Third Tuesday goodness

11/14/07

It’s that time again. The Third Tuesday extravaganza, where you get to meet and mingle with the public relations, marketing, digital design and web marketing.

Next week, November 19, I’ll be under the spotlight. I’ll be talking about encouraging the adoption of social media and new technologies as a government communicator.

Judging from the reception I received at a CPRS session today, I may try to build on my “social media is like a water slide” analogy as well.

It’s sure to be a fun, informative and imaginative time.

You can find the details on Meetup.

And thanks to Joe for the kind words.

[tags] Third Tuesday, government communications, government blogging [/tags]

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i am a sad internet addict

11/02/07

I am addicted to the internets. It is really sad. How addicted, you ask?

I am writing this post from the middle of a hiking path in the Laurentian mountains.

My management team is spending two days at very a secluded hotel, discussing our priorities for the organization in the next year

The hotel has no cell or blackberry access.

I went for an innocent walk in the woods yesterday, and discovered about 1500 metres out (and up several hills) that my BB had started buzzing.

Today, I’ve hightailed it out of the hotel during the “health break” to check my email, approve some comments on the work blog, and send you this post.

That’s how much I care for you – and my internet access.

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Meat Bunnies – now that’s brand extension

10/29/07

You’re like me, aren’t you? You look in the fridge, and all you can see is a package of frankfurters. Hot dogs. Sausages. Processed meat in a casing.

What to do? You can’t handle another hot dog. Not even a Coney Island special. Not a Chicago Style. Not a Detroit special. A New England Coney Island?

What about a refreshing meat bunny? Or perhaps you’d like a little meat trunk on your elephant?

It’s been around for a while, but Nippon Ham has a novel way of promoting the purchase and consumption of their Winny brand hot dogs – detailed instructions on how to carve them into a variety of animals. Like these instructions for making that adorable meat bunny.

The guys at Finding Japan even filmed their effort to make the little elephants.
All that’s missing is the soft velvety bed of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (Kraft Dinner to us Canadians)

You MUST visit I am an American, and I eat Hot Dogs. And Fat Dave’s Hot Dog Adventures.

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Never Mind The Bollocks – Here’s Your Tote Bag

10/26/07

Thirty years of teenage angst. Thirty years of rage. Thirty years of commercial manipulation.

It’s been thirty years since the Sex Pistols desecrated “God Save the Queen” – for the good of music and to add to the arsenal of expression available to citizens overlooked or oppressed by their government.

It’s a pity that a large part of the punk rock identity has been appropriated. Not just by large corporations peddling Never Mind The Bollocks tshirts or using London Calling in mobile phone ads, but by snot-nosed suburban kids with no real idea of the severe social, political and economic dislocation that prodded punk rock into existence.

Now, I don’t mean that punk rock MUST be reserved for the dis-associated sallow-skinned British youth. Punk has a mutli-cultural (and multi-generational) appeal and a highly personal relevance.

Instead, I am obsessed with the appropriation of punk imagery by the customers of mainstream marketers. My kids like a Canadian retail chain called West 49. There, they can find studded belts, skate decks, DC shoes, plaid pants, and $100 Billabong hoodies. And all these things sell very well.

But that sort of behaviour has to be expected. These retailers are serving the market.

But what is wrong with the GD kids? Why are $80 ballet flat Vans with death’s head appliques selling so well? Why does the young woman boarding that suburban bus have a “punk rock” tote bag? Why can kids pick up temporary hair colour in purple, yellow, green and orange?

DIY punk seems to be dead, at least in middle-class Ottawa. Is this the result of increased brand awareness among children?

Do kids now look for “punk” brand attributes? Are they looking for their rebellion, their outrage and a radicalisation of their family, neighbourhood, city or society in a well-designed box?

As we keep pushing youth and children to identify with brands, with products or with sentiments, are we undermining their ability to express themselves?

Are our marketing dollars making brand attributes so prevalent and so culturally predominant that it takes a truly dissociative individual to build a truly independent identity as a punk?

Is it even possible to buy white Chuck Taylors to colour and “bedazzle” with spikes and pins?

To quote Hot Topic Is Not Punk Rock by MC Lars:

“…Hot Topic uses contrived identification with youth sub-cultures to manufacture an antiauthoritarian identity and make millions.

That $8 you paid for the Mudvayne poster would be better spent used for seeing your brother’s friend’s band.

DIY ethics are punk rock! Starting your own label is punk rock! GG Allin was punk rock!

But when a crass corporate vulture feeds on mass consumer culture, then spending Mommy’s money is not punk rock!

[Tags] punk rock, Sex Pistols, brand, brand attribute, self expression [/tags]

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Office Politics 101

10/24/07

Taking up the challenge from UGA’s Karen Miller Russell that “PR bloggers would write about topic x,” I submit my guide to Office Politics 101

1. Read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. TWICE.

2. Never annoy the assistants in the office. They can make your life unbearable.

3. Identify the five essential office characters:

    • Knows Where the Bodies are Buried
    • Boss’ Right Hand
    • The Office Klinger (aka scrounger, thief, fixer)
    • He Who Knows Everything (aka corporate memory)
    • Everybody’s Social Butterfly

4. Acronyms are not your friend. Not when you don’t understand them, and not when you throw them around trying to look intelligent.

5. Read up on learning styles. The way a person collects, interprets and processes information affects how they behave in a conversation with you, how they interact with others in meetings, and how quickly and violently they will try to shoot down and bury your cool new idea.

6. Figure out the conversation nodes in the office. Where do people hang out and exchange information? The office kitchen? Starbucks down the street? Twenty years ago, your best bet of learning the latest corporate rumour was by hanging out with the senior executives as they had a smoke on the sidewalk.\

7. You have not explained your idea well enough. Whether you’re twenty or forty, you’re the new person in the office. You need to make reference to the past ideas, experiments, and failures of your new colleagues if you expect them to engage and understand what you’re trying to sell.

8. Always dress for the job you would like to have, not the job you have now. In some offices, that means kicks and jeans. Personally, I’ve just laid out a lot of money on suits.

9. Manage your online social networks and your offline social networks discretely. Facebook and other social networks have a place in the office, in my opinion. And I’m not upset if you take some time to organize your weekend while sitting at your desk. But I don’t need to know the details of your personal life – either by you speaking to loudly in the office, or by posting inappropriate pictures. (Hey. If the first thing you did at work was “friend” your new boss, then don’t complain when I notice the pictures.)
10. Share credit more than blame. Nothing says you’re a high performer more than being able to deliver high quality work – and convince others to help you do it. If you spend all your time complaining about how others are keeping you from doing well – then you’re the problem.

11. Speak to people. Email and IM can only get you so far.

[tags] office politics, office conflict, new job [/tags]

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Some notes from music blogs

10/16/07

From am.fm.pm: a selection of songs about the working man, office life, and working in retail.

From Matthew Dillon’s notebook: quotes from famous musicians, and Dillon’s riposte:

George Clinton (b.1941) says – “I GET OFF ON FUNK, TO TELL THE TRUTH. DON’T TELL ME I CAN’T DO THAT. ‘CAUSE YOU KNOW HOW JOYFUL IT IS.”

Windmill (b.1979) reacts – “This is unnerving; especially the use of capital letters. Getting off is joyful and I’m not telling him he can’t. But I’m not helping.”…

Claude Debussy (b.1862) says – “Music is the silence between the notes.”

