Sunday, June 19, 2011

Salt Gain

If a recipe calls for a measuring of salt, very rarely is it ever a good idea to add all of it in the beginning.  Cooking is a delicate process that requires continual attention and tasting along the way.  Adding too much salt to a recipe is an easy way to overpower a dish and unfortunately, you can't take that salt away.

When you cook, you should salt as you go.  If you finish cooking and your dish isn't just right, then you can add salt to achieve the desired taste.  Simply put, salt is much easier to add than to take away.

The same can be said of ink.  Primarily due to dot gain, ink is easier to add than take away.  Dot gain is the phenomenon that is caused by halftone dots increasing in size during the printing process.  A nice, round dot will grow on press as it is transferred to paper and the result can be an average 15% growth of the dot causing the dot to look darker than expected. 

Unfortunately dot gain is unavoidable so printers must compensate by creating curves in prepress that eliminate the effects of dot gain.  Because dot gain is greater in the midtone values (around a 50% tint) and less in the extremes (5-10% tint or 90-100% tint) a tint reduction on a linear curve is needed to lower midtone plate values.  Simply put, you can't just lower the ink densities on press if the midtones are too dark as this would also result in the dark image areas to look light and faded.  So to achieve the optimal printed image it becomes necessary to remove enough dot on the front end to compensate for the dot returning during the printing process.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Five Immutable Laws of Building a Quality Mail List

Paint a Picture - If you had to paint a picture of your existing customers, what would they look like?  What environment would you draw around them in your picture?  Mail to that picture. Are your customers young, in hip clothing and hanging out in coffee shops or would they perhaps be sitting by a lake in plain clothing, feeding the ducks?  Understanding who your customers are demographically and the environment they choose to place themselves in is critical to building any targeted mail campaign.  Direct mail should aim to evoke and connect to the emotional experience of the recipients everyday life.

Stop Reinventing the Wheel - While there are many data companies out there that will simply enable you to purchase consumer or business lists based on parameters and demographics that you set, the real value that these companies provide are their pre-defined specialty lists. Simply put, they have already done the work for you. Chances are if you have an idea of your customer there is already a niche mailing list built for them. Companies like USA Data, Experian & Accudata will sell you a specialty list that could be anything from brides-to-be to home-school households. In addition, many magazines publishers and direct mail catalogs will sell you their list. Stop in your local bookstore and checkout all the specialty niche magazines available and remember there is a targeted mailing list behind everyone of them. For a more extensive listing of magazines check out Bacon's Directory of Magazines, Oxbridge Communications Standard Periodical Directory or Catalog listings can be found in The Directory of Mail Order Catalogs from Grey House Publishing.

Go Fish - Have you ever dropped your business card in a fish bowl at a restaurant with the hopes of receiving some future gift card? If you have then chances are those establishments are taking your information and plugging it into a customer database to be used for future advertising campaigns. Whether you're using a fishbowl or a sign-up form it is imperative that you constantly be recording new contact information. Everyone you meet is a potential lead. How are you gathering this information? Are you asking your customers and fellow employees for referrals? If people run across your website or advertisement are you enticing them give you their information? Fishing for new leads is an easy way to build a strong mailing list and a commitment to doing this on a daily basis is critical.

Knowledge is More Powerful Than Imagination - When communicating an offer with a mailing list, why throw darts at a board with potentially irrelevant advertisements? The design might look great but if the content doesn't fit the person then the message is lost.  Information about customers is one of the key components to a highly targeted direct mail campaign. Keeping good notes about a contact's interests and recording purchase history can help you target communications about your products and services to the specific customers who will find your offer relevant. The right offer to the right customer at the right time can be achieved with information.

