From the category archives:

Neck Deep in the Zeitgeist

Political debate in the U.S. devolved into name calling long ago. Both sides are guilty of using the basest of personal attacks to appeal to the basest instincts of the electorate. But it is time for both parties to realize the long-term damage they are causing in their heedless, headlong rush to power.

America is divided pretty evenly between Democratic and Republican voters, as presidential election polls and results show. When one candidate says the other is completely and totally wrong, he or she is saying that candidate’s supporters are completely and totally wrong. And thus pointing a finger at half the country and saying, “If you’re with me, you have to believe that half of your friends and neighbors are completely and totally wrong.”

Reasonable people know that not to be true. My father and I often disagree about politics, but because we have different key issues that concern us. We agree fundamentally that America should be an inclusive country with a strong economy that provides a safe place for people to live, learn and succeed. And we both agree that the only way for that to happen is for reasonable people to work together in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect, not by rabid fear-mongering that turns everything upside down every four years.

But if we allowed ourselves to be swayed by the rhetoric of each campaign, and the commentators and news outlets who earn their money by perpetuating and exacerbating the conflict, Sunday lunch would become a shouting match.

The campaigns play on the same instincts that, taken to an extreme, turn soccer stadia into battlegrounds where zealots try to maim and even kill their neighbors, identical to them apart from the color of their scarves. And to the furthest extreme, these are the instincts that allow the rise of fascism.

I honestly don’t know how we will break this cycle. The political machines on both sides are refining their tactics every day, learning the marketing techniques refined by people like me, driven by the greatest profit and power motive the world has ever known. Maybe we need to be attacked by aliens to remember that we are one people who agree far more than we disagree.

In the meantime, I hope reasonable people around the country will remember that most of your friends, neighbors and co-workers don’t hate you because you pull a different lever in the voting booth. If we can show some tolerance and keep our minds open to the possibility of working together, maybe the political parties will follow our example.

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John from KOne Limo in Atlanta I traveled to Atlanta recently for a meeting with customers. I booked a car service since it was the same price as renting a car, and required less GPS goofery on my part. I looked on Yelp and found K-One Limo, with six of the most positive reviews I’ve ever seen. Initially I was skeptical, because the reviews were so over the top, but I booked the trip.

John (pictured) is the owner of K-One and met me at the airport. He called to make sure I had arrived, directed me to the right place to meet him, and then quickly and graciously re-adjusted when I doofed my way to the wrong place. He was driving an immaculate Lincoln Navigator and was dressed way better than I was, even though I was on my way to meet customers.

We talked all the way to the hotel, and all the way back, about his life, his family and his philosophy of customer service. Basically he goes out of his way to remove all obstacles and annoyances from his passengers. When he learns their preferences he accommodates them. One Yelp reviewer said John always has an iPhone charger ready to replenish his travel-drained phone.

He also understands the value of quiet competence. When things are going wrong (as you can imagine, an Atlanta limo driver deals with a lot of delayed flights), it doesn’t do any good to flap. John remains calm and professional, which I guarantee you is more reassuring than sweaty apologies and mad dashes through traffic.

I think John could do anything. I wish he ran pretty much every service organization, like, everywhere. I truly enjoy meeting people who are absolutely on top of their game and happy doing what they do. I’ve had that pleasure a handful of times in my life.

When you meet someone who is truly happy and successful, it’s usually because they can’t imagine doing anything but what they do. I never worried, for instance, about Jim Goodnight selling SAS when I worked there, because it was obvious that what Jim Goodnight loved doing was running SAS. If you want another great example, read a biography of Richard Branson.

I suppose I should end with some kind of motivational challenge to you to find the thing you love, but we’ll take that as written.

Who have you met who is really on top of his or her game? What did you learn?

image by me

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Social media usage statistics for the month of July show that early adopters and influencers are leaving Facebook in favor of a new crop of social networks. These location-based food photo sharing apps place funny quotes on top of the picture, designed to attack people who don’t share the user’s political believes. The hottest one is called SaidNoOneEver. There is no Android app as of yet.

