Friday, April 27, 2007

Celebrating Barbara

Some people say “you can’t have too many birthdays.” And some (like Barbara, whose birthday is today) respond that once is enough – there’s no need to draw attention to the rest.

Personally, I think this is because Barbara comes from a large Minnesota-style family: one momma, one dad, seven children. Seven. Maybe, with a family that size, the only thing she got on her birthday was a year older.

I know it’s not true: about growing up as one of seven children and lacking birthday presents. She got plenty and I believe she’s still got some of them (after all, she’s kept the same husband for 30 years). And today she got a lot of best wishes from family and friends: the e-card business took a big jump today.

Last year, an Australian woman named Mary Armstrong celebrated her birthday (at a number that’s considerably higher than Barbara’s) by skydiving 12,000 feet to the earth. It was her third charity jump, raising $1,900 for an animal fund. Newsworthy and a good deed, too.

Barbara jumped into the kitchen to bake bread for dinner – not so newsworthy, perhaps, but I’m certainly grateful.

So I’ve made jokes – not at her expense, but to celebrate her birth and my luck. Look at the photo I took of Barbara: we were in Piraeus on a lovely winter day at the beginning of this year, and walking by this neat little boating canal. On the small bridge overlooking the water, her smile is so beautiful that it’s worth every pixel to capture it.

Happy birthday, Barbara Nytes-Baron: now that you’re 42, you know the meaning of life, the universe and everything.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Better Datasheets

Weary, weary, weary of spec sheets that look like the Interoperability and Performance Data Sheet shown on the Novell site? Your customers are.

I’ve been doing datasheets for more than 30 years. I can tell you there’s good ones and bad ones. I can tell you there’s a misapprehension that only words (spare and technical) will serve – isn’t that what engineers want? “Just the facts, Ma’am?”

No, no and no. Whether you call them product guides or spec sheets, datasheets or inserts, there’s an art and a science to transforming datasheets into more engaging, more beneficial instruments of marketing and sales.

For this post, look at the outstanding Hypercom datasheets shown above. The series has been designed by Peg Grant at The Phillips Agency and written by me, admitted with a certain modesty. This entire new series has a colorful (even exciting) combination of features, advantages and benefits – FABs – that turn drabs into dazzlers.

1. ATTRACT THE VIEWER FIRST. Rule One, a picture’s worth quite a bit more than a thousand words. Even when the product’s a black box. Especially when the product’s a black box. (Tougher yet, it’s a service you’re trying to sell.) People use these products and services. People are attracted to other people like themselves, doing things, preferably in conjunction with the thing you’re selling. Why do you think People magazine’s so popular? This doesn’t mean four humans, gingerly portraying the right gender/race mix, around a conference table – or a computer monitor. Look at the users in the Hypercom datasheets: they’re top, front and center.

2. DON’T THINK ENGINEERS ARE WHAT THEY USED TO BE. If there’s one idea that’s stuck in everyone’s head, it’s the image of the geek-engineer with the heavy-framed spectacles. That’s two generations out of date. Today’s smart, savvy engineers are heavily engaged in a wide variety of lifestyle activities…they’re involved in life. So yes, make sure the product specs are available (we put the specifications on the back of the datasheets, in a single column). More important, datasheets aren’t just for engineers any more. Your salespeople may put them into the hands of purchasing professionals, company owners, CFOs, CEOs…even the folks on the loading dock. They’re going to have a voice in the decision-making process, so be sure to build in options that are relevant to the many rather than the few. And for heaven’s sake, post them to your website.

3. SELL THE SIZZLE. Well, duh. What’s really in it for me? Why do I want to spec it, buy it, use it, recommend it to my design engineers, production team, jobbers, distributors, customers? Will it make my hair grow back (too late for me, I fear)? Will it save me [a] money, [b] time or [c] stress? Will it benefit the lives of its users? Which leads to…

4. BAF, NOT FAB. Put the benefits first, then the advantages and finally the product/service features which deliver the goods. Bad example: “The ARM9 processor family is built around the ARM9TDMI processor and incorporates the 16-bit Thumb instruction set, which improves code density by as much as 35%.” Good example: “Get more capability in a smaller footprint: 35% higher code density comes standard in the ARM9, thanks to its advanced architecture and compact, faster-acting 16-bit Thumb instruction set.”

5. TELL ‘EM – THEN TELL ‘EM WHAT YOU TOLD ‘EM. Every user will NOT review every single word of your datasheet. So each new Hypercom datasheet offers sections where customers and prospects can browse. Some sections have copy, some have photos with captions, some have bullet-pointed BAFs. Wherever they look randomly, they’re going to see/read/absorb benefits – yet there’s a consistent organizational flow that helps connect to the engineering mind-set.

