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Print Mailers Must Have A Coupon: 7 Lessons in Marketing, Management and Life

Not everything can be a longish blog so here are a few assorted ideas collected over the past few days and the experiences that prompted them:
1) Print mailers must have a coupon. Don't waste money sending "awareness" flyers. If you're good you can do both. Example: Sephora @ JC Penney sends a mailer telling me about 30 different kinds of lip gloss. No coupon. Disregard. Payless sends a mailer with a coupon for 20% off. Better, but Payless still seems low-class. Hold because perhaps they have a good throwaway shoe for work. Bed Bath & Beyond sends enormous purple coupons always with a coupon attached. Best, because it brands them as a cool place to go and I have a reason to go there.
2) Always question the process. This week we ended up in the emergency room due to a home repair screwup. During which we decided that if a little Drano is good, a lot must be better. (See "When The Solution Is Worse Than The Problem.") Sitting in the ER at 3 a.m. watching my husband hooked up to a very scary gizmo washing chemical fluid out of his eyeballs, I said to myself, next time I will ask more questions, such as: Is it really a good idea to stand over a toilet near overflowing with septic tank treatment solution, with a coat hanger, trying to find the clog? 
3) Use people's names. Last night I had a discussion with my daughter about email. Are you supposed to use the person's name when starting the email, as in: "Jane, what is on your plate today?" I said, "I just like to start the email without the name." She said, "I learned just the opposite in communication class." I remembered hearing that people find the sound of their own name the "sweetest sound in the world." It seems to me that using names is a good idea. If you forget people's names like I do, just ask.
4) Everybody is interesting somehow. In this same conversation (#3) I admitted to my daughter that I find it difficult to listen to other people talking. She asked me why. I said, "Because often what they have to say is boring." She said, "Everybody is interesting if you listen hard enough. Everybody has a story." I realized that she was right. The issue is that you have to get past the phony stuff and talk about things that are real. Of course the skill is in doing that in ways that are useful and appropriate for the situation, and also diplomatic.
5) Not everybody means well. I have a tough time wrapping my brain around this unavoidable fact, but it must be confronted: Some people are just plain bad. And to make matters worse they can be tricky in their badness. Just as it's biased to believe that people are naturally evil (as some people do think), it's also biased to think they are naturally good. You may not be able to tell good from bad in any given situation but at least recognize that you probably have a bias.
6) You can help other people do things you'll never master. One of my roommates many years ago was a marriage counselor in the process of getting a divorce. It may be hard to understand how she could not master the skill of marriage herself yet could help other people do so. But she could. Similarly I find that there are aspects of religion I rejected a long time ago. But I teach them to my daughters and they seems to find it helpful to at least know what Judaism actually says as opposed to what they hear from other people who did not have the benefit of a yeshiva education.
7) Listening to unpopular views makes you smarter. The other day on Quora I read a question about the status of the State of Israel in Jewish law. The tone of the question was somewhat anti-Semitic, e.g. aren't there Jewish people who think that Israel is an illegal state? But I took the time to read the answer because the commenter seemed to be providing a neutral, usable answer. Indeed I got a whole mini-dissertation on the parallels between rabbinic law and American law, and the basis for determining legality and illegality in both systems, and so on. In the process a lot of misperceptions and ideas that had bugged me for a while were addressed. I felt like I learned something not just about Israel but about jurisprudence. But I had to overcome an emotional block against the question itself in order to do so, because it was offensive to me.

Communicators: Know When To Shut Up

"Big Mouth" by Hiba Tim via (Creative Commons)

One of the more annoying things communicators tend to say is:

"If Only I Had A Seat At The Table."

Loosely translated this means something like--
  • "I am so smart about communication things..." (because I've written about fifty thousand factsheets)
  • "I know so much about how people RELATE to one another..." (based on instinct, opinion and the latest survey results from the Partnership for Public Service published in Federal Times)
  • "If only the bosses would LISTEN to me..." (wah, wah)
I've heard communicators make this complaint in person, on the Internet, and in numerous books. And I honestly can't understand the dire need communicators have to tell businesspeople what to do.

Lawyers don't tell businesspeople what to do. They simply offer advice. Because lawyers know:

Specialists know their specialty.

Communicators know communication.

Businesspeople know the business.

Now before you jump down my throat and say I've betrayed the communication's blue wall of silence consider this:

Even if you have the know-how -- do you have the stomach to run a business?
  • Will your family tolerate you up at 3 a.m. checking on the state of the servers?
  • Are you capable of hiring people you don't like, and firing people that you do, just for the sake of productivity?
  • Could you handle your face on the cover of Fast Company with a headline like "What Went Wrong With Company X?"
If your honest answer is "yes, I do want to run the business" then you probably should be running one -- rather than serving as its communicator.

