Thursday, December 24, 2009

Things I learned this week about Christmas

I learned:
• The bible doesn't mention a specific date for Jesus' birth. In the fourth century, when the Catholic Church decided to recognize it as an official holiday, Pope Julius I chose December 25th for the "Feast of the Nativity."

• The U.S. was almost a century old before Congress proclaimed Christmas to be a federal holiday.

• In Puritan New England of the 17th century, you could be fined five shillings for celebrating Christmas.

• Santa Claus' name is derived from that of a real Saint Nicholas, who lived in the 4th century in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). Legends speak of his generosity, and his ability to perform miracles of gift-giving.

• At one time or another, Saint Nicholas has been the patron saint of Russia, Greece, children, sailors, prisoners, bakers, pawnbrokers, shopkeepers and wolves.

• The modern Christmas tree tradition came from medieval Germany where it was called a paradise tree, and was decorated with apples and cookies. These cookies led eventually to the tradition of cookies and milk being left out for Santa.

• The notion of Saint Nick flying through the sky in a sleigh first appeared in an 1819 short story by Washington Irving.

• Santa's reindeer first showed up four years later in Clement C. Moore's account of A Visit from St. Nicholas.

• Rudolph the red nosed reindeer was created in 1939 by an advertising copywriter for the Montgomery Ward department store.
Well, that's it for now. Geezer is booking off for the Holidays. I'll be back in the new year from my winter hideout in beautiful Venice, Florida, where there are no snowdrifts and the Margaritas are always in season.

Very best wishes for happy times with your own family and friends at this special time of the year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The pweor of the hmuan mnid

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Globalizing his face

Continuing with our "bigness" theme, today we feature the largest portrait in the world. It was actually drawn on the world by shipping a GPS unit around the globe using very precise directions. Next time you have a parcel go astray, show them this video.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A journey to Brobdingnag

Fortunately, when excess leaves you wanting, you can still colossalize your ...

Cruise Ship: Oasis of the Seas, recently launched, is seven times the size of the Titanic, has seven on-board neighbourhoods, and carries 5,400 passengers who will gain a total of 35,000 pounds during their cruise. "Doggy bag, dahling?"

Pickup Truck: When the 22-foot, 5-ton International CXT (left) pulls up, Hummers slink away in embarrassment. "Darlin, have you got a coupla hundred bucks? I just need to top up the tank."

Airplane: You think that new Airbus is big? Pffft. With a maximum takeoff weight of 1,323,000 lb., the Russian Antonov 225 can haul 150-ton generators and locomotives without breaking a sweat. The world supply of kerosene drops by 20% every time they fuel this thing up. "Dahling, let's just fly Capri over here this year."

Yacht: Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai owns the world's biggest yacht (above), but not for long. Russian gazillionaire Roman Abramovich will take delivery of the 560-foot Eclipse in 2010, which will up the ante by 36 ft. "Dahling, have you spotted any of our guests this week?"

House: Currently under construction for India's richest man, this 27-storey home (below) in Mumbai is costing more than $1 billion, and features a seamless, vertical garden. "Dahling, have you seen my glasses anywhere?"

Friday, December 18, 2009

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
•There is a mini-trend to naming kids after cars and trucks. Among the faves --- Mercedes, Lexus, Dakota, Sierra and Shelby. What, no Bimmers?

•The latest threat to the Great Lakes is the Asian carp, which are coming up the Mississippi and entering the lakes. Problem is they eat the plankton needed to support native game fish like trout and salmon. The U.S. Senate is legislating, and state officials are poisoning canals and demanding closure of waterways used by the carp to get to their new feeding grounds.

•The next big idea in the sports world is (ba-da-bing) the Lingerie Football League. Yep, pretty much what the name implies --- nubile nymphettes in their unmentionables playing four-down football. Oskie Wee Wee!

•A British government document advising officials on how to keep documents from leaking to the Internet was leaked on the Internet.

•The hot new amusement arcade game Whack A Banker is hugely popular in England. For the equivalent of 65 cents, you get to hit as many bankers as you can in 30 seconds as their heads pop up.

•Hooters is not the best place to take a busload of schoolkids for lunch when on an outing.
Life is a cabaret.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

So you think you can dance?