Windmill (b.1979) reacts – “I think you still need the notes.”…

Ludwig van Beethoven (b.1770) – Beethoven can write music, thank god, but he can do nothing else on Earth.”

Windmill (b.1979) reacts – “Windmill can write music, thank god, but he can also do the entire “Fresh Prince” rap in the style of monster mash, make a mean cheese & marmite sandwich, perform a handstand against a wall, thumb wrestle and beat anyone at ‘Golden Eye’ on the Nintendo 64.”

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Small thoughts

10/07/07

Kevin Smith, in Toronto to “whore out” his new book, thinks Canada’s retail sector is bush league:

“…Yet for all his affection for this country (“I dig the socialized medicine and the crime statistics”) and his Canadian pals (including Jim Jackman, former producer of DeGrassi: The Next Generation) , he’ll never live here, thanks to its anemic retail sector.

“You want to choose from 30 different kinds of peanut butter, you get your ass to America,” he writes. “You want to decide between, say, three? Oh, Canada … . When I hit the food store, I need variety, bitch.” … (Globe and Mail)

On a sliding scale from “spawn of Satan” to “merely incompetent and possible malicious” – where do Google and Microsoft fit in? It’s an over-the-top comparison, but it’s amusing.

“… The new, perhaps-even-creepier model for world industrial domination is one where Google will amass a vast and detailed up-to-the-moment chronicle of customers’ innermost thoughts. Producers won’t need to profit by force-feeding narrowed product choices onto customers via industrial might a la Microsoft. That’s because sellers will know consumers psychology so intimately that they will be able to efficiently trick them into buying the worthless junk.

In cold war terms, Microsoft is 1970s Soviet bread lines. Google is the KGB propaganda and spying machine...” (San Francisco Weekly)

We’re forever searching for a way to effectively communicate the relative risks of an activity. What about the clear contrasts presented in a Risk Characterization Theatre data map?

200 characters – a book full of SMS messages sent by Australians. (Get Shouty)

Me, quoted.

[tags] Kevin Smith, Clerks, Google, Microsoft, consumer psychology, behavioural marketing [/tags]

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Chalk Signs – Corporate Promotion and Staff Uprising

10/03/07

Chalk signs. You know – chalkboard signs decorated with menus, promotional tag lines, simple price displays, usually found at grocery stores or restaurants – that rough and personalized touch that helps build a personal bond between you and your retailer.

One Canadian company, Chalk It Up!, has created 400 boards since 2001, including 75 for the Ruby Tuesday chain of casual dining restaurants. Claire Watson, the principal artist, has posted several images from her work on flickr.

Chalk signs provide hearty opposition to the polished and focus-tested stalagmites that otherwise dot the grocery floor – the promotional pop-ups, tasting stations, shipping palettes disguised as festive boxes, and good old fashioned Super Bowl celebrity cut-outs.

Properly conceived and executed, chalk signs can convince a consumer that their chosen shop or store is so fresh, so responsive and so connected to the community that their signs HAVE to be chalk, HAVE to be changed every day.

When institutionalized, though, chalk signs can prompt memories of the big bad wolf, dressed in Grandma’s bedclothes: when Whole Foods, Starbucks, Domino’s or Movenpick Marche list ingredients, menu items or prices in a chalk script, I get a faint whiff of lupine halitosis.

The most appealing quality of chalk signs is their humour. Subtle, ironic, sophisticated, blunt, or punny. The artists and workers who put some real effort into the signs should be recognized – at the very least with a piece of flair that says “I’m the chalk artist, tip me well!”

In the wrong hands chalk signs can provide quick outlets for staff dissatisfaction – like at this New Orleans Starbucks.

Lord of the Bings, from Lizzy poo‘s portfolio of chalk signs on flickr.

[tags] chalk signs, chalk menus, restaurant menu [/tags]

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Small business marketing and the ass kicking machine

09/24/07

Really. An impressive ass kicking machine. On Craigslist. With a picture.
At the tail end of the description, the machine’s master craftsman has thrown in this pitch:

“Oh and If you need any remodeling done I have 10+ years experience and my own tools.”

There you go: the key to success as a small business. In a field with many similar competitors, identify a quality that separates your services from the pack and promote that quality. Make it real for the consumer.
Here in Canada, we have a guy who has built a reputation as an expert in ass kicking AND renovation: Mike Holmes.

[tags] renovation, ass kicking, promotion, Mike Holmes [/tags]

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Write here, write now – insight into a town

09/22/07

The write/here project was a public art project conceived by Tasmanian artists Justy Phillips and James Newit. Part of the Ten Days on the Island Festival, it asked the residents of Hobart to pass along stories of their life in the capital of Tasmania.

Eye magazine tells us the artists convinced local businesses to donate their billboards for ten days – and to sponsor the new “skins” for their own billboards.

Phillips and Newitt gathered comments from the public through one-to-one interviews, workshops, and exhibitions, and even opened a ‘story shop’ offering passers-by a dollar for their thoughts. Carefully framed questions – ‘What does Hobart mean to you?’, ‘Do you have any regrets?’, ‘What are your hopes for the future?’ – elicited responses that were honest, potent and moving. From the 1000 responses that they generated, 27 anonymous texts were selected, one for each of the billboard sites. “

That’s one there on the right.

This project is a two fer for me: the two year process of collecting stories and observations appeals to the historian and faux ethnographer in me.

The simple, stark but engaging billboards help the project stand out from their urban surroundings, and make no attempt to infer value, attributes or judgements about the statements they broadcast.

As an added reflection of the community’s reaction to the billboards, many of the images preserved on the project’s website include comments from Hobart residents.

There are pictures of all 27 billboards available on the Write/Here project site.

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What movies taught me about public relations

09/14/07

Some say skill is a gift; some say it’s learned; others say it’s earned. In my case, it’s all osmosis. I picked up everything I know about marketing, communications and public relations by watching movies.

School of Rock – never let a lack of formal education or professional accreditation keep you from seeking employment in your chosen field. Especially if your clients are gullible and misinformed.

Single White Female – you can operate a virtual consultancy for fun and profit, but always hold a vital piece of the client’s work hostage through deception and encryption.

Pretty In Pink – Quirky marketing and gimmicks are the key to successful independent retail.

Repo Man – no matter how crappy the job, a false sense of confidence and a poorly conceived personal ideology can carry you.

Trading Places – dress for success. It’s half the battle. The other half is family money and going to a good school.

Trop belle pour toi – you don’t have to be traditionally handsome to make new friends.

Wall Street – never walk around without an elevator pitch.

Chuckie – it’s NEVER child’s play.

Harold and Kumar go to White Castle – don’t be led by material needs. And avoid Neil Patrick Harris.

Crying Game – always be ready for surprises.

Star Wars – conformity stifles creativity and innovation in large organizations.

High Fidelity – every one can find their niche in the market, even compulsive obsessives.

Wedding Crashers – a good line of patter will break the ice in almost every situation.

Apocalypse Now – no matter how charismatic the leader, keep looking for the crazy eyes.

Bill and Ted’s Wild Adventure – you can always learn from the past.

Bullit – a gruff attitude, distrust for authority and a basic wardrobe of khakis and hearty sweaters convey authority.

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Adidas campaign and Rugby tripped up by media boycott

09/06/07

Zinedine Zidane. The Rugby World Cup. The New Zealand All Blacks, perhaps the best rugby team in the world. A nice public relations campaign organized by Adidas in France to build awareness and create an opportunity for French fans to meet a soccer god and rugby behemoths.