The House Always Wins - While there is an endless supply of lists available for purchase targeting every demographic and customer group imaginable, the list that you keep of all your own customers and prospects, also known as the house list, will consistently give you your best response rate. Your house list already knows who you are, connects to your brand and understands your product. Direct mail advertising must always be mindful of the needs for their existing customer database when implementing campaigns.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Pushing Through: Go Daddy

"The temptation to quit will be the greatest just before you are about to succeed."  - Chinese Proverb

The temptation to quit was never more real than for Bob Parsons, the head and founder of The Go Daddy Group, Inc, just a decade ago. In a recent interview with Paul Anderson, writer of 50 Entrepreneurs, Bob Parsons revealed that he almost gave up on Go Daddy back in 1999. While today Go Daddy is the world's largest provider of domain name registrar's, in 1999, shortly after the dot com bubble bursted, they nearly ran out of money and Bob Parsons was left with a decision to either cut his losses or potentially go broke.

Parsons was confronted with the moment of truth so in an effort to sort it all out, he took a vacation to Hawaii to clear his head and make the ultimate decision on the future of his company. Something funny happened to him on that trip. While going through the deepest soul searching imaginable, he met a parking attendant who despite being Parsons age, was absolutely content with what he was doing. This man was happy and he loved his work. At that moment Bob Parsons gained his perspective. Describing the moment, Bob states, "And it hit me.  I said to myself, if this business fails, the worst thing that can happen is I'll be parking cars, right? It was in that moment I decided that I was going to stick with the business no matter what. I was broke before and happy as hell, I could be again, and I didn't need all that money to be happy." Bob stuck with it and within two years, Go Daddy's cash flow situation was much improved and they were well on their way to being the hugely successful company that they are today.

Throughout history, individuals have encountered the same scenario as Bob Parsons - whether to quit and cut their losses or to push on through and potentially accomplish something great. The fear of failure is often so strong that many people give up too early and are hesitant to take their ultimate personal risk. It is human nature to avoid negative and harmful situations so it becomes easier to choose the path of least resistance as opposed to the path might create a better life for you and others.

For Bob Parsons, a Vietnam veteren, he gained internal strength and learned how to overcome personal resistance in war. If you can accept that you might die tomorrow but yet are still able to push on through and do your job, then you are surely mentally equipped to face the prospects of a failing business. For most of us though the idea of losing your job, running a business into the ground or simply failing to achieve what you set out to can be so overwhelming that our mind tells us that it is the worst imaginable outcome.

To overcome this, we need to honestly tell ourselves what the worst thing that can happen truly is. Are you clinging to a job because you fear that you won't succeed doing something else? If so, how hard would it be to get back to the exact same position you are in now if all else fails? You've done it once so it should be easier the second time around.

Alternatively, you may be experiencing failure in what you consider to be your life's dream. Does this mean that you should quit because success seems bleak?  Think about Bob Parsons and ask yourself what is the worst thing that will happen to me if I fail? Can you get a job doing something else and still be happy?

Pushing through and taking risks require that you have a clear understanding of what failure means. For most of us, it doesn't mean your world is going to end. Setbacks are inevitable but the trick is to push through and do what we know in our heart is truly important. The trick is to remind ourselves that we can always park cars and still be happy.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sticking to The Main Thing: Better Ingredients, Better Pizza

In a recent interview with Success Magazine (click here to read the article), John Schnatter, founder and CEO of the pizza giant Papa John’s, was quoted as saying “Everything we do, we try to do it just a little bit better, and that costs money. We’re willing to pay up. I bet, on average, our competitors can make a pizza for 2 bucks. That same pizza will cost us $3-plus. But that extra dollar is the thing that makes Papa John’s different, and we think the consumer can tell the difference.”

Papa John’s isn’t in a price race to the bottom either. Rather they are in a race to deliver taste and quality, hence their slogan “better ingredients, better pizza.” And the results speak for themselves as Papa John’s consistently finds itself atop the American Consumer Satisfaction Index among national pizza chains.

Sure Papa John’s may spend millions on advertising and deals with the NFL, however they never lose sight of the fact that it is all about making a good pizza. Papa John’s core values even read as such, “We must keep The Main Thing, The Main Thing. We will consistently deliver a traditional Papa John’s superior-quality pizza.” Good quality pizza continues to be their main thing and they keep laser like focus on it.

