I ♥ My Audi

First, I’ll tell you a story, and then I’ll tell you how it applies to marketing and product management.

Yesterday, the highway drive from my office in Saint John to my home in Moncton (about 150km) was a MESS. There was snow, rain, freezing rain, sleet, hail, and ice pellets. (Canadian readers will know there’s a difference between those last 4 items.) Most sane individuals had already abandoned any idea of driving through this crap, and those that were still on the road were going painfully slow – about 40km/h. And there were many motorists going nowhere, because they had slid off the road.

I, however, was gleefully cruising along at the speed limit – 110km/h. My Audi S4 has Quattro all-wheel drive. This is a suspension/computer system that dominated the European rally racing circuit in the early ‘80s because it was so good – Audi won nearly all the races. After learning in my youth how to winter-drive in conventional front-engine, real-wheel-drive vehicles; the difference in an S4 is shocking. In any road condition, at any speed, it feels like you are glued  to the road. My car probably saved my life yesterday.

Now to my point. Thirty/forty years ago, people expected  their cars to be unmanageable in snow, to break down periodically, to rust out after a few years, to be expensive to maintain, and to be sold by unscrupulous hucksters. Because of the entry of QUALITY vehicles into the North American market, all this changed. Now all vehicles are expected  to be well-made, easy to service, reliable, and available through honest distributors; whether they’re from Japan, Korea, Germany, Sweden, or Detroit.

Did the automobile industry increase their focus on quality, causing consumers to upgrade their expectations; or did consumers begin to realize that cars could be well-made, and start to demand it? Probably a little of both, but it was marketers who gauged the public expectations, and product managers who made the changes to their products. Chicken and egg, I know, but who cares? The lesson is that QUALITY became more important. I think this is a transferrable concept. Designing/making/selling/maintaining a higher quality product will almost always lead to success with your market.


I Made a “Top Ten” List!

Dan Martell, who is sort of a techie-entrepreneur-evangelist local success story, made a list of the, “Top 10 New Brunswick Bloggers Worth Checking Out.”  And I’m on it!

How Maple Syrup Was Invented (My Theory)

Yesterday, Derek had a post about a non-geotropic icicle at his house.  It got me to thinking about my own icicle story – it’s about icicles AND maple syrup.

While Québec is the largest producer of real Maple Syrup; here in New Brunswick, we have a pretty solid industry built around it.  Of course, maple syrup is only one of the products you can make with the sap of the Sugar Maple: maple butter and maple candy are also popular, especially in these parts. As a matter of fact, there is an annual tradition for most people to take their kids out to the “Sugarbush” to visit a “Sugar Camp” AKA “Sugar Shack.”  Here you see my daughter and three neighbourhood friends about to enjoy their treat of some hot thick maple liquid, which is kind of halfway through the refining process between syrup and candy.  Here it is being poured onto some snow, where the kids roll it onto popsicle sticks and it cools into a kind of lollipoppish thing.

For those who don’t know, maple products are made through a series of evaporations.  The sap that is taken directly from the tree is boiled until most of the water is gone and the sugary part dominates the liquid.  That’s syrup.  You get about 1 part syrup for every 8-10 parts sap that you boil.  Boil it some more, and pour it into molds, let it harden – that’s candy.  The technique was probably discovered by the Algonquin First Nation, but there are other theories.

Anyway, my question has always been, and the Web doesn’t even seem to know the answer, what prompted some nutcase hundreds or thousands of years ago, to boil tree sap and then eat it?  Did they try this with everything?  Was there some mad proto-scientist who went around boiling random things and feeding the results to people to see what happened?

For years I wondered about this, and then, last spring, I figured it out.

First, some physics about how maple sap is collected.  Or, more importantly, when.  It can only be collected in the spring, when the temperatures drop below freezing at night and rise above 0°C during the day.  As you know, water expands when it freezes.  So the night-time freeze forces the sap (which is produced by the roots) up the trunk of the tree to nourish the buds that will become leaves.  During the day, the sap melts inside the tree to become liquid again.  That’s when the taps that have been hammered into the tree trunk drip out the sap into waiting buckets.

But the question remains; who figured out it was worthwhile to do all this?  I got my answer one spring evening when I noticed an icicle, about 30cm long, hanging from a branch of the sugar maple in our front yard.  Nothing strange about that, but then I noticed that there were no other icicles on any other tree in our yard, or any other on this particular tree either.  I then noticed that this icicle was emanating from a place where that branch had been broken during the winter – probably by ice/snow overload or something.  Therefore, the icicle hadn’t been formed by rain or snow-melt — it must be frozen liquid that came from the tree.  I broke off the icicle (like people, including Algonquins, have been doing for millennia), and tasted it, and it was decidedly sweet.  Aha!  So I rushed inside and put the icicle into a pot and boiled it.

Now, bear in mind that the total volume of this icicle was only about 100ml.  But I did triumphantly produce about half a teaspoon of syrup.  Mystery solved!

I’m Not a “Gleek,” But…

I have become hooked on some of the Youtube versions of their performances.  As a not-very-accomplished musician, I can’t pretend to understand the ecstasy from delivering such joy to people, but I have been a comedian, actor, and director in my day.  And I can definitely relate to this director’s reaction as his cast performs:

To get the full effect, you’ll have to watch the whole 6-something minute video here, but it brought back a lot of memories of when I had folks out on stage doing amazing things.  BTW, I’m not saying that Glee is the best art on TV – probably on a par with American Idol.  But it does capture the fear/rapture of performing live…

Also BTW, the theatre in this clip is fairly similar to the Capitol, here in Moncton, whose board I am vice president of.  [Attention grammar police!]