Too bad some of the largest news agencies and chains in the world boycotted the event.

It’s the result of a battle that pits some of the biggest names in traditional wire journalism against major sporting organizations – all because of the increasing pressure from fans and audiences for up-to-the-minute coverage of major sporting events online and on 24 hour sports channels.

The Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France Presse and others are very upset that the International Rugby Board is trying to impose restrictions on coverage of the World Cup by media organizations that are not paid sponsors of the event.

“… The agencies are fighting against IRB media restrictions such as that no organisation can post more than 40 images or three minutes of news conference or “locker room” video online during any match.” (Guardian)

The members of the news coalition are boycotting all events and promotions leading up to the World Cup, which begins today. They are pressuring the IRB to lessen the restrictions imposed upon media accredited to cover the World Cup. The French government has weighed in, as has the European Commission.

The IRB is arguing that similar conditions are already imposed by the Olympics and the soccer World Cup. After all, commercial considerations must be taken into account:

“We think our rules are fair to everyone, to those who pay for the privilege to buy certain rights which helps us reinvest in the game, and also to those who get to come along without paying any rights fees [said Mike Miller, Chairman of the World Cup].” [AFP]

The full detail of their statement is available online, and the explicit mention of news and photo distribution by mobile phone underlines the central role media disintermediation plays in this dispute.

Unfortunately, the boycott will mean that coverage of the World Cup will be restricted to those organizations that have bought access through sponsorships or are driven to cover the event by their rugby-mad readers (like the Welsh, the Australians, the New Zealanders and the Brits).

In North America, rugby will continue to struggle for attention in the thin oxygen of the subscription sports channels.
On the other hand, this is the first time, in four years of blogging, that I have used disintermediation in a post. Yay me!

[tags] rugby, Adidas, International Rugby Board, All Blacks, World Cup boycott [/tags]

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That traffic ticket WAS unfair

09/04/07

Your obsession is justified: that cop DID pick on you. A study of ticketing records in Massachusetts reveals that local police officers and Sheriff’s officers tend to levy more and higher traffic fines on out-of-town drivers.

Unless the town depends upon the hospitality industry for a living. This from Political Economy at Any Speed: What Determines Traffic Citations:

“…an interaction variable between hospitality employment and being an out of state driver. The point estimate is negative and statistically significant, showing that fines are even less frequent for out of state drivers where tourism is more important to the local economy. The finding is consistent with the hypothesis that municipalities do not want to discourage tourists from visiting and potentially endanger future tourism revenues.” (SSRN)

The economists who arrived at this conclusion work at George Mason University, which can be characterized as slightly libertarian. At one economics blog, the commenters note that the findings of the study echo their perceived ideological bent:

“…If we ignore the paper in detail and just look at the thrust, it is that government can’t be trusted to be impartial, but acts in a self-serving way to maximize revenue and to avoid disfavor from local voters. Thus, it supports a common libertarian view of things.”(link)

Now, this may not be a truly contributing factor in the conclusions developed in the study, but it does add another layer of interpretation.

The lesson for communications types? Always dig deeper than the conclusions. Any effective textual analysis – including media analysis – will seek to understand motivations as well as conclusions.

h/t NYT.

[tags] traffic ticket, traffic citation, gouging, media analysis [/tags]

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Australian sustainability gone wrong

08/31/07

“You guys got nothing to worry about, I’m a professional.”

In some ways, corporate social responsibility programs can be a Faustian bargain. We’ve become accustomed to corporations claiming environmental and social awareness, but we still listen to their claims with a cocked ear. We need to see a concrete action plan. More importantly, we need independent and verified proof of an effective CSR plan.

That’s why Mattel’s recalls have been so damaging to their reputation. A twenty year relationship with your foreign contractors isn’t enough anymore. Especially when your compliance program, while extensive and detailed, is self-monitored.

Nike learned that lesson a few years ago. CSR is no longer a cape to be thrown over your corporate shoulders, at very little cost and relatively little effort. CSR now demands an dedicated corporate infrastructure, a detailed reporting program, and carefully maintained relationships with non-governmental organizations and verification authorities.

Today, the problems fall to Woolworths – the Australian supermarket chain. Despite a report full of CSR programming, Green groups have challenged the company’s claims that its premium paper products were composed of “Sustainable Forest Fibre.” In fact, they have far harsher things to say about Asia Pulp and Paper, the source of the fibre.

As a result, Woolworths has had to pull the product from the shelves. They’ve also begun to redesign the packaging, to eliminate the questioned claim of sustainability. Finally, they’ve asked the World Wildlife Foundation to audit their supplier’s claims.

And therein lays the problem. Most consumers would prefer to hear from a slightly scruffy and clearly environmentally concerned specialist directly and in advance, rather than waiting for one to be called in.

As soon as you have to start swearing that you’re not cheating, you become the Horshack, Epstein or Dylan McKay of the CSR world.

The standards for a CSR program have shifted. Self-monitoring, in the face of increasing claims of health and safety risk, does not appear sufficient. It doesn’t matter if your monitoring program is effective: it’s the appearance that matters.

Especially if the claims of risk are coming from groups vested with more authority in the subject. Even two environmental specialists in a basement office can send a corporation running if their claims appear weak. Once again, in a crunch it’s the appearance that matters.

h/t to PR Watch

[tags] csr, corporate sustainability, Woolworths, grocery, supermarket [/tags]

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Confirmed: Ocean Pacific not cool anymore

08/29/07

“Op is a youth brand focused on the surf lifestyle,” said a Wal-Mart spokeswoman. “It will help expand the range of our apparel offering as we leverage the brand equity to address this growth lifestyle.” (Women’s Wear Daily)

That’s right. Wal-Mart has entered into a distribution contract with the holding company that now owns the Ocean Pacific brand. If you were holding out any hope that your rainbow-coloured board shorts and windbreakers, originally bought in 1982, were cool – forget about it. Unless you live in Japan. Don’t ask me to explain the Japanese retail market. Please.

In the rest of the world, Ocean Pacific’s old position as market leader in the “scruffy yet cool surf wear” market segment has been sucked out to sea by Hollister.

Still, some retail experts are holding out hope for Wal-Mart – if they handle the launch and the brand management right:

“It’s an incredible opportunity for Wal-Mart,” [former OP CEO Dick] Baker added. “To have a brand like this, a true American lifestyle surf brand, as part of their stable is great. … My only issue is if you look at the landscape of mid-tier and mass retailers, there’s been a lack of execution with these brand deals over the last 10 years. The good [deals] have been Mossimo and Target because there was a lot of product and brand strategy that went into it, and the Candie’s strategy with Kohl’s. Other than that, there’s a lot of roadkill of brands that attempted to fit into the retailer’s domain.”

Roadkill. Ouch. How about a rope-a-dope metaphor:

“… Harry Bernard [who] worked on research for Op’s repositioning by Baker … called the deal “a fascinating combination of totally different cultures. Wal-Mart has been hit across the bridge of the nose enough times to figure out they can’t do it on their own …

“They’re going to make it what they want to make it,” Baker said of Wal-Mart’s handling of Op. “If I were them, I would put a lot of time and effort into positioning and strategy. It’s an iconic American brand. If they do it incorrectly it will be an injustice.”

