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You Tube Makes Us More Human!

Google “Steven” and what do you get?  Well it is April 2010 and most of use might guess that Steven Seagul would be in the top 10 because of all the news reports about him in the past week.  Another guess would be Steven Spielberg.  But ahead of these two is Steven Johnson – the author.   The author of a book that shocked me out of my Pac-Man world.  The book is “Everything Bad Is Good For You“.

In this book Johnson says the following.  “Technology amplifies the Sleeper Curve in one final respect:  it introduces new platforms and genres at an accelerating rate.  We had thirty years to adapt to the new storytelling possibilities of cinema; then another twenty for radio; then twenty years of present-tense television.  And then the curve slants upward: five years to acclimate to the VCR and video games; the e-mail, on-line charts, DVDs, TiVo, the Web – all becoming staples of the pop culture diet in the space of a decade.”  (page 173)

When I re-read this the other day I asked, “What about YouTube?”  Why doesn’t he mention it?  Then I looked at when the book was printed – 2005.  YouTube.com was only activated in Februatry of 2005.   It had its official launch in November of 2005.   YouTube is now the third most visited website behind Google and Facebook.   I have clothes that are older than YouTube.   I  have adjusted to YouTube faster than I can adjust to changes in fashion.  Here is one of my favorite books, that in my mind I just recently read, and it is already out of date!

Why has YouTube caught on so fast and why will it stay?

YouTube is here to stay because it is a technology that works the way our brains work.  Because of this we can easily adapt to YouTube and it has become an easy way for us to communicate.  It makes us more human!

YouTube makes us more human?  Yes it does.  Let me explain.  But first here is a fun video titled “David After Dentist”.  Or this  video thank you note.   Now back to some serious stuff.

RadioLab recently did a podcast titled Limits and asked the question about how much can you jam into a human brain?  Part of  the episode about the brain is fascinating.  Click here to go to this podcast.

They tell the stunning tale of a Mr. S who seems to have no limits with his memory.  But, there is a dark side to this ability.  Then they visit the annual World Memory Championships, to meet expert brain stuffers and they revel a way to remember long strings of random numbers.  Typically we can remember a string of 7 – 10 random numbers fairly easily.  But, how do these memory champions remember thousands of random numbers.

They visualize the numbers.  They remember them by associating them with a picture.  This is easily understandable.  For Nascar lovers 3 is Dale Earnhardt Sr.   Basketball fans # 23 is a picture of Michael Jordan.   And for you it can be a long list of associations that you remember when you think of a certain number.  So these memory champs do picture associations.  Some of them do it naturally and others practice and practice.

An example of someone who sees picture associations with what he is able to memorize is Daniel Tammet whose brain does it naturally for him.  “I know it was a Wednesday because the date is blue in my mind and Wednesdays are always blue, like the number nine or the sound of loud voices arguing.”, Tammet says in his book Born On A Blue Day.  Thanks to people like Daniel we are able to get an insight into how our brains, and more specifically our memories function.

All of the new research into how our brains work is neuroscience.  Google that and you will find thousands of research papers that go beyond your grandmothers references to “using your noodle” or whatever she used to say.  The advances in understanding the human brain are changing as rapidly as the technology that is fueling this research.

The brain works in images.  We take those images and create artificial words that represent these images.  But, if I can show you something it is better than a long explanation.  So, what does it feel like to come out of surgery.  The video “David After Dentist clicks in the brain better than a long string of words.  The best wordsmith, as we all know, really knows how to paint a picture.

Saturday I was in a store and someone said they had the cutest granddaughter.  I told this grandmother that my granddaughter was cuter.  She pulled out a picture.  I didn’t have one in my pocket.  Guess who won the arguement!

So if you haven’t discovered YouTube lately, and you are in business take a few minutes and explore the videos you will find.  What may surprise you is the number of people who have watched videos about your “unique” business.  If you are a coin merchant your little secret about how to clean a penny has been told by two kids in this video – “How to Clean A Penny“.   If you are a builder and think you have the secret about framing a wall, that secret is out in this video – “How to Frame A Wall”.  Over 40,000 people have watched that video.  Even your clumsy college professor would rather watch and learn how to frame a wall than read it in a book.  It just fits more naturally with our brain.