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Last week, Jamie Sandford began the day with what I’ll call a “metatweet.” I responded. It took off. Here’s how our conversation evolved throughout the course of the day:

@jsandford: <something about coffee>

@davidbthomas: <something about Mondays>

@jsandford: <inspirational way-too-much vim and vigor tackling-the-week tweet>

@davidbthomas: <excessive use of motivational hashtags>

@jsandford: <ending of day tweet>

@davidbthomas: <expressing an interest in a particular foodstuff and/or alcoholic beverage>

@jsandford: <general agreement and/or countering with alternative item which is more complex or uses rarer ingredients>

@davidbthomas: <enthusiastic agreement, onomatopoeia representing consumption of said foodstuff>

@jsandford: <comment related to upcoming TV show, hashtagged>

@davidbthomas: <parenting anecdote>

@jsandford: <emphatic sport event comment!>

@davidbthomas: <support for the opposing team expressed as ridicule of your character>

@jsandford: <denigration of your team based on menial historical statistic relating to prior triumph in the series>

@davidbthomas: <rejection of the importance of your quoted statistic, followed by equally trivial statistic from earlier contest>

@jsandford: <commentary on the difficult nature of putting small descendants to bed and/or humorous pre-slumber saying>

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storage media in a museumI’ve seen quite a few discussions lately about the Spotify online music service. A few people said they didn’t get it; they wanted to own their music, not rent it. I saw a similar comment about the Amazon Kindle e-reader. That person was concerned that Amazon could take the content back at any time; he wanted to own it.

Why?

I’m not talking about people who like the experience of holding an actual book. I get that. Or audiophiles who get all squishy at the smell of a freshly-unwrapped vinyl LP. I mean, why do you care about actually owning the content?

For one thing, you don’t in fact “own” the content; the artist or author does. You’re just buying the delivery medium.

I listen to all my music through iTunes, XM Radio or the web (just trying out Spotify). I have around 500 albums and I haven’t had a functioning turntable in at least a decade. My CDs are in the drawers of my son’s dresser. (We’ll have to move those as soon as he discovers them or I predict they will turn into a thousand shiny projectiles.)

I don’t want to own content. I don’t even really want to store content. I just want it available when I want to access it.

I love using Kindle on my iPad. It syncs to my iPhone which means I always have the book I’m reading with me. There are some books I’ve re-read several times (Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, for one), but looking at my Kindle library now, I’ll tell you there aren’t more than one or two titles on there that I have any desire to “archive.”

For TV and movies, even fewer. Remember that Qwest commercial from about ten years ago? A haggard looking man checks in to a dusty motel and asks the bored teenage clerk if they have any in-room entertainment. She says something like, “We have every movie ever made, available at any time, day or night.”

Yeah, that’s what I want.

When I found out that Spotify let you stream whole albums for free, I thought, “Yep, that’s it. I’m done.” My favorite albums of all time are London Calling by The Clash, I Just Can’t Stop It by The Beat and Kind of Blue by Miles Davis (yes, I went to college in the ’80s). I listen to them maybe twice a year, if I’m honest. Why do I need to buy them and hold them, if I can go online and listen to them whenever I want?

Yes, there’s lots of obscure music out there you won’t find online, and things do go out of print and disappear, but if you’re worried about that, I already covered you in my squishy LP-opener category.

I don’t want a closet full of storage devices. I don’t even want a hard drive full of files. It feels like clutter to me, and something that will endlessly have to be maintained, backed up and worried over. If I ever did make a full to-do list, there would be several items related to just the external hard drive with my MP3s on it (back up, eliminate duplicates, organize). I don’t need that.

Tommy Lee Jones, viewing a new piece of alien music technology in one of the Men In Black movies says, “I guess I’ll have to buy the White Album again.”

No you don’t! You just need to pay somebody who has the White Album online. And if a service like Spotify can supply both the archiving of old music and the discovery of new, that’s all I’ll ever need.

(Of course this all falls apart if the White Album isn’t available to stream. I should probably check that.)

If you like owning your music and books, I’d love to hear why.

image by me

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I find I’m not using contractions as much anymore. I just wrote “he had been ready” when I’m sure I would ordinarily have written “he’d been.” (Of course, now that my mind is on it I’m using contractions in this post, so this is not a good test case.)

I blame the iPhone. It is much faster and easier when typing a text message or an email to write out the full words rather than go into the special characters menu for an apostrophe. (Just read that over and saw I’d written “it is” instead of “it’s.”) Also, the iPhone autocorrect feature has some quirks that sometimes mistake one contraction for another.

Now that I’m conscious of it I’m re-reading some things I’ve written recently. The lack of contractions seems to make my writing seem more formal, more stilted and, in a way, dumber.

Has mobile keyboarding changed the way you write?

photo by someToast

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I have a love/hate relationship with bizspeak. I’m fascinated by the way phrases enter our lexicon, become popular, then die off. But I also get annoyed by hackneyed writing and lazy speech. Smart people usually fall back on cliches because they don’t have time to think of an original way to illustrate an idea, and that’s understandable.