Above all, sell. Datasheets are valuable sales and branding opportunities. It’s real estate that should not be confined to lists of specifications, because telling isn’t selling. (And if necessary, educate your sales force on the new datasheet format you create. I once produced an entire 3-foot x 4-foot wall poster for Exxon Technical Marketing Services, on which we showed both sides of a new datasheet with callouts explaining the sales benefits of each section.)

There are more ways to design datasheets than any one person can assemble in a lifetime. Some work really well. If you don’t follow my line of thinking, you want to make other choices or you’re not certain, take three or four different datasheet formats on the road. Ask your customers…they’ll be quick to let you know what’s attractive as well as informative.

Now go. Talk with your own engineers. Together, you can work out how to turn their datasheets into powerful marketing tools.

Thanks to The Phillips Agency – Terri Phillips, the aforementioned Peg Grant, Anna Giles, Catherine Colangelo and all – for the opportunity to work on these projects.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Importing Piss?

What does the Thursday Night Martini Gang talk about when it’s gathered round the table at Mo Mong. The same thing we’ve been talking about for 23 years: advertising. This past week’s conversation didn’t start there, though.

It began with Bill Large, Rob Schoenbeck and me discussing the origin of the word ‘pissed,’ meaning ‘drunk.’ (First-timers are frequently amazed where these things start – and end – so wait for the end of this post, eh?)

We floated our ideas about the origin of this slang and Rob volunteered to look it up when he got home. He reported an unusual lack of success yesterday:

“After searching through To Coin a Phrase, Dictionary of English Colloquial Idioms, Guinness Book of Curious Phrases and the Oxford English Dictionary plus a cursory search of the web. I am ‘pissed off’ in being unable to find the origin of the term.”

Unbelievably, it's true as Rob says: the term ‘pissed’ for ‘drunk’ doesn’t show up in the OED – at least not in my old edition. However, there's hope in a varied library.

Eric Partridge, renowned pursuer of slang, wrote A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. (My copy is middle-aged: 1961.) Partridge notes that ‘pissed’ or ‘pissed-up’ means very drunk, a “low term,” possibly military, from the 20th Century. Please do share Partridge’s wonderful phrase, “so drunk he opened his shirt collar to piss” with your friends.

It's barely conceivable that ‘pissed’ comes from drinking too much at Piss-Pot Hall, “A tavern at Clopton, near Hackney, built by a potter chiefly out of the profits of chamber-pots...” Partridge says Piss-Pot Hall comes from around 1710-1830...which seems pretty distant from its 20th Century use.

Most likely, ‘pissed’ meaning drunk came into usage the UK - first - from Australian soldiers in World War 1. Researching ‘piss,’ it seems to be a fairly historic and pretty well-known Australian slang term for a bad brewski – and that’s how I discovered Piss Beer.

Piss is the brand name of a contract-brewed beer, produced by Geelong Brewing of Victoria, Australia, for the Pi55 Beer Company P/L of Melbourne. It was introduced in 1998 at the Great Britain Hotel in Richmond (the one in Oz, dear).

Now you’ll find this amazing: public support has been strong and the business has expanded and exported since the beer was introduced, but major distributors continue to avoid the brand, “perhaps due to ‘piss’ being slightly vulgar and also a derogatory Australian slang word for poor-quality alcoholic beverages.”

Regard the Piss Beer website: Now you can enjoy the great taste of Piss and Piss Weak regardless of where you live. The Piss Pak was developed in response to the massive demand we have received both in Australia and overseas for these distinctive brands, and we now offer delivery to your door anywhere in the world.

See? This is about advertising. Import Piss! Everyone should order a Piss NOW. Read “The Unabridged History of Piss” on the company’s site and see if you don’t agree.

I wonder if they’ll ship to Houston. Bill has got this neat beer-bottle-opener-on-a-ring that’d work a treat on Piss bottles. (Uh, that didn’t sound right, did it?)

Thanks to the Martini Gang for the entertainment, and apologies to Horse Piss Beer for ignoring domestic in favor of foreign brews – but it’s a potential import right? And we all know that market is hot.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Lead Generation

So many clients ask about lead generation – have for years. This story confirms that Word-of-Mouth can help you find qualified prospects.

“Bless me Father, for I have sinned. I have been with a loose girl.”

The priest asks, “Is that you, little Johnny Parisi?”

“Yes, Father, it is.”

“And who was the girl you were with?” Johnny says, “I can't tell you, Father, I don't want to ruin her reputation.”

“Well, Johnny, I'm sure to find out her name sooner or later, so you may as well tell me now. Was it Tina Minetti?”

“I cannot say Father,” says Johnny.

“Was it Teresa Volpe?”

“I'll never tell.”

“Was it Nina Capelli?”

“I'm sorry Father, but I cannot name her.”

“Was it Cathy Piriano?” Johnny answers firmly, “My lips are sealed.”

