Sunday, January 25, 2009

Saw Cats. Walked Out at Intermission. Discover Why.

Today the wife and I saw a traveling company production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Cats, at the Hanover Theatre in Worcester. The Hanover is a lovely reclaimed theatre with great acoustics and it's ten minutes from our house. We're theatre subscribers so we attend at least five productions there every season.

Cats truly disappointed.

According to Wikipedia, Cats is a musical composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber based on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot. It introduced the song standard, 'Memory'.

The musical first opened in London in 1981 and then on Broadway in 1982, in each case directed by Trevor Nunn. It won numerous awards, including both the Laurence Olivier Award and the Tony Award for Best Musical. The London production ran for 21 years and the Broadway production for eighteen years, in both cases setting historical long-run records.

I don't understand Andrew Lloyd Webber's popularity. I found the music in Cats cacophonous, the dialogue stultifying, the lighting overbearing, and the costumes annoyingly 80s. The plot was shaky at best--a story loosely wrapped around synthesized music--and the music seemed forced and formulaic. In fact, the whole production seemed tired, lacking energy.

That could well be attributable to the company's thespians rather than the musical itself, which I saw several years on Broadway and didn't enjoy then, either.

I'm certainly not professionally qualified to critique the musical. And far be it from me to doubt Andrew Lloyd Webber's popularity. Several of his musicals have run for more than a decade both in London's West End and on Broadway. He's composed 13 musicals, a song cycle, a set of variations, two film scores, and a Latin Requiem Mass.

His honors include a knighthood in 1992 (followed by a peerage), seven Tony Awards, three Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, an Emmy Award, seven Olivier Awards, a Golden Globe, and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2006.

More than likely, my own artistic preferences prevent me from appreciating Lloyd Webber's "music for the masses." When people go to the theatre, they're paying to be entertained. They wants flashing lights, fanciful costumes, lighthearted music and simple plots they can easily understand. That's why Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals like Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar (which I also did not like) and Phantom of the Opera are so successful.

As for me, I prefer my theatre more thought-provoking.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Best Way to Make Sure I DON'T Buy Your Product

Internet marketers, please heed the following screed.

The best way to make sure I don't buy your product is to trick me into visiting your site. Despite all the surveys and studies that show consumers absolutely abhor this tactic, some of you are still conducting these insidious and underhanded campaigns.

Even more detestable: Connecting the unsubscribe option (and other hotlinks) to your website.

Case in point: Today I received an email from myself, titled "From admin". I'm not 'admin' and I certainly didn't send myself the email in question--in fact, it was purportedly from Microsoft. Nothing was attached to the email I didn't send myself, so I opened it.

Always seeking to decrease the amount of spam I receive, I unsuspectingly clicked on the unsubscribe button.

Whereupon I was directed to...

A website for "Canadian Pharmacy" where I could buy discounted drugs.

I clicked on the "More Newsletters" option in the same email, with the same result--Canadian Pharmacy. I clicked on the "Privacy" option in the same email; same result--Canadian Pharmacy.

Canadian Pharmacy, you're not getting my business. You're getting my wrath. And it's substantial.

You've earned my solemn vow to report you to every single spam authority I know of. I'm also contacting Microsoft to advise them that you are illegally using their logo and their address. I'm pushing this blog entry as aggressively as possible to ensure others avoid your scheme.

Internet marketers, do not employ these shameless techniques to drive traffic to your site. I guarantee you won't be happy with the results.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Can You Believe Organizations Still Push Direct Email Campaigns Like This One?!

I recently received a email blast from the Worcester Chamber of Commerce.

As you can see, the banner is virtually unreadable, crammed full of messages from sponsors. The email below it isn't much better. It's a scroll through poorly designed announcements, conflicting logos, clashing fonts and dueling events. It's amateurish. It's a weapon of mass distraction.

Sadly, I've come to expect stuff like this from the Worcester Chamber of Commerce, as they try to squeeze every penny out of their increasingly disgruntled (and diminishing) membership base.

Setting aside the Balkans-like morass of the struggles between Central Massachusetts Chambers of Commerce, suffice it to say that the Worcester Chamber of Commerce has enjoyed more prosperous times.

