Book: The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing

Recommended by a colleague, I borrowed this from the library yesterday and finished it this morning. It’s a straightforward book, but has a lot of insight into the way that marketing works in big companies, and what might explain the wrong steps that have been taken.

Showing its age in some ways (it’s from 1994) – the computer industry discussions are peppered with words like “mainframe”, and “NeXT” workstation, and while it gives credit to Steve Jobs as a great presenter, he’s not part of the big picture at all.

The strongest ideas are in terms of brand dilution (“the law of line extension”) – a company that’s successful in one area will always try and spread into other areas, often costing market share in both. A short, but useful read.

Olive Green’s Cafe

green's olive cafe, ultimo

Little Marionette Coffee. 80 Broadway, Ultimo. Still very much in launch mode, this is a welcoming space with some edgy lighting pieces. seating for about 10 people indoors and another 10 outdoors.

Being on a main road, across from a construction site, means that there’s a fair amount of noise to content with. To drown it out, the background music playing is cheery 90’s pop for the most part – perhaps they’re aiming for a slightly older demographic to the uni students who would be easy pickings from across the road or down the road.

green's olive cafe, ultimo

The staff are friendly and knowledgable, though they’re still getting the kinks out of their procedures – the bags of tea have instructions on the back of them, the sandwiches aren’t quite labelled yet, and the menus aren’t printed, but this is a promising space.

floating latte - green's olive cafe, ultimo

Coffee – roasted by little marionette – is really pleasant. The lattes are served in insulated glasses, so they’re surprisingly hot at first. There’s a decaf grinder, and they know what they’re doing with the milk. Worth a try – we may have a serious contender here!


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What to achieve by sixty

Listening to the speeches at a relative’s 60th birthday party with my too-tired son resting on my lap was as good a chance as any to take stock of how my life is going, and what might need changing.

One speech – by a lifelong friend – talked about how they had met, decades ago – and the time and adventures of those golden years of youth.

Three other friends gave a combined speech – the recurring time invested in spending a weekend or more together with the old crowd keeps the old stories alive; there’s a clear difference between time spent with one friend and time in a group, but both, clearly, are important.

A combined speech from the kids, telling a mix of the funny “dad stories”, and the heartfelt tribute to their dad’s work ethic, and the quality time spent together. At sixty, the grunting resentment of adolescent children gives way and the power of speech returns.

And behind the scenes, the faithful wife. Shy of the limelight, not wanting to give a speech herself, but glad to celebrate the occasion and show hospitality (and great catering) to the gathered friends and family.

What lessons are there? What speeches would I want to hear at my sixtieth birthday (still more than two decades hence)?

It’s an encouragement to press on with the balancing act: working hard on things that make the world better somehow, learning new things, writing and teaching people what I can, being the best husband, father, friend I can be.

One aspect missing from that night’s speeches that I’d like to see in the speeches at my sixtieth – the spiritual side of life. It’s a big time investment, but being regular at church attendance, and in talking to people about Jesus in a loving, listening way is that extra puzzle piece I’d like to see.

What would you like to hear in the birthday speeches for your 60th?

what “draw something” can teach you about communication

Drawing Bart in draw something

It’s hard to imagine that the company that makes a free game with an ad-free $1.99 version can sell for $180M. But that’s what happened to OMGPOP, makers of Draw Something (see also the Draw Something Facebook page).

If you haven’t played, it’s a multi-player pictionary-style game with a big-button, friendly interface.

Using a basic set of drawing tools (four sizes of paintbrush, the same four sizes of eraser, and a small set of colours), a player draws their choice from three words, of varying difficulty. The process of drawing is recorded by the app, and then played back to the other player, so they can watch the drawing, and make a guess. Words are between 3 and 8 letters long, and you’re given 12 letters to choose from – the correct letters are there, along with some decoy letters.

A successful guess adds to the number of “coins” the player has. Coins can be spent on two different things – a bigger range of colours, and more “bombs”. The bombs can let you choose a new set of words (if the three choices are too hard to draw), or reduce the group of letters (to make the guessing easier).