Technology that enhances our ability to communicate will be here forever.   YouTube is not bad for us as humans.  It is good for us.

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Don’t Try This At Home

This Blog Comes With A Warning! Do not try this with anyone who is always right!  It will only cause a fight, and it is Friday.  It is time to relax – to chill out and find your favorite local restaurant – not force someone to see your point of view.  Unless you have been properly trained in the use of force.

If you are open-minded then you may enjoy this illusion.  Do you see spirals in this picture?  If I have lost you already and you don’t see the spirals, don’t read any further.  It will only get more confusing.  If you are mad at me for tricking you I refer you to where I got this illusion.

One spiral of green, another is pinkish-orange, and blue.  Unbelievably the green and the blue spirals are the same color.

These are the two colors pulled out by Photoshop.   Unless I am missing something they now look exactly the same.   They look mostly green with a little dash of blue.  I am sure that if you wanted to paint the walls of your office this color your local paint shop would mix a little blue in a mix of green.  But, what do I know I have been known to wear two different colors of socks at the same time.

What makes them seem different is their surrounding colors.  In this illusion the stripes are not continuous as they first seem.  The orange stripes don’t intersect the spiral that appears blue and the magenta ones don’t go through the spirals that appear green.    By changing the context of the colors it changes their appearance.  

When we zoom in on the colors we begin to see how this illusion tricks the brain.  The overall pattern is a spiral shape because our brain fills in the missing bits of the pattern.  But our brains have to make assumptions about what is going on and these assumptions are not always correct.

Because we have to take the time and look more closely at this illusion it gives us an insight into how our brains work.  Again, if you are trying to convince someone who is always right that their brain works the same as all of ours you are going down a hopeless path.  But, it sure does tell you about the assumptions their brain is making.

Our brains have to untangle the mess of information that floods it  each day.  It has to align this information into some sort of patterns and assumptions in order for us to navigate through this world.  Our brains do not take pictures of absolute truth.  It is not always seeing the world as it really is.   Our brains have filters.

So today if someone tells you that they saw a UFO, or Jesus in their bagel, or a ghost show them this picture.   Then go find your local dentist and have him/her fix your teeth that just got knocked out.  If the argument continues and they insist that they are always right with what they see take a joint trip to your local optometrist and get your eyes checked.  If that still doesn’t work go get some counseling and move on with your life.

But if they tell you that they were with  Captain Gus and caught the biggest fish in Lake Norman history, they might be right.  We all know that fisherman’s eyes are perfect.  They never overestimate their catch.

Don’ tell your fishing friends but both of those lines are the same length.  Don’t believe me?  Click here to find out.

Link Or Sink

He poked his head into the office and said, “Hey, before you leave stop by my place.  My business is next door.”

By the time I finished my meeting and dropped in to see him he said, “Oh, I thought you forgot about me.”  An hour later I walked out of his business and thought, here is a young man who deserves an honorary MBA.  I would rather spend an hour with him than most of the MBAs I worked with when I was in the corporate world.    Those “suits” of my past life were the most robotic thinkers I have seen.  This young man was full of energy, ideas and knowledge about the future of business.

I asked him if I could come back tomorrow to wrap things up.  He apologized and said that tomorrow would not work because he had a plan.  He had to get his hair cut, put on his better clothes and he was on a mission.  A mission to build his network.  Nothing was going to stop him from his plan for the next day.

But he already had a strong network.  With a facebook page that would make most businesses weep, and a network of friends talking up his business and a referral list of some of the most influential people in the area he needed more links in his chain?

So he sent me on a mission.  “When you come back I need 3 to 5 businesses that want to network with me on my marketing plan,” he said.

A day later I stopped in at a new unique restaurant to see if I could set up an appointment to talk with them about their marketing plan.  The owner and chef said, “You got me out of the kitchen that is better than most people do, so you have 5 minutes.”  An hour later I walked out of his restaurant with an assignment.  Find me some businesses that want to network with me on my marketing plan.

Lone Rangers rarely survive.  I don’t have to worry about them reading this, so I am going to tell you about a little math problem that I am doing.   There is some mathematical formula between the links in a business’ network and the length of time before it sinks.

Let me tell you my hypothesis.  If you have zero links to your business then the chances of you sinking in this economy is far greater than if you have many links to other businesses.

