Thanksgiving in Perspective

The media is flooded lately with articles about retail workers complaining about having to work on Thanksgiving day this year. At first , I was on their side in thinking it was just unconscionable to make people work on Thanksgiving. Then I logged into Facebook.

I am the son of a thirty year Army veteran and a twenty eight year civil service veteran, as well as the brother of a six year Air Force veteran. I know they say we shouldn’t have regrets,  but there are so many people in my family and circle of friends who selflessly served our country through the military I find it hard to not regret not having served any time in the military. When I log into Facebook I see so many friends posting updates about how grateful they are to be spending time with their families over the holidays and it becomes obvious, without them having to say it, they have missed past holidays while they served out country. You’re not likely to hear veterans complain about being away from their families during the holidays because they grew used to it as part of their job. It doesn’t mean they didn’t yearn for that lost family time and it doesn’t mean they wouldn’t change it if they could. It just means they knew what they signed up for and they dealt with it.

To hear people who work in air conditioned buildings manning a cash register complain about working on Thanksgiving is hard to sympathize with when I imagine what many of our military veterans and active duty troops will be enduring this holiday season. Instead of manning a cash register they may be manning a post with an M16, or manning a Hum Vee or a patrol out in the desert. If they’re lucky they’ll be able to watch some football at some point Thanksgiving day to feel some connection to life back home.

I don’t want to belittle or disrespect any retail workers who are unhappy with their holiday work schedules. Nobody wants to be away from their family during the holidays. I just would like to encourage anyone who feels like they are getting a raw deal for having to work on Thanksgiving to put things in perspective. There are lots of Americans who would be ecstatic to have a job to go to on Thanksgiving, or any other day. There are lots of people who work in professions other than retail who routinely work holidays their entire careers. Our military, police force, firefighters, health care workers and many more have always had to deal with working through the holidays and nights and weekends. They’ve worked the shifts nobody would want to work and they’ve done it without complaint or expectation of any special dispensation.

If you are working a retail job this Thanksgiving, please think about these other professionals who are also working the holiday and put things in perspective. Happy holidays everyone.

How to Create Sticky Messages

Make your messages as sticky as this and you’ll be golden.

What do cinnamon buns have to do with social media? They’re sticky.

Chip and Dan Heath wrote a great book called “Made to Stick” that pulls together research and real world experiences to explain what sticky messages are and how to create them. They stole the term “sticky message” from a Malcolm Gladwell book called “The Tipping Point“. Gladwell has also written some other cool and interesting books and if you are interested in why people do the things they do you should read Gladwell and the Heath brothers.

So, what the heck is a sticky message and why should you care about them? If you are thinking about using social media, or any media for that matter, as a way to enhance your business then you are going to be delivering messages to your target market. Doesn’t it make sense to make those messages as effective as possible? Let’s dig in a bit.

Sticky messages follow the Heath brothers’ SUCCESs formula:

1. Simple – focus on the real core of your message and use analogies or stories whenever possible.

2. Unexpected – Violate people’s expectations to get their attention. This is a subtle thing to do properly and if done improperly it can be unsettling, but before your message can stick in someone’s mind they first have to want to know about it.

3. Concrete – Paint a mental picture. Try to hook in to multiple types of your audience’s senses (i.e. visual, auditory, tactile, etc.).

4. Credible – you can get credibility from many places: authorities, anti-authorities, statistics, etc. Credibility helps people buy in to your messages.

5. Emotional – People care about people, not statistics. Always remember that everyone is tuned in to a radio station called WIIFM (What’s In It For Me).

6. Stories – Stories let people simulate things in their mind. They can help people better understand the context of your message.

Following these simple principles helps ensure that the messages you create “stick” with people. That’s what we do for our clients. We ensure that their messages in social media get out to the right audience and they stick.

Coffee and Asthma

Coffee_Red_CupAs an asthmatic and an avid reader, I have done my fair share of research on various aspects of asthma.  One interesting thing my reading uncovered is that different foods and drinks can affect asthma symptoms. Some can help, and some can certainly make things worse.

 Is Caffeine Your Friend?

