Demandbase Connect

 

Tackling assumptions 101: Or, what to do when your daughter introduces you to her much older, tattooed, boyfriend hell-bent on changing the operating system on your family pc

July 31, 2008

For years, we’ve been taught by our parents and loved ones to be careful. And, we often assume their suggestions are correct without question. We’re told to be careful of crossing the street without looking both ways; careful of that “bad neighborhood”; careful of “that boy” or “that girl”. . .after all, who knows where they’ve been. Yikes! Then of course, for those of us who live under the specter of terrorism, we must be careful of certain nationalities; of certain places; be careful; be careful; be careful. It’s enough to make you want to live in a box! Oh wait, we’re supposed to live outside the box, right? Ugh. So confusing!

Each of the above cautions is based mainly on a single assumption. That is, that certain people, places and things are not safe for us. They were not safe then, they’re not safe now, and therefore they’ll never be safe. Sounds like good advice, right? After all, the advice is coming from people we know and trust, so it must be true. Well, maybe, but I’d wager they’re more often just acting on assumptions than anything really substantial.

As an entrepreneur, I tend to cast a careful eye on assumptions, and generally heed the advice of my chemistry teacher from high school who always said that to assume is to: make an “ass” out of both “u” and “me”. Perhaps a teacher of yours shared with you this familiar mantra. I have since internalized it, and found that questioning life’s assumptions works well in both my personal and business life. The funny thing is though, try as we might, we often have unwittingly absorbed so many of these false truths already, our real job isn’t to avoid the formation of new assumptions, but rather, to get rid of the one’s we hardly know we possess.

This week, two things I generally believed to be true (and are likewise preached as gospel), slapped me upside the head and brought my own short-sightedness to the fore. These two assumptions are that “old people” (and I use this term purposely) know nothing about computers, and that women (let alone grandmothers) could care less about sports.

So you must imagine my astonishment, then, when two separate groups of elderly women in about their mid-seventies, nailed my silly head to the wall as they covered both of these topics with the type of detail reserved for the local bar, not the local pastry shop.

What I experienced was eye-opening to say the least, as the first group of seniors engaged themselves in a ten-minute conversation about the benefits and disadvantages of their computer operating systems. . .tossing around windows system designators like XP and 2000 like they were menu items from the bakery. . .and the second group chatted about the on-again/off-again successes of the Chicago Cubs baseball team.

Unbelievable.

And, mind you, this group of sports fans was not just talking about final scores and the highlight reel they saw on the previous evening’s newscast. They were talking about pitching choices, naming names, and even talking about how the game played out – one woman even commented on how she enjoyed the most recent game more than most – as if she watched them all the time!

Ha! Take that you silly man, you!

As a former network PC tech, and man whose intimacy with sports died in the 80’s with the great Dallas Cowboys and New York Mets, I cannot begin to tell you how amazed I was that I was overhearing this, AND that I had let myself fall victim to this demographic assumption. What a wake-up call!

So this got me to thinking about the implications such assumptions have on business, and since my ideas slant toward marketing, it sent my mind racing for parallels in that arena. I didn’t have to look far, as it’s a common mistake we all make.

After all, there are countless examples of huge businesses that made marketing decisions based on imperfect and assumed data. The classic examples of the Chevy Nova’s flop in countries where “Nova” translates to “no go,” and P&G’s failure with the concentrated laundry detergent Ariel Ultra because consumers doubted its cleaning power, serve as perfect reminders of the importance to not assume that product success in one area can be easily duplicated elsewhere. In the end, both companies invested millions of dollars to appeal to a certain demographic the numbers told them they understood. As it turns out, the numbers didn’t tell enough.

Smart marketers, and smart people, know relying solely on a large demographic picture can lead to a flawed decision-making process. So remain on edge, question your data, question your assumptions, and take to heart the advice of former EVP of Toyota Mr. Taiichi Ohno who encouraged his team to always “Ask ‘why’ five times about every matter.” Doing so will help to place you and your firm on a much clearer path toward success as a result.

Because after all, those asking “why” are likely to be your next competitor, and they’ll no doubt be “built” differently than you. And maybe, just maybe, that person will be a tattooed, older woman from a country much different than your own, hell-bent on change and making herself, her firm and her world, a better place for all of us to experience. And my bet is she wouldn’t even know how to pronounce the word “demographic” to save her life.

Oh, and what of the assumed danger presented by the protagonist in our title?

Let him in.

He’s probably a nice guy who will do a bang-up job with your computer. Plus he’ll be able to answer that nagging question about whether tattoos really do hurt. In other words, “he’s safe.”


Delivering emotional attatchment with your brand promise, McDonald’s style

June 30, 2008

The mighty Big Mac MealNot far from my house, there is a McDonald’s I sometimes frequent to indulge in one of my favorite “cheat meals.” It’s a “cheat meal,” because my personal trainer and my girlfriend only allow me to have such calorie-busters once a week to round out a more “veggie-oriented” meal plan that would make a cardiologist proud.