“Was it Rosa Di Angelo, then?”

“Please, Father, I cannot tell you.”

The priest sighs in frustration. “You're very tight lipped, Johnny Parisi, and I admire that. But you’ve sinned and have to atone. You cannot be an altar boy now for four months. Now you go and behave yourself.”

Johnny walks back to his pew and his friend Nino slides over and whispers, “What'd you get?”

“Four months vacation and five good leads.”

Thanks for this “Italian Boy’s Confession” to Leigh Lerner from Montreal. And a great weekend to you all.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Birthday Imagination

I was born the year this ad appeared in Look magazine: one part of a nationwide marketing program that “The Airlines of the United States” created and used to promote a return to traveling by air. (More of these here.)

It not only commemorates my birthday – 13 April, 1945 – it’s a reminder. My daddy was in the US Army Air Corps, in B-29s flying out of Guam. He was still there, still at war, when I was born.

See that plane above the kids’ heads on the right? That’s a Douglas DC-3, the civilian airliner version of the aircraft I served in during my stint in Southeast Asia, 1970-1971. We called ‘em C-47s (even though the official US Navy designation was R4D)…old, WWII-era birds by the time we flew them out of USNS Sangley Point in the Philippines. I’m a member in good standing of the McDonnell-Douglas “Mach Nix” club: when so many other people were in jets, I was flying around in prop jobs.

I look at ads sometimes and imagine how many connections there are. One of advertising’s attractions. Yesterday, I celebrated. Got lots of calls and cards. Barbara and I went out for fresh oysters and Manhattans.

“What’s it like up there?” Age is no barrier to the imagination. Thanks to everyone for their best wishes and their thoughts.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Early Punch

My internal clock is giving me fits. Since I left the Navy, I’ve been an early riser and formed the habit of beginning work early. Now, as a consultant, I’ve institutionalized this. Up at the crack of dawn, thumping at the Great Steam Computer early in the AM, punching hard for some hours – I’m a morning person and proud of it.

These days, I’m working with colleagues (e.g., designers, art directors) who are more likely to take their meetings in the mornings and begin their work when the sun starts sinking into the horizon. My brain has already shutting down when they are starting up.

As I said to Kay Krenek today, “By the time you’re cooking, I’m already leftovers in the fridge.”

I don’t want to change my habit, Rabbit – what bunny does? But there’s nothing a client appreciates more than an “Up N Atom” creative guy…I better eat more carrots to keep my energy up for afternoons. Ta for now.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Morris’s Exemplar

If you could drive your “customer base” up 500%+ in three years, you’d be pretty pleased with yourself, right? Right.

You may have been one of the 50 marketing professionals who watched Annetta Morris pack so much punch into her presentation this past Wednesday. You heard her speak about the integrated Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center (GCR) marketing program, Commit For Life.

Morris was the star (but not the only cast member) of our Healthcare SIG’s spring event. Reviewing our lunchtime presentation taught me four valuable lessons…maybe they’ll help you, too.

Morris was forceful. Funny. And pretty humble about the achievement that’s made GCR the exemplar of blood donor programs in the US. (EXEMPLAR n. One that is worthy of imitation; a model.)

Donations of blood are down nationally. But the Houston-based non-profit organization delivers almost all the blood that’s needed throughout our region…thanks to a program that keeps donors coming back again and again to donate: once a quarter, every quarter, year after year.

We collected post-presentation surveys from just over 50% of you (which is great all by itself). Then 85% of you respondents rated the presentation’s relevance and quality “Excellent.” And 88% thought Morris herself was equally “Excellent.” Want some actual quotes?

“Great presentation. Annetta is fantastic.”

“Great speaker.”


But enough about her. Back to what she presented and you can learn (as I did).

1. The Commit For Life program is a tightly woven tactical set that keeps “touching” the audiences (external and internal) continuously and meaningfully. But it didn’t happen all at once…didn’t spring full-blown into the world. It’s taken GCR three long years to get every cylinder firing and help it reach its goals. So, in your case, are you and your executives giving your marketing programs enough time to work? Or are you changing strategies and tactics every month or every quarter?

2. Everyone in the organization has to be on board. Has to. Nothing would have happened without GCR’s recognition that “business as usual” meant failure to reach its goals – and no blood for our hospitals and emergency rooms. That means changing the paradigm (terrible cliché). Now you should be asking yourself: if what I’m doing isn’t working, why do I keep doing it?

3. Morris made it clear that executives, marketers, staffers and vendors all participated thoroughly in the process of changing the GCR marketing program – and she gave appropriate credit to each of them: the people at the top, the phlebotomists that escort their patrons into the donor’s chairs, the partners with whom GCR cooperates in the rewards program, the vendors (like TCB Specialties and NextLevelThinking) who think and act in support of GCR. Qs for you: Do you get everyone on board with your program? Does everyone who touches a customer or a patient or a patron understand what the marketing program is trying to accomplish?