While their competitors may push to make their pizza as cheap as possible, Papa John’s realizes that advertising can’t cure bad customer service or a pizza that just doesn’t taste as good. By investing in a better pizza and in better people (P.A.P.A. – People Are Priority Always), Papa John’s wins with its finished product. This customer experience alone is more powerful than all their marketing campaigns combined.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sell Like Groupon

With internet users receiving an average of over 100 emails a day, it is no wonder that so many people are adverse to email advertisements. Advertisements occupy a majority of the emails we receive on a daily basis and even the messages we opt in for and ask to be sent, start to seem like spam after awhile.

Groupon, a deal of the day website, has amazingly been able to flood subscriber inboxes on a daily basis with advertisements that do not come across as spam. When you receive a Groupon, you don't have a clue of what the offer is but the surprise and anticipation associated with the potential discount peeks your daily interest. The reason their offerings are so much more effective than traditional forms of advertisements is that Groupon is in the business of selling ideas. Today the idea might be a deal for a new restaurant that you've never tried while tomorrow it could be for a free additional thirty minutes with the purchase of a massage. Eventually though, one of those ideas is bound to catch your attention and that makes the entire experience worth it.

The idea of the Groupon approach works because over time, it eventually pairs the perfect idea for a particular customer. That idea creates an easy, low risk way for customers to test a business and find out if they are better than the alternatives. It is then up to the business to create a great experience. You have to get them in the door first to have this chance though.

Marketers and sales reps should take this same approach. Stop speaking to your clients about all the potential benefits of your services. Start offering them ideas instead. By advertising, you're hoping to create enough brand recognition that maybe they'll consider you but ads don't promote experiences, ideas do. An idea could be anything from a unique sample of your work to a case study for how you recently helped a client. Whatever your ideas may be though, frequently touching them with fresh new ideas is paramount to the Groupon sales approach.

Just like Groupon, if you offer prospects 50 different ideas, it only take one of those ideas to make them a customer. With this approach, prospects won't feel like you're always trying to sell them something that they might already have or that they don't perceive they need. Instead you are creating a buying atmosphere, one that gives them unique ideas for how they could potentially use your services. They will then perceive your message as hassle free but they won't shut you out from the opportunity to share ideas with them. In essence you are never rejected, only tabled for later when the idea finally arrives that connects them to your business.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Seek Out Bartenders

Photo From Flickr by Lee Coursey

Recently I was listening to a music producer give a speech on the current economic climate of the music industry and they said something that really got me thinking about customer service in restaurants. They said that in Nashville, if you work in the music business, you should always leave good tips for your waiters. The reasoning? Behind every one of them, there is an aspiring country music star. That same waiter might walk in your music studio tomorrow.

Whatever the city you live in, can't you make a similar statement about restaurant waiters? In Los Angeles or New York City they are aspiring actors while in Seattle or Chicago they may be writers. The point is that in most places you go, the job of waiter is merely a stepping stone to something greater. If you want great restaurant service then, should you really have a waiter serve you?

When given a choice, I prefer the service level of a bartender rather than a waiter. Most people think of the idea of sitting at the bar to eat and drink as a less romantic place reserved for lushes. Contrary to popular belief, I personally find the setting of a bar extremely intimate as there isn't a table between me and the person I'm with. The service is usually significantly better as well. This isn't an accident or random chance occurrence.

A bartender is there because they trained to be there and want to be there. A waiter is there only for a check.

A bartender wants you to stay as long as you like (within reason). A waiter wants to get you in and out as quickly as possible.

A bartenders lets you establish a tab or credit all based on nothing more than trust. A waiter says pay now.

A bartender is a great listener - think of all the stories they hear? A waiter only listens to the sounds of what you are going to buy.

A bartender actually makes what he sells you. A waiter is merely an order taker.

