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Educational Engagement

You learn by doing. You’ve heard it before, and I subscribe to this notion personally. How, though do we develop the class time where new concepts are to be shared and reinforced?

Frameworks provide a logic by which instructors can design instruction, but it’s possible to have too much preparatory work in place during these and other preparatory projects. Two frameworks for instructional design are ADDIE and SAM. ADDIE was developed by the military and it consists of 5 main steps, with many sub-steps under those. While it gave order and scalability to many training projects that needed to take place and has continued to do so in workplaces everywhere, it can have distinct drawbacks over a SAM process.

One problem for the classroom can be a lecture, followed by a quiz – passive learning, and not very engaging. “Tell and test” is something that could be encouraged by the use of the ADDIE framework, e.g. the 2nd D, Design, has bullet points under it stating “develop objectives”, immediately followed by “develop test”. When learners know approximately when they will need a piece of information, they can learn it for that event, and afterward forget it rapidly. Perhaps this is a beneficial thing for some human experiences, but not with information that should be boosting corporate value over coming quarters.

It’s better to learn with gusto, go unwind or go to sleep, and review over the next day, weeks, and beyond. When you learn something new, it creates new paths in the brain and these become reinforced by studying with distributed practice – cramming, or having a one-off session followed by a quiz and a survey usually aren’t good enough to really internalize something new.

Also to that end, active learning is so much better than passive learning. An example of passive learning is reading a case study about the process of a negotiation – an instructor could then quiz students on aspects of the process or understanding of some kind of positioning, etc., but the engagement and learning will be so much better and retrievable later if the learners also actually simulate a negotiation, and in this case, compete with each other, followed by talking about the results with the rest of their group.

ADDIE tends to make for a thorough process, but it can be drawn out and expensive, it’s up to you to adapt it and make it engaging, and sometimes at the end, your denouement can be met with the dreaded, “Oh, that’s not what I expected.”

SAM processes can avoid some of these concerns, because you don’t build the entire, sometimes complex project at once, from start to finish. You build this feature, and that segment and they all stand on their own as these little deliverables. That way, you can get the feedback you need before you sink serious time and money following the wrong path.

Whichever framework you use, it’s up to the instructor to facilitate engaging class time where material sticks. Fun and games have their place in the classroom, but they are but a facet of a brilliant learning experience.

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Skills that Raise all Ships

Don’t be hesitant to learn new digital tools. You studies may teach you not only that tool, but help you with software generally.  This can also be true of programming and societal languages.

For example, language researchers have found that being bilingual helps develop early empathy and aids understanding of language as a whole. It’s a meme within language education, also, that speakers of a Romance language can understand each other more easily than, say when you translate between Mandarin Chinese and Brazilian Portuguese. The expressions within the former group have a common root, using a largely common set of characters.

I’ve also found this to be true with software. I’ve used Sugar, Act-On, and HubSpot, and when I encounter other CRM platforms or tools that do some of the same things, they usually don’t look unfamiliar, because a lot of the underlying features and functionalities are the same – they are distinguished by the design of their interface, feature set, and ease of putting bits of data together to try and unearth golden nuggets of actionable insight. This has value for businesses, as it can be easier to discover information and subsequently share it, get feedback, modify your approach, and build consensus in one suite than in another.

Another domain where you see this is with programming languages. Once you learn to think like a computer, i.e. logically, within a rigid set of rules, you start to recognize where efficiencies can be introduced and can translate inputs from one language to another rather than re-learn how to process data the way a computer does.

Processing the world around me and being inspired to create is something that gives me joy. A common trinity for this is Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop. The first one I learned as a pre-teen was Photoshop, and it subsequently made the others easier to learn. And it was important to learn the others because they’re better for different tasks.

What kind of software are you curious about? How about languages? I want to encourage you to dive in.

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Know Thyself, that you may Sell

You have a product or service, and you need people to find out about it, and raise awareness. Are you ready? Let’s explore a little bit of that process today.

Inbound marketing is great for increasing your marketing return on investment – MROI. I’ve explored it quite a bit this year, especially in the wonderful, automatable HubSpot CRM. However, as good as SEO can be, it’s even better when it’s part of a broader strategy. You often need to couple solid inbound like SEO with paid advertising – SEM, or search engine marketing.

First, you need to put yourself in the shoes of your audience, and identify what will wow them about your product or service.

Not just at the surface level - spend time on this. What makes your product or service different? If it’s not better in some way, whether your UX and design for your e-commerce site are better, your materials and design are superior (making it easier to build consumer confidence and good feelings around your brand), you’re positioned in the right place at the right time (an umbrella sales stall that you man for the 30 minutes your local main street gets lake-effect rain from Lake Erie every day?) or you or your product are more effective (tangible, real-world benefits), no-one outside of a few friends and family members will care enough to choose you over something or someone else. If you don’t know what’s special or unique about what you have to offer, you need to stop and figure it out. Why will people be excited and want to advocate for you?

Second, you need to determine what platform you’d like to use to help prospects discover you. Two examples are Facebook Ads and Google AdWords.