My preferred item on the brightly colored numerical list of choices is the #1 meal. For those not as susceptible to the lure of the billowy grill-infused-smoke that re-wires everything in my brain telling me to eat a turkey sandwich instead of the two all-beef-patties I really want – that’s a Big Mac with fries and a tall Coke. It’s predictably tasty, and for me, at least, always rewarding.

Yet despite the predictable and ordinary nature of my trip to the Golden Arches, a visit to a McDonald’s in Chicago is never. . .really. . .typical. In fact, it’s often like stepping into another country altogether, or several at the same time to be precise. The reason for this of course, is that Chicago is by nature a massive mix of folks from all around the globe, and my local McDonald’s is at times the perfect microcosm of this fine city.

There is the group of elderly Greek gentleman who occupy the four booths along the wall from morning till lunchtime, kibitzing with their long-time mates about a variety of topics du jour in their native language; the Polish couple with stroller in-tow; the teenagers off on lunch break from school and the staff comprised mostly of Latinos asking me for my order in English, but quickly shifting back to their own familiar tongue once I’m off to my own booth. It’s really a beautiful thing to see.

So all this diversity in what some might consider this most “American” of American restaurants got me thinking a bit. Here I am in the “heartland” of America, still “fly-over” country for a lot of folks on the east and west coasts, and I’m the lone American in Ray Crock’s paradise. How is that? I don’t see commercials for McDonald’s in Greek. . .or in Polish for that matter. Certainly in some areas of the country, and on some stations here in Chicago, there is Spanish language messaging streaming through homes. . .but regardless, I don’t think commercials and advertising are even close to the reason why people go to McDonald’s. It’s not what brought me there. (I was transfixed by the smell. Yeah, right.) How about the 15+ Greek gentlemen there every morning? And the couples, and teenagers and everyone else spread across every imaginable demographic? Why are they there? They’re certainly not all watching the same TV shows and frequenting the same websites. . .so what is it?

Well, in my experience, one of the major keys to crossing the boundaries of language, culture and ambivalence toward marketing, is the infusion of heart into a product or service. Now, feel free to dismiss this as “willy-nilly” marketing junk if you’d like, but if you sit back and really think about why it is you buy different things, choose a particular service, or frequent an establishment, I’d be willing to bet money that a large part of the reason you settle on your choices is because of how these brands, services and places make you feel.

When a company or individual puts their heart and passion into a product, it’s often difficult to contain the enthusiasm that accompanies the pitch. Even a product that just sits on a shelf can be imbued with a certain level of passion. Think about auto parts, for example. Not the most glamorous of products, right? But if you’re an auto mechanic, no doubt you’ll know who makes the best parts and why, and the packaging and branding that goes along with creating that feeling is all part of constructing the emotion the consumer “buys” in the end.

A brand is merely an extension of the people who think it, make it and sell it. And each time we interact with people associated with that brand, we walk away with a feeling of how it has impacted us. Were they nice to us? Did they treat us with respect? Did they treat the product with respect? With regard to the latter, let’s take a look at McDonald’s, for example.

When I worked there many moons ago, we had a policy that after a specific period of time, fries that were not sold were to be tossed because they no longer met the standards set forth by the company with regard to taste and appeal. I imagine the same is true today. You see, people who come to McDonald’s expect their fries to taste a certain way. . .to have a certain. . .crunch if you will. Mess with that, and you mess with the consumer’s attachment to the product. They end up feeling differently about it. Just ask someone at McDonald’s what it was like tinkering with the oil they use to fry up those babies, or execs at Coke what it was like after introducing New Coke to a puzzled audience of Coca-Cola addicts. Yikes. There is indeed real emotion tied up with any brand.

So what do we do to make sure we’re shepherding the desired emotional outcome among our intended audience? In my book, it looks like this: Hire the best people you can. Pay them well. Require that they contribute to the success of the brand – and reward them when they do. Invest in R&D. “Hang” with your customers, vendors, suppliers. . .find out what makes them tick. If you follow these simple guidelines, you’ll know exactly what it is your audience wants – and you’ll be able to deliver it every time. Ignore this simple premise, and you’ll find yourself delivering cold, wimpy fries instead. Serve too many, and people will stop coming back for seconds. Be passionate, it works!


How the Music Industry Does It Right: Save time, generate ideas and profit, end cold calls, and safeguard your sanity!

May 2, 2008

When I worked in the music industry, I spent most of my life on the phone. In fact, everyone in my office spent so much time on the phone back then, we hardly wanted to talk at all when the day came to a close.

Stiff necks and tired vocal chords can do that to you, I guess.

Despite these ailments though, I picked up a few valuable lessons that I would like to share, particularly since the telephone seems to have dropped out of favor as our preferred means of communication these days.

For one, I learned the phone can serve to bring two strangers together within the same room in one of the most intimate and economic ways possible. No need to spend money to fly to their location; to set up a web conference; buy a webcam and install the dang thing in the hope that it works. . .nope none of that, just pick up the phone and you’re immediately right in their ear. Talk about communicating. I love the phone. It works. It works for business and it works for family. Don’t be afraid to pick it up and call someone, and don’t be afraid to answer it either.

