All things toxic

There’s not a lot of humor in the toxicology field.   It’s pretty serious stuff: testing urine, oral fluids, blood, hair, fingernails and even meconium using analytical instrumentation (chromatography and mass spectrometry) to measure levels and types of drugs in the individual.  Toxicology deals with the complexities of testing and analysis, of positives and false positives, of screening amd confirmations, the effects of drugs of abuse on the brain, and the effect on newborns, children, adolescents, and pregnant women too.  Not funny subjects.

It deals with overdoses, postmortem studies, near-death toxicity caused by opioids and/or designer drugs.  Road rage by intoxicated drivers.  Therapeutic drug monitoring and diversion. The opioid crisis.  And then there are all the lawsuits and investigations of tox labs gone bad: kickbacks to physicians, false billing to Medicaid in the millions of dollars, and the lawsuits between addiction centers and sober houses, and the toxicology labs hired to test them.  Pretty sober subject matter.  The buck stops at the lab.

That’s why I really enjoyed a creative HELP WANTED advertisement that was posted on the Society of Forensic Toxicology (SOFT) website a few years ago:

HELP WANTED: in search of friendly people who enjoy meeting other friendly people. Must be in Atlanta during the SOFT conference (October 18-23, 2015) with an interest in all things toxic. Duties could include learning names at a workshop registration table; impersonating Vanna White with SOFT meeting signs, or starting a bidding war at the Silent Auction. If this sounds like your cup of poison, please click the link: http://www.soft-tox.org/volunteers and fill out the form to see how you can join the fun (better known as volunteering at the SOFT conference). We have a volunteer position to fit your schedule. No experiences necessary.

The Society of Forensic Toxicology or SOFT is just one of many laboratory trade organizations. The annual SOFT show is a week’s worth of poster sessions, working groups, scientific presentations, demos and the like focused on drugs of abuse and addiction studies, clinical and forensic toxicology news, trends and advancements, and other analytical toxicology matters of interest to PhD chemistry, biochemistry, pharmacy lab executives and scientists. ToxTalk is a periodical produced by its members and covers fascinating analyses of both common and trendy drugs and toxins, from coffee (and its caffeine) to khat, Ecstacy and fentanyl-laced opioids. I can understand some of it though most of it is way over my head.  I learn enough so I can ask good questions to lab managers and academics (in my day job), or impress my friends and influence people with knowledge of such timely topics.

Chemistry describes how things are: fuels, agriculture, fabrics, medicines, minerals, air, water, soil and more.  Chemistry is all about the nature of things and the transformations of it into something else. It’s quantum mechanics thst explains the structure of atoms and molecules, but it’s thermodynamics that is the energy that makes chemistry chemistry.  Nothing happens in chemistry without energy.  Peter Atkins, a chemist himself, writes in What is Chemistry? :

“Whereas chemistry reaches down into physics for its explanations (and through physics further down into mathematics for its quantitative formulations), it reaches upwards into biology for many of its most extraordinary applications. That should not be surprising, for biology is merely an elaboration of chemistry”.

Why is the sky blue?

Many years ago when I was in college earning a BA, a Hampshire College friend took an introductory science class called “Why is the sky blue?” And I recall at Brown University there was a class known as “Physics for Poets” that addressed what I will call “science appreciation”.  Who couldn’t be fascinated by the life-altering, bold, important and fascinating scientific inventions, breakthroughs and advancements produced through scientific research and development?  Be it mapping the body (Human Genome Project), pasteurization of milk to kill bacteria, climate change forecasts,  the invention of the first practical integrated circuit (also known as the “microchip”) or engineering microbes through synthetic biology, I’ve grown to appreciate how science touches society, culture, politics, economics, transportation, health, communications, community and weather.

I am attracted to science without being a scientist or possessing a scientific mind, but how would I have known that upon graduation in 1975, I would spend the next four decades working in technology and sciences-based firms, and being continually fascinated by the applications, the before and after outcomes resulting from scientific advances and achievements.  It’s not funny, but it’s better.

 

 

 

 

Disruptive technology adoption

Having worked in high tech for so much time in my career, I’ve given some thought to how and why companies acquire disruptive and innovative new technology, especially when conventional consensus has not fully embraced it.   I believe there are five reasons to acquire “new” high tech, though often, more than one factor “drives” a particular company for a particular technology:

– Strategic advantage

– A necessity to do business

– A means to improve a process

– In response to competitive conditions

– For the sake of the technology

The buyers “get it”; they understand the wisdom of the innovation; they too may be driven by some of the same values expressed by the technology and nature of the sellers.  I’ve seen this time and time again.

