Even with a bad Apple, breaking up is hard to do

I am a Mac user and a fan of Apple products, but lately I can’t help but think that I’m in a sort of abusive relationship—along with all other Apple customers. So, I’ve made a list of positives and negatives to help decide if I should stay or go.

Turn ons

1. Better products.

Face it, almost everyone wants a Mac, an iPad, an iPod or an iPhone. Apple products aren’t just better, they’re cooler. Like the gorgeous star quarterback in high school, Apple knows everyone wants it and so can get away with almost anything.

2. Ongoing workshops

One of the highlights of buying a Mac is that you can take free workshops any time they’re offered. Run by enthusiastic Apple “Creatives,” these are a highlight of the Apple experience. And every time I go to one, they restore my faith in the company.

Turn offs

1. Arrogant CEO who treats customers poorly.

Customers camped out overnight for the iPhone 4, giving Apple about $1.7 million in sales in three days. When they complained about poor reception, what did they get? Steve Jobs told customers it’s their own fault. And you can get a quick fix if you buy a $29.99 “Bumper.”

Don’t we have a reasonable expectation to have a product work out of the box without having to buy add-ons?

2. High prices with no sales.

Speaking of the money we spend, Apple products are priced at the premium end of the scale. I’m somewhat ok with this because normally their products are superior. However, once a new version is introduced, the price of the previous version should drop.

3. “Experts” and “Specialists” help you only until you agree to buy.

Do high prices necessitate rude service? I think not. But, in an Apple store, often the salesperson is very happy to help you…until you decide to buy the product. Then you’re on your own. (This happened to me and I’ve seen it happen to others.)

4. The Genius Bar.

Isn’t the hallmark of a Mac the fact that it’s simpler to use than a PC? If it’s so easy, why do I need a genius to help me? And why do I hear so many stories of these so-called geniuses being rude to customers seeking help? (See example here.) Oh, I know. It’s because the whole “genius” thing has gone to their heads.

5. Response to poor data service from AT&T? They extend contract.

If Apple is a company filled with geniuses, why do they still insist on partnering with AT&T? Even people without iPhones have heard how frequently calls drop with the iPhone on AT&T. Customers made it known they wanted different choices. But, what did we expect? Geniuses know it all—why should they listen to lowly customers?

6. Questionable labor practices in China factory.

More than 10 worker suicides this year certainly make me question conditions at the factory Apple uses to make its iPhones and iPads. Apple and FoxConn have both publicly committed to improving things. But this situation is disturbing enough to make you wonder.

7. Doesn’t play nice with others.

Steve Jobs’ notorious inability to play well with others (See Adobe and Google) worries me. While he has valid concerns about security of Flash®, he seems to be welcoming a battle that would leave Apple customers with very few choices.

As we get closer to Internet television being a reality, I would like to know that having a Mac won’t handicap me when it comes to choosing other services. What makes Jobs think everyone should do things his way?

Is it time to break up?

Putting up with all of this, why do we still buy? When you buy a so-called elite brand, isn’t one of the perks better service? When will we finally stand up for better treatment?

I have to admit, I cut boyfriends away much faster. But I’m not ready to kiss Apple goodbye. Am I crazy?

How about you—what would it take for you to say no to Apple?

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For more on Apple, check out these Apple and Mac blogs: Cult of Mac, The Unofficial Apple Weblog, The Apple Core, and for fun, The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs. There are many more out there, so Google away.

Marketing is NOT in the details

I thought of not posting this week because I’m recovering from an emergency appendectomy. But one theme keeps running through my mind that’s an important one for successful marketing:

Get rid of what you don’t need.

Details. Marketing to an audience is not about details. It’s about messages—the messages your audience wants (or needs) to hear.

Too often advertising and marketing communications become more about what product managers or business owners want to say. It shouldn’t be only the copywriter’s job to stand up for what the consumer wants.

Everyone along the marketing chain should work with the consumer first in mind.

I know, you love your product. You’re excited and you want to tell everyone about it. That’s great, but your job is not to tell people everything about the product. Your job is to get them to listen.

People love to talk details. Very few people like to listen to details.

If no one is listening, no one is buying. In today’s world, where more people scan than read, you need a strong message that stands out.

Picture of forest

Think of each detail you want to give as a tree. If your main message is but one tree in a forest of details, how will anyone ever see it?

