Archives for category: Communication

I’m not sure I qualify as an Ex-Pat, an Englishman  living in Ireland. It’s not quite Singapore or Sao Paolo is it? Still, if and when Brexit happens perhaps I’ll have more of a case.

As long as there’s been an Internet I’ve used the BBC website as my de factor home page. I use it to get a snapshot of the news, the sports goings on, and some of the magazine articles. Even though I live in another country the exemplary BBC site is my anchor.

One thing gripes, though, and has always griped. About every year or two they issue a survey on the site for their foreign readers, which usually culminates in the offer to be a member of the BBC Global Minds community. Every time I complete the survey I always mention my major gripe. Due to the licensing laws, most of the sporting videos are content ‘not available in your location’, or similarly worded nonsense.

What’s that all about? I can switch on BBC on my Freesat box and watch the sporting highlight. Same jurisdiction, same video footage. So why is not available on the web? And what is the BBC doing about for its British nationals abroad?

Even though the site is still peerless, there is a small disappointment in the product not delivering every time the video content is denied to me. Less than optimal.

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There is a skill to editing. A different skill to writing I think. Where writing is more creative and subject to emotional highs and lows, editing seems to be on an even keel, more clinical.

Sometimes I prefer writing. The chance to take a blank canvas and turn it into something unique that moves, influences or informs people – possibly – is one that I take up three times a week on this blog.

Other times I like to edit. You can get through more material when you’re editing, especially if the writing is good and it sits within a sound structure and flow. It can be a slog to create something, heavy going, but then I suppose it can be the same when you’re having to do a major edit or, worse still, a re-draft.

Editing your own work is quite a challenge, particularly if it comes right after you’ve finished writing. You’re so close to the content that sometimes you forget you’re copy editing and you get taken along by the narrative. What you should be doing is checking every single word for appropriateness, spelling, typos and punctuation accuracy, as well as the sense and flow of what you’re reading. It’s hard to maintain that dispassionate distance from something you created. It’s easier to do that when it’s someone else’s work.

Copy editing is draining. You need to maintain a very high level of concentration, frequently circling back through what you’re editing to make sure you’re consistent in how you approach every instance of a heading, indentation, number, quotation or other conventions. In contrast, when you’re writing and it’s going well, it can feel like you’re not concentrating at all. The writing is flowing as fast as you can type, and you’re in some kind of zen-inspired zone, a passenger to the words flowing from your head through to your fingertips.

Editing your own work is not ideal. The role should really belong to someone else, unless you can take a big break after the creative phase and approach it as more of a stranger. This is less important when you’re blogging, as you can always go back and make a change after publication. When you’re publishing something final, however, like a brochure or a book, it’s a different story – literally.

I was able to pay off a mortgage the other day. I expect it’s the kind of thing that happens all the time to thousands of homeowners. It had a few months to go before it was finished and it seemed to make sense to get a redemption figure and get rid of the very small outstanding amount a few months early.

Another reason was that my other mortgages are not due to be paid off for another 15 years or more, so I wanted to get this one out of the way.

So, in the time-honoured and fuddy duddy old way, I wrote in looking for a redemption figure, they wrote back a fortnight letter, and I sent off a cheque for the balance the next day. Fabulous.

That was a few weeks ago. I haven’t heard anything. No acknowledgement letter with a zero balance. More importantly, no congratulations letter.

This is a missed opportunity. Firstly, it’s a golden rule of marketing that you celebrate each milestone of the customer journey with the customer. Secondly, this doesn’t have to be the last milestone, it could be the chance to say ‘hey, well done, you’ve paid off your mortgage, you’re going to be a few quid better off a month, here are some savings suggestions.’

I realise much of this is automated these days, but you can still build rules into your process that trigger a congrats letter to each customer, celebrating the mortgage payoff. It’s very cheap, it’s common sense, it leaves your customer with a good feeling and it might prod them to buy another product from you. Easy.

I heard an ad on the radio the other day. It was for the travel company TUI, who used to be Thomson Holidays in the UK before they were taken over. So the ad passed the first test, namely that I was able to remember who the ad was for.

