Saturday, June 21, 2008

Ramblings for the Afternoon (6/22/08)

I haven't done a rambling in a while, so with the sun and the rain here today (and my gardening on and off hold), here you go.

So, without further ado: PARENTHOOD!
The Beauty of Words:
I have to thank "Michele" for this:

This picture comes from "Wordle" and is of one of the poems that I love to teach: Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken.

I recommend, dear reader, that you take a text that you love (including one of your own blog posts if you wish) and see what it looks like.

It's an interesting idea, and it could also become a useful tool. Take a philosophical text, and use Wordle to find the strongest ideas. Those are usually the words repeated the most.

Could this be a teaching tool? Hmmm.

Little Leab has become Toddler Leab (though he's still Little Leab). Friday he turned two. It's odd watching him and thinking about how much he's changed since he was born. Instead of a mush-covered conehead, I now have a blonde whirling-dervish.

On the day my son was born, the hospital decided that my wife would be the room for teaching. That's right: She got the newbies. This meant that eight people were in the room when my son was born (he was the ninth). I didn't get to cut his cord, but I'm not bitter. I got something better instead.

And two years of being a father have taught me patience. Infinite patience. Yet, I wouldn't ask for anything else.

Vague Understanding of Choice:
It's election time again, which means annoying commercials, yahoos screaming at you in the
street, and (my personal favorite) dinner or late-night phone call surveys. For three days in a row, I have been called to answer questions about presidential and senatorial candidates. I usually don't answer, but with family members outside the country right now, I pick up the phone when it says "Unknown" as it may be one of them. I'm also not rude enough to hang up.

What has struck me about these surveys were how vague the questions were worded and how your choices were not varied (though this also tips you off as to who is sponsoring the call).

Examples: The first call was about Al Franken and Norm Coleman. The vague questions begin here:

"What is," the tele-marketer starts, "more likely to make you vote for Norm Coleman: If he cuts taxes or raises taxes?"

"Whose taxes?" I ask. "Raise the middle or cut the middle? Raise the rich or cut the rich? Can you be more specific?"

"No," I am told. "Just answer the questions.

Beyond this, the questions begin to get slightly pointed. "If I told you that Al Franken enjoys ripping the heads off of puppies and sucking the blood while shooting your grandma, would you be more or less likely to vote for him?"

Maybe not that pointed, but you get the idea.

The other issue is the choice of answers. "Who are you more likely to vote for in the upcoming election," Gene asks me. "Barack Obama or John McCain?"

"I don't know," I reply. "Is there an undecided?"

"There is, but then you have to tell us who you are at least leaning toward."

"No one. I'm really undecided right now until I hear them discuss the issues that matter to me."

"Ummmm," Gene says, "That isn't going to work. You have no inkling right now? I need a name or a leaning."

I don't understand why he couldn't just put that I was undecided. Perhaps that means problems for the candidates and their spin crew who don't want to hear, "there's people who have NO idea who to vote for." That won't help them win.

Of course what do I know? I asked about the Communist candidates. I could be wrong.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Marketing and Incentives: or Why Am I Broke?


For many companies, marketing is the life blood. If you can't get the people to see and want your product, then you won't make money.

Some marketing is upfront. Look at Pontiac (the car maker). They have attached their name to television shows (such as Survivor) and viewers can vote weekly for the "Pontiac Game-Changing Performance" of a college football game. Whenever a game-changing performance happens, the announcers say, "That could be the Pontiac game-changing performance of the game, Dick/Ted/name here."

Another example of upfront marketing are things like product placement in films. Look at the car that the actor or actress drives in a film. I remember how funny it was that so many action heroes had cars that wouldn't get a scratch (I'm looking at a few of your films, Mr. Bond), but the bad guy's cars (usually no name cars...or missing emblems) got destroyed. Bond, for example, had one film where Q talked about how great his BMW is. This was probably added to the script later.

Sporting events also carry marketing. The entire arena has product placement all around it.

However, some marketing is done on a more subliminal level. Will Smith is the bad ass cop...who happens to drink Mountain Dew.

Other examples are ads or events that the company don't necessarily plan. Nintendo released Wii Fit, and it immediately sold out, but the peripheral to the Nintendo Wii keeps getting press. This is due to a video on You Tube (I won't post the link, you can find it yourself) where a man filmed his girlfriend using the system while she was in her underwear. Not to be outdone, Playboy took this further and had gals do this in lingerie...and in the nude. Geeky (and lonely) gamers everywhere rejoiced, but it also made Wii Fit get repeated over and over again (and it only takes a few times to make it stick in your mind).

Nintendo also got this with CNN's Anderson Cooper. Notice how many times "Wii" is said as well as how they show the two anchors using Wii Fit.