I was first introduced to the idea of caffeine as a supplement to prescription asthma medications by a respiratory therapist that was treating me in the emergency room during my first asthma attack. The way he talked to me about it made it pretty clear it was not something any “official” communication from the hospital would include. Given the fact that he was one of the people in the emergency room that spent the most time with me, it was clear he was pivotal to getting me stabilized and that made me take his advice very seriously. I later researched the effects of coffee and caffeine on asthma symptoms. That’s when I stumbled across references to a medication that is not used nearly as much as it used to be.

Theophylline is a drug that was widely used in the treatment of asthma years ago.  Theophylline has been relegated to relative obscurity because of its many known side effects, and the many other drugs that have come onto the market that have proven effective without as many negative side effects.  It turns out that the basic structure of Theophylline is similar to that of caffeine.  Although Theophylline is not used much to treat adults anymore, it is still sometimes used to treat “acute respiratory distress” (what most of us call and asthma attack) in adults who have not experienced favorable results from steroidal therapy. The similarity of Theophylline to caffeine made me more interested in how caffeine affects asthma symptoms.

You can find stories of people drinking coffee in between asthma treatments with prescription medications as a sort of add on to their doctor’s prescribed regimen.  The danger with this is that most asthma medications have a stimulant effect, and too much stimulant can raise your heart rate to dangerous levels. Some people still believe that drinking coffee between asthma treatments gives them some benefit that is worth the side effects that come with it.

There are many foods and drinks that have mythology, for lack of a better word, attached to them.  My grandmother used to espouse the wonderful health effects of garlic and I thought she didn’t know what she was talking about.  As it turns out, there is a lot of evidence in the medical community that grandma was on to something, even if she hadn’t done double blind studies to know it. Many cultures around the world have used natural treatments for many conditions for thousands of years. Our current western medicine has only recently started to acknowledge some of the treatments that were once considered, “alternative medicine”.

Don’t ignore your doctor’s advice, but do realize there are treatments that your doctor may not discuss with you that might be worth learning about. Educate yourself and proceed with caution, but if you have a condition like asthma it helps to know as much as possible about your options.

If you want to learn more about Theophylline or caffeine’s effects on asthma symptoms check the following links for more information:

  1. WebMD – http://www.webmd.com/drugs/mono-3076-THEOPHYLLINE+SUSTAINED-RELEASE+-+ORAL.aspx?drugid=3591&drugname=Theophylline+Oral
  2. Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theophylline
  3. FDA information at Drugs.com – http://www.drugs.com/pro/theophylline.html

Postal Service to Cut More Jobs and Facilities

There are many industries that have been suffering from the unstable and uncertain economy, and the continuing rise in the cost of oil has also negatively impacted many businesses as well. This has led many businesses to struggle and many have even gone under. Even linchpins of business such as the United States Postal Service (USPS) are not immune from these problems. The Post Office has been weathering the financial storm for years as alternatives to traditional mail services began to proliferate, but now it is facing a far bigger problem, and it is a bottom line too small to cover the costs of their operations.

There have been rumors of more job cuts and facilities closing and this was confirmed last Thursday as the United States Postal Service made a statement about their intention to reduce costs by $20 billion dollars through the closing of facilities, as well as the cutting of as many as 35,000 jobs around the nation. The past five years alone have seen the loss of 140,000 jobs and these new cuts are expected to result in the closure of 200 facilities. This means even more centers will close, many in rural and small communities that rely on these jobs for economic stability.

There is a temporary moratorium in place that keeps any of these plans from going into effect until May. However, it appears that these changes are inevitable and even the President of the United States thinks the job cuts and closures are for the best. Basically, the moratorium is delaying the inevitable loss of jobs and closures.

In addition to facilities closures and job cuts, the USPS has to do more to reduce their overhead and get their finances back in the black. There are talks that next day delivery will be discontinued to save on manpower and gasoline. The rumors of no more Saturday deliveries is also likely to be a result of these proposed changes, cutting one day from the work week payroll. They are also planning on closing thousands of post offices around the country, consolidating services and reducing overhead.

There have already been a number of increases in the cost of first-class postage as the Post Office has tried to weather the economic storm, but the new plan asks for a 10% increase in the cost of first-class postage, making it $0.50 for a basic stamp. Increasing the costs of postage by 10% has the ability to generate over $1 billion in much needed revenue for the postal service.