If however you understand that your place is to support those who do run the business, then you have to let them run it -- without second-guessing everything they do.

While it's true that businesspeople frequently don't understand the HOW of communication, they do respect its importance and specialization as a field.

It's important that communicators mutually respect that businesspeople know their subject matter.

And then stick to their knitting.

Reebok's Brand Confusion

Saw these two in-store signs promoting Reebok. Different tag lines. No consistency of theme. What makes this brand a brand?

They would be better off appealing to the anti-Nike crowd, focusing on women perhaps, those of us who exercise for health -- with zero hope of ever looking like an athlete.

Remember Wendy from Snapple? She would be a good spokesperson and that would be a great co-brand.

The general principle though is -- mixed messages cancel each other out and neutralize brand equity.

Who Do You Think You're Fooling? (A Meditation On Authenticity)

Image via

 If you mean well, or if you are hateful.

If you're a liar. Or tell the truth.

If you have integrity -- or throw your team under the bus.

Can you be counted on when the chips are down? Or are you a self-promotional phony?

Is your wisdom real? Or did you make it up?

People, like dogs, can tell from your aura.

And they will treat you the same way in kind.

Why Jones Soda Is My Soda

Tastes great - and it says it's "my brand." They'll post a photo on their label if I send it in. The URL is

Love it!

10 Gen X Attitudes About Leadership, As Seen On TV

I notice there's a certain type of show I like: "Olympus Has Fallen," "Red Dawn," "Die Hard," "Homeland," "24," and "The Walking Dead." I'm a Generation Xer.

Each of these shows has a totally different plot. But they all seem to say the same things about leadership from a Gen X perspective. Here's how the leaders in these stories think, and what they seem to believe:

1) Freedom is the goal - this is the highest goal - we don't dictate to others and we don't let others dictate to us.

2) Bureaucracy hurts - the rules are getting in the way, they slow the response time so much that the response is ineffective.

3) Nobody understands - I get the danger, but others do not - and I will have to live with that.

4) Extreme self-sacrifice - the risks are so great and the odds are so against us, that I will likely die or be severely harmed to save everybody else. I am the only one who can fix it.

5) Likelihood of punishment or at most no credit - the best that can happen is that nobody knows you did anything at all. 

6) Anti-authoritarianism - the adults in the room are so messed-up, the best you can do is get them out of the way.

7) Results orientation - it is about getting the job done, not the process and not the team. "Whatever works."

8) Family is made, not born - it's not about blood ties but about who we choose for our circle, and we have a fierce and lifelong allegiance to them.

9) Protect the children - they are the innocent ones, it is our job to make the world safe for them and their future. They should never have to suffer.

10) Expose the truth - the real enemy is not a person but the lies a person tells and the evil they do in secret. Expose them for what they are, and the rest will fall into place. 

Is Spin Inevitable?

While it is impossible to eliminate spin, we can take steps to minimize its likelihood.
The reason spin is inevitable is that people (being what they are) will always try to game the system. Personal preferences, power games, cultural styles and even technology literacy all get in the way of the end goal - pure transparency.
In addition, there is no getting away from the human bias on how pure data is presented. So the data itself is always suspect:
  1. Someone has to put the data into a format so that people can use it. That container is going to influence the way the data is perceived.
  2. "History is written by the winners." That's because there is no such thing as objective history, only the perspective of one party or another. 
  3. Any phenomenon can be observed completely differently depending on whether you are looking through a historical, sociological, biological, religious, Western/Eastern, economic etc. lens.
  4. Relying on science is not an escape. Academics have a field day taking apart the methodology used to provide data. The fact that methodology is so easily manipulated is why I don't trust quantitative studies AT ALL unless they are cross-correlated with qualitative work.
So is truth possible? Because if it is NOT possible then spin is inevitable as part of any attempt to communicate. Which is why I say:
If data is inevitably presented in a biased way, narrative will always be worse. 
Narrative itself entraps us in spin. 
How then can we talk about anything? Perhaps conversation itself is a waste of time, because it's all biased.
No - we can instead put biases in conversation with each other.
Methodologically, this involves a balanced approach to data - quantitative and qualitative.
Communication-wise, this involves interaction - or social media.
The concept of "big data" is that we draw from the well of ALL available numbers, all available data, all available studies - and look for overarching trends.
But you can't get to "big data" unless you have data sets to begin with.
Data sets can be drawn from narrative (e.g. content analysis of what organizations say about their programs in their annual reports), from survey results (customer feedback on performance), to qualitative data (interviews, focus groups where questions are standardized), ethnography (journal notes), and even data collected without human intervention - such as computerized collection of information like call wait times.
What I am arguing is:
We need more data, not less.
The taxpayer owns the data.
We should make it available raw.

*As always all opinions are my own.