I was helping my daughter bake a cake the other day. She wanted help measuring out the ingredients and then she got on with it herself. It was to be a cake for her Ladyship’s birthday, one of those two-sponge affairs with jam in the middle and icing on the top.

I haven’t baked in a long time. I was staggered at the amount of butter that was called for in the recipe. Half a bar of the stuff. Worse was to come. The required amount of sugar filled a desert bowl, heaped.

It reminded me how much of the stuff that we’re supposed to moderate in our diets goes into making the big 5 food indulgences: cakes, crisps, sweets, chocolates and biscuits. I also love the cake mix, the gloopy mass of ingredients before it goes into the oven. Not usually the one to make the mix, I would grab a few scrapes of the remains of the mixing bowl. I had forgotten how much badness goes into these delicacies.

I guess that’s why legislation insists on manufacturers explicitly listing contents of food and also showing the number of calories in a meal. This has applicability not just in the world of fast moving consumer goods but in the broader marketing of both B2C and B2B products. Sometimes we don’t want to know what goes into the making of something. Sometimes we do, so it’s good to have the option.

As a marketer I like to participate in market research if I’m asked, and if I’m allowed – people from a marketing background can sometimes be excluded from participating in surveys. I know how hard it is get intelligence on a market.

Generally it’s a very short call, which is fine. Sometimes, I get called by a big research house in Dublin to help with a state of the market survey they do periodically. How’s my business doing, how do I think it will do, and so on. I avoid their calls these days.

Here’s why: it’s an unfair exchange. Firstly, the call is always about 15 minutes long, which is far too long and contains loads of repetitive questions. 15 minutes is a really long time to tie someone up on the phone. Secondly, I get nothing back. Not a copy of the research, nothing. In fact, it’s not just an unfair exchange, there’s no exchange at all. It’s all one way, coming from me.

Many companies doing research will offer a voucher, or a copy of the research, or entry into a draw for a device, in return for your time and attention. These guys don’t. They just persist with the phone calls.

If it’s not a fair deal for both parties, it will never last. It will simply cause resentment and close doors for good.

 

In the northwest corner of the Republic of Ireland, bordering Northern Ireland, sits the ludicrously beautiful county of Donegal. It has a long, particularly curly coastline and consequently some amazing beaches. A lot of them.

Some of these beaches are easily accessible from the main road, and easy to find, especially now the touristic powers that be have strengthened the signage and naming as part of the Wild Atlantic Way.

When I first travelled to Donegal, it was on a road trip with my brother. Somewhere in the county on a coastal road I drove past what looked like an interesting track down to what I thought might be the sea, though I couldn’t see it. We passed a couple of houses and then stopped the car before an unused sports field. The field was full of flowers and was so desolate that sheep were asleep on it and didn’t see us coming. Through the field was a saddle that bore onto the most deserted and prettiest beach I thought I’d ever been on.

I duly locked the place away in my head and saved it for a another time. That other time was a couple of years later when I was on a break with my good lady. I wanted to revisit the route the brothers had taken and propose on the beach.

Couldn’t find the damn thing. Had to revert to a plan B 3 hours’ drive away.

A couple of weeks ago, we were both back up there for a few days, the first time in 15 or 20 years. The roads had changed a bit, the place a little more commercialised. Still couldn’t find the damn thing. You see, there are a lot of coast roads and a lot of beaches, including the mystery Donegal beach.

I reckon I’ve narrowed it down though :-).

There’s more to come on this saga, I think, has to be…

How do you judge the quality of a place that you patronise for your meal, snack or drink?

I’ve found that the quality of an establishment’s decaffeinated coffee is a good indicator of the place, and it works from small shop where you can barely fit more than 3 people in, to the largest hotel.

Why should you even be interested in this post if you drink your coffee regular? Well, I like coffee and I limit my caffeine intake to the occasional fizzy drink. Decaff coffee is sufficiently minority for a place either to make the effort or not.

In some places you get an instant coffee out of a sachet, which is something I could make at home for a twentieth of the price. In other places you get proper coffee, but they make a a big pot for all their decaff drinkers and so your decaff is often stale or burnt. Then there are places which make your decaff for you to order. Then it boils down – no pun intended, because it’s not a very good one – to the quality of the bean and how well they make it.

Places that make good decaff, I’ve decided, that put that much effort into providing a good experience for their fringe customers, are the best places for all of us to go. This can lead you to some unlikely conclusions. For example, the best decaff I’ve had in a long time was at a motorway service station.

There’s a new-ish kind of road sign on Irish roads. I like it. The sign combines a speed camera and an instruction.

When you’re travelling along a road with a certain speed limit, the sign shows you the speed you’re going. If you’re going in excess of the speed limit, which is also displayed in the sign, the speed shows red. When you dip under the speed, it shows green. Crucially, after it shows you your speed in green it then posts a ‘thank you’, also in green.

These are signs with manners. They thank you for obeying their rules. But, crucially, they remind you about the speed limit in a creative way and also encourage you to drive below the limit. You comply, and you get your reward, someone’s – or something’s – thanks.

I have no data on this, but I would imagine that these new-ish signs are effective, certainly more effective than other kinds. Until, perhaps, we tire of the novelty factor. But will we ever tire of someone using good manners?

What’s the opposite of ‘swimmingly’? What do you say when something’s not going swimmingly? It’s hardly ‘sinkingly’, is it? It doesn’t strike me as having a natural antonym.

