Heart on your sleeve

How to keep going when the project gets all tangled up

People tell us that good planning will lead to project success but that's a lie. Good planning can keep your friends on your side when the project is completely messed up. Good planning can help you track where things went off the rails. Good planning can lessen your guilt, but wait, maybe we have nothing to feel bad about... 

Psychology Today: Big Projects, Big Mood Swings, 2016-Jun-30 by Jim Stone

In general people feel far too much shame when one of their projects fails due to unforeseen complications. It happens to nearly everyone who bothers to take on large projects at all. And no one is so smart they can anticipate all complications from the outset of a project. Perhaps just knowing this will help you set aside that all-too-natural irrational shame that comes with a failed project, and you can get moving on to even greener pastures.

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How to be entrepreneurial in writing for customers, even if you're not in a startup

First, just start answering your customers, sharing things with them. Then worry about how to organize and edit what needs to be said and how to style it. Stephanie Hay, a 'content strategist' with Capital One was recently interviewed about why so many companies have so much trouble generating 'engaging content.' See her excellent remarks quoted below. 

Her recommendations reminded me... 

  1. Content is a made-up word to describe what goes into all the holes in our web sites and newsletters. 'Generating content' is a made-up occupation by managers who don't know how to share information with customers. Informing and answering our customers is the priority, not 'generating content.'

  2. Once we know what are customers care to know and enjoy talking about, then we can easily decide if we need a Facebook post or a blog or a brochure. Web sites are a wonderful place to store our customer conversations. Future customers get the benefit of our being well organized. 

  3. 'Engaging content' is a buzzword for answers and information of high quality. When we speak clearly and with appropriate emotion about the things that interest our customers, they become engaged. Being consistent with our brand and making the information easy to find are good business, but if you put that cart before the horse--worry about branding and SEO before you consider your customer's needs--you will interfere with your own success, as Stephanie points out. 

Aquent: What's so hard about writing meaningful content, 2016-Apr-18, Interview of Stephanie Hay by Jeremy Osborn

The biggest challenge is convincing people they can start creating lean, engaging content today. They think they have to sell the idea first. Or that people in their company won't let them. I always recommend people start redesigning the content in places teams typically overlook--like terms and conditions language, error messages, or FAQ pages--and interject more human, personal, and natural language there. Just dig in and do the work, then show the work to people. You'll be amazed how little time and energy it takes to start the ball rolling by redesigning those micro-moments to be truly delightful; people will want that everywhere.... 

What hasn't changed (and won't!) is human nature to want to structure and categorize content immediately, or have an entire architecture designed before ever looking at what the content actually is, or figuring out what language the customer is using. Letting go of that structure-first mentality to fully immerse yourself in the story you're trying to tell (and that customers want to read), and then identifying the patterns and structures that naturally emerge ... well that takes patience and a real commitment to iteration. Not everyone feels comfortable with that level of entrepreneurial design.

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A Critique of the "Attention Economy"... maybe attention is not finite

As a marketer, I appreciated Tom Davenport and John Beck's The Attention Economy when it was first published in 2001. Recently Matthew Crawford has been writing about the "Attention Commons." Both are focused on how advertisers battle to capture attention. But maybe attention is something we manage ourselves. 

Here's to the idea that we nurture our attention span in such a way that we can become stronger and more aware of the things we care about. 

Pacific Standard: A Better Way of Talking About Attention Loss, 2016-Feb-23 by Caleb Caldwell

I would like to suggest, instead of an economics of attention, that we think about an ecology of attention. We've already discussed "attention-as-resource," an ecological framing of attention as a natural resource to husband and defend, rather like the rainforest, clean water, or breathable air. But to think of attention as a depletable resource is actually to think of it as a particular kind of private property, one that can be stolen from us, or be dealt out or cruelly withheld at will. It is to align attention almost completely with consumption.... 

I’m not offering a fully formed solution so much as a brief endorsement of a different way of describing and discussing attention: a lexicon that neither worships technology nor romanticizes nature. I want to move past a vocabulary of emancipation vs. enslavement. To think about attention through the language of ecology is to see it as a sound-wave that a bow draws from a violin: in constant flux, not just existing in its surroundings, but actually unable to be abstracted from the constituting conditions of the resin on the bow, the quality of the horsehair, the density of the wood, the moisture in the room’s air. Attention is contingent on shifting attachments between individuals, collectivities, histories, technological and material conditions. To husband our attention requires a commitment to digital and analog life at once because, in so many ways, we are each other’s attention.

