Category Archives: marketing

Big-Money Blogging

Giovanni_Domenico_Tiepolo_-_The_Minuet_-_Google_Art_Project

The MinuetGiovanni Domenico Tiepolo, 1756

There’s a 28-year-old woman who makes more money in a year than I’ve made in my entire life. I learned about her on YouTube. She brings in over a hundred thousand dollars a week blogging and freelance-writing about personal finance. She and her husband travel the country in their mega-motorhome. I want her life. So why don’t I have it?

(a) I have a blog.

(b) I can write.

(c) Everything I know about personal finance can be summarized in five words: “Don’t do what I do.”

I’ve got (a) and (b) working for me, but (c) is a deal-breaker. And I might have to revisit (b). Yes, I can write, but I don’t talk the talk of the blog-reading public. I’m not 28 years old. I’m twice 28 years old plus quite a few more years. I speak Baby-Boomer English in a Millennial world.

The dude who profiled this woman on YouTube—we’ll call them “Joe” and “Daphne”—described her success by saying that “she’s crushing it.” That’s Millennial-speak for “she’s doing well.”

I googled “Millennial-speak” to get an idea of just how hip I’m not. According to one of the articles my search turned up…

  • If I’m in a bad mood, Millennially-speaking, I’m “salty.”
  • If I want something—anything—a lot, I’m “thirsty.”
  • If I’m rude to someone online, I’m a “troll.”
  • If my lifestyle is ho-hum, it’s “basic.”
  • If I need to leave in a hurry, I have to “bounce.”

Back in the day, salty referred to salinity, thirsty meant “in need of hydration,” a troll was a gnome who lived under a bridge (or a human who looked like a gnome who lived under a bridge), basic was synonymous with “fundamental,” and bouncing was something you did on a bed. And this accounts for only five out of dozens, maybe hundreds of words I’m using wrong. But if I tried to adopt Joe and Daphne’s vocabulary, I’d sound like an idiot. Besides, I’ve never been hip, not even when hipness was hip. The only dance I ever mastered was the minuet. When I try to high-five someone, I miss their hand and lurch into a wall.

I watched another YouTube video on making big bucks through freelance writing. A very hip Millennial chick I’ll call “Tawny” made it clear that I shouldn’t settle for earning an effing ten cents a word writing for an effing content mill—a website that churns out online articles. That’s another thing that differentiates me from Millennials: their comfort level with the F-word.

Understand, I’m perfectly capable of spewing F-words in emergencies, and I’ve been heard to say, “Eff YOU,” when I’m, well, salty and someone pushes my buttons, but if I were marketing professional services on a YouTube video, I wouldn’t use the F-word unless it related directly to the type of service I was promoting. If you get my drift.

So good luck, Joe, Daphne, and Tawny. You’re safe from me… at least until I figure out a way to make money blogging about stress incontinence or involuntary public farting. Meanwhile, chicks and dudes, I gotta bounce. See you later, alligator.

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Twitter vs. Microsoft

Due Diligence

THE SHORT STORY: When it comes to customer service, forget Twitter. Microsoft, on the other hand, gets five stars—though I’m not sure how brightly MS might have shone had I not saved the relevant emails and online-chat transcripts.

The Microsoft epic began November 16 when I tried to prepay for software rental. The chat guy, Marcus, told me I could do that. Sure, he said. Buy a digital gift card, he said, and immediately redeem it. The money would go into my Microsoft account, which would be tapped when the monthly rental fee—seven dollars and forty-eight cents—came due. Marcus sounded like he knew his stuff, so I bought a $15 gift card, followed the instructions to stash the fifteen bucks in my Microsoft account, and congratulated myself for being uncharacteristically smart about a financial matter. Bad karma. Yesterday my bank statement showed a December 2 Microsoft charge for $14.96, twice the rental fee.

Scurrying to Microsoft’s help site, I searched for “billing error” and came up empty… except for the “call us” option, a rarity in the digital world. It was like finding a ruby in the cat-litter box. With astonishing ease I scheduled a phone call, hardly believing my luck. Microsoft was going to call me! I could have placed the call, but the site obligingly informed me that the “wait time” was forty-seven minutes. I asked for a callback in an hour. Sure enough, sixty minutes later my phone rang… tinkled, actually, but you don’t need to know that.

Who’s playing games?

Microsoft Agent Corinne and I had a delightful conversation. Yes, the December 2 charge was twice the monthly fee, but somehow Microsoft had neglected to bill me in November, so that was all right. Unfortunately, Marcus had been wrong about the account-debit deal, so I had fifteen unspendable dollars sitting in my Microsoft account.

microsoft-store-cover-opening

It turns out that Microsoft gift cards can be redeemed only in the Microsoft store. Not being a gamer, I was pretty sure I’d find nothing there of interest in the fifteen-dollar price range, but my son Jack’s birthday was just a few days away.

“Well,” suggested Corinne, “just apply the money in your account to a gift certificate for your son. Log in, hop over to the store, select a gift card, and at checkout choose ‘Microsoft account’ as the payment source.”

Wonderful! Fantastic! I’ll just do that little thing! And I did, except that when I got to checkout and clicked “pay,” at the speed of a whizzing electron Microsoft charged my bank account and thanked me for my purchase. Hmmm…. Seems there was a proviso I’d overlooked: You can’t buy a gift card with a gift card. Corinne, like Marcus, had misspoken. I had just bought another inoperable gift card.

“Okay,” said I to myself. “Since this gift-card-transfer thing isn’t working, here’s what I’ll do: I’ll put this new card in my Microsoft account and Jack will have thirty dollars to spend. He can visit the Microsoft store, make his selection, tell me what he wants, and I’ll buy it with my Microsoft balance.”

To be honest, I probably would have given Jack an Annagrammatica birthday card and a nice homemade carrot cake if there hadn’t been inaccessible funds floating around in cyberspace—not that I don’t possess infinitely more than thirty dollars’ worth of love for my son, I just don’t have thirty expendable dollars, especially at Christmastime.

Following, once again, the instructions, I applied the gift card to my Microsoft account and got an immediate Microsoft pat on the back: “Good for you! You now have $15 in your account! Yay, you!”

If you’ve been keeping up, you’ll be wondering, as I was, what happened to the original fifteen dollars. Fifteen plus fifteen equals thirty, right? …unless you’re Bill Gates and you no longer recognize two-digit numerals.

Person to person

A good night’s sleep would be essential before taking on Microsoft again. I’d planned to wait till after lunch today, but at 10:30 this morning I opened an email from Microsoft Billing. They were sorry as sorry could be that I had canceled my monthly software rental and hoped that Microsoft could assist me in the future. I think I said Aaaahkk and hopped around like Yosemite Sam. I might have torn my hair. Whatever I did, it must have resettled my karma.

yosemitesamAt 10:33, I girded my loins and prepared to schedule another Microsoft phone call, but apparently there was zero “wait time” just then. So I punched in the number and got—not a recording thanking me for calling Microsoft and to serve me better would I please enter my account number and someone will be right with me after they’ve dealt with the seventy-three callers ahead of me—no, I got Charles, a real, live human being who wanted nothing more in the entire universe than to address my situation and make things right.

It took Charles forty-seven minutes to reinstate my software rental, but I got two free months out of that deal. As for the missing gift-card money, Charles, with what I like to think was genuine regret, had to transfer me to Accounts & Billing, but he thoughtfully gave me a transaction number so that in case my call got dropped or disconnected I wouldn’t have to start over with someone else.

No dropping or disconnecting occurred, and in under a minute I was speaking with Suzette and relating my odyssey… and this is where my meticulous record-keeping saved the brussels sprouts. By quoting the relevant bits of my chat with Marcus and the Microsoft emails confirming my purchases, I handed Suzette all the info she needed to determine that on November 16 I had purchased a digital gift card and on December 2 I had purchased a store gift card. Who knew?

Suzette was still tapping away, either searching through data or dropping M & M’s on the floor—to no avail, as it happened, because she still couldn’t actually find the missing $15 from the first purchase. Well, this is where Microsoft shines more brightly than Sirius the Dog Star. Do you know what Suzette did? She gave me fifteen dollars. Yep, she was telling me in so many words, You paid it and we can’t find it, so here’s a replacement.

Suzette stayed on the line, the way emergency dispatchers do when you call nine-one-one because you’ve severed a limb, until we were both certain that my Microsoft account contained thirty dollars redeemable for Microsoft-store purchases. She sent me a confirmation email and read out another transaction number in case, God forbid, I needed it. After only two hours and seventeen minutes, our work was done and I hung up the phone. So to speak.

For the record, of the three people I actually talked with, Suzette was the one least likely to be physically located on another continent, and the quality of that call, in terms of scritchiness, was the worst of the three. If I’d had to guess, based on background noise, I might have thought she was working in a laundromat. So there you are.

And what about Twitter? 

The folks at Twitter have better things to do than talking to me about their screw-up with my account. If you’re going to have a problem with Twitter, it had better slide neatly into one of six or seven common categories, such as “can’t log in” or “forgot my username.” Otherwise, Twitter customer service consists of a very short loop. If your question isn’t answered on the page you’re routed to, they send you back to the list of ordinary problems that aren’t yours. If, out of desperation, you choose “my hashtags aren’t working”—just so they’ll give you space amounting to one hundred and forty characters to explain that hashtags aren’t really your problem, it’s that your account has gotten tangled up with someone else’s and when you post to Twitter your tweets show up on the other person’s Twitter feed—then Twitter emails you instructions for the proper use of hashtags.

In more than an hour spent scouring the Web for advice from people with a similar dilemma—and they are legion—I learned that it is virtually impossible to talk to or even chat online with an actual Twitter representative. There is, however, a small industry developing around Twitter’s arrogant unhelpfulness: Starting at $20, some enterprising individual, presumably with inside information, will try to get Twitter’s attention. It strikes me as being a little like asking one of the lesser-known saints to intercede for you because God’s busy elsewhere. Twitter, are you listening?

 

Truth in Advertising?

Find sample blogs on a gazillion topics at Alpha Inventions

Vintage Knitting Ad

I'll have what she's having

The Risk-Free Trial? Guilty

Vintage Garden

Vintage Garden, by Xx_rebeldiamonds_xX

Last summer I bit on a “risk-free trial” for an açaí-berry formula and a colon-cleanse detox product, both in capsule form. I was aware of the risks of a “risk-free trial.” The strategy is similar to that used by publishers such as Bottom Line Books and Rodale Books, which let you “examine a book free for thirty days,” during which you could doubtless read the book and send it back, keeping the bonus gift, usually a small but useful guide to Growing Healing Herbs in a Sunny Window, or perhaps Homemade Garden-Pest Repellents.

(At least I suppose that reading a book doesn’t violate the rules for examining it. Or are you just supposed to check the binding, count the pages to make sure they’re all there, and verify that the book is printed on recycled paper and that no animals were harmed in the research, writing, printing, or distribution?)

I lost 12 pounds

In any event, I was quick to read the fine print on my “risk-free trial” of açaí-berry formula and colon-cleanse detox product. I needed to return the bottles containing the “unused product” to an address in Florida within ten days of my receiving them, which the company estimated at three days after shipping. Otherwise, my credit card would be charged $89.95 per month until cancellation.

Usually, it’s a miracle if my mail gets opened within ten days of receipt, but the phrase risk-free trial sets off warning bells. So… an unprecedented TWO days after receiving the product, I extracted my ten-day supply from each bottle and sent the remainder via USPS Priority Mail to the Florida address. Even so, my credit card was charged $89.95.

Astonishingly, the charge was removed without my having to make so much as a phone call. I’ve heard from other victims, however, that such charges can be very sticky.

You are actually at risk the minute you divulge your credit-card information, which is required for the “minimal shipping charge” of $1.95 or whatever.  If you must take the risk-free-trial risk, consider using a temporary (prepaid) credit card and keep the balance very low or cancel it altogether. Or not. Consult your legal professional.

By the way (and DO consult your healthcare professional before trying this regimen), I lost 12 pounds in two months on the colon-cleanse detox capsules.

Next: Truth in Advertising, Your Just Deserts — “Get the Smooth, Flawless, Young-Looking Skin You Deserve”

Below: I thought there was missing text, but it’s just Silly Syntax

From an Arizona Department of Health Services Report…

Neurological Effects [of exposure to hydrogen sulfide in sewer gas]:
Ataxia, choreoathetosis, dystonia, inability to stand in one 20-month-old child


Holiday Store ** Random Cards of Kindness

Paradigm for Passion

Warning: This Is Not an Historic Blog Post

If you love words, or if you just like to feel smug and superior because you use them properly, mosey on over to the Lake Superior State University List of Banished Words website.