In every service business there are people who mimic bartenders and then there are those that are nothing more than waiters. If you want great service, enlist the work of people who actually make things and are there because they want to be there. Instead of living with just average service, seek out the bartenders.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Book Review - Rework

by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson

Rework is a business book that every manager and entrepreneur should read.  It written merely as a collection of thoughts on a variety of topics such as productivity to branding and the result is a book that shows you how to build, run and grow a business.

The wealth of knowledge this book contains should cost a fortune to learn.  I have never read a single business book in all my years that had more take away value than this particular book.  It is that valuable and there is undoubtedly something for everyone.

Trying to summarize the book in a few paragraphs but give you some take away value at the same time is almost impossible so because of that I have assembled a quick summary (these are notes and highlights that I took while reading various chapters that struck me as valuable).

Key points highlighted and summarized:

Learning from mistakes is overrated - when something fails, yes you learn what not to do again but what do you really learn to do?  Instead, success shows you what actually does work, something repeatable that you can do again.

Be careful of longterm plans as they are merely guesses - it is okay to wing it and decide what you are going to do now as opposed to getting stuck making choices just because that is the plan you set for yourself.  Long term plans stifle improvisation.  They are important but when making choices, you usually have the best info at the time you are doing something, not when you are planning to do something.

Be mindful of workaholism - working for work's sake.  Working more hours doesn't mean you care more or get more done, it just means you work more. Workaholics cause problems because they like working hours as a badge of honor but they also tend to not get work done efficiently as a result. They claim to be perfectionists but this is a result of focusing on inconsequential details.  They make others feel bad for working less hours even if those other people just find ways to get their work done faster. 

Scratch your own itch - the easier way to make a great product or service is to create something you need. When you solve your own problems you know exactly what the right answer is as opposed to the uncertainty associated with fixating on someone else's problem and trying to fill a need that may not even exist.

If you have a big idea make it and act on it. Try to sell it and don't sit around on it.  The faster you move through ideas the closer you are to finding the one that really is great. 

Draw a line in the sand - stand for something. Have a point of view and know what you're willing to fight for. When you know exactly what you believe in, the choice is clear for customers. They will love or hate you but there will be no in-between.

You need less than you think - there is nothing wrong with being frugal and committing less people, money or resources to work.  If you stop to think about each decision like this you can probably get by with a lot less.

Embrace constraints - working with less forces you to be creative and get by with what you've got. Constraints force creativity and problem solving.

Start at the epicenter - the key thing that drives your business. To find the epicenter ask yourself, "If I took this away would the product still exist?" All the other stuff you do depends on the foundation.

Commit to making decisions. Decide and move forward.  Don't wait for the perfect solution.

Be a curator - decide what stays and what goes and eliminate until you are down to the bare essentials. Constantly look for things to remove, simplify and streamline.

Throw less at the problem - cutback and trim the fat. Improve upon what is left.

Focus on what won't change - the core of your business should be this and not the next new sexy thing. Permanent stays while fashion fades. Invest in that.

Meetings can be toxic - if you must meet have a clear agenda, set a timer and begin with a specific problem. Meet at site of problem instead of conference room and point to real things with real examples End with a solution and appoint a person responsible for implementation.

Long to do lists don't get done. Prioritize visually and break things down into small and motivationally manageable tasks.

Learn to say no first. Get your priorities straight and say yes and no accordingly.  There is more regret at saying yes than no.  Keep things right for you and your product.

Let your customers outgrow you. Just because some of your customers have to change doesn't mean you have to compromise your business. Changing your business just to satisfy one or two customers can make you too tailored to them and not a good fit for anyone else. Then when that big customer leaves you, your stuck.

Don't act on great new ideas on impulse. Let them cool and come back to them in a few days and evaluate their importance with a calm mind.

Make great products not ones that just seem great. Buyer remorse occurs when something seems better at the store than it actually is once you get it home.  That doesn't create longterm relationships. Great at home products get talked about.

Build an audience. Audiences give you a platform to share value driven information.  They listen when you need them too. Quit trying to reach everyone.