Full Disclosure

I have been using a 12-year old photo of myself on this blog, because it’s the only decent one where I’m wearing a tie.  I decided to come clean today and substitute a recent one (3 months old) where I have significantly less hair:

It was taken at a friend’s cottage on PEI* in August, and while not as professional as the previous, it’s more HONEST.  And that’s my marketing mantra, right?

“Tell the truth.”

And that really is a Club Soda in my hand – I didn’t Photoshop out a Stella Artois logo.

* BTW, here in the maritimes we say, “on PEI” as in, “on the Island,” as opposed to “in” Ontario or other mainland provinces…

Well, That Was Easy – “Quantum Jumping” Solves Everything

While browsing a frequently-updated breaking news site (newser.com), I stumbled across an ad for something called “Quantum Jumping.”  I almost never click on ads, but the snarky, know-it-all, ex-physics-major in me wanted to confirm that the people who ran the ad really had no idea what “quantum” means.  It turns out they do, but in a VERY bizarre manner.

This is a self-help scam much like The Secret, which was espoused by Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities a few years ago.  The essence of The Secret is that if you visualize yourself being succesful, you will be.  Oprah was either conned, bribed, or genuinely convinced, that the technique would benefit her 1 billion fans that she told them about it, so it became a smash (although fleeting) success.  Whichever it was, Oprah was either immoral, illegal, or stupid enough to do it.

Of course, The Secret probably works, the same way that concentrating all your effort on ANYTHING works.  If I wake up every day and tell my self that I’m going to be the best goddamn hot-dog vendor in the city that day, sooner or later, I will be.  I don’t need any mysticism or wonky rituals to do it.

But the subject of this post is Quantum Jumping.  I quote from their site:

“Quantum Jumping is the process of “jumping” into parallel dimensions, and gaining creativity, knowledge, wisdom and inspiration from alternate versions of yourself.”

They go on to explain how Max Planck and Albert Einstein first came up with the idea of alternate universes (partially true), but then leap to the conclusion that you can visit them at will.  And while you’re in that alternate universe, you can hook up with your alternate self, who may be a billionaire or professional athlete or (they admit) homeless person.  But you learn from the more successful versions of yourself and return to this dimension wiser and more equipped to succeed.

There are a LOT of details left out, because, of course, you have to order the DVD set to learn the whole program.  But it goes to show you that a little bit of knowledge (in this case knowledge of physics) is a dangerous thing.

Wujek Stashu and Geezer

My wife’s brother Gary just left us after a 4-day visit from Ontario.  He calls me, “Stash,” which is short for “Stashu” (sp?), which is “Stanley” in Ukrainian, I think – long story.  My wife comes from Ukrainian and Polish roots.  My “full” nickname on her side of the family is Wujek Stashu – Wujek (pronounced VOY-eck) means “uncle” in Polish.

Gary is universally known as, “Uncle Geezer.”  There are various attributions for this moniker, but the most humourous is that he’s been acting like an old man since he was about 10-years old.  A more generous reason may be simply that he’s the oldest of his siblings.

ANYWAY, the whole nickname thing got me thinking.  Gary (Geezer) spent 4 days in my house and never once called me, “Stephen.”  And I loved it.  I don’t think I ever addressed him as anything but, “Geezer,” either.

The famous saying is that, “familiarity breeds contempt,” but I don’t think that applies in marketing.  If you are so familiar with something/someone that you have nicknames for each other, then you have a real bond.  Granted, it COULD be a negative bond (like if your nickname for your supplier is, “leech”).  But more often than not, if your customers have a “pet” name for you, it’s a good thing.

Dear Prime Minister Harper, Please Watch This Now

Whatever your feelings about Bill Gates and Microsoft, you have to admit that the dude is smart.  This is a long clip at ~30 minutes, but the meat is all in the first 20.  It’s about the need to develop new electricity production NOW, and how a new nuclear technology looks like a good bet.

Throwing a bone to the Marketing angle, Bill does a great job of presenting PhD-level concepts at an undergraduate pace:  he preserves the academic authority but illustrates it in a joe-average way.  Know your audience.

Facebook Friends Fuel Fiduciary Fortune

Well, since it’s not from Nigeria, and it IS my surname, it’s got to be real, right?

Astonomers Explain Dance

I have linked to the “Where the Hell is Matt?” dancing videos before, but I was delighted to see one of them featured on one of my favourite sites, APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day).

This is their comment:

Happy People Dancing on Planet Earth
Credit: Matt Harding & Melissa Nixon

Explanation: What are these humans doing? Dancing. Many humans on Earth exhibit periods of happiness, and one method of displaying happiness is dancing. Happiness and dancing transcend political boundaries and occur in practically every human society. Above, Matt Harding traveled through many nations on Earth, started dancing, and filmed the result. The video is perhaps a dramatic example that humans from all over planet Earth feel a common bond as part of a single species. Happiness is frequently contagious — few people are able to watch the above video without smiling.

I dare you to test that last sentence.