There will also be an increase in the cost of international shipping as well as the shipping of things like postcards. These efforts are not meant to be a drain on the consumer, but rather to help keep the USPS in business, providing high quality mail delivery services for our nation.

The number of job cuts might seem massive, but the USPS hopes to achieve these cuts through the opening of early retirement programs for those who are close to, but not at retirement age. These programs make retirement an attractive option for the employee and cuts down on the cost of labor for the company. Savings are also to be gleaned through changes in the medical benefits offered by the USPS.

Currently, USPS employees are covered under a federally funded insurance program, which costs taxpayer dollars. When the new measures are enacted, the USPS will take over its own insurance benefits programs, moving away from federal funding. These savings, combined with those created through the “early-out” retirement program is where the USPS is likely to see most of their savings.

An interesting fact about the USPS is that it is one of the only federal agencies that is not funded through the use of tax dollars, it is funded through the Treasury and the revenue it generates from its own operations. Currently, the USPS owes the U.S. Treasury $12.9 billion dollars. That may seem like a huge amount of money, but the USPS claims that if the proposed changes are not enacted, this debt will skyrocket to $90 billion by 2016. That is a huge increase in the debt load carried by the USPS and is a burden to our economy. The proposed changes are designed to help the USPS remain a viable partner for business and personal mail delivery. Job cuts are never news that people want to hear, but if the USPS does not work to reduce their overhead and increase their revenue stream, there might not be a USPS in the future, and that would be a shame.

Sources Cited: 

  1. http://www.investorplace.com/investorpolitics/us-postal-service-usps-slashing-35000-jobs/
  2. http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20120216-720150.html
  3. http://www.wtol.com/story/17006368/usps-releases-list-of-distribution-centers-to-close
  4. http://www.statenews.com/index.php/article/2012/02/usps_continues_to_sustain_losses_according_to_report

Is Content Really King?

There are many references all over the internet, especially in the internet-marketing niche, that say content is king. A more accurate statement is, “good content is king”. I make the distinction because there is a tremendous proliferation of content created in an assembly line fashion, which is exacerbated by spinning software and the availability of access to writers across the globe through numerous freelancing sites.

Freelancing sites are not the issue. I have clients I write for that I connected with through some of these sites, so they can be a great resource for writers and content consumers alike. The issue is the potential dilution of quality created by writers producing large volumes of poorly written content for rates that are a fraction of minimum wage in the United States.

Let me be clear on my point here, because it absolutely is possible for someone living in a country other than the United States to produce high quality content with excellent spelling and grammar at a very low price. It is possible; it’s just not common. So, what happens quite often is people hire writers for rates as low as $1 to $2 per hour and they get content that requires so much editing or rewriting they would have been better off to just create the content themselves by the time you factor in all the time they spend editing and rewriting. Alternatively, they spend more money having a higher quality writer or editor do the fixing for them. The worst-case scenario is the content consumer pays for low quality content and for myriad reasons they just run with it. They use the lousy content as-is and then wonder why it doesn’t do for them what they thought it would.

There is a simple maxim that sums up my point and you have heard it many times before, I’m sure. You get what you pay for. If you need high quality content be prepared to pay high quality prices. That doesn’t mean you have to pay rates that make you feel like you’re getting robbed in order to get good content. Full price for high quality content is still very affordable. That’s because if you’re buying content it should be because you have a commercial purpose for it. Because you are using the content to attract readers that will eventually bring revenue into your business. High quality content will do this more effectively than low cost content by such a huge margin I would be hard pressed to overstate the case.

Choose wisely. Invest well in good quality content and sit back and watch it do what it is designed to do; bring readers back to you again and again until they are ready to spend money with you.

MMA’s Growing Popularity

Mixed martial arts (MMA) burst on the American sports landscape in 1993 when a lanky Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner from Brazil named Royce Gracie ran through the competition to with The Ultimate Fighting Championship (now referred to as UFC 1).  The Gracie family created the event to showcase their family’s own martial arts style, Gracie Jiu Jitsu.  The Gracie’s learned a form of Japanese Jiu Jitsu from a Japanese champion named Esai Maeda (also known as Conde Koma) and they modified the techniques to create their own style rooted in the principles of efficiency, patience and control.