A final note: at Dick Baker’s house it seems that the easy and laid back nature of the surfer is not appreciated. This from an O.C. Register article about his wife’s otherwise very stylish redecoration of their house:

“…No eating on the couch: Key thing in my house: We only eat in the eating areas. If you are hungry in England or Italy in the middle of the day, you go to the kitchen, you have tea and you have a sweet, and look at a magazine. Or, if someone is there, you chat. You don’t zone out in front of a TV. Also from a cleanliness standpoint, you get kids and pizza and popcorn and a sofa, you’ve got a disaster.”

[tags] Wal-Mart, Ocean Pacific, OP, surf, Hollister [/tags]

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Your digital loaf can lead to identity theft

08/24/07

There’s a lot to be said for aggregating all the information you seed across your many online apps: Flickr, twitter, IM, del.icio.us, Facebook, your personal blog, and your work blog. Your family finds it much easier to keep up with your life. All those momentary details – like favourite coffee shop, new girlfriend, apartment changes, travel schedule – can be shared with family, friends and colleagues. People who want the “brand you” experience can refer to one handy url.

Trouble is, so can the less desirable. And I’m not just talking about Russian hackers who use that information to clone your credit card and buy Israeli diamonds and ship them to their cousin in Boca.

I’m talking about the mildly unstable.

Maybe an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend. Or that guy that no-one talked to in high school. Or an old neighbour who still thinks you killed her cat.

I think everyone has had that one moment – the moment where they regret being so open and transparent on the web. Maybe it was after the fifth unsolicited pitch of the morning. Or when some blogger inferred intellectual weakness and emotional immaturity based on something they wrote while on the can. Or when an old, old girlfriend “friended” them on Facebook.

I’m sure that, in some form, we all try to keep track of the personal and professional information we have made public while participating in our many social networks, 2.0 widgets and transitory communications like twitter.

At some point, all those digital breadcrumbs can be aggregated into a loaf of information. At what point to you pinch off access to that loaf?

[tags] lifestreams, tumblr, digital breadcrumbs, digital loaf [/tags]

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I’m in urz store, stealing yr bndwidth

08/20/07

Yeah, you know me. I’m the guy or gal in the aisle, leaning over my Blackberry or Treo.

By the time you shuffle over to ask “if I’m alright?” it will be all over. Your chance to influence my buying decision will have evaporated.

Forget that after-hours training from the manufacturer. Forget the features card you keep in your back pocket. You had a chance to be the professional. To be the expert.

You could have helped me evaluate features and reliability. You could have offered honest opinions about the brand and the product, identified benefits and weaknesses among competing products.

Instead, I turned to Google. Or CNet. Or Consumer Reports. I txted a friend who just bought one. I emailed a buddy who had some things to say about that brand. I’ve already sent a picture to my mom and she doesn’t like the cut.

You’ve lost the advantage. Your bosses paid the money to drive me to your store through advertising, yellow pages ads, paid placements and covert word of mouth. And you pissed it away in those few minutes.

The days of spoon feeding information to customers are over. We can carry our personal, professional and technical network around in our pockets, and you won’t beat that unless you’re faster, better informed than you are now, and more willing to compete on price and features.

The irony is, I found your store by looking it up online. Your paid yellow pages ad was the first result on my BlackBerry or Treo screen. I looked at your flier – online – while standing on the sidewalk outside.

You paid all that money to drive me through the door. And then you hit me with old fashioned retail placement and marketing. Take a hint from the insurance industry: they are willing to serve up 5 competitor’s rates just to convince a consumer to stick with them.

If a bunch of actuaries can figure it out, why not you, the intrepid retailer? ‘Cause the enabled consumer is not going away.

Oh – and when we’ve made a decision without your help, don’t offer us the extended warranty. I REALLY hate it when a retailer offers to bet me that my new product will break right as the warranty expires. Shows real confidence in the product, and just confirms in my mind that you’ll squeeze me for every last cent.

[tags] retail sales, in store promotion, sales training [/tags]

Comments (1)

We need to resurrect the brand of prom itself

08/17/07

File this under market segments you have no sympathy for. Just like the baby industry and the wedding industry, the prom industry plays upon vanity, peer pressure, short time frames and aggressive upselling to make a pleasant experience a real chore for most people.

“There’s an absence of joy in this industry,” said Mike Denton, … president of the National Prom Association. “This year, more than ever before, I’ve heard consumers say, ‘I just want to get this over with.” …
“We are charged with creating the most exciting shopping experience possible. If we’re not doing that, we’re not doing our job,” said Denton. “We need to resurrect the brand of prom itself.” (WWD, August 3)

You know what they need? They need to leverage the notoriety of a “B” list celebrity to make another teen movie centred around a prom. Like Kellie Pickler, who has that small town charm, a little bit of talent, and a slightly embarassing prom history.

For your comment and amusement, the Top 10 High School Characters:

  1. Michelle Flaherty (American Pie)
  2. Duckie (Pretty in Pink)
  3. Olivia Newton-John (Grease)
  4. Hard Harry (Pump up the Volume)
  5. Screech (Saved by the Bell)
  6. Lea Thompson (Back to the Future)
  7. Marcia Brady (Getting Davy Jones)
  8. Long Duk Dong (Sixteen Candles)
  9. Suzette (Absolute Beginners)
  10. Jimmy Cooper (Quadrophenia)

[tags] prom, rite of passage [/tags]

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How Ralph Lauren Kicks You in The Ass

08/12/07

Yesterday, the greeter at a Ralph Lauren outlet store kicked me in the ass as I left the store.

“Thank you for browsing Polo Ralph Lauren!” she said in a cheerful but automatic voice.

I wouldn’t have thought anything of it, but I heard her say “Thank you for shopping at Polo Ralph Lauren!” to the people behind me – the people carrying a bag full of clothes.

All of the sudden, my cheerful “browsing” had an unspoken meaning: “you cheap bastard.”

For all I know, she was trying add some variety to her trite and repetitive patter. But her words left a stronger impression than her fixed smile.

Which left my next encounter with her all the more amusing. You see, when I hit an outlet mall, I case all the stores and weigh all the bargains against my budget before I spend any money. I WILL hit some stores twice – and buy things.

In Polo Ralph Lauren’s case, I had a 20% coupon they had emailed me, as a frequent customer. But I had left it in the car, so I HAD to leave and come back.

About 30 minutes later, I came back into the store. The greeter launched into her “Welcome to Polo … today our classic mesh polo is on …” while I listened and smiled encouragingly. I’m Canadian, you see. If someone feigns interest in us, we reciprocate.

And then her patter trailed off as she recognized me … “Oh!…” I said thank you, and wandered off to find my booty.

“Thank you for shopping at Polo Ralph Lauren!”

Thank YOU, for not leaving the unspoken footprint of a size 6 nubbed driving moccasin on my ass – this time.

[tags] Polo Ralph Lauren, Polo, greeter, retail, store management [/tags]

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How to get a job

08/07/07

I’ve been spending more than a few hours lately interviewing candidates for two different jobs in my shop.

They’ve largely been reliable and competent folk.

But that’s not what I want.

I want you to knock my socks off. Bedazzle me. Demonstrate the staid and boring error of my ways.

I know the interview is a stressful experience, particularly an interview for a government job.

You’re forced to answer a blindingly obvious questions about priorities and respond to complicated scenarios.

You’re faced with two, three or four “interview board members” with blank stares on their faces. There’s no emotion in their eyes, no inflection in their voice. All the normal signs of emotional interaction are missing, all for fear of corrupting an impartial competition.

And they’re scribbling in detailed “evaluation grids” all the time.

Get over it people. It’s showtime. Your job interview is a combination of karaoke, high school science fair exhibit and that one exam you somehow passed in third year even though you may still have been drunk and definitely didn’t study for.