But in terms of marketing and communications, this direct email campaign (if you can call it that) represents a new low in the Worcester Chamber of Commerce's outreach efforts. From this utterly abysmal piece I can only conclude that the head of the Chamber just isn't familiar with "new" direct email techniques.

So here's some free direct email marketing advice for the "powers that be" at the Worcester Chamber of Commerce (and for those of you in the profession who haven't yet grasped these fundamental lessons):

* Keep it simple: One message. One call to action.

* Keep the most important information above the fold: Surveys show that scroll down rates diminish precipitously, even as open rates decline. Keep your most important information (see "keep it simple") above the fold and immediately readable.

* Make it easy for people to act: One call to action (see "keep it simple") makes it easy for people to act. Give them a plethora of options and they'll generally choose to do nothing. Don't overwhelm your target audience. It's the quickest way to alienate them and turn them into "unsubs."

* Herd your target audience to your website: Use direct email to leverage your target audience. Entice them to click through to your website (although in the case of the Chamber's website this isn't a good idea) where you can capture their contact information and truly influence them.

This direct email campaign from the Worcester Chamber of Commerce fails on so many levels it's shameful. The Chamber's website is a shambles; a hodgepodge of information with no semblance of order.

On the whole, the email and the website reflect dismally on what purports to be the largest Chamber in New England.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Latest Signs of the Apocalypse... Or, News that Will Make You Even MORE Depressed

... "Joe the Plumber" is becoming a war correspondent.

... The upcoming inauguration of Barack Obama is an attractive target for international and domestic terrorists, but U.S. intelligence officials have no information about specific threats to the Jan. 20 event.

... Testifying on Capitol Hill yesterday, leading economists warned that, unless comprehensive action is taken, the economy will shed another 3 million jobs in 2009, real Gross Domestic Product could drop by $750 billion, and the unemployment rate will top 10 percent.

... On "Fox News Sunday," former President George H. W. Bush said he's ready for another Bush in the White House. He hopes his son Jeb runs for Senate in Florida and one day for president.

... The Bank of England slashed interest rates by half a percentage point (to 1.5%), bringing its benchmark rate to the lowest level since the central bank was founded more than three centuries ago.

... According to a poll conducted by Deloitte ("Financial Fraud: Does an Economic Downturn Mean an Uptick?"), nearly two-thirds (63.3 percent) of executives polled expect accounting fraud to increase during the next two years.

...Same-store sales slumped in December, and even Wal-Mart Stores wasn't immune, cutting expectations for the current quarter. Neiman Marcus reported a 28% decline, as luxury retailers continued to suffer. Target's same-store sales fell 4.1% and it said profitability was pressured by deep markdowns.

... Nearly half of Americans (48 percent) reported that they will wait longer before their next vehicle purchase, according to the results of Consumer Reports' 2009 Auto Brand Perception Survey.

... Real estate Web site calculated a value for the White House were it actually a home that could be bought and sold. That estimated value - $308,058,000 - would make it by far the most expensive residence in the U.S., however still more than $23 million less than its value one year ago.

... Chicago public school bureaucrats skirted competitive bidding rules to buy 30 cappuccino/espresso machines for $67,000, with most of the machines going unused because the schools they were ordered for had not asked for them, according to a report by the CPS Office of Inspector General.

... ... A dogsled race near Frazee, Minnesota, was canceled because there’s too much snow.

And last but certainly not least...

... Girls Gone Wild CEO Joe Francis and HUSTLER magazine publisher Larry Flynt are petitioning the newly convened 111th Congress to provide a $5 billion financial bailout for the adult entertainment industry. "People are too depressed to be sexually active," Flynt says, "This is very unhealthy as a nation. Americans can do without cars and such but they cannot do without sex."

For once, I agree with Mr. Flynt.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Unless You're a Online Market Researcher, Get Your Resume in Order

Once upon a time, I overlooked the importance and value of market research. That was before my brief tenure at the Marketing Research Association, where I spent an intensive six months trying to increase the organization's exposure in the hyper-competitive and hyper-segmented market research field.