Answering the phone is the the other important lesson I learned from my years in record promotion. And, this one, or lack of it, is way out of control. Today, people hardly ever answer their phone. Don’t believe me, try it. Heck, call a relative at work today. My bet is unless they recognize your phone number, they’ll let it ring to voice mail every time. If you’re in sales, you also know those voice mails won’t be returned unless there is some strange alignment of the planets AND there just happens to be a need for what you’re offering.

It’s really amazing when you think about it. People are so afraid of who/what is on the other end of that phone line that they’re just ignoring it these days. Or maybe the excuse is that we’re all too busy and don’t have time for the interruption. Perhaps. I can see how easily the day can get away from our grasp after just a few hours in the office. But is ignoring the call altogether the right answer? Is ignoring the sales rep or co-worker the solution? Hardly. In fact, it’s more likely to cause your firm to lose money, and more than you might expect.

Each phone call from a sales person, for example, is an attempt to expose you to a product or service you most likely don’t know exists, but could possibly benefit from. The call is placed precisely because they feel you might actually need their product or service. If they didn’t feel this way, they wouldn’t call you in the first place! So, if you’re not in a position to buy, just tell them. If you are, however, and you merely ignore their calls, then you run the risk of missing out on what might be a better solution for a problem your company deals with on a regular basis. And that, my friends, is NOT good.

So let’s take a look at this issue as it meshes with productivity: handling phone calls is just like handling paper. The old rule of “touch it once” is critical. So here’s a suggestion taken right from the “dysfunctional” world of the music industry.

SET CALL TIMES!

I don’t care who you are, how important your job role, or how busy you seem to be, if you set call times and let everyone know who calls you when those call times are, you will be a much more happy and productive member of your team and, even, dare I say — of society.

Call times are simple to set up and a great way to not only expose yourself to new products and ideas that can help you in your job — and help your company with their bottom line — but they’re also a respectful way to deal with sales reps AND boost your own communication skills at the same time.

Back in the day, if I were to call in to a radio guy outside his call times he just wouldn’t pick up. It was that simple. So, if I needed to get a hold of him I would call during his suggested times, and not outside those times. Sometimes I might even wait for him to finish the call he was on so I was guaranteed to be next in line. Now, I realize this in and of itself isn’t always the most productive of solutions, BUT if I had to talk to him, that waiting did the trick. I could also leave a message with my priorities for the week, and he would call me back that day if he had the time, or on the next occasion when he had a block of time. It was really a brilliant system, and it worked to keep everybody in line and on task.

So here’s how call times work: Essentially all you need to do is pick an hour or two each day (or a few days a week, if its more appropriate to your schedule), and block out those times for phone calls. This time should be used for you to make calls as well as for you to receive calls from sales reps, colleagues, etc. Once you’ve set your call times, let people know about them by leaving the times on your outgoing voice mail message. You can also add your call times to your email signature file to double-up on your efforts at productivity. Lastly when you make your own outgoing calls, let people know when you leave a message on their machine (’cause they’re surely not picking up their phone) exactly when they should call you back re: your call times.

Trust me, if you do this one simple task, you will be amazed at how productive you can become, and how much you will minimize the disruption of an unexpected phone call. What makes phone calls a pain in the rear for most of us is not that call itself, but WHEN the call comes in. That incessant ringing usually comes right in the middle of something else important that demands our focus, and it’s easier to let it ring to voice mail. That’s okay, but then you’ve also set yourself up to have to go back in to the voice mail, write down notes, and then tag up with whoever it is you need to get back to. Good luck with that. That’s a waste of time.

Or lets assume you pick up the call, but ask that person to just send you a quick email with the details. Well, then not only have you now asked them to do more work on your behalf, but you’ve also set yourself up to have to read that email later and respond to it later, when you could have addressed it at that very moment. Again, not a very good use of your time.

Now in terms of sales reps, this type of time-blocking gets even better. For one, if you ignore a sales rep that’s any good, she’ll keep buggin’ the living hell out of you until she does catch you. She’ll call at night, in the morning, send you emails and direct mail pieces just to get your attention. What a drag, eh? Not if you set call times.

Let the sales rep know when they can reach you and you can bet your bottom dollar they’re going to call you during that time frame — guaranteed. So what do you do when they call? Well, how about listen to what they have to say, for one. I think people are so afraid of sales people these days that they’ve forgotten they have the right to say “no”. But listen first. If it’s something your firm might benefit from, then learn more about it. If it’s not something you need, then tell the sales rep. The last thing a sales rep wants to do is chase down a dead lead. If you honestly tell them you’re not interested, AND have given them the time to tell you what it is they offer, they’re going to do what you want most: respect your time, and go away.

Use the phone. It’s your friend. Set call times. . .and make more friends. Try it!

For more reading on this issue, visit Tim Ferriss’ writings regarding his own preference for the phone. In the post below he refers to this method as “clustering”, but its essentially the same idea. He further recommends hiring an assistant to handle calls to limit exposure to non-essential issues. If you can do this, great, but I suspect most employees of firms don’t have this luxury, or haven’t thought about how to outsource this function. If you do go this route, you would likewise need to empower your admin to make judgement calls on sales rep issues as well. Most likely she’s often the one shooing them away anyway, right!