There’s a limited option for additional commerce within the game – you can spend real-world money on coins, or you can just keep playing and winning coins. Games never end: once you start a game, it just keeps going back and forth.

Games can be played against other users via username, or you can connect to Facebook and play against your Facebook friends. This creates a sense of reciprocity that makes it hard to escape – a friend has drawn a word for you, so you’re obliged to guess, and then the game makes you draw another word.

It’s hard to tell what the longevity of the game will be, but it is, for the most part, a fun undertaking in the short term. As the games build up, a sense of being overwhelmed with too many games to play can build up, but the simple solution is to delay your next game for a while.

What strikes me as new here is the video nature of the drawing: it makes what you’re drawing more like an animation, and less like a static sketch being passed from one player to the other. This adds to the offline charm of the process.

Is there anything we can learn from “draw something”? Where we’d normally use text, we have to use an under-rehearsed skill – sketching. To get a single word across, you need to call on shared experiences, and metaphor. Drawing for someone you know well is much easier than for a casual acquaintance (or worse, a stranger on the internet).

It makes you consider the way someone will interpret what you’re communicating, and distil an idea to its essence.

These are useful skills in communicating, worth trying to use whenever you’re trying to explain yourself to someone.

reflections on the kony campaign

Having reached 70 million views faster than any previous YouTube video, unless you’ve been living under a rock (or offline), you will have hear of the Kony 2012 campaign video. In fact, you may already have completely moved on – the media coverage certainly has.

Kony 2012 is so seductive for precisely the same reasons that make it so dangerous. The half-hour video, now viewed 40 million times, sets viewers up for a message so gratifying and fulfilling that it is almost impossible to resist: there is a terrible problem in the world, you are the solution, and all you have to do is pass along this video. [Max Fisher writing in the atlantic, see also a selection of African reactions to the video]

I’ve tried to read widely and pull some threads together about the Kony 2012 campaign.

What is really happening in Africa?

Plenty of blog posts emerged to give a clearer picture of what is happening in central Africa – South Sudan, and Uganda [more Ugandans died in road accidents last year (2,838) than have died in the past 3 years from LRA attacks in whole of central Africa(2,400)]. With years of experience reporting and working all around Africa, Dinaw Mengestu talks about the history of relations with, and deals offered to, Kony over many years.

Ideas around how poverty relief needs to work (from a Christian worldview), and how a western framework for “fixing the problem” is inadequate (also from a Christian worldview).

An article with a great headline – “the horror and the hashtag” provides this quote: “Stopping Mr. Kony is a righteous meme, but there are better ways to get there than this hashtag.” There have been questions about the content of the film. A plea not to reduce Uganda to a meme encourages people to think critically about the situation, not just to accept the message of the video without criticism. A question as to whether violence – rather than bringing peace – begets anything but more violence.

The video can (as one brief scene suggests) make work in the region more difficult.

Social change needs subtleties. It needs room for negotiation, compromises, and shifting the debate. It also needs really boring things: tedious days of discussion and engagement, mind-numbingly unsexy drafting of agreements, and an open mind at all stages. And it needs very invisible people committed to working away on these things through small, but important contributions. These are not people who buy action kits and re-tweet.

It’s easy to make the assumption that every other country has the same government and freedoms that Australians have, but even a cursory reading will reveal that Uganda has more structural problems than Kony – its own government and army, to start with.

An academic looks over the campaign and finds it simultaneously encouraging and frustrating

“Direct action” in the Invisible Children sense is all about instant gratification: it’s pushing 1-Click on “Change the World”. And the world just doesn’t work that way. Fundamental change is hard, it’s slow, it involves the messy working out of lives in the local, lives in the global.

Critiques of Invisible Children, Bloggers, and Jason Russell

If you want to read vitriol against filmmaker Jason Russell, there’s no shortage of choices. If you want subtle vitriol against bloggers, there’s a Kony 2012 blogger bingo card.

A particular incident (that I won’t link to) shows Jason Russell experiencing the challenges of being the public face of a world-wide viral video. Even bloggers who have covered the topic, and finding new audiences, are rethinking their blogs in light of the extra attention.