The sellers’ job

Technology rarely sells itself. Don’t believe the software or hardware developers, engineers or analysts who believe “if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door”. No, if you build it, they won’t necessarily come. Instead, it is the sellers’ job to demonstrate to buyers how the new technology will make them more competitive, improve their workflow, cut costs, solve an identified and existing problem, improve their clients’ satisfaction, or resolve another problem – better than any other means of doing so.

Adoption of any new technology is not all that simple, or immediate. We begin to understand this truism when we accept that buyers do not usually readily understand the value of a new technology.  Buyers also usually have competing interests and priorities that may have to be dealt with, or re-prioritized while evaluating or considering another technology.

No one remembers it took IBM ten years and many millions of dollars to establish the Personal Computer or PC.  The ubigitous PC was an unknown entity for a long, long time.

A disruptive technology – one that upsets the status quo – does not sell itself.  To communicate its utility, it’s features and functions, it’s price/performance, it’s special attractions, it’s value, requires sustained activities and talented management that knows the intricacies of business.  It’s not strictly a rational discourse nor strictly a strategic vision that works.  To break through the clutter there is a necessity to position the innovation as a “must” in a concerted and coordinated campaign over time.  John Chambers, former CEO of Cisco Systems maintained that much of Cisco’s success was forged through focused and sustained, well researched execution.  A boilerplate execution program was shared and communicated internally for all to follow.

Seth Godin, entrepreneur, marketer, author and spokesperson says the most important question for the seller is not “is the price low enough” , “is it reliable enough”, “is the website cool enough”.  No, the most important question in marketing something to someone who hasn’t purchased it before, is “trust”.  He says: “Do they trust me enough to believe my promises?  Without that, you have nothing. Earn trust, earn trust, earn trust. Then you can worry about the rest”.

But how many sellers do that?

What are the markings or signs that indicate a company, and it’s leadership is interested and committed and ready to evaluate your new technology? Depending on the nature of the technology, and its impact on the buyers’ business model, the evaluation may be an exhaustive process requiring  the commitment of numerous stakeholders (inside and outside the company) over time.

Why a Company Buys New Technology

I’ve been interested for a long time to learn why some companies adopt new technology, while others do not. Is it something about the companies and leadership that characterizes them, or is it something about how the technology is messaged or positioned by the seller, or a combination of the two, or something else altogether?   I let others fully understand the technical engineering while I focus on understanding the audience, the industry, the players, their problems and their priorities.  Only that way can a seller successfully market it’s technology.

 

Opportunity markers

My mild mannered Jewish grandmother who lived in Washington Heights (Manhattan, New York City) some forty odd years ago, close to the Cloisters, not far from Henry Kissinger’s parents at 182nd Street, once remarked to me while walking on the sidewalk near her second floor rent-controlled apartment that she could tell whether a person was Jewish by how he/she walked.  Even from walking behind the person!  I don’t know if it was the gait, the stoop of the shoulders, the clothes, or something else altogether different, but she just knew, like a sixth sense. Apparently the person gave off “signs” that tipped her off to religious affiliation.

In the physical world, we know that the condition of one’s fingernails – the ridges, shape, color and bumps, presence or lack of a moon shape near the base of the fingernail , all constitute signs indicative of a person’s overall health, be it anemic, heart disease or malnutrition.  Lessons can be learned from both examples and applied to marketing and sales development.

In my career, it was my responsibility in direct marketing and sales support to generate demand and assess lead quality across various industries, usually involving new or disruptive technological innovations.  There was Data General which developed an electronic messaging application called CEO or Comprehensive Electric Office in the 1980s, a forerunner to email, and Altiga Networks, a start up VPN or Virtual Private Networking firm that was acquired by Cisco Systems in 2000, and most recently there is the LDTD, or laser diode thermal desorption, the world’s fastest mass spectrometry platform which Overbrook Scientific marketed, installed and serviced at toxicology, clinical and pharmaceutical firms.

Depending on the company, product, service or project, I was involved in demand generation programs as well as decisions of the next steps after demand generation.  Over the last decade I have used business research skills to conduct opportunity assessments. I learned that some leads stood out from others and had more potential than others.  But some  leads were characterized by red flags that immediately demoted them; they needed more attention, or sales intelligence before they could be handed off to Sales, or should be trashed altogether.  The signs given off were not unlike a biomarker which is common to pharmaceutical and biotech industries. A biomarker by definition characterizes, measures and indicates the true nature of a compound early on. For example, a biomarker may be a specific enzyme concentration, presence of biological substances which serve as indices for health or disease risk, or may be indicative of environmental exposure, disease diagnosis, occurrence of pregnancy and so on.