Here is one of my favorite Tim Ferriss posts

Doc Kane is the president of Roscommon, a Chicago-based marketing communications firm that helps clients outsource their writing needs. Essentially, if it’s got words, Roscommon can help.   His firm has the privilege of writing for some of the world’s most recognizable brands, including Abbott Labs and Aon Corporation, as well as a good number of small businesses and experts making a lot of noise in their own backyards.  Doc has also been heavily involved in Internet marketing since 1994, and continues to help small businesses market themselves online via web content and SEO.  You can visit Roscommon online at: www.roscommon.com


Usability and corporate communications: Making profits and paper best friends.

November 19, 2006

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There are great writers everywhere these days. I won’t try to imitate any of them.

Some are more eloquent than I, and some are more brief. Yet the things I write about seem to strike a chord with people. . .big or small, old or young. I like to think it’s because I write like I speak. . .loosely. . .and hopefully, with a bit of a story to rouse one’s curiosity. Sometimes I use a few too many commas despite my status as a professional freelance writer and editor. But who cares. I like ‘em, and again they work with the way I pace things. . .kinda’ like those few dots right there. Yup. I like ellipses too. My grammar teachers would no doubt string me up if they knew where to find me.

But you know what? The entire reason we as humans write is to share ideas with other people via the written word. Only so much can be said and understood in one conversation, and only so much read in one sitting. Putting our ideas to paper allows our intended audience to re-visit and re-learn what has already been stated, and if you want that corporate magazine, company newsletter, white paper, or simple note to a loved one to actually be read, you’d better make it read well. The way to accomplish this simple feat is to write simply.

Last week I volunteered at the Chicago World Usability Day event held at the downtown office of Blue Cross Blue Shield here in the city. It was an event that, quite frankly, I somewhat stumbled upon while on-line searching for concepts and ideas related to my career as a technical writer. I write and edit all sorts of material, actually, but one of my greater joys has always been editing the work of others so as to help them make their message more clear. It is technical writing nirvana for me, really.

World Usability Day was an enlightening event for me because until a few weeks prior to it taking place, I never even knew such a field existed! My first discovery of this “new” creature was through the US government’s usability website where I learned that usability is, quite succinctly, the means by which designers aim to make the things we use and interact with on a daily basis more useful, usable and to quote Don Norman who was the keynoter of the event, more “friendly”. The folks at Motorola, Whirlpool, GE and a host of other companies are working feverishly to ensure the stuff we use in our lives is indeed useful. As writers, we should always aim for the same.

When I was first learning to write critically as a history major in college, I was always instructed to assume nothing when writing. No matter how educated my professors were on the subject matter I was investigating, I was to write my papers as if they knew nothing at all about the topic at hand. It makes sense, of course, and this single lesson is critical to having your work understood. A lack of attention to this principle is often the reason why technical communication in the form of manuals, reports and proposals typically fail to educate their intended audience. As a result, if your firm is spending money on material no one reads or understands, it is spending away its profits on filing cabinet and trash can fodder. There is a reason why our parents never learned how to program the VCR and now their cell phones, and a lot of it can be attributed to those joyful how-to manuals which accompanied those shiny new electronic devices. So if we’re not writing well and using language we can all understand, then fundamentally, we’re not communicating.

So take a step forward and be a change leader. Work on those corporate and technical communications pieces and grab your audience by the short-hairs. Use great ledes, great graphic artists and great writers. After all, you’re competing for your readers eyeballs as much as your own marketing department is, so let’s make it count!

Wouldn’t it be great if after all the hard work you put into your corporate magazine or corporate history piece, your firm’s employees actually read it?

Cool link: The folks at Ragan Communications are the thought leaders in this arena. Check out their work!

Cheers,
Doc Kane, Roscommon
Chicago, November 2006

Doc Kane is the president of Roscommon, a Chicago-based marketing communications firm that helps clients outsource their writing needs. Essentially, if it’s got words, Roscommon can help.   His firm has the privilege of writing for some of the world’s most recognizable brands, including Abbott Labs and Aon Corporation, as well as a good number of small businesses and experts making a lot of noise in their own backyards.  Doc has also been heavily involved in Internet marketing since 1994, and continues to help small businesses market themselves online via web content and SEO.  You can visit Roscommon online at: www.roscommon.com


The three lost words of the English language: And how reviving them will make you money.

July 22, 2006

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When I was a kid, my mother always made it a point to remind me to say ‘please’ when asking a favor of someone, and to offer thanks when the favor was granted. Sometimes I will happen past a young parent telling their child the same thing; eager to instill a bit of politeness in their children despite their misfortune to grow up in an ever-grumpier world. And yet despite the barrage of messages from our parents, we have seemingly, en-masse, forgotten three of the most useful words in the English language.

