Opinion

Random musings


Impressive Impressions


Posted By on Jul 21, 2010

I was sitting in an office reception area yesterday. I don’t like doing this for some reason. It makes me uncomfortable; maybe because it was a doctor’s office and everyone coming in there has very personal reasons for being there. We all sit there sort of announcing in silence that we’re holding a secret. Part of the veneer of civilization. I distracted myself by looking at a beautiful photo on the wall of mountains reflected in a lowland lake. I started wondering why I “understood” the elements of this image without putting words to the various pieces. I didn’t sit there thinking, “That’s a mountain, that’s a lake, those are reeds, etc.” I just know it. I have a degree in psychology and I’ve never stopped having a deep interest in neuroscience and the mechanics of perception. Humans are wired for pattern recognition and the neurons that fired in response to that mountain photo are a well-worn pattern. When we don’t understand something, our neurons fire in ways that attempt to fit recognizable patterns in the various elements of the object that we’re trying to understand. There’s a kind of tension attendant upon a lack of understanding. We want it bad. In fact, we want it so bad (or at least the brain is wired so consistently to find patterns) that we make errors in perception all the time. We think we see things that aren’t really there or are different than reality because once something fits a neural pattern, the brain stops searching for a good fit. This is one of the reasons why eyewitness testimony is so unreliable. In terms of survival, it doesn’t much matter that our perception is flawed. It’s good enough in most cases. But is that all that’s involved in understanding? What does it mean to understand...

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High Search Engine Positioning

High Search Engine Positioning


Posted By on Jun 22, 2010

If someone asked you what your dream job would be, could you answer the question? How specific could you be or how specific do you think you’d need to be? I’ve thought about this question a lot in the past 18 months since I left Microsoft. I’ve written about it and talked about it and identified a number of characteristics of a dream job for me. The fact is, I had no thought of working for anyone else so you’ll note that these characteristics are those of a freelancer. Autonomy Freedom from being an employee Compensation appropriate to my skills and experience Time that is my own to schedule Coworkers whom I adore Work that keeps me interested and engaged Responsibility coupled with the authority to do the job I think I may have found the job. I’ve put together an agreement with one of the best web design studios in the country to direct their SEO program. Gravitate already ranks number one on Google for a number of keyword phrases that are important to their business. They know how to do high search engine positioning. My job is to direct the search engine optimization efforts for Gravitate’s clients and to grow that part of Gravitate’s business. Why does this fit my definition of a dream job? I’ve known the owners of the company for years and they’re among my dearest friends. We originally worked together when I hired Gravitate to build a website for Ancient Egypt Research Associates, Dr. Mark Lehner’s team. Working on that project was one of the most satisfying professional experiences I’ve ever had. We enjoyed working together so much that over the years, we’ve looked for other opportunities to repeat that experience. Gravitate has a very capable team working on SEO but when we started talking about collaborating this year, the discussions led to the fact that the SEO team needs to grow to serve all of the requests the company is getting for search engine optimization services. Another dream-job aspect is that I’ll be able to run with the same level of autonomy that made my job at Microsoft fun. The position at Gravitate will actually afford more autonomy because of the level of trust I have with the principles and our shared goals. I also like that my compensation will be based almost entirely on performance. I love that kind of challenge, which brings out the entrepreneur in me. I’m already hip deep into it this week. I imagine this blog will become even more SEO focused than it has been, with continued evangelizing for the importance of SEO copywriting. I’m a...

