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Category Archives: Marketing/Branding

I Review Age of Context: A Must Read

Age of Context Cover

I’m not in the habit of reviewing books, but I have a special interest in this one, not merely because I played a role in its production, but because of what the book means to us culturally and economically. What follows is the review I posted on Amazon.

I have long been enamored of the concept of Systems Thinking, which holds (among other things) that systems cannot be understood absent their context, the interrelationships of components within each system and with other systems of which they are a part (or are a part of them). In my career I have often heard it said “context is king.” I am predisposed to look for the contextual interrelationships in all things I attempt to understand.

It was nearly a year ago when Shel Israel posted a request for help on Facebook. He was looking for people who could serve as fact-checkers for his and Robert Scoble‘s new book. At the time, I responded and suggested I could serve as his proofreader. He accepted. Thus began a wonderful adventure. Soon I was proofing Shel’s columns in Forbes (q.v.) under the general title “The Social Beat”. Most of them were portions of what would become the chapters of this book “Age of Context”.

Since that time, I have proofed nearly every column he’s written related to the book, as well as each chapter that ultimately became this wonderful book. I also outlined at least six of the chapters for the authors to use in interviews and at speaking engagements and, toward the end, ended up checking each hyperlink and compiling them into a single document.

I bring all this up in part to reveal what surely has the appearance of a conflict of interest in my recommending you purchase and read this book. However, the greater part of what I’m revealing is how thoroughly it moved and excited me. I will admit to being a techno-geek, and I am naturally drawn to shiny new things. I am somewhat prejudiced. However, Robert and Shel have carefully scoured the tech world and now present their findings and conclusions, and many of them should fairly knock your socks off. I can’t tell you how many times I practically came out of my seat as I was reading about their discoveries. It made it hard at times to do my job. Frequently, I wanted to add my own comments to what they were explaining. I somehow managed to contain my excitement. It’s their book, after all.

In “Age of Context” you will find dozens and dozens of applications and approaches that seek to more completely understand, and integrate into, various aspects of our lives. Whether in the home, at work, or at play; whether in their approach to health, recreation, designing and building cities, or marketing product intelligently, Robert and Shel bring together (put into context, if you will) what these developments mean and how they can — and most likely will — improve our lives. They also recognize, and in no way gloss over, the important issues of privacy and safety many of these developments raise.

Yes, I am somewhat prejudiced. However, I feel quite safe in saying this is an important book. I don’t care for the term “futurist”, but I’d like to think I can recognize some of the next big things. There are a lot of them in this book. You owe it to yourself to understand the coming storm of innovation and change the authors so presciently offer.

Buy it at Amazon
My Review on Amazon

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What Goes Around . . .

It’s been nearly three years since I “retired” from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. I’ve been through several iterations of “What do I want to be when I grow up” and I think my latest incarnation is actually working! I’ve given myself until the end of this year for it to prove out to be a viable trajectory, at least for a few more years while I still have to tend closely to my children. You can read my most recent self-assessment/self-promotion at LinkedIn.

Additionally, some of the seeds I planted a while back may be sprouting, which would be really satisfying and might steer me comfortably toward another line of work I can enjoy.

It seems understanding Social Media’s role, both inside and outside the corporate firewall, wasn’t a terribly interesting subject for most organizations and, despite my zeal, I couldn’t get the traction I needed to do what I thought made sense. Equally, at least here in Simi Valley, small businesses have had a very hard time – as a whole – seeing how social can be used to promote their business or organize their work a little more effectively. I need to say . . . there were lots of opportunity for being a charlatan and raking in some dough or for doing something I didn’t really enjoy just to make money. I’ve chosen not to follow those paths, so the challenge has been finding – again – who and what I want to be or, more accurately, continue becoming. Being frugal’s been kind of important as well. 😀

It’s important to note there are lots of large organizations who recognize the value of social for reaching out to, and communicating with, their current and potential customers. There are fewer, in my estimation (disclosure: I have not researched the numbers. I have, however, been observing for a long time) that appreciate the value of social to build community inside the firewall, let alone in the space they share with their suppliers/vendors.