Get rid of what you don’t need. And let your message stand out like a tall tree in an open field. Easy to see means it’s easy to act on.

Leave details where they belong—in a product manual or user guide.

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Credit for the picture goes to ohioandy. Check out this new site that is all about writing better taglines. You can ask for help or help others.

Hey Exxon, have I got a marketing plan for you

You’re probably wondering, why am I talking about the Gulf oil disaster in a marketing blog? Well, right now, too much of it seems to be about marketing and public relations. For example:

  • Newspeople and BP reps keep calling this an oil “spill.” In case you haven’t noticed, it’s a gusher, not a spill. It’s a national disaster, and calling it a spill makes it sound accidental and inconsequential.
  • BP likes to report their “spill” in barrels rather than gallons. Recent estimates say up to 100,000 barrels of oil may be spilling into the ocean each day. That sounds better than 4,200,000 gallons.
  • Transocean and Halliburton have watched their names pretty much disappear from the headlines. Did they get lucky or was it due to slick maneuvering on their part? I don’t know for sure (but I do know that Transocean is profiting from it).

In any crisis, especially an enormous disaster like this, action is your best marketing and PR. And BP seems to be missing the point, over and over again. That’s why I came up with a different marketing plan.

See, BP has supertankers that could suck up the oil, but they refuse to use them. Saudi Arabia used them in 1993 to great success—keeping secret (until recently) their 800 million gallon “spill.”

All oil companies have supertankers, right?

Imagine Exxon bringing in its own supertankers and saving the day. I can see the headline now: Instead of F-You Exxon, It’s Now Thank You Exxon.

Would it cost money? Yes, but Exxon with $19.4 billion profit from 2009 and $44 billion profit from 2008 can afford it. Plus, the government will surely reimburse them to try and save face for their lousy handling of this mess.

Or hey, even better, look what I just found. Kevin Costner can save us. He has machines that can suck up the oil and separate it from the water. But he won’t send them in because BP hasn’t sent the check yet. Really?

Let me repeat: This is a national (soon to be international) disaster. Send the damn things in. You’ll get your money. Besides, Kevin, you still owe us for The Postman…and Waterworld.

In fact, I think we’d all be willing to make you a deal that if you save the Gulf (and soon the Atlantic), all Americans would be willing to pay to see whatever movie you put out next. We’ll even cheer loudly when you insert another giant statue of yourself at the end (a la Postman).

Heck, to anyone who saves us from this oil gushing, ocean killing disaster, we’ll gladly let you post banners or buoys saying “This ocean saved for you by _______.” C’mon, what better publicity is there than that?

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Follow-up to last week’s blog post: Congratulations to Skip Shuda! I know many people read the Delivering Happiness review, but Skip was the only one who commented, so he wins. Thanks for the comment, Skip! I hope you like the book.

Delivering happiness, humor and inspiration

Picture of book coverToday marks the launch of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. I was sent two advance copies and was asked to give an honest review of the book and give one copy away. I was not told what to say or paid for this effort. And, if you comment on this blog post, you will have a chance to win one of my advance copies. So, let’s get to it.

Who is Tony Hsieh?

Some of you may not know who Tony Hsieh (pronounced ‘shay’) is, and that’s ok. You don’t have to in order to enjoy the book. He’s the CEO of Zappos, a company he got involved with in 1999, shortly after selling his own company, LinkExchange, to Microsoft for $265 million in 1998. He was only 24 years old.

Delivering happiness

In Delivering Happiness, Tony Hsieh shows you what it would be like if a kid ran the world—a smart kid. Reading his book is like being on a rollercoaster ride. Half of me thinks, “How is this guy not completely broke?” and the other half marvels at his dedication and pure genius and sees exactly why he is so successful.

His story made me laugh out loud at times and shake my head in wonder at other times. Most of all, for me, it delivered inspiration.

It’s inspiring to see that a CEO can run a company based on real values, not boilerplate ones that are made for show. In a time where more and more companies take advantage of their employees, who work in fear of losing their job in a bad economy, it’s refreshing to see a company that gets it right.

And it’s proof that you don’t have to do things the way everyone else does to be successful.

Zappos Core Values

Do your company's values look like this?

Path to profits, passion and purpose

Tony’s path started on a worm farm at the age of 9 and is now at a company he helped build that’s making over $1 billion in sales a year and was just acquired by Amazon. Why wouldn’t you read this book?