In pay-per-click, or PPC, you try to get people to click on your link, for terms they’ve searched for that you bid on. On Google search (there are challengers like Yahoo and Bing, but the king of search still reigns supreme) you can pay to have words people search for trigger an ad, which you will pay Google money for if they click on it.

More popular, vague terms cost more than longer, less-searched for terms. For example, let’s say you make ginseng snacks. Bidding on ‘ginseng snacks’ as a keyword that you will show up for on the first page of Google search results will definitely cost more than if you target something like ‘how to make ginseng snacks’, ‘types of ginseng snacks’, or ‘ginseng snack recipes’. And here’s a cool thing: ranking for the longer-tail (more obscure) keyword also helps you rank for the shorter-tail (more vague/popular) term. Google AdWords is a balancing act between popularity (ease of ranking), price (how badly do you and others want to rank), and how well you’re already ranking with organic SEO (which is influenced by a multitude of things – and can theoretically be free, or almost free).

How is Facebook different? Well, what if I search for ginseng snacks, and click it – but just on a lark – because I hate ginseng (no I don’t), and never intended to buy it? Anyone could see your ad, click on it, and you wouldn’t be sure from that interaction alone whether or not they’d ever become a customer of yours, or know much psychographically about them beyond the standard audience data you might have from something like Google Analytics. With Facebook, you can segment like crazy, meaning that you can drill down to a small slice of their 1.5 billion-plus users. You still pay to place PPC ads, but you have more control over who sees them.

Another benefit? Ads on Facebook are more visual, which may mean that you can start shaping consumer perception of your brand more powerfully than with mere text alone. Also, Facebook isn’t that expensive when we go back to the point about segmentation ability.

Quality over quantity! Don’t blast out information about who you are and what you do until you’re sure of what makes you unique, and ready to make people happy. Once you do know, use your advertising budget wisely by pairing SEO with SEM, and taking advantage of the relative strengths of each platform. Additionally, don’t just set it and forget it. If you can A/B test to weed out underperforming campaigns, CTAs, and AdWord buys, do so. Continually measure against your past performance, and aim for long-term health by investing early and often in how you cultivate the reputation of your brand in the minds of consumers.

Happy optimizing!

“If you know the enemy and know thyself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.” – Sun Tzu

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When is "Designed to fail" a win?

You’ve very likely heard the refrain before that “Things aren’t made like they used to be.”

Is it a great conspiracy when your phone charger cables or toaster fail? People often allege that we have to replace things more often now than was once the case. Is that always bad?

Certainly, there are cases where products are engineered to be different, but not better. A famous example is Pyrex, which used to incorporate borosilicate glass as a strengthener, but has included a cheaper soda-lime glass since the 50’s. Whether this matters for the casual home chef is debatable, but it has made a lot of consumers upset – so much so, that they just don’t buy Pyrex anymore. You can judge for yourself, and read more about the history of Pyrex here.

How about a toaster? You can get them for $5, which is sort of shocking given how far it has come before you see it on a shelf. It’s cheap enough for companies to produce them thanks to economies of scale, bulk shipping discounts, networks of suppliers in the same villages, pay variations between nations, and strategic pricing, e.g. you went to the store for a toaster, but you left with bagels, cream cheese, and a bag of grapes as well. You can buy a more expensive toaster, which will hopefully last longer. Maybe it will need a repair, but you may want to buy it for life. Is it always a good idea to buy for longevity?

No. While I sometimes agree with the mantra of “If you buy quality, you only cry once”, some things should definitely be designed to fail.

Witness the humble smartphone charging cable. When they’re not being forgotten in hotel rooms everywhere, they’re failing to work at least sometimes. Over time, the factory-snug-fit at the charging port becomes loose, or bent, or the male connector detaches from the cable, often due to abuse.

What the heck? Is this just designed to fail? Actually, it is, and here’s why that’s actually good.

Inside your phone, there are a female connector and charging port board. If your cable is made to last forever, guess which one is going to wear out first? If the port on your phone doesn’t work, how can you even source the right part, when these kinds of bits and bobs are often changed to any number of variants during a phone’s production, even within a given model number?

And another thing: Cars. Not the engines, but the surrounding structures. Modern cars have advanced crumple zones that are intended to deflect the energy of a collision around the occupant space. Check out the difference. Designed to fail, rather than a rigid car where the car can fail to protect you.

The next time you find that something has failed, will you bemoan it, or will it be a good thing? As for me, I’m on the hunt for a bulk-pack of the cheapest smartphone charging cables.

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The Joy of Universal Design

Good design. It wins over our hearts and turns good products into great products. But how do you elevate designs from good to great? An important thing to consider is inclusiveness. Great design considers the total environment in which experiences occur, and it offers intuitive, comfortable function with form.

Maybe you’ve seen powerful advertising before that lacked words. You may have seen that you can use headphones in a museum rather than read the placards, or noticed that some teachers, professors, and YouTube stars use visual aids when presenting content, to great effect.