I characterize leads as “opportunities” and assess them in terms of “opportunity markers” (OM) which are akin to biomarkers.  They have predictive value acting as diagnostic measures that suggest likely outcomes before they occur, earlier in the marketing/sales cycle than other means. An OM has predictive value that enables sellers to develop actionable insights and to focus their outreach on the right accounts. The Marketing and Sales departments at Progress Software, whose 4GL language sold into the IBM installed base included a prioritized list of “red flags”.  An opportunity developed had to be screened using this list prior to any further action by Sales regardless of individual title, company or stated interest.

Typical elements to consider of a lead was the company’s known goals and initiatives, existing technologies, the role of the interested individual, and consensus shared by others in the organization.  Understanding other service providers and/or consultants doing business with the buying organization is telling.  I worked for start ups or emerging growth companies, and some buyers only use “big brand name” vendors, and have an aversion to start ups fearing they won’t be around in a few years.  Others are interested by new technologies but purely out if self-interest; there is no real interest of the company.

In the service business at my current company, one must know the makes and models of the analytical instrumentation installed at the site.  A host of questions must be answered: what kind of sample preparation techniques are used? In terms of individual contact, what is his/her position in the lab?  How long has he/she held the position? Are there others on the team who share interest in the seller’s technology? Has he/she advocated for technology initiates in the past that have worked out to the lab’s satisfaction? Whom does he/she report to? Is there an immediate need for the problems that the technology addresses?  What other initiatives are underway and occupy the team’s time, budget and/or resources?

According to a July 2015 study by Business Performance Innovation Network, the biggest challenge of “embracing new technology for their company was gaining consensus and support for new technology investments cited” by 44% of respondents (www.bpinetwork.org).

Proving the value for technology adoption and providing the means for successful implementation by making it a priority amongst other initiatives of a company is the rub. The best technology and (presentations about it) should include hard data and information about how other companies (in the same industry) have solved problems. Show that the technology innovation has solved a big problem. When a new innovative technology solves a problem specific to the individual company, purchase is more likely to follow.

 

 

 

 

Mega-commuter and listener

I’m ready to hang it up, to get off the hook. After decades of commuting to and from work, traveling over 300,000 miles, from Franklin to Burlington, to Westboro, to Cambridge, to Fall River and Hyde Park (Boston) too, and chugging along around the speed limit, I’ve driven hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours, usually 50 hours per month, a “mega-commuter” for most of my career.

An hour drive grows on you.

While American cities tend to have the lowest average commuting time in the world according to a study conducted by the Toronto Board of Trade in 2014, Boston’s average commute is about the same as San Francisco’s (30 minutes each way), whereas Shanghai’s average commute is over 50 minutes each way.  Mine is over 60 minutes, and has given me freedoms to think, listen, dream and scheme, listen and meditate, observe and watch scenery along the way.  Driving to and from work is no easy feat; I have to be alert all the time. Sometimes I have to maneuver around other vehicles as well as potholes and dead animals.  I see drivers texting and phoning, applying nail polish and mascara, and not just in traffic slowdowns and congestion. Others pick their nose, give me the finger and blare hip hop or other sounds I’m really not familiar with. I’m with the NPR crowd, and have lost touch with the music of the Millenials.  Commuting is often the hardest part of my day (and night).

While over 75% of commuters drive alone to work and ba, what they do with the time is very individual I would guess. I have a number of activities aside from snacking, listening to NPR and occasionally Rock, and dreaming up new businesses centered on commuting.

Sometimes I conjure up a gratitude list, starting with the letter “A”, thinking of all the things I am grateful for – my daily Fuji or Granny Smith Apple, the air I breathe, the best month of the year, August, and then letter “B” for my beloved Boston Red Sox and sports teams from Boston, my son Ben, the colors blue, black and bronze, the beautiful blue sky overhead (though it’s usually grey in Massachusetts).  I have lots to be grateful for as I drive along Routes 95, 495, 128, 1, and the Mass Pike. I try to use this practice to overcome my displeasure with the frequent traffic congestion, stoppage and boredom.  Sitting and driving when I want to be physically active.  Such a drag!