At any rate, I haven’t given up entirely and I was gratified to be contacted by someone who interviewed me on the subject nearly 2 years ago. He asked if the audio could be used in a couple other blogs and sent me a link to it. Frankly, I had completely forgottenI did the interview. Also, inasmuch as I am now doing some editing/proofreading professionally, I was a tad dismayed to read the copy that accompanied it, and I’ve asked for the opportunity to proofread these new publications prior to publication. I don’t believe I  had that opportunity with the first publication, which can be found here. Below is the Vimeo audio file with my interview. I don’t think I made a fool of myself. I’m hoping I actually make more sense today than I did back then. I’m gratified Dustin felt it was worthy of being repeated.

PS – I may no longer be a Chief BooMillennial Officer, but I do think I’m still an Emergineer and definitely a Serendipity Wrangler.


Excerpt From “Age of Context” – Sensors

If you want to get a better understanding of where our phones, tablets, autos, goggles, glasses, and medical devices (among many others) will be taking us in the next few years, check out this extract in Forbes from Shel Israel and Robert Scoble‘s upcoming book, Age of Context. This chapter extract is on sensors, the use of which is exploding in dozens of fields and applications world-wide. Were you aware the average smart phone has a total of seven sensors in it, and you probably use every one of them every day?

Shel and Robert (also know as Scobleizer) are writing their second book on the changes they see coming as the result of advances in technology. Their first book, Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk withCustomers, was published over seven years ago (January 2006) and made the case for business blogging. In it they suggested blogs offered businesses something that had long been lacking in their communication with customers — meaningful dialogue. Today we see many businesses carrying on honest, meaningful dialogue with their customers through the use of blogs and, as the authors also suggested, other forms of social media.

They’re also asking for feedback prior to publication. Here’s your chance to put your two cents worth into what I believe will be an important book on technology, culture, and commerce.

To give you an idea of what they’re talking about when discussing sensors, here’s a video with Robert interviewing Yaniv Vakrat, of Primesense, about their sensor capabilities and what they portend for commerce and retail analytics, among other things. Primesense developed the sensor technology used in Microsoft‘s Xbox Kinect.


Important Stuff Happening Here!

Installation Marketing - Lowe's

Hey! Guess What I’m Doing Inside.

As I was leaving my house yesterday to go pick up my daughters from school, I noticed a sign reminiscent of the political signs that had been so ubiquitous in my town for the past month or so. This one was in my neighbor’s yard, stuck in the median grassy area between the sidewalk and the street. Although I wanted a picture of it for this blog, I was in a bit of a hurry to get my oldest and had to continue on. I was pleased to find, upon returning to drop her off, it was still there. I got out of my vehicle for a moment and snapped this picture before going after my younger one.

Right after I saw it, though, I found myself wondering if there was a way I could do something like this. My first thought was I should have a big sign I can raise on my roof that says things like “Rick writing here!”, “Rick editing text in progress”, “Rick proofreading a blog post right now”. Now that I think of it, I doubt that’s a very good idea. Actually, the city would likely frown on it and I’d soon find myself at odds with the very people I wish to work more closely with. There’s likely an ordinance prohibiting it. Scratch that.

So, how about this? In keeping with my theme of being a Senior Inspector of the U.S. Grammar Police, I’m thinking when I go to someone’s house or office I should put up some yellow plastic tape that reads “Possible Literary Crime Scene. Do Not Cross!” How’s that sound? Any better ideas?


To Correct and Preserve

I'm an Engineer

Ahm also illitaret.

Being a member of the Grammar Police is not a pleasant thing at times. It can often be a curse, as it makes reading for pleasure  distracting and, sometimes, painful. I’m finding it also makes it difficult to write for this blog regularly because I’m too freaking anal about mistakes and how I say things. I’m seriously working on not caring . . . well, not NOT caring but not being paralyzed by caring . . . if you get my drift.