Over the years the UFC’s growth was up and down, even getting to a point where it almost went out of business.  Then along came a couple of billionaire brothers and their friend Dana White, who had a vision to take this UFC thing in a new direction.  The brothers bought the UFC, revamped its image and marketing strategy and the real growth story began.

Mixed martial arts has gained much more mainstream acceptance and popularity in recent years, but there have been people combining techniques from different styles for many years.  Some would argue Bruce Lee was the first high profile proponent of mixing different martial arts.  He often referred to his own art of Jeet Kune Do as “the style of no style”, and his philosophy was that you should take what works best for you from any style and adapt it to your own strengths.  Lee went very much against the grain in the martial arts world, which had always been typified by each style’s practitioners professing their style was the best and most effective of all styles.  Masters of a given style even frowned upon students practicing other styles.

So, why has MMA become so popular and accepted in the mainstream?  One of the biggest reasons it has become more popular is pure and simple entertainment.  While there is a virtually limitless number of arts and styles used in MMA, many people agree that the four main styles most MMA fighters consistently train are Western wrestling (like you see in the Olympics), Muay Thai (Thai Kickboxing), Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) and Western Boxing.  The combination of these styles incorporate strikes, takedowns, and submission techniques. Strikes can include punching, kicking and elbow and knee strikes.  With such a huge variety of techniques, an MMA fight makes for great entertainment.

For those who have taken their interest in MMA a step beyond being a spectator, they have become students of MMA and started training in the techniques.  These fans, turned athletes, have realized that MMA is much more than just a way to entertain people. It is a phenomenal way to stay in shape and it teaches philosophies that can reap benefits in every area of one’s life.  Once these fans got a taste of MMA training they became the sport’s most vocal advocates.

With all these things going for it, MMA is poised to shift into even higher gear in the growth of its popularity.  With the UFC recently signing an agreement with FOX to bring the UFC to the network, even more people will have access to the highest quality MMA events on the planet on a regular basis.  So, if you are one of the few people who has not already become an MMA fan, my bet is it’s only a matter of time.

How Much Should Personal Values Affect Your Business?

Since midnight of Tuesday, January 17, 2012, Wikipedia shut down its English language site for 24 hours in protest of internet anti-piracy legislation currently being discussed in the U.S. Congress.  The encyclopedia site, which is perennially in the top ten most visited sites, is not the only site protesting with a shutdown, but they are by far the most prominent and vocal about it.

The image below greeted Wikipedia on Wednesday, January 18, 2012 and will remain there until midnight.

Although the site’s actions have become a huge story worldwide, some Wikipedia employees are not so excited about the protest.  Editor Robert Lawton said, “My main concern is that it puts the organization in the role of advocacy, and that’s a slippery slope.  Before we know it, we’re blacked out because we want to save the whales.”  [A]

The protest is in reaction to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a bill being considered by Congress.  A similar bill, called the Protect IP Act (PIPA), was approved by a Senate committee in May and is awaiting action by the full Senate.

So, how far should a business go in supporting causes based on the values of the owners?  I suppose this may vary greatly depending on the size and nature of the business.  It may be a much easier question to answer if you are the business, a sole-proprietor that is the only owner.  If, on the other hand, you were in a senior management position or even on the board of directors of a large corporation how would this change things?  Is it O.K. for the CEO of Walmart, or Bank of America to involve their companies in expressions of personal protest like Wikipedia is engaging in?  Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales obviously has his own opinion on this, which is being made clear to the world today.

To make things more interesting, Wikipedia is painting their protest with an interesting brush, with their welcome page for the day implying their free online encyclopedia is invaluable.  Some people may agree, as they have come to rely on it as a valuable resource.  While some may question the reliability of Wikipedia’s information, an investigation conducted in 2005 by Nature, a weekly science journal, concluded that, “Jimmy Wales’ Wikipedia comes close to Britannica in terms of the accuracy of its science entries “. [B]  Britannica disputed these findings in 2006, but many people have heard this quoted out of context as an endorsement of Wikipedia’s overall reliability.

At the end of the day, while we could argue Wikipedia’s reliability or value, the fact remains millions of people worldwide use the site every day.  They choose to rely on it, so, it will be interesting to see the public response to the shutdown.

What has been your response?  How would your response have been different had Google shutdown for the day?

Sources: