No, LinkedIn, I do not wish to connect with my dead friend, not yet anyway

As an early adopter of social networking and social media, it’s been great reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. Back when the now-defunct Biznik was an up and coming social networking site, making exciting moves in small business networking, it was entirely possible to actually meet the people who were connecting, some even becoming happy clients. Now it’s all about extending networks of people I will probably never meet. I have to wonder, what is the point? And I must wonder even more so when the professional networking site LinkedIn can so completely screw up.

LinkedIn encourages connecting with a dead friend

LinkedIn regularly sends me notices that some person I have never heard of has accepted an invitation (that I did not knowingly send) to connect. My network of people I don’t know in any way has exponentially expanded. Wonderful. Hey, if you’re one of those, let’s have a cup o’ tea together!

Today, for the umpteenth time, LinkedIn mentioned that among “People you may know”, most of whom I do not know, is my much missed friend Jerry Baker, who left the world last year. Thank you LinkedIn for sharing his picture in my inbox. It’s a fun picture.

Of the old friends with whom I have in theory reconnected, I’ve not seen even one, ever. They do not call. They rarely write, and only on Facebook.

If LinkedIn could somehow bring back my friend, boy, that would be something special, probably even worth sharing on Facebook.

I mention all of this because it seems sites like LinkedIn and Facebook have become lazy, which is a reflection on society. They don’t even care if they are being offensive. Hell, they don’t know. These sites are nothing without the members, for they make their money from data mining and advertising, neither of which would be possible without you and me and everyone we know (or don’t know). The value in connecting in real life is in sharing our interests and unlocking parts of our imaginations. How does that occur when there is no connection in real life?

Today’s Challenge: Connect with me in real life. Then, connect with me on LinkedIn. Not the other way around. C’mon: Let’s have a coffee and talk about life, business, dreams, what have you. Let’s make it real.

Future Challenge: Will someone create a social network that encourages real life (psst: in-person) social interaction? Does one exist? If so, send me a link, would you? Even better, post it in comments below to add to the discussion.

Typekirk font foundry launches

To great fanfare (and a ridiculous amount of convention balloons), Typekirk.com was launched in July. The site features new font releases and an online store, where you can purchase and instantly download my latest font creations to use in your designs.

typekirk_appletouchTypekirk releases display and text faces, fonts for print, and fonts for web. I have two complex pattern fonts coming out shortly that empower designers (or DIYers) to make an infinite amount of amazing graphic patterns in seconds flat.

I will be releasing new fonts on a regular basis, probably with some fonts free for all, so be sure to check the site often, or better yet, subscribe to the email list there to get the latest free updates.

I love George Lois’ courage (you can too)

In ‘Damn Good Advice (for people with talent)’, George Lois speaks of courage thusly: “The courage to create only superb work, through thick and thin, and fight to protect it at all cost, is not generated in the head… it comes from your very heart and soul.”

Have the courage to read Damn Good AdviceI love this book, I really do. Not in a body-bumping sort of way, but for its scathing honesty. At a time when the phrase ‘I feel like’ has grossly replaced ‘I am’, we need more telling like it is. More truth.

Fighting to protect great work is not about fighting. It’s about knowing you have created work that will connect and be effective, and having the gumption to present it and manifest belief in others, such that your work will see the light of day, connect, and inspire more believers.

The creative business is presently at a tremendous crossroads where technology and software, among other factors, are undermining craft to such an extreme degree that mediocre work, the stuff that bean counters consider “good enough,” is now far more common than superb work. It is a path that leads to obsolescence.

Thing is, superb work is the stuff that truly makes bean counters happy (even if they don’t know it), because it is superb work that drives response. It’s not the metrics, analytics, or “customer acquisition” – a soulless term if ever there was one – that leads to effective design and advertising.

It’s the heart and soul work. The work that really connects stands for something and has real meaning.

Why is courage so important now?