To be sure, I am not a psychologist, anthropologist, morphologist, or any other sort of “-ist”, so frankly, I haven’t the foggiest idea as to why people don’t use these words as much as they should, but I do find it puzzling. What’s more interesting, though is that it seems we have forgotten to write them as well! It’s uncanny! It’s diabolical! It’s, well. . .it’s, just plain silly.

Writing a thank you note, is perhaps the easiest thing you can do to double your sales, double your profits, and double your referrals. It is consistently more effective than having the perfect product, the perfect sales pitch, or the perfect brand. To understand the power of a five minute hand-written note, just think back to when you were younger and your parents stuck that over-sized pen in your reluctant hand and put you to the task of thanking your Grandparents for the money they gave you for your birthday. Do you remember how pleased they were to receive your note? Well, magnify that by a thousand for someone who doesn’t already love you and you’ll understand the significance a thank you note carries. Letter writing, if it is not dead already, certainly has the bell attached to its foot and six feet of dirt on top. Let’s bring it back to life.

My background in sales has afforded me the opportunity to write many thank you notes, and I admit, I’ve become quite obsessive about it over the years. As such, I’ve worked out a bit of a system that has allowed me to stay on top of my thank you writing needs, so if you follow the very simple steps below you too can become a thank you letter writing King or Queen! And please keep in mind that this system is really for the every-day stuff. . .for more eventful occasions, you’ll need to throw your heart into it. After all, that’s really what it’s all about, right?

Here you go. The easiest way to get in the thank you note habit in 10 simple steps.

  1. Buy a box of 100 thank you cards and a roll of 100 stamps.
  2. Create a list of the 10 most frequent occasions for which you need to write thank you notes in your life.
  3. Using your computer, write a thank you message for each of the occasions you listed above.
  4. Write a sincere note, but keep it fairly generic because we’re going to need to use it again and again.
  5. Save it on your computer so you don’t have to think up a message each time you run into Aunt Betty.
  6. Now, this is the hard part! In groups of ten, take your thank you notes and hand-write the messages on them now. Don’t wait till you need them, just do it now and leave off only the person’s name. Be sure to use the same pen, because otherwise the ink will look to different when you send them off, and that’s well, ugly, and a dead give-away that you wrote them ahead of time.
  7. Put your return address on each of the 100 envelopes you have and stamp each one as well.
  8. Once you’ve written all your letters, put them away someplace safe and organized so you can access them later.
  9. Create a habit! Use a page from your planner to note down people you need to write thank you letters to, and the occasion for which they deserve one.
  10. At least once a week refer to your planner, pull out a pre-written, pre-stamped card, plop a name on there and stick it in the mail. Your clients, colleagues, family and friends will love you for it and you’ll never miss a thank you note opportunity again!

Cheers,
Doc Kane, Roscommon
Chicago, July 2006

Doc Kane is the president of Roscommon, a Chicago-based marketing communications firm that helps clients outsource their writing needs. Essentially, if it’s got words, Roscommon can help.   His firm has the privilege of writing for some of the world’s most recognizable brands, including Abbott Labs and Aon Corporation, as well as a good number of small businesses and experts making a lot of noise in their own backyards.  Doc has also been heavily involved in Internet marketing since 1994, and continues to help small businesses market themselves online via web content and SEO.  You can visit Roscommon online at: www.roscommon.com


Ethics and a Fair Chance: Are academic administrators foiling their own chances of increasing fundraising dollars?

June 30, 2006

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Prologue

Did you know you could buy an internship for $5000.? Or, more realistically, your parents could buy it for you?

Did you know some students who are here illegally can receive scholarships to go to school for free?

Did you know some schools would prefer to not issue internship credit so you can gain work experience?

Neither did I, and that is why I felt compelled to address these issues today. So, I will stray a bit from my normal rant to fill you in on some news you may have missed. But first, to place my opinion in perspective it might be important to note that aside from my current gig, I too wrestled my way through college like millions of others, paid my own way through school, and still continue to educate myself formally today. Unlike most, though, I have also been an academic and career advisor, and have had the amazing opportunity to meet and help hundreds of other students manage the process of getting through their college careers with spirit still intact. So each of these articles I’ll mention below struck a chord with me, and after weeks of wanting to write about it, today’s article finally sent my fingers to the keyboard. So here we go!

A Question of Purpose

Lately I have been puzzled and sometimes stunned by what I have been reading in the Wall Street Journal. First, Miriam Jordan wrote about brilliant, but illegal, Princeton Salutatorian Dan-el Padilla Peralta, whose captivating story of persistence and academic genius is the stuff movies are made of. Read it here: If you haven’t read it, I believe you’ll be amazed by some of what is said.

Then Ellen Gamerman’s article entitled “Now up for bid: Plum Internships” was published. In it, she highlights the new and interesting practice of auctioning-off “internships” at top companies to benefit the charitable wings of elite educational institutions and the students who attend them. As someone who participated in internships for years to make headway in the music industry for little or no money, reading her article hit me so hard it was as if someone had driven their fist straight through my stomach wall. Read it here:

Then today, Anne Marie Chaker took me down for the count with her article: “Summer Internships Can Carry A Price”, which details how academic credit is often required now for internships so companies can abide by Labor Laws. What this means, though, is that in the process of doing so, students may often have to pay thousands of dollars in tuition for the opportunity to work for free. Read a syndicated version here:

The real consequence of short-sightedness

What amazes me about each one of these stories is how often we seem to be missing the big picture, and, how at least in these three pieces, the people missing that picture reside in our academic institutions.