Many critiques were made of the finances of the organisation (Invisible Children) that created the video, and they presented a well-crafted response to the criticism, and one Invisible Children staffer participated in an interview with Good magazine.

This lengthy piece speaks in detail about the complexity that has been distilled down to be transmittable in a YouTube video, and wisely asks the question: “If we want people to pay attention to the issues we care about, do we need to oversimplify them?”

Yes, a lot more people are aware. But does awareness matter?

The bottom line is, research your causes thoroughly. Don’t just forward a random video to a stranger because a mass murderer makes a five-year-old “sad.” Learn a little bit about the complexities of the region’s ongoing strife before advocating for direct military intervention. Wil Wheaton

Critiques of Slacktivism

There are legitimate problems being raised with what is termed slacktivism –

Just because a fancy film tells you something doesn’t mean it’s right. This film is circulating fast and people are watching it, feeling guilt then clicking share. job done.

The project with the slickest video is not always the most effective use of donor money.

There are people who are enthusiastic about film-making and social justice who are excited.

i’m a film major, ergo, i love film. and if there’s two of my passions i could put together, it would probably be the use of media for justice. it tingles me. this little video has made its way round the globe, got people talking, engaged activism! this is one of the greatest examples yet of the untapped potential of the media to help heal our world, to bring about change for the better and help us understand issues we have little proximity to. church, listen up! God can use films, when we give Him a freakin’ chance.

Is it better to watch and share a video that tells something of the horrors of a situation, and seeks to do something about it, than to read an article that is truly horrifying, and then do nothing about it?

The video is getting people to share, but does their enthusiasm run out before they do anything more?

Viral Video

Seth Godin posted about viral videos with a few recent case studies including Kony 2012. Other blog post angles exist – what non-profits can learn about marketing, the emergence of a new form of influence for domestic and foreign policy. Making changes to your own consumption as a way of making a difference to Africa.

Bluntly read, what some of critics are arguing is that social advocacy, particularly around world affairs, should be left to experts: to politicians, to “serious” NGOs, to erudites. Young people–and this includes both the film’s 30 something-old creators, and its mostly 20 and under viewers–are told that this isn’t a world for them. It is too complicated, too hard, too serious. These are the same messages young people are getting about politics: If you don’t know exactly what you’re talking about, you’d better not talk at all. 
– Harry Jenkins, talking about why the youth find the IC cause so compelling.

Five reasons why the Kony video went viral [upbeat, emotions more than facts, clear villain, shows people sharing, clear call to action]

A social media marketing consult deconstructs the campaign at a micro level – what happens in the conversations kids are having with the parents about the campaign?

How the Kony2012 video functions as an organising narrative (it’s the story of Jason Russell as everyman solving a problem of injustice that everyone can relate to… so sign up!).

Angelina Jolie speaks out against Kony (not for the first time). In fact, the campaign managed a successful call to action from most of its targeted “culture shapers”.

Danah Boyd looks at the words mentioned in the tweets at the initial spread of the Kony meme, and talks about how it was Invisible Children’s existing networks (privileged white, Christian kids in the US). More detail is on the social flow site.

Oversimplifying Complexity

The Kony campaign may be both an example of how powerful social media can be and at the same time a cautionary tale about the benefits of such tools when it comes to complicated issues. [Gigaom summary article of the rise of the news story and some initial engagement with the campaign]

Is it possible that the response generated will move beyond “white saviour complex” and on to empowering Ugandans (and other affected parties) to solve their own problems? It seems unlikely, if the majority of the responses watch the video alone without investigating further.

There’s still no mechanism for a discussion of these kind of global issues, says the NYT, but at least it’s now possible to talk directly with people who are involved.

What should we do?

The message Invisible Children is sending is that anybody can change the world, and it’s easy. Watch the movie, share it with your friends, tweet at some famous people, and if you get really excited, put up some posters. I’d like to change their message slightly, although mine isn’t as catchy:

Anybody can change the world, but it’s difficult. And you should do it anyway. [visible children tumblr]

Obviously we should do something: but should we support Invisible Children in what we’re trying to do, or give them a wide berth?

