Archives for category: Communication

It’s tough being a kid, especially a teenage one. It’s the one decade where you change out of all recognition. So much to learn, so much to get your head around.

It’s no wonder that kids seem to be all over the place sometimes, their poor brains scrambled as they rewire at an alarming rate through adolescence.

I know my kids often struggled with remembering to bring stuff with them, or to bring stuff back, or to give me things from school. So much going on, and so much to remember.

It’s unfair to expect them to remember everything, so you have to take memory out of it. You have to make it systematic: an automatic, engrained behaviour for a situation.

Give them a system, or a process, that they can follow until it’s almost instinctive. After all, that’s what you did when you taught them how to go to the toilet, hold their knife and fork, or tie their laces.

In point of fact, this advice works in work as well as play, for cutting down the errors, the miscommunications and the inconsistencies. A culture of system or process services us all brilliantly well. And then, on those occasions when we cut loose and get spontaneous, it’s so much more refreshing and enjoyable.

 

Hello and Happy New Year! I wish you a simply stellar 2020. I wonder if they had as much fun with the year 1010 as we will have this year.

This very day, the 1st of January, reminds me of an example as to why marketing is always leveraging the nuances of language in its work.

Here’s my example. This is the eighth year that I’ve blogged. Sounds a lot, doesn’t it? Eight years! Except it isn’t really. It’s not that I’ve been blogging for eight years. It’s not even that I’m into my eighth year of blogging. Let me explain.

I started blogging in 2013. Fairly late in 2013, September in fact, but September nonetheless. Counting up the years – 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 – this is indeed the eighth year that I’ve blogged. At least one post in each of those years, and if you exclude 2013 and 2020 I’ve blogged 156 times in each of them.

In reality the elapsed time is exactly six and a third years, or six and one third as our US friends would say, but eight years, or the eighth year, sounds much more impressive.

Trading on these nuances is what helps us marketers stretch our claims to our advantage, but not to breaking point.

It would take some going to get into my eighth year of blogging, and what seems like an eternity to have been doing it for eight whole years. Not gonna happen, don’t think.

 

The Germans have a word, actually I’m sure they have several other such examples, that conveys something that’s really hard to express in English without using a far less economical explanation.

Wikipedia describes the word as ‘a state or feeling of warmth, friendliness, and good cheer. Other qualities encompassed by the term include coziness, peace of mind, and a sense of belonging and well-being springing from social acceptance.’

Whenever I think of the word I imagine being in a warm chalet half-way up a ski slope, with a roaring fire, comfy chairs, a bunch of friends and family, and a glass of gluhwein or a bowl of gulaschsuppe with a hunk of bread. I don’t ski very often at all, but I hope I’m conveying that feeling of snugness, without I hope, the feeling of smugness, that we can all experience without going alpine.

One of the wonders of there being loads of different languages is that they all have certain words relating to their own culture and are so idiomatic that you need a paragraph or even a book to do them justice in your own tongue. Another example would be the Danish word hygge, which is surprisingly close to gemütlichkeit in its meaning.

Whatever your own preference of word, I wish you much of it.

C’est la vie – this is the life! Or, as my good lady’s aunt pronounces it, ‘sest lav eye’.

What better phrase is there to sum up the pinnacle of being alive in a great moment? When you’re lying down with the sun on your face, or admiring an amazing view from the comfort of a chair, or enjoying a drink with friends in a place with gemütlichkeit, it’s those precious times when you are conscious of how lucky you are.

I wrote recently about the importance of enjoyment, and making an effort to enjoy whatever it is you’re doing. The self-help best seller and blogger Tim Ferriss also alluded to it in his 5-bullet Friday email when he picked for his ‘quote I’m pondering’ a Kurt Vonnegut line from the book A Man without a Country:

‘And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’

Which, I guess you could say, is the exact North American translation of c’est la vie.

The phrase ‘to judge a book by it cover’ is a common one, and I’ve blogged before about how we should judge products by how good the accessories are, since they’re an intrinsic part of the product itself and the overall product experience.

I’m a firm believer in that you can judge a lot about a public place from the standard and cleanliness of its toilets. This is especially true of restaurants. If the toilets are not clean, what does that lead us to conclude about the restaurants’ approach to hygiene and about the kitchen in particular? Toilets are part of the product, the brand, the whole experience.

You can say exactly the same about pubs. I was out on a mini pub crawl the other evening. It was out in the country; we’re talking the deepest, darkest, quietest, most rural parts of east county Galway. Almost literally, the middle of nowhere. Some pubs you’d walk into, everyone would turn and look at you, and the decor was basic at best, very rough and ready.

The one pub that sticks in my mind? The one with the nice decor, the pleasant ambience, and, I have to say, the nicest toilets I have ever seen for a pub. Super clean, well appointed and with a recently applied expensive-looking tiling.

The pub that sticks in my mind is the one I will visit again. It got the whole product experience right, possibly without consciously trying to do, but by making an effort.

 

I’ve always detested the so-called Reality TV genre. Really can’t abide it at all. It doesn’t matter what topic: celebrities, regular folks, dancing, surviving, loving, hating, watching reality TV. I find it awful and depressing.