Here is the practical way I play this game.  During a visit with a business owner or their marketing director I try to find out how long their chain is.  The lone ranger type is the easiest to spot.  They don’t want to link up with any other business because they believe that you are only as strong as the weakest link.  That old adage does not apply to the internet age.  You weakest link may be your most helpful asset.  So the lone ranger business has a very likely chance of sinking.  I don’t bother going back to that business because more than likely their doors will be closed within the next year.

The business that has multiple links in its network is very easy to spot.  They start telling me about the other businesses.  My mother told me that you are known by the company you keep.  In this piece of advice she was correct.  When I hear that a business is tightly linked I give its chances of success a very high rating.

The first business owner I talked to has a service business that is so common we could not think of all of his competitors in the area.  There were too many to count.  And, who needs another restaurant?  Restaurants are tripping over themselves trying to get their seats filled.  But I still give these businesses a great chance of succeeding because they are linked and building a longer chain.

Need more convincing about linking?  Go to a site such as http://www.sermo.com/ where physicians are discussing case histories on-line.  The next time you have to go under the knife ask your doctor, who has been out of medical school for years, how he/she finds out about the latest case studies?  Before he/she operates on you, you know that if your doctor is strongly linked there is less of a chance that you will sink.

At bliplakenorman.com we are linking businesses.  Our back office allows businesses to link together with their customers and be in continuous touch.  The day of having a website only and thinking that is all you need is over.  Linking with your customers is key.

One of the projects we are contemplating is setting up a stronger link between our blip businesses.  I would love to get feedback ideas from creative businesses about the way we can help find other businesses that want to link together and do it – not just talk about it.    If you want to talk about it go get one of the “suits” – those MBA guys who like to talk.

Here is one idea.  Put a link in our back office where businesses can barter with each other to do promotions together, share coupons, cross promote (not cross dress) etc.  One new customer is going to give away something free from another service business to its customers.  Another business is giving me gift cards worth $35.oo to any business owner I think could use their service.

First I want to know about your links.  Then you can begin to tell me about your great product or service.  If you are well linked I probably will have already heard about you online or from another business person.  LINK OR SINK.  It is up to you.

If you have ideas email me at ted@bliplakenorman.com.

The Bright Ideas Of Yesterday Aren’t That Good

If you are over 20 years old you have to be willing to be a heretic to survive in business.  No this is not a religious blog so please don’t start a fight about religion.  But I will gladly accept a fight about marketing!.

What worked in the past does not work today.  The old idea of blasting out to millions of people and then catching the masses with some great idea or marketing trick does not work.  Businesses that have adapted to the new world are realizing that things do not spread from the top down but from the bottom up.

Each one of us is hit by over 30,000 images a day!   It may start in your home with the tattoo your daughter got that upsets you, TV commercials,  product placement on your favorite show, billboards, wrapped cars, banner ads on your computer, pop ads, outfield signs at the ballpark, the logo on your shirt, your shoes, the millionth billboard.

Yet the light bulb still goes off in business owner’s heads that if only they came up with a great image all the other 30,000 images people see each day will disappear and millions will remember their company – IMAGE # 30,000 + 1.

Seth Godin pointed out in his TED talk last year that the internet has ended mass marketing.  It has returned us to a community of tribes.  Businesses that know their tribe and communicate with their tribe will survive.  (For those who may be interested in the larger global view of this change I would suggest The Collapse of Globalism by John Ralston Saul.)

Godin asks 3 questions that I found very intriguing.

1.  Who are you upsetting?  Because if you are not upsetting anyone, you’re not changing the status quo. You are not in business to make everyone happy, unless maybe if you are a clown.  Even then you may scare some children.   So businesses today have to be willing to take a risk to reach out to their tribe – those who follow them.

2.  Who are you connecting?  Because for a lot of people, that’s what they’re in it for.  The connections that are being made, one to another. As a business it is your tribe.  How do you strengthen the connections around your customers.  How do you get your tribe to talk and connect with other people who are passionate about your product or service?

3.   Who are you leading?  Because focusing on that part of it, not the mechanics is what you’re building, but the who, and the leading part is where change comes.