Why are you showing up? Do you want the job?

Mitch and Murray sent me. They want you to straighten up.

If you are applying for a job in communications in the government of Canada, it’s probably a good idea to have an acquaintance with the government’s communications policy.

If you’ve read the detailed job description, you should have an idea of the work involved. Try to imagine scenarios we might pose. Ask someone who’s done the job before. Pick up the phone – it’s not hard.

But more than that: do some creative thinking, people! How can this job be done better? How can this job be more fun? How can you ADD value to the job?

I don’t want to hire boring but competent people. I want to hire interesting people who will do the job well.

After all, we all have to work with you.

How are you going to bring energy to the interview? You don’t have to be a four star bullshitter. You just have to be engaged.

Ask questions. Not “what are your normal work hours?” Think about the job, the location, the organization. Surprise me.

Calm and quiet may be reassuring, but it is not energizing.

Laugh. Smile. Speak in more than a monotone. Bring a strange pen as a conversation starter.

When we ask “do you have any questions” … HAVE SOME!

Otherwise, you’re just going through the motions. You know it. And WE certainly know it.

But don’t be too strange, okay?

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Put this analogy machine in your pipe and smoke it

07/27/07

Once you find someone who gives good quote, you’ve got to hang onto them.

“He’s putting his money where is mouth is, and I like that,” Black said. “He’s got his own skin in the game, thinks out of the box, and seems to be one of those guys that takes the bull by the horns and just runs.” (AP)

That’s quite a handful of mixed analogies from retail analyst Jennifer Black, in response to the hiring of Canadian Glenn Murphy as Chairman and CEO of Gap. Murphy, you should know, has led a turn around in the fortunes of Shoppers Drug Mart, the largest drug chain in Canada. Here’s another fabulous quote:

“I think even their management is surprised with themselves and the home run they just hit,” said Jennifer Black … “You only see this once in a while where a company steps on the gas, hits all the cylinders and just flies. They are really flying.” (AP. 2004)

[tags] retail analyst, good quote, analogy [/tags]

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Starbucks keeps its options open in China

07/23/07

It’s not breaking news that Starbucks is leaving its location inside the Forbidden City. The decision was driven, to a large degree, by the opposition stirred up by Rui Chenggang. His persistent criticism eventually resulted in a 500,000 signature petition for the franchise to leave the UNESCO World Heritage site.

But how could Starbucks avoid stoking a growing popular unrest without undermining the popularity of the other 170-odd franchises across the country?

Make it a logical and easily understandable corporate decision: avoiding the dilution of the brand.

“There were several choices, one of which was to continue, but it would not carry the Starbucks name any more,” [Eden Woon, VP for Greater China] said. “We decided at the end that it is not our custom worldwide to have stores that have any other name, so therefore we decided the choice would be to leave.” (AP )

Really, who would want to buy Starbucks coffee that’s been co-branded as “Palace Museum” – the corporate brand planned for the other facilities in the City.

The Economist rightly points out that Rui Chenggang is no mere blogger. He’s an anchor for China Central Television. He has an international reputation, including speaking experience in Europe and across Asia.

His discussion of Starbuck’s presence in the Forbidden City was supported by other government-owned media (not really a rarity in China). Even if there was occasional criticism of his stance, particularly in more entrepreneurial Shanghai, it’s an indication that the government was at least silently supportive of the criticism.

It doesn’t hurt that Chenggang’s argument ultimately made perfect sense, even if Starbucks had existed inside the Forbidden City for nearly seven years:

“I was having lunch with an Indian person today, and I said, ‘Would you Indians allow a Starbucks to be inside the Taj Mahal?’ And he said, ‘No, of course not, we would never let that happen.’ “The Forbidden City,” Rui added, “is not an airport.”(LA Times)

Let’s leave the final word to Eden Woon, the VP from Starbucks:

“Never forget the core values and the characteristics that make your brand famous in your home country or elsewhere globally, but always be flexible to adapt to the special Chinese environment.” (China CSR)

[tags] Starbucks, Forbidden City, Chenggang, UNESCO, World Heritage Site [/tags]

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Social media, online identity and privacy

07/22/07

I’ve been doing some thinking about data collection and personal privacy lately, and it’s struck me that a lot of early adopters, online cognoscenti and bandwagoners are rushing headlong into a world framed by the overarching principles of transparency, honesty and personal interaction – without thinking of about how much of their personal information they are leaving exposed.

This isn’t a new development. Without understanding something of how customer relationship marketing, market segmentation and direct marketing works, the average person really doesn’t understand how their personal information swirls in currents and eddies of databases, mail lists, dodgy piles of index cards and thumb keys.

I’ll give you an example: at the right is a set of keys. Attached are the key tags for four loyalty programs: Albertson’s grocery, GNC vitamin shop, Ace Hardware and some Canadian chain. To the key’s owners, those tags are worth 5% off purchases.

To someone with access to one or all those databases, those tags represent a considerable amount of detail about the key owner’s shopping habits, product preferences, fondness for discounts or particular brand names, and even their travelling habits.

With that information, marketers and political strategists can micro-market to increasingly targeted segments of the population – and your neighbourhood. And your group of friends. And members of your family.

But we’re only discussing information consciously handed over to marketers and consumer companies in exchange for quantifiable benefits: I’ll let you track my shopping patterns in exchange for a discount on bulk purchases of panty liners; I’ll sign up for your program so I receive advance emails about Memorial Day sales.

What about the personal information you leave hanging, for all to see, in your online profiles?

  • your birthday
  • your home address
  • your kid’s names
  • your vacation schedule

Would you post a picture of your driver’s licence? Considered as individual data points, this information does not seem like much. In total, you are giving out far more information for free – and to everyone – than you would agree to let a marketer collect.

I’ve already posted about the dangers of mistaken or outright stolen identity online. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that social media is evil.

Instead, we all need to get into the habit of maintaining an inventory of our online identity. Nothing complicated, just a personal awareness of how much information you’ve revealed, and to who.

Even on social networks that are password protected and offer tools to restrict access to your profile information, you may end up “friending” people who you barely know. And that increases the risk.
After all, you need to be aware whether some hacker knows more about you than your best friend.

And you better not lose that keychain.
[tags] facebook, identity theft, online identity, personality [/tags]

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A parking space with your hot dog?

07/21/07

You know, it’s the focus on the needs of your customer that helps a small business stay alive.

Like Wahid Rafiq, a hot dog vendor that usually works outside a Department of the Interior building in Washington. Like the many toppings available for his dogs, Rafiq allegedly offered options for his regular customers – like pumping the meters beside their cars.

“…The parking enforcement unit of the Department of Transportation noticed that revenue was way down in this block, [a telelvision reporter] reported. Police said the man was using a device like a quarter on a string to put time on meters without using money…” (NBC4)

Aside from the defrauding the government aspect, it makes perfect sense. An opportune brand extension.

He’s on the block all day long anyway. He knows when parking enforcement officers are approaching and leaving, and his clients have established a history of trust with him.

h/t to Fedblog.

[tags] parking enforcement, meter maids, Department of the Interior, hot dogs [/tags]

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William Gibson – pimping in Second Life

07/20/07

William Gibson’s getting ready to release a new novel, and his publisher has some innovative ideas to promote Spook Country. As the Penguin Blog tells us, they’ve prepared a range of activities in Second Life – making an apt link to the ideas first floated in Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer.