When I was working for Rocketdyne I wrote a blog post in response to the reality that many people who had a lot to share with their colleagues didn’t step up to the plate precisely because they were afraid doing so would expose them to ridicule or, at the very least, make them look less competent than they actually were. The fear was somewhat real because Engineers are notoriously lacking in overall English and grammar skills, as evidenced by the numerous t-shirts and coffee mugs available with the slogan you see here. However, my experience is blogging doesn’t require the same kind of attention to detail designing an auto, a microwave, or a rocket engine does. Unless, of course, you hold yourself out as a member of the Grammar Police.

Therein lies the rub. I do hold myself out as such and, in fact, am herein sharing a new business card I created to advertise and promote my services. The first iteration of it brought me a small amount of embarrassment because I used “ghost writing” instead of “ghostwriting”, the latter of which is correct. Careful research seems to show it’s correct to use either “Ghostwriter” or “Ghost Writer“, but “ghostwriting” is the only correct usage.  A friend of mine shared the graphic of my card and one of her friends immediately called me out on it. I thanked him profusely for his unwitting collaboration and immediately changed the spelling, after which another person suggested some design changes that made sense as well, so I once again edited the graphic.

I’m pleased with the results and want it known I do not hold myself out as beyond error or reproach. Most people are painfully aware their own writing generally contains errors they are virtually incapable of spotting because of their proximity to the subject of the text. I am no different, though I am pretty damn meticulous in reviewing nearly everything I write – including chat messages. Yes, I am a wee tad obsessive, but therein lies my strength.

I recently was required to read a novel; one which I will likely soon talk about at some length on these pages. In doing so, I asked the author if it was OK for me to make note of any errors I came across. I received the go-ahead and, although it had been read by quite a few others, I nevertheless came across a couple dozen small (but frequently distracting) mistakes. I even discovered a rather glaring error in continuity, which the author was glad to have me point out.

I am currently working with several authors and on several projects. I am looking for more business. If you or someone you know could use a little help polishing up their novel, blog post (one that requires a modicum of professionalism, that is), or even some simple promotional or marketing text, please consider running it by my discerning eye. I believe I can help more than you might imagine. BTW – Here’s the card I ended up designing and may even print out some day. If you spot an error somewhere, feel free to admonish me. I can take it.

Grammar Police Biz Card

One day the shield will read “To Correct and Preserve”


The Prime Discriminator is Within

Edward Ladd & Sons

Company Jacket created by Cat’s Pyjamas

As an opening aside, I find it an interesting statement about the immediacy of the Internet that I would hesitate to share an article or blog post I encountered because it’s more than a week since it was published. Nevertheless, I did hesitate when I came across this particular article in Fast Company. I ended up sharing it on my Facebook Fan page and I’m going to share it here, with a little bit of personal annotation.

Many years ago, when I was in my family’s wholesale food business, I realized what I found to be a very sobering fact. As long as we weren’t manufacturing or producing anything, the only way to stand out from the crowd was to provide service over and above everyone else. Anyone can buy and sell items that are readily available and this was surely true of food. We could break the ice with price, but that was ultimately a losing proposition as the customers we sold to would inevitably leave us for someone offering a lower price.

However, not everyone could provide exceptional service. As a result, we were constantly thinking of ways in which we could provide value that others didn’t even think of. One way to do this is to just be available. When a restaurant runs out of product for whatever reason – whether it be unexpectedly busy days or flat-out stupidity in anticipating certain inevitably busy days – always being there and coming through was one way to stand out.

But that wasn’t enough. I think the real discriminator was the mind-set that our relationship with our customers was more than just seller-buyer; it was that of partners. Such a mindset had us thinking as though we were in their shoes and, frequently, it made enough of a difference in how we anticipated their needs and even helped them understand their needs in ways they weren’t always capable of. I think it worked pretty well while I was there.

