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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The Etiquette of 9/11 Marketing

With the anniversary of September 11, 2001 upon the nation once again, it is interesting to see how commemorations of the tragedy have evolved. The intervening years seem to have softened, somewhat, the intensity of national emotion and  even the amount of organized and institutional attention devoted to the attacks. Still, social media is flooded with users’ thoughts, prayers, and images.

Within this environment, many businesses have also recognized–sometimes at considerable advertising cost–the events of 9/11/01. Most of them have, very appropriately, limited their statements to expressions of sorrow, remembrance, and appreciation for first responders and the nation’s military men and women whose sacrifices today are directly related to what happened on that September morning 12 years ago.

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Wrong on so many levels.

This shouldn’t be a difficult communications or branding assignment for a business. Yet, incredibly, a number of otherwise sophisticated corporations (like AT&T, right), have fallen flat on their faces.

In the interest of helping out any dim-witted corporations out there, here’s an easy guide:

  • ACCEPTABLE 9/11 RECOGNITIONS: Those that acknowledge lives lost, sacrifices made, and the service of first responders and the military. Additional messages about the desirability of peace are acceptable. Graphics should be simple, tasteful, and respectful. Using the company logo is OK, but drop any tag line that could be misconstrued (can you imagine: “McDonalds Remembers 9/11. ‘I’m Lovin’ It'”).
  • UNACCEPTABLE 9/11 RECOGNITIONS: Anything that explicitly or implicitly promotes your product or service, or suggests that people spend money as way of honoring the lives lost on that day.
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Um…no.

This offer from a golf club in Wisconsin is an example of what not to do. They subsequently apologized, but, honestly, what were they thinking?

The United States is still working through the implications and consequences of 9/11. It will be fascinating to see how the nation marks the anniversary in 25 or 50 years. Businesses would be well-advised to focus their marketing efforts on September 12 and beyond.

 

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The Wellynn Group Once Again Named One of Philly’s Top Branding, Marketing, and Media Services Firms

1012994_10151496118648994_649109056_nIn its August 30 edition, the Philadelphia Business Journal has included The Wellynn Group as one of the Philadelphia region’s top branding, marketing, and media services firms for 2013. This is the second year in a row The Wellynn Group has been included in the list. Thanks and great appreciation go to TWG clients for this recognition!

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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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Past Performance Does Not Assure Future Success

Here’s an interesting column by Joe Nocera in the New York Times about what happened to Blackberry. In short: a company and product that was once on top is now probably out of business because it failed to appreciate and respond to a rapidly shifting competitive environment. Companies might stumble for any number of reasons–an economic downturn, a change in leadership–but the failure to understand the needs of your target customers is a death sentence. Good planning and marketing by a company includes taking a dispassionate approach to one’s own business and honestly assessing what you do and how you do it. Falling in love with your own product never works in the long term. Constant change is required, because the needs of your stakeholders are constantly changing.

I wonder what the leaders at Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, or other industry leaders think about when they read the cautionary tale of Research in Motion and the Blackberry. “This couldn’t possibly happen to us.”

Really?

 

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