She is 92. He is her 29 year old grandson. You will be amazed. Watch it to the end for the really hot stuff.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Geography of a Recession

A fascinating video map showing the impact of the recession on U.S. employment, from the downturn's January, 2007, inception to October this year. No further comment required.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Don't get caught sitting on your business model

It's hard to stop doing something that makes money, until it doesn't, and then it's usually too late. Three examples:
Blockbusters had its sector's dominant brand, and a stranglehold on the video business, but was slow to transition from the old "come and get it" model to new distribution methods. While the former champ closes 960 stores this year, innovators like Netflix are taking large bites out of the video pie, as are video-on-demand services from the cable and satellite TV outfits, and websites like YouTube and Hulu. The company has been producing losses for more than a year ($116.8 million in the most recent quarter), and survival is questionable.

America Online was the 300-pound gorilla of the internet in the 1990s, appealing to technologically-challenged users with a simplified interface, incessantly mailing its ubiquitous CD-ROM discs to all corners of the free world, and charging premium prices for what was little more than internet access and an e-mail account. Of course, the internet got simpler and cheaper, thanks to better browsers, search engines, and high-speed connections, and users got savvy. An opportunity to leverage a famous brand was squandered by complacency and the diversion of management attention by the ill-advised Time Warner marriage. The divorce was announced last week amid estimates that AOL's worth is just 1% of its peak value.

The recording industry ruled the distribution of music for a century. Then the internet and the iPod changed everything. The record companies fought a prolonged rear guard action against downloading, eroding goodwill by suing 13-year-olds for exhorbitant sums and bullying everyone within shouting distance. Instead of having their legal departments bat leadoff, they should have been acquiring or emulating the Napsters that were stealing their lunch. Having failed to understand that consumers were now calling the shots, and that the $25 album con was over, they were "rescued" by Steve Jobs, and forced to let him sell songs for 99 cents.
There are lots of other examples of industrial dinosaurs stuck in the tar ponds of business models that no longer work. When you are king of the hill, it's hard to see the need to change.

It gradually dawns on executives and directors that they have people with the wrong skills doing the wrong things with expensive equipment and facilities that are unsuitable for the activities now required for survival. There is widespread nostalgia for some of these businesses, such as newspapers, but their demise is certain, nonetheless.

Finally, panic depresses creativity, so breakthrough thinking is unlikely as the full horror of the situation is recognized.

Creative destruction is a wondrous, or fearsome thing, depending on whether you are the destroyer or the destroyed.

Change is hard. Death is worse.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• The Davie Brown Index measures the public appeal of individual celebrities. It's used by ad agencies and the like in their search for spokespersons, endorsements, etc. Tiger Woods recently dropped from 6th to 24th in the DBI rankings.

• My old, cracked, recycling bin is not recyclable.

• Meccano, the maker of my old school (1950s) erector set is still around, and is now making Spykee the spy robot, proving that the toy store is good place to track changing social mores.

• The total combined weight of the world's ant population is heavier than the weight of the human population.

• The internet could be responsible for as much as 2 per cent of all human-made CO2 emissions, putting it on a par with the aviation industry.

• Buckwheat isn't wheat. It isn't even a cereal grain. It is a fruit seed related to rhubarb.

• The largest living organism on earth makes its home in the Malheur National Forest in eastern Oregon. It is a fungus living three feet underground, and is estimated to cover 2,200 acres.
How about that?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why Santa’s Marketing Works Better Than Yours!

Good advice from the big guy in the red suit, republished with permission from

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Santa Claus Inc. is well and profitable, right through recessions, depressions and just about any economic scenario. The reason why his marketing strategies work better than yours, is because he uses solid, dyed-in-the-wool psychology. He knows he doesn’t have to use new fangled techniques, when his simple marketing has stood the test of time.

If you don’t believe in Santa, you’d better change your mind, because the fat man from the north pole rocks on and you too can do the same if you stick to the basics. Find out if your product or service matches up by reading the article below.

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle All the Way…
If you go to the heart of Santa’s marketing, the one word you come away with is ‘consistency’. Generation after generation have been exposed to one brand, one message, and the same powerful imagery.