The courage to do great work is specifically what keeps creative professionals valuable. Without that critical character attribute, creative professionals risk becoming obsolete.

When creative work has integrity, the talented people who craft it have integrity. So too do the brands that put it out into the world. When your brand has integrity, it connects, and that makes everybody happy.

Changing focus several times at once

Update: Shift One, Typekirk, my type foundry was launched in July.

For many years, I have written about branding and marketing, yet when I examine analytics for this site, consistently, posts about branding and marketing are the least read, while a single post about gluten-free eating gets 30x the traffic of any other post. This shows that while my Train of Thought clients want to know that I understand the intricacies of graphic design, branding, and marketing, relatively few people actually read the marketing posts here on my personal site. Why waste solid marketing wisdom?

Time for a few changes here.

For one, I enjoy helping people succeed. I really do. Branding and marketing is all about that, and I already have a company that does that quite successfully. Train of Thought has now been helping companies for 24 years. Most marketing and branding posts will now be on our Train of Thought blog. I hope you will sign up for our list Train of Thoughts, which receives exclusive monthly articles.

Working smarter, graphic design, advertising, branding, and marketing – at least in the transformative manner I practice them – are not tidbit topics. Instead, learning about them in ways you can put to practical use takes time, dedication, passion, and experience. It’s the first of those – time – that is often hardest for people, because we all want instant results, yet effective marketing is all about making long term efforts. If you seek the inspiration tidbits (and some outstanding insights), much of which is in sync with my approach, read Seth’s blog.

Rather than try to connect with shorter posts, I am asking readers to subscribe to Train of Thought’s email newsletter, which contains exclusive wisdom and shared experience. I will also write posts that answer tough questions, so if you have a marketing dilemma that has you stuck, sign up for Train of Thoughts – note the ‘s’, and ask me a question. You may just find your answer directly addressed in an article.

You can sign up for the Train of Thoughts, monthly marketing matters list there – in the upper right sidebar – after which you will receive exclusive articles.

I have others initiatives in the hopper, and will be talking about and showing them here as they launch. Thanks for reading.

R.I.P. Hannah Albert

Hannah Albert was first my friend, then doctor, then artist. Always true.

One of my most valued friends passed away this week. Strangely, we barely knew each other, yet she knew quite a bit about my health. Hannah Albert was, for me, among the most unique of doctors.

Hannah’s Naturopath/Homeopath office was much like her at that time, unassuming and private, and was always stocked with flavorful teas. Her attention was intense as she asked questions and took notes. I noticed how our intake processes were quite similar, and learned a bit about myself through that. What she did with the intel was phenomenal, prescribing a remedy that completely changed my interaction with the stuff of life, air.

For many, Hannah was a talented artist, sharing paintings with the world. Her earlier works featured defined edges, patterns, and personal themes, while her latter works seemed abstract on initial viewing, yet if you paused and studied them, revealed shapes and palettes that were quite expressive and often personal. As she described it in a video, she brought out the details that had organically appeared and seemed to need their voice developed.

Repeated cancer battles consumed much of Hannah’s energy and dialog over the last several years, but rather than fight those battles alone, she took to online communities, sharing details and art, highs and lows, health updates and new photos, right up to the end. It was possible, from reading replies, to see that Hannah had many loving friends.

Knowing this person who had been so instrumental in opening up my airways was out in the world, being her truest self in her art and life was always a sort of comfort. I missed her immediately upon her passing.

Some people, it seems they give the world more than they get. I hope that in the course of her life Hannah got back what she gave, because she truly deserved a great deal.

Same as ever, do not focus on your competition

For twenty years, I’ve been telling clients to not worry about their competition. While counter-intuitive to the non-athlete, athletes in competition know it’s a basic given. You can’t control your competitors.

There is literally no benefit in focusing your energy on the competition, because there is nothing you can do about their preparedness or actions. The sole entity you can affect is you.

