Wikipedia Has a Great Entry on Fractals

I watched an interesting episode of Nova  last night about fractals in nature.  If you want a detailed description of what fractals are, you can visit Wikipedia, where they even have some cool animated examples, or you can click on the Nova link (for about the next week I imagine) and see the over-dramatic trailer for the episode I saw last night.  Or you can get a very basic explanation from me.

Fractals are patterns that are the same, or similar, at all levels of magnification. One example is a coastline – it looks roughly the same from space, from an airplane, from a thousand feet up, from 50 feet up, and when you’re standing on it.  The leaves of a fern are another good example.  Or the branching of the bronchial tubes in your lungs; and the branching of the limbs, branches, sticks, twigs and twiglets of a tree.  (On the show last night they actually proved that even how the trees are distributed in a forest is an extension of their branching fractal pattern!)  Even the universe could be described as fractal: electrons orbit nuclei to form atoms which (sort of) orbit each other to form our local matter, which orbits the centre of the earth, which orbits the sun, which orbits the centre of the Milky Way galaxy, which orbits the center of our galactic cluster, etc.

So before this get too science-geeky, let’s bring the concept to bear on marketing.  I believe that your organization should have the same “pattern” at every level.  From the corporate image or “brand,” to the philosophy of its executives (for instance, about how to treat customers), to the coaching of management, to the behaviour of front-line people, to the feel of the Website, to the design and execution of the product.  A consistent story that resonates with people is more powerful than a Super Bowl ad any day.

Note: No post tomorrow – I’m off to spend the spooky day with Bishop.  Happy Hallowe’en!

34, but it took some thinking.


Woodlot Owners Beware – Demand for Newsprint Vanishing

A while ago, I wrote in this post about the sharp decline in viewership for the evening television news shows.  Well, this article is saying the same thing about newspapers.  In the last 6 months, newspaper circulation in the U.S. has dropped over 5%.  Think about it – if that trend continues, there will be no newspapers in physical circulation by 2018.  My daughter’s high school grad photo will never appear in print.

I’ve made this point many times before, but the implications for marketers are clear.  Mass media is dying and being replaced by people going out and getting the content they want, when they want it, and in the medium they prefer.  So if you have a story to tell people, it’s going to have to be one they WANT to hear.  Plan your business and your messaging accordingly.


What’s Worse: Economic Meltdown or Societal Chaos?

Over at Scott Addams’s blog a few days ago, he postulated a scenario in the upcoming Presidential election.  It goes like this:

The markets continue to tumble for the next 7 days, so that by Tuesday everyone who has assets is even more skittish than now.

Obama continues to gain in the polls until he has a seemingly insurmountable lead (like 70-30 or something crazy like that).

On election day, people get nervous when they’re alone in the voting booth, and start second guessing their choice for a black man (if they’re latent racists) or a “socialist” (if they’re latent fiscal conservatives).  Of course, they’re embarrassed about telling their friends they didn’t vote for Obama, so everyone still thinks he’s going to win, but he doesn’t.  McCain wins.

Everybody freaks out.  Some people will think that the election was rigged, some people will think the voting machines got hacked, some people will point to the impossibility of American blacks ever having true equality, and some will have crazy conspiracy theory explanations.  Regardless, everyone freaks out.

Poor, urban people freak out in the form of rioting in the streets.  Wealthy people freak out in the form of solidifying their wealth and security – shutting the castle gate, as it were.  Institutions like banks and large corporations freak out by freezing up until they see what the outcome is going to be.  There will be a general societal schism between haves and have-nots not seen (in a civilized country) since the French Revolution.

Sounds pretty bad, right?  So why isn’t someone taking steps to communicate with all concerned NOW, so the uncertainty isn’t so explosive on November 5th?  Of course it could be that some genius has already thought of this and come to the conclusion that almost no-one changes their vote at the last second, so the whole thing is moot.


Word Count

A thought occurred to me just now, that if I had actually stayed true to a single topic or theme in the 6 months I’ve been writing this blog, I could have written a book by now!  The definitive guide to marketing bars and other hospitality establishments.  Maybe it would even be used as a textbook or at least mandatory reading in hotel and hospitality management schools!  I would be the Warren Buffet of bar management!

Except, NOT.

I have about 140 posts so far, and an unscientific measurement puts them at an average of 250 words each, so that’s 35,000 words. Only enough for a novella, according to this authority.

Holy moley!  How to “real” authors do it?  I can’t imagine keeping my mind on one train of thought for 100,000 words (the average length of a novel).  Mad props to all of you out there who can write, because I love to read, but I could never write like you.


Where 1 Billion People Live

I just discovered a fascinating website called The Places We Live.  It is a documentation of the some of the world’s largest slums.

A friend of mine, Tony Traboulsee, visited Caracas in the 80s and told me about the fabulous skyscrapers that exude wealth and opulence, and the corrugated metal and plywood shacks that surround them.  This site explores that world and others in great detail.

