Sunday, August 21, 2016

White Papers

White Papers are in favor among internet marketers these days, especially those selling to businesses, and they score high among preferred lead-generating devices. I think it’s the carefully crafted aura of impartiality that does it.  
There is a definition of the White Paper that says it derives from British government documents so named a few decades ago to distinguish them from other British government documents called Blue Books. Sounds reasonable.
I wonder, though, if the White Paper may not go back further than that, even to events like Ferdinand and Isabella hiring Columbus. The final results were royal charters and voyages of discovery, but can’t you just imagine the studies that preceded them?

Court of Spain, 1491: The Project which Applicant propofses seems suicidal, if only for the fact that the Earth is Flat and he could sail off an Edge, taking Your Majesty’s ships and goods, to substantial loss to the Crown. Another danger arises from the very Crew, ruffians well-aware of the presence of Sea Monsters in the Western Longitudes and easily incited to Mutiny if conditions become difficult.

Ameliorating those factors, however, is the pofssibility of Great Wealth being gathered from yet-undiscovered Lands; and the stipulation that the man Columbus is willing to take the Risks and has not asked that anyone from the Court accompany him. On Balance, therefore, this Commission is inclined to the Belief that Funding of such Projects would be to the Crown’s advantage.

Then, for sheer magnitude of effect on the lives of people, there is Great Britain’s White Paper of 1939. In effectively reversing the policy of the Balfour Declaration of 1917 establishing a Jewish state in Palestine, it determined the fate of millions.
My own White Papers are of much less consequence, but they carry on the tradition. If you can muster the curiosity to wonder about
           (a) the significance, for businesspeople, of three executives’ hopscotching                     efficiently between Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Springfield                             Illinois and Augusta Georgia in one trip in 1988, or 
          (b) how a new business proposal goes together,
those White Papers are available.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Can't Help Myself

Yet another on-line debate with a “content marketing” guru. I know the futility of these arguments by now, but I’m like the firehouse dog responding to the bell.
What started this one was an article citing a study that found just 30% of business-to-business marketers who do "content marketing" define themselves as "effective," which translates to 70% ineffective. The study was by the Content Marketing Institute(!)

Of course I jumped on this as proof from the horse’s mouth that “content marketing” is a fraud perpetrated on the marketing world. I apparently struck a nerve, and the answer came back in a sarcastic tone, which I matched in my reply. 
The odd part, however, was that the answer cited another study showing that the technique had been "researched and proven to work." Another case of dueling surveys. However, since this one was in the Harvard Business Review, it was presented in the tone of revealed truth.
This put my adversary in the difficult position of showing his own study being contradicted by a more authoritative study.  I pointed this out in my reply, but haven’t heard anything back at this writing.  
Still, as I may have mentioned before, I am the King Canute of marketing, demonstrating that the tide of “content marketing” can not be held back for now.     I believe it will run its course, though, and will be replaced by something (probably with a catchy name) that will revert to a more direct effort at selling things.

“Engagement” will give way to “Attention” and “Interest,” the opening steps of the old AIDA formula; “storytelling” will go back to the demonstration of customer benefits; “friending,” “sharing,” “follows,” “pageviews,” “click-throughs,” and “likes” will be abandoned for  sales. If we really clean house “personas” will go back to being researched prospects, the “customer journey” will be the sale process, “pain points” will once again be customer needs, and “funnels” will be what you use to pour ketchup from the old bottle into the new one.
Or have I mentioned my opinion of “content marketing” already?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Dispatches from the Park

... an occasional series, vignettes, each of which isn’t of much consequence alone and which together still don’t have much substance, but whose compilation satisfies a craving for taxonomic orderliness.

A Dog-Powered Recumbent Bike
I’m sitting on one of my benches, and here comes a recumbent bike being pulled by a black cocker spaniel on a leash, a heavyset man sitting regally in the seat.
They go by pretty fast, the dog looking eager enough. They come around the circular path that surrounds the greenbelt and bench a second time, and they’re still going along at a pretty smart clip. I start to wonder if that fat guy is taking advantage of the dog. He doesn’t even have to pedal; the dog is doing all the work.
It’s alright. They come around the third time and the dog in in the guy’s lap, getting the free ride this time.

An elderly parent/dutiful child going by on the footpath. You can always tell; they’re together, but a little apart. This time it’s a father, probably in his late 80s, and a son probably late 50s or early 60s.
The son watches the older man, who walks very slowly and with an occasional wobble. The older man wears what look like Birkenstocks, the sandals popular years ago.
Both men wear shorts, but shouldn’t. I mean if you’re going to wear baggy shorts, go all the way and do those great boxy yard-wide English World War II jobs that could have accommodated an extra person. At least they had style.
There’s no conversation between the men. Playing parlor psychiatrist I deduce that the son feels imposed upon to have to nursemaid his father, but at the same time guilty because his father did it for him 50 or 60 years ago.
The old man has run out of things to say and even things to do and is really just biding his time to the end. But the weather is fine and it’s good to get out for some son and heir.

As I write, the old man has wandered a little too far afield and his son, keeping a discreet distance, trails him. The son is getting a little business done on his cell phone, so the day isn’t wasted entirely.