Business owners often start a business because they are passionate about something.  But not everyone enjoys the same thing.  I am reminded of this when I go shopping with my wife.  My back aches, I get light headed, I can’t remember where I parked the car and I am sure that we are just going in one big circle and have been to the same store 50 times.  I find the benches in the mall and inevitably I meet other tired husbands.

So if you are selling to women, I am not in your tribe.  Your tribe starts with the broader group of women but then it starts to get more narrowly focused.  Is it shoes you are selling, purses, perfume, dresses, and is your product or service for retired women or college women?

Yesterday the idea was to blast out your message into every household that you could reach and maybe your customer could be heard.  The internet has changed that.

ARE YOU THE LEADER OF YOUR TRIBE?  Customers today follow the leaders.  They find them on the internet.  They don’t wait for a TV commercial, or a magazine ad, or a flyer in their mailbox to research what they are passionate about.  They have the power in their own hands and they use it.

My interests are unique, but so is everyone’s.  I recently looked up YouTube videos from my little city and found that the most popular one was about local drag racing.  My wife said, “Who would watch that!”  I pointed to the counter and said, “105,000 local race fans.”

One of my favorite videos is a lecture from Stanford University.  Now I know you will ask me who would watch that?  114,000 people in my tribe who enjoy listening to Robert Sapolsky!  I think that he is a leader in understanding humans in light of modern research and I told my brother in Italy about him and my cousin in Toronto.   Tribes today are not geographically trapped.  But they do center around the leaders.

Businesses today have to  be willing to be a heretics that connects people around your leadership!

Wait! Wait! We Don’t Have To Be Just Sheep

Yesterday I met an incredible business man.  He did not have an MBA.  He also wasn’t Little Miss Sunshine giving me a “hip hip hooray” quote of the day.  He wasn’t moaning the economy.  He stood out from the crowd of business people I have met in my life because he was going to try an experiment!

Now for all of you non-business owners you may think that business people experiment with things everyday.  You are wrong.   Business people are some of the most cautious sheep in the world.  I apologize if you are a business person reading this, but to get a business person to experiment with something is like getting one of my grandsons to try some new vegetable.

Dan Ariely is one of the most thought-provoking authors to come around in a long time.  His book “Predictably Irrational” is easy to read and factually based.  He doesn’t believe in shooting from the gut.  His career started when he was in the hospital with burns all over his body.  The nurses believed that ripping the bandages from his body was the least painful way to redress his wounds.  Being the patient, he felt, as you can imagine, differently.  But he could not convince the nurses to do it slowly.  It started him off on a career where he does experiments questioning the gut feelings, the irrational behavior of humans.

He has written a great column entitled “Why Businesses Don’t Experiment”.    He has found that there are two reasons businesses are afraid to experiment.

1.   Businesses don’t experiment because “experiments require short-term losses for long-term gains. Companies (and people) are notoriously bad at making those trade-offs.

If you try something it presupposes that you may not succeed.  Most business people would argue against Ariely just for stating that.  After all, they are entrepreneurs.  Aren’t entrepreneurs risk takers?  (I will address entrepreneurs and personality types in another post.)

Fear is hard for most business people to overcome.  If they set up a hypothesis and test it they may embarrass themselves and fail.  Nobody enjoys failure, especially in front of other people.  It is one thing to do a science experiment with your child at home where no one is looking.  It is something very different to do it in front of your employees, your family, neighbors and all of your customers.  So believe it or not, fear of failure is one of the biggest obstacles to overcome for businesses.

I was a division President for a Fortune 500 company and one of my favorite questions to ask a potential manager was “What was one of your most embarrassing mistakes in business?   This question eliminated many a candidate that looked promising before I asked that question.  Two of my last top managers went on to be division presidents of divisions and both of them were risk takers.  They could tell me their mistakes.  That is why I hired them.  They were not sheep.

With those two managers we had some of the most spirited creative “discussions” (others outside the office called them arguments).  We tried various experiments until we found out what worked.  We embarrassed ourselves sometimes, and at times I am sure customers and many others thought we were crazy.  But, two years in a row we were division of the year!

2. Ariely says that the second reason businesses don’t experiment is there’s the false sense of security that heeding experts provides. When we pay consultants, we get an answer from them and not a list of experiments to conduct. We tend to value answers over questions because answers allow us to take action, while questions mean that we need to keep thinking.