In order to enjoy my time, I’ve listened to scores and scores of audiobooks (another “A” word) from favorite authors like Stephen King, Sebastian Unger, Erik Larson, Tracy Kidder, Bill Bryson and Dennis Lahane.  Some favorites that come to mind are from Stephen King: “Under the Dome”, a 30 CD set which ended too soon, “Cugo”, and “11/23/63” which was essentially a love story as much as a science fiction time traveler story.  Also Stephen King’s: “The Colorado Kid”, “The Girl who loved Tom Gordon”, “Joylamd” (which I didn’t enjoy very much), “Revival”, and “Mr. Mercedes” and “Finder’s Keepers”.

I have always enjoyed biographies and memoirs including Hillary Clinton, Ted Turner (“Ted”), Vladimir Putin, “Francona: the Red Sox Years”, Elvis Costello (which I didn’t finish), “Billy Crystal: Still Fooling ‘Em”, “Kick Kennedy” and “Raising Cubby: John Elder Robison”. I’m very interested in hiw decisions are made, motivation, psychology, neurology and cognitive science.  Brain on Fire: My month of madness is testament to this interest.  Recently I have been more interested in events leading up to WW II and the war itself, and have listened to “Escape from Auschwitz”,  and Remembering Anne Frank”.

Unger has written a few books including a “Death in Belmont” about the Boston Strangler, and “Fire”.  Occasionally, I listen to “Car Talk”, the NPR radio show featuring Tom and Ray Magliozzi. While the show ended in 2012 after the death of one of them, I continue to listen to their audiobooks and listen to repeats at 11 am on Saturday mornings when dong errands.  I listen to John Grisham but have never paid attention to the titles of his stories so  I don’t know which ones I’ve heard, except for “the Whistler”, which I’m finishing this week.

Aside from “Seabiscuit” and “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption”, I shy away from Laura Hildebrand, though I have read about her unusual writing habits.  “The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics” by Daniel James Brown was unusual and enjoyable.  Speaking of sports, the best baseball book I ever heard was about a weekend in August detailing manager Tony La Russo’s decision making prowess and personal life, but whose title escapes me.  Could it be “A Weekend in August”?

Other audiobooks I heard were Bill Bryson’s “A Sunburned Country”. Others in no particular order are “Bad Monkey” by Carl Hiassen, “Money Ball” by Michael Lewis, and “Saturday”, “Solar” and “Atonement” by Ian Mc Ienery (which I probably misspelled), “The Girl in the Train” by Paula Hawkins, “The Odd Couple” by Neil Simon, “Low Pressure” by Sandra Brown, and the “John Lennon Letters”. (While written by his ex-wife and son Julian, they relay stories about how he was not a very nice man. He was emotionally abusive and neglectful.)  Anything by Denns Lahane is spellbinding including “The Drop”, “Live by Night”, “Mystic River” and “World Gone By”.

For about one year I worked and lived in Franklin and didn’t have the pleasure of audiobooks, but did enjoy a commute with no traffic, no slowdowns, no congestion. Sometimes I wished my commute had been longer.  Mega commutes help one slow down and unwind which was particularly helpful when after a full day of work at a start-up, it would be me and the boys as my wife worked nights.

The man who screams

NOW … AT LAST …. THE NEW AMAZING

Gem of genius slowly blazing

The one man who, without a doubt

Knows what this business is about.

The man who screams, when words are arranged.

Still, were he quieter or politer,

He wouldn’t be a copywriter

My first marketing communications project was to write and produce a six color 140+ page catalog for DG Direct, the direct marketing catalog and telemarketing channel at mini computer manufacturer Data General, in Westboro, Massachusetts, in the legendary high tech corridor.  The DG Direct catalog was a 16 page brochure which was essentially product advertisements with an order form on a coated paper stock (making it very difficult to write on).  Products sold were mostly commodities like diskettes, printer ribbons and computer furniture.

Four of us, manager Jeff Clack, product specialist Bruce Young, director Norm Hodge and I were tasked in re-inventing DG Direct. Expand the product line and become a revenue-generating low cost sales and distribution channel. An inside sales staff was hired, and the catalog became direct marketing-focused. Copy was written to describe and sell. In fact, “creative” wasn’t considered creative unless it sold.  That’s how direct marketing works.

At the time, Data General was a celebrated $1 billion mini computer manufacturer, which consisted of engineers who had previously worked at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), a larger computer firm up the street in Maynard. DG had the reputation of being a scrappy competitor. Author Tracy Kidder made a name for himself with his book The Soul of a New Machine, the story about how Tom West, previously at DEC, left to start Data General and design and build a new generation of mini computers.

About the same time, I used to be called on by a printing salesman who introduced me to the wonders of direct mail and paper and printing.  It was common for printing salesmen to drop off beautiful four and six color collateral and paper samples with special die cuts, photography, artwork and typography, inspiring creative types like me. One of the brochures that caught my eye was produced by S.D. Warren, a division of Scott Paper Company headquartered in Boston. The full color brochure was simply titled “Direct Mail”, but it was “a workbook, a review, a manual, a guide” …. It displayed creative envelopes, business reply envelopes and collateral.  With features such as direct mail applications, the importance of the mailing list, “tricks of the trade to get past a secretary and through to her boss”, direct mail math and much more, it was something to behold.  Beautiful photography and illustrations reminiscent of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine album featured graphic artist Seymour Chwast.

Direct marketing is really a system of contacts, using a variety of media, developed and maintained using a database, which measures costs and results. While direct marketing is a means to influence behavioral change; those that it influences may be more than the intended or targeted users. Direct mail as practiced at DG Direct influences and motivates the sales force as well as existing and new customers.  Most business people consider using direct marketing for demand or lead generation, but it is actually used during the entire marketing and sales continuum.  It can close business and re-activate dormant audiences.

Direct marketing has always been about a database, and it profited from technology by helping to generate more intelligence about audiences, especially in consumer behavioral data.  Direct marketing was the forerunner to Internet marketing.  While Facebook, amongst many others, track your online Internet behavior beyond the Facebook website, nearly 25 years ago, ski resort Northstar-ar-Tahoe conducted their own innovative data-driven program to build greater understanding of its target audience away from the ski slopes.

In 1994, they gave free wristbands to their skier clients that “track where and when they ski and dine…..Before, if you paid cash, we had no idea who you were … While this lets us get close to customers and understand their skiing habits in a non intrusive way”.  Skiers benefit by accumulating points toward equipment purchases. Sound familiar?  Today programs like this happen all the time online, and offline too.  Programs are tailored based on audience participation.

I’ve always been interested in the history of marketing and ideas, so I want to mention a most interesting page in the S.D. Warren guide previously mentioned:

“How direct mail cleared up my marketing problems and made me a more loving husband — in only 60 days” is very similar to an advertisement for classical music station WTMI in Miami: “How classical music changed my life” thst was found in an advertising periodical.

A variation of this advertisement for a different radio station shows up in Elaine Fine’s blog musicalassumptionsblogspots.com.

I in turn used a variation of it for a “situation wanted” job seeking advertisement, “Save a Tall, Skinny Guy from Starvation” from some forty years ago.  One of the responses received came from the VP of a Wellesley ad agency run by the sister-in-law of a future friend of mine. Being the pack rat that I am, I saved the response which was addressed to “Dear Skinny” and shared it with my good friends Scott & Bonnie Dittrich a few years ago.

Nothing’s new.

Puff it up, would ya?

“Manager” was in my title, and on my business cards, but I was always an individual contributor.  I did not officially manage, hire, fire or direct anyone. I didn’t write anyone’s annual performance review. For the most part, I did not attend departmental administrative or budget meetings.  Instead, I conceived of, planned and managed initiatives and marketing programs, typically demand generation or re-activation in nature. I collaborated with others of course as an individual contributor; it was a necessity. I worked hard and was usually well compensated: stock options, a trip to Europe with my wife, plaques of distinction given out at company or departmental meetings, and performance-based bonuses too — including the one that was accidentally stashed in the VP’s drawer and forgotten about for six months, and found after he got terminated and his office was cleared for the new VP hired in his place.

The best part about being an individual contributor was the chance to work independently without intrusion or being micro-managed by others. I had the freedom and good budgets (until about 2001) to work with stellar writers and designers and boutique agencies of my own choosing. I delivered results and contributed to the success of the technical firms I worked at, even though I was not a technical guy.  When Cisco Systems bought Altiga Networks, a Virtual Private Networking (VPN) firm, we were told that Cisco bought the technology and its people.

While l worked in four start ups, some were staffed with more marketing resources than others. I was one of many in the marketing department, reporting to a director who in turn reported to a Vice President. Other times I was the marketing department  and reported directly to the owner. At Cisco where there were some nearly 30,000 employees worldwide, it was an incredibly flat organization; I was only three levels away from CEO John Chambers. Yet I was more than three levels below Joe Alsop, the president of $25 million Progress Software when I started, but I had an impromptu lunch at the company cafeteria with Joe on at least one occasion.  Joe knew me, or better still he knew my face.  We said “hi” in the halls.  But I never met John Chambers; he didn’t know me from Adam.

While I enjoyed my positions, worked hard, kept my head down when the department was under siege through some internal political conflict, I had lots of fun especially during brainstorming sessions.  It was at times like this that I still harbored aspirations to work in a creative capacity at an agency, or to follow a path as a Creative Director (CD), so I aspired to be that. An advertisement I kept close to me during the 1980s described a CD as:

As our Creative Director, you’ll shape the copy and design for our clients’ programs. You’ll also work on new business with our top people. You must have excellent verbal, written, visual and presentation skills; be a strategic “big picture” thinker; have flexibility and experience in all media (traditional, alternative and experimental); have solid working knowledge and experience with direct mail formats and disciplines; have an entrepreneurial spirit and skills (including sales  ability); be able to lead and direct a staff, including juniors and outside vendors; have vision, patience and a team focus. (Is that too much to ask) …..

Has-Beens, egomaniacs, followers … Look somewhere else.

I want a leader, a winner, the best of the best!

So I spent extra time working on my presentation skills, sought out articles and books that taught me things I did not know, and continued developing a fertile mind in a number of disciplines and especially promotion, brand building and direct marketing.  I joined Toastmasters and became a better speaker. I read Caples, Kottler, Ogilvy on my own to become more well read.  I tried to help my father with his marketing and communications problems whenever I visited his food factory.

Start-Ups were my preference

As mentioned earlier, three of the start ups were successful and one was not. The unsuccessful one was a dysfunctional organization which showed is real nature soon after my arrival. Senior management fought amongst themselves and in front of employees in an open office setting. The president hired his sister for a senior marketing position but had no experience in marketing.  The CFO increased the price of the device and announced it through the press without buy-in from other departments.  A Fortune 100 company and competitor filed a major lawsuit against the company for stealing firmware. Eventually after ignoring FDA regulations and after a patient died from a malfunction of the device, the company was shut down, the president was fired, and we all lost our jobs.

I liked start up organizations in the technology space because it brought out the entrepreneur in me, the potential payoff was significant and it was kind of glamorous.   Everything was new and fresh; policy and procedures were not settled. Everything was a work in progress. Each of us was valued and had significant impact on the company’s development.  The activity level was high and exciting.

The hardest part in marketing and sales of disruptive new technology is presenting the value of the new technology (innovation) to both “C suite” and technical staff. A lot of technology firms rush the sale or never present the technology in a way that truly resonates with the different audiences. In my experience, the sellers typically have low regard or are ignorant of the power of marketing.  They think marketing is a matter of cutting prices, or giving something away (free samples!) as a way to make a business sale.  But very often, sale of any technology requires sophisticated yet clear communications and proof that solves a problem the buyer has.  Price may not be the gating issue so cutting price may not be the strategic things to do.

That’s  what marketing is all about. It’s strategy and tactics. Cisco produced a “how to launch new products handbook” to its new employees that was used company-wide to build the brand and build marketing programs.  It included schedules, checklists, timelines and corporate resources and standards to follow.  I believe this was one way Cisco was able to be agile and productive without a lot of management layers re-creating launch requirements.  Every one followed the script including freelancers, contractors, consultants and corporate.   John Chambers believed anyone could come up with a new idea, but execution was what mattered in the end.

In lesser start-ups, well-intentioned engineers and developers who built the VPN or 4 GL language or the world’s smallest AED (automated external defibrillator) thought they had built a mousetrap and all that was necessary to make the sale was to let people know about it using a product data sheet.  But others knew that only savvy marketing creates or increases demand. Without demand there are no customers.

Direct marketing is a strategy, not a tactic. As Lester Wunderman says in his book Being Direct: Making Advertising Pay, “it’s not an ad with a coupon, it’s not a commercial with a toll-free number; it’s not a mailing, a phone call, a promotion, a database, or a website. It’s a commitment to getting and keeping valuable customers”.

It was Bill Bellamy too who instructed me that the order form or coupon or response device was the most important part of the direct response package. In proofing a package prior to printing, one works backwards from the order form, to ensure there’s a natural integration with the messaging and creative strategy and “big idea” that drives the entire package.  The order form is where direct response occurs, the offer is clear and where the sale starts or is made.