So when I read this article today I was both intrigued and somewhat satisfied. I never thought of what we were doing as anything other than providing good service. I didn’t realize it was providing a special customer experience. Back then, as the article points out, customer experience wasn’t what it is today, but in our little corner of the world – in the kind of business we were engaged in at the time – it was what we were providing.

Now, it seems, it’s what everybody needs to do . . . and I agree. Here’s a quote from the article I’m referencing:

You don’t have to take my word for this. Over the last five years we’ve been running a study in which we ask consumers to rate the customer experience at companies they do business with. What we can now prove is that customer experience correlates to loyalty. Specifically, it correlates highly to willingness to consider for another purchase, willingness to recommend, and reluctance to switch to a different provider. In other words, if you want that next sale, if you want good word of mouth, and if you want to keep your customers, it’s unlikely that anything else you do matters more than delivering a superior experience.

Indeed!

Here’s the link. You can read the whole thing at Fast Company. It’s well worth it, even if it is almost two weeks old.

http://www.fastcompany.com/3000350/why-customer-experience-only-thing-matters

Enjoy


People ARE Talking. Are YOU Listening?

Infoweek Cover

Yes. They Are. You Need to be Paying Attention.

The title of this post used to be the tag line I put on my business card. It’s still on the vehicle sign that covers the rear window of my Honda Pilot, and it’s still in my Facebook Fan Page’s “about” section. The first paragraph of that section continues, “Your company – your brand – is being discussed publicly. Don’t you think you should join the conversation?”

Information Week made it the cover story of their June 25, 2012 edition and I pointed out the similarity in a graphic I created and posted on my Facebook Fan Page. In some respects, we weren’t quite talking about the same thing, though, but they’re closely related. Their article focuses on sentiment analysis and my thoughts were more directed toward overall engagement, which includes sentiment analysis. They are also far more attuned to the needs of larger brands, whereas my concern is for small businesses and the value they can get from what I see as the proper use of social media.

Today I was pointed to an article by Brian Solis of the Altimeter Group, entitled “Why Digital Influence is So Important“. Brian discusses the value of shared experiences, the building of trust, and the spread of influential content, pointing out the value of online recommendations from people we know and trust. He concludes with the following questions: “Do you know what’s being said about your business? And who’s saying it? How are you getting closer to your customer by examining your digital influence?”

Now the reason I bring this up is there are a number of people here in Simi Valley who have created Facebook groups designed to help us communicate or promote local businesses or both. One of the activities that’s taking place is what some call “Cash Mobs“. We are trying to pick out small, independently owned businesses that we might be able to help out (at least with their cash flow) by patronizing them.

As a result of this, one of the members suggested a location that might be able to use a small infusion of business and, consequently, cash. Since I have been trying to get locals to realize the value of using mostly free platforms, services, and apps to market and publicize their businesses, I’m always wondering how well certain ones are doing this. So I decided to check out this particular business with respect to a few things I think it could (or should) be doing.

I didn’t do extensive research, but I did find out some things I think are interesting in light of what Brian has to say about digital influence, as well as what I know about it from my research and experience. What I found was the following:

  • They have a Facebook fan page but do very little with it. The page has 45 likes and 10 people have gone to the trouble of checking in there.
  • They haven’t bothered to claim their venue on Foursquare (a very simple process) and, even though 30 people have checked in a total of 106 times (that’s an average of 3 times per person; an indication of some loyalty), they cannot create specials to reward that loyalty and, perhaps, entice more people to try them out.
  • They also have two listings in Yelp but have yet to claim either of them. Were they to do so, they would be able to correct one of the listings, as well as provide accurate information on what it is they do. What they do have is four (two for each listing) high quality, five-star reviews for their establishment. I say high-quality because all of the reviewers have numerous friends and have posted multiple reviews in Yelp.
  • I also checked Yahoo Local (basic minimum listing), Bing Local (basic listing w/two of the Yelp reviews), and they don’t show up at all in Google+ Local.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Here’s another quote from Brian:

“In the end, people are at the center of your business. And connections are the ties that bind in social media. Your next step is to see what people are saying or what they’re not saying about your business to learn how you can become part of the conversation and ultimately part of the decision making process.”