At the end of the ad it delivered its payload, which as far as I can remember was this: ‘We cross the T’s and dot the I’s on your holiday, and put you [as in U] in the middle.’ Beautiful. Achingly beautiful.

In one line it has made the brand the message.

You have to bear in mind that TUI is a German company. Someone came up with this genius strapline to work in the English language, so it’s almost certainly not the case that the strapline came first and inspired the brand name.

For me, when the brand becomes the message, or is the message, you’re onto a winner. I can’t imagine how well the strapline works in a visual – rather than auditory – ad, perhaps with a touch of animation. Delicious.

Blanket banner advertising

Online advertising is getting more and more targeted, as you’d expect. Companies and websites are getting better at collecting and mining customer information so that they can deliver more targeted ads which have a higher chance of converting, since in theory they resonate and are more relevant.

That doesn’t stop the odd bit of blanket advertising. Here’s one I got earlier in the year from M&S, promoting their Big & Tall range. I’m far from big and I’m far from tall. Surely if this is just a bulk buy from hotmail then it’s not appropriate for a section of the population in the high 90’s per cent?

I get lots of such ads to my hotmail account. I can tell you that they’re not remotely targeted. The only ones that are targeted are when I’ve abandoned a purchase on an ecommerce-savvy website like Amazon, and then it presents back to me the exact product I was either researching or declined to purchase.

To understand why companies still persist with untargeted ads and their microscopically small click-through rates, you have to put yourself in their shoes. Perhaps they don’t get the data from the owner of the space. Perhaps the click-through rates are still worth it. Perhaps the front-of-mind awareness, which has always been so hard to measure in the traditional offline world, is good enough for them.

Either way, it’s hard to believe that this form of untargeted online advertising has much of a shelf life.

 

Some folks use short-hand to convey that something was too long for them to read it. They simply write TL;DR, as in too long, didn’t read. It’s often levelled at overly long blog posts and the like, something you could never say about this blog.

I was recommended to subscribe to Tim Ferriss’ emails by a friend some months ago. He’s very well-known as the creative force behind the 4-Hour Work Week, Tools of Titans and so on. His emails on interesting stuff he’s coming across and recommendations for life improvement are really good. I’d been saving a few of his emails to read in one go, because they featured podcasts of TV interviews he’d done with people I admired.

The other day I got the chance to listen to the podcasts. Except that I didn’t. They were so long! Each podcast was at least an hour, comprising very long pre-ambles and sponsor messages before you get into a conversation that seemed to last forever. I tried clicking into later parts of the podcasts, but it didn’t work and I ended up deleting them all.

I’m sure the content was excellent, but I didn’t have the time to wade through them. Perhaps I wasn’t the target audience, since I’ve not got my working week down to the stage where I’m only doing 4 hours and have oodles of time to spare. I suppose I could have had the interviews playing in the background while I was working, but then I wouldn’t really have been paying attention.

For me it was a case of TL;DL – too long, didn’t listen. A missed opportunity, for me and the originator.

These days when you ask an English person how they are, you still hear something along the lines of ‘Not too bad, can’t complain.’ I don’t think you hear it from the younger generations.

When I use the phrase I often add the comment, ‘much as I’d like to’, with what I imagine is a dry, worldly smile. I probably look like I’m in pain, which I guess would give me something to complain about.

For a lot of us English folk though, being ready to complain seems to be our default position. I guess that’s why we attract the ‘whingeing poms’ sobriquet. The phrase- can’t complain, not wingeing poms – is a pretty old one, so perhaps it originated from a time when, for most people, actually there was quite a lot to complain about. It also reminds me of the joke about the elderly Jewish gentleman in hospital. ‘Are you comfortable?’ the nurse asks. ‘I make a living’, he replies. He might as well have said ‘can’t complain’.