Sunday, July 31, 2016


The railroading of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact that will be attempted after the election makes an old subject -- outsourcing -- current again.
Outsourcing of jobs -- under one name or another -- has been going on for some years, but now conflicting forces are pulling at it.
It’s become somewhat less popular as wages in third-world countries begin to rise to poverty level from slavery, where they’ve been. If the trend continues long enough it will eventually make sense to bring those jobs back. Wages being equal, patriotic firms will want to employ our poverty-level workers.
The TPP, however, could once again make outsourcing popular, in the tradition of previous trade agreements. (It would also have other disastrous, although not unintended, consequences, but -- one disaster at a time.)
The one thing you can count on during the negotiation of these trade pacts is that there will be conservative commentators justifying the agreements on “free market” grounds. While there will be some period of “adjustment,” they tell us, the invisible hand of the free market, now leveraged on the long arm of the trade agreement, will work its magic and everyone will be OK in the long run.
The operative principle in this is that these people -- the economic gurus and business analysts pushing the pacts -- do not expect to be among those who will lose their jobs in the ensuing “adjustment.” There will always be the need to explain how things work or why they didn’t, and they’re the people who do that.            They will be OK long before pie-in-the-long run day.
Wouldn’t it be fun if their jobs were exported? 
Knowledge and communication have expanded worldwide; surely there are people in other parts of the world qualified to take over that work and willing to pontificate for less money. Everyone would win. We would get a fresh perspective. Economists in other countries would find work. And our domestic commentators would have the ultimate scientific experience: the chance to observe at first hand the effect of a process they advocate but know only theoretically. 
Here’s to the Economic Commentary Export Act.   

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Preventative Maintenance

 ...something that reduces the need for correctative maintenance later on.

I never learned to maintain things when I was growing up. You didn’t own a car in New York City (there was no place to park it, and the subway would get you wherever you wanted to go with less hassle anyway) and the apartment house superintendent took care of everything else. Ironically, I was put in charge of a computerized artillery piece for a couple of years, but luckily it was never put to the test under realistic conditions. We did OK on the practice range, but conditions were pretty closely controlled to keep scores up, and the targets didn’t shoot back.

But maintenance goes on all around me now and I alternately complain about it and wonder at it.

 The greenbelts in our senior community are mown to within an inch of their lives, and something is always being painted. Most recently it was the carport fascia, which looked OK to me but got a coat of paint anyway.

I understand the concept and I have to admit, in cooler moments, that the community looks pretty dam’ good for being 54 years old, and preventive maintenance is what’s done it.

The tradeoff, though, is having to listen to leafblowers seemingly every other day and fighting for a parking space on the street when all cars are ordered out of the carport for painting. Inconveniences but, looking at it another way, they do give you something to worry about when you no longer have real day-to-day worries. It used to amuse me to see old men doggedly pushing leaves and bits of paper off the sidewalk with their canes, but I’ve come to understand. Developing some crotchets to fume about can be a kind of preventive maintenance for your brain.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

How Old Are You?

Some recent events have brought the topic of age into sharper focus for me.  

There’s a school of thought that holds that “You’re as old as you feel.”

Well, yes and no. You may feel youthful, but the facts are the facts. At “a certain age,” many of the people you knew are no longer in touch, or are no longer; gravity has played hell with your jowls; and you’re less inclined to laugh at the comedian who says, “Who wants fat hair?” as your own gets thinner. You’re as old as you are.

But there are pluses to that. One friend decided that when he hit 65 he was going to tell everyone exactly what he thought about everything -- no niceties, no tactful evasions. He said it took so much pressure off...

You can dress more comfortably. You can take that all the way back to being a kid if you want. A lot of men around here wear shorts. They look like hell, but they must be comfortable. I don’t do that. It took 12 years to get  my first pair of “longies” and I’m not going back.

You can play golf if you like the game. You can do that when you’re young, too, but now you can do it all day. I don’t do that, either. It has always seemed a silly game and doesn’t have the justification of being exercise. I understand from my wife that in some places and times in the Midwest it was known as “cow pasture pool.”

Travel seems to be the other big leisure activity. Again, it’s a matter of preference. What with big-screen, high-def television and cameras that can show you the glint in a tiger’s eye from 300 yards, I feel I’ve already visited the wonders of the world. I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal (in the same evening); I’ve sat in on debate in England’s Parliament; dived on the wreck of the Titanic; seen all the National Parks; peeped into the lives of all kinds of animals; seen the view from the top of Everest. That would satisfy a lot of people’s bucket lists.

I’m just not adventurous. I’d rather sleep in my own bed at night, and exotic food puts me off. As a generality, things that crawl aren’t on my menu, not even dipped in a good sweet-sour sauce. Pretty dull by some standards. I never could handle a bullwhip, though, and on me a fedora would just look 1940s.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Direct Response

“Direct response” is a sub-specialty of copywriting, one I’ve enjoyed working at in the past. I’d like to continue to do it, so I’ve been responding to some job offers. The problem is in that word “past.” As with any writing job, an employer expects to see sample of past work, and mine will seem to be out of the distant past.

What will today’s copy chief make of an ad for an exciting new-technology pay phone? Or a service that tracks down misappropriated personal pagers? These were important things at one time, but a lot of the people I’m applying to weren’t yet born then. It’s auditioning for a Broadway musical by belting  out a couple of verses of “Over There.”

To make things tougher, I’ve been pursuing only “remote” jobs. I’ve decided my commuting days are over. Dress code is (home) business casual: the levis can have a stylish hole at the knee, and flipflops are what you wear when you’re not barefoot. But remote jobs are a tiny fraction of the jobs offered and there’s plenty of competition for them. Worse, there will almost always be a  requirement for at least one face-to-face meeting. You have to shave for those. They can be anywhere from New York City to North Billerica, Massachusetts.

The door-opener in one of these situations is the cover letter you send, showing why you’re the ideal writer for the job. It’s a balancing act. Some of the best (most successful, not most aesthetically pleasing) direct response advertising is done in those TV ads for non-stick frying pans and spray cans of stuff you can patch a hole in a battleship with. Direct response is about results. So you want your letter -- the first writing sample they’re going to see -- to sell. At the same time, you don’t want to end it with ”Call now!” and I can’t double the offer even if they respond in the next six minutes.

I suppose I could legitimately say “This offer may not last.”