Out teach your competition. Tips, case studies and tools that educate them are key.

Be like chefs. All great chefs have cookbooks that show all their trade secrets, recipes and tips. Show people how you do things. No one is going to steal your recipes and beat you at your own game.

Go behind the scenes of your business. People love seeing how things work. They want to see how things are built. They will grow a deeper level of appreciation for what you do.

Be genuine.  Imperfections show the soul and art of your work.

Press releases are like spam. Instead of shooting out generic messages to everyone, make it personal to the person you want to reach.  Call, write a note, make it real.

Overnight success is a myth. It takes years of grinding through the work to get noticed. Slowly build an audience instead and get people interested in what you have to say.

Company culture is a byproduct of consistent behavior. You can't force it, you just create it overtime by encouraging particular types of behavior.

Great environments show respect for the people who work and how they work.  Give people the tools, trust and responsibility and they'll wow you.

When you treat people like children you get children's work. When people have to ask permission for everything you create a culture of non thinkers and a no trust environment. Policing costs time and money and kills trust.

Make people work smarter not for longer.  If you want something done, ask the busiest person. Send people home at five. Your goal shouldn't be more hours but better hours.

Don't scar the first cut. Policies born to correct rare mistakes just create complex and inefficient bureaucracies. Only create new procedures, rules and policies to attack common situations that often reoccur.

Write conversationally in business. Read it out loud and ask yourself if you were saying this verbally would it sound normal?

Inspiration is perishable. If you are inspired to do something today or ready tackle a new idea then do it because the drive, inspiration and motivation might not come again. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Arrested Development: When Great Ideas Go Unnoticed

Arrested Development was a television sitcom created by Mitchell Hurwitz that aired on FOX between 2003 and 2006. In 2006, the FOX Broadcasting Company cancelled the show much the chagrin of their fan base. Despite the show's raving reviews (listed in 2007 as one of Time magazines "100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME") and multiple awards (six Emmy's & one Golden Globe), "the story about a wealthy family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together" never obtained the viewership and ratings it needed to be a hit.

There are a number of theories as to why the show never took off, some of which include blaming FOX for constantly shuffling their time slot and not marketing the show well enough. While there may be some truth to those claims, the simple fact is that FOX did a poor job of bringing Arrested Development to their true raving fans, the ones that would spread the message and genius of the show far and wide.

Arrested Development was an intelligent comedy that had themes well beyond just the dysfunctional family dynamic. To succeed the show needed to find intelligent people. But the people who actually connected with the intelligent humor of the show were watching less TV than the average American. This created a dilemma that the show wasn't able to overcome (at least not back in 2006). Great ideas fail everyday for this exact same reason. When you are trying to win over an audience that is in a completely different arena from the one your game is being played, you are doomed to fail.

What FOX should have done was bring the show to its true fans and not wait for people to start noticing. The fans the show needed did in fact consume media (TV and the Internet) they just weren't consuming FOX. Their potential fans were however taking in plenty of the The Daily Show, but unlike Arrested Development, they were able to watch The Daily Show reruns straight from their computers on

It's not fair to completely blame FOX though for the shows failings when much is due to just poor and unlucky timing. Take for instance the fact that the show is about a rich and corrupt family's fall from the prominence of corporate America. A story of corruption like this works much better with today's business climate of bank bailouts, lavish CEO compensation and billion dollar Ponzi schemes.

The show would also do better in today's world because of the increased use of the Internet. Hulu, Netflix, OnDemand services and network websites, make it much easier now for a show to be accessed by their true raving fans. On top of that, by adding social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to the picture, you then give them a platform to communicate with you, spread the word and quite literally "become a fan" of Arrested Development. Simply stated, the Internet has become the ultimate platform for great ideas to spread.