Just like Mercedes own the term ‘luxury’ and Volvo owns the term ’safety’, Santa owns the word ‘hope’. Every kid worth his Nintendo, hopes he’s got enough points on the goodness scale to justify a mountain of gifts.

Yet, most companies get tired of their own brand. They chop, change and pour thousands (if not millions) of dollars into a bottomless pit of mindless change. Take a look at McDonald’s advertising, for instance. McDonald’s own the word family outing yet their ads have been straying down the teenager path.

Does It Make Sense To Consistently Occupy One Niche?

You bet it does! Families go out with their kids to McDonalds. These kids sprout into budget-conscious teenagers that hang out at McDonalds. They have kids and grandkids and guess where they all end up. At the big yellow ‘M’, that’s where!

Santa doesn’t waver. His customers are kids. Like several marketers, he might have been sorely tempted to enter the gift market. With bad advice, he would have tried to get to teenagers, adults and everyone. Can you see the magic still working? Even the tiniest of niches is huge and niches have a way of expanding by themselves.

At the end of the day, it’s the consistency that takes the jingle all the way to the bank. Too many companies lose focus and give you seven reasons why you should buy from them. Santa sticks to one: Be a ‘good’ kid or you can keep hoping!

You Can Spot Him in the Middle of a Crowded Sky

Do you know anyone who comes to visit on a sleigh in the middle of the night? With reindeer and gifts? The reason why Santa stands out so vividly in our memories is because he’s different. The postman does the same thing, but leaves without the flourish.

It’s Really Important To Work Out How Your Marketing Message Differs
Santa’s core marketing term is not built solely on consistent branding but also on a very hard-nosed differentiation. Too much communication out there fits in with what’s safe. Customers have just one slot in their mind. You have to enter that slot at such an obtuse angle that they remember you for life.

Rose Richards runs Office Doctor. What sets her apart from all the rest of the administration crowd is the term, "Small business pain relief". Can you imagine your reaction when you hear something like that?

The human mind is intensely curious and a marketing statement like that is pure bait. You want to know what pain relief she brings and how she goes about it-specially if you’re the one in pain. That’s only half the story. The construction of the message elevates her from simple number crunching to brain surgery and makes her unique.

If you want differentiation you need look no further than the guiding light of Santa’s sleigh – Rudolph, with his shiny nose. Can you even remember the names of the rest of the eight reindeer?

One very important point, however, is that the marketing message isn’t just different, but also customer-oriented. Rose takes the clutter out of administration and Rudolph provides a beacon for clearer navigation.

If you don’t have a benefit for the customer, just being different is going to get you nowhere.

Give and You Shall Receive

How many of you are out there networking like crazy? Trying desperately to fill in your steadily depleting bank reserves? You want, want, want! Take a look at Santa’s style.

He’s into giving first. If you probe deep into your mind, you’ll find the people you like best are those who have given you their time, their money or their knowledge. You trust them, and it’s very hard to say no when they ask you for a favour in return.

The deepest core of human emotions is fear. Every single product or service, without exception, is sold on the basis of a problem. The only known antidote to fear is TRUST. When trusts struts upwards, fear banishes itself to penguin land. The more you pile up the trust, the more you can do business.

Wouldn’t Santa be able to sell you just about anything? Would he be able to cross-sell and up-sell product? Santa could knock on your door next summer and you’d be more than happy to have him join your barbeque.

It’s up to you to build up the trust one Lego block at a time. Identify your clients and see what you can give them. It could be information, time or even a chocolate covered scrumptious cookie. It’s the old ‘What’s in it for me?’ theory. If you can’t find something calorie-ridden for their minds or bodies, they won’t want to see you.

Play Santa. It works.
He Knows if You’ve Been Bad or Good…

Heck Santa knows his customers. He even knows when you are sleeping, or awake.

Then, there’s you. Look at your biggest customer. What’s her name? When is her birthday? Does she like Indian curries or sushi? In curries can she handle hot or medium? What does she think about you? What doesn’t she like?

You’re guessing for sure. You can’t be dead certain because you’ve been so busy looking at dollar signs that you’ve missed the plot completely.