Universal design is inclusive design that benefits everyone who interacts with a virtual or physical space, whether or not they have to contend with a physical and/or cognitive disability. Further examples include automatic doors that open not only for those who lack strength and motor function, but also for people carrying boxes or bags, or public buses with a low floor height that agrees with the elevation of a typical curb.

It used to be true that you had to pay a lot of money to enjoy great design, but increasingly it is quite attainable. To paraphrase the presenters of BBC Top Gear, in the past the most beautiful and well-designed automobiles were limited production and quite expensive, but increasingly some of the best-looking cars are mass-produced, and the beauty of great design extends to safety features, ergonomics, efficiency, computerization, and automation.

As technology and demographics evolve and shift, we need to look for ways to share great design with an increasingly broad group of users. In that way, we can all have experiences that allow for not just success, but even joy.

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Bees and the Embargo

For a long time, we Americans have been friends with Puerto Rico and others, but not with another close-by nation, oh-so-close to Florida. The end of the trade embargo with Cuba can probably allow a freer exchange of goods, services, ideas, and money to cross the channel down there, to the benefit of the U.S. and Cuba.

You know something funny I read about that whole debacle though? As part of the laundry-list of things Cubans has trouble getting from the United States, American pesticides were not readily available to Cubans for the last few decades.

Meanwhile, we hear about colony collapse disorder and bees dropping like flies. This is worrisome because ‘bees are bros’ - they enable the production of all these different crops. I don’t know about you, but that list makes me salivate as it contains a dozen or more foods I’d graze on in a heartbeat.

Guess who hasn’t had an issue with their bees? Did you guess Cuba? They can now export high grade honey, made possible by our productive little friends. I guess there was a silver lining to the whole trade embargo after all.

Maybe there’s something in your life that you wish you could have that you think would make it better. If you remember the example of the bees and the embargo, maybe you’ll see that opportunities have potential downsides, wait a time, mull it over, and maybe find a better one – or at least go in with eyes wide open. I’m working on that. Best of luck to you all!

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Steering your Brands

How do you go from getting your business information entered in the phone book and Google Maps to having your logo trigger thoughts of you as a leading player and trusted solutions provider in your industry?

Building brand equity takes work from your teams and managers, and it takes time. You need to design and implement a set of guidelines for where and how you display your branding and get buy-in from everyone who will be creating content around your products and services. Big players everyone has heard of got the message long ago – for example, Wal-Mart has an entire tome devoted to how exactly to display their brand.

Want to play a fun game? Try to draw a brand that comes to mind – maybe one of the big, famous ones. Go ahead, take about 30 seconds.

Now, you could compare your depiction to those of the participants of an informal study in Austria. It’s interesting to see what you or others remember about a brand’s logo, isn’t it? I wonder what customers also draw from memory when they think about past exposures and experiences with a brand. It’s the old game of telephone, isn’t it? The further information gets from the source, the more likely it is to be different.

At the source itself, we do have control. With a clear, consistent direction for our branding and messaging backed up by solid marketing, sales, and post-purchase experiences, we’ll give an increasing number of people the confidence to become customers, and existing customers to expand their business.

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Automatic Art

Do you make or consume modern art? My family recently visited such a museum – it’s something I regularly come back to because I know that my perception of my environment before and after is always subtly adjusted. I subscribe to the belief that anything can be art, and that its quality of being art is determined on an individual basis rather than by an overall consensus.

Some works move me more than others, but they usually have a commonality in that they reflect a deliberateness that is human. It’s difficult to disengage consciousness from a creative endeavor, though attempts have been made throughout history.

Is it wrong to shed humanity in favor of the subconscious or unconscious creation? Does it teach us anything in the marketing space? Perhaps in marketing, as in art, there is a balance to seek.

See marketing automation. It has its critics! Some say it lacks the authenticity of live-posting each message to social media or the connectedness of a made-from-scratch note or email. In the modern age of marketing, however, we don’t have to guess.

The data is in – and it shows that automation gets results. Your social audience never sleeps, and you have a lot of contacts in your database. Here are seven ways to automate.

In 2017, I’ve been studying inbound marketing and automation in HubSpot, as it and CRM suites like it allow you to roll your contacts, personas, campaigns, and strategies into one convenient solution.

With the tools of the modern age of marketing, science elevates your art into something that is easier to discover and more likely to be interacted with, by putting your hard work on the right channel at the right time for your audiences. Whether in the artist’s studio or a marketing agency, automatic processes can unearth real value.

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B2B Content Marketing and You

In a sea of information, how can B2B prospects notice you?

In this article, I’m considering social media process and content strategy to get people to read and follow through with a conversion in B2B marketing - hopefully beyond just a like, retweet or +1 to include actions such as signing up for a newsletter or email list, providing survey information, attending a webinar or event, or even purchasing a product and becoming a customer. I’ve identified several key things to consider.

One that should be focused on is landing pages and, in particular, forms. Forms separate leads from non-leads and have a huge impact on conversion rates and overall lead generation results. We should take a hard look at our forms and test to see if they can be further optimized. (Taylor)

How do we get people to the page with a form in the first place? Understanding customer concerns means that we can inspire action, even in under 140 characters.