The cancellation of Arrested Development teaches us that while timing is an important factor in the success or failure of an idea, you still have to find your true fans in order for your great idea to spread. However, if your fans are somewhere you are not, then stop and go to them.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Book Review - The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding: How to Build a Product or Service into a World-Class Brand

The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding: How to Build a Product or Service into a World-Class Brand
by Al Ries and Laura Ries

I recently stumbled upon this book written almost ten years ago and after finishing it, I was amazed at how well these "22 laws" still hold true for modern day business. The common sense approach that this book takes to branding speaks more to the overall strategy and mission of a company as to the just the marketing side of things. Where as many people might identify branding as just some element of business that marketing controls, no bigger per say than manufacturing is to operations, The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding shows us that the strength of your brand will ultimately be the single most important element in the success of your business. Whether you are starting a new business or looking to improve upon an existing one, these 22 laws are a guide and resource to successfully (or unsuccessfully) building a company.

The 22 laws are as follows (this list would make for a great print out and should be hanging on your wall):
1. The Law of Expansion - The power of a brand is inversely proportional to its scope.
2. The Law of Contraction - A brand becomes stronger when you narrow its focus.
3. The Law of Publicity - The birth of a brand is achieved with publicity, not advertising.
4. The Law of Advertising - Once born, a brand needs advertising to stay healthy.
5. The Law of the Word - A brand should strive to own a word in the mind of the customer.
6. The Law of Credentials - The crucial ingredient in the success of any brand is its claim to authenticity.
7. The Law of Quality - Quality is important, but brands are not built by quality alone.
8. The Law of the Category - A leading brand should promote the category, not the brand.
9. The Law of the Name - In the long run a brand is nothing more than a name.
10. The Law of Extensions - The easiest way to destroy a brand is to put its name on everything.
11. The Law of Fellowship - In order to build the category, a brand should welcome other brands.
12. The Law of the Generic - One of the fastest routes to failure is giving a brand a generic name.
13. The Law of the Company - Brands are brands. Companies are companies. There is a difference.
14. The Law of Subbrands - What branding builds, subbranding can destroy.
15. The Law of Siblings - There is a time and a place to launch a second brand.
16. The Law of Shape - A brand's logotype should be designed to fit the eyes.  Both eyes.
17. The Law of Color - A brand should use a color that is the opposite of its major competitor's.
18. The Law of Borders - There are no barriers to global branding. A brand should know no borders.
19. The Law of Consistency - A brand is not built overnight. Success is measured in decades, no years.
20. The Law of Change - Brands can be changed, but only infrequently and only very carefully.
21. The Law of Mortality - No brand will live forever. Euthanasia is often the best solutions.
22. The Law of Singularity - The most important aspect of a brand is its single-mindedness.

These 22 laws are the stuff that great companies are made of. Want to know how strong your own company's brand is? Get this book and go through each chapter one by one and point out how well your brand follows each law. It might even open your eyes to strategy faults in your own organization but it will also give you a clear understanding of the bigger picture of public perception.

A brand is everything. It is who you are. And knowing who you are, what you stand for and how you can make that extremely clear and known to the rest of the world is critical to building a powerful brand.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Company Highlight - Chick-fil-A: Keeping it Simple with Chicken and Great Service

Photo from Flickr by _rockinfree

If you are a frequenter of fast food establishments, you've probably noticed an increased presence and growing popularity for the franchise Chick-fil-A.  Chick-fil-A, a chicken focused chain, has not only become a popular chicken restaurant, they have become the best drive through in America. QSR Magazine's annual Drive-Thru Performance Study has consistently, year after year, recognized Chick-fil-A as the best of all drive-thru's as they continue to exemplify outstanding customer service and a great product.

While Chick-fil-A does its fair share of charity work to get involved in local communities, they also do a great job of sticking to what made them great in the first place. The simple idea, to focus on making your product better, is a recipe for success that any business can follow.  Their goal is to make great tasting food, primarily chicken and to consistently demonstrate and improve upon their exemplary customer service. In fact, each and every year the company spends millions on improving their service instead of dumping it all on expensive ad campaigns. This commitment to incremental improvements shows in the form of amazing service that gets talked about and word of mouth advertising (free) will always give you the highest return on investment.

