Raw as the Limiting Factor

I talked about how technology levels the playing field in my previous post, and it got me thinking about the limiting factor in today’s society. I cycled through attributes like intelligence and time as the limiting factor, but finally landed on the word “raw”. With all that technology can do, and the nature of specialization in our society, a lot of people can fake a lot of things, including intelligence and skill. A few lucky shots or a well-placed industry buzz word might convince a whole crowd that you’re the expert.

I think raw is an abstract concept that I haven’t totally defined, but I know it has something to do with someone’s inherent ability to do a task. The task is also pretty abstract, since it could be “create and communicate a vision”, or “change the world”. Or, it could be as simple as “make a great card”. I’ve mentioned that my mom and I do a lot of scrapbooking and card-making, and we both get a lot of compliments on our creativity. But then we look through some blogs or catalogs, learn a new technique, or purchase a new tool, and we feel like we’re not creative at all, we’re just copycats! We wonder what kind of raw creativity someone must possess to come up with such a technique, because there’s no way we could’ve figured it out. My mom and I create beautiful work, but do we really have the “raw” factor? Is what we bring to the table so incredibly unique that no amount of technology or teaching could make someone our equal? I’ll be the first to say say, “DEFINITELY NOT!”

But what about people that use the raw factor to change the world via technology? Was it the human mind that conceived the idea, the human skill that built the tool, or the technology itself? Think about Facebook, a technology that has fundamentally shifted the way humans interact with each other. Sure, Mark Zuckerburg had a great idea, but did he really envision the re-work of social science as a result of his tool? Is he a visionary that will continue to change the world, or a guy who happened on the right idea, at the right time, via the right technology? What about the old-school inventors and thinkers, from Aristotle to Edison, with game-changing ideas and technology? Surely, there’s something innate in their abilities that allowed them to come up with their philosophies and inventions!

You can’t learn the raw factor, and you can’t mimic the raw factor… it just exists for some people. We don’t know what “it” is, that quality that takes someone from “smart” to “visionary”, from “creative” to “creator”, from “talented” to “unequaled”. It takes 10,000 hours to become an expert, but even experts can’t compete with raw talent, brain power, creativity, or vision. I think in a world where technology has leveled the playing field, “raw” is the new limiting factor, and I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to replace or replicate that.

Level Playing Field

My hobbyist husband owns a high-quality lens and studio lights. My amateur modeling, hair, and make-up knowledge and materials come from reality TV and Wal-Mart!


We live in the “Information Age”, where it’s possible to get any information, on any subject, anywhere in the world, in less than one minute. Some of my classmates posited that “Information Age” doesn’t equal “Knowledge Age”. And, while I agree with this to some extent, I have to say, technology has leveled the playing field. Case in point: the picture at the top of the post.

Technology has made everything better, faster, and cheaper, including learning. My husband purchased his professional-grade camera and lenses for a few thousand dollars, and a light kit for less than $1k. For a total of about $3,000, total amateurs can set up a studio almost anywhere. Then there’s my contribution, complete with modeling techniques gleaned from a few episodes of “America’s Next Top Model” (you know you see the difference when you schmize, don’t lie!), make-up techniques from around the web, and super convenient hot rollers (vs. the heated metal rods of yesteryear, I can just smell the hair burning!). We then used an open-source software called GIMP to edit the photos, and we’re now sharing them with the world via the free gallery, SmugMug. You don’t have to be a “professional” to get magazine-quality photos anymore.

And it’s not just pictures or “frivolous” endeavors. Take TurboTax and QuickBooks, software programs that allow most anyone to process a simple tax return. Or email and Skype, functions that allow companies to go global from a single conference room. My husband has fixed our dishwasher and rebuilt a toilet after watching a few instructional YouTube videos. Programs like Band in a Box allow you to create music for multiple instruments, and composition software makes it easy to transpose and update the melodies in your head. Airplanes have made travel cheap, easy, and fast… I can literally fly around the world in a day. That’s INCREDIBLE.