One of the most effective drivers of traffic is good SEO, which relates to many things that help your site show up on page one (hopefully in the top few results) in a search engine. These include good content, tags, header text, copy length, links from other sites, URL content and checking that your site can be indexed smoothly. (Griffith)

Other top drivers include email, social media, and content marketing. “Social media is an integral part of content marketing, and to some extent, search marketing. How successful will your blogging or infographics be if no one’s following your company’s updates on social media?” (Taylor)

Social media is different than a printed work. It’s a stream of information that users dip into and out of, rarely seeing all of the messages in their feed. Therefore, posting a steady drip of information over time rather than all at once helps ensure that your content will receive the attention it deserves. However, if we simply post the same thing over and over, it will look like spam. Some ways to keep our messages fresh include implementing these style variations:

  • Straight and Easy: Post Title + Link
  • The Question: Ask an engaging question to stir conversation
  • Cite a Fact: Share a fact or figure that is included in your post
  • Share a Quote: Grab a pull-quote from your article and turn it into a social message
  • Add Intrigue: Write a teaser message that grabs the attention of your readers

There’s something else that can be used to great effect for projects, and it’s a schedule. You can divide parts of a project into chunks and put them up on a physical white board or digital collaboration platform. To do: ‘this week’, and ‘next week’.

You can create a schedule for social media postings beyond that time-frame to include weeks and months further into the future as well. Here’s a simple graphic to illustrate:

Furthermore, we can leverage the relative strengths of each platform, e.g. Google+ allows for basic markdown with which we can make pretty lists, and on Twitter, we can post a photo along with our clever, short-form copy. (Moon) Also, to make following your schedule easier, you can utilize a platform such as HubSpot to automate much of your marketing effort.

There are a lot of companies doing great marketing, and we should eye-shop around to see what valuable models we could learn from. An example of a pretty effective model for capturing attention is Problem-Agitate-Solve. Basically, identify and show that you understand your audience’s problem, cause them to reflect upon it, and then offer your solution. (Farnsworth) This is a nice way to interest users enough that they will click through.

Finally, I already mentioned making a schedule, but I should also note that there is research showing that different times of day get a more enthusiastic response depending on the day of the week, the goal of your content, and the platform being used. (Hughes)

We should always be on the lookout for new, exciting truths about our audiences, and clever tools we can use to make our efforts more effective.

 

Works Cited

Farnworth, Demian. “Problem-Agitate-Solve: Best Formula for Writing Potent Web Ads”, Copybot. Web. 14 Sep. 2011.

Griffith, Tommy. “The Insanely Powerful 2017 SEO Minded Checklist (Updated)”, ClickMinded. ClickMinded, Web. 15 Feb. 2016.

Hughes, Brian. “How to Optimize Your Social Media Posting Frequency”, Social Media Week. Social Media Week, Web. 16 Mar. 2016.

Moon, Garrett. “How To Promote Your Blog With Social Media”, CoSchedule. CoSchedule, Web. 16 Dec. 2013.

Taylor, Marcus. “5 Best B2B Lead Generation Strategies (That Work in 2017)”, VentureHarbour. VentureHarbour, Web. 25 Dec. 2016.

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Disconnected

Incentives sound good on the surface, but do they work the way we think they do?

Like anywhere else with economic activity, daycare is a great resource for working Israeli parents. However, a lot of children were getting picked up too late in the evening so the schools decided to try to incentivize earlier pickups by charging a fine when parents came too late. Problem solved, right?

It actually led to more parents coming late!

I don’t think the parents liked to pay the fine, necessarily. The issue was that charging them money changed the nature of their relationship with the teachers. Sure, they were likely paying for daycare already, but not wanting to make the staff wait around indefinitely stems from your sense of empathy – that if they’re working late they’ll silently be bearing that cross for you. When you add the fine, the relationship is reduced to a merely transactional one. Oh, I’m paying? Well, I guess I’ll take my time.

The same can be true for good customer service. When you charge for returns, you may suffer less loss of money in the short-term but you do lose a bond, and possibly repeat business you could have had with a customer.

It’s also true of contracts, which are basically just a right to file a lawsuit. Years ago, Warren Buffett famously made a multi-million dollar deal with Wal-Mart after just a 30-minute meeting – because he trusted them, and to bring in an army of lawyers to oversee the minutiae of the contract would have changed the nature of their relationship. (I should note, however, that he has since dropped their stock)

Fines and contracts are not going away – but we should give a moment’s thought to the totality of what they – and other practices– signal before implementation.

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Crowdfunds and you

You’ve probably heard of Kickstarter, and how it’s a great platform for creators to get projects funded. There are a lot of interesting ideas and success stories that have come from the site, and according to this article, there’s only a 9% failure rate for projects that have met or exceeded their target for donations.

It’s good for some of them to fail – some of the ideas are flawed or too niche, not only for brick and mortar retailers but even for ‘long-tail’ shoppers on the web. However, some of the ones that do get funded make me appreciate the role that critical eyes play in the private equity market (when startups approach a venture capital firm).

