man.  This is the person who favors the appropriate use of technology over the myth of technology.  The Wristwatch Man gives careful consideration to each and every opportunity, knowing that there's always more time than people think.  He devotes his full attention to situations so that when he acts, he gets it right the first time.   The Wristwatch Man doesn't require a 24/7 wireless connection to know what time it is: he simply looks at his wrist.  And chances are that if you're meeting him for lunch, he silenced and stowed his phone long before he sat down at your table.

The Wristwatch Man understands how to listen, focusing on what you say rather than the latest bits of useless information being sprayed into his face by some pocket appliance.  Because he listens with intensity, his thoughts and recommendations spring from a deeper level that those served up by Yahoo or Google news alerts.  

This is a guy you can trust.

The ability to focus and listen and think and exchange thoughts about one topic for an extended period of time is rapidly becoming a lost art, as Digital Slaves overrun the nation, passing themselves off as busy -- not to be confused with professional or productive.  The Wristwatch Man stands quietly to the side, taking time to listen, observe, analyze and respond with surgical precision and lethal accuracy.  Solving problems through genuine thought instead of slapping on this week's hyped up miracle tech.

It's a busy, fast-paced world. And the Wristwatch Man is getting harder to find.  But he's easy to spot if you know how to look for him:  Ask him what time it is. 

If he doesn't pull out his cell phone, you've got the right guy.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Globalism Sucks

Maybe it's my impatience with the spiraling decline of modern man as it descends into a netherworld lacking education. Or maybe it's because pop culture has elevated it to religious status.  I know this much, though:  This whole "globalism" thing makes no sense as we know it.

Oh, I know that young people with no real concept of human nature or world history will argue the point.  They like the idea of the whole world holding hands while doing nothing other than watching meaningless music videos promoted to end world hunger. It's a fine idea to have the whole world get along.  In fact, it's been a fine idea for a few thousand years now.

Newsflash:  The "one world" myth isn't happening any time soon.  And that's probably a good thing.

The main reason why globalism is such a foolhardy myth is that everyone has his own view of what globalism really is.  To an American, globalism means a market-based democracy with lots of freedom to open WalMarts and McDonalds anywhere at any time.  The American notion of globalism is, like just about every other culture, simply a replication of its own society on a planetary level.

Americans want everyone to vote democratically.  They want women to be equal to men. They want you to love Jesus and personal freedom, because, you know, if everyone on the planet did that, we'd all get along just fine.  And it could work, except for the fact that just about every other culture has pretty much the same type of agenda with different specifics. The Taliban, for example,  doesn't want women to be equal to men, doesn't want you to love Jesus and has no place for personal freedom.  By now, it should be pretty obvious that the two sides won't ever converge.

Oddly, one of the few global constants throughout human beings (besides classifying incest as taboo), is people's chafing at being told what to do -- especially by a foreigner.  Oh, the masses love shifting personal accountability off their backs and onto the shoulders of their regional leaders who tell them what to do, but that's because those leaders pretty much share the masses' own views and tastes.  On a day to day level, though, people want to be left alone to tend to their own affairs.  It doesn't matter if you're a native in Nairobi or a muslim in Morocco: people hate any authority demanding they shift their customs to a foreigner's arbitrary dictates.

The funniest part about the myth of globalism is asking proponents to accept a global culture that isn't their own.  For example, Americans have no problem imagining a Sunni muslim shaving his beard, donning a business suit and working on Fridays, but I highly doubt they'd consider growing beards, not working on Fridays while wearing veils and burqas.

At one level, it's all pretty amusing.  But the same arguments get a little hotter when you move the cultural, social and political dials accordingly.  In America, nobody likes the idea of strongmen and thugs using oppressive -- or even murderous -- tactics in order to keep their populations under control.  Most Americans view the brutal treatment of women in those same foreign cultures as backward and primitive.  Yet year after year, century after century, those populations perpetuate those customs and practices without much internal opposition.  Which means as distasteful as American might find them, maybe those cultures -- and the people who observe them -- are actually just fine with what they have.  Maybe Americans should simply start accepting each culture for what it is, as it is.  

After all, if self-determination is a paramount American virtue, shouldn't that virtue apply to every global citizen?

Globalism, as it turns out, isn't about uniformity.  It's about acceptance and accessibility. It's about understanding  differences and navigating them according to one's self interests.  If the world's economy has become internationalized, that's fine by me.  But that's about internationalizing commerce, not culture.

So maybe instead of sending soldiers to foreign lands to sell the American Way, we should simply send our salesmen and buyers to the edge of foreign borders, where foreign buyers and sellers can meet and exchange goods and services, each one restricting his duties to commercial interests while leaving his moralistic laundry list at home -- where it belongs.