So, with all that technology enables common laypeople to do, what’s the point of a fancy degree or hiring a professional? First, there are certainly areas that require specialized training, like medicine. Would you want a surgeon that learned how to clip a brain aneurysm via YouTube? Other professions that deal with government regulations definitely require some standard, so I think it’s reasonable to require a law degree, accounting degree, or pilot’s license. I do think that many professions outside of creative endeavors still need some objective standard, and the licensing and educational requirements ensure safety and accuracy. But the creative professions? I think it’s becoming a free for all, and technology has definitely leveled the playing field. You don’t have to have access to expensive printing presses and hazardous chemicals to achieve quality pictures. You don’t have to have a private recording studio, a fancy sound man, or a huge label to make and share music. This is not to say that you don’t have to have skills and talent, but the “who you know” or prohibitive equipment costs create less of a barrier to entry. The thing is, though, that with so much free information available, it’s also easier to gain the knowledge and skills! You don’t have to take an apprenticeship or spend years learning a specialized piece of equipment anymore, and you can experiment with things cheaply to learn.

I’ve been blown away recently by how much technology has leveled the playing field, both in the professional and personal spheres. I think that as technology enables learning and use, the market is going to start favoring those with the ellusive-to-quantify “people skills”, “management skills”, “spark/charisma/creativity”, and generally qualities/talents that are much more difficult to learn. If anyone can differentiate themselves via technology, what’s the limiting factor in today’s society?

“The Goalie”

I tend to shy away from talking about topics that make people blush, but I’ve decided to discuss the marketing of birth control today, for both men and women. For marketers, it is firmly in the realm of a commodity with a large target segment, a lucrative sector with many tactics and complex issues, so why not go exploring?*


The Message for Women: Convenience

Most manufacturers target women with the message of convenience. Since effectiveness is a given in this day and age, they have to sell something else, and in most cases, that’s convenience. Convenience comes in a lot of forms: one pill (numbers), quarterly shots (time), or one doctor’s visit every 5 or 10 years (time, numbers AND “mind-space”!). Most commercials feature women going about their daily activities without a thought for their contraception options. They can go to the store, the gym, the bar, the office, anywhere, anytime, without having to “be prepared” (or frolic in a field of daisies all alone, which makes no sense to me as a marketer, but that tends to be the chosen activity for most pharmaceutical commercials). Many of the product websites are clean, cheery layouts that emphasize how convenient it is to use their product.


The Message for Men: Pleasure

There’s no hormonal contraception for men (with FDA approval anyways), so manufacturers of their only option (without the help of their partner) entice them with the promise of pleasure. And, largely, pleasure through variety. All the commercials talk about explosions, fireworks, screams, bursts, joy, awakening, and a new-found desire to get down to business after using their product. They tell the men that not only will they have pleasure, but their partner will also have pleasure. So, they’ve also introduced pride and adequacy into the mix, both of which are strong psychological motivators. The manufacturers tell men they can get double the pleasure: the immediate physical aspect, and the longer-lived mental aspect.


Ease of Use and Product Education for Women: High Up-Front Investment, Low On-Going Investment

Since women’s contraception is sold with a message of convenience, the products must be easy to use and require minimal hassle to obtain and understand. This is an interesting dichotomy, because there are so many options, with so many side effects, and so many variables to consider. Choosing one option requires responsible users to research a myriad of chemicals and health issues, moral and ethical considerations, and brands and delivery methods. For some women, it requires them to switch products multiple times to avoid complications with their first choice. However, once you’ve chosen a product that works, generally the ease of use and on-going education is minimal. Pop this pill every morning at 8 am, show up to the doctor’s office on the 23rd every 3 months, or go in for your yearly exams to make sure everything is in place and effective. Lots of women make their contraception decisions outside the bedroom, and they utilize these methods outside the bedroom. The habitual and on-going use of contraception makes it easy to incorporate the product into a daily/monthly/yearly routine. (I do recognize that many women choose the option  that men choose, but most women have at least considered a hormonal or barrier method that requires habitual use.)


Ease of Use and Product Education for Men: Low Up-Front Investment, High On-Going Maintenance

Men’s options are widely available and limited to one type of option, even though there’s many brands. So, choosing a brand for contraception is largely a matter of preference, and in a pinch, any brand will do. The problem is, the product has several opportunities for failure. This is amplified by the situation when men use contraception, which is generally characterized as spontaneous and hurried. It can be tricky business, and without regular practice, leaves the door open for failure. 