I bring this up because we are entering that fabulous season where every commercial from now until mid-November will be marketing a person. Yes, it's voting season. Already we have a McCain ad running where he talks about being a prisoner of war. They are marketing his experience. To paraphrase an old Hebrew song, "Spin, Spin, comes the political spin. Let's all buckle in tight, because the spin starts tonight."

The darker side of business, however, is in sales. My wife's father is a salesman...but that's for another time. Many salespeople are given incentives and commission. This makes them work hard for their money. However, they are also a breed of person unto themselves. An example of this came when my wife and I were on a business trip in Vail.

In 2005, the company my wife worked for (we'll call it a large medical device company in Minnesota) sent her to Vail to meet with its sales staff. Her job was to explain the medical and engineering aspects of the product so the salespeople could answer questions for the doctors. Sounds simple, right?

There's a great line from The Producers (the original 1968 version), where Max says, "Actors are people? You ever eat with one?"

Change actors to salespeople and there you go.

There are certain things you can count on when it comes to sales:

1. Ego, ego, ego. There will be a great deal of it thrown around.
2. Boys' club. Yes, there are saleswomen, but for the most part, it's men.
3. Get out the urinal... because it will be a pissing contest. And...
4. Lord of the Flies. If you aren't part of the tribe, you will be killed or banished.

This was all seen in a two hour period by my very own eyes. While my wife explained to me that she was treated badly all day (never called by name, just, "Honey, Sweetie, Baby, Etc; left out of conversations or just plain made fun of), I replied, "It couldn't be THAT bad."

I was wrong.

As we had dinner with them, they ignored my wife. She is a fascinating and intelligent woman, but they didn't care.
Again, refer to the rules.

1. When my wife, a football fan, called one guy on his bullshit story about being front row at the stadium in her hometown, he attempted to attack her for showing him up. Most of the conversations were ego-stroking. "Really, you shot a 90? That's amazing. You're so great...,"blah,blah blah.

I will admit that I am slightly overprotective of my wife, so I started taking aim at these guys. Salespeople are truly about the ego, so if you poke at them, you can, like a balloon, deflate them.

2. There was one saleswoman. She was from Dallas, but she acted like the men. She sat like a guy, and she discussed (and I wish I was kidding) the difference between real and fake breasts in strip clubs. She takes her clients there to seal the deal...even gets a lap dance to help the guys. Wow....

So it was mostly men, and they talked to me. Not my wife, the fellow Of course I totally screwed with them and told them I was the new rep out of Houston.

You see, if you know how to read people, you can manipulate them. It can be fun. My wife enjoyed it as I made them feel horrible by talking about how I was in my second year and had made a quarter of a million dollar sale (using the engineering jargon helped). This also helped with #1.

3. This led to me and another guy at my table (Dan, from California) putting down the proverbial glass and seeing who could piss into it from further away.

"I saw Mark Messier play live," Dan says.

"Oh yeah," I retort," I was at game seven in 1994 when he hoisted the cup for the Rangers. Even got to meet him at an after party.... Great guy."

Dan deflates a little, then says, "Speaking of parties, do you know who I met the other day? Charlize Theron. Ever meet her?" (This is a sign of desperation. If you're asking the other pisser if he or she knows the person, then you are desperate.)

Other guys had conversations about who hit a golf ball father ("By a whole three inches," one guy says. "Isn't that your penis size," I say sort of jokingly to Dan.)

4. My wife is shunted into a corner table because she's the engineer. Not knowing any of these people and making up a fictious life (I live in the Woods section of Houston, have three dogs which are all Airdales...thanks mom..., and once played golf with Bill Murray on accident.) suddenly has us move from the corner to the right center table near the VP of Sales. How sad. Oh, and the VP? Loved me. He was sad when I told him I "forgot" my cards in my room. My wife was mortified.

The Sales and Marketing part of my wife's (then) company drove her batty. Her job, at the time, was to save the company money. Which led to her final disgust of that weekend:

My wife saved her company a little over three quarters of a million dollars in one section. The marketing and sales team spent a little under $700,000 on schwag (or swag), a remake of a movie where they inserted salespeople, and "benefits" (one guy from Boston admitted that the company paid for his call girl). The first thing they did was take a film (in this case, several differnt Under Armor commercials), and inserted members of the sales team into it. They had to get the rights to use the commercials (they paid for it), and then go around and film the different sales people acting like the guys in the commercials and edit it.
They were also given bags (leather...very nice) with more items inside. Personalized iPods, large gift certificates to places like Best Buy, and more. One guy even got a certificate for a trip to Cabo. That's a ton of money spent.
So what's the point of all this? Well, the point is that with all of the stuff done with marketing and sales for this company, it was not surprising that they lost money.
I don't get incentives to do my job. Sure, I always joke that I want the kids to do really well so they can come back and help me retire early, but it's just a joke. For salespeople, incentives and commission are a way of life, but sometimes companies go too far, and it leads to destruction instead of salvation.
Of course what do I know? I get a mug and a handshake for my work. I could be wrong.