For example, how can it be, that former Princeton Dean of Admissions Fred Hargadon feels comfortable publicly stating Mr. Padilla “could have been from the moon and I would have admitted him.”? Isn’t Mr. Hargadon aware there thousands of equally brilliant students of different races and ethnicities who dream of going to Princeton — and attempt to do so legally? What about those students? Is it right to ignore the law and one’s own sensibility, merely because one student seems to be exceptional? I have no issue with Mr. Padilla Peralta himself. The shocking detachment from ethics is what really grabs me in this case.

And what of Ms. Gamerman’s bombshell about schools selling off donated internships to the highest bidder? As internships become more important to each of our students’ future, does it make sense to allow anyone who can afford to buy an internship for their child to actually do so? Nepotism will always be around for sure, but this seems ridiculous to me. Does the school not recognize that by adding several thousand dollars to their development coffers and making one teenager and her parents happy, they have at the same time disappointed the rest of their student body and their parents? This story was so unbelievable to me. Unfortunately, in the end, I couldn’t really place a finger on which group I was more upset with: our schools or our companies. So many hardworking, passionate students who would make great interns are being overlooked for God-knows what reason. The perception that money means brilliance I thought died a very long time ago.

And finally, today’s WSJ article left me again struggling to understand why administrators at some institutions would rather remain so firm on the idea that academic credit is to be given only for so-called “academic” courses, that in doing so they would prevent their student population from earning internships that require credit. Having known many a graduate student who received independent study credit for merely assembling a bibliography, I see no reason why an internship is not given the same weight. Are we talking about learning, or are we merely discussing learning that is done in an institutional setting? In today’s world they are not as far removed from one another as we might first think.

Epilouge

Schools need to realize that their students are their CUSTOMERS, and when they respect those customers, they will reap the rewards that come from doing so. This point is heavily debated in academia, and I’ve always been puzzled as to why, really. After all, one can make the leap from student to customer rather quickly, and that leap can be viewed very clearly from the sidelines. All we need to do is watch what happens when the student actually graduates from the school they have paid a small fortune to attend.

Who is it that sends the first letter congratulating them on their commencement? Their favorite teacher? Their fellow students? Nope.

Who follows up dutifully six months out. . .a year out. . .five years out. . .to remind that student of their proud experiences at their alma mater?

I think we all know who I’m referring to, right? Correct. The Alumni Association.

Come on, guys. It’s really simple. If you can’t look at the students as your customers when they’re a captive audience and paying tuition, why is it so easy to view them as customers when they’re no longer paying and MUCH, MUCH harder to influence?

When was the last time you donated? (Note: I am actually an active member of my alum association, and believe firmly that changes can and should be made to better serve the administration AND its students!)

Please, Administrators: know your audience!

P.S. For further fodder, please read Zachary M. Seward’s intriguing article about how Alumni magazines want more “Rah, Rah from their magazines in order to bring in more alumni support! Read it here:

Cheers,
Doc Kane, Roscommon

Doc Kane is the president of Roscommon, a Chicago-based marketing communications firm that helps clients outsource their writing needs. Essentially, if it’s got words, Roscommon can help.   His firm has the privilege of writing for some of the world’s most recognizable brands, including Abbott Labs and Aon Corporation, as well as a good number of small businesses and experts making a lot of noise in their own backyards.  Doc has also been heavily involved in Internet marketing since 1994, and continues to help small businesses market themselves online via web content and SEO.  You can visit Roscommon online at: www.roscommon.com


The Mystery of Permanence: How to manage your firm’s corporate legacy.

June 18, 2006

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This past week I rented Terrence Malick’s “The New World”. His lush portrayal of Virginia in all its boundless beauty left me awestruck at times, and I must say his eye for dramatic scenery is impressive. The story, for those who have not seen the film, is about the legendary Pocahontas and the rather impactful life she led over 400 years ago. Of course there are parallel stories and other characters, namely John Smith and John Rolfe, but who really remembers their names after 4 centuries? Historians, perhaps. . .but that’s about it, really.

So let’s consider that for a moment. The spread of time, I mean.

. . .four hundred years.

Pocahontas was a teen-aged girl who had interactions with a group of explorers and settlers from England long before the majority of events that preoccupy most of us today were ever recorded, and yet we’re still talking about her in 2006! Mention her name to anyone above the age of five and they can probably at least identify her.

So that got me thinking about business and corporate permanence. And more precisely, at what point does one’s story stick? There are countless examples of individuals and companies whose legacy just does not stand the test of time, so what causes those others we do remember to remain a fixture in our minds? I can’t tell you how many buildings and streets are named after individuals who were quite well known in their time and for some years after, but have since been lost to the ether. Why? And how can you ensure your legacy and that of your company outlives you and your grandchildren’s children? Of course, the answer is yours to contemplate, but as a corporate historian myself, I’ll give you a few ideas as to how you can get started. Check out a few of these links to place yourself on the right path toward immortality.