Cost for Women: Moderate-High, On-Going vs. Cost for Men: Low, Sporadic

Hormonal contraception costs for women are moderate to high, depending on the chosen option and the insurance coverage. These costs are generally unrelated to frequency of activities, and represent an on-going cost. Men pay on a per-use basis. Since the science behind their method of contraception is much more basic, the associated costs are largely for marketing vs. R&D. So, the cost-per-use may be higher or lower than women’s, depending on the frequency of activity. It’s the difference between paying for a Netflix subscription and renting movies from Red Box. One keeps the movies ready at all times, the other gives you movies on-demand.


The Emotional Appeal

I think most of the methods for marketing the most popular methods of contraception are logical, tangible benefits. You save time, money, and headache, and you receive pleasure and protection. However, there’s one form of birth control that I believe takes a completely emotional approach: natural family planning. Some advocates try to use facts about harming your body with chemicals, but most appeal to some sense of holistic, spiritual, or religious connotation. They ask you to consider the ethics of utilizing one option, the morality of another, and the general “goodness” of using NFP over artificial forms of contraception. And, as we know, emotional appeals work! This is particularly true for product associations, like being “natural” in your cleaning products, “going green” by recycling and using less water, and adhering to other religious teachings. The message from NFP advocates is that, if you want be consistent in your beliefs, you should utilize this method over other options. Since the aforementioned beliefs are generally tied to the belief in some higher purpose (be it humanity, a deity, nature, etc.) this appeal is extremely effective.

So, there you have it, an analysis of some of the tactics marketers use to sell different forms of birth control! I’ve recently found pharmaceutical marketing to be quite interesting, since it walks the line between a necessary item and a luxury item, branded options and generic options, and ethical considerations. There’s so much more associated with these types of products than just “effectiveness”, and I think marketers play a huge part in shaping this massive industry.


*I’ll make the disclaimer that I am a woman of childbearing age who firmly believes that some form of “modern” birth control is a necessity. So, I’m not aiming to start a debate about whether it is or isn’t morally acceptable, or which brand or method you should use. I’m simply observing and commenting on an area that is particularly relevant to a large segment of the population.

Collusion of Evil Marketers

Do you remember that scene in the movie “Father of the Bride”, where George Banks has a melt-down in the super market over the superfluous buns? Some big shot over at the wiener company got together with some big shot at the bun company, and decided to screw the American public! George just wants to buy 8 hot dogs, and 8 hot dog buns… is that SUCH and UNREASONABLE request? Apparently. This is the type of collusion of evil marketers that my husband references when he wants to make a point. And, unfortunately, today’s post showcases another collusion of evil marketers:

Spokeo aggregates all your data for a complete profile, sold to anyone willing to pay for it.


Don't want your data to be accessible on Spokeo? Fear not, for a simple payment, Reputation.com will keep your data safe on the internet! And, they've conveniently placed an ad on Spokeo, making it easy for you to start the clean -up process!


I mentioned Spokeo in a recent post, as referenced in an article about a woman’s attacker stalking her, and her supposition that he found her through her Spokeo profile. It’s ironic, and quite sad, that Spokeo has an ad for data protection on their site that proudly provides a service to aggregate and display all your data! This is a perfect scenario for the big shots at both companies to get together to screw the American public! Here’s how it would go:

Spokeo evil marketer: “So, Reputation.com, have I got a proposal for you! My company will go to all the websites on the internet and pull everyone’s data into a profile. Then, if people want the data to go away, I’ll send them to you for data clean up! You just pay me a monthly commission fee, and we’ll call it even.”

Reputation.com evil marketer: “This is a great plan. I’ve got another person we should cut in on the deal: private investigators! I’ll have them pay me a monthly fee to find people, and then I’ll use your site to find them, and then I’ll tell the person that I wouldn’t have been able to find them if they’d just used my service to clean up their online presence! It’s PERFECT!!”

Then they hug and watch George Banks-esque melt-downs happen in the super market of the internet. And screw the American public.

In theory, it’s all ok, because George Banks could just buy 3 packs of hot dogs and 2 packs of hot dog buns to make 24 hot dogs, leaving no superfluous buns. And, theoretically, he’s thwarted the evil marketing plan! Except he doesn’t want 24 hot dogs, he wants 8 hot dogs, so now instead of 4 superfluous buns, he’s got 16 superfluous hot dogs. Theoretically, people could keep their data off Spokeo by never going online… ever. Except, anecdotal evidence suggests that Spokeo uses more than just online profiles, they use all sorts of “public” data. Except, “marketing and business lists” are generally sold, not put out for the public, so even if you don’t put any information online, it’s still quite possible that they’ve got something on you, so you’ll have to use Reputation.com anyways!

This is not to say that all online data is scary, damaging, or harmful, or that all sites that make a profile for you are trying to turn the world into a terrible place. I am saying, however, that we should all be aware of what we put out into the world, and the ways in which some of my more devious peers will try to manipulate you. That, and I got really excited when I found a reason to post the scene from “Father of the Bride”, and the Spokeo/Reputation.com relationship was too good to pass up!

Featured on The Daily Muse

I have another article on The Daily Muse today! Check out my tips in the post titled, “4 Creative Ways to Land the Interview”. I’ve posted on The Daily Muse several times, and you can view all of my articles here.

The Daily Muse is an excellent site aimed at young professional women (there’s some great articles for men, too!) They’ve assembled a wonderful team of talented writers, so make sure you browse through the rest of the site!

5 Long Distance Tips for Dating Corporates

After this week’s posts on the latest social issues and campaigns, I figured it was time for a post on a lighter note! Today’s guest post talks about the intersection between business and personal and offers some tips for long distance relationships for busy professionals.

Mary Edwards is one of the contributors and editors for best dating sites. She is passionate about thought leadership writing, regularly contributes to various career, social media, public relations, branding, and parenting and online dating community. She can be reached at via email.


Whether your significant other has relocated to a different city or you have met your match that happens to live a plane ride away, there are ways to keep your love life going. Working a corporate job keeps you busy and you already feel like you don’t have time for yourself, so how do you make time for a long distance relationship? Here are a few tips to get you through the distance:

Talk at Night: Instead of trying to chat on the phone at different times during the day, save phone conversations for the evenings once work is over. If you try to chat during your lunch break, chances are the other person is busy or has their mind their upcoming meeting. Set a time in the evenings to talk, you will find that you have a lot more to talk about instead of breaking it up throughout the day.

Set Dates: Set a date when you will see each other next. This requires a lot of planning on both parts. But take turns visiting. Depending on budget and distance, try seeing each other at least once a month if not more. Once you set a date to visit, focus on that date. It will help you get through that hard time of missing the other person.

Keep Work Out of It: Try to keep work out of your conversations. When one starts to talk about work it tends to turn into a venting session and eventually becomes the topic of your nightly conversation. When you are apart from your partner you want your conversations to be positive. Feel free to share exciting work news but avoid all other work related talks.

Send a Text: Normally texting isn’t the best for relationships but in a long distance relationship, texts are your mini relationship savers. Sending a text or two during their work day will put a smile on their face. Sending a ‘Hey, can’t wait to see you!’ or an inside joke will keep you in their mind during the day. Since you are not able to see them as often as most couples, little things like this really do help you and your relationship partner feel part of his/her daily life.

Video Chat: There are phone programs like Qik or Facetime for video chats. And for your computer, the popular Skype is a great program to use. Not being able to see your partner for a long time is difficult but the next best thing is video chat. Chatting daily or weekly via video will help you feel more connected.


Thanks for guest posting, Mary!

Skepticism is Healthy

I’ve been talking about my thoughts on several social issues and how they relate to marketing, and I wanted to focus on the role of skepticism. As I mentioned in the previous posts, I’m not trying to say that the causes are wrong or unworthy, or that brand awareness is not a valid goal. I am, however, saying that I think blind following without question is unhealthy, hence today’s title, “skepticism is healthy”. In addition to the social controversies of late, my husband asked me about my thoughts on how customer reviews will impact the marketing profession going forward, and I stated that I believe customer reviews are a win-win for companies and consumers. So, what do these conversations have in common?

