To Assume Makes…

Reading an e-publication called “TIPS for Extraordinary LIving,” written by a business coach, Philip E Humbert, gave me pause to think about the importance of knowing your target market  – although in fairness his may be restricted to US business people.  Still, it’s on the web and read no doubt by others outside the country.  The newsletter tries to touch on a wide range of issues for people interested in self-development and growing their business and always includes some humour at the end (which I really appreciate given how serious daily working life can be otherwise).

This recent issue ended with a segment of “truly awful” puns highlighting for me one of the central issues of global marketing – international marketeers’ all-too frequent failure to consider local language and culture when promoting to countries outside their own.   They erroneously assume  that people think as they do – an especially easy mistake to make when there are similarities of language, such as is the case between America and Great Britain.

Philip’s featured puns from a friend called the “Van Gogh Family Tree” may be funny to anyone who pronounces the artist’s name as VAN-GO, e.g.

  • His dizzy aunt…………………………………………Verti Gogh
  • The brother who ate prunes………………Gotta Gogh
  • Magician uncle………………………………………Where diddy GOGH

Only problem is – if you’re British, you may pronounce the painter’s name VAN-GOFF.  Need I say more?

I saw this problem first hand years ago when working in Mexico City for a multi-national advertising agency.  One of our American-based manufacturing clients was determined to re-use their American TV commercials in the Mexican market.  It bombed because the cultural underlay of the 30-second spot had no relevance to Mexican housewives.          

Lesson:  To ASSUME may make an ASS out of U and ME, as a dear friend brought home to me in 1997.

Book of the Month: Goodbye to US “supremecy”?

May 8, 2010 2 comments

The Post-American World  by Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International and author of the New York Times bestseller, The Future of Freedom

Publisher:  W.W. Norton, New York & London

ISBN:   978-0-393-33480-7

Comment:   Strikes me as a highly informative, insightful and fascinating perspective on the shifting sands of global influence by an obviously top-notch journalist with a foot in both camps, i.e. the political corridors of the incumbent Super Power of the World as well as at least one of its main challengers, India.  The preface to the paperback edition sets the scene:  “Every golden age comes to a close.  The more glittering the era, the more fiery the end.”

The chapter of greatest interest to me so far has been “The Challenger.”  No guesses as to who that might be.   Of course, theirs is no “awakening.”  Rather a “re-awakening.”  We would all do well to remember that China has been doing the Super Power bit on and off for several thousand years and so what we’re seeing could be described as only a re-manifestation of its massive energy field.  Of course,  I suppose we Westerners can be forgiven for much of our ignorance about its history.  Even many modern-day Chinese seem to have forgotten their roots. Ask their young about their great book of wisdom, the I Ching, said to be over 5,000 years old, and you may draw a blank stare.

Categories: BOOK OF THE MONTH, Books

Soap Box: Listen up, Web Monkeys!

Non-ad-agency web designers, take note!  You may be brilliant at creating HTML speke, blogs, widgets, spiders and all other manner of online paraphernalia but can’t you please  bring more of the basics of typography and good graphic design to the party, in terms of how to put words, paragraphs and visuals down on a page (yes, even a moving, interactive, high-powered internet-driven web page!) so that it hangs together better visually and communicates more effectively? 

Here are some of the things which make me climb walls:

  • Text lines which extend across the Universe (we mortals get lost reading them!)
  • Crowded pages – hasn’t anyone heard of using white space to create impact? 
  • Must we cram everything but the kitchen sink onto the Home Page? 
  • Can we not do SEO and still see the forest for the trees?
  • The one-word widow line (those poor little singles are all alone – and look it too!)
  • The lack of type font/size variation which slows down scanning

I’ll stop now and sum up by quoting a former well known American graphic designer of old, Charles J Felten, who said, “Design is constant – application varies.”  Sure, the world has moved on into paperless offices.  But at the end of the day, I would argue that the computer screen is a collection of electronic pieces of paper which — for business purposes — still have to communicate effectively, indeed faster than ever, probably meaning that layout and typography are even more critical.  (Does the average web monkey even know what “typography” is?)

Why not take a leaf out of Charles’ book, “Printing Design and Typography.”  His Five Basic Design Requisites seem to me as applicable today to webpage design as they were to print in the 1970s when the book was first published, i.e.  proportion, balance, contrast, rhythm and unity. 

  1. Proportion:  the size of text, body copy, headlines and visual elements in relation to each other and the space they’ll inhabit so they are harmonious without seeming monotonous
  2. Balance:  how text and visual elements are optically arranged so that there is a centre point and their entire composition appears naturally balanced (which is also a communication issue, i.e. what do you want your “visitor” to see/engage with first?)
  3. Contrast:   how variations in the size, shape, colour, positioning etc of different elements on a page add life and “sparkle” to it without causing madness and mayhem
  4. Rhythm:  the visual flow and way in which elements are placed to take one’s eye through a page
  5. Unity:  how component parts of the page are harmoniously combined and comprehended at first glance as an integrated whole.

