Just Listen, Again

We posted this last August, the 50th anniversary of the speech itself, and it is fit to post it again, upon the holiday marking Dr. King’s life.

Just Listen

The 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” has generated much commentary about the speech, Dr. King’s place in American history, the current state of civil and racial equality in America, and other important issues. Most of this commentary is  best ignored, especially when we are fortunate enough to be able to see and hear Dr. King deliver the speech himself and can do so without the self-serving commentary and “insights” of the nation’s chattering class.

Do yourself a favor and take 15 minutes to listen to Dr. King’s speech from beginning to end. It is a rich and rewarding experience, that not only perfectly captures an historical moment, but also demonstrates how bereft our nation is of leaders–in government or business–of such eloquence and vision. Twitter is a shallow pool indeed, compared to the ocean of meaning and passion that Dr. King delivered 50 years ago.

Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream” Speech

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No E-ZPass On This One

Chris Christie

“Who’s got change for the bridge?”

Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey is providing a lesson—probably unintended—in crisis communications. You can read the details here, but the short version is—alleged, of course—that persons in the governor’s office ordered the closing of lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Ft. Lee, New Jersey, as retribution on the town’s Democratic mayor who declined to endorse Christie’s re-election last fall. The resulting four days of gridlock in Ft. Lee caused massive commuter headaches, prevented kids from getting to school on time, and (again, allegedly) delayed at least a few ambulances from getting patients to the hospital.

Assuming the allegations are true, they are bad enough for Christie. But the events in question happened back in September of 2013, and rumors of the governor’s involvement began to arise in October. Here we are almost three months later and the story has erupted into a full-blown scandal that is still unfolding. You know you’re in trouble when people start asking: “What did Gov. Christie know and when did he know it?”

So how might have Christie responded differently?  There are three tenets of crisis communications that—had the Governor followed them—might have averted or at least ameliorated this scandal:

  1. Tell the truth—always;
  2. Get out as much information as you can as fast as you can—including information that might be negative for you; and
  3. Take responsibility—which is different from taking the blame or admitting fault.

As for #1, emails and texts now being released suggest that Christie and his staff simply were not being truthful. Worse, Christie’s office damaged its credibility with some cockamamie story about a traffic study. (Helpful hint: if you’re going to lie, don’t make up a lie that could be picked apart by a college journalism student.) As for #2, the Governor’s office had to be subpoenaed to release those staff emails and texts. The slow drip of revelations also lengthens the story. As for #3, Christie is claiming he only learned of these issues yesterday (see #1) and that it was his underlings who did it.

How different the narrative today would be if Christie, back in November, had announced: “In investigating rumors about the GWB lane closings, it came to my attention that several of my key staff behaved inappropriately and without my authority. I am sorry for the inconvenience caused to the people of Ft. Lee. It’s my job to make sure my staff work for the best interests of the people of the State of New Jersey. I have asked the staff involved to tender their resignations.”

That would have been a tough press conference, to be sure, but the story would have been about Christie rooting out rogue staff and putting the public’s interest ahead of his own political goals.  Instead, the media is feasting on a narrative about a political bully trying to punish any opposition, now matter how insignificant.

Just like it does for daily commuters, the George Washington Bridge is taking a toll on Gov. Christie.

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That Was the Year That Was

An overview of posts and visits to The Wellynn Group web site. Thanks to all those who visited. If you’d like to connect in person, give us a call. We are friendly and don’t bite.

More to come in 2014!

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Memo to newspapers: shut up, already

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An obsolete distribution system.

I love newspapers as much as the next guy—in fact, probably more than the next guy. Most people don’t regularly read a newspaper; I get two thrown on my driveway every morning and still get a secret thrill taking them out of their plastic bag and unfolding them to reveal the headlines. I regularly visit a variety of newspaper web sites, and follow many journalists online and on social media.

One of the things you learn in reading newspapers and following journalists—besides current events—is that the newspaper business is terrible, horrible, lousy, bad, and just no good. Circulation is down, readership is down, editorial staffs are down, and advertising revenue is down. Journalists and photographers are underpaid, underappreciated, and treated shabbily by their rapacious corporate bosses. Even the physical size of papers is shrinking—fewer pages are printed and those pages are actually smaller than they used to be. The travails of the newspaper industry are a constant refrain—in newspapers.

But here’s the thing, dear newspapers: enough already. I know you care deeply about how awful the business is. I care too, both because I love newspapers and a vibrant, robust media is vital to our democracy. The problem is, most people don’t care. All those people who don’t read newspapers anymore? They have their own problems, and don’t care about how badly you’re being treated or how wonderful things were before the Internet. News flash: nobody’s going to stop using the Internet.

