Archive for March, 2005

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The other side of the story

March 8, 2005

There is really no good reason not to love blogs. They offer a great opportunity to connect with others, spread your ideas like a well-tuned meme, and ensure your own little corner of posterity. They are clearly manifest destiny, the cure for cancer, the sex without regret, the ice cream without calories, the BMW for a Chevy price. You get the idea, blogs solve all ills, especially when it comes to marketing. Yes, connecting with your customers is now as easy as a blog entry. No more worry, no more fuss.

If you read Scoble, you certainly are seeing this particular view of the universe. Now, I am obviously dramatizing for exciting special effects here. It is clear that Scoble, and many others, realize that blogs are not the cure all for marketing from now until the end of time. But, hidden in their rhetoric is indeed a belief that nirvana has arrived and marketing has just been waiting all this time for the advent of the blog.

I beg to differ.

Marketing is an evolutionary process, and one that has refined its tools and techniques time and again. Getting close to the customer, whether through marketing or other direct methods (e.g., the Fuller Brush Man) has been core to what businesses have tried to accomplish since the first gold nugget was exchanged for a nice piece of leather to wear to thong-night at the cave fire. This is what companies strive to do: get closer to the customer so that they can sell them more stuff.

Oh, did you miss that part? You get closer to the customer in order to SELL THEM MORE STUFF. You might think you get closer to the customer to make a friend, have a good time, generate good will, find a buddy for golf, or learn about nice expense account restaurants. But, ultimately you do all this to SELL THEM MORE STUFF. Businesses, of the for profit kind, are about selling things for more than they cost to make or acquire. This is the beauty of capitalism. This is the beauty of marketing as a discipline that results in SELLING MORE STUFF. Whether it be blogs or a key with a sign board on the street corner, the “relationships” being formed are ultimately about an exchange of a fungible good or service for something else of value. Usually that means money.

It always amuses me when the latest and greatest innovation in marketing comes along (remember 1-to-1 marketing? remember the Internet?) and claims to have created a fundamental shift in the way the world works. Perhaps that is true. Perhaps it is simply spinning the ongoing capitalist conversation in a new direction. The people that buy your stuff are smart and they know when you are having a real conversation versus a marketing conversation. They know, in fact, that you really just want to SELL THEM MORE STUFF.

I am all for blogs, RSS feeds, and telepathic puppies (except for the kind that make me do things against my will, like that Shi Tzu down the street that made me put my socks on my hands…). I love technology and the ongoing evolution of how we communicate with each other. As a marketer I will leverage every tool in the arsenal to ensure my message gets to my customers and sticks in their heads. I am all for deep engagement. I do it all for one simple and noble reason: SELL THEM MORE STUFF.

Mind the hyperbole, boys. My blog is another tool on my belt, but it is not holding up my pants.

Are you buying?

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Disappointments iin fine dining

March 6, 2005

My wife and I went out on a date last night (“dates” mean no child!). It is always so nice to get out, be adult, and just talk and eat and drink and enjoy the magic that brought us together in the first place. I had read lots of positive things about Union, a new restaurant in Seattle, so made reservations for a late dinner there.

Well, my wife was beautiful, we had some nice cocktails at another place beforehand, the weather was great, so everything was headed in the right direction when we arrived for our 8:30 dinner at Union. Then all the magic went away.

I should clarify that my expectations for any restaurant are usually high, and it also takes a lot to impress me. Having dined at such places as Charlie Trotter’s, The Herbfarm, and Gordon Ramsay, among many other great restaurants, I have a pretty clear idea what the best in culinary and service experiences can yield.

I won’t belabor the point — Union disappointed me and my wife in almost every regard. Even with the discount we received (thanks to the enormous economic impact of my employer, which provides us the magic “Prime” card for primo discounts all over town) it was almost $200 I could have better spent in so many other ways. I very rarely just want to trash a restaurant in a review or to friends, but I am just sad that Union has either been overhyped or has already let standards fall so far.

