Those Pictograms…

…that theoretically make things easier to understand are refusing to relinquish their penchant for obscurity:

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I mean; if a person trying to operate a car cannot read the words, “ON” and “OFF” located immediately below a vent no matter what country they’re in; perhaps they’re operating the wrong form of transportation.




Drivers here in NB must interpret even weirder symbols that replace words.


Those Years Fly By


Hey – makes sense to me.  Part of delivering what you promise, is clearly stating the promise.  Part of getting what you want is making the person promise that they will deliver what YOU want.

When a Product Tries to Be TOO “Easy to Use”

<< Sigh. >>

Yesterday, I wanted to transfer all the photos that my daughter has on her digital camera to my hard drive, so she could email one of them to her teacher.  The camera is fairly new to her, so I had never had to do this before.

In my dream world, plugging a camera into a USB port would be the same as plugging in a flash drive — you would see a whole bunch of files, and you could pick the ones that you want to grab.  (Similar to how I wish iPods would work.)

Alas, that is not the case.  As soon as the camera is plugged in, it makes your computer go to a web site to download an application.  You CANNOT retrieve the images from the camera without doing this first.

I already feel like someone’s takin’ me for a ride.

THEN, once you’ve downloaded and installed the app, and even before you have the actual photos off the camera, Kodak asks you to log into facebook.  Did you hear me?  LOG INTO FACEBOOK!!!  I presume they think that everybody wants to share every pic they take, with the entire planet, instantly.  Well I don’t.  And neither does my daughter.

I did NOT log onto facebook, and the Kodak app was mad at me, but let me continue nonetheless.  So I accomplished my goal (eventually).

For a complete neophyte, I can see how this might be a way to help them out.  But it just smells bad.  It’s like if they gave an appendectomy to every human who walked into a hospital.  Sure, you may need one someday, but MAKING you do it isn’t the right way.

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.

Well, That Was Easy

I know that, as consumers, we are always supposed to try and get the best deal.  That’s one of the lynchpins of a free market.  I have been partially successful at this in the past.  For instance, we low-balled the offer on the house we currently occupy, and they accepted.  However, when I bought our old BMW in Vancouver, I actually walked out of the office when the salesperson would not accept our price, only to walk back in an hour later (with my tail between my legs) to pay his price.  But today, I got something just by asking.

It started when my cell phone, which is from the Pleistocene epoch, was getting no signal.  I called Rogers (Canadians will know that company), and the friendly tech support lady fixed me right up.  I figured, while I was on the phone with them, I would ask about something Bell Aliant (the OTHER Canadian telco giant) is doing in my neighbourhood.  For the last few weeks they have been stringing FibreOp cables on all the hydro poles.  Also, there is a billboard campaign throughout the city, advertising much lower rates than I currently pay Rogers for my broadband and cable TV.

So, the friendly tech support lady transferred me to a friendly “customer retention specialist,” who, on the spot, knocked 20% off my cable, land line, cell, and internet.  90 seconds of my time just saved me ~$40 per month.

Just by asking.

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 (, 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.

Putting My Suggestions Where My Mouth Is (or something)

I was challenged by a couple of anonymous commenters on yesterday’s post to come up with tchotchkes that were a tad more practical than underwear.  Ha!  I accept the gauntlet you have thrown down, varlets!

Picture frames (especially with photos):  at Whitehill, we had a tremendously successful trade show gimmick. (Actually we had several, but this post is about effective give-aways only).  In our booth, we would erect a photo studio-like backdrop of whatever city we were in – the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign if we were in Vegas; a Bourbon St. street sign if we were in New Orleans; etc.  We would then provide “props” for visitors to don – gold-rimmed sunglasses in Vegas; beads and boas in N.O., etc.  We would then take a digital photo of the booth visitor standing in front of the scenery, and print it immediately.  THEN, (and here’s the magic), we would put the photo in one of those cardboard frames you get from photographers.  Except the FRAME had our logo embossed on it.  So the people would take their slightly humourous, but work-related, frame back and put it on their desks!  So they, and everyone who walked past, saw our logo every day for months.  In case you can’t picture what I’m talking about, here’s an example:

Now in this case, the it’s the photographer that is marketing himself, but you get the idea.