Trying to get V.C. funding is famously difficult, as they are looking for a hole-in-one product or service that will yield an abnormally great return on investment to justify the risk they are taking. On a platform like Kickstarter, there’s certainly an argument presented for a product, and why it’s clever and marketable. The platform is a huge boon for creators, especially ones who might not need or want to scale into a huge, $100 million dollar company later. However, projects can become an echo chamber of enthusiasm without first going through a reductive, reformative, V.C.-like stage of candid critique.

 I want to point to three examples.

First is ‘No Man’s Sky’, which is a case where the developers intentionally misled supporters about the content that would appear in the final game. Creators with a faulty moral compass can exploit the democratization of funding on Kickstarter. Most users were able to get a refund, but what could prevent this situation from repeating itself?

Second, ‘The Fidget Cube’. I actually love this product. It’s sort of a pointless little thing, and I suppose that’s what I enjoy about it. It looks like it would provide a steady trickle of textural data, as a kind of white-noise that would clear my mental cache and prepare me to shift attention between tasks. However, there’s a delay in production arising from a Q.C. finding, and it’s going to be $25 USD. Meanwhile, take a look at eBay (also, a shout-out to this article.)

As a third example, I went to Kickstarter’s main page and found this project featured. I used a mountain bike each winter during college in lieu of a car, and to protect my investment I bought a really beefy, heavy U-lock for when I couldn’t be by its side. The use of textiles to make a light-weight lock looks cool! It doesn’t damage your bike, and I am still trying to wrap my head around why the bolt-cutters didn’t defeat it in their video. All of that looks great – but what happens when you attack the padlock with the bolt-cutters instead? Is that not what a determined bicycle thief would try after about 15 seconds? It would only take a bit more test footage to assuage that worry, and frankly, I fear the worst. I don’t think this can or should supplant a thick, drill-resistant U-lock as my accessory of choice to delay would-be criminals.

Crowdfunding is a great thing overall, but don’t forget to hold up each and every project to a critical lens before throwing your own money behind an idea, even if it has already drummed up a fanbase.

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Ps and Qs

You’ve probably heard of the ‘4 Ps’ in marketing. How can we rank them in order of importance? I’ve heard the following in my courses:

1st)  Product – If you don’t have a great product or service, you need to take more time and make it great. Consumers have little sympathy for something that is sub-par for the market it exists in. Conversely, if your offerings are excellent, maybe customers can advocate for you!

2nd) Place – Can people who care about your product or service even find out about it? Referring to the ‘Customer Decision Journey’ by McKinsey, we should understand that if we aren’t part of a user’s initial consideration set, or appearing during their active evaluation phase, we can’t expect them to convert.

3rd)  Price – Where does your product or service fit into the existing landscape, and what is its price elasticity of demand? If you increase your price to consumers by 10%, will you lose less than 10% of your users? In terms of your overhead, if you hire more staff, will you capture enough quantitative or qualitative benefit to justify it?

4th)  Promotion – How do you drum up excitement or tip people who are on the fence? Maybe you’d like to cross-promote to people who currently know you for service X and interest them in services X and Y. Maybe you need to stand out and be more memorable. Perhaps, if someone just tried your product for the first time they’d be sold. Maybe a customer had a good experience with you in the past, but between all the obligations in their life, they just need a little reminder before you get their repeat business?

I was thinking about the 4 Ps just yesterday. A bunch of my Korean relatives visited for Seollal, the Lunar New Year holiday. My brother-in-law ordered some chicken to the house shortly before he went back north to Incheon, and I was stunned to see which shop he’d ordered from. You see, we get a circular each month which contains ads for dozens of take-out and delivery places, and I’d singled this one out in my mind as having the most shocking logo I’d ever seen.

However, something I didn’t know until yesterday was that they have a loyal following that started on Facebook a couple years ago. Also, the chicken was absolutely great – superior in taste to other, more famous shops without being more expensive. I love this example, as I think it illustrates the power of a great product, and how it can turn your customers into advocates. Now I just wonder when they’ll update their branding!

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Your Copy in the Wild

Branding products for shelves and physical distribution to retail outlets is inherently riskier than doing so online. I see funny things out in the world and web sometimes that reinforce this.

Packaged products from America often come with little stickers modifying text by the time they’re on Korean store shelves. Curiosity has led me to partially peel back several, and the alteration is often something like a ‘Great taste!’ sticker hiding buzzwords like ‘Low-fat’ or ‘All Natural’, or in my bathroom, a small color-matched sticker significantly changes the outlook of my moisturizer on life, from a ‘facial recovery accelerator’ to the more hopeful ‘facial accelerator’.

Beyond stickers, I was reading a thread over on Reddit the other day where a product had it’s label and presumably also contents changed, with a ladies’ underarm care product canister being filled with shoe deodorizer. I would hope that the contents are different, as I’m not sure I’d want 99.9% of the bacteria in my armpit to be eradicated. That would be bad, right? Here’s another example of a wrap on a printed can, which someone said was because of a shortage of Arnold Palmer cans.