After the introduction, you can choose from 4 cities to visit: Caracas, Nairobi, Mumbai, and Jakarta.  There is a brief overview of the shanty towns that abound in those areas, which is worth watching/reading, but then the really cool stuff starts.  In each city, four households are profiled.  You can click on them to hear them tell their story and see a 360º view their dwelling by moving your mouse around.  They’re all small, and range from (surprisingly) comfortable looking to no walls or roof.

What’s amazing is that even in the worst living conditions (check out Subur in Jakarta), the people are surprisingly upbeat and positive.  It should be a kick in the arse to anyone who lives in our luxurious society and is unhappy about their lot.


Who Are These Women on Twitter?

For those of you who don’t know what Twitter is, there will be a glossary at the end.

I use Twitter very infrequently.  I probably post on average once a week and follow only 14 people.  Until recently, I had only 18 followers, who had trickled in over the last 6 months or so, and all of whom I knew personally, or was a fan of.

Then, in one brief span of a few hours, these 5 ladies all became followers of me.  I have no idea who any of them are, or where they would get my name.  I find it curious that they are all female, and all (as far a you can tell from the images) fairly attractive.

So is this some kind of porn-spam thing that we’re going to have to start contending with in yet another Web 2.0 forum?

(BTW, it never occurred to me to go and look at their profiles until right now, and they’ve all been “suspended” and are being “investigated due to suspicious activity.”)


Twitter is an online service that some people call a micro-blog.  Once you join, you can write small (140 characters or less) pieces as often as you like.  A lot of people use it with their phones, so it can be an on-the-go stream of conscienceness experience for frequent users.

Followers are people who have signed up to see someone else’s Twitter posts.  So when they log into Twitter, they see all the most recent posts by only the people they follow.  You don’t need anyone’s permission to follow someone, but they are under no obligation to follow you in return.

The Twitter site explains it better, or there’s this cute video:


Where’s My $#!*ing Paper?

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am no cheerleading squad when it comes to the Moncton daily Times&Transcript.  I have chastised them in the past for spelling errors, not knowing the definition of words, even mistakes in front-page headlines.  So it’s perhaps ironic that today’s post is about how hard it seems for me to get my hands on a copy of the darn thing.

The home delivery service was fairly good up until a few months ago.  The paper was always in the hooks provided for that purpose under our mailbox, except in rain or snow, when it was put inside the mailbox.  Very nice.  Sure, the occasional mornings when I left for work at 7:00, it wasn’t there yet (even though it’s supposed to be), but I can cut them some slack there.  Then, an apparently catastrophic event in the T&T  world occurred:  our paper-carrier quit.

We then descended into a Hades of random delivery times (almost always after I left for work at 8:00); random delivery locations (side door, front door, end of driveway, front lawn), and random content (sections missing, two copies of sections, sometimes two entire papers).

Well, stoic and embattled media consumers that we are, we soldiered on.  Then, two weeks ago, the unthinkable happened.  Our Friday paper arrived without the TV Times section.  Now, for the most part, the TV schedules are useless, especially when we have the cable feed which offers far more accurate and deeper information about what’s on.  HOWEVER, this section also contains what for me is about 75% of the reason I even subscribe to the rag: the NY Times  Sunday Crossword.

After my screams of horror had subsided, I calmly called the T&T delivery department and was told by their IVR (Interactive Voice Response) system that there would be a three minute wait for a live person, but I could use the automated service.  So I did, and was assured by the nice computer-voice lady (complete with background sound effects of a keyboard being typed – very thorough, I thought) that a new (complete) paper was on its way.  This was 9:00 or so in the morning.  By 1:30, it hadn’t arrived, so I called again and used the trick that pays off for me about 50% of the time: after being told about the 3 minute wait, I hit zero about 5 times, and was rewarded with a human answer after one ring.  The lady was skeptical that I had placed a re-order over 4 hours ago, but checked the system and verified that I was not, in fact, a psychopath who got his kicks by lying to customer service people.  So she promised that the TV Times would be sent right over.  It never was.

Fast forward to this past Friday.  The paper was actually there in the hooks at 8:00, but when I got to work I found that the TV Times was missing AGAIN.  (Conspiracy?)  So I called, got the “3-minute wait” message, used my zeros trick again, and spoke to a live person who agreed to send me a new paper.  But I kept her on the phone for a bit to tell her about my last weekend’s experience and the general crappy service our neighbourhood has been getting.  She told me that all that would be over now, since they had finally assigned a regular carrier to our route. Yay!  But she also told me that remedial deliveries are NEVER made after noon, so the lady I called at 1:30 the week before was incorrect in promising me a new paper.

