What’s For Dinner?

In all things, what people want is not always the “best.”  Consider dining: even if money were no object, sometimes people would prefer a grilled cheese sandwich, made from Kraft singles and Wonder bread; to Oeufs Benedict with Italian ham.

My wife Cindy’s birthday on the weekend was like that.  In our family, on one’s birthday, you get to eat whatever you want.  (I get two inch thick rare beef tenderloin with roasted asparagus and rosemary potatoes.)  Cindy has a choice of anything I make.  My repertoire includes an amazing variation of Chicken Kiev that involves bacon and asparagus; a succulent tender veal scallopini; barbecued salmon with a sundried tomato rub; chicken Milanese, any kind of perfectly grilled beef; prosciutto e melone; a variety of kebobs and souvlakis; roasted or grilled pork tenderloin; and several kinds of fruit pies.  So what did she choose?  This:

For those of you unfamiliar with eastern Canadian cuisine, that is a lobster roll.  It’s diced-up lobster meat mixed in with some mayo, dijon, celery, cucumber, lemon, and spices and seasoning, served in a butter-fried hot dog bun.  My presentation includes parsley, paprika, and a whole claw sticking up like a sail.  And, of course, crinkle cut french fries from PEI.  This shot makes it look smaller than it is, because we have REALLY big dinner plates.

So why would Cindy prefer what is essentially New Brunswick’s version of fast food to some of my finer gourmet creations?  Because for a birthday dinner, with a 7-year old participating, and cake and cards and presents and all; this is I guess the definition of “comfort food.”  It’s what she asks for every year.

So, when predicting people’s preferences, remember: context is everything.

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Workus Interruptus

Gaaaa!  I’ve written before about how I hate the phone, but there is a new top nemesis to my productivity: Instant Messaging.

I have to, for purposes dictated by my role, be constantly available on not one, but TWO instant messaging systems: Lotus Sametime and Windows Live Messenger.  Most of the time, this is no problem, since most of the other people who I regularly IM with use the tools in a sensible fashion.

But what can throw a serious wrench into my day is when someone doesn’t get how synchronous communication technologies work.  Remember in the old days of radio communications when people would say “over” when they were done talking?  Well, some IMers need to learn a lesson from that.  I’m talking about someone who pings you with a question or comment that obviously requires a response, then, while you are typing said response, sends another blurb that invalidates your almost complete response and requires you to start over.  After this happens 3 or 4 times in a row, you throw up your hands and sit idly watching to see of they have, in fact, finished yet.  After a minute or so, you think, OK, they’re done now, and start to type the final reply, and they send, “U there?”  — as if I’ve been ignoring them this whole time.

Here’s a hint (that applies to marketing as well, oddly enough): before sending someone a message, think it all through and compose it appropriately and completely.

And speaking of technology that annoys me, why did WordPress arbitrarily insert that margin there on the left? 

Why I Don’t Use RSS (Much)

When I asked folks earlier this week to leave a comment on that post if they are a regular visitor to my blog (and thank you very much those who did), I found that about half of you are subscribed to me – you are giving me permission to PUSH my posts at you via RSS rather than coming by and PULLING the articles yourselves.

RSS makes a tonne of sense, and it is the epitomy of permission marketing – relevant, anticipated content delivered to an actual person who has asked for it.  And it is one of the results of Web 2.0 and the Long Tail niche-ification of information – totally personalized content delivered to your door every day, as if someone was printing a newspaper or producing a TV show just for you.  But I don’t subscribe to many feeds, and here’s why:  I’m a moody  browser.

There are some sites I go to every day, like Seth, Scott, and Penmachine. There are others that I go to when I want to spend more time exploring the ephemera of the Web, like BoingBoing, YesButNoButYes and Truemors.  And there are some that I only go to when I’m completely goofing off, like Geekologie, xkcd, Dave Barry, and Indexed.   The content I crave varies with what mood I’m in and how much time I have available.

So I don’t use RSS (except for news and weather) for two reasons: first, I might not WANT to know that there’s a new post at YesButNoButYes (like there is every couple of hours) right when it happens – I want to drift by and soak up a couple of days’ worth when I feel like it.  And second, there’s a bit of a treasure-hunter style thrill when I check blogs that are updated less frequently (like Netdud and Basic Instructions) and find a new post – it would have been less “exciting” to have it pop up in my Google Reader.

We’re Sorry.

Much has been written lately here in Canada about tainted processed meat products sold by Maple Leaf Foods that were responsible for 18 deaths all across the country.  One of the sidebar issues has been how well Michael McCain, that company’s president & CEO, has handled the crisis.

The standard formula when you have screwed up is supposed to be:

1. Admit you made a mistake.

2. Take responsibility for it.

3. Apologize for whatever inconvenience your error caused.

4. Explain what you will do to prevent it happening again.

Mr. McCain has done a good job on all these counts.  But it’s astonishing how many companies don’t (or maybe can’t).  Think how often you have called an organization out on some mistake it has made and the first reaction is, “it’s not my/our fault.”  This is unfortunately especially prevalent in the hospitality industry where poor service is one of my pet peeves.  If you mess up my food order, or give me the wrong kind of pillow, or put too much vermouth (i.e. more than one Higgs boson) in my Martini; and I complain, don’t ARGUE with me.  Make it right.

I got onto this kick because I made a mistake yesterday.  The first one since the late ’70s, I believe.  Well, really I didn’t.  A colleague has expected me to get approval from someone when I had understood I was simply to share the information with them.  When the approval didn’t happen she fired me a nastygram.  My response could easily have been, “No-one told me I was supposed to get approval!”  Just like the bartender can say, “No human can possibly call a drink with that little vermouth in it a Martini!”