The reason why Santa’s marketing works is because he intimately knows your individual needs. If you want a drum kit, you get one. If you want a Barbie, you don’t wind up sulking with a xylophone.

Santa knows because he’s interested in giving. To give, you have to know exactly what the receiver wants or your gift is not worth the packaging it’s wrapped in.

Some people worry about invading personal privacy. Hogwash! When was the last time you got upset because a supplier turned up with a big chocolate cake (your favourite) for your birthday? or with rare stamps for your son (because he loves collecting stamps)?

Santa’s invades our privacy gently and uses it to give, not to take. That’s why we don’t mind it. The tax department on the other hand, uses our information to take, and therein lies the principal difference.

Once a Customer, Always a Customer.

Santa doesn’t lose customers. Period.
One of the primary reasons why he’s able to achieve this amazing feat is because he thinks of his customer’s customer. His customer is the kid, who in a few years gets a little wiser about Santa and his customer’s customer is the parent who has the amazing power to get their children to be nice not naughty, if only for a short while.

Since the concept works in their favour, they do all the advertising. Without TV, radio or the internet, Santa’s message gets a grip on millions of kids around the planet. These kids grow up and the marvel of Santa is handed down through the generations.

While it’s OK for Santa, how would this work in the real world?

Jeans West, a jean retailer, has several of the answers. I needed one pair, but Stephanie (the sales girl) sold me two–not by hassling me, but by gently reminding me I would get $20 off the second pair.

Then, with my purchase, she gave me a gift voucher of $10, for my use or to pass on. They, also signed me up for a loyalty program that offered to give me a 10% discount if I purchased over $250 worth of product in the next 6 months.

This Is Effectively What Jeans West Did to Make Me a Permanent Customer.

Step 1: The sales person asked the right questions to find out my need.
Step 2: She up-sold the product giving me good value for money.
Step 3: A gift voucher with a validity date, ensured an additional purchase. Or even better, the chance for me to pass it on to another person thus ‘creating a customer’ for Jeans West.
Step 4: Tying my fickle consumer head into a loyalty scheme. They wanted me to stay with them forever.

Santa’s steps may vary, but in essence he ties you into a solid loyalty program that is near impossible to get off. It’s ‘customer get customer’, rather than ‘advertising get customer.’ It’s cheaper and it works!

In conclusion here are the main points why Santa’s customers keeps coming back. These concepts may sound old, even trite, but have been proven time after time to work well. Test them against your company and brand to see where you can learn from the man from the North Pole.

1) Solid branding: We’re not talking lease here. Consistency is the key. This applies everywhere from networking meetings, advertising to any sort of communication that goes out. Keep hammering home the same unique message and put it up front. The weather changes all the time which is why we can’t trust it.

If you must change, it’s because your old message isn’t doing a complete job. I changed our first baseline from ‘Recession proof business principles’ to ‘Reactivating dormant business clients.’
The proposition was the same but the second line got 10 times the response.

2) Differentiation: Santa knows he can be a courier with a difference. You, too, can create your own legend. Nike used Just Do It. Coke threw in the concept, Rum and Coke, indelibly burning the word classic into our consciousness. Sameness is in your mind. No matter how many brands exist on the market, your product has a fingerprint of its own. You just have to dig deep to find out.

3) Build trust by giving first. Life is all about sowing, then reaping-but sowing comes first. If you don’t give first, you will only get limited results. The more you stop thinking of yourself and focus on what the customer needs instead, the more you are trusted. Business is all about trust. If you don’t have it, you’re yesterday’s soup.

4) Know your customer… Like you know the hair on your head. Data collection and its optimum usage will get you right into their minds and keep you permanently rooted in. Every time they see you, they should think you are Santa coming to town.

5) Reactivate dormant clients. They are all volcanoes. Sitting there with the power to erupt mightily. Figure out who they are and how you can work in tandem with them. Forget your product or service. That’s a given– It has to be good. Find out the ‘everything else’ factor and you will keep them for life.

Like Santa does…

Next Step: If you haven’t already done so, collect your FREE Santas. There are lots of this lovable man from the North Pole. Click here to get Free Fun Santas

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Canada, the comedy

I once picked up an American hitchhiker heading home down that long, boring stretch of Highway 401 that runs through the flatlands to Windsor, Ontario, and the Ambassador Bridge to Detroit.