While you might run out of packaging or product online because demand and inventory re-stocking times could vary due to supplier issues, miscalculations, etc., the sticker problem is one that is mostly alleviated on the web, where gradual, small changes are unlikely to jar users. This is a known thing in web design, though it isn’t always the best approach. However, I can say that it does work wonders sometimes. I’ve used eBay since 1999 and just look at their site then and now. I can guarantee that the current design encourages users to click around and buy more stuff, which means more commission for eBay. It happened gradually; I can’t recall ever being taken aback by the site looking really different, yet here we are. (There have been UX and policy changes that I’ve noticed, but that’s another story!)

When we make copy and packaging for offline channels, we must be even more vigilant about fit and finish. The better it is, the less money and time we’ll need to spend on alterations, and the healthier our operations will be.

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Eat Your Broccoli

When you study something, you sometimes get a feeling of discomfort up in your head. That is simply the feeling of learning something new - a precious ability that we should exercise over the course of our lives. It’s a part of the idea of ‘inner-lotus’ control, where you believe that your future is shaped more by your actions than by the influence of external forces. There’s a positive feedback loop between challenging yourself and being ready for the next hurdle.

It may be the case that making the learning curve of a skill a bit steeper may help you internalize the information more deeply. For example, Leonard F. Koziol, et al., posit that “Attention is variably expressed and will randomly undermine the full expression of otherwise intact encoding and working memory capacity. Therefore, a child or adult may perform better on a difficult task than a similar but easier task.” In other words, you don’t always make use of your mental faculty optimally. It’s easier to work on something that grabs your attention, or, ‘The right thing, at the right time’. Another interesting article is from Harvard. The summary of that one is that when uncertainty - or perhaps difficulty - is introduced to a cognitive experience, it tends to make you doubt yourself and then work that much harder to regain your footing, in keeping pace with the learning curve of the subject of your attention.

If you are curious about something, just try it. “Strike while the iron is hot”, or do things at a time of day when you are naturally more attentive and primed to do something. For me, that time starts in the morning, and that may all still sound obvious, so here’s a personal example.

I’ve long been interested in music, and have curated a varying collection over time - I even hosted a radio program back in university. Anyway, I’d never made music of my own until very recently. As my interest in it hasn’t waned over time, I decided to dive into learning Ableton Live in this new year, 2017. In five days, I’ve allocated about 28 hours; initially on Coursera in the free course from the Berklee School of Music, but soon most of my time was in the program itself and on Google. It’s pretty powerful software, but the reason things were or weren’t happening wasn’t that obvious to me. When I had a problem with the sound of a mix, or with the output not being what I wanted or expected, I jumped on Google to query what I thought others would ask in the same situation, and also used good old trial and error. I’ve now made something I’m reasonably happy with, and I’ll continue to be more ambitious in what I try to compose and produce.

Having curiosity is extremely conducive to mastering new things. If you have it naturally, just jump into learning a new skill, as you can improve quickly with that starting gun to give you a running start. If there is something you need to learn that isn’t so instantly rewarding - for example, learning how to save for retirement - maybe you can try to gamify it. Rather than mourn the loss of a percent of your income each month, try to set a high score for your percent contribution. Instead of being overwhelmed by a huge list of vocabulary words in a new language, see if you can just talk a little more each time with the staff when you go outside to the shops. Does a high score sound silly when talking about a 401K, IRA, and beyond? Is it really any sillier than getting a high score in a pay-to-play game? I’ve posted about that before. Let’s assume you’re ready to try something new.

What is something you could do right now that would most help you achieve a goal? It can be onerous to switch modes and do something we should be but don’t forget that after you've completed it you'll feel a sense of real accomplishment. It’s not so different from when you have a chunk of free time, yet feel guilty about enjoying it. Just do something you should be doing first, and then you will more fully enjoy your remaining time because you are actually a pretty productive, value-adding person and after you eat your broccoli, you can and should feel like you deserve the siesta.

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Collisions of Crowds

“The madness of crowds comes from like-minded people who are all wrong.” This is a memorable quote from Scott E. Page, an American social scientist and Leonid Hurwicz Collegiate Professor of Complex SystemsPolitical Science, and Economics at the University of Michigan, whose Model Thinking course I took through Coursera. From this, I have taken away that we must prod and poke at our models of thinking in light of available data or other resources, or they will work less well over time.

Complementary to this, I heard something interesting in part 3 of the Freakonomics podcast’s three-part series, “Bad Medicine”. At first blush, many would assume that an experienced doctor would be better than a fresh graduate. However, investigation by a guest on the episode, Anupam Jena of Harvard Medical School, found that patients counseled by older physicians had a higher mortality rate than those with a doctor who had recently finished their studies – unless their experienced physician saw a great number of patients, because they would supposedly then have an opportunity to be more selective due to stronger demand for their services. It is asserted, though that the larger culprit seems to be the fairly quick pace of change in doctors’ understanding of how and when to use different techniques in the treatment of illness, which makes a residency even 20 years ago (1997?) different than one today.