“…we’re screening his fine and strange movie No Maps for These Territories; there’s a competition to design an avatar for the man himself; we’re giving away shipping containers packed with Gibson goodies and at the beginning of August, William Gibson himself will be coming into Second Life to read from Spook Country and answer questions…”

Tom Nissley interviews the famed and farsighted author on the Amazon blog:

Amazon.com: Have you visited Second Life at all? I know that you’re doing some promotions for the book there.

Gibson: I’m going to do something there, and it’ll pretty much be the first time I’ve been there since I did go and check it out last winter. It was a strange experience.

Amazon.com: Did they treat you as a god there?

Gibson: Well, you know I didn’t go as myself. I went as the guy that I cooked up when I signed up, so nobody knew it was me. And actually it was like a cross between being in some suburban shopping mall on the outskirts of Edmonton in the middle of winter and the worst day you ever spent in high school. [laughter]

Amazon.com: Yeah, I have to say I’ve visited the outskirts and it frightens me.

Gibson: It’s deserted. It seems like functionally it has to be deserted. If it’s not deserted it crashes. So there’s all this empty, empty architecture. There’s whole cities where there’s only one other person and they don’t even want to get close to you. And when you do succeed in finding a group of other avatars, people aren’t very nice.

Amazon.com: They’re meaner than they are–it’s like people are in their cars.

Penguin’s Jeremy Ettinghausen offered UKSFbooknews greater detail on Gibson’s initial foray into Second Life:

“…”We visited one of the hardcore dystopian cyberpunk sims and had a wander around. A group of cosplayers were sitting chatting on benches and when they saw William Gibson (obviously not appearing under his own name) a few catcalls rang out.

He was, I think, both surprised and disturbed by this – I think surprised by the mocking and disturbed that in a virtual world where anonymity is prized and the usual laws of physics do not apply, appearance still seemed to be an issue for residents.”

[tags] Second Life, William Gibson, Neuromancer, book promotion, author tour[/tags]

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Harry Potter Spoiler – and a startling Menudo analogy

07/19/07

The word’s out, thanks to some clueless bookstore employees and some impulsive online booksellers. The NYTimes tells us that the latest volume of the Harry Potter series is violent:

“…at least a half-dozen characters we have come to know die in these pages, and many others are wounded or tortured. Voldemort and his followers have infiltrated Hogwarts and the Ministry of Magic, creating havoc and terror in the Wizard and Muggle worlds alike, and the members of various populations — including elves, goblins and centaurs — are choosing sides.”

This is only logical. Having set up the ideological framework for a world populated by wizards, muggles, wandmaking dwarves and cuddly yet gigantic henchmen, J.K. Rowling has followed the Edgardo Diaz playbook in exquisite detail:

  1. Identify a trend in popular culture that hasn’t yet accelerated
  2. Personify that trend with a diverse group of individuals
  3. Develop a family-friendly storyline and marketing message
  4. Differentiate your product by emphasizing the attributes and quirks of your characters
  5. Deploy an aggressively effective multi-channel marketing machine
  6. Continue to produce product based on the same storyline, despite a changing cast of principal characters

Most importantly, when your principal characters eventually age out of your target market – get rid of them! Replace them with more appealing, more refreshing and more malleable characters.

That was Edgardo Diaz’ script for Menudo, and it’s obviously what J.K. Rowling has in store for Harry Potter and the gang from Hogwarts.

Nothing like a nice slaughter and wholesale cast overhaul to clean the decks for the next iteration of the wizard franchise: a wide range of spin-off books.

After all, Rowling has already announced that she’ll be producing an encyclopedia of spells, characters and place names. This is an excellent first step to ensure the mythology established by the Harry Potter series remains front of mind with readers of all ages and types: pre-teens, teens, adolescents, young adult, mid-age crisis, wiccan …

Next steps? Brand diversification, much like the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Judy Blume and Boy’s Own series.

Boy’s Books:

  • Haggrid’s Guide to Outdoor Adventure
  • Your Twin Brother’s a Third Wheel at the School Prom
  • Distinguishing Family Pets from Family Enemies
  • Geocaching by Messrs Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs

Books for Young Girls

  • Dealing with Others’ Jealousy, by Hermione Granger
  • I’ve got a Crush on My Brother’s Friend, by Ginny Weasley

Management

  • Undermining the Establishment for Profit, by Lucius Malfoy
  • The Dumbledore Way: Harnessing Your Inner Strength
  • Oligarchic and Anti-Competitive Behaviour in Diagon Alley

Family Counselling

  • Long term effects of poor parenting, by Dr. Draco Malfoy

Medical Research

  • The Golden Snitch and HyperExtended arms
  • Cranial Injuries, Short Term Memory Loss and the Bludger
  • Will Those Eyebrows Really Grow Back: a Laboratory Safety Guide
  • A Danger and A Benefit: A Dragon’s role in limb loss and reconstruction

For more on how the higher education crowd consider Harry Potter, see insidehighered.com
[tags] Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling, Pottermania, Deathly Hallows, Menudo, boy bands, Hermione, Weasley, Dumbledore, Hogwarts [/tags]

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Age of Conversation

07/12/07

Coming, just for you, on Monday!

The Age of Conversation, an e-book collaboration by over 100 authors in marketing, advertising, public relations and big thinking.

All profits going to Variety, the Children’s Charity.
More details available on my custom Age of Conversation page.

Thanks to Drew and Gavin for organizing this!

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At Honest Ed’s – Only The Floors Are Crooked

07/11/07

Yeah, yeah. Ed Mirvish and his son David transformed live theatre in Canada, London and around the world.

Let’s talk about his skills as a salesman. A master salesman.

Once upon a time, I lived a half block away from Honest Ed’s Emporium, found at the corner of Bloor and Bathurst Streets in Toronto. The store was ringed with thousands upon thousands of incadescent lights, lighting up the street and the punny signs that just drew you in:

Honest Ed’s a blabbermouth! He can’t keep his prices a secret!

Honest Ed attracts squirrels. At these prices, they think he’s nuts!

Honest Ed’s no midwife, but the bargains he delivers are real babies!

Forget Paco Underhill’s “butt brush” theory: Honest Ed’s is jammed full of Israeli cookies, Chinese shoes, Indian cast iron kitchen tools, and everything else you could imagine. The prices are painted onto cardboard signs, just like pre-war general stores.

People will tolerate cramped aisleways, blaring visual stimuli and the basic presentation of products in exchange for low low prices.

Ed’s promotions are legendary: free turkey and fruit cake at Christmas time; Honest Ed’s dance marathon in the ’60s; a pink elephant sale that got him into trouble with animal lovers.

All this retail magic gave Ed Mirvish, and his son David, the resources to rescue and revitalize classic theatre in Toronto.

“…Over a quarter century earlier when I bought the Royal Alexandra, although many people were happy that this theatre was safe for the time being, many were concerned with what I would do with it. They did have qualms. Frankly, in the early years I was often tempted to put vending machines on the back of the seats and sell toothpaste and razor blades. I am glad I resisted. (How I Became An Overnight Success in Seventy Five Years)

After the 2003 SARS outbreak led to a slump in business and tourist travel to Toronto, the Mirvish family worked with Toronto hotels to offer deeply discounted hotel and theatre packages to entice Canadians and Americans back to the city.

The tributes to a man who touched a city are pouring in, on the day he died at 92.