4. Back to “time.” GCR asks its patrons to take the time to donate. Morris was quite pointed about this: Time is an element much more valuable to donors than blood – though people don’t often think of it that way. In healthcare marketing (as in many other segments), we are not necessarily asking our prospects and customers to change their minds, or their brands – we’re asking them to take the time to consider our message, the time to think about a new software approach, the time to visit a clinic. What do you think? Does your marketing program help make your prospects think their time is worthwhile?

FYI, our SIG learned a few things as well – which will we apply to future events. That’s what an exemplar is all about: something worthy of imitating.

Thanks to Annetta Morris and the entire GCR team; our sponsors, XL Films and Medical Journal Houston; and the AMA Houston Healthcare SIG-folk: you know who you are.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Røssel Passes

Yesterday, I received a phone call from Denmark: Carl Johan Røssel, my former Dialogue International colleague and friend from the “old days,” passed away. He died of ALS. He was diagnosed with an aggressive form of this disease in 2004. You can read more about it here.

I went to Denmark 17 years ago to represent my shop at one of the first of the Dialogue International “Forums.” (This was before I became the official representative to Dialogue from The Quest Business Agency, Dialogue’s only US member in those days…and eventually its Chairman.) Copenhagen is one of the most beautiful cities I’d ever seen. We creative and management types stayed and met for three days in the Admiral Hotel, on the waterfront, just a pitch north of Nyhavn; I met so many people from so many countries.

The host agency was J+J, the business-to-business marcomms firm managed by Carl Johan. Through him, I got to know Copenhagen as a warm-hearted and cheerful city, filled with talented people. His first wife, Helene, took Barbara and Rachel on a tour of Denmark, something that could be accomplished in a day, more or less.

Carl Johan and Helene were among our first Danish friends. In subsequent visits, we met many more; one of J+J’s talented art directors, Tine Lysberg, came to Houston for a three-week “fellowship” at Quest. That phone call I got was from Tine.

Back in the day, Carl Johan was one of the staunchest of our original members and ran a high-quality B2B shop. We had further adventures at many Dialogue meetings throughout the years – I recall his laugh particularly.

The last time we saw each other was five years ago or so. Barbara and I came over from Houston on a trip that included a Dialogue meeting in Malmö, Sweden. Then we came back across the Sound to spend a few extra days with Tine and her husband John at their home in Humlebaek. It was a wonderful season. Part of my task, as I had become the Chairman of Dialogue International, was to interview a potential new member for Dialogue, a Danish agency…J+J had fallen by the wayside; Carl Johan had started his own firm, Rubicon, in Rosenvaengets Allé; he and his partner had sold up to become a business unit of Grey Worldwide. We hadn’t got a Danish member in several years.

Carl Johan and I met for lunch at Schoennemann’s near the Rose Garden, one of my favorite restaurants. We had a terrific time talking, eating herring and drinking aquavit. That restaurant had been there for a hundred years or more and it’s gone now. So is Carl Johan.

Jaakko Alanko, one of Dialogue’s founders and its first Chairman, wrote back to me:

This is unexpected and sad news. Carl Johan was always a sympathetic friend and cooperative colleague. I had the pleasure of appearing as a speaker a few times at his agency events and always experienced generous hospitality.

I once received a complete CD set of Nielsen’s symphonies from Carl Johan and will now re-dedicate this gift to his lasting memory. May his soul rest in peace.

The outgoing Dialogue Chairman, Leif Lindau of Navigator in Malmö, e-mailed our old gang with this:

Most of you knew Carl-Johan for a longer time than I did however the years that we worked together were very busy, especially in our region. The bridge between Malmö and Copenhagen was under construction and gave a lot of nourishment to the region. Rubicon and Navigator started to interact more and more to prepare for joint pitching on new clients.

Carl Johan always shared his know how, network and professionalism without asking for anything in return. Even in the pitch for the Öresund Bridge account when Rubicon couldn’t run together with Navigator because of Grey; he opened his network to us and introduced us to one of the best agencies in Copenhagen that we could cooperate with - even though he knew that we would pitch against each other for the account.

This is only one way to describe a true friend and a great man!

Charles de la Rochefoucauld is one more of our original Dialogue founders. He’s now Vice President and Managing Director at Corporate Factory, a Publicis business unit in Paris. He sent:

I have so many good memories from the “old days” and Carl Johan is very much part of it. (Richard, you forgot to mention that when we stayed at the Admiral Hotel, we had our meetings on a boat!!!!) Carl Johan was such a nice and friendly person. It is sad news.

Carl Johan’s death is sad news for all of us. I wish his family our warmth and sympathy – and for him, peace and rest.