Maxims that are thought to be true for long stretches of time are sometimes turned upside-down in light of new research. It’s perhaps more common for gradual adjustments to be made than to discover some whopper of an idea, but we have to keep our eyes and ears open. I have heard before that there is more knowledge outside of an organization than within it. How can we position ourselves to benefit from a world of riches? It’s interesting to look at something like what Tony Hsieh has done as CEO of Zappos, including this follow-up piece. He has tried to create an environment where ideas can flow between spaces, as blood flows between organs.

Another stark example of missing out on knowledge you could have utilized is an example that I am struggling to find a source for, but here goes; (I heard this one on the radio about three years ago), a major automaker decides it would be a good idea to do research into customers’ showroom experience, and explore tactics that would enable dealerships to increase their volume of sales. After spending perhaps a few million dollars and several months, they delivered their findings to a broad number of sales teams, who reacted with disbelief. They were already doing everything that the automaker was suggesting they try! Had the automaker just reached out to the dealerships from the beginning, they might have saved that money.

We should seek not only the counsel and energy of those in our vicinity, but try to collide with other points of view and information, in order to make wiser decisions.

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Layers and Logos

At some point, if you come to know enough about a fellow human, you can begin to see the ways that everyone is at least somewhat unique. Sartorial choices mean that differentiation is also around us all the time, when we come across other characters in the movies that are each of our lives.

Young Ryan used to aspire to own visibly branded clothes. Perhaps it gave a little boost to self-esteem that could be elusive back in middle school, what with how it is a complicated time for most of us. Personally, there has been a connection between my detachment from most labels today, growth of self-confidence, and a developing ability to filter out the irrelevant.

However, that’s not to say that clothing or other goods with labels are wrong to enjoy. It’s interesting to see how different branding is across a free market economy; some shops have huge logos on both their storefront and their clothing, and others have small or hidden labels.

I found this short paper on brand prominence and signaling to be quite interesting. To borrow terms from the paper, the way I present myself has slid to the left, from a mix of poseur and parvenu some twenty years ago to more of a patrician. Yes, citizens of the world, I absolutely am a have, and you might be too.  I don’t think I have anything to prove to anyone through what logos I wear. Subconsciously, I suppose that mating is the oft-accused motivator of most ‘displays’, but that doesn’t cover many of the reasons consumers might buy something, and probably isn’t all that important either.

Let’s remember that consumers are in different camps on what messaging and branding they will respond to, making different approaches a necessity. Logos and branding have a power of instant communication, but if misused, can serve as an unhelpful obfuscation or repellant. While I sometimes actually do want that in public – maybe I’m not in a talking mood that day – I’m generally interested in getting to know the people around me. If our clothing fits relatively well to our human figure and daily life, we should don it proudly, and then think about the attitudes we wear.

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Qualities of a Quantity

I just read that Pokémon Go developer Niantic is collaborating with Starbucks to make thousands of their locations Pokémon gyms nationwide. It begs the question, ‘Why?’

The game launched back in the summer and exploded in popularity, but according to this article, the game had already stumbled and lost a vast swath of its player base by October. More recently, the game has had a few updates in an attempt to rebuild excitement, and the developer has also paired up with Sprint stores in the hope that it will lure players there.

Maybe there’s a similarity between apps, drinks, and phones. A steady churn of new phones and drinks keep the Starbucks and Sprint brands relevant and on the minds of consumers. If you haven’t been there for a while, you might find a neat new device, or a novel drink flavor. The same could be said for the app marketplace, where relatively low barriers to entry – seriously, almost anything gets accepted to the Apple and Google Play stores – mean you can always scratch an itch to try something new.

However, there is more to it than that. What else is in it for these businesses to pair up with an app that appears to have already waned in popularity?

It must be the case that even with a smaller player base, the users who remain are a good match for Starbucks. This finding seems to agree! It looks like Pokémon Go players are disproportionately doing just fine this holiday season, with the ‘average’ player being a 25-year-old, white, college-educated woman making $90,000 a year. This matches up well with the lower threshold of Starbucks' key demographic of 25-40 year old repeat customers. These players just may have a little extra to spend on a seasonal drink – and the hope is that they’ll keep coming.

While to most of us, Pokémon Go isn’t that fresh anymore, if these stores can turn even a fraction of the player base into returning customers it will be great for business. We need to consider more than just our own level of engagement with a potential marketing strategy when making a campaign, and try to find the true lay of the land in our research phase rather than just follow our gut. What the data shows is that these users demand close attention, as they will likely have a higher customer lifetime value relative a random member of the public because of their implied discretionary income. When it comes to users, it would be nice to catch ‘em all, but we at minimum need to actively attract ones who support consistent future revenues.

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Side Dish A

A few others, their glances, strong sunbeams where the midrise buildings allow passage, trees half denuded, and a line of taxis on this street of a bedroom community at 2 p.m. Chilly air surrounds, and his layers of clothing and mind were yielding to slow refrigeration. He paced toward the recessed doors of a five-story department store where he always parked for free, and could get some exercise rambling up and down the stairs as bookends to his afternoon engagements.