But arguing won’t make either party feel better, so the right marketing  thing to do is follow the four steps above.  My response was (and I cut-and-paste):


Sorry, that was my fault – I did remember to send them to Angela, but did not explicitly request approval. I will from now on.        



And now everyone’s happy.

Who Are You?

Can you do me a favour?  If you know me personally, can you leave a comment on this post?

I have gotten to the stage now that people I don’t know, who stumble across this blog through Google or Technorati or other bloggers who link to me, have started leaving comments, which is very gratifying.  But it leaves me wondering how many people I actually know visit here semi-regularly.  Netdud and CM I know drop by often, but I yearn to know who my regulars  are (just as if this were a bar).


Where is My Muse?

I got nothin’ today.  No razor-sharp observations.  No brilliant theories.  No insightful commentary on current events.  So here’s a link to a pretty cool site that lets you graphically see the 1,000 most popular names for each decade since 1880.  “Stephen” has really lost ground since they hung it on me:

Witty Software

Every blogger in the world is required to download Google’s new browser called “Chrome,” and then write about how much faster, easier, buggier, sexier, prettier, memory-efficient, and inexpensive it is. Well, I just did the download, and I’m going to write about how…  witty it is.

Chrome has a feature called “incognito browsing” which works just like normal mode, but doesn’t save any browse or search history, or any cookies you pick up along the way.  Once you close that session, no-one will be able to tell where you’ve been.  Of course, teenage boys all over the world are loving this, but I love the introduction screen:

Google (the company) has a reputation of being a fun, irreverent place to work – their corporate motto is “Don’t Be Evil.”  It’s nice to see that they have enough of an organizational sense of humor to let those last 2 lines through.  Can you imagine IBM or even Microsoft allowing those words to appear in shipping software?

It’s also an example of how your business needs to stick with its “personality.”  If your company (especially a hospitality establishment like a bar) has a fun personality, it always has to be fun.  If you’re edgy, you always have to be edgy.  If you’re a redneck sports bar, having a Goth night is probably not going to work for you.

It’s all part of the story you tell.

Way Clever Music Video

This is a hilarious music video for a song called Toe Jam  by the band British Port Authority  that includes Fatboy Slim and David Byrne.  The song itself is catchy and clever, but the video is awesome.  There are about a dozen attractive people in a 70s setting, who remove all their clothes and dance around.  Their naughty bits are covered by those black rectangular censor strips.  Wait for about a minute into the piece to see the neat stuff they do with those black bars…

BTW, this does have something to do with marketing – this video will go hugely viral and bring attention to a song that would never get radio airplay.

Watches and Scales: Subliminal Advertising?

If you look at any marketing shot of a Timex watch (and most other brands of watches), and it is an analog watch (as opposed to digital), you will see that it is 10 minutes past 10.  And usually the second hand, if present, will be pointing roughly towards the 7.

The theory is that the hands in that configuration are pleasingly symmetrical and evocative of someone opening their arms as if to embrace you.  Also, I heard one Timex exec say once, “it frames our name nicely.”  The second hand is down where it is just to keep out of the way.

I bring this up, because when I was googling for an image of a scale for yesterday’s post, I noticed that the vast majority of digital scale publicity shots had weights displayed somewhere in the 120s.  Even shots of scales showing kilograms had weights displayed of around 56 kg (which equals 123.2 lbs).

The first weird thing about this is that not a single marketing shot for a scale had a person standing on it, so the readings should  have all been zero.  But we understand that the photographer wants to show that the numbers actually work and what they look like, so they put something on the display.  But why so consistently that specific weight range?

I think I know.  I just googled the average weight for an adult American woman.  Depending on the source, it’s around 150 pounds.  People who are shopping for scales are probably looking to lose weight.  20 – 30 pounds seems like a attainable weight loss goal.  So the photos are subconsciously saying to the purchaser, “Buy me and you will one day see this number when you look down between your feet, because you’re seeing it NOW!”

Weight: 184.8 lbs.

About 18 months ago, my wife Cindy bought a digital scale for our bathroom.  I had never given much thought to my weight – I realized I weighed more than I should, but I wasn’t obese, and it didn’t limit my physical activity, sports ability, etc.  If you had asked me what I weighed, I would have said, “I dunno – maybe 205.” 

And I really didn’t know – I hadn’t stepped onto scales since my first checkup with my new doctor when we moved to Vancouver. That was back in 1992 and I remember the conversation exactly:

Doctor Wilson:  “How much do you weigh?”

Me:  “I’m not sure.  Certainly less than 200.”

Wilson: [skeptically]  “Ok, up on the scale.”

Scale:  “199.9”

Me:  [sheepishly]  “See?”

The point being that I had really no idea what I weighed until Cindy brought home that scale and I was dismayed to see that mid- to high-220s was the norm and 230 was not an infrequent result.  So I embarked on a radical weight-loss plan comprised of two borderline-maniacal concepts:

1. Eat less.

2. Exercise more.

The first was an almost unnoticeable change to my habits, mostly consisting of not always finishing everything on my plate, and avoiding bread and pasta when there were other choices available.  The second was a daily 20-30 minute stroll around my neighbourhood after dinner, usually with my daughter.  And now there is 20% less of me – this morning I broke 185 for the first time since adulthood.

And it’s all because Cindy bought that scale, so to (loosely) tie this back to this blog’s theme, in marketing as in life, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.