The newspaper industry desperately needs a new narrative—one that can emphasize its role in democracy, its role in checking the abuse of political or corporate power, its commitment to bettering society.

What the industry does not need is its pathological obsession with an obsolete distribution system. I wish I knew what the new model should be. All I know is, while we still need news, we just don’t need paper.

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The Gettysburg Powerpoint

Here at The Wellynn Group, we are big fans of Abraham Lincoln. Since today is the 150th anniversary of The Gettysburg Address–the greatest speech in American history–we thought we would share this classic version of the Address, developed by Peter Norvig, a renowned computer scientist. At the time he developed this, Mr. Norvig was working at NASA; today he is Director of Research for Google.

The Gettysburg Address Powerpoint

Norvig captures perfectly the inanity of most Powerpoint presentations, and demonstrates that oftentimes the use of  technology merely covers up the fact that the speaker really doesn’t have much of interest to say. Admit it: don’t your eyes (and your mind) tend to glaze over the moment someone says “I have a PowerPoint…?”

All President Lincoln had were words–and just 272 of them–and his voice. No design templates, no Helvetica font, no Excel spreadsheets with numbers so tiny no one can see them. No fumbling around with a remote or a laser pointer.  And here we are 150 years later, still reading them, analyzing them, debating them.

We’d say he got the point across with tremendous power.

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I Feel You

Scrape away all the market research, product development, advertising, social media, and big data mining, and successful marketing boils down to this: empathy—the ability to understand and respond to the feelings of others.

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A dark stain in American history, or a badge of honor?

Empathy is why Kodak didn’t sell film, it sold “moments” (back when it sold anything), or why Apple—which did not invent the computer, the mp3 player, or the cell phone—sells tens of millions of each by understanding how people feel about great design and the desire for the next cool gadget.

A business that does not see things from customers’ points of view, or that can’t articulate customers’ needs or problems—and solve them—will not be in business very long. The need for empathy extends not only to a company’s customers, but to all of its stakeholders: employees, local communities, and elected officials, just to name a few. The challenge for businesses is this–needs change over time and the point of view of one stakeholder group can sometimes conflict with the needs of another.

Which brings us to a certain professional football team based in Washington, DC with a name that to some recalls a dark stain in American history and to others recalls proud tradition and a “badge of honor,” according to team owner Daniel Snyder.  Certainly 80 years with a team name does represent tradition, but professional sports teams change names (and cities) all the time and the turnstiles keep turning. In fact, the Washington football team used to represent Boston and used to be called the Braves. New traditions replace old traditions.

On the other hand, words change their meaning over time, and words that were once considered innocuous are rightly shunned today. During World War II, American newspaper headlines routinely declared what the “Japs” were up to. Just a few decades ago, “mongoloid” was commonly used to identify people with Down Syndrome.  Efforts to discourage the use of “retard” are still underway.  In this context, it seems silly, at best, to watch Daniel Snyder twist himself into knots defending a word that was originally conceived for the sole purpose of dehumanizing Native Americans.

A little empathy is in order. It’s time for Washington to pick a new name. Perhaps Mr. Snyder and the NFL can ameliorate the end of one tradition with the mountains of cash generated through new merchandise sales and marketing opportunities. Everyone understands that point of view.

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Thanks for Not Sharing

In the age of sharing, sometimes it’s better if you keep your mouth shut.

That’s the lesson for Barilla Pasta CEO Guido Barilla, who for some reason felt compelled to let the world know that his pasta is for straight families only, and not gay families.

I’m still trying to figure out how this has anything to do with pasta one way or the other, but whatever.

The lesson here is two-fold:

  • News travels fast. Within hours, Mr. Barilla’s comments had ricochet around the world and the predictable backlash started immediately. Not only did gay rights activists call for a boycott of Barilla products, but other pasta makers like Bertolli quickly devised gay-friendly ads and social media messages. Barilla will undoubtedly survive, but this wound was completely self-inflicted.
  • CEOs are entitled to their opinions like anyone else, but it is possible to answer potentially controversial questions with a little diplomacy that allows one to not trash other people while not betraying one’s own personal values.  Who’s the PR person who sent Guido into this trap? (not me!)

Mr. Barilla was asked why his advertising did not feature “gay families.” Here are a couple of acceptable responses:

  • “They don’t? I’ll need to check into that. We want everyone to enjoy our pasta!”
  • “I leave those decisions to my marketing team. I want everyone to enjoy our pasta.”
  • “My job as CEO is to make sure we make the best pasta available. Did I mention how much I want everyone to enjoy our pasta?”

And here’s the final point: just because you’re an expert in one area—like running a pasta company—doesn’t mean you’re an expert in anything else or that the world needs to know your opinion about anything else.