I have been fortunate to be around professional athletes for the last few years and it surprises me when I compare them with business people.  You would think that a professional athlete would be hiring all sorts of “coaches” to motivate them.  But that is not the case.  The “coaches” are hired by business people.  Why?

I have a hypothesis.  I may be totally wrong, but as you can guess I am willing to take that risk.  By the time an athlete makes it to the professional level the time for a cheerleading Mommy and Daddy are over.  When I sit with the parents of professional athletes it is not a “Little Miss Sunshine” cheering section.  That happens in Little League.

Business people are notorious for hiring “an expert” that has a “gut feeling”.  You know the type – Steven Colbert of the business world.  Don’t bore me with facts!  I want a gut feeling.

These are tough economic times that are testing many businesses today.  The business person I met yesterday was only 30 years old.  Back when I was his age marketing was relatively simple.  You took out an ad in the yellow pages, tried to get a press release published in the paper, took out an ad in the paper or a magazine and if you were very creative you had a glossy brochure printed.

Remember, sheep get slaughtered.  We don’t all have to be sheep.  Allow yourself to fail, and be proud that you didn’t just follow the crowd.  Give yourself the ok to try something in your marketing plan that you have not tried before, because we know for sure that what worked before is not as effective today.

Homer Simpson’s Secret Handshake

Unless you are Homer’s friend I doubt that you will start to use his secret handshake.  Now your mother may have warned you that you will start acting as stupid as the TV shows you are watching, but even though she is your mother, she is not always right.

Many of us have heard of the Tipping Point, or read the book by Malcolm Gladwell.   .  Marketing people picked up on Gladwell’s ideas and claimed that if you had certain people blog about your product or write about you on Facebook, or endorse your product it was almost certain that you would reach the tipping point and the masses would follow.

Well, it ends up that your mother, and Malcolm Gladwell were wrong.  Watching Homer Simpson won’t make you start doing his handshake.

Duncan Watts, a sociologist and a principal research scientist at Yahoo! Research has studied this idea that there are certain people who have extraordinary influence on other people.   Watts has performed a series of controversial experiments challenging the” influential thesis”  (the idea that certain people influence us in our behavior) .  He has analyzed email patterns and found that highly connected people are not critical social hubs.  He has written computer models of how rumors spread and found that your average slob (not Homer but maybe your neighbor) is actually just as likely to start a new trend as a well-connected person.

Watts points out that any attempt to engineer success through Influentials is almost certainly doomed.  “It just doesn’t work”, Watts says.  “A rare bunch of cool people just don’t have that power.  And when you test the way marketers say the world works, it falls apart.”  Products don’t go viral because of certain influential people.

It seems that this idea of things going viral, or having a tipping point because of certain influential people, goes back to  1955 when Elihu Katz and Paul Lazarsfeld wrote Personal Influence.  They believed that there was a two-step process in how people were influenced.  First advertiser affected society by broadcasting messages that were then picked up by “opinion leaders” who changed the behavior of their followers.  If you reached those opinion leaders you could quickly convert the masses.

Well, it turns out that the masses aren’t asses.  Len Fisher’s The Perfect Swarm: The Science of Complexity in Everyday Life explores some of the surprising mathematics of decision-making.  Fischer point out that we as humans follow the basic principles of how animals swarm.

For years scientist studied the swarming patterns of birds and tried to figure out why a flock of birds would suddenly turn to the right or left, up or down.  Were there certain leaders that influenced the rest of the flock?  Did a certain percentage of the flock decide and the rest followed?  Scientists have now found that each member of the flock makes decisions on their own and it is not decided for them by a leaders.  It has turned the idea of swarming on its head.  Birds, bees and all flocking animals (including humans) are more influenced by their neighbor than some trend setter.

You may try to do Homer’s handshake with your neighbor, but if he looks at you like you are an idiot you probably will stop trying to do it.  If you go to work and try it there you may notice people avoiding you.  It ends up that people who are socially adjusted pick up their cues of trends and social behavior from the reactions of those closest to them.

Fisher goes on to  point out that if you want to solve a problem you are better off to  ask 30 people and not just ask the “expert”.   This is where Wikipedia has amazed the “experts”.  They predicted that if the masses were in charge it would never become a source for real information.