Still, it sets my teeth on edge when I hear something like, “We’ll start at the 50,000 foot level, then do a core dump and a deep dive and brainstorm some value-add strategies to open the kimono.” David Meerman Scott does a great job skewering the phenomenon in his Gobbledygook Manifesto.

When I worked at Nortel, back in the late 20th century, there was a phrase in vogue that got used so confusingly that I’m convinced most people didn’t know what it meant. The phrase was sometimes rendered as “moving the goal posts” and sometimes as “moving the yard sticks.” Sometimes people said “moving the yard sticks” to indicate progress, as the ball moves forward on a football field. Others used “moving the goal posts” to mean the target had shifted after the project was underway.

Others used them interchangeably, or incorrectly, so that whenever anyone used either phrase, you had to stop and wonder if they meant it was a good thing or a bad thing.

The phrase I’m hearing a lot these days is “move the needle,” as in “do something to create a measurable impact.” Not too bad, all things considered. But let’s hop on it before we get sick of it. Can we come up with another phrase that will mean the same thing?

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Stuff the turkey
  2. Butter the muffin
  3. Inflate the balloon
  4. Squeeze the turnip
  5. Grate the cheese
  6. Raise the barn
  7. Float the armada
  8. Pickle the okra

Your ideas? We’ll decide on it, then start using it. We won’t tell anyone. We’ll see if other people start using it. It’ll be our secret.

photo by Amarillo Chuck

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I was just perusing Facebook, as part of my getting-ready-to-write ritual. (It’s also part of my taking-a-break-from-writing ritual and my winding-down-from-writing ritual. Essentially, if it weren’t for Facebook, I could have finished this book in an afternoon.)

I came across a link to an article at PCMag.com entitled Suburu Slaps In-Car Wi-Fi into its 2011 Outback.

Interesting idea, but I was reading the article thinking, “I’m not sure it’s worth paying $29 a month for another Internet connection that you can only use in the car.” At least not for me. The only device I’m likely to connect when I’m in the car is my iPhone, and that’s already, you know, connected.

I am becoming increasingly averse to monthly fees. I will almost certainly cancel my XM Radio subscription, the next time I remember. Yes, there’s some good content, but there’s also lots of good content out there for free. (It should come as little shock that I spend the little time I have in the car alone listening to marketing podcasts like Six Pixels of Separation/Media Hacks, Marketing Over Coffee, For Immediate Release and Managing the Gray. Those are all free, as well as valuable. Those nine and ten and eleven bucks a month fees add up, after all. Then I came to this quote:

“We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: It doesn’t make sense to pay for most in-car Wi-Fi solutions from automakers,” writes editor David Thomas.

So I guess this idea isn’t playing very well with David Thomases.

Dad, what do you think?

photo by germanyengland

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Last night The Mrs looked over my shoulder at Tweetdeck and said, “Everybody’s talking about Old Spice.” It’s the hottest topic in social media, marketing and advertising right now. Built on the success of the video embedded above, which now has more than 13 million views on YouTube, the integrated social media campaign features shirtless ab merchant Isaiah Mustafa, who recorded dozens of personalized YouTube responses to all kinds of people who mentioned Old Spice on Twitter and Facebook. And not just Ashton Kutcher and Alyssa Milano: in a quick scan I saw three videos addressed to people I know personally, not just through social media.

No doubt this campaign will win dozens of awards and be the subject of multiple case studies. I look forward to seeing some hard analytics showing how this campaign actually affects Old Spice sales. In the meantime, assuming one of the goals was to raise awareness of Old Spice, I think we can mark that goal achieved.

I just had a lunchtime conversation with my colleague John Mosier, who leads our content strategy initiatives. We talked about the reasons we think this campaign succeeded. In essence, they used the techniques of social media and raised them up to the brand level in a way that few companies have done.

In other words, they made it scale.

(It was no mean feat. This excellent article at ReadWriteWeb talks about the team that made it happen.)

Here’s what they did right:

  1. They understood the communities they were addressing. They knew how people communicated in those channels and how they liked to be addressed. They spoke the right language. They even got positive responses to their video directed at the “anonymous” users of 4chan, which is perhaps not the easiest community to impress.
  2. They understood the channels they were using, what the individual characteristics of those channels were and what benefit they could derive from each.
  3. They had great content. Everybody wants their campaign to “go viral,” and the Old Spice campaign demonstrates once again what it takes to make that happen. The scripts for the videos are genuinely funny, edgy and innovative.
  4. They had great talent. Despite my description above, Isaiah Mustafa is much more than a pretty torso. He’s a talented comic actor with great timing, and is apparently an ironman, considering he stood in a towel for a very long time, cranking out video after video. Isaiah was supported by a social media team and a group of writers who are obviously at the top of their game. I’ve watched a dozen of the videos and haven’t seen a single one that wasn’t genuinely funny.
  5. They knew when to quit. Rather than milking it to the point where people were sick of it, they left on a high note, ending the personalized video responses today with a thank you video to everyone. The comments to that video on YouTube are mostly along the lines of “Oh, no! You can’t go!”