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Wait, let’s start over. A freelance copywriter (designer, developer, lawyer, whatever) gives a longtime client a bid. The client gasps and says, “Why so much? This is only a couple of hours of work!” To which the freelance copywriter states, “Yes. A couple of hours and fifteen years of experience.” Can’t just anybody do it? I read a poorly-written article recently, mercifully short, that disparaged all copywriters as having nothing to offer. The author argued that anyone can be a copywriter by studying political pundits at the extremes of the spectrum. The topic was commercial copywriting. The stated wisdom in the article was that you don’t need to write copy that sells, you only need to write with passion. This ignores the fact that the extreme political pundits are essentially performers and are ranting to the already-converted. The converted aren’t reading to be convinced; they’re reading to have their biases confirmed. What’s your labor worth? If everyone who could type an email had professional communication skills, millions of writers would be out of work and this is clearly not the case. That doesn’t mean all those writers are good. It means all those people hiring them know that they don’t have the skills they’re hiring for. Commercial copywriting, like any profession, requires skill acquired over many years. Only those who don’t understand what it takes to do something can ever ask, “How hard could it be?” Freelancers in any profession hear this all too frequently. There are clients who get it and clients who don’t. The ones who get it feel they’re investing in services or products that will affect their bottom line positively. The ones who don’t get it feel like any business expense is a ripoff that they should get for less money. (This doesn’t apply to their product or service, of course.) Let’s make a deal In fairness, we all like a deal and hate the idea of overpaying. We forget the times we bought something on the cheap and were sorry. We say, “Well, you get what you pay for.” And then we go out looking for the cheapest deal again. So how do we learn to do a better job of valuing the services of the professionals we hire? We don’t have time to learn how difficult it is to do someone else’s job. We think of most jobs in terms of actual time spent. But the guy or gal who fixes the catalytic converter on your car not only had to get trained to do that, they had to fix a bunch of them for real and they had to buy expensive tools...

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Corporate Culture


Posted By on Apr 16, 2010

There’s a lot of wailing and gnashing of incisors about corporate culture, mostly by people in corporations. I worked at Microsoft for nearly fifteen of the best years of my life, and I’m hear to tell you, some of the gnashing was well worth the dental work. I’m not even sure what that meant but it popped into my head and I had to write it. I think what I was trying to say was that “corporate culture” can be a drag. Of course, it doesn’t have to be and actually isn’t for a number of people who don’t have to use their Microsoft Premera coverage to fix corporately-gnashed teeth. Like anything in life, it depends on the attitude you bring to it every day. But I’m not hear to give motivational speeches to my non-existent audience of unmotivated corporate bees. Some days, working in a corporation blows. What is a corporate culture anyway? Does it exist? While I was at Microsoft, I watched the company soar from about 35,000 employees to nearly 100,000. That’s why they have the company meeting at Safeco Field. That’s too many people to have a culture that shares many values beyond what the broader culture shares. Microsoft puts a huge premium on diversity in hiring as well and one of the great things about working there was working with people from all over the world. I’ve never heard anyone except corporate executives say, “I just love our corporate culture.” No. Not. Doesn’t happen. I’ve only heard the rank-and-file use the term pejoratively. So it seems like anything you might call corporate culture is really how executives define a shared sense of belonging that doesn’t exist and employees define as some sense of oppression they feel from having to work in a place where the rules don’t always agree with how they think things should be. I had no sense of belonging to Microsoft or its “culture” while I was there. I felt a strong sense of belonging to my group and our products, especially our very sophisticated Flight Simulator. Microsoft as a corporate entity seemed remote. I never resented that remote entity because it seemed remote and I realized, having a degree in psychology, that large organizations of human beings tend to behave and organize like large organizations of human beings. In other words, one should not be surprised at how corporations act internally or externally, especially when they become huge. This is without a doubt the most oddly rambling blog post I’ve written since…well, at least since my last odd rambling blog post. But I enjoyed writing it. Ever have one of...