“The tongue-in-cheek Banishment List began as a publicity ploy for little-known LSSU” in 1976, according to the site’s History of Word Banishment. You can view the list year by year, along with the rationale for banishment, or you can see the entire list, words only. A link next to each word takes you to the relevant annual list.

An advantage of looking at the entire list is that it’s easy to see the repeaters, including viable alternative, very unique, world-class, and proactive. A few words and phrases appeared three times—live audience and ongoing among them.

I was glad to see robust and revisit (1996) on the list but disappointed that passion was absent.

What’s wrong with robust?

List contributor Rob Robinson “pulled nine references to ‘robust processes,’ ‘robust materials,’ and ‘robust packaging,’ from the first 13 pages of the Ford Automotive Operations MS-9000 requirements.”

Traditionally, robust has referred to physical characteristics: energy, durability, and health. I don’t have a problem with more intangible forms of robustness, used sparingly. I can live with the occasional “robust advertising campaign,” which is what my boss required of me when I was marketing director of a short-lived* dot-com. But the dear man absolutely reveled in robustness. If someone said something moderately intelligent in a staff meeting, he seized upon the statement as a “robust idea.”

Robust quickly gained buzzword status, meaning that verbally challenged business types used it at every opportunity to indicate that they were hip to corporate trends… or something. Revisit suffered the same fate, brought into frequent service as a synonym for “revise.” Passionate probably took the worst beating. Once upon a time we were passionate about our sweethearts; then we became passionate about, say, the arts. Most recently our employers have required us to be passionate about our jobs as file clerks.

Here are a few of my favorite entries from LSSU’s list, along with the submitters’ comments:

Paradigm

Author’s note: The most cogent definition I could find was “pattern or model; a collection of assumptions, concepts, practices, and values that constitutes a way of viewing reality, especially for an intellectual community that shares them; an abstract basic structure, of some tenure, in which knowledge is related within a given realm.”

This has become the educational buzzword of 1993. I would like to see “paradigm lost.” Nancy Dean, Stephenson, Michigan

As in “I want to empower a new paradigm of health care,” [a euphemism for] “I want to shut down the hospital and let the people get their own aspirin.” Bob Cudmore, The Record, Troy, New York

Youse or Yous

Author’s note: Regionalisms don’t trouble me; I treasure them, in fact.

As in, “Would youse like coffee?” …Only in the North American vocabulary. Tori Cook, MCTV News, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

An Historic

As in “an historic moment.” Commonly used by news people (print and broadcast). It’s wrong! If this abuse is allowed to continue, the next sound you hear from me will be an hiss! Jim Wiljanen, Dewitt, Michigan

To Gift; Gifting

What happened to “giving”? Gifting is seen in catalogs everywhere. I wonder if the originator is someone who was not in this country born.  J. Gregory Winn, St. Paul, Minnesota

———-

* In short-lived, “lived” rhymes with “hived.”

In Business, ‘Branding’ Is a Way of Life

A company’s brand is the perception — both within and outside the company — of what it stands for. ‘A business doesn’t just HAVE a brand; a business IS its brand’

A company I’ll call Max Accounting Services began as a two-person certified public accounting firm thirty-five years ago. Max E. Mumm, CPA, was a top-notch accountant and financial consultant. He was also a genuinely friendly fellow who won clients effortlessly through referrals and community contacts.

 

Max chose his community-service activities not according to their client potential, however, but according to his interests and principles. He was passionate about the importance of sports in children’s lives, for example. Thus he not only coached his own kids’ soccer teams but also organized new teams in areas of the city that weren’t being served.

 

Everyone in town knew that the name “Max E. Mumm” was synonymous with integrity, generosity, good humor, and professional excellence.

 

Max’s assistant, Sunny Disposition, was every bit as highly regarded as Max was. She knew each client’s name and those of the client’s spouse and children. She was invariably kind and friendly, even when, rarely, a caller or visitor was rude or condescending. Her work, like Max’s, was above reproach.

 

When Max’s practice grew beyond his ability to handle every client, he took on a partner and hired support staff, renting adjacent offices as they became available. He refused to consider bringing anyone into the firm whose personal or professional standards were even slightly dubious. After five years, Max Accounting Services consisted of eighteen friendly, honest, capable people who were as pleasant to each other as they were to clients.