The truth is that in any given space, where a quantifiable common need has been defined, and solutions have been offered, there is enough business to sustain the relevant offerings. Rather than focusing on competition, focus on yourself and on your customers, for those are the only entities that matter in the success equation.

It is smart to have an awareness of competition because it keeps you creative and motivated. Awareness is as simple as knowing they exist. Anything beyond that may border on obsession, but more likely just wastes time and energy. Sometimes it wastes budget too, particularly when companies spend ad dollars on representation in those mediums where competitors are spending.

True competition is rare in business. When partners split, yes, there may be similar offerings. But when two or three unrelated companies spring up in one market, success often comes down to what people want and what the company wants. Alignment and consistency of effort pay off, but the more common actions of losing focus and derailing consistency result in failure.

People complain of lesser competitors undercutting price and eroding their market. This is not a reason to focus on competition. If your product can be commoditized, you have to plan for that eventuality to be ready for what comes when it happens.

At the point when your product is copied and commoditized, there are other problems at play than just transitioning to being a commodity, which include planning, really understanding the intricacies of your market, implementation, focus, and accuracy of long-term vision.

The rub is, what a company wants, how it stays true, and what is its longevity vision (not all offerings can be long-term), often guides companies well off course. When you get off course, focus is lost. When focus is lost, it is easy to try to refocus by training attention on competition, because competitors who have maintained their focus and attained resultant success are leaders. And we all look to leaders for inspiration.

Imitating a leader is seemingly easier than being original. But the truth is the opposite. You can’t gain positive attention by being an also-ran.

The key to success is believing in your brand, knowing yourself, and having the confidence in your direction and marketing to know that your path is true. It is an investment in self rather than in competition.

If your mission and brand are true to your market, when you are true to yourself, you are inherently true to your own people. In fact, when it is done right, your market is actually part of you. If you have the self-discipline to keep that focus on the self, you have what you need to succeed, without placing focus on your competition.

Constructive criticism happens when people care

Constructive criticism has always been a good thing, yet in recent years, people have become quite hostile when receiving it, often taking to social media with angry, flaming negativity in response.

The weird thing is, people only offer constructive criticism when they care about what you are doing; when they value your product or service. Why get angry when people care enough to comment?

It is rare that a system is perfect; that it is meeting all of your customers’ desires. All of the research in the world won’t compensate for evolving minds. As people change, systems design, user interface design, workflow design, and brand messaging, must change with them in order to remain relevant.

It’s when no constructive criticism is coming in that you should be concerned. That usually means people aren’t paying attention. If they’re not paying attention, it’s because they are looking at other options. Specifically, options that meet their evolving needs.

Constructive criticism is how people tell you what they don’t like, while at the same time providing a road map for you to remain relevant to their needs.

Since it’s constructive, you decide which parts are true, relevant, and need attention. Since it’s criticism, it ought to be offered with humility, and that’s where it can be flubbed up. If criticism is too harsh in nature, it topples over the edge of good taste and becomes offensive. Then, finding the important part becomes exponentially more difficult.

Taking constructive criticism in an overtly positive manner, with an objective mind, with active listening, with even keel, that’s the high road to keeping customers.

You might even float ideas out to those people who cared enough to offer their thoughts and suggestions, asking for their opinions and further feedback. That’s engagement. It’s free marketing and product development. It’s personal and it’s smart business.

The $500 website – a stepping stone

the $500 website is a stepping stone

It’s not ideal, but it can get you to the next step. Image by Isabelle Lacazotte, via Stockvault.

What does the $500 website do for you? With a budget of $500, chances are high that your site will work against you, and there is a simple reason. If you compare a reasonable starting website budget against the $500 website, the difference is enormous. It boils down largely to time investment, where one budget allows for a basic cookie-cutter site and the other allows enough time for superior coding, professional design, use of a CMS for easy updating, and basic SEO copywriting.