First, I think we should all train ourselves to question everything before committing to a belief. At first glance, curing cancer and saving children seem like no-brainers to band together and shout support. Thus, the question is not, “Do I support cancer research and helping children,” but rather, “Does this method of support make sense? Is this organization the most effective at providing the solution?” For causes, the marketers are the organizations championing the issue, and the “customer reviews” are the people who Tweet, Like, and otherwise spread the message that supporting this cause, via this method, is the best option.

We don’t automatically take Microsoft’s word or Canon’s word that a product or experience is amazing, because we know they’re biased. They get something (in this case, monetary profit) by convincing us that they offer the best solution, so we turn to customer reviews, friends and family, or some other form of neutral 3rd party advice to determine if the claims made by the biased marketers are, in fact, true.

So, why is this an acceptable practice with for-profit organizations, but people bristle when non-profit organizations face the same scrutiny? Again, for most people, it’s not about whether computers or cameras are good or bad, it’s about whether Microsoft’s computer and Canon’s camera is the best option. No one thinks curing cancer is bad, or helping under-priveleged children is wrong, but are Komen and Invisible Children the best solution-providers available? In the case of non-profits, they DO receive a benefit from your support, albeit an intangible benefit related to satisfying their sense of altruism, spirituality, or general “feel good” mentality about their service to humanity. The reality is that de facto, EVERYONE that asks you for something does so because they will benefit from your choice to provide what they’ve asked for. So, it makes sense to question everything, no matter how reasonable it sounds on the surface.

You check out the customer reviews for an unbiased look at a company’s products, so it stands to reason that you should seek out some sort of “unbiased” information about the social causes that are headlining the news today. It’s not to say that the marketers’ claims aren’t ultimately true, but the grain of salt used with for-profit companies should be taken when considering non-profit marketing claims as well. They may have a great video, ad campaign, or t-shirt, but does the product perform?

“Brand Awareness” is a Phase

I wrote about my thoughts on how the marketing has masked the message for a lot of charitable organizations, and I wanted to address the role of brand awareness. I had a wonderfully rousing discussion with my family about the issues discussed in yesterday’s post, particularly the KONY2012 video. My brother asked, “But, what if awareness is the ONLY goal? I mean all those YouTube hits mean they’ve hit their goal: to make everyone aware! They state that they just wanted to make Kony famous, and now they’ve done that.”

My response was that brand awareness, though a necessary and measurable goal, is just a phase. I believe that the purpose of marketing is to grow sales profitably, so unless “awareness” increases sales, I don’t think it can be considered the end goal. Brand awareness is just a phase, contributing to the much larger strategy. I think sometimes marketers latch onto the goal to increase brand awareness because it’s a relatively simple goal to achieve, it’s measurable, and it is ultimately valuable to the bottom line when used in conjunction with other tactics. The problem is that awareness does not automatically equal good customers or increased spending. I posited during the dinner discussion that I could quite easily make people aware by stripping down naked and yelling to all the patrons about how there’s a lot of homeless people that can’t afford clothing or food. In that situation, EVERYONE in the restaurant would become aware, but I doubt that my ranting would move any of them to work in a homeless shelter or donate clothing. “Awareness” does not translate directly into “action”.

The concept of awareness seems great. In order for customers to make a choice for your product or cause, they must first know it exists. When customers are ready to buy or donate, they make a list of choices for solutions to whatever they need (be it a soft drink or a contribution to humanity), so awareness is key for getting into their choice set (super smart marketing term to note the options the people consider when making a purchasing decision.) However, I’m aware of Apple products and Pepsi products, but they are never in my choice set. Similarly, being aware of an issue doesn’t make you take an action, so “brand awareness” should not be the ultimate goal.

