Brussels Sprouts, Anyone?

What is it about “Brussels Sprouts,” the name of the vegetable with small cabbage-like buds along a stalk, that seems to confuse many people when they try to spell it?

Most people leave off the final “s” of the first word and pronounce the words as if that letter isn’t part of the name of the city in which (many people believe) this cabbage was first cultivated.

Others—for instance, the vendors at the farmers’ market we attended last weekend—find their own way to spell it. Of the 15 or so vendors selling this vegetable at the market, only two spelled the name correctly. (See the photo above.)

Most vendors, adhering to the common mistake, simply eliminated the final “s” in “Brussels.”

One farmer, not going along with that spelling at all, decided to add an extra “l” and cut the final “s” in “Brussels,”change the name of the vegetable to an adjective, and call his produce a tree. Eliminating the final “s” in “sprouts” is considered a correct spelling of the name, but maintaining it is preferred.

Taking a wild guess at how to spell this name, a daring farmer eliminated an “s” from the middle of “Brussels,”dropped the final “s” in the word, and for some unknown reason doubled the “l.”

Another farmer—perhaps the worst speller at the farmers’ market or maybe the most independent thinker there—decided to go his own way, and chose to spell the name as one word, while also eliminating the final “s” on “sprouts.

It’s one thing if I, as a consumer and potential customer, were to misspell the name of this vegetable. But a farmer selling Brussels sprouts on the public square, or even a supermarket selling it along side other vegetables, should know how to spell the name of this product.

A fundamental of every business should be correctly spelling what it sells. After all, you wouldn’t want your wireless carrier to announce its sells cel phones, rather than cell phones, or your car dealer to call his product an audo, instead of an auto. If they did, many potential customers would point a disapproving finger at the companies’ grammar, question whether their products also suffer serious mistakes and, of more consequence, decide to buy from somewhere else.

Spelling makes a difference. Last weekend, we chose to buy our Brussels sprouts from one of the two farmers who paid attention not only to growing a good crop and presenting it well, but also to knowing how the name is spelled.

Drowning Out Our Quiet Thoughts

I’ve been consciously thinking about the subconsciousness of writing.

Beth Orton, a British singer/songwriter, has just released her new CD, “Sugaring Season,” which The New York Times called “a quietly spellbinding album.”

In the Times article (09/30/2012), Orton makes a statement about the mystery of songwriting. She says, “The songwriting brain is much smarter than me. I’m not that person. It makes connections that I don’t make necessarily.” Almost removing herself from the writing process in which she excels, she expresses the feeling that somebody else inside her head is doing the work, while she simply observes.

I thought about her comment recently when reading “Getting out of the Way,” a Roger Ebert blog post from last December. Ebert, a Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic and a journalist, was writing about a 12-year-old musical prodigy, Jay Greenberg, who composes sonatas and other classical music pieces in his head.

How does he do it? Greenberg is quoted as saying, “It’s as if the unconscious mind is giving orders at the speed of light. You know, I mean, so I just hear it as if it were a smooth performance of a work that is already written, when it isn’t.”

In this great blog post, Ebert expands beyond the mystery of writing music to that of math and chess, two other fields where prodigies are often found. He says  “. . . it occurred to me that this perfection preexists in the human mind. Just as Noam Chomsky once speculated that the rules of linguistics were hard-wired into the mind and not learned, so perhaps music, math and chess live there—and countless other forms that have yet to find an avatar in the practical world.”

He adds, “It may be that Jay Greenberg is unique, but I think it [is] just as likely that he is simply drawing on access to abilities many of us were born with but have lost track of.”

Ebert ends his piece by bringing the focus back to writing, but this time to writing prose, not songs or music.

Commenting on the way he, himself, writes, Ebert says, “I say it is ‘taking dictation from that place in my mind that tells me what to say.’ This doesn’t make me a genius. It has nothing to do with that. It simply means that having been given language and grammar, my mind supplies the words. The moment I began reading about Jay Greenberg, this piece began writing itself, and all I had to do was type it out.”

Then he concludes with this sentence: “Your field may not be writing, but in whatever you do, I suspect there may be an area in which your mind is composing and performs for you if you only listen.”

I’m convinced he’s correct.