Telescopes: Once, at Maximizer, we sent our CEO on an executive cruise aboard the Queen Mary off New York city.  The idea was that a whole bunch of prospective customers and partners were going to be trapped with you for several hours.  It was very expensive to join this excursion, so why not put a little extra dough into making sure people remembered us afterwards?  We had actual working (pretty damn good working, actually) telescopes logoed and gave one to everyone who was a target.  I still use mine, and I bet the majority of other recipients do, too.

Mittens:  I have never actually used this one – I just dreamed it up now.  Here in Canada, every sentient being possesses some variation of Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics mittens.  Granted, this idea wouldn’t fly too high in Vegas or N.O., but if they’re good quality, they’re something that people will use often in colder climes.  And even if they just turn into “trash” mittens, like the jacket in my last post, they’ll still stick around and get used for a while.  And think of the novelty at a trade show – “Did you visit the brooXmark booth yet?  They’re giving out MITTENS!”

Fridge magnet clips:  Tried and true, but still effective.  A good quality, attractively designed, FUNCTIONING, fridge magnet with a clip attached to it, is a valuable possession, but oddly one that few people will actually go out and purchase.  So give them one with your name written on it!

Enough free advice.

Good Tchotchke (or is it Schmata?)

Yesterday, my wife, daughter, dog and I went apple picking.  This is an annual tradition, which I have written about before.  The reason I am gratuitously posting this picture of my beautiful daughter, Bishop; our beautiful dog, Gloria; set against a beautiful autumn sky; taken by my beautiful wife, Cindy; is because of the decidedly UN-beautiful jacket I am wearing. 

Here is a detail of the logo on the breast:

It’s for a company called Thiessen Team that provides underground mining supplies like drill bits, drilling fluid, etc.

Here’s the thing – that jacket is over 20 years old.  I won it playing in a golf tournament sponsored by Westmin Resources’ underground mine in Myra Falls, BC, when I worked there in 1990.  I was just a management consultant, but since I went 4,200 feet underground for 12 hours at a stretch with the REAL miners, they humoured me.  The jacket was donated as a tournament prize by one of the mine’s main suppliers, Thiessen.

I long ago stopped wearing it as a “real” jacket, and its use was curtailed to cold-weather messy-work.  That’s why, if you look closely, you will see paint stains on it.  I was wearing it yesterday because I had spent the morning shoving wet leaves into recycling bags.  But I still have it, still wear it, and (occasionally) display it in public.

Sadly, many logoed items that are given away at trade shows and other events (like golf tournaments) are a WASTE OF MONEY because they are designed to be consumed and/or discarded immediately.  One that I have the most contempt for are logoed food items like miniature candy bars.  The people to whom these are given are reminded of your company for exactly one bite.

This jacket has reminded me of Thiessen Team for 20 years.  Admittedly, I am not likely to buy any hardrock mining drill bits any time soon, but what if the recipient of this prize back in 1990 was now a mine foreman, or manager, or purchaser?  You can bet that he/she would at least consider  Thiessen for their next purchase.  So if that jacket cost $40 (wholesale) in 1990, how much potential sales might it have generated by now?

So, (free advice coming, and you know what that’s worth) if you are considering give-aways, think of something with long-term usefulness.  One example I like are those little alligator clip photo-holders (seen at right).  I have one on my desk right now. 

Some things that people might THINK are good ideas, rarely work.  Pens, for instance.  Sure, in theory, a pen is something someone will keep and use for weeks or months, but your average North American already has dozens of pens, and usually has a favourite one, and you aren’t likely to usurp that title.  “Stress balls” are another popular tchochtke, but who is going to leave one sitting on their desk?

Given that my post is about the effectiveness of a jacket, my next bit of advice may surprise you:  do NOT give away T-shirts.  They are so ubiquitous, and their design so un-inspired, that they end up being garage rags.  The very rare circumstance where they will work, is if you ALREADY have a “tribe” of supporters, who will gleefully wear your colours.  If you must give away clothing, make it something useful or valuable.  Like a jacket.  Or even underwear – you’ll lose the “broadcast’ value, but at least the wearer will think of you once a week or so.  And before you laugh too hard, remember my earlier advice:  if you are marketing to the right person, they’re the only person you have to worry about reminding…