I wasn’t free from the stresses of working in high powered, high energy technology firms.  There’s so much that goes into writing and designing a direct mail package, I couldn’t stand it when a senior manager, reviewing the content would tell me to “puff it up a little” or “tweak the writing”.  I thought to myself:  Puff it up?  Tweak?  What does that mean?  And you’re what …. a VP?  Their view of the program lacked a keen understanding of the elements that mattered, and the painstaking efforts conducted to match up creative with the overall marketing strategy.  I like a good challenge, but sometimes I privately fumed at these comments.  Now, some years later, when something like this occurs – and it still does – I walk it off, take a deep breath, and just let it go.  I ask myself:  Do I want to be happy, or right?   I guess I have matured!

Theodore Leavitt, the author of one of my favorite marketing books, The Marketing Imagination is an old book with old articles that are as meaningful today as ever. He explains the importance of “meaningful differentiation” and the notion that business transactions are built around relationships.  He speaks to how Sales and Marketing are supposed to work together, for the good of each other. He maintains the truism that Sales concerns itself with tricks and techniques of getting people to exchange their cash for your product, but only Marketing views and values the entire business process as a “tightly integrated effort to discover, create, arouse and satisfy customer needs”. For a liberal arts graduate like me, his writings inspired me throughout my career.  It’s one of those classic books for use in business to business (B2B) or business to consumer (B2C) marketplaces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Save the Last Great Natural Resource

April 17, 2017

April is national letter writing month!

Not withstanding emails, PDF greeting cards, Facebook and free online greeting cards (e-Cards) from American Greeting, the physical act of writing using a pen is encouraged and celebrated. Whether you use a treasured fountain pen or cheap Bic, a favorite personalized letterhead and/or envelope, touched off with a postal stamp fitting to the message, personality of the sender or recipient (or both), April is the time to write away with calligraphic flourish!

Creativity was encouraged in my family of origin.

Creative self expression was encouraged in my early years through greeting card and letter formats. Birthday cards of our own individual creation were produced and exchanged amongst our family members. It didn’t matter if you could not draw, there were other ways to express yourself and your sentiments in the card and letter formats. My older brother dreamed up clever limericks as he was the wordsmith and orator of the family, whereas I used scissors to cut out photographs from the weekly news magazines, and paste them onto colored paper or use of colorful script. My dad wrote corny rhyming poems. My mother beamed at the creative expression.

The modern greeting card is a product of the nineteenth century. The Uniform Penny Post came out in Great Britain in 1840 and “radically democratized the sending of messages by mail. Instead of relying on the recipient to pay for a letter on delivery, the new system of postage stamps offered prepaid service at a single low rate” that became available to all (Letter Arts Review 26:4).  Furthermore, in both the 20th and 21th centuries, the commercial card has grown to express practically every artistic trend and style. The format has varied considerably; often there’s space for writing, inked stamps and/or decoration.

Leave the early years and now we’re in my twenties. I’ve graduated college and seeking employment. It was natural for me to place a direct mail-based Job Wanted advertisement (with PO Box) in the Classified section of New England AdWeek:

SAVE THE LAST GREAT NATURAL RESOURCE

Copywriting position sought. Brown graduate. Besides, you’ll like me. PO Box 123

Agency copywriting sounded glamorous; while I was discouraged by Marvin Feit, a family friend and co-founder of the Newbury Street agency that bore his name, Marvin & Leonard.  He said the work was very hard, took long hours, paid poorly, was very competitive and agencies were political.

I ignored his wisdom. I was too young to know better. I went ahead trying to land an agency position. I did not succeed; but something better occurred: Bill Bellamy, formerly with the Dickie Raymond Group, a celebrated Boston direct mail agency (later known as The DR Group) responded to my AdWeek ad. (Dickie is famous for inventing the window on an envelope).  Bill offered to take me under his wing at his Mansfield, MA home office to learn direct response marketing and copywriting. I learned about how folds effect response rates as did buck slips in a classic letter package. I learned about teasers and testing and key codes, audience psychographics and appeals, personalization, motivations, direct mail list brokers, and strategy.

I learned that most of what makes a letter (or advertisement) “work” is the soundness of the strategy on which it is based. And that’s where the long hours of hard work comes in.

Bill introduced me to the incomparable “Robert Collier Letter Book”, published in 1931, crammed full of lessons on “selling by mail”. To this day, the “Robert Collier Letter Book” is one of the top books on writing sales letters. But more than that, the techniques explained in his book are directly transferable to the Internet, whether web copy or email.  I learned of Claude Hopkins too, and his book “Scientific Advertising” which explained his knowledge of direct mail and measurement like key codes.  Claude Hopkins was pretty special too: he was a copywriter who was paid $185,000 a year salary in 1907!