Maintaining great corporate records is the role of any serious corporate historian. But what do you do when the cubic feet of archival documents you possess about your company’s history outweigh the building where your office is located? Check out the History Factory and be AMAZED! Also, History Associates runs a tight ship for corporate histories.

The Committee To Encourage Corporate Philanthropy exists to drive corporations to stretch the bounds of the current definition of corporate responsibility. I had the pleasure to hear Miles D. White of Abbott Labs address an audience at the Executive’s Club of Chicago on this very topic, and it was right on, and quite insightful. After all, helping out our friends is a good thing, and as we experienced with Hurricane Katrina, businesses are often in a better place to do it than our governments. Hey, do like Pocahontas and be nice. It seems to create a lasting memory!

Of course, the first step to being remembered, is to start writing. Below I have included a few links to companies who have done a relatively good job of documenting their company history on-line How are you doing? Here are their sites:

Pfizer

Coke (they even have a museum!)

Interestingly enough, Google already has begun the task of documenting their corporate history!

We do corporate histories as well so feel free to reach out if you would like a documented history of your company you can be proud to pass on to your shareholders, employees, and grandchildren. Reach us at www.roscommon.com

Cheers,
Doc Kane, Roscommon

Doc Kane is the president of Roscommon, a Chicago-based marketing communications firm that helps clients outsource their writing needs. Essentially, if it’s got words, Roscommon can help.   His firm has the privilege of writing for some of the world’s most recognizable brands, including Abbott Labs and Aon Corporation, as well as a good number of small businesses and experts making a lot of noise in their own backyards.  Doc has also been heavily involved in Internet marketing since 1994, and continues to help small businesses market themselves online via web content and SEO.  You can visit Roscommon online at: www.roscommon.com


The power of a Dylan record: Understanding your buyer’s reluctance to change.

June 3, 2006

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A quandry

My throat seizes as I look at the beautiful row of vinyl lined up in my office. Neatly stacked 12 x 12 super-delicious truly tangible versions of records from yester-year. There’s Springsteen and The Beatles, Hendrix and The Doors, Emmylou Harris and Hank Williams, REM and the Replacements and many, many more styles and colors to whet your musical appetite. It’s all great music to ease the soul on a cool quite Sunday, or any day for that matter. The row of color seems complete. Years in the making, it is most of the records I have wanted to collect to round out a great collection of cds that have fueled a passion for music my whole life. And yet within a month they will be gone. . .a distant memory.

Why, you ask? . . .I’m selling them all. Or, most of them at least. It is time for change, and I have been resisting change for almost 20 years. You see, that long line of beautiful smooth polymer plastic is HEAVY. And when I move, I don’t want to move them again. Plus, I do have a number of them now on cd and so, the music isn’t really going away, it’s just changing formats. Kind of like our lives in a way. . .every thing moving along toward progress whether we like it or not. This blog, of course, is just one example of the technological change that is rapidly engulfing us today. As a writer, I’m no longer merely writing for an imagined audience in the hope someone sees it. . .I’m published immediately! It’s pretty cool, actually, but it takes a certain initiative on my part to get it done. All those readers don’t come without a change of behavior, a new way of thinking, and a possibly difficult and time consuming decision. Writing on paper is simple, learning how to use a new program can be a challenge.

Breaking resistance to change in sales

And therein lies the dilemma. How do we get people to change their vantage point so they may benefit from the changes that result? For years, I thought change was simple. Nike had it down pat, I thought. And working in sales, lead generation and marketing communications it is my professional obligation to instruct and reduce obstacles to change. Of course it’s easy, right? Why doesn’t that customer get it? Change a vendor, change a process, change a brand. . . They don’t get it because you don’t get them. It’s all about the vinyl. Change has been easy for me because the changes I have made haven’t really run the risk of affecting me in a negative way at all. I view new skills and technology as beneficial to my growth, so I never even think about it.

But rationing off my vinyl is personal. I have a physical attachment to those records and memories to go along with them. Plus, because of their scarcity in excellent condition, they have a potential monetary value as well. Heavy, sure, but is the change worth it? Is having a few less boxes to move really a huge deal? Is having more floor space in my office really that critical? If you were a professional organizer, perhaps you would say getting rid of all that “junk” is good for my soul. Well, baby you would have a hard time convincing me on that based on that suggestion alone. Remember, the business owner or high-level manager you’re speaking with is much more intimate with his business than you’ll ever be. If the owner is your prospect the change your pushing is directed at a company that was most likely birthed with great pride, and if you’re speaking to a C-Level rep, the parrallel is almost the same. They’re invested. You’re not. Not yet, at least.