The good news is, a $500 website is an okay stepping stone. Like any starter platform, if you examine what you can do, the most important part of your website is the content. For $500, you can put together some decent content for a basic site. Virtually any other investment will net you a poor site that won’t represent or perform. Arranging priorities, setting realistic goals, and utilizing your budget as smartly as possible can reap rewards.

If you figure that the average business website with a couple of advanced features takes about one hundred hours (or more) to strategize, design, write, and build, a $500 budget will either pay your web designer about 5 bucks per hour, or net you a fairly useless website that will work against your brand. Ever hear someone say, ‘Our website is a work-in-progress’? That’s the $500 site talking. That’s an apology for it being poor quality, and it is detrimental every time.

Why spend your maximum budget on your website?

Your website is likely to be your second most visible form of marketing. It’s easy to see that you don’t want to have to apologize for the state of it. You want it to represent the very best of your organization, giving people a clear idea of who you are, why they should care, and how they should get involved. You want your website to be the voice of your company when you can’t be there in-person.

If you have ever paid for advertising, you know that a small print ad can easily run several hundred or thousands of dollars. (In a leading magazine, you would easily pay $25-35K for a one quarter-page ad that would be on sale for one month.) In fair comparison, a well-done website might cost you $10-20K, and it can easily last 3-8 years. Amortize the cost of a $20K website over eight years, and you might pay $100-200 per month for it. Say you spend just $2K; your monthly cost over eight years drops to about $20 per month.

It’s likely the only other more important marketing tool you will ever have is your brand identity.

The $500 website, meanwhile, will not do any of the things that a website made with a realistic budget will do. It will not represent your brand accurately, will not speak in your tone and voice. It probably will not do much on search engines. It won’t have any special features. That means your website will work against you. That’s the apology website.

In contrast, a realistic budget will net a professional website that helps promote your brand every day, speaking directly to the people who you need to reach, and inciting them to take action.

The $500 website is a myth. It is one that many would like to see come true, but for a reason that makes little, if any, sense. It is an idea that lacks any sort of purposeful reason. If the reason is that $500 is your entire marketing budget, you’re already in trouble, but the situation is not entirely hopeless.

All that said, a decent website can be done for $500. It won’t have a unique design for sure — which means your competitor might have the exact same one — because at that price, there is no budget for design. Where it can be good, however, is in the content. The budget is still extraordinarily low, but it can be done. It can even be built on a powerful CMS, WordPress, and on a free domain. If you start on a free WordPress.com site, once you begin making money and save a realistic website budget, you can easily port your content over to a self-hosted, professionally-designed website.

As with all things marketing, the low-budget website is about balancing budget and expectations. It’s about spending wisely on the most important aspect of your site, the content. It’s also about launching sooner rather than later.

Got the will?

The Me Generation Myth

By the title, you can probably tell that I don’t believe in the Millennial or Me generation actually being a thing.

Sure, I’ve noticed the seemingly omnipresent sense of entitlement in so many 20-somethings, but the truth is, entitlement is present in 20-somethings of all generations. It’s just more visible now.

At that age, we all think we own the world, and we all think we can shape and mold it into something else. In efforts to sell, marketers label the generations.

Generation labels are nothing more than reflections of valuable perspectives.

How the supposed Me generation’s perspective offends the sensibilities of those who came before is simple. Where we [once] valued owning things, they value owning experiences. What this looks like is, say you offer to give something to a 20-something person. They might literally look at and consider it in a wholly different way than you might. You see a thing that you can consume, but they want to know what the experience of consuming the thing will be before they will even consider taking it on.

In that approach, we have a similar relationship with the concept of time.

Smart marketers have crafted dialogs that make 20-somethings think they are getting exactly what they want, but in reality, they are often getting the precise opposite of what they want.

The whole idea behind experience is that each person shapes their own. The unique experiences give us relatable perspectives, ways to connect and open our minds.

If experiences are marketable items, they are inherently not individual. If that’s so, are they even real? When we have fake experiences, humans seek ways to push connection because pushing is often easier than undoing and relearning.

If I tell you when and where to enjoy yourself, there is really no value in that. It’s why dressing up in costume is less fun on Halloween than it is on a random Tuesday.

Scripted and sold experiences widen the gap even further because one generation can see what the other often cannot. But the perspective difference doesn’t truly matter. It only matters to marketers.

The reason generational perspective differences are offensive is that in order to own things, you have to work hard to attain them. That means we have not only perspective difference, but also reality difference. The reality of how they interact with things you worked your tail off to own is different. When you want to own nothing, the fact of the work done to bring the ‘thing’ into their lives has no intrinsic meaning, thus no value, no appreciation.

Example: When a younger person starts every sentence with ‘I feel like’, my sense of time use gets offended. Hearing ‘I feel like’ (20 times) before we get to the meat, since the reality of the lead-in is inherent (we know they feel like that or they would not be saying it), my time gets wasted. My expectation around time, rendered as efficiency, conflicts with their approach. [The unfortunate result born purely of repetition is, the only thing I remember about whatever they said is, ‘I feel like.’]

However, since I know they value time from a different point of reference, the difference is a point of connection rather than separation.

When we impose expectations that relate to our own generation or person on others, we experience how difference feels inside. That manifests as contempt and labeling. Considered differently, it can be about connection.

Labeling serves no one but marketers seeking to sell whatever it is you want, be it things or experiences. Labeling separates us all. Labeling creates believable myths. It gives marketers an easy path to selling. The more we buy into the myths, the farther it takes us off our individual paths, the life purpose we all seem to seek.

If we can bridge the wide gap between generational expectations, we can get rid of the useless generation labels and work more harmoniously together.

In a way, we can shape and mold the world, “our world,” the immediate people and places that surround us, but that doesn’t define a generation.

The Me generation is nothing more than a reflection of expectation and reality, perpetuated by consumer-marketers on social media channels. If you are a marketer, you exploit this. If you are a humanitarian, you exploit it. Nearly everyone exploits it.

That’s what labels are for. They help exploit people’s desires for control.

Eventually, most of us realize that this giant rock we live on is the controller, and it will probably always be round. We figure out that we can change ourselves and influence those around us. Often, that’s not only a good start but good enough to feel accomplished and happy.

The funny thing is, the common accusation of entitlement leveled on the Millennial generation is in and of itself entitlement. It is one generation claiming to know what is correct for the other. It’s a fairly useless action, just like the Me generation is a useless myth.

We’re stronger together.

How easy do we really need things to be?

I was reading a software review wherein the user complained that while the tool made complex selections easy, it didn’t make easy selections, such as the square edges of a building, easier. How easy do we really need things to be?

If people could buy a button to push that would instantly create the perfect relationship, would they buy it? Sure they would, but it doesn’t exist.

If engineers could merely think of the bridge they need to build, and have it instantly rendered for them, would they buy that tech? Of course! But it doesn’t exist.

If doctors could cure anything that ails us by pushing a button, surely they would pay billions for that invention. But it doesn’t exist.

We can create just about anything we can dream, but the human element that makes creation and connection occur cannot be literally replaced. Of course, we can create fables and tales, promises and visions, but the connection factor between two interconnected needs manifests action and magic.

We learn from the work, not from the easy, one-click button-pushing.

This is why specialists exist. Need a photo expertly edited? There are people who do that. Software can help you do some types of photo editing fairly quickly, but it isn’t instant, and it can’t do everything. While software marketing promises an elusive version of reality wherein for a few hundred dollars everyone can instantly be master photo editors, the truth is, one-click editing is not as precise as one human taking the time to do it right.

Surely, if your need is genuine and worthy, the price of the specialist is worth every penny.

We connect and benefit and grow from defining needs and working together to solve them.

Easy paths are certainly desirable, but easy, effortless solutions aren’t worth much.