We have so many different words to describe what is essentially ‘well’. Many writers and communicators say that an adverb is unnecessary, lazy, superfluous. But sometimes it can also add colour, emotion, or accuracy.

None of which helps with what you say if you want to convey the opposite of swimmingly. The positive implies both buoyancy and movement, so the antonym could be buoyant but not moving – ‘floatingly’? – or neither buoyant nor moving, so perhaps sinkingly or ‘flailingly’.

These are the thoughts that trouble a troubled mind. WordPress at any rate likes none of them, inserting an ugly dashed red line underneath each one to suggest that they’re not words.

Or, that they haven’t been coined yet

They’re a dour, ass-covering, bet-hedging lot, those weather folk, aren’t they? A bit like astrologers or tarot card readers?

Hiding behind non-active verbs like might, could and so on, they’re forever on the fence, at least to my mind. But that’s not why I write this post.

Why do they always describe the weather as ‘partly cloudy’? What’s wrong with them saying ‘partly sunny’? If it’s partly cloudy, the corollary of that must be that it’s also partly sunny. It’s the same thing isn’t it, only one is markedly more downbeat than the other?

Partly sunny is like ‘glass half full’, full of optimism, promise and possibility. Partly cloudy is your glass half empty, negative, pessimistic, defeatist.

That’s what I mean about weather forecasters being dour. They’ve allowed their language to limit our expectations and our moods.

Work and public transport don’t really play nice, do they? At least in rural Ireland, as I discovered to my cost the other day.

I needed to go and see the company that was doing the accounts for my limited company and for me and her ladyship as individuals. We only keep one car between us, and as MGL (aka My Good Lady) needed it to go further than me, into Galway city, I decided that I would use my legs, combined with public transport to go from my town, to the neighbouring town for the meeting, a mere 15km away.

Now I say town, but by English standards these would be 2 villages, with about 3 and 5 thousand people respectively in them. Although I don’t think there’s a bus service between the 2 places, on paper it was easy: walk to the train station, take a 10 minute train journey, and walk to the company’s office for a 2pm meeting.

I ambled down to my local station with the insouciance of a man on a day’s holiday, and collected my pre-booked ticket from the machine. So far so good. My train was an inter-city train, and my destination was the one stop before the train’s final destination.

The train was half an hour late. Apparently a train had problems earlier in the day and all subsequent services were backed up. This had the effect of depositing me at my destination station at 2pm, the time I needed to be at my meeting. This train station used to be located right in the town, but 5 or 10 years ago had been rebuilt in a new location which was – literally – in the middle of nowhere. It was laughable. It was almost as if the location had been picked precisely for its maximum inconvenience. No-one except those with oodles of time on their hands could do anything but drive to the station to use it.

A half hour’s walk later I was at the office for my meeting, 2:30 instead of 2pm. Fortunately it was a nice day, and double fortunately I was able to put my meeting back. What struck me, however, was how difficult it would be to work or run a business where I live without a car. Public transportation here is too unreliable and too skeleton, not does it make financial sense for the powers that be to lay on more of a service.

I don’t have the answer. I do have an answer, which is that work and public transport don’t mix well. Not until we move to a society where you can pick up a driverless car or a Coke Car locally, rather like a Coke Bike, and leave it at a handy communal destination. For now though, 90 minutes from door to door to go 15 km does not go…

In this last post, for now, in the mini-series on product marketing in agile environments, I offer you my third thought on what has worked well for me. In fact, I talked about it briefly at the end of my second thought.

The third thought is this – and how difficult is that to say for a non-native speaker, with 2 voiced ‘th’ sounds and 2 voiceless ones! – leave the detail until the end. The detail is the filler, the proof points, the things that are only needed when the audience has engaged and wants to go deeper.

In your earlier iterations of the content to support your new product or enhancement, you focused on the high level, the really important stuff that resonates with your audience, the reason why you developed the product in the first place. People are busy, they are subject to a constant, heavy flow of information. They don’t have perfect memories; they’re only going to remember one thing you tell them, if you’re lucky, and you’re probably going to have to tell them multiple times anyway.

This is a good thing, because in an agile environment the exact detail of what you’re offering isn’t decided and baked in until the end. So your job is to build up the interest and demand with high level, highly distilled and focused messaging which helps your personas self-select. Once they have engaged and want to know more, then you can hit them with the detail which you now have.

This is the third post, and my second thought, as part of a mini-series on what to focus on in product marketing where the software development is agile and releases are small and quick fire, rather than traditional, infrequent and sometimes slightly ponderous.

My second thought is this, and it borrows from the agile philosophy itself. Approach your content and your communications in iterations. It’s no good disappearing into your bunker at the beginning of the creation process and coming out right before launch with the finished article before anyone’s had a chance to comment on it.

You need to iterate, and iterate often. Quick fire drafts get your thoughts out early and give key stakeholders the chance to sense check the direction you’re heading in and feed back so that you can adjust if necessary. Reviewers can track their changes in your documents so that when you evolve your work for a second and third look they only need to focus on the new stuff and not re-read everything again. Your job is to make sure that each new version still hangs together, makes sense and is a coherent, unified piece of work.

This is how I approach almost all of my work, including product marketing assignments. Do the homework, collate all the information, get a sense of the patterns, distil everything down to the key messages, and do a first pass. The early, high level draft allows you to align everyone’s thinking and affords you the time to change accordingly. The detail can wait til later, when you’re closer to the finish line.