And I wonder what we could accomplish in our work as PR and corporate communications professionals if we only took the time to listen to what’s going on in our minds while we rush—in panic and urgency—to complete the latest project that is drowning out our quiet thoughts.

(Photo: Shutterstock/Minerva Studio)

A Quote from Steve Jobs

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.

The first anniversary of Steve Jobs’s death was last Friday (Oct. 5), and, as expected, many publications, news outlets, and bloggers wrote something about him. Apple devoted its homepage to a tribute to him. And Cupertino, where the company is headquartered, flew the city’s flag at half staff.

I planned to let the occasion go by without acknowledging it, but then I stumbled upon this quote that I thought would give those of us in PR and communications a moment’s reflection—reflection about how much creativity we bring to our jobs and whether we need to broaden our experiences to increase our chances of “connecting things” into breakthrough solutions.

(The quote comes from Wired magazine, February 1996, when Jobs was heading NeXT and just before he returned to Apple.)

Marketing in the Digital Era

I have just finished reading a new book I’d like to recommend to those who want to increase their chances of success in today’s marketing world: Marketing in the Round: How to Develop an Integrated Marketing Campaign in the Digital Era by Gini Dietrich and Geoff Livingston.

The book starts with the premise that companies must break down the silos that separate the key marketing disciplines—which the authors identify as advertising, public relations, corporate communication, Web/digital, search engine optimization, content, direct mail, social media, and search engine marketing. Only when these disciplines work together smoothly without the hindrance of silos, the authors say, can a company achieve its marketing and business goals and work toward achieving its vision.

This premise makes sense to me.

The authors recognize that breaking down the silos is difficult, and they offer some tips for doing it. From my experience, however, demolishing silos is much harder than Dietrich and Livingston seem to acknowledge in their book.

I’ve worked in companies where the marketing and communications silos were so high and thick they were like fortresses. Little coordination of activities or sharing of responsibilities occurred, but open warfare occasionally flared. Years later, I hear that the silos still remain; although, they’re weakening.

I doubt my experience is unique.

But while I may see the breaking down of these silos as a more difficult task than the authors see it, I strongly agree with them that it’s necessary for accomplishing more of the company’s goals, with greater efficiency and better results. That’s why I suggest the reader start this book by accepting at face value the authors’ belief that the silos somehow must come down—even if the CEO needs to proclaim an edict to make it happen.

Early in the book, Dietrich and Livingston explain “marketing in the round” as a hub-and-spoke concept in which the marketing function sits in the center of a round wheel and each of the nine disciplines radiate like a spoke out
the center. The idea, of course, is that all of these disciplines are tied together, and each must play its specific role—but  each must do so only in an integrated, closely coordinated effort with the others.

To help the reader understand what’s needed to set up his/her own marketing round and to get the disciplines synced and working together, the authors have divided the book into three sections focusing on specific aspects of the marketing round and its success. Each section comprises a number of chapters, and every chapter ends with one or more exercises to further assist the reader. The sections are:

  • Understanding the Marketing Round and Develop Your Strategy,
  • Four Marketing Round Approaches, and
  • Measurement, Refinement, and Improvement.

I found the second section to be the most informative and helpful, and to be the heart of the book.

At the beginning of this section, the authors state, “Marketing strategy can be compared to military strategy.” Then they refer throughout the section to the 17th century Japanese samurai Miyamoto Musashi’s The Book of Five Rings, showing how using his approach to war can help the marketing round communicate the company’s message and achieve victory in the marketplace.

Specifically, they present Musashi’s  “five primary approaches to strategic engagement” as four approaches that can be applied to marketing: direct (renamed from “middle”), top down (from “above”), groundswell (from “bottom up”) and flanking (a combination of Musashi’s “left” and “right”). Whether used independently or sequenced, the authors state, these directional “approaches form a baseline to approaching marketing strategies.”

In 65 pages or so, they go into detail about all four marketing round approaches. They provide details for determining when to implement each one and lay out its particular strengths and weaknesses.

In the authors’ opinion, the direct approach—interacting directly with primary stakeholders—is the best tactic. “Done well,” they say,” it’s one-to-one marketing at its best.”