Photo by easternblot

[tags] Honest Ed’s, Honest Ed, Ed Mirvish, discount retail, discount shopping [/tags]

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I am, in no way, Peter Pan

07/07/07

I’ve been searching around for a new suit lately, mostly online. I was contemplating an updated look, but it looks like I’ll have to continue in my preppy ways, because the men’s fashions being prepared for next spring are, ummm, quirky.

I offer, as support, a review of a recent Milan fashion show – Looking like a Billion Bucks – found in the New York Times. It’s behind a subscriber firewall now, but has been reproduced on a different blog.

“… Peter Pan seems to be the ideal man. How, for example, do you rationalize the success of Thom Browne, who won a men’s wear award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2006 and who was recently hired by Brooks Brothers to help revamp the brand?

You can’t argue with the influence Mr. Browne’s clothes have had on the industry, although he was surely not the first to make suits that suggested a Pee-wee Herman romp along Savile Row. At a garden party … Euan Rellie … is seen wearing a Thom Browne suit that has all of that designer’s trademark details: cropped jacket piped at the collar, lapel, hem and pocket; shirttails left hanging; bow tie.

A caption identifies Mr. Rellie as an investment banker, … Yet far from embodying a model of fiscal authority or contemporary chic, Mr. Rellie comes across in the picture as the man hired by the caterers to make balloon animals.”

[tags] men’s fashion, summer clothes, suit [/tags]

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The muzak is whispering to you … get out!

07/02/07

You walk in, and you hear a whisper of music. Just there in the background. It might be the lobby of your office building. The entrance to the mall. The train station. An elevator.

That’s the shadow of programmed music, designed to either attract or repel you from a public or retail environment.

We’ve all had that moment, that instance of realization, where we ask ourselves “what the hell am I humming?” and “did anyone I know hear me?

I present a not nearly complete list of songs that will drive me out of a store.

On the other hand, there are certain songs that will keep you hanging around:

I know, I know – Bobby McFerrin is a force or light and darkness. I think the “X factor” with that song is the involvement of Robin Williams.

[tags] muzak, programmed music, retail environment, elevator music [/tags]

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Predicting behaviour by consumers and panicked citizens

06/28/07

Take one sophisticated computer model capable of predicting individual behaviour in a variety of urban settings. Add a large consumer or retail corporation interested in maximizing their in-store marketing efforts.

You can just predict the co-opting of an extremely sophisticated urban planning tool.

Not that this scenario has happened yet. Paul Torrens, an assistant professor at Arizona State University, has received a multi-year National Science Foundation grant to:

“…develop a reusable and behaviorally founded computer model of pedestrian movement and crowd behavior amid dense urban environments, to serve as a test-bed for experimentation,” says Torrens. “The idea is to use the model to test hypotheses, real-world plans and strategies that are not very easy, or are impossible to test in practice.” (ASU news release)

Once the academics have done all the heavy lifting, I can easily see commercial applications:

  • modeling traffic flows at trade shows
  • evaluating the efficiency of urban and suburban guerrilla marketing campaigns
  • testing category placement at grocery stores
  • maximizing the placement of shopping centre info booths
  • calculating the maximum tolerable distance between airport departure gates

Pruned has suggested some other applications:

  • simulate how a crowd flees from a burning car toward a single evacuation point;
  • see how the existing urban grid facilitate or does not facilitate mass evacuation prior to a hurricane landfall or in the event of dirty bomb detonation; or
  • design a mall which can compel customers to shop to the point of bankruptcy, to walk obliviously for miles and miles and miles, endlessly to the point of physical exhaustion and even death.

In practical terms, I wonder how much of this new modeling the folks at Disney theme parks will review and say “knew that. knew that. that’s not a surprise!”

Personally, I would like to see the results from one of the professor’s other projects:

Modeling Time, Space, and Behavior: Combining ABM & GIS to Create Typologies of Playgroup Dynamics in Preschool Children

pointer from CityofSound

[tags] traffic flow, urban design, patterning, shopping habits [/tags]

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Facebook Update = Developing Murder Story

06/18/07

Well, the Ottawa Citizen is breaking new ground with its monitoring of Facebook profiles. Not only can social networks be helpful in drawing up an initial impression of a possible murder suspect, but a simple update on a Facebook profile can make for valuable additional column inches on a story that’s a little slow to develop. 

On Saturday, both the Citizen and the Ottawa Sun referred to a murder suspect’s online profiles while detailing his personal life. 

Today, the Citizen ran a story on the front of the City section detailing how someone had changed the young man’s Facebook profile early on Saturday morning. 

“…But Saturday morning, at 2:11 a.m., the online profile that Mr. Howard maintained on the social networking website, Facebook, changed. Under the category of “relationship status,” the profile was updated from “single” to “in a relationship.” He named an 18-year-old Ottawa woman as the person he was dating.

The woman, who says in her profile that she works at an Ottawa submarine sandwich shop, is more vague about her relationship status.

“In a relationship and it’s complicated,” her profile says…”

Monitoring Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites can often prove valuable for journalists (and identity theft specialists).

Still, I have to question whether a profile update is valuable enough to report – especially without more details.

In effect, the Citizen article was implying that the Facebook update may be related to the murder investigation. And maybe it is – if this case develops into something more complex, possibly involving the girlfriend.

At what point to disparate pieces of information become facts worthy of reporting in traditional media? Should a person’s online persona only be evaluated as a complete package with dozens, hundreds or thousands of online hints, notes, and facts?

Or can our online identities be broken down into individual actions and impressions?

I sure hope no-one is characterizing me by taking note of my Facebook status updates – they’re nonsense.

[tags] Facebook, MySpace [/tags]

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It’s not that I’m ignoring you …

06/14/07

This just in! Experiments conducted at Stanford reveal that “the brain’s ability to suppress irrelevant memories makes it easier for humans to remember what’s really important.”

There we go. Scientific evidence that my inability to remember insignificant details is simply the product of a highly functioning brain.

“…Memory allows humans to be predictive about what’s likely to be relevant to them as they go through life, Wagner explained. “What forgetting does is allow the act of prediction to occur much more automatically, because you’ve gotten rid of competing but irrelevant predictions,” he said. “That’s very beneficial for a neural information processing system.”…” (Stanford News)

So, to recap: it’s not that I undervalue what you’re telling me. It’s that I expect something much more important and personally relevant to come along any moment now.

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Monday Miscellany

05/28/07

Kevin Dugan‘s prepared a video on vending machines as a growing sales channel for more than just snack foods. To me, it seems that the sheer bulk and impersonality of vending machines will continue to block their popularity.

Debit and credit technology have advanced, but vending machines in North America continue to be a large and imposing waste of precious retail space. Even more importantly, North Americans always want the option to wheedle, deal or complain with a retailer – unlike in Japan, where vending machines are ubiquitous:

“…Vending machines spread in Japan because of people’s demand for automation,” said Takashi Kurosaki, director-general of Japanese Vending Machine Manufacturers Association. “Leaving aside the issue of whether this is good or bad, people clearly want to purchase things without having to talk to others.” (Japan Times)

Here’s a good place to put two or three paragraphs of detailed text – the strap hangers on subways. Right in your face, and easy to read.

Paul Kedrosky tells us: (and Maggie Fox seems to agree)

Facebook is the Microsoft Office of social apps. In other words, none of the apps are particularly good — photo sharing, status updates, personal pages, events, groups, etc. — let alone being as good as their standalone counterparts — Flickr, Twittr, Typepad/Wordpress, Google Group, etc. — but most people don’t care. They just want their social software all in one place, all from the same interface, and then they want to move on and get their (social/presence) work done.”