During my time at MRA, I grew to embrace the value of market research, which most marketing communications professionals either eschew or simply don't understand. I've since closely followed the market research industry, staying current with emerging trends in the field and keeping in touch with some of the professionals I met.

When it comes to the future of market research, every sign--be it from authoritative trade publications, long-term industry professionals, or from a general marketing perspective--indicates that the future of market research is online.

The fact is that consumer behavior changes far faster than lead times for new products and services, and the gap is widening. Traditional market research (focus groups, paper surveys, etc.) will therefore be increasingly irrelevant, rendering obsolete data.

Regardless of what the focus group facility owners say, regardless of how much the mall interceptors protest, effective and affordable futurecasting can only come from online market research (despite its inherent flaws upon which the traditionalists have planted their flag).

In the age of immediate information, traditional market research has blown a lot of calls. Take banking. In 1996 most CEOs of large banks dismissed the Internet as irrelevant, a toy of enthusiasts with no real impact on future profitability. Traditional market research strongly confirmed their skepticism: Their results indicated that the overwhelming majority of customers said they weren't interested in using the Internet to run their bank accounts.


That's just one example of why the future of market research is online. For more reasons, check out this article by Martin Day of SurveyBounty. His piece really hits the nail on the head; coincidentally sounding the death knell for most traditional market research firms. Sadly, for the most part their heads are stuck so deeply in the sand they won't hear this alarm, as they have missed numerous others.

Market research traditionalists are in for a rude awakening. The companies that survive the inevitable shakeout will be the future-thinkers: Those who see six months to two years further than their competitors. This kind of foresight requires almost instantaneous, actionable data--even if that data isn't 100% "pure." The companies that survive will need to become adept at parallel planning and able to prepare for quick response to various potential outcomes.

As for the others, well, their employees would be wise to get their resumes in order.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Return of the Resolutionistas: Gym Regulars, Welcome Them!

While I am by no means a "fitness elitist", I am a regular throughout the year at a few gyms. As a spinning instructor and a regular, I've integrated myself in the subtle patterns of those people with whom I share the gym at the various gyms I visit.

There's 'cardio-man' who does only cardio and a helluva lot of it; the very thin (and quiet) schoolteacher who runs a 10K every day on the same treadmill; the neanderthal weightlifters who throw around weights while struggling (with bad form) to do squats; the loud guys in the locker room who dissect every set of their interminable Master's (swimming) workouts. These have been my gym companions throughout the year.

Although we are not friends outside of the gym, we generally acknowledge each other inside with a nod and a courteous "how's it going?"

That is, until the inevitable arrival in January of the "resolutionistas." Every gym regular can recognize a resolutionista: The overweight and out of shape person who, having resolved to "get in shape", comes to the gym beginning in January (generally with the newest fashions and footwear) and wreaks havoc with the intricate choreography the regulars have worked out over the past ten months.

Most regulars eschew the resolutionistas, looking down on them as dilletantes who won't last long. Resolutionistas are like replacement troops: The troops who have been with a combat unit for a while generally never bothered getting to know or befriend replacement troops, figuring they'd soon be gone (dead or transferred).

In the experience of regulars, it takes about a month for the resolutionistas to abandon their get-in-shape vow whereupon we regulars resume our workout patterns. Most regulars just avoid the resolutionistas--in fact, some of the regulars I know don't even go to the gym in January because it's overcrowded with neophytes.

In the past, I've steered clear of the resolutionistas, ignoring them and their efforts to get in shape. I've come to realize that this laissez-faire attitude may be part of the reason the resolutionistas give up.

This year, I'm adopting a different attitude.

This year, I resolve to say hello to every person I don't recognize as a regular. I'll introduce myself as a spinning instructor. When I see someone new at the gym whose form might be off or who is doing something that could endanger their physical health, I'll offer a kind hint or suggestion. I'll be encouraging, warm and welcoming.

I hope my positive attitude enhances a newbies' commitment to follow through on their resolution to get in shape.

If you're a gym regular, I encourage you to welcome a resolutionista to your gym. After all, there's room in the gym for all of us.