I think this is because reality is not real. At least, reality television isn’t real. It’s an edited down, souped up, hammed up, extreme version of real life. All the good bits, the dramatic bits, put together for our entertainment. Packaged up as real, but not really real at all; simply entertainment, of a type.

It doesn’t convey real life, and I don’t think it was ever meant to. Real life is running all the time, and has always run, and you simply can’t convey the huge periods periods of not much happening, periods of normalcy, not even with vlogging. Normalcy is not viewable as entertainment, not even if you attempted some Truman Show-type of constant coverage. If you did you’d get the view the camera gives you, not your view, the individual’s.

When I was much younger, well before reality TV emerged, I sometimes day-dreamed about what it would be like televising me driving on a long journey, exploring my musings and regaling myself and my unseen audience with my wit. How would that ever be interesting to others, even if you had the most charismatic person in the world, unless you presented the highlights?

You can’t ever replicate the individual’s perspective of the reality they see and experience. Maybe there’s a different format yet to be explored which will do justice to real life. But probably not.

The media’s obsession with bad news, or sensational news, means that it’s really hard to maintain a positive outlook and a sense of balance. This is because someone else is deciding which bits of the millions of bits happening in the world are worthy of making it through the funnel into the wider world.

Unfortunately, bad news, at least someone else’s bad news, sells rather well. Natural disasters, accidents, terrorism, politics; there’s not much uplifting in that lot.

My good lady sent me this great feature the other day, which I feel we all need. It’s from Bored Panda and the title says it all: I’m Honestly Fed Up With All The Bad News, So I Illustrated 50 Of The Best Ones From 2019.

The illustrations are in a style I love and each good news story is a great one that should go viral. It’s a serious antidote to all the FUD that threatens to cloud our view of the world. I’m not sure why good news is unfashionable, but it has been so for a while.

It’s really hard to pick a favourite, both in terms of illustration and news story; they’re all superb.

 

What is the rule when it comes to using numbers in content? Should we use numeric symbols or spell them out? I don’t definitively know, but that won’t stop me offering some standards around which how I like to operate.

First things first: I think dates and big numbers should always be represented numerically. They’re simply too tiresome to spell out, unless for some quirky or emphatic reason. What I’m really talking about is the instances where we want to use smaller numbers.

1 example to start. It looks awkward if you begin a sentence with a number, unless it’s a bulleted or numbered list.

The key is consistency I think. If you’re going to use a small number a small number of times, spell the small number out. It can be quite emphatic and also easy on the eye. If you’re set on numerals, be consistent, but try not to begin sentences with a number. Here’s an example of a post I wrote where I spell out the numbers consistently and refer to dates numerically. Spoiler alert: you can’t click on that post until after January 1st 2020. I’ve never ever published a link to a document available in the future before, it feels slightly odd.

Where do you stop the bigger the numbers get, and how do you punctuate? I’m OK with seventeen. I’m also OK with twenty-three, if the context is right and there aren’t too many numbers in the content. What about one hundred and thirty-eight? It’a bit unwieldy isn’t it, and did I get the hyphen right? The higher the number, the more unwieldy, unless it’s a round number, naturally.

So, spelling out numbers depends on the 3 C’s: consistency, context and common sense. And would you believe it, according to this source you only need to hyphenate the numbers between 21 and 99, or twenty-one and ninety-nine. Technically, then, we’d write thirty-two million, seven hundred and ninety-eight thousand, four hundred and fifty-six, though why we wouldn’t put 32,793,456 is lost on me.

My Dad had several memorable phrases that you hardly ever hear these days, and even back then they would probably be viewed as fairly antiquated.

One of his favourites was to tell me I was ‘hoist by your own petard’. I never really knew what it meant, except that I was kind of the victim of my own devious plan.

Apparently, according to the good folks at wikipedia, the actual phrase is ‘hoist with his own petard’, from Bill Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It means to be blown up by your own bomb, petard being the bomb part. It has, or had, come to be used proverbially, when something to you try to do to bite someone ends up biting you back.

Fantastic! It came to me the other day, though I can’t remember how my brain accessed it. I do need to start getting it into everyday conversation, if at all possible.

Deck or doc, which are you? Slide deck or word document?

How do you prefer to get your information? Sometimes it depends on the type of information you’re getting. I’m a fairly visual person, and I like to be able to short-cut the information acquisition process and zero in on what I want. This is hard to do with a doc(ument), unless it’s well laid out and sign-posted. If I’m clicking on a web page link to learn more, I prefer a web page to a 2-minute or 3-minute video. I can scan the headings of a web page in a few seconds, rather than sit through something for a few minutes, or jump ahead and risk missing the nuggets.

I’m therefore a deck guy. By this I mean a slide deck. I find this kind of ironic since I’m better myself at creating words than pictures. I generally delegate the pictures to someone who’s good at pictures.

Some people are doc people. They prefer to absorb the information in a word-processed document to a slide or picture presenting document. They like the detail. They want to pour over it, or at least have the option to at a later stage if they need to.

Ask yourself this: when was the last time you said to your customer or your audience, ‘how would you like this information, by deck or doc?’ Even though some types of information are better presented in one format over another, your customer’s or audience’s preferences are important.