Chick-fil-A sticks to what they do by limiting their products to what they are good at. You don't see them frequently and drastically expanding their menu and adding new products that have nothing to do with who they are. Their menu is simple and the underlying focus has always been and continues to be chicken. They even go so far to prove this point that their entire advertising campaign is based on three simple words that perfectly define them - eat more chicken. By choosing these words they fight the intelligent fight and stay away from a chicken chain war with KFC. While this slogan might in fact send potential customers to a major rival in KFC, the amount of customers to be gained from beef focused chains far exceeds any increase in sales that could be gained from customers that are already big fans of chicken. Coke and Pepsi could learn something from this strategy as the number of cola drinks that are consumed each year continues to dwindle yet these two giants have been attacking each other for years instead of competing against coffee, energy drinks, beer or any other non-cola beverage. Chick-fil-A, on the other hand, wins if people simply choose chicken over beef.

Related Links:

Monday, January 17, 2011

Book Review - Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life

Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life
Written By: Winifred Gallagher

Rapt is an exploration of how attention plays such a crucial role in the quality of your life. The idea that what you choose to pay attention to shapes your life is the theme of the book as it explores the impact attention has on productivity, decisions, creativity, relationships, happiness and health. Rapt supports its claims with numerous insights, studies and data from both neuroscience and behavioral psychology. Simplistically the book is best summarized with the following quote found in the introduction:

"My experience is what I agree to attend to." - William James

The idea that attention holds so much power over your life should be encouraging because it means it is possible to shape your existence, outcome and daily mood. The human mind can only absorb and attend to so much and knowing how to control this is considered the secret to happiness for many.

The title of the book, Rapt, is appropriate as the term literally means to be completely absorbed, engrossed, fascinated and focused at any given moment. Rapt attention can make time seemingly fly by, create inner happiness and help you concentrate better in all aspects of your life. If you are achieving a rapt state of attention it most likely means that you're seeking out activities and a life that is full of your undivided attention instead of the reactive, unfocused and drifting way that many of us spend our time.

Rapt offers many antidotes to take control of your attention such as meditating and choosing the right activities. Through the power of meditating one should give complete focus to a single task for prolonged periods of time such as breathing. This practiced state of rapt attention increases your capacity for living the focused life. The wisdom to consistently choose enjoyable but challenging activities enables you to work your brain just enough to experience complete "flow" which the books considers the optimal human experience. Flow is better achieved when you choose activities that stretch your mental muscles such as when you are devoting time to a challenging hobby like learning guitar, playing sports, cooking a new recipe or devoting your time to a specific project at work. It is less likely to occur though when you space out while watching TV or when are trying to accomplish twenty things at once while multi-tasking. A consistent commitment to challenging and focused work and leisure produces a better daily experience and in-turn develops you into a more interesting person.

Rapt is a book for life and work. It preaches such timeless concepts as demonstrating self-control, focusing on positive thinking and making sure you give the people in your life the full, undivided attention they deserve. According to Rapt, this is the secret to a healthy and happy life and while we can't be happy all the time, the decisions we make on where to devote our attention and mental energy, goes a long way to shaping our overall life experience. As the book explains in discussing the connection that positive and productive rapt attention has with your overall health and well being, even the longevity of your life depends on the ability to control your attention.

Monday, January 10, 2011

New Starbucks Logo Represents a Change in the Company's Focus

Starbucks recently launched a change in their logo to celebrate their 40th anniversary (see the new logo here). Whether you are a fan of the giant coffee chain or not, it seems that Starbucks has lost site of the power of their name.

By removing their name from the logo, they are removing the most important part of their business, their brand. For Starbucks, their brand is completely represented in their name. Maybe for a company like Nike, who specializes in a number of sports related products, the swoosh is all you need because when you think of Nike, you no longer think about just shoes. However, Starbucks is in the business coffee and their name so powerfully connects to the idea of coffee, that removing it from the logo doesn't make sense from a branding standpoint. Perhaps if Starbucks goal is to expand their services to the point that the company is not primarily associated with coffee anymore, then this is a great decision (Starbucks mulling wine, cheese move). If their goal though is to merely show a fresh look, not some complete shift in their businesses focus, then removing their name could be a disaster.