My contention is that by not taking the small amount of time required to at least claim venues and ensure they are completely populated with information about your business, you are showing you don’t really care what people are saying about you. Your absence from Yelp means you lose the ability to both thank people who take the time to say something nice about you, and to respond to those who take the time to report a problem they may have had. Without Foursquare you lose the ability to create specials designed to reward loyalty from current customers who are using the service and to entice new customers to try you out.

Even if you’re reading the reviews on Yelp and the tips on Foursquare (and it’s highly likely you aren’t) you have no possibility of “becoming part of the conversation and ultimately part of the decision making process.”

There’s another factor as well, which Brian discusses in his article. When people check in to your business on Facebook or Foursquare or Yelp, which they can do with their smart phones, tablets, and laptops there is always the chance some of their friends will see where they are or where they’ve been. Since the most trusted method of referral is that received from a friend, either online or in person, every business that doesn’t take advantage of these tools is shortchanging themselves. There are other issues having to do with gamification, peer response, and virality but we’ll leave them alone for now. They are important to fully understanding how to use each of these applications, but they don’t matter one bit if your business isn’t using them at even their most basic level.

In this economy I’m of the opinion not taking advantage of free marketing seems almost criminal and, while the tools may change as time goes by, the concepts aren’t going anywhere. What are you doing about it?


I’m Selling Cars

Signing up Test Drivers

Here’s Where The Paperwork Gets Done

Now, everyone knows that Ford Motor Company is doing one hell of a job embracing technology and, especially, digital and social media. Scott Monty has been leading the way and doing a pretty good job of it. Now I’m selling cars; Fords to be exact.

I’m not actually a car salesman, but I have a Ford dealership as a client. This is the biggest weekend of the year and it’s being kicked off with a yearly event meant to raise money for two local high schools. It’s called Drive One 4UR School and, for every qualified driver who comes in a test drives a new Ford, $20 (up to a maximum of $6,000) is donated to either Royal or Simi Valley High School. There is no sales pressure and the only requirement is to fill out a very short form before taking out the car, and answering a few questions on a survey after returning. That’s it.

So, as part of my efforts on behalf of Simi Valley Ford I have been spending more and more time on the premises. I told the President I didn’t believe I could do a credible job of representing his organization if I wasn’t somewhat a part of it, so he agreed to give me access to an office and a computer so I can be here, even if I’m actually working on other stuff.

I’ve been working on the test drive program a bit, and even took out a 2013 Mustang for a long and varied test drive. I’ve done a little bit of video that I’ll soon edit and put up on our Facebook fan page. I’m hoping to get a YouTube channel for us. Unfortunately, for now it would be blocked here on the premises, which I’ve been trying to get changed . . . so far unsuccessfully.

Right now I’m just enjoying being around a retail marketing event; something I’ve not experienced in this capacity for decades.  There’s Motown playing on a large sound system, American flags on all the vehicles, the weather is spectacular, and I’m sitting in my office waiting for a networking event (co-sponsored with the local Chamber of Commerce) to begin.

I’m going to have to leave early to attend open house for my 8 year old and then I’ll be back again tomorrow. I plan on spending time here over the weekend as well. That will also be something I haven’t done in years, although I work at home constantly . . . so it shouldn’t be all that weird. Ah – The Shirelles singing Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”. Guess I’ll find out!


More of That Lifelong Learning!

The Queen Mary from my hotel window

The Queen Mary Outside My Hotel

I just finished my presentation, the last in a group of three on the subject of social media for the American Oil Chemists’ Society’s meeting in Long Beach, CA. This was a huge event, with about 1500 people and lots of organizations in attendance.

The room was set up for nearly 300 people, but no more than 30 – 40 were in attendance at any one time. I have since learned (and am not in any way surprised to find) that the scientists in the organization are somewhat reticent to adopt social media. Actually, I’m very familiar with the problem and even discussed it in my presentation.