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E-mail in One Inbox

E-mail in One Inbox


Posted By on Apr 10, 2010

When’s the last time you awoke with a start in the middle of the night with the realization that you haven’t checked your Hotmail account in months? Just think of all of those spams from Classmates.com sitting there unread. A worse outcome is forgetting that you used your Hotmail or Gmail or Yahoo mail account for a Craigslist ad and then wondered for weeks why no one wanted your collection of bakelite camping dishes. It’s actually rather easy to have all of your various e-mail accounts arrive in one inbox, whether you use Outlook or Apple’s mail program or whatever e-mail client you have. I use Outlook and the wizard to add multiple e-mail accounts is very easy to use. On the Outlook Tools menu, you select Account Settings, and then click New. Follow the instructions. The configuration is automatic but sometimes this doesn’t work. Then you have to click the Manually configure server settings or additional server types check box. You’ll usually be configuring a POP3 server named something like pop.domain.com (e.g. pop.comcast.net) as the incoming server and smtp.domain.com as the outgoing server. HOTMAIL Hotmail, unfortunately sucks in this regard. You can ONLY forward to accounts that end in hotmail.com, live.com, or a custom domain hosted on Live. You can, however, set up Outlook to grab your Hotmail account and deliver it to your desktop without a visit to your browser. It requires you to get something called Outlook Connector, which is a free download from Microsoft. After installing Outlook Connector, the next time you start Outlook it will ask if you want to add an account. Just follow the instructions. GMAIL With Gmail, you can forward e-mails or set up the Gmail account in Outlook. Log in to your Gmail account. Click Settings in the upper right corner of the screen. Click the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab. Click Forward a copy of incoming mail to and fill in the e-mail address. There are a number of options you can select here as well, like whether to leave a copy of the mail in the Gmail inbox. You actually don’t have to forward the e-mail either. You can just set up your Gmail account in your e-mail client (e.g. Outlook). In Outlook, on the Tools menu, select Account Settings. Click New and follow the instructions. If you choose to configure it manually, you’ll use pop.gmail.com and smtp.gmail.com as the incoming and outgoing servers. If you’re not that tech-minded, don’t worry. You’re not going to break anything doing this. How did we get to this place where we have multiple phone numbers and e-mail accounts and Twitter accounts and Facebook accounts...

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Stimulate. Seduce. Satisfy.

Stimulate. Seduce. Satisfy.


Posted By on Apr 3, 2010

But remember … it’s a dance, not a deception. Stimulate First rule of marketing: grab their attention. This is harder than ever, whether in print, on the Web, or in video. The currency of attraction is content: words and images. Not the annoying flashing kind but words and images that appeal to the desires and needs of a specific audience. Seduce Even when buying floor wax (does anyone do that anymore?), we want to be seduced by the promise of a better life. When someone convinces us that their promise is real, we can’t spend our money fast enough. One of the definitions of seduction is “to win over; attract.” The more powerfully you seduce, the faster you get a new customer. There are ways to seduce and there are ways. The image above is seductive in more than one way (now I’m giving away my secrets). It has deep reds, a color associated with passion, sexuality, and boldness. The center of the photo is bright and fades to shadows at the edges, suggesting mystery. The man’s posture is one of confident command and the woman, although in a stylized stance, evokes supine satisfaction or even submission. (Don’t hate me, I’m only the messenger.) Dance — certainly the Tango — is all about sexuality. But there’s something humorous about the image as well. To most of us, it seems to take itself a little too seriously. That is a device used often in advertising to make us laugh. We know that we’re in on the joke. Humor is one of the essential tools of seduction. We like people who make us laugh; at life, at them, and at ourselves. It relaxes us and makes us open and approachable. In advertising, that makes us want to whip out our VISA. Part of the intoxication of seduction is that we believe it really will bring with it a better life. There’s nothing more disheartening than a seduction that makes us feel a fool for love. The dot-com bubble for instance. Satisfy So when that floor wax really turns out to perform, we’re thrilled at the promise fulfilled. We become loyal to the brand and we gush to our friends. We feel justified in having placed our trust in the initial appeal of the product. This only happens when the product or service performs as promised. That is why it’s important to remember that when you invite your customers to Tango, it’s a dance, not a deception. Can you think of an ad or Web page that seduced you? Tell...

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