These are concepts which any well trained graphic designer appreciates make all the difference.  So I for one look forward to the day when our educational institutions produce web designers who are not only technically superb but come with first-class copywriting and graphic design skills.   Such animals will certainly improve the profitability of my business and be able to earn fortunes, I’d imagine.

If there’s anyone out there who fits the bill, please get in touch!


Book of the Month: The 30 Day MBA

April 19, 2010 Leave a comment

The 30 Day MBA by Colin BarrowLearn the essential top business school concepts, skills and language whilst keeping your job and your cash

Publisher:  Kogan Page

ISBN:   978-0-7494-5412-8

Comment:   Really useful.  Told me everything I didn’t want, but needed, to know about the basics of accounting, finance, business law et al for only £15.99.  A no brainer when you consider the estimated cost of an MBA from Harvard is upwards of $80,000 (or approx £54,000 UK) these days!



Quote for Thought: Ask the right questions

April 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Ask the Right Question.   It sounds so simple; yet people often fail to unlock the doors to their personal and professional fulfilment because they fail to do so.   That’s why Anthony Robbins advises us in his book Giant Steps that:  “All human progress is preceded by new questions.”  More importantly, he adds, “It’s not only the questions you ask but the questions you fail to ask, that shape your destiny.”  Like WHY did we lose that contract? Where did we go wrong?  What part did I play in that failure?

Upside Potential:  I remember exactly when I learned the value of asking the right question – in Washington, D.C. when I was working towards my Masters Degree in Journalism.  I was tasked by the University News Service to interview a leading heart surgeon about pacemakers.  For some unknown reason, I asked how a pacemaker could affect someone’s sex life.

A Wave of Rich Content.   Talk about unleashing a tidal wave of “rich content!”  The guy was off and running about the 70-year-old patient whose electrode had somehow slipped from his heart into his groin after a pacemaker operation.  The surgeon spotted the problem on a follow-up x-ray but when he told the man he’d have to reposition it, the septuagenarian flatly refused:  “No way, Doc,” he objected, “I ain’t never had it so good.” With the end result that the story I wrote ran in small-town newspapers across the USA!


Soap Box: What’s REALLY bugging me right now!

April 19, 2010 Leave a comment

IT’S/ITS DRIVING ME NUTS!   If I see another misuse of the word its/it’s, I’ll scream!  Like Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves, I have “zero tolerance” of that flagrant grammatical error.  For yet another time, all you Philistines who refuse to comply:  Its (without an apostrophe) is used as a possessive form to indicate ownership, e.g. its beak when talking about a bird’s nose.  The word it’s with an apostrophe stands for it is. For example:  It’s sheer stupidity to make such errors in a written tender to handle a client’s communications campaign when its Marketing Director studied English at Oxford.  Get it?????

Top Tip: Demand a Good Account Manager

April 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Agency Review:  Even as I write this, I’ve been helping to coordinate a marketing agency review for a client.  Once again reminding me how critical it is to get a first-class account director in place – to ensure whatever work is commissioned will be completed efficiently, effectively, on time and to budget.

For I’ve learned the hard way  – no matter how good the agency is in marketing, advertising, public relations, research or whatever else, if the key man or woman charged by that supplier to run the client interface doesn’t perform well, you as client will suffer.  Because the account handler is usually at the centre of what is or is not delivered to you.

Interview Checklist:  What does all this mean practically?  Answer – insist on seeing the whites of their eyes  and talking to them specifically BEFORE you sign any contracts.  Think of it as a job interview where you intend to check on considerations like:            

  1. That they will in fact be your primary contact to help make things happen 
  2. The number of years they’ve actually worked in an account handling job            
  3. The length of time they’ve held senior-level responsibility if that’s important
  4. Their level of experience with businesses such as yours
  5. How they see keeping you in the loop of what’s happening while work progresses, e.g.  use of routinely issued status reports, client contact reports, budget monitoring forms or whatever other paperwork may ensure buttoned up administration
  6. How they intend to keep the costs and budget expenditure under control so no nasty surprises occur halfway through the project
  7. The number and size of other client accounts they’ll be handling at the same time, to give you some idea of where your business will fit within the pecking order.

Armed:  Forewarned is forearmed and all that.  The point being — to forecast at the outset what you’ll be dealing with so that if you identify any potential points of weakness or problem areas  (inexperience, a lot of other business already on their plate etc), you can deal with them at contract stage, thereby reducing the risk of their turning into a crisis later.

Categories: TOP TIP