Pulling the threads together

To look at the aftermath of the Kony video and think that you too can (with the right resources) put together a video that will become an overnight, world-changing viral hit is a misnomer.

There’s a legitimate complaint about the video that it oversimplifies the complexity of the situation. But this is a naive complaint in a way; the reason that such a long video resonated so far was the emotional impact of the father-son conversation and the rallying footage of ordinary people making a difference. This – by definition – leaves you with less time in the video to get the message across.

We can expect to hear more about the Kony phenomenon in their announced April 20th campaign to raise awareness offline – the “action kits” have all sold out, so there are plenty of people interested in continuing the campaign. The various complaints that I’ve read about the Invisible Children organisation don’t seem to completely exclude the notion of supporting them. More of a problem is the approach that is being recommended. While the capture of Kony is a noble goal, it’s unlikely to have a profound difference on Uganda, and is quite likely to do harm in terms of inciting violence in the areas where the searches take place.

If you want to make improvements to the region, perhaps the best call to action I’ve read is to take out a Kiva loan – provide some actual poverty relief on the ground (though it should be noted that Kiva is not without its critics).

In terms of self-improvement, spending time reading more about what’s wrong in the world, and in more depth than just tweets, videos, or Facebook status updates. Work on improving your attention span: when a popular cause comes along, spend some time looking into the background and understanding the debate as well as you can.

If you’re a media-maker, there are many lessons to learn from Invisible Children. Viral video can be a method for spreading a political or non-profit message, if it tells a human story, and has a call-to-action that resonates with social media users. If you’re trying to spread awareness, then a viral video can do good work: but make sure your house is in order, and you’re ready to respond to criticism, media enquiries, and a magnifying glass.

But – and this is the lasting question – is raising awareness enough? The campaign has seen people whose awareness has been raised motivated to raise further awareness. Is it even possible to generate actual change through social media, or is awareness as far as it goes?

book: Good Strategy, Bad Strategy

Book: Good Strategy, Bad Strategy

I find myself spending more and more time thinking about and writing strategies of late – perhaps this is a sign of my advancing age! Before I started uni, I used to jump in and write code. A computer science degree taught me the benefits of planning what you were trying to do before rushing in. Moving this across to web development, this meant spending more time thinking about how the end-user would actually use the website in question, rather than how to solve the interesting coding problem that lay behind it all.

And now, as I spend more of my time thinking about how to get a particular message out to a particular group of people, this means thinking about what exactly that group of people are doing, and how what I’m trying to say will fit in with the rest of the things that they’re hearing, and the rest of the things that are important to them.

Strategy, though, this book (written by Richard Rumelt, a world-expert on strategy) tells us is often misunderstood. A goal (we want to be 50% bigger in a year) can often be put forth as a strategy (when you’re deciding what to do, give preference to those things that will make us 50% bigger in a year), but this falls short of what might be termed good strategy.

In essence, good strategy identifies an end point, describes the challenges involved in reaching that endpoint, and outlines the way that those obstacles can be overcome.

The book is packed with examples from the business world in a range of market segments, of bad strategy, accidentally good strategy, and (occasionally) deliberately good strategy. I found it helpful in working out the differences between goals, strategies and tactics, and helping determine the best approach to thinking through a new strategy.

the face of birth

This is a tricky subject for me to comment on, but I thought I might just put a few thoughts out, and see what comes of it.

I should start out by saying that I haven’t actually watched this movie: I watched the kids while Kel went with some friends to watch it in a local screening, so these thoughts are from talking with her about the contents of the film and the surrounding issues. The face of birth talks about the changing way that mothers in Australia are giving birth.

We think increasingly of birth as a medical process, and so the key criteria about decision making for looking after the mother is keeping her physically safe during the delivery. If there’s any sense of risk, then a high-intervention birth (caesarean section, induced birth in a hospital) is the recommended way forward.

But this way of framing our understanding of birth seems insufficient. The event of giving birth is a significant event emotionally, physically, and generally ushers in some substantial changes to life – far more than the majority of other surgical procedures. Being forced down a particular path of a high-intervention birth without having the opportunity to consider other options (waiting to go into spontaneous labour, giving birth in a birthing centre with a midwife rather than an obstetrician, having a home birth) can leave women holding a baby with a profound sense of loss and regret, and no way of processing that.