For the sake of expediency, a short listing of the various restaurant sins committed last evening:

  • We were seated with menus, but no wine list.
  • The waiter first visited us almost 5 minutes after we were seated.
  • The captain or equivalent who brought us our amuse bouche was nearly indecipherable and didn’t seem to care that my wife did not eat meat. In fact, no one ever asked if we had any special dietary considerations.
  • He was initially fairly surly and a little snide. I have all the snide I need at home, thank you.
  • The menu was not that thrilling, notwithstanding the reviews, and was very limited in non-meat selections.
  • We each ordered three courses and a desert, and among those 8 plates there were probably only 2 that rose above the mediocre.
  • Our wine glasses remained empty for long stretches at a time before someone came over to fill them. Long stretches.
  • Our deserts arrived and were mostly eaten before our coffee.

There were many other things, both large and small, that made the dinner a disappointment. Looking around on a Saturday night and seeing several empty tables made me think that others have already started to realize that Union is not all that great.

The highlights, besides my lovely wife and the conversation, were the decent bottle of wine I selected and the lovely lamps hanging in the room.

I am usually very generous in my praise, and often will go out of my way to take into account how difficult it is to run a restaurant. No such luck here. Union failed.

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Start spreading the news

March 4, 2005

Are blogs already old news, as was mentioned to me today? To the technocentric that might be true, but to the average person it is as far from reality as can be. Blogs may have made it to Time magazine, but they are really just beginning to gain the understanding and acceptance among the general population that the Internet itself experienced in the late 90s. Remember those years?

So, in a meeting today with Tanya and a very special friend, wherein we admired the little toys the special friend brought for us to fondle, we encouraged her (heck, we’ll call her J so she can be paranoid and think her friends know who she is) to start blogging. She is pretty adamantly opposed to this, saying that she doesn’t want people to know all those personal details about her. I can absolutely relate to that. It is a real test of faith in my own self to write these entries and put myself out there. I know it is true for many of us — we take a leap of faith and expose ourselves to the masses through this medium. We might be rejected, mocked, stalked, or we might find new friends, learn new things, and find our own voice in the online wilderness. In either case, it requires a step that not all might wish to take. I deeply respect that reticence.

Anyway, in chatting with J, as she displayed her very attractive wares (at least one of which I took home to my wife — we’ll see what she thinks of it!) I came to realize how much of myself I truly keep private, blog notwithstanding. Everything I say, at some level, paints a particular picture of me, the picture I want to present to the world. This is much like any situation in which we show ourselves to others. We want to find the best light in which to show our features. It is truly the daring, or the insane, that hold back nothing and display themselves in all their flawed glory.

Humans are flawed, and that is part of the pleasure of our lives. We stumble and fall and pick ourselves up again. Others may not understand us, but they also have their own secrets, their own passions, their own pain. There is a noble beauty in our flaws (“What a piece of work is man…”). We can revel in the stately progression of our lives and loves across time and know that we must take the maximum from each moment.

Where is all this taking me? I have no idea. I think each of us can choose to reveal ourselves in different ways at different times. If blogging is not your thing, then blogging is not your thing. Find a way to express yourself and go there. No fuss necessary.

Now, since I have thrown my goods onto the electronic stage, I do know that many facts about my life are out there for the taking. But, so many are not. So many interesting things that we don’t see online.

I worked as a short order cook in high school and college. I can break and make eggs faster than most people can open the fridge. I spent years working at a long-gone restaurant chain called “Wags” (it was owned by Walgreen’s, you can get the connection). I started as a dishwasher, then became a cook, and then was “assistant manager” by the time I was 17. Sure beat working at Mickey D’s. I worked the night shift during the summer — 11 to 7 — and loved it. It was a strange time for an adolescent boy. The mascot for the chain was a Racoon named “Waggles.” I never had to wear the costume.

About the time I had just started working there, an older boy across the street from my house — whom I did not really know — also worked for the same chain, but at a different location. One day the ambulance came and we found out he had killed himself.