And when we recognize this fully, we must feel the responsibility that comes from being sutured together through common acts of attention. Our neighbor, like our smartphone, is now always with us.


Uncanny attachment to a non-person

Josh Barro is creeped out by people who get emotionally attached to their suppliers. He thinks people are foolish to expect real friendship from a company, but I think companies are made of people, and if those people recognize and appreciate us, then it adds to our quality of life.  IStock_000020168756XSmall

Where I think he's right is that companies are subject to economic pressures which their customers may not perceive. Our favorite supplier could be bought by a competitor. We may feel disappointed but we really can't count it as a betrayal. When my favorite bookstore was bought by Barnes & Noble years ago, I did my best to avoid Barnes & Noble. I wanted to punish them for discontinuing a business model that was probably unsustainable. Being loyal to a company means wanting them to be profitable. 

NY Times: Sorry, but Your Favorite Company Can't Be Your Friend, 2015-Dec-11 by Josh Barro

A hallmark of communal relationships is that they are not based on exchanges of comparable benefits. That doesn’t mean you are supposed to freeload off your friends, but it does mean if your friend drives you to the airport, you are not supposed to give him $80 — you are supposed to do him a favor later, when he needs help from you.

Since companies are ultimately in the business of charging their customers for products and services, they are likely to end up violating the communal relationship norms they establish, with charges for services rendered intruding on the friendly nature of the relationship.


Simplicity drives loyalty for Google, Netflix, Amazon, Chipotle...

Recently recognized for their ability to delight customers with simplicity of use, Google, Netflix, IStock_000022889089XSmallAmazon and Chipotle made it to the top five of the "simple brands" identified by customer experience strategy consultant Siegel+Gage. 

 

Among the up-and-coming "simple brands," Dollar Shave Club says "Dollar Shave Club couldn't be simpler. Select one of our great blades, pay only for the cost of your blades, and we send ’em right to your door every month." At Seamless, they say "we make ordering food for delivery and takeout seamless!"

Harvard Business Review: Why Simple Brands Win, 2015-Nov-9 by Margaret Molloy

Customer experience is the new battleground for loyalty. Years of findings in the Global Brand Simplicity Index demonstrate that when brands build cultures of simplicity, all parties benefit. Employees have the clarity to innovate and deliver superior customer service, consumers have better brand experiences, and ultimately reward brands with their loyalty.

Growth is welcome and inevitable for any successful company—but complexity is an unavoidable side-effect of growth. Companies must be on the lookout to simplify processes and create fresh and clear brand experiences. A commitment to simplicity starts at the top. Senior management must be committed to implementing practices that encourage simplicity. Brand purpose—what a brand does and why it does it—should be articulated in a way that is easy for employees to internalize, and customers must view a brand and its services in a manner consistent with this purpose. While it is necessary to look inward to refine and simplify, ultimately the customer’s perspective matters most.


Loyalty to suppliers and supporters: Ina Garten

Otherwise known as the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten has built a sustainable empire from a food shop to media brand. Strategically, she knows exactly where she wants her business centered: writing cookbooks. She builds a broad variety of relationships, and not everyone survives, but she clearly makes it a goal to find a partner around whom she can stabilize her business and her personal life.  IStock_000021085297XSmall

Loyalty appears to be instinctive for Garten, but we can all learn from her approach: find someone who fits your values and grow together. When our partner changes, look to growing with them. When we have to change, be sure and try to bring them along. 

Eater: Ina Garten Does It Herself, 2015-Sep-30 by Choire Sicha

This endless parade of friends and visitors only highlights her strange and extreme loyalty. Barbara has been with her in the kitchen since 1999; her marriage to Jeffrey is almost half a century long. She has been with her agent Esther Newberg at ICM since ages. Ina has never changed cookbook publishers; in fourteen years, she also has not changed producers of the show....

She is ready to crush this next cookbook. "I'm actually more interested in writing cookbooks now than I was when I started," Ina said. "I think I was really nervous about it then. But I could just do this forever — and hopefully I can, until they drag me out by my feet."