No doubt we will see a flood of imitators trying to duplicate Old Spice’s formula. Many of those efforts will ring hollow. Inevitably, some will be downright embarrassing. I’m sure a lot of corporate marketers are looking at this and thinking, “All you need to make a splash on the Web is a good gimmick.”

Good marketers already know that breakthrough campaigns are built by smart people with great ideas, amazing content and a solid understanding of their customers and the places they congregate, backed by intelligent execution.

This blog post is now diamonds.

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This isn’t the kind of thing I normally write about, and this post is far from comprehensive, but I got into a conversation with two colleagues recently about how to connect a computer to a TV and stream your shows without needing a cable box. I wrote them a long email with my experiences, and, as is my wont, I decided I’d post that email here in case it’s helpful.

The Mrs and I shut off our cable TV service about seven months ago and have since been using a Mac Mini plugged into our Vizio HDTV for streaming video. It’s not necessarily an easy transition and takes some fiddling, but if you’re the kind of person who likes fiddling, it’s a good way to save about a hundred clams a month (for now, until the cable companies and content providers figure out better ways to charge for it).

Here’s the advice I gave my colleagues:

Here’s a good video that lays out all the steps. It gets a bit bogged down in all the cable options. My advice would be to Google specific questions about your TV and your computer, e.g., “connect Macbook Pro to Vizio HDTV.” Most likely someone has already done what you’re trying to do.

Basically, hooking up your computer to a modern TV is no different than hooking it up to a monitor. You just need to find the right cables.

For us it was easiest to connect our Mac Mini to our Vizio TV using a VGA cable plugged in to the TV, and a mini display port to VGA adapter to plug it into the Mac.

A lot of PCs have a VGA port already, so for a PC you can get a VGA cable and just plug it in to both devices. I did that when I was using an HP laptop with the TV.

The next challenge once you get it plugged in is setting the display and finding the right resolution. The video gives a good overview of how to do that. One thing that helps is finding the “native resolution” of your TV, which is probably shown in your TV manual, or you can probably find it online. If you set your computer’s display properties to the same resolution as your TV’s native resolution, you should be able to get full screen video with no letterboxing effect.

Of course, as with all things computer, sometimes it works easily and sometimes it doesn’t. I tried to use my Mac Mini with a mini display port to HDMI adapter, following specific instructions people had posted on the web, and could never get the color or resolution right. I gave up and went back to the VGA cable, which works fine.

The VGA cable doesn’t transmit sound, however, so I had to plug my computer into my stereo with a headphone-out-to-RCA-in cable to get audio output, but I was going to do that anyway. If you can get an HDMI cable to work, it will transmit sound as well, through your TV’s speakers.

We mostly watch network shows free on Hulu.com. We also have Netflix, so we can stream movies and TV shows from netflix.com. For the few shows we like that are not available in either of those places, we buy a series subscription through iTunes and download them.

There’s also a free web-based service called Boxee that aggregates a lot of feeds and attempts to make this all more streamlined, but I haven’t given it a good try.

None of this is simple and tidy. It requires a lot of fiddling at the start and a lot of web searching, unless you hit it lucky right away. Then, you have to hunt to find the shows you want. Depending on the strength of the network connection in your neighborhood, you may find that streaming video starts and stops. Most of the services like Netflix and Hulu will allow the show to “buffer,” so that it runs smoothly, but that means you might wait a minute or two for it to start.

You can run a free test at Speedtest that will tell you the download and upload speeds for your network and give you an estimate of the time required to download different types of files. Be sure to test it more than once, at the times you are most likely to be streaming TV shows. If you get a reading significantly below average, you might want to call your cable company and ask. One of our neighbors found ours to be very low, and the cable company investigated and made some changes to match the high load in our neighborhood.

All in all, for us it’s been worth the $100 a month savings, and we find we’re watching TV more selectively, which was one of our goals. Also, there are fewer commercials on Hulu.com shows than on the broadcast equivalent, but already we’re seeing signs that is changing.

In other words, the free lunch won’t last forever. But for now, it’s worth it.

photo by Paulpod

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