August 7, 2007 by Colin
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?
July 30, 2007 by Colin
There are many decisions that contribute to the growth of a successful business. Faced with a limited marketing budget, many can benefit from a carefully chosen name that not only engages and possibly entertains, but also clearly communicates the benefit to the customer.
Like the rabbitry featured in today’s Wall Street Journal article about alternate food sources for cat owners.
As in: hare today, gone tomorrow.
A fairly macabre name for a rabbitry that’s selling 1,000 pounds of raw rabbit meat each week. But still awfully funny.
Slightly more exceptional is the feline diet followed by one online cat nutrition expert:
“Holisticat’s Ms. Arora is a vegetarian, but feeds her cats mice, rats, rabbits, Cornish game hen, quail, pheasant and chicken. For Thanksgiving she buys Missy, Pigpen, Trikki and Puma a small heritage-breed turkey from a nearby farmer.”
I wonder if that turkey is still alive when it’s turned over to the cats.
But seriously, that sounds like the cats are following a Colonial Williamsburg diet.
But then their names would by Moppet, Fluffy, Downy and *that damn wild cat that keeps impregnating my little princesses.”
[Tags] cat food, rabbits, feline diet [/tags]
July 27, 2007 by Colin
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]
July 23, 2007 by Colin
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]
July 22, 2007 by Colin
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.
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]
July 21, 2007 by Colin
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]
July 20, 2007 by Colin
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]
July 19, 2007 by Colin
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:
- Identify a trend in popular culture that hasn’t yet accelerated
- Personify that trend with a diverse group of individuals
- Develop a family-friendly storyline and marketing message
- Differentiate your product by emphasizing the attributes and quirks of your characters
- Deploy an aggressively effective multi-channel marketing machine
- 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.
- 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
- Undermining the Establishment for Profit, by Lucius Malfoy
- The Dumbledore Way: Harnessing Your Inner Strength
- Oligarchic and Anti-Competitive Behaviour in Diagon Alley
- Long term effects of poor parenting, by Dr. Draco Malfoy
- 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]
July 12, 2007 by Colin
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.
July 11, 2007 by Colin
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.
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.
Photo by easternblot
[tags] Honest Ed’s, Honest Ed, Ed Mirvish, discount retail, discount shopping [/tags]
July 7, 2007 by Colin
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]
July 2, 2007 by Colin
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.
- Easy Lover by Philip Bailey and Phil Collins
- Centerfield by John Fogerty
- Back for Good by Take That
- All By Myself by Eric Carmen or Celine Dion
- Who Can It Be Now by Men at Work
- Boogie Wonderland by Earth, Wind and Fire
- Do Ya Think I’m Sexy by Rod Stewart
- No Sugar Tonight by BTO
- Girl from Ipanema by Astaud Gilberto and Joao Gilberto (or Frank Sinatra)
- Fast Car by Tracy Chapman
- The Road to Hell – Chris Rea
- When in Rome – The Promise
On the other hand, there are certain songs that will keep you hanging around:
- Pour Some Sugar on Me – Def Leppard
- Sesame Street Theme
- Shiny Happy People – REM
- Baby Got Back – Sir Mix-A-Lot
- Push It – Salt-n-Pepa
- LDN – Lily Allen
- Don’t Worry Be Happy – Bobby McFerrin
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]
June 28, 2007 by Colin
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:
pointer from CityofSound
[tags] traffic flow, urban design, patterning, shopping habits [/tags]
June 18, 2007 by Colin
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.
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]
June 14, 2007 by Colin
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.