You have to become me to sell me. Understand why this change is painful for me, and then figure out a way to get me to recognize a better solution. Without it, these records stick with me and your contract as my organizer is kaput! After all, these records have been with me for 20 years and I just met you! For example, if you were to mention to me (a technology nut) there is a way to digitize those records with a USB turntable my ears might perk up. Or perhaps talk about how the value of the records themselves isn’t as much as one imagines given the rise of auction houses like eBay. Or maybe make a better case for why the extra floor space makes me more productive, or will allow me to utilize more area for my techno-gadgets. Get inside my head and any one of these reasons would draw me closer to siding with you. All of them would have me eating out of your hand. So do your research, know your buyer and practice, practice, practices. . .empathy!

As for me, my ardous bi-weekly walk to the local record store with 30 pounds of records is becoming less difficult, and the row of vinyl that I have been so attatched do is quickly yielding more hardwood floor in my office than I have seen since the day I signed the lease. And while the walk to the store still elicits some fears of doubt, I know that by the time of my last trek my investment in change will yield greater results for me than my alphabetized rack of vinyl ever will. These times they are a changin. And of course, I don’t have to sell them all, right? A few Beatles records are always necessary for good living, right? . . .and heck, what would I do with my turntable anyway?

For those of you interested in understanding buyer psychology and profiting from better research and lead generating initiatives like the kind we do at Roscommon, check out the following links. I think you’ll find them productive!

Dealing with objections in sales and buyer behavior links:

Artefact in Ireland is a firm dedicated to brand identity. This specific article is about buyer psychology, and the rest of the site is a good read for small business owners looking to find more about building their own brand. This brief article is located here.

Also across the pond in the UK, Huthwaite Sales Training seems to have great courses that will help you beef up your sales skills and understand your buyer more clearly.

Closer to my home in the US, here is an academically slanted, but very comprehensive look at resistance to change at the Focused Performance web site.

Here is a brief link as to how as a salesperson you may be able to employ certian methods of Six Sigma in your approach to selling to help stave off your prospect’s resistance to change.

Rick Maurer writes a good article specifically related to dealing with change as a salesperson here, and fellow copywriter Mark Sansone from Ohio offers some great samples in his blog entry “Stoppers to Successful Change” wherin he links to wonderful articles by such luminaries as Mark Cuban, Kevin Eikenberry, Mark Graban and Tom Foster. Scroll down to the aforementioned title to find the links. They’re really quite good!

Cheers,
Doc Kane, Roscommon

Doc Kane is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago, Illinois. He specializes in creating polished internal communications and marketing communications collateral for his clients which allows them to complete their goals and spend more time with their families. Doc is also a web copywriter and serves as a freelance editor for publishing and consulting firms across the country. Samples of his work as a freelance writer can be found at www.roscommon.com


Wet Day Dingle: Taking a chance, and capital equipment purchasing.

May 31, 2006

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The rain and fog today in Chicago has reminded me a bit of my stay in Ireland back in 1994. Dingle, by the way, is a town in Ireland. It was an amazing time for me, and going there without knowing a single person or even having a place to stay for my intended four month visit, still makes people wince a bit when I tell the story.

“Wow, I certainly couldn’t have done that”, they’ll say. Well, why not? I mean, sure I didn’t have a place to stay, but there are hostels everywhere, and with the work permit I had, I could always find some sort of work to keep me afloat, so my answer was then as it is now. . .absolutely– why not?

Life is about taking risks. Of course, some more important or ‘risky’ than others, but just about all worth taking. This parallel can, of course, be examined in our work lives when it comes to reviewing new solutions for our firm’s growth. Changing the way we do business and taking that risk can often be quite uneasy, but the payoff can be worth it. Be the guy/gal who thinks outside the box, look at new vendors, suppliers, and ways of doing business to IMPROVE business. If you are stale in your approach to solving problems without considering new tools and processes, you run the risk of stagnation and death.

I was watching a video on PBS last night about the building of the Panama Canal. For years the French tried to build the Canal to no avail, using a mix of new technology and old ideas. It was not until their failure and the assumption of the project by the United States that the MIX of new ideas spawned even NEWER technologies, which ultimately resulted in the Canal we know today. Cha’ cha’ changin’. Review your decisions frequently and you’ll be amazed by just how much you’ll improve your situation.

Along those lines, please check out these idea generating links!

If you are in a manufacturing field you may benefit from the work they do at Inventables.

Check out the The Capital Equipment Buying Handbook.

Article from Entrepreneur Magazine comparing leasing capital equipment to purchasing the same equipment.

Another such article from About.com’s Small Business Forum

Tons of great stuff here at the Allbusiness.com site.

Tons of white papers from Epicorp regarding all sorts of lean processing.

Cheers,
Doc Kane, Roscommon

Doc Kane is the president of Roscommon, a Chicago-based marketing communications firm that helps clients outsource their writing needs. Essentially, if it’s got words, Roscommon can help.   His firm has the privilege of writing for some of the world’s most recognizable brands, including Abbott Labs and Aon Corporation, as well as a good number of small businesses and experts making a lot of noise in their own backyards.  Doc has also been heavily involved in Internet marketing since 1994, and continues to help small businesses market themselves online via web content and SEO.  You can visit Roscommon online at: www.roscommon.com