It is, I suppose, an example of using a negative phrase to reinforce a positive sentiment. I used to date a lady from the US who when she saw a handsome man would whisper to me ‘not too shabby…’

To give another example, my wife hates it when I describe a meal as ‘not bad’, ‘not too bad’ or even ‘not bad at all’. She doesn’t accept my protestations that they are all complimentary, as dictated by the tone I use to say them. To us English folk, not bad is good, not too bad is very good and not bad at all is very good indeed.

 

I’ve been travelling on Irish trains for 10 or 15 years. On the whole they’re reasonably comfortable and reasonably reliable, and quite expensive, perhaps because there’s a lot of fixed assets to maintain and a lot of staff mouths to feed. It being a state body, I imagine there’s a quite a lot of fat on the business that can’t be easily trimmed.

Irish Rail trains have these automated train announcements for their inter-city routes. The announcements come on at various points in the journey. I thought they were perhaps driven by GPS, so that when the train was a certain distance from a station, this triggered the ‘in a couple of minutes we’ll be in X’ announcement, and so on.

I don’t now think this is the case, because the announcements have been coming in at oddest the times, for quite a while. Recently I was on a Dublin-to-Galway service that was announcing we were coming to the various stops before we got to them – which is good – while we were at them – not so good – and after we had left them – not good at all.

Also, Irish Rail would do well to listen to the announcements of other operators like Gobus, whose messages are much more friendly and positive rather than negative. Irish Rail announcements have rather too much ‘don’t do this, don’t do that’ about them. What’s wrong with saying ‘please avoid sitting in pre-booked seats’ or ‘please keep your feet off seats for the next passenger’? It’s less negative and conveys the same request. Theirs comes across as a bit semi-state and antiquated to my mind.

Finally, before I fall off my soap box, there are ticker tape-style notices on each carriage which display what the audio announcements say. On one of them, there has been a typo – an extra space like this  ‘please do not put your  feet on seats – for years and years. It must appear on every train, on every route in the country. You can’t tell me no member of Irish Rail staff has never noticed it and thought to get it fixed? It’s the detail that counts in the service business.

I’ve spent a few days clearing out and cleaning up the gardens and inside of a house we own in Ireland’s fair capital. It’s been years since a major revamp so the opportunity afforded by a break between tenants was welcome.

Part of this job involved removing a lot of used and partly used paint cans from the shed, abandoned by the previous tenants who, presumably, didn’t fancy the expense or effort of doing it themselves.

Ireland is pretty good when it comes to waste and recycling. We can recycle most things, and the local municipal tips will take large things like furniture, appliances and so on. One of the few things they don’t take for free are paint cans. For that I had to go to a special waste area where I was charged 70 cent per can. I emerged €13.30 lighter from the experience, but at least I had done a small part to make sure the contents were being disposed of in the best way possible.

I also had a large old plastic container of engine oil, mostly full. The plastic was free to recycle, but the cost to me to empty the oil into a large tank of similar oils was €3.50. I should point out that if I had brought 20 other oil containers the total charge would still have been €3.50, but I didn’t know that until I got there. What’s more, the oil took 10 minutes to empty out.

Add in the €5 for fuel for the 30-mile round trip and the out-of-pocket cost to me is approaching €25. This doesn’t include the depreciation to the car of about the same as the fuel, and the much larger opportunity cost associated with my time.

The cost of being ethical and living responsibly can still be considerable.

I’m going through a period of frustration with my iPhone’s texting function at the moment. With the latest release it seems harder, rather than easier, to get a quick text away.

The typepad is still incredibly small and the individual letters about a third the size of my finger tips. When you flip to landscape to use your thumbs it’s no better because although the letters are a bit larger, so are your thumb tips compared to your finger tips.

The autocorrect function seems to have had a wobble too. The other day I meant to type ‘did you’ and when I glanced up to the screen the application had offered ‘didymium’. Didymium? Is that even a word? Well, it turns out it is, and it’s unrelated to the small swinging parts key to male reproductivity – as in epididymitis. No, it’s some kind of chemical amalgam.

While I felt a very marginal gain in acquiring a new word, I also wondered why the autocorrect algorithm was set up to prioritise a highly obscure material ahead of a slightly mistyped ‘did you’ which must occur across devices a few million times a day.