At the start of the book when Tony said he insisted on writing the book himself, I rolled my eyes and braced myself. As a writer, I was skeptical. But it couldn’t have been written by anyone else. Once you read the book, you’ll see why. Tony is genuine and didn’t want one word to sound like it didn’t come from him.

Except for a few spots of awkward writing and redundancy—and an ending that while matching his intention, strays from the path—the book is written well. And it’s a fast, informative and entertaining read.

Who should read this book?

Many great lessons pop up throughout the book. The lessons are for businesses, for businesspeople, for adults and for kids.

Adults and children will both laugh at how Tony recorded himself playing the piano and violin and replayed it at times to get out of practicing. Really, why not give your kids an inspiring story of how an energetic, creative kid found happiness and great success at an early age?

Cynical people might not like the book. Positive quotes appear throughout and Tony can lay the happiness stuff on a little thick at times. But that is the point.

Tony Hsieh is an idealist, a venture capitalist, a realist, an adventurist, an entrepreneur, and now an author. Most of all, he’s a fearless humanist. That is what makes him and this book special.

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What do you think? Leave a comment and your name will go into a random drawing in which the winner will receive an advance copy of the book. If you want to buy the published version, go here. (I do not get any money for referring you here.) If you’re feeling brave, send a copy to the CEO of your company.

Pardon me, I’m just the writer. What do I know?

Logo: Tales from the ScriptSo, there I was, watching the documentary, “Tales from the Script,” looking forward to learning about the lives of successful Hollywood screenwriters. Suddenly, I noticed their lives seemed a lot like mine.

Hey, advertising copywriters, marketing communications writers, and writers of any sort:  This is a movie for you.

See if any of these writing tidbits from the movie feel familiar. (I wish I could include them all!)

1. “Any jackwad on a street corner will tell you what they thought was wrong…”

Shane Black says this, and then adds, “I don’t go into an operating room and tell a surgeon ‘you used the wrong clamp’…”

But writers and most people in a creative profession are regularly subject to this treatment. The key is to develop a thick skin and keep an open mind.

After all, as Richard Rush says, “there are several right answers to all occasions. It’s ok that people completely disagree—that’s the creative process.”

2. “That was really good, but what we wanted was a buddy film.”

I’m sure when Jose Rivera presented his script then heard this, he was thinking the same thing copywriters often think: Why didn’t you tell me that in the beginning?

To avoid this colossal waste of time, ask a lot of questions. Not just about project specs and not just any question. Dig a little and see if the client has something already in mind. Ask things like:

  • Do you have a plan or ideas on how this will work out?
  • What words stand out to you when thinking of this?
  • What images do you see in your mind when you talk about it?

If your client says something like, “I want something cool or edgy,” find out what cool and edgy means to him.

3.  Know when to defend. Know when to let go.

That pretty much says it all. You can’t be resentful when someone changes your work. (Sometimes hard, I know.) That’s part of the job. You’re not in charge.

Decide when it’s important to speak up, but when it’s not, let it go and move on to your next project.

4. Actors change the words because they speak them, so they can hear what doesn’t work.

Yes, be an actor: Read your writing aloud. Better yet, get someone else to read it to you. If people change your work and it sounds bad, read it to them.

If you want to change someone else’s words, the same holds true. Say it loud, say it proud, and see which version sounds better.

5. Our (writers’) complaints are nothing compared to pipefitters, people working on ships or fighting overseas in military.

I don’t know why Mick Garris chose these professions in this order. I’m not sure he does either. But his point is loaded with truth. As he says, “to bitch about someone making a change to my script is just not worth it.”

And he’s right. (See #3.)

Parting paraphrase (of Joe Forte’s words)

If you define yourself only as a writer and have a bad day as a writer, that’s your whole world. It’s important to remember that you’re a brother or a sister, a mom or a dad, a friend or a mentor. It’s important to have hobbies and other interests that balance you out.

In my own words, when writing of any kind is no longer enjoyable, it’s time to stop. Life is too short, and working hours take up too much of that life to work in misery.

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Like what you’ve heard so far? Check out the movie trailer.

I was not paid or even asked to talk about “Tales from the Script.” I watched it because I was interested and wrote about it because it was interesting (I hope you think so).