The first floor has its aging food court, adjacent newly renovated retail footage. Assistants abound. ‘This shampoo is really good,’ is what she says, starting to select it for you. Yogurt, windshield washer fluid, and pasta sauce, out the self-checkout, up to the fourth floor, and down into streets.

Light layers in the crisp air. Normal traffic, that’s fair. A few more weeks of the same suds for his hair, the future and the now milling about up there in his mind, more within reach with each moment he knows how to be happy, to get things done and done well, to let things go, and hold on tight.

He’s comforted on this December night that though right now he types alone, there are others home and we are all small on this ball. We will someday winter, but do our best not to fall. And though we may hit walls, we can scale or discover stairs, exercising our ability to always better our past selves, and at times thicken our skin or pour out our heart, never making a truly new start because we have a priceless coat of all the things we’ve ever done, to add to our warmth, and find haven and restoration before the new day to come.

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The Money Game

Change in industry is normal, and expected. It’s also sometimes difficult to digest. I read the other day an opinion piece in the New York Times that described the economy, firms, and jobs with the metaphor of a vertical parking structure, wherein the seats in the cars are jobs, and the cars come and leave over time, reflecting the changing nature of most industries. When new technologies are rolled out, as with the printing press and other automation, or perhaps there is an external motivating force, such as Craigslist competing with newspapers for classified ad space, large changes occur.

For example, the digital gaming industry has mostly trended from the difficult, graphically simple arcade games of the 80’s to ones that are more programmatically complex, yet increasingly accessible to casual players, migrated from a physical to cloud-based, downloadable format, a one-time payment model to one of repeated transactions, and a single screen, offline experience to an environment where ads can be targeted to players and their contacts across devices.

Proxy wars aren’t just for governments and corporations. People pay to play in a lot of mobile games, and often need to spend ever more to keep up. Games have changed so much that it’s now possible to infuse a game with money, and let it basically play itself. This is where the model just totally loses me as a customer – but apparently many others feel differently as digital gaming generated US $61 billion in 2015, an increasing percentage of which comes from these sorts of games.

An example is ‘Mobile Strike’ where you pay real money to upgrade fighting units, and destroy those of other players. Winning is directly correlated with how much you spend on the game. In the past, consumers paid for everything up front, and publishers had to fix any bugs that existed pre-release as there was no chance to offer patches, updates, or free downloadable content for physical software cartridges or discs, running on hardware that lacked internet connectivity or was hampered by slow data speeds.

In the era of fast data, repeating transactions, and permissions which allow software companies to collect myriad data on players’ behavior, it has enabled targeted, programmatic ad services to get in on the game. While this could be good news for bottom lines, I think that it could be problematic for the game industry as a whole, or at the very least for my and many others interest in the future of the medium.

One company I’ll point to is Valve, in Bellevue, Washington. They have created several revered titles including the Half-Life, Portal, Counter-Strike, and DOTA series of games. However, they haven’t had a new AAA release in a few years, as they haven’t needed to. Micro-transactions for games they have already released, and the 30% cut they take of game sales on their popular Steam service have generated more than enough revenue for them.

While I don’t begrudge them that, I and many others worry that the pursuit of money already has, and will continue to erode the incentives companies have to make immersive, ambitious experiences in the first place. If the winds change and consumers no longer find as much value from multi-transactional gaming, it could make for a worse perception of the gaming industry as a whole and less choice and variety for players.

Virtual reality is a new exciting frontier in gaming in this day and age. With it comes a lot of new opportunity to advertise – Facebook owns Oculus, for instance. What if they couple Facebook ad data with what you see in the headset in a way that disturbs your immersion? It’s up to the industry to show some restraint here, and I hope they don’t go so far as to introduce more low energy, lame advertising than already exists to gaming. Otherwise, the best of user experiences could be overshadowed by unrelenting, tonedeaf messaging.

Industries are obligated to change, but we shouldn’t rush to grow and lose sight of good health in the process. I hope that riches for developers can go hand-in-hand with richness of user experience.

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Fanning the Right Flames

Fire walks are touted as a demonstration of mind over matter. Cool confidence in a hot situation. They don’t violate any natural laws either. Like feet, wood is actually a rather poor conductor of heat. However, some people’s conduct during a Tony Robbins seminar led to some of them getting burned. As you can see by clicking here, if you take selfies during a walk over the coals, it can backfire.

How did we become insulated from taking a hard look at our habitat? Technology allows us to do wonderful things, but can also distract us from reality. The Balkanization of media and channels not only provides a challenge – and opportunity – for marketers, but can also detach us ever-more from common sense and common purpose.

Degrees of separation from our surroundings promote partisanship. We fight over the slices of pie when we could instead try to build a bigger, better pie together. Community is always there, you just have to look for it and become part of the solution.  For companies, beyond just providing employment, giving back in programs that invest in their area acknowledge the long-term relationships that successful businesses need to maintain to secure longevity.

Future technology has always excited me, but I hope to always keep one foot firmly planted in my environment and community. That way, we can never forget what makes us great, how much we have in common with each other, or that the fire within us can elevate each other personally and professionally. 

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