In college I had one roommate who was just a stick in the mud. I had another who was an American of Indian extraction and practically obsessive compulsive (he dropped out due to the pressure) and had another who was a wonderfully cool Turk. The Turk, Hakan, was best man at my wedding (not the wedding to my current wife, however.). I liked the Turks a lot, and when you became friends with one you became friend with them all.

Living in Houston when I was in graduate school made me realize that Texas BBQ and Tex-Mex food are the king and queen of their respective food genres. Goode Company BBQ was as good as it gets.

My favorite film is Lawrence of Arabia. My second favorite is probably The Godfather.

I once dated a witch who went on to date a woman after me. She was a little crazy. Aren’t we all?

When I lived in Half Moon Bay, CA, Thomas Dolby lived around the corner. He rode around town on his bicycle with his beret on. How quaint is that?

My wife and I have 6 tattoos between us, and 7 ( I think) piercings. Neither of us has less than 2 of each. Go figure.

My daughter has the most perfect laugh in the world.

Now, lots of new facts about me exist on the Internet. Enjoy.

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Why I Hate Google

March 2, 2005

Actually, I love Google for searching. It still delivers the best results for me. I have my own little test of a search engine — search for my own name. Having done it regularly for some time, and knowing pretty much the full set of material out there, Google still comes out on top. I am, of course, rooting for MSN Search and know it will be just a matter of time before the playing field is more equal.

So, why do I hate Google?

Google is run by very smart people for very smart people. Google has taken one of their primary innovations — the clean home page with just a text box and some buttons — and used it as the foundation for an interaction model that makes no sense for real users. Google is essentially bringing back the command line. Want to find movie? Append “movie:” before the movie name and then it asks you to specify a zip before showing the movie showtimes. Want to find the sites that link to a particular site? Append “link:” first.

Try Google Mail (GMAIL) for a while and realize just how spoiled we are with the way in which Outlook or even Hotmail (or Yahoo! mail) works. Throw a mail item in the trash? Find it in the “More actions” pop-up. What happened to trash cans or big red X buttons? Google believes you just want to archive your email for later searching.

There are a whole set of command keys for use in GMAIL. Go learn them and then you are thinking the Google way.

Google approaches every user interaction as an optimization problem, not as an experiential problem. Google wants to minimize mouse clicks, keep your hands on the keyboard, and minimize visual clutter on the screen. So, to the hundreds of millions of people around the world that only came to use computers thanks to the Mac and Windows, welcome back to the exciting world of DOS. Google gives you a command line and infinite flexibility to enter arcane strings.

I will admit, the Blogger service which hosts this blog is owned by Google. It does a pretty nice job. Of course, it was an acquisition. Just a matter of time before I am presented with an input box on a white screen and have to remember to append “blog:” before my text entry.

God bless Microsoft for remembering that people are users too.

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Burger King spawns a new fever dream

March 1, 2005

If you haven’t seen the new commercial for Cheddar Bacon Ranch Chicken sandwich, I can’t help you much (still looking for a free online version).

If you have seen it, from Darius Rucker (Hootie) singing in a cowboy hat, milkmaids, blocks of cheddar cheese, and assorted other oddities in a ditty based on “Big Rock Candy Mountain”, then you are in a new found state of BK ecstasy.

My wife absolutely hates this commercial. She thinks it is sexist and ruins a beautiful song and is sexist and is demeaning to women. She is probably right on all those things, but I just love this commercial.

It lodges in the back of your throat like too many Whopper’s after a night of drinking cheap beer. It is the memory of a greasy Burger King in a town outside of nowhere, in the middle of a road trip, with no toilet paper in the bathroom and all you have is the wrapper from your Croissant Sandwich. It is hallucinatory, allegorical, and absolutely impeccable in its abuse of every worn out commercial trope.

In short, brilliant.

Gotta go get me a Cheddar Bacon Ranch Chicken. And some bricks of golden cheddar cheese.

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The Ear Vacuum Cleaner 3

March 1, 2005

Laugh all you want people. Go ahead, laugh.

You’ll be jealous because I want one and will have one. Laugh again.

[Via MedGadget]

[Via Engadget]

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