This movie, in interviewing people from a range of professions, and who have had a range of birth experiences, seeks to shape the political debate, and provide mothers with a broader range of choices in how they give birth to babies.

Without a significant contribution from the general public seeking to engage in this discussion, the louder, more politically-savvy voices of the medical profession (and the insurance agencies) will easily dominate, and a high-intervention birth will become the norm. In our quest to keep people safe at all costs, we may bring about the kinds of birth experiences that discourage women from having more than a single child: – is this a decision that we want to take without thinking through the issues?



tipple cafe and bar, Surry Hills

the tipple, surry hills

Toby’s Estate Coffee. 26 Chalmers St, Surry HIlls. I read about this place in the Toby’s Estate newsletter, and its proximity to Central station was hard to argue with. A converted (and still functioning) pub, now with additional cafe features. Walk into the pub, or stand on the street to place your order, and sit in a spacious, comfortable place to eat or drink.

interior - the tipple, surry hills

Place your oder, and it will be made quickly and efficiently – they were out of pre-ground decaf, so they made some fresh-ground for me. It’s a well assembled Toby’s drop, worthy of the branding.

where the magic happens - the tipple, surry hills

You might also like to drop in for the $10 pub counter meal lunch: quite a few choices.

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Will everything be a coffee shop?

A piece of speculation about the future of a range of businesses and sectors “In the Future Everything Will Be A Coffee Shop (via disassociated) makes some excellent points, and a few I disagree with.

In America in particular the cost of higher education and student loans is spiralling out of control – it can be a long time after they finish studying before graduates are paying off the cost of their training. But suggesting that the answer is to set up coffee shops where people can watch free lectures from large institutions doesn’t seem sustainable: it works for the first year or two, but then who is paying for the new research to be done, and the up-to-date lectures being created? You might be able to learn a language, or even how to run a business through a laptop, but if you need to do lab work of any sort, then a cafe will struggle to support the full spectrum of course content!

I’m mourning the loss of bookshops as a sound business model as much as anyone – there’s something comforting about the notion of having a bookshop in your own suburb. Having a bookshop that’s just a combination of a cafe and a distribution / pick-up point for Amazon, or an instant-publisher of ebooks is better than nothing. This model could be a positive contribution to local small business.

Ultimately, the main challenge with “everything is a coffee shop” will be finding a viable business model. Cafes struggle to compete among themselves: if every business in a shopping strip is a cafe, then supply will far exceed demand.

In terms of replacing office spaces, the business model of a coffee shop comes under stress when office workers settle in for the day. The expectation on the side of customers is that cafes should offer free wifi and free power. But at some point, this becomes a lose-lose for the cafe. To make money, the cafe needs to be able to keep turning over the tables to new patrons – there is  some period of time that someone who has bought a $3 (or $4) coffee can stay in the cafe before they’re costing too much money – but if a cafe asks someone to move along, they run the risk of alienating not just that customer, but the surrounding customers.

Should an office worker want to pay their way by purchasing some menu items and additional beverages, they’re going to be consuming a lot of calories in lieu of renting a traditional office space: – this isn’t going to be a great thing for worker health!

And that’s quite apart from the negative impact that remote workers have on the tone of a coffee shop – the coffee houses of centuries past would not have worked as idea hubs if everyone had their heads buried in their electronic devices! Some cafes are deliberately turning off the wifi for atmospheric or financial reasons.

I think there’s still a lot more thought to be done on workplaces of the future and it’s a little too reductive to think that a cafe (or even something on the scale of a cafe) will be the dominant form of workspace.

A dedicated co-working space seems more sustainable (e.g. vibe wirefishburnershomework) and then ducking out to a cafe for a change of scene, and a more reasonable timeframe.

Instead of relying on cafes to provide wifi and power for computer / tablet users, perhaps we’ll see wifi become a service that is provided by local council or state government as a general enhancement to the shared space of a community, rather than being isolated to specific private businesses.