So then I asked her why the IVR always says there’s a 3 minute wait, when she was obviously sitting right there ready to take my call.  She didn’t have an opinion on that, saying she had never heard what the IVR says to callers.  What’s up with that?!?  If I ran a call centre, the FIRST THING I’d do is get newly recruited agents to call the number that they will be answering, and listen to what a real caller will be hearing before they speak to an agent.

So to sum up:  the T&T  lied to me about the post-noon remedial deliveries; and the T&T  lies to EVERYBODY who calls their delivery service number (about there being a 3-minute wait) to push them into the automated system.

ASIDE: For those of you who wonder how I made it through that weekend without my Crossword, that was our trip to St Andrews, so I had distractions to keep my mind off my grief.


What Do You Expect?

On this day in 1805, Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson kicked some Napoleonic butt when he soundly defeated the combined navies of Spain and France at the Battle of Trafalgar.  The British were outnumbered 33 ships to 27, but managed to rout Bonaparte’s fleet – sinking 22 of them in the process and not losing a single vessel themselves.


Just minutes before the decisive battle began, Nelson ran the following message up his flagship’s mast, for everyone in his command to see:  “England expects that every man will do his duty.”  No exhortations to be brave, or win one for the Gipper, or attempts to psych up the men or whip them into a murderous frenzy; just a simple reminder of what was expected.

It sounds simple to do what people expect most of the time, but it isn’t always in marketing.  And most of the time, people don’t like not getting what they expect.  (There are exceptions of course, like surprise parties, twists in plot, stumbling on a beautiful patch of flowers in the woods, etc.) 

If you pick up the phone, you expect a dial tone.  If something newsworthy happens, you expect it to be covered in the local paper.  If your bar is a cozy place with wood paneling and British paraphernalia on the walls, you expect it to have good scotch and a variety of imported beer.

You could think about what people expect from you before you decide what to give them.  Or, from a marketing perspective, you can decide what you’re going to give people, then work to make sure they expect it.


Written Reply

Well, I’m impressed.  Pursuant to my last post, here is the reply I received from Laphroaig:


Don’t worry you’re far from being the first to forget their plot number and account details!

Your plot number is: 23xxx

And your logon details are –
username: xxxxxxx
password: xxxxxxx

I have updated our records to use your new email address.

For future reference though, if you click on this link (, it should take you straight into the Friends section of the website, logged in as yourself. From there you can go to ‘My Plot’ and then ‘Edit My Plot’ where you can update all your account details yourself, including your email address.

Please also pay particular note to the checkbox in the form too, which says “Show your name to other FOL’s on the website”. As a default it is left blank, but if you check it then other Friend’s of Laphroaig will be able to search and see you in the site.

I hope you enjoy the website.

Kind Regards,

Alice Guest
Friends of Laphroaig

It came in at about 9:00 AM the morning following the evening when I filled out the “Contact Us” form on their site.  So, accounting for time changes, it was about 5 business hours (in Scotland) before I received a reply.  That seems to me to be an indication that a human being was involved, not just some auto-reply bot running off a CRM system.  Now, I’m not naive enough to think that Ms. Guest hand-typed this email to me (or that she even exists), but I do believe that a human was involved in looking up my account and generating this email.  Good on you, Laphroaig!


Whiskey Marketing

The Triiibes online community, which I belong to, has produced a book.  You can download it here.  It’s a compilation of about 200 blog-like entries about groups of people and what distinguishes them.  It’s edited by Seth Godin.  I had a chance to contribute, but ran out of time.

I have not read it all, but a first glance revealed a surprising number of entries about “tribes” that I feel a part of, including rugby players and whiskey drinkers.  One writer described a 30-year correspondence he has carried out with Jack Daniels (the distillery, not the dead guy).

That reminded me of a promotion that Laphroaig ran a few years ago inviting their patrons to join the “Friends of Laphroaig” club.  One of the perks is they grant you the title to one square foot of land in their peat bog on the island of Islay in Scotland.  And if you ever visit there, they will give you a pair of Wellingtons to put on and escort you out to your land to stand proudly on it.  And when you return to the distillery, they will pay you your landowner’s rent: two drams of Laphroaig whiskey.  (Sadly, rent can only be collected once a year.)

So I signed up to be a Friend of Laphroaig, and received a very nice welcoming package including a book about the distillery and its history (it was nearly coffee-table book quality), a deed to my plot of land, a map showing me where it was, and some other stuff I forget now.  In the years that followed, I got Christmas cards from them and other periodic communication.

Since I moved the Moncton, they’ve lost track of me.  So just now, I sent them an email to try and reconnect.  That’s right, I am pursuing  a vendor – practically begging them to market to me.  How cool is that? 

The only trouble is that, when I initially joined a dozen or so years ago, they had a few thousand “Friends,” and I’m pretty sure a real human ran the program.  Now I see that they have over 317,000, so the warmth of the relationship might not be there any more.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.