With all the scientific and practical evidence it is surprising how many marketing books and marketers are still pumping out the idea that things catch on from the top down.  Yes a few things do catch on this way.  I am sure that when this Simpson episode ran that there were a few people who went to their school, or work and tried the Homer handshake.  And yes, you can probably point out the 1 in a million example of something that took off because of some top down influence.  But, remember that if it is 1 in a million it will happen over 350 times in the United States alone.

So what is the takeaway from these studies.  There is no magical “tipping point” or “person” who can magically make your product go viral.  It comes down to a marketing plan.  Giving the people around your business the information they need to make their decision.  The six-degrees of separation is not a magical cure, but a reminder to develop a marketing plan and keep getting the message out.  If your idea is going to take off or  if people are going to swarm to your business it will be because they have been influenced by the person next to them who was influenced by somebody else etc. etc.

If you don’t have a marketing plan try using the Homer Simpson handshake.

Anticipation – How Businesses Can Reward The Brain

PR Newswire 2010 Survey

It’s Friday.  TGIF, because one of myfavorite businesses is busy updating their website and I can’t wait to see what they have done this week.   Last week I got to see that they had restored one of my favorite vehicles from the past, a 1955 Chevy, but then I also loved the 1971 Land Cruiser that they restored ,the 1965 GTO ….. No, they are not hiring an ad agency to update their website, and they are not giving it to their teenager to do it.  They are doing it themselves.

The beauty of the internet is that it allows consumers to follow their passions.  People are eager to find articles and information about the things thye are going to buy or hope to buy in the future.

According to the second year of an Opinion Research Corporation consumer preference survey sponsored by Adfusion, consumers say they’re more likely to read and act upon articles with brand information.  It also shows that the trend is increasing for all forms of online advertising, including email offers.  Consumers prefer brands that give them information.

53% of those surveyed said they were “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to read and act upon an article they read online about a brand.  When you look at more specific information it is 66% for those between the ages of 25 and 34.  For those making at least $75,000, 60% responded positively to online brand information.

The business I mentioned in the first paragraph is a small business in a small town.  But look at another car website that is known across the nation.  Edmonds puts all sorts of car information at the consumer’s fingertips.  As a business person it is imperative to have your radar screen up and find out where your customers (the blip on the screen) are.   Then figure out how you become the blip on your customer’s screen.

For those of you who like to dig a little deeper there is a great article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  Our brains reward us when we start to expect getting what we want.  That’s right.  Just the anticipation of getting it starts the same reward mechanism in our brain as actually having it!

What is the best way to trigger that reward center in the brain?  Is it one picture in a magazine?  Is it a billboard that someone sees while rushing their children to school?  Is it an ad that interrupts their favorite music, or television show?  Or has a better reward center emerged that puts that information at the consumer’s fingertips?  The computer with images, videos and words rewards the consumer’s brain in a much better way than any other means of advertising.

So, today a consumer could look at the 1955 Chevy and their brain will reward them with the feel, the sound and even the smells of that vehicle.  Or look at the 1971 Land Cruiser and its ride is much different, but their brain could trigger all the rewards of that vehicle.   Another consumer will look at the latest women’s jewelry, or purse and know what if feels like when then are wearing it, even before they have purchased it.  Another consumer will be looking forward to their date tonight and go online an find out what restaurant will be the best one to go to.  People concerned about issues like social responsibility willl find the brands like McDonald’s who are willing to talk about their company and its social responsibility.

So it is Friday.   Some businesses are quickly reading their horoscope hoping it tells them that today is their lucky day.  Others are looking at the new ad they placed in a magazine that makes them feel real good.  Meanwhile other businesses are busy posting what their customers want on websites, blogs, sending out emails of interest, talking to their customers on facebook, or letting people know about the great event they are having.  Meanwhile these businesses’ new customer’s brains have already rewarded them and they can’t wait to get to these businesses.  They can feel and see the jewelry on their arm, they know how their new car is going to look and ride, they can taste their favorite meal and those thoughts will guide them to what they found on the internet.

(If you need help in knowing how easy it is to keep in touch with your customers email me at ted@bliplakenorman.com)