One thing I think I’ve gotten out of this, as a result of going through the process of creating my schpiel and also from my conversations with my co-presenters, who both have businesses they’ve been running for about as long as I was at Rocketdyne, is a clearer understanding of what I may have to offer and can build a viable business around.

Both of them told me nobody’s providing much in the way of education and services designed for the use of social media inside an organization. Both of their presentations were about the value of social media, but they were focused almost entirely on how to use it to either market your organization or to connect with like-minded people in order to build your connections or your personal brand.

After I finished, we sat down for a panel discussion. Frankly, I wasn’t feeling all that good about my efforts, but I do seem to be my own worst critic. However, one of the members of the Society, who has been attending meetings since 1976, got up and said he thought ours was the best session he had ever attended. That felt pretty darn good to hear!

One more bright spot. I was asked to write an article on my subject for their industry publication and expect to hear more about it in the next several days. We’ll see how that goes. I’m glad I put this presentation together and now I’m going to refine it and see if I can find other places who would like me to give it. I’m told there’s a market out there. Now I have to find it.


Are You, or Should You be, Shopping Local?

Shop Simi Valley First Logo

My City's Logo for Encouraging Local Shopping

There are several commercial “movements” gaining steam nowadays expressing the desire of smaller communities to get residents spending more of their money at local, usually small, businesses. Small Business Saturday’s Facebook page has almost 3 Million “Likes”. My city of Simi Valley has spent a fair amount of money promoting the concept. Locally it’s called “Shop Simi Valley First“. Unfortunately, the money that was used to create the website and other marketing efforts to support it has now dried up, possibly never to return. On the bright side, some of our citizens created a Facebook page for them and it’s approaching 1K “Likes”. It might increase now that the “official” effort is unfunded. I think this is a good thing and here’s why.

For the last year or so I have been gently pushing the city, and local small businesses, to recognize the power available to them in the use of social media to market themselves, as well as to create connections that just haven’t been possible in the past. I think, when it comes to marketing – especially in terms of encouraging local residents to patronize small businesses in our city – the connectivity and mutual support provided by services like Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp may prove a decisive factor in reasonable, if not substantial, growth.

As I see it, local small businesses can use these services not merely to promote themselves individually but, as long as there’s no conflict of interest, they can also promote each other. Here’s what I imagine happening.

Let’s say you have a restaurant that serves a reasonably upscale clientele. You know there is a certain demographic that’s not terribly likely to frequent your business. Maybe they’ll patronize your place on special occasions, but not regularly. Would it be a bad thing to give props to other eating establishments more desirable or affordable to those people? Would it threaten your business or might it not actually result in your being recognized as more friendly and approachable? I’m betting the latter is more likely.

Perhaps you own a clothing store, a dry cleaners, or you’re a Dentist or other professional or service provider. I see no reason why you can’t agree with other businesses to post on each others’ Facebook pages once in a while, sharing what you have to offer or special deals you’re running at the time. Frankly, I haven’t worked out all the details in my head yet. I’ve tried to work with local businesses and the City to encourage this type of practice using social media but, much like my experience at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, I’ve met a lot of inertia and resistance to change, even in the face of impending closure or bankruptcy. Part of it is a lack of understanding and part of it is a lack of resources, but the result is the same. Nothing much is happening.

What I envision happening is essentially two-fold. The first thing is that participating businesses benefit from the following of the other businesses on whose Facebook pages they promote themselves. This increases the likelihood of their being noticed by a larger group of residents. Secondly, it also increases the chances people in outlying areas will become aware of local businesses, thereby increasing the possibility people from neighboring cities may drive on over and patronize our local businesses a bit more frequently.

Does this make sense to you? What do you think about promoting local small business and how well do you think the use of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp can increase awareness of certain types of businesses? I’d sure like to see a more coordinated, concerted effort at making it happen.


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