I'm not talking about helping to defend an ally under attack.  That's a wholly different story.  I'm talking about basic acceptance of other people and other cultures, regardless of how different or distasteful we find them to be.

I know.  It's never going to happen.  But I can dream, can't I?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Try Knocking On The Door

You can draw as many logos as you like.  You can come up with a dopey name nobody can spell.  And I suppose you could call that branding.  God only knows that most of the industry does it that way.

And then there are those who confuse branding with awareness, which is another misconception I could never understand.  Especially when advertising and marketing and public relations people whip out their charts and exclaim, "Look at how high your aided awareness numbers are!"

For the record, aided awareness is the most notorious loser in the Advertising Hack's arsenal.  The term refers to people who recognize your brand after you've helped them recognize it.  There might be a more pathetic statistic out there, but I can't think of one just now.  Unaided awareness is only slightly less anemic.   I mean, what's the point of everyone knowing who you are when they don't know why they should know who you are?  That never made any sense to me, but I'm sure it's confuzzled a lot of clients. 

There's a lot about branding that people simply don't know.  They like to cover up their ignorance by making it far more complicated than it has to be.   For those people, let me make one thing excruciatingly clear:  

The whole point of branding is to make more money

That's it. See how easy that is? The bottom line is a brand's most important deliverable.  If it's not increasing profitable revenue, why even bother?

And yet, I watch as a whole world of social media, business development services and networking tools flood the web space.  All kinds of new technologies and applications, seemingly designed to take your money and promise to help grow your business.  You can pay people to blog for you.  To post to Facebook.  To tweet and whatever the verb you use is to keep your Pinterest and Instagram accounts up to date.  There's no shortage of sites that want to link you to everyone else who wants to link to you, but nobody seems to be able to generate revenue from any of it.

So maybe it's time we got back to basics.  If it's really new business you're after, maybe you should take a cue from Clint Eastwood in this classic clip from Magnum Force: 

See how easy that is?  Who needs digital technology when all you really have to do is contact the prospect and ask for his business?  True, not all prospects are easy to get to on the first bounce, but you'd be surprised at how many truly are if you simply try knocking on the door.  Dialing a phone doesn't require an engineering degree and I'm fairly sure sending an e-mail isn't much tougher.  The trick, of course, is knowing what to say when the other guy picks up the phone.

Years ago, I had a conversation with Burt Sugarman.  If you don't know Burt, let me save you a ton of Google time and tell you he made a ton of dough producing early rock and roll television shows and then went on to make several tons more while marrying Mary Hart.  One day, as I was struggling to launch my own business, Burt was nice enough to lend me his ear.  I asked him, "How do I get in contact with higher end clients?"  He just cocked his head and asked, "Have you tried picking up the phone and calling them?"

See how easy that was?  And he was right.  One of the big myths of digital services and social media is that it sells you the promise of business-made-easy, which rarely, if ever delivers.  The fact is you can't offload your new business duties by paying your way out of them.  It simply doesn't work. At the end of the day, nothing beats cutting through the bullshit and simply reaching out to the guy you want to meet.  

It's not only more effective.  It's a lot cheaper, too.  After all, what does a phone call cost?  And e-mail's even cheaper.  

So now that you've paid your fees and gotten nothing in return, if you're really serious about developing new business, junk all those digital diversions and follow Clint's advice.

Try knocking on the door.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Why "new" is tougher to sell than "improved"

This is the month that we'll be launching a totally new online service that allows anyone, anywhere to settle a dispute online, any time.  It's not just a better way for working Americans to settle their disputes, it's a totally new way to settle them.

Which means it's going to be much, much more difficult to launch this puppy.  Here's why:

If you look at the balance sheet, there's no question OneDayDecisions is a better solution for resolving disputes: No wasted time or money. No dragged out court dates. No chance the judge will throw your case out. No staring down the other guy in court.  Faster resolution. Faster payments. No credit damage for the paying party. Discounted payments for the paying party. Pay judgments by credit card -- the list goes on.

Essentially, you can get the matter done and move on with your life.  It unclogs court systems and saves taxpayers money.  There's no down side, except one:

It's new.

Not "improved." Not "advanced." New.  And that can be a problem. Because whenever people are presented with any concept, the first thing they do is try to fit it into their own frames of reference.  They try to understand it within the parameters of what they already know.  That makes it far easier for them to accept "it's what you know, only better" than "you've never seen this before."

People actually don't really like "new."  First, "new" can mean "strange and unrecognized," which some find threatening.  Second, "new" can be taken as a personal insult -- not everyone likes to be reminded that they aren't up to speed on the latest and greatest.  Third, "new" requires learning and some people just don't want to make the effort, even when that effort will drastically improve their lives.

