begrudging biz books

January 27, 2009 · 1 comments

i've been on a bit of a business book binge (also thought leadership books, but that would ruin the alliteration) for the last little bit and one thing has become abundantly clear - they all drown themselves in case studies. so much so, i was able to power through the books at speed because i was just glossing over the painful articulation of one microcosm of an example.

i get why a case study can be good, i do. it's a real world example of one's premise or idea in action. it's there to lend credibility to what is being put forth. this is more about fewer case studies than getting rid of them altogether. then again, i wouldn't be mourning their altogether elimination.

you see, someone else's success story (or failure for that matter) is their own. each case study is comprised of a completely unique set of circumstances and personalities. there is only so much of that which lends itself to any of the reader's situation. it's great to hear about people applying the ideas postulated but copying it does not a success make. there's nothing to say that a similar application of the idea has bearing on any other situation. so where exactly is the value?

some will point to credibility. that the idea has needs to prove itself, right or wrong, to have validity. i don't totally buy that. the reason being because the idea gains its credibility by way of the author.

the book exists because of a singular, powerful, unique thought from a leader in the field who has a vision to share. they are being published because they are respected, their opinion carries weight and their notion is truly original, innovative or inspiring. shouldn't that be enough? are they so insecure with their premise that they need to find examples up the wazoo to verify it is correct or exists at all? is it publisher imposed? does the audience really clamor for them that much? is that their own insecurity in adopting an idea that they can't tread where others haven't forged a path already?

i say, if the idea is powerful, then put it out there and the world will decide. it seems ingenuine that someone will do something not because they believe what they are reading, but because someone else has done it. if it's right, or makes sense, or is logical then it should be pursued. right isn't someone else's version of right. making sense isn't how someone else made sense of the idea and brought it to life. and well, not everyone follows the same logic.

all said, the books are theories. they convey an abstract idea that isn't proved in any one way. the practical side of the equation is too unique for each acting upon it. as a marketer of beer, my reading a case study about a shoe marketer has little application to me. i'm glad they did well, but how they did it was of no value to me because i live in a different universe. (i'm not sure if that last part was a case study to prove my point thus making me a hypocrite. it's too meta to think about)

so authors, focus on writing your ideas and sharing them, not on showing they can be right. unless you get paid by the word, then i vote for putting the idea out there and saving some time (and precious trees) for people to actually take that idea and run with it.

when to not say yes to the vet

January 18, 2009 · 1 comments

this weekend has been a tough one for us. one of our rabbits fell seriously ill with fluid in his chest and an abscess in his stomach. he's doing much better now (not quite out of the woods though) after some great care by 3 different vets. but it got me thinking about the dollars and cents of veterinary care.

we don't have pet insurance, virtually no one does. i read a stat that only 0.4% of all cats and dogs in the u.s. are insured by their owners. that is amazingly low. i thought it was maybe between 5% and 10%. compare that to human insurance in the u.s. which is around 82% (it's the only fair comparison given our universl health care in canada - the point being that if we didn't have socialized healthcare here, the percentages would likely be similar). so how much do we really love our pet companions? what is the price tag we have on them? apparently it's around $576 before euthanization becomes a much more viable option to further treatment according to caa.

pet insurance aside, what of company benefits. do any of them include pets? i seriously doubt it (mine doesn't), even though they are a part of the family and the rest of them get coverage. my pets wellbeing weighs on me as my people family would and that affects my work life and my financial life that the rest of my benefits are there to assuage in the event of health issues. 

why can't they be included? there's a lot of crap in benefit packages we don't ever use. $500 in massage that i'll never use i'd rather have available to put toward vet bills. i won't go through it line by line, but there's lot sof things i don't need or won't use that would easily make up for what i'd spend or use in pet insurance. not to take this post of track, but i'd love to see an openness and flexibility in benfit packages that a person could tailor to themselves and their situation, especially as it pertains to pets.

more than anything, i struggle with the dynamic people and their pets, especially when it comes down to medical care and the associated costs. on one side, i can see how there's a point where people can decide that the equaion doesn't balance and it doesn't make sense. it's a very real possibility some times. or that they simply don't have the money to give their pet that care. on the flip side, pets are just as much a part of people's lives and there is deep love people have for them. we wouldn't question it were a person on the operating table, so why do we for a pet?