We talked about a lot of things, and at one point I asked him what Americans thought of Canadians. This is the eternal question asked by Canadians, who are often condescending toward their southern neighbours on issues like healthcare, while carefully avoiding doing anything that might give offence to them. A fine balance.

He thought for a moment before saying, "We think you all are a cute country." He went on to expand on that, and the gist of it was that Canada is a "nice" country with "nice" people, but not a serious player. At that time, it was also a pretty good place for U.S. draft-dodgers to avoid the Viet Nam war.

For my generation, WWII was recent history, and Canada had been a serious player in that conflict, punching well above its weight class. We'd also sent a substantial contingent to the fracas in Korea. We were proud of both. So "cute" was not in our self-definition.

In hindsight, I can now see that we are not a warrior people like the Yanks, who see themselves as the world's quick-draw sheriff. In the intervening years between Korea and Afghanistan, Canada earned a reputation for peace-keeping rather than peace-making. We can be proud of that, too.

But once in a while, something happens that shows the world we're still an adolescent country, trying to act grown-up but not quite having our act together.

Can you imagine a bunch of protesters climbing to the dome of the Capitol Building in Washington to hang banners on it? This past Monday, 20 Greenpeace activists hauled in ladders and climbing gear, then clambered to the roof of the Parliament Buildings, and rappelled down to mount banners that read "Stop the Tar Sands" and "Harper/Ignatieff: Climate Inaction Costs Lives."

In doing so, these guys confirmed that parliamentary security is a joke. It took two hours for authorities to remove the banners and arrest the protestors. Explanations were hard to find.

"We will conduct a thorough review of this occurrence to determine how this event took place," said the RCMP.

Isn't that what they said after a psycho with a knife walked into Chrétien's bedroom, the one wife Aline handled in the absence of the mounties? Another teenage moment.

Oh, my goodness, what will U.S. Homeland Security think now? Will we see some of those Predator drones straying a bit north of the border to take a peek at Ottawa?

And, finally, do Canadians care? Most will just shake their heads. It's only a big deal for the officials that get hauled up on the carpet. For the rest of us, it's no harm, no foul, and thanks for giving us a chuckle. Some citizens like to sit in the visitors gallery, and others like to get up on the roof. Chacun son goût.

I think that hitchhiker had us pegged.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Kenny's near-death experience

On the weekend, it looked like it was all over for Kenny, so we wrote the obituary:
All those who followed the courageous struggle of Kenny, the Kenmore washer, in his heroic fight to survive a debilitating Sears Canada service infection, will be saddened by the news of his untimely passing. Though initially misdiagnosed, and subsequently subjected to an exhausting course of treatment, his severe high-speed-spin allergy had appeared to be in remission. Sadly, Kenny experienced a relapse and finally succumbed at home on Sunday, December 6, while on the day's sixth load of laundry. Please send donations to the School for Appliance Repairmen in lieu of flowers. Services will be held at the Peel landfill.
But then, miraculously, at the mention of the word "landfill," Kenny decides spinning might be better than rusting away or being cannibalized for parts, and he has an amazing resurrection.

"Just taking a little break," he says. "Ready to go again."

So, he's back, but for how long? Trust has waned, and we will forever have an ear cocked for the distinctive sound of the high speed spin.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Blame Canadian bigfoot for global warming

Listening to Al Gore on Letterman the other night. The man is persuasive.

Most Canadians need a wake-up call on this climate change thing, and Al definitely gets you thinking.

Like many, I'd heard about this carbon footprint thing, but never really dug into it. I knew it was a measure of the amount of crap getting shot up into the atmosphere as a by-product of my so-called lifestyle. So, I gave this carbon footprint calculator a whirl.

I figured that my wife and I would be "better" than the average, what with her penchant for turning off lights, and my having programmed the thermostat to lower the overnight temperature. Also, I don't drive much, and take only a couple of airline flights each year, and our second car is a 4-cylinder, Japanese cute-ute that sips gasoline. Plus, we go south for most of the winter, and we rarely use air conditioning while there.