A little humility can go a long way. So can a little silence.

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Obamacare: Marketing Malpractice

President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law on March 23, 2010. That’s 1,288 days between the law’s enactment and it’s main effective date, October 1, 2013. In that time period the law has been upheld by the Supreme Court, President Obama was re-elected running (in part) on the law’s passage, and the House of Representative’s voted 42 times to repeal the law.

What didn’t happen in those 1,288 days was any coherent effort by the Obama Administration to promote the law, build awareness of its various provisions and deadlines, or explain its benefits. Oh, sure, various Administration officials have appeared on Sunday morning talk shows over the last three years to explain or defend the law. That might be helpful for the nation’s pundit class, but most Americans don’t watch these programs and couldn’t be bothered about the political battles over a law that hadn’t even taken effect yet.

What Obamacare needed (and still needs) was a full-scale marketing and branding campaign, similar to any new product launch by a company. Advertisements explaining the law should have been as ubiquitous as McDonalds (“Obamacare: I’m Lovin’ It!” or maybe “Obamacare: the ultimate health insurance machine”). A hundred million dollars a year in advertising and branding (chump change for government spending) would have gone a long way toward creating awareness and support for the law.

The absence of positive messaging about Obamacare also demonstrates a truism about communications and marketing: if you aren’t telling your story, someone else is telling it for you. In this case, those who oppose the law have been aggressively “explaining” to the American public why it’s such a bad idea for people to have health insurance. It may not make sense, but it’s been effective and is one of the reasons why the Republicans feel emboldened enough to shut down the federal government completely.

Marketing Obamacare: it should have been what the doctor ordered.

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Online Targeted Advertising Still Isn’t Very Good

In theory, one of the benefits of the Internet for businesses is the ability to precisely target potential customers based upon the personal details we so willingly hand over on sites like Facebook, along with online tracking of the sites we visit and the products we search out. For an exercise in just how creepy this capability is, spend a few minutes looking up a product on Amazon or Ebay. Don’t buy anything, but just wait about half an hour before you go online again. There’s a very high likelihood that advertisements for whatever product you were searching for will show up on many web sites you visit.

In practice, however, this target advertising doesn’t work very well and still produces wasted marketing dollars for businesses. Let me give two examples:

  • A few days ago, my daughter asked me to look at a variety of backpacks she was thinking of purchasing online. I quickly looked at four or five different links and provided my fatherly advise. Now almost every Internet site I visit today is populated with ads for backpacks. But I’m not interested in buying a backpack.
  • Earlier this year, I purchased a  percussion instrument for a drummer friend of mine. For weeks after the purchase, ads for the instrument appeared on virtually every web site I visited. But, again, the purchase decision had been made and completed long before (and by the way, I bought the item at my local music shop, not online). I don’t play percussion.
  • Last year, I purchased a piece of exercise equipment for my high school son. I researched the item online and ended up buying it on Amazon. Once again, for weeks, ads for the exact same item populated the web sites I visited. Hey, I already bought the thing–I don’t need any more!

These “targeted” ads are not so targeted. In each case they are promoting something I either don’t want or already purchased and don’t need any more of. For me, it’s a minor annoyance (and a reminder of the death of personal privacy in the Internet age).

For businesses, it’s wasted marketing dollars.

 

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So Much for Experts

Wall Street analysts are supposed to know what they are talking about. They are experts, right? Billions of dollars move on their say so, which is why Apple stock took a pounding right after Tim Cook unveiled the new iPhone 5S and 5C a couple of weeks ago. “Too expensive,” they said. “Not innovative enough,” they said. “Apple is over,” they said.

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The very first Apple Computer logo.

Guess nobody told the folks at Apple or the nine million people who bought the 5S and 5C over the weekend, making it the one of the most successful iPhone launch in Apple’s history. One analyst admitted that the actual sales were 50 percent higher than what he had predicted. Some models are sold out.

Oh, and by the way, 200 million Apple devices have downloaded the iOS7 operating system, making it the fastest software upgrade in history. And 11 million people are using the new iTunes radio–a service that went live less than a week ago.

So it’s been a good week for Apple and a bad week for people who are supposed to be experts about Apple stock. The lesson here is not to stop listening to so-called experts (you wouldn’t expect a consultant to advise that!). The lesson–which Apple has illustrated perfectly for years–is to have a clear vision for your product or service and to do a great job understanding your relationship to your customers.

Wall Street analysts do a great job of understanding stocks and how to advise people on their purchase and sale. As their predictions about the iPhone 5S and 5C prove, they are are a little weak on understanding the relationship Apple has with its customers.

 

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