Some years later in 1981, after I gave up the dream of being an agency copywriter and was working in a small business, I received a letter in which Bill wrote:

Thanks for stopping in the other day … I am still using examples of some of your lead gettings in my basic talks. They are good examples of how a little ingenuity combined with know how and a sales instinct can produce quality leads on a limited budget.

There’s nothing quite like a personalized letter to brighten up one’s day.  Letter writing by hand is even less frequently done today then it was done when Bill introduced me to the wisdom and beauty of direct mail letter writing.

 

 

 

Early Lessons

imageFor the longest time, work and career was about all that mattered to me. I lived to work. Come Sunday afternoon I got antsy and was raring to go.  I wanted so much to return to the office only twenty minutes away up Route 495 to make my mark.  On reflection, this single-minded concentration had a lot to do with my upbringing. As long as I can remember, my dad was a workaholic and successful entrepreneur in the snack food industry. His workday extended to nearly six days a week, and when he wasn’t physically at the office, he was contemplating his challenges when away from the office. His struggles and hopes became the overriding subject of our lives, my older brother and I and my stay-at-home mother, and especially in the evenings when he returned home for dinner for my mother’s good cooking.  His work was a large part of his life, and of mine, even as a little kid, and his employees, suppliers, customers, accountant, lawyer and the salespeople who called on him were people that didn’t just see him at his office and occupy his time there; they also seemingly lived with us at home seven days a week.

Stories were told about Marty Cohen, whom he called “Jake”‘ a label salesman and his second wife Trudi,  and there was Harold Roth and his son Stephen who were his distributors in New York City. John Hall, his plant manager, Bobby Hart, Millie, and Reuben originally from West Virginia, were three of his more colorful employees who toiled around the vats of butter, pork rinds, cereals, sunflower seeds and soybeans that travelled along the conveyor belts carrying the jars, bags and boxes of snack foods. I actually enjoyed hearing about Jake’s talents because he was creative and I was drawn to artwork in my earliest years. But Dad didn’t approve of artistic expression as a full time venture for his son; business was the trade for me.  Dad didn’t have any hobbies. He played golf a little. I don’t think he owned any golf clubs.  He did like to joke, tell stories and drink, but I never saw him drink to excess, to fight with anyone, but he did know how to pick on, berate, ridicule and humiliate family members.  He got a charge out of it.

Book learning, knowledge and academic scholarship were the values stressed in my family of origin from my earliest age. Working hard in grade school and high school in particular was highly valued so as to assure entry into a good college, and to develop character which is worthwhile in itself. The Protestant ethic of hard work was prominent in our middle-class Jewish home.

For much of my career in technology and science companies (three of which were start-ups that were acquired by larger firms and were successful), I applied myself and was able to find some satisfaction by excelling first as an award-winning direct marketing copywriter and within the creative side of business marketing.

Gettimg off the hook is the plan

A few months ago while on vacation with my wife and friends in Chile and Argentina, I realized that vacation was the first time in nearly fifty years! that I had taken more than one week’s vacation in a row.

In Bariloche, Argentina, in Northern Patagonia, I realized I could get used to being away from the grind of the office, to get off the hook more often. I could return to my original interests and by having more time on my hands, take care of myself in ways I only dreamed of doing while on vacation. Being off the hook would be when I am more present and able to discover and explore and meander around not just new surroundings thousands of miles away from home, but to return to the arts and humanities. In my early life I was oriented towards images, symbols, design and sculpture.

The common element of my interests is wrapped up in the written word. I’m drawn to the act of writing, of penmanship, calligraphy, brushes and inkwells, paper and arts preservation. Logos, fonts, typefaces, and the history of their development. Handwriting, handwriting analysis and forensic document examination of artwork, historic artifacts or memorabilia is fascinating. I’m interested in becoming a scribe.

In Crossing the Unknown Sea:Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity by William Whyte, being off the hook means allowing one to return to the notion of what to do in one’s life. Whyte uses powerful imagery and poetry so as to encourage us to return to our early years (of childhood), to discover and explore secret longings that had been on the back burner since then.

In off the hook, I will be exploring and sharing the pursuits I have only been able to pursue, peripherally, on the borders of my life, as I continue to work 9-5, five days a week. But I’m now allowing myself more time as life permits, to explore matters I am drawn to: the written word, fountain pen collecting by attending Boston Pen Shows, taking a Chinese calligraphy art class and joining an artist guild, collecting Hebrew prayers and passages for future design work.

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