i'll openly grant that it's easier to let a pet go than it is to do the same for a person. people are of a peer level and a love bond based on more levels than an animal is capable of. but that doesn't make them disposable. i hope not. that's a little shameful, though, isn't it? to think that we love animals less or in another way that somehow isn't equal. why are animals more replaceable than humans?

it's morality vs. economic. in the state of our world, we know that those two have a lot of difficulty co-existing in a positively genuine way. it's not easy.

did we consider euthanization? no, we didn't. he was still treatable and as long as that's the case, with a good outlook post-treatment, then i'm all for it. it's just money, right? so i have a little debt. so i work part time for 2-3 months to pay it off. it's worth it for me. he brings a lot of joy in my life and $3,000 is worth it for him to still be around for the rest of his life to live, be a happy rabbit and me to have his companionship.

i'm not  saying i'm a saint here. sure, i looked at the cost and had my brief doubts on whether it was worth it. i felt ashamed for doing so, but it happened. that's the dilemma with all this - why did i question it? i wasn't ready to say goodbye. there will be a time when i am more ready and feel that it is his time. when he won't be able to live a quality life, when he doesn't have a good chance of making it through, when he's lived for a long time, and when i can put my own selfishness of wanting him around aside for his own well being and stem any suffering. 

how easily we forgot about our own selfishness in this whole mater. and it's on both sides. selfishness for our money and the impact a drain will have on our lives. then selfishness of wanting to keep them around for ourselves. how do we resolve this?

i know i'm not being as clear as i'd like. it's hard to express such esoteric quandires where emotion is so heavily involved. i am having a hard time reconciling this all myself.

weighing in on the death of newspapers

January 11, 2009 · 0 comments

in today's weekly blog reading catch-up, i perused numerous stories on the death of newspapers and thought i'd weigh-in myself as it's something i've been conceptualizing since college when i wrote a thesis paper on their death, or evolution as it really should be. i thought it was a good time to revisit it and update with some of the new information.

do i want newspapers to die? yes, in their current incarnation i do, but not entirely. why not entirely? well it's simple, journalism in that form still has a very important place in the fabric of society. citizen journalists (ie. bloggers) are one thing, but the world still needs, as atlantic magazine puts it:

... there’s no online substitute for institutions that can marshal years of well-developed sourcing and reporting experience—not to mention the resources to, say, send journalists leapfrogging between Mumbai and Islamabad to decode the complexities of the India-Pakistan conflict.
newspapers have arrived at this point solely by virtue of intense hubris in their value and business model, which hasn't changed in 100 years. while keeping their core printed versions status quo, they simply layered on website versions with little apparent thought to changing the costlier side of the business, that was really in danger.

to distill it down, the business model of newspapers is in disseminating information to the masses. what i'm about to say isn't new, but important to the discussion to elaborate later. the main problem with the printed business model is the old 24 hour news cycle which doesn't exist anymore. news is a constant stream now and expected to be by the viewing public. immediacy is key and that doesn't happen with a product that has to lock in their news the previous afternoon, get printed and shipped in the wee hours of the morning. newspaper people need to get over that, and should have a decade ago.

while immediacy is paramount in the news business, the quality of journalism is what should continue to be the hallmark and still has a place in society and media today. it's melding the two into a new product which better meets consumer needs that is their future.

so what did i posit in 2000 as a possible and viable solution? i needn't look much further than my geek side and star trek: the next generation. no, not phasers to wipe out the arrogant old guard newspaper barons, but the data padds (yes, i'm spelling it right).

i'm not saying this is a revolutionary thought, but back then i did think it was forward thinking, but now well outside of the dream phase.

already we have the amazon kindle and a host of other reading devices. some papers even have editions available for it like the new york times. it's a step, but why did they wait for someone else to do it? why did they make their content fit someone else's platform rather than creating their own? newspapers have always created the vehicle for their content delivery, right?

beyond the kindle, here's a couple other emerging technologies that are options as well. forbes took the leap with this new e-ink as a disposable version, so certainly there is a reusable option.

granted, it's easy in hindsight, with the benefit of seeing where technology took us, to see what newspapers could have done. but that's the point, right? these things didn't happen over night, and with a little foresight, could have been tapped into earlier. there are smarter people than myself and if it occurred to me nearly 10 years ago, surely it must have for someone else too.