Cover design at Penguin Books: David Pelham, the man behind the cover for Penguin’s print of A Clockwork Orange, discusses the cover design of a number of Penguin paperbacks. More writing by a number of other Penguin designers can be found in the specialist book Penguin by Designers.

[tags] vending machines, automated, strap hangers, straphangers, Facebook, Penguin, cover design [/tags]

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What are YOU doing with YOUR life?

05/10/07

Sure. We all see the pictures. Poor Jessica Simpson, ripped apart on all the gossip sites. Frequent changes in hair colour. Unexplained fascination with muu-muu like dresses. Carnival clown lipstick. Grinding with Eva in Vegas. Avoiding photographers with John Mayer. Meanwhile, there’s Nick with Vanessa. Sigh.

Poor Jessica. How does she do it? How does she struggle through life faced with all this bad karma and incessant criticism?

By having the number one selling shoe in North America, that’s how. Here’s a quote that will knock your ankle socks off:

“…Vincent Camuto, chief executive officer of the Camuto Group, said he will ship close to three million pairs of Jessica Simpson branded shoes before the close of this year. Sources close to the company estimate the shoe line alone will bring in $225 million in retail sales in 2007 …” (WWD, sub req.)

And, as if you didn’t feel bad enough: the Olson twins made $40 million last year from their clothing lines (which are a billion dollar business).

[tags] Jessica Simpson, brand extension, shoes, fashion marketing [/tags]

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Socially awkward Facebook eight year olds and their spam

04/22/07

  • Selling cell phones to eight year olds. Burn in hell, over-reaching capitalists! An imaginary conversation between a father and his 17 year-old son: “You see, son, back when you were eight, we signed you up for a family plan with lifetime free texting. Lifetime. With the same company. You’re contractually obligated to stay with the same provider for the rest of your life.”
  • Toronto is outrageously represented on Facebook, and Sean throws out a challenge: “and for Torontonians…. I now officially proclaim, if you have not joined Facebook by the April 22, 2007 and live in Toronto, you are offically part of the mainstream, well on your way to dancing the Macarena, listening to Barry Manilow and still wondering why the old Canadian Tire spokesguy isn’t on TV anymore.
  • A video showing the “corridor of social awkwardness” in the CBC headquarters in Toronto. “It’s so long, that when you see some one coming the other way, you don’t know when to wave, say hello or give one of those man nods.”
  • And the billboards start coming down in Sao Paolo. Brett questions whether urban spam is actually a problem at all. To me, advertising is a necessary part of business. I can understand why cities like Sao Paolo would feel overwhelmed by corporate messaging – and how this could become even more overbearing with the growth of digital billboards and projected messaging. On a local level, though, advertising is more of a form of personal expression, tailored to the market and the consumer. Which makes wholesale bans stupid. And damaging for small business.

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When social media leads to personality theft

04/13/07

I think everyone is aware of the financial implications of identity theft – and we likely have all suffered from it. But are the consequences greater when your identity is mimicked on sites like LinkedIn, MySpace or Facebook? The digital trail left by an identity thief can leave a lasting – and possibly damaging – history of misleading posts, poorly considered group memberships and intellectually inconsistent political positions.

The most elementary type of personality theft is the fake celebrity MySpace page – is that really Jessica Simpson who’s agreed to be my friend?

But, as we begin to consider a world where our digital breadcrumbs will help shape how people think of us – now and in the future – the prospect of personality theft becomes more threatening.

Social networking sites have advanced too far as useful tools to describe their users according to simple stereotypes: drunken frat boys; Jersey girls; desperate job seekers; young professionals; or techies. 

Today, you’re as likely to find your grandma or your boss on a social networking site. That means your boss or your grandma could be browsing through your online profile, message board postings, and group messages.

If you wrote them, that is. What if someone assumes your online identity, lifting a photograph, getting enough personal details right to fool some of your friends, and then starts undermining your personality?

That’s what seems to have happened to Samer Elatrash, who describes in this week’s Montreal Mirror how his identity was appropriated in a fake Facebook profile.

For Elatrash, though, there doesn’t seem to have been a financial impact. Instead, the Fake Elatrash simply muddied his online personality profile. He/she was joining groups with inappropriate political affiliations and making outrageous comments in others.

The impact of this type of identity theft, though, can be a long-lasting as when your bank details are stolen.

For a generation that lives its life online, your online record is your portable biography. If the information becomes corrupted, it not only casts doubt on the social network but on your real-life personality.

Is the key a system of third-party identity verification programs? More stringent verification procedures by social networking sites? Or is it up to people participating in networks to question new members or those seeking to “connect?”

I can see it now: in among the forms you’re handed on your first day as a freshman at university, there will be a list of personal question and answers that will be shared with your friends, so that later in life you will be able to verify their identity online.

“Colin McKay wants to connect”

“What was the name of your father’s first pet?”

 

[tags] Myspace, Facebook, LinkedIn, identity theft, personality theft [/tags]

 

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How about a reality check for bloggers and social media types?

03/27/07

As the social media monks, acolytes and proselytes run in ever tighter concentric circles chasing the tails of honesty, transparency and conversation, we need to pause and remember the greater world that surrounds our very small community.

Take, for example, the billions of people who have very little exposure to modern consumer society. While we obsess about the potential uptake for podcasts and blogs, there are villages considering buying washing detergent or headache powder for the first time.

“Unilever figures that 1.2 billion consumers will buy packaged goods for the first time by 2010 — most of them in the developing world. … Each week, 40,000 people in Asia use a washing machine for the first time.” (WSJ)

Even more significantly, sometimes a blog is simply a tool for a dispersed team to share news of life and death amongst themselves.

[tags] Digital and Social Media Syndrome, DSMS, Shutdown Day, Moratorium March [/tags]

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Brand extension, guided by scientific findings

03/27/07

Do you remember the story of Ragu Pasta Sauce? How Howard Moskowitz‘ scientific experimentation helped the company expand its product line to over 30 different varieties? Malcolm Gladwell mentioned it in The Tipping Point (and here he discusses it at TED 2004) and elsewhere.

Well, Moskowitz explains the history of sensory evaluation and experimentation as part of the Technometria with Phil Windley podcast. Moskowitz is energetic about his subject, and the nearly hour-long podcast just zips by.

For more information: the Sensory Evaluation blog.

[tags] brand, Moskowitz, Gladwell, Ragu, sensory evaluation [/tags]

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Leading an examined life … is a real pain in the …

03/15/07

Even as the bleeding-edge johnny on the spots continue to preach transparency, responsiveness and honesty to any and all considering a corporate presence through any type of social media, it is useful to refer to similar experiences in the offline world. Like Yvon Chouinard and Patagonia, who have been reflecting customer needs and interests for fifty years.

Chouinard gave the 2006 Von Gugelberg Memorial Environmental Lecture at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in October (the podcast just came out, but the video is available on Stanford’s site). Chouinard made the point, repeatedly, that a publicly held company would have a hard time repeating Patagonia’s example, simply because of the pressures for quarterly performance – to the detriment of the long term planning needed to implement sustainable practices.

Even with a company full of dedicated staff and clearly set goals for sustainability, transparency and responsiveness, Chouinard emphasized that criticism will continue:

“…leading an examined life like that, where you have to questions everything you do, is a real pain in the ass, let me tell you!” (Social Innovation Conversations podcast)

That’s an important observation for all of us, as we argue for companies to experiment with social media.

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