Big surprise.

We came in just a hair over the Canadian average of 20 tonnes of CO2 per year EACH, which is almost double the average for industrial nations, 5 times the worldwide average, and 10 times the target level for combatting climate change.

That's our report up there on the left (Click on it to zoom it up). As you can see, we're not treading lightly upon the earth.

[Note: If you're going to use this calculator, and have a gas furnace, you need to know that 1 cubic meter of natural gas = 0.36 therms]

Friday, December 4, 2009

1961: Pop pimps Peggy Sue

Oh, the challenges of parenting in the age of a thousand dances.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Consumer power shift

In pre-Facebook/Twitter/Blog/Epinions days, the consumer's power pretty much ended when she handed over her money.

Oh sure, she could bitch to her friends about how the product or service failed to live up to its advertising, and maybe write a letter to the manufacturer or the store if she was really steamed. But that was pretty much the extent of it. If she was really noisy, she could perhaps reach 20, or maybe even 30, people.

Today, a whole different deal.

Social media and customer review websites provide her with a megaphone to broadcast far beyond her immediate circle of acquaintances, and a way to check consumer ratings on every category of goods and services.

In a recent study examining the impact of consumer-generated, online reviews, people said the opinions of fellow consumers influenced them more than those of professionals, and that they would pay more for highly rated services. Another says that one negative comment on Twitter, Facebook or Youtube can cost a company 30 customers.

Smart retailers (e.g. Apple) are building the customer review process right into their online stores. Stupid companies are ignoring all this at their peril. At a minimum, they need to monitor customer sentiment and feed it back to decision makers.

If people can't find a way to complain to the company, they will complain to the world, so companies need to provide channels for problem resolution. Sure that costs money, but I'm guessing it's a whole lot less than the business lost as a result of negative word-of-mouth.

There is now a level playing field, not just because the consumer has a new arsenal of online weapons, but also because there has been a general erosion of corporate credibility by countless cases in which short-term gains trumped the best interests of customers.

You are your own consumer advocate.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Snub customers and pay the price

Twentieth century commerce was dominated by brand names.

Kraft, Sears, General Motors, Sony, Toyota, Coca-Cola, Tide. For consumers, those names were shorthand for quality, dependability, and service. It was not unusual for people to stick with a brand through their entire lifetimes, and often this brand loyalty was passed on to the next generation. There were Chevy families. Coke drinkers would never buy Pepsi.

Accountants call that "goodwill." It's that intangible extra value possessed by a company over and above its tangible assets like factories, trucks, and inventory.

Companies spend huge amounts of money over many years to establish their brands as trusted symbols of quality.

But brands cut both ways. Now, in the Walmartized 21st century, with customers demanding low prices and shareholders demanding higher profits, CEOs are taking the very actions that destroy those valuable brands.

Without telling us, they are putting more water in the bottle of lotion. They are reducing the amount of cereal in the box. They are shrinking the jar of peanut butter. They are using cheaper materials in appliances. They are outsourcing their service to subcontractors, and their help desks to India. They hope no one will notice, but we do.

Our anger is particularly venomous for the brands we trusted most, the ones we supported with our dollars over and over again. The ones we told our friends to buy. "It's the best," we said. "You won't be sorry."

We thought we had a deal with those companies. The deal was that we would pay a bit more, and they would continue to deliver consistent, higher quality than the so-called "off-brands."

Apparently, many of the companies decided to cancel the deal. We didn't get the memo.

When that happens, we stop being advocates for the brand, and become advocates against the brand. We say, "Remember when this company was the gold standard for quality?" and "You won't believe what these guys did to me!" It comes up in those everyday conversations over the backyard fence, at the hockey rink, on the 10th tee, on Twitter, on Facebook, and everywhere that people fill time with small talk.

Word of mouth, the most powerful marketing force ever. More powerful than all the ads and coupons and free samples and special sales and fancy displays and nifty packaging and discounts and celebrity endorsements and convincing sales pitches combined.

The brand's power begins to evaporate away, then it's gone in a rush. It's no longer the automatic choice. It's just another box on the shelf. We move on.

[Click here to read how Sears Canada destroyed its brand in our household]

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Workday 2009