we are just seeing this technology emerge now because scientists are developing it to find applications for it. had newspapers stepped in to lend some of their considerable resources (although greatly diminished as of late, but there was money years ago) for development with a specific purpose, it's quite likely that it would have come faster. they could already be in market with some derivation of this and we wouldn't be having all these conversations about their demise.

now it's 2009 and we have iphones, other smartphones, kindles, and other personal digital devices. it's infinitely more difficult now to break into the handheld space and it becomes harder to ask consumers to adopt yet another device. if they were leaders though, there wouldn't be this added hurdle. although, with a quality, low cost device, there is still plenty of room for consumer uptake.

what of cost? i would think it'd have to be free, but as this technology continues to come down in price, it becomes much more fiscally prudent. especially if you can lock people into subscriptions to pay the device costs over time. it works for cell phones.

then there's what makes the whole newspaper world go round, advertising. that's right editors, it's not the purity of news reporting, it's the dirty world of selling things. sorry. here lies a tremendous amount of opportunity for marketers to capitalize on that printed publicaitons fall on their face. how so? glad you asked:
  1. interactivity - the ads in the space would no longer be static and thus more engaging
  2. measurement - being able to directly and far more precisely understand the audience and actual readership
  3. linkable - simply being able to click through to an advertiser is a huge boon
  4. current - messages no longer have to be expensively developed and locked in far in advance
  5. lower cost - newspapers are notoriously high in cost because the printing and distribution is passed on to the advertiser, not the reader, and this is a far less expensive delivery system
it probably sounds like i'm oversimplifying this, but it doesn't seem that far of a stretch to me. pretty logical, really. anything's better than death, right? for all their smarts in delivering a superior information product, they certainly are myopic of their own predicament.

i feel compelled to lastly address people's long standing adherence to the notion that the tactile nature of newspapers (and any printed medium) is of benefit to people and something they are willing to give up. i guess it's true so long as people like, cumbersome sized pages, low quality paper, rub-off ink and lower production quality imagery (ie. blurry or just b&w). this is just another old school belief. newspapers are failing because young people are not adopting due to their needs not being met by newspapers. that attitude doesn't resonate with them. they have more important things to worry about than feeling newsprint between their fingers.

update: here's an article that makes it pretty clear this model could succeed. 

the more commercial guitar hero

January 7, 2009 · 0 comments

i picked up the guitar hero world tour set for our wii over the holidays. great addition to the series, but one that was clearly marked with it's commercial success. of course i'm talking about all the advertising that is very visible throughout.

the first instance is as soon as you open the case, a coupon from kfc.

then throughout the gameplay you're peppered with a number of other placements like the coke and kfc bucket below.

as someone in advertising, these efforts are all good in my book. video games have emerged as a mainstream vehicle, whose viability as a new medium is very clear. i say all this with one caveat of course, and that's relevance. there's a place for everything and marketers have to find the right ones or else it's wasted money and consumer dissonance.

the examples above are well suited, in my mind, to the environment you find them in. kudos to those companies, they did a good job. but then there's the flops. also featured in the game is a prominent sign for at&t (i wish i could get a picture to show you, but there's not a still frame to take something of quality). i don't see what place it has in a video game about rock and roll. there's a disconnect, and it's not integrated within the game or story as the others.

it's our responsibility as marketers and agencies to find appropriate venues for our products to be placed. just because it is a hot game, on an emerging platform doesn't mean we should get involved blindly because on paper i makes sense to form some, even loose association. sure there's eyeballs, but what's the quality of your implementation?

i see three main guardrails we all should adhere to so we don't ruin the space and make our efforts just more wallpaper.

  1. relevance: does the product or service have a legitimate place within the theme or story of the game? does it fit environmentally?
  2. value: does it enhance the the user's experience and give them something they might actually want?
  3. integration: is the product or service inserted in a way that is thoughtful and not just slapped on?
there's so much opportunity in video games that has yet to be realized, but just jumping to it without thinking hard about how we do it isn't a recipe for success. it is a highly immersive and interactive medium and that is where success lies. by it's very nature, the audience is ripe, but only if it's handled with care because it's also very personal.



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