So how to do sell "new?"  I'm thinking it's infusing education into sales, rather than allowing prospects to draw their own conclusions.  In the case of OneDayDecisions, that means running TV spots to drive traffic to the site, but more importantly, featuring short duration instructional videos on every page of the site, which educate and encourage prospects to explore further.

I'll be honest with you: We're in unexplored territory here. I have no idea just how effective the tactic will be.  I do know we have a much better service and it's totally new. It will drastically improve people's lives.

Assuming, of course, they can embrace something "new."

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Apple + Beats = Not So Good

A lot of people enjoy a lot of different hobbies.  Some like to play tennis.  Others go fishing.  Some jump out of airplanes.  I am, to coin a phrase, a bit more down to earth.  One of my main sources of leisure time joy is exposing poseurs.  I can't help it.  It's a personality flaw that, by some stroke of luck, I've been able to turn into a career.

Being a branding guy, I meet a lot of people who give themselves away by immediately citing Apple as a premium example of "great branding."  I listen patiently and then, very carefully, explain to them why Apple is anything but a great brand.

Actually, it's a failing brand.

Make no mistake, Apple is a very successful brand.  They make a ton of money.  They can boast legions of rabid evangelists lining up at their retail stores to blindly purchase the latest versions of pointless technology.  I have no argument with that.  Hey, more power to them.  But that's not why I feel Apple's best days are behind them.  

If you've been reading this blog over the last few years, you know that I've been watching Apple arc from underdog to King of the Hill to Second Generation Brand Headed Into the Meat Grinder (you can read them all by searching this blog for article titles containing the word "Apple").  I've called out Apple for being more of a fashion brand than a legitimate brand, much more akin to Abercrombie & Fitch than Federal Express.  And now, with their acquisition of Beats, it seems they've sealed that fate.

Here's why:

1. Fashion brands get hot and die cold.  What was once hip, slick and rebellious is now mainstream.  When your grandmother has an iPhone, it just isn't as cool any more. You start looking for the Next Big Thing.

2.  There was a time where Apple users sniffed at PC users as Neanderthals handcuffed to Microsoft.  That was when Microsoft was the only other game in town.  Today, thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices, there are plenty of other platforms with lots more to offer than Apple.  Android, in particular, comes to mind, but there are lots more systems, with lots more apps from lots more brands.  The time has come where Apple users want to switch out but feel trapped by having invested so much into Apple's fortressed, domineering domain.

3.  If you add points #1 and #2, you get to point #3, where users find themselves waking from the dream and asking why they're paying premium prices for Apple devices and systems that may be as good, but not better than, its competitors.  That bell you hear is the death knell of fashion brands as the public realizes its overpaying for under-delivery.  

4.  Apple has migrated from a productivity platform to an entertainment platform.  This is serious.  Back when Apple took its productivity seriously, we'd hear all kinds of technical achievements over competitive platforms.  Macs would smack down IBM mainframes and leave PC-based systems in the dust with an elegant ease.  You don't hear those stories any more, because Apple's focus has, like so much of America, been dumbed down to cater to the self-interest of the average Joe, whose primary needs revolve around music, videos, social media and mostly other non-productive tasks.  When it comes to pandering to the public's narcissism, Apple is tough to beat.

5.  Apple has become a stagnant brand.  As I've written here previously, there are Three Generations of Wealth:  The first one earns it; the second one spends it; the third one loses it.  Now that Steve Jobs is essentially a long-forgotten ghost, Apple is a second generation brand that has abandoned its fundamental vision.   Its management mistakes driving revenue at any cost with the much more complex task of driving revenue while maintaining the brand integrity and leadership that brought it to prominence.   Tim Cook et al are simply grasping at the lowest hanging fruit in order to generate the easiest money they can find.  That's what Second Generation brands do.  It's also what drives them into the ground.  It's why once-great brands like Maytag (which no longer builds its own washing machines, but essentially licenses its brand name on inferior, outsourced products) has swan dived from its previous premium perch into the cesspool of also-rans.

Now we find that Apple, for the first time, is also violating one of its long-held tenets:  Retaining the Beats brand identity.  Whereas there was a time when every product (built or bought) become an Apple brand, this is no longer the case -- and it's very telling:  By retaining the Beats name, Apple admits its own brand is not as strong as, or quite possibly weaker than, Beats.  Which means that the cracks in the Apple armor are beginning to show.

But hey, don't take my word for it.  All you fanboys can keep believing, if you like.  There are still millions of Beatles fans who don't want to accept John Lennon's announcement of the band's demise.  Decades later, they still can't believe it.  But believe it you must:

"The dream is over."