The top-down approach—using media to inform the marketplace about new products is “deployed to reach stakeholders that direct marketing cannot [reach], or is launched to complement a direct marketing effort,” the authors say. They add that companies will want to use this approach as their primary tactic only if they dominate their markets or are unable to “engage directly with a large community.”

Groundswell is the bottom-up approach through which the marketing round encourages “word-of-mouth by seeding conversations.”  Through these conversations, the marketing round encourages influencers—among them, “customers, the media, bloggers, newsgroups, and ranking agencies—to share their unbiased opinions” about the company’s products and services.

The flanking approach is the fallback tactic, called upon when various obstacles prevent the use of a direct, top-down, or groundswell approach. Its primary methods are advertising, content marketing, and search engine optimization.

Dietrich and Livingston give an entire chapter to each approach, looking at its primary marketing methods and discussing the benefits and risks of each method.

For example, the direct approach has the following marketing methods: direct mail, email, social media, mobile, and events. Among social media’s benefits are that it bolsters brand loyalty through conversations and by fostering word-of-mouth marketing. Its risks, on the other hand, include (1) time investments—both manpower and long-term cultivation—that do not lend themselves to fast results, and (2) the concern that customers, through their conversations, might be distributing negative information about your brand that could have adverse affects on the company.

The marketing round will want to consider each of these directional approaches, determining whether to use one, two, three, or all of them. While keeping in mind that these tactics work best when integrated into a holistic campaign, the marketing round should choose to implement those that best meet the company’s needs and the marketing program’s degree of sophistication.

Marketing in the Round is an intense book, providing enough information to overwhelm those who are not already marketing experts and well into developing their own integrated marketing campaigns. It is, I assume, aimed at large companies that have many experienced people working in the nine disciplines that make up the marketing round, people who together can build a successful marketing round team and implement all of the great ideas laid out by the authors.

But for those who work in small- or medium-sized companies, the book also offers an array of ideas to be considered, scrutinized, and used as the jumping off point for learning how they, too, can successfully conduct marketing in the digital era.

Trillions of Dollars from Junk Mail and Spam

In a new, informative book—Marketing in the Round: How to Develop an Integrated Marketing Campaign in the Digital Era— Gina Dietrich and Geoff Livingston said 54.2 percent of all advertising expenditures in the United States in 2010 were for direct marketing. So that year, companies spent $153 billion sending you and me and everyone else in the country all the junk mail that overran our mailboxes six days a week and all the spam that filled our email boxes every night and day.

This was a shock to me.

But what really surprised me was another statement on the same page of this book: Direct marketing “is the most powerful form of marketing because it is the most likely to produce a sale. . . .”

Can this be right? I thought most people were like me and ignored (completely or after a slight scanning) all of this unwanted, unsolicited, paper- or pixel-wasting mail.

In the past few days alone, my email has been cluttered with at least two webcast invitations—trashed without reading; an invitation from Apple to buy the new iPhone 5—trashed (although reluctantly); requests for me to buy any number of professional guides (for hundreds of dollars each), usually covering professions that I’m not in, never wanted to be in, and don’t plan to ever be in—trashed, without opening; and more Groupon messages than I care to think about—trashed, usually without reading.

Likewise, our mailbox contained catalogs of women’s items from Duluth Trading Company and LL Bean; credit card applications from Citibank, Bank of America, and other forgettable financial institutions; flyers and brochures from local, state and national politicians seeking support and donations; and another piece, this time a Christmas catalog from Frontgate—just in case we want to shop for the holiday three months early. All trashed.

The only piece that caught our attention long enough to pause slightly as we threw it away was the card announcing a 30 percent discount on some goods at The Gap. Perhaps our daughter would be interested. No, not this time.

Certainly the poor success rate at our house would not bode well for making this form of marketing the most likely to produce a sale. We must not be representative of other homes across the country since the book also states that nearly $1.8 trillion (that’s trillion with a “t”) worth of incremental sales derived squarely from this direct marketing effort in 2010.

Can that many people be sitting at home waiting by the mailbox and inbox, just hoping some company will send them an opportunity to spend more of their money on yet another item they didn’t know they wanted until that brightly colored, badly designed, and poorly written junk mail or spam caught their eye?

It’s a miracle they knew we needed this, they’re thinking, as they reach, once again, for their credit card.