 

Suddenly, it seemed, the firm numbered thirty, then forty-five. The client base — once primarily individuals, families, and sole proprietors — had shifted, with a majority of the clients being businesses with ten to a hundred employees. As occurs with many such CPA firms, Max Accounting Services began offering management consulting as well as financial services. The firm’s reputation was such that new clients came knocking and existing clients signed on for the added consulting services. More CPAs and support staff were needed in a hurry –- so quickly, in fact, that Max couldn’t supervise all the hiring.

 

The four senior partners met and promptly agreed to rename the firm “Max Management Consulting.” What was harder to agree on was how to handle the growth. Should the firm move to a larger, posher location — or, perhaps, should it open a second office in a location more convenient to businesses while continuing to handle the smaller clients at the original site?

DEFECTION + STAGNATION = WRECK OF REPUTATION

It was at this point — about ten years ago, when the firm was celebrating its twenty-fifth year in business — that Max began to suspect he had lost control of the company’s culture. His suspicion was confirmed when longtime employees whom he had hired personally began seeking him out for “a private moment,” complaining of Mr. Jones’s brusque manner or Ms. Smith’s habit of calling every female member of the support staff “Honey.” At the same time, a few formerly loyal clients defected to another firm, and growth seemed to stagnate while staff turnover accelerated.

 

When he heard Mr. Brown noisily berating the receptionist for being five minutes late one treacherously icy morning, Max knew the time had come to pull rank. Over the objections of all the partners except one, an eager beaver with an MBA, Max contracted with the firm Brand X to engage in a “branding process.”

 

Max was no fool. When Brand X had made its initial pitch, complete with an elaborate PowerPoint presentation studded with pie charts and organizational maps, Max saw straight through the jargon and its embellishments. He understood that branding was a fairly simple process but also one that demanded a great deal of legwork (for data collection), tedium (for data compilation), and creativity (to develop and present a simple, comprehensible report in complex, multisyllabic terms conveying, above all else, that Brand X had indeed earned its twenty-thousand-dollar fee).

 

The Brand X final report — 127 pages of text plus various supplemental multimedia eye candy — was based on interviews with current and former clients, employees, vendors, strategic partners, and members of the public. Through these interviews, expressed as nuggets of meaning wrapped in rhetoric, Max Management Consultants learned — just as Max had anticipated — that its most important competitive advantage was its reputation for square dealing, personal attention, and professional excellence. Brand X had also uncovered, as Max had known it would, a growing disenchantment within every group interviewed. Max Management Consultants no longer held sole possession of the “friendliest, frankest, most financially astute firm in the region” trophy.

 

Brand X’s crack design team (a guy named Tritt) had developed a friendly, frank, financially astute “graphic identity” with matching sample print ads –- copy provided by Brand X’s crack copywriting team, Jo Beth. At the final presentation, when the last slide had been oohed and aahed over and the Brand X people were packing up their projector, Max stood up and cleared his throat. The room grew quiet, and the Brand X people stood, respectfully if restlessly, waiting for Max to congratulate them on a fine job.

 

“Branding,” said Max in his straightforward way, “is more than a pretty logo and some slick ad copy. Branding is a way of life. If we are the friendliest, frankest, and most financially astute firm in the region, then we must be friendly, frank, and financially astute at all times, in every way. Those values need to be in our hearts, and in our bones. We must practice them not only with clients but also with each other, with our friends, our families, our felines. In this sense, everyone is our client.

 

“All it takes is for one of us, known to be associated with this firm, to be overheard in a rude exchange with her daughter at the mall. All it takes is for a witness to the rude exchange to whisper to his wife, ‘Doesn’t she work at Max Management Consultants, the friendliest firm in town? That didn’t sound very friendly to me.’

 

“All it takes is one person talking to two other people, each of whom talks to two other people, and so forth, before we are known for our hypocrisy rather than our high-mindedness. All it takes is for one disgruntled employee to tell his wife — who tells her best friend, who tells her office buddies — that there is internal animosity at this reputedly friendly firm.

 

“A business doesn’t just HAVE a brand,” Max concluded. “A business IS its brand.”

 

The last time I checked, Max Management Consultants was thriving. It had culled a few chronic manipulators from its staff. It began giving employees paid time off for community service. It encouraged a group of innovators to split off and form their own firm specializing in retail accounting and management. The two firms have a friendly, frank, and fruitful relationship. Every employee is a member of the Max Management Consultants unofficial fan club. Naysayers needn’t apply.