My concern is that much of the controversy around these issues makes the champions of those issues feel like they’ve done something, because at least people are talking. But the old cliche, “Talk is cheap” is true, and I don’t think they should congratulate themselves just yet for creating awareness. Unless the newly-aware people make a profitable contribution to the bottom line, you’ve failed in the ultimate goal. Awareness is a great goal for Phase 1, but what about Phase 2…3…4? What is your strategy to encourage action that involves the dollars and time to make a real contribution to the bottom line?

When Marketing Masks the Message

Man there’s been a lot of controversy around the interwebs lately, and it’s sparked a few posts for this week! I’ve got views on a lot of the issues, but this blog isn’t about touting my views, it’s about marketing and business and people. So, today’s post will dive into some marketing issues around a lot of the controversial subjects that we face in our society. No matter which side you’re on, I think we can all agree that lately, the marketing has started to mask the message for a lot of organizations. What do I mean by this? I mean that the heart of the issues is so lost in the hype that neither side can make real progress.

Take Susan G. Komen, an organization with the mission to find a cure for breast cancer. I think this organization started out with a strong purpose and vision, and effectively raised money and emotional support for those facing a battle with cancer. But, between the “Save the Tatas” bracelets, the Planned Parenthood funding controversy, and the general “bandwagon” mentality, the charity seems to be more focused on the marketing than the message. They want the cute t-shirts, the trending Twitter hashtags, and the “cool kids” more than they want to find a cure. Honestly, how many people actually donate to breast cancer research by doing something other than purchase the “I heart boobies” bands? When you spend more on branding, advertising, and merchandise than you do on your actual product (in this case, donations/grants for cancer research), the marketing has masked the message. Sure, everyone is more aware, and sure, they’re “donating” to the cause when they buy a $5 plastic wristband… but when it cost a dollar in materials, a dollar in advertising, a dollar in salaries, and a dollar in distribution, people would’ve been much better off to just donate $2 directly to a lab that focuses on cancer research! But, we don’t want to do that, because then no one will know that we heart boobs, no one will know that we’re cool and good because we donated, and no one will want to re-Tweet or Like our Facebook status for being an awesome human being.

Then there’s the KONY2012 video that went viral last week. My first exposure to it was a photo in my news feed from my 8th grade cousin, showing her and three friends with “KONY2012” markered onto their hands with cute exclamation points and bright, multi-colored font. I figured it was some club they were in, not a movement against a warlord. Then I started seeing the critics of KONY2012, and I have to admit, I felt like the marketing had masked the message. It’s like the directors were so worried about winning an award for their video, going viral, or “raising awareness” that they hurt their message to help those in Uganda. Great, you watched and shared a video… but did you actually donate? Did you sign up to go on a mission trip? Did you take any action other than the flying leap onto the bandwagon?

What about charity galas, where everyone is willing to pay $5,000 for a little 8×10 inch picture of some horror around the world, and they’re “generous” because the picture was really only worth $5, and they had chicken instead of steak for their dinner? Or the charity events where everyone gets together to hoop and holler about how the cause is so worthy, but they’ve spent all their money throwing the event to improve “community”. Don’t get me wrong, humans need community and support systems, but when the advertisement focuses so much on the fun, convenience, excitement, whatever of the event, instead of the reason behind the event, we have a problem. The celebration of accomplishment is necessary for morale, awareness, and solidarity, but we can’t lose sight of the reason for the gathering.

In these cases, it’s not that the message is bad, wrong, or otherwise unworthy. It’s that the people with the egos have gotten involved and twisted it into something that’s selfish. It’s about saying, “I had millions of hits on YouTube. My cause is superior to your cause. My fancy charity work is way better than your behind-the-scenes work.” How many people go to Africa to dig wells for clean water? How many people go to Vietnam to volunteer in an orphanage? How many people are willing to donate their time, money or their bodies to medical research? Very few, relative to the amount that will write on their hands or buy the t-shirt. And the few that go or give rarely receive recognition. Because for them, it’s about the message, not about the marketing. It’s not about being in the humanity club, where we’re all supposed to care about each other, so we pretend to care by adding to our fashion collection or our social calendar. There’s a lot that’s wrong in this world, and marketers can help make us aware of ways that we can help find or provide a solution. But don’t get confused… it’s not about the marketing.