There is nothing wrong with a logo change. The reality is brands get stale. The mistake is found with removing your name from a logo, when your name is the product itself. Think about Coca-Cola. They have undergone numerous logo changes but they remain the superior soft drink company. Despite the many graphical changes in the Coca-Cola logo (see the Coca-Cola logo throughout the years), the one thing that has remained constant in the logo is the name Coca-Cola. This is because their name is the product, Coke, which is synonymous with a cola drink. Just as a Rolex is an expensive watch, a Kleenex is a tissue and Campbell's is soup, to many people Starbucks is coffee.

When you go to Starbucks, you may be thinking ahead of time that you want a Caramel Machiatto, but you are also thinking that you want a Starbucks. This holds true, despite the many types of drinks available at the store. When your name almost becomes the thing itself you have a powerful brand. By removing it from the product, they are saying Starbucks isn't coffee rather a company that just happens to sell coffee among other things. That is apparent as the number of products you can buy at Starbucks seems to increase every year to the point where they have over extended their brand. Starbucks seems to be on a mission to be the cafe that sells everything, not just the few things they are good at that make them who they are. This logo change is just another move by a company that from a branding standpoint, appears to be getting out of the coffee business.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Artisan Cooking & Letterpress Training Classes

An artisan is an old Italian word used to describe a manual laborer of a specific craft or trade who produces items by hand through the use of skill and creativity. The creation of these goods through a non-standardized process and by the hands of the worker, makes each product unique. This labor intensive and imperfect process is what gives artisanal products their charm, unlike mass produced items that are all identical.

We often hear the term artisan used in cooking. People who make food and chefs alike have to rely on their skill and training to create unique, tasty items all slightly different than the previous. The process is fun, creative, challenging and rewarding and it's no wonder that so many people like me, with no culinary training or background, have such a strong interest in learning how to make great food.

Years ago, when I decided I loved to cook for all the reasons sighted above, I looked to increase my knowledge by training hands on with an expert. While I had no desire to leave the printing industry, spend thousands of dollars on a professional cooking school and become a chef, I did want to acquire some culinary expertise in select areas. That is when I turned to the Viking Cooking School, a great place for any cooking enthusiast like me who wants to learn the art as a hobby not a career.

To the everyday home cook, it might not ever dawn on them to try a cooking class. I for one never considered the idea until one night five years ago, while I was still in production, I was checking over and reviewing a proof for a Viking catalog that we were about to print and it hit me like a ton of bricks. After that cooking became a passion.

A few years later in 2007, when I was sharing a Viking catalog sample and my experience with a potential prospect, for fun I highlighted a recipe they should also try and it was received very well. Shortly after that I sent out my first Print Chef newsletter and the rest is history. But if it weren't for that cooking school advertisement, I probably never would have created the Print Chef in the first place and simultaneously discovered my love for printing as cooking connected me to printing in a way I never could have imagined.

Recently I was watching the YouTube video featured above for Hatch Show Print and I had a similar revelation to the one I had on cooking classes years ago. Commercial printing by no means should be considered artisan work as very much of it is highly standardized and mass produced. However, watching the process of letterpress printing sparked an interest in me to learn this old craft in the exact same way that the opportunity to take cooking classes did.

Letterpress printing is about as close as you'll come to artisan work in the printing industry. Because of the unique nature in the items a letterpress creates, it is no surprise that there has been a recent surge of new shops all across the world embracing this timeless craft. Just as you don't have to be a chef to enjoy the art of cooking, and unlike other forms of printing, you don't have to work in the industry or be an expert to print on a letterpress. You do however, need to train and take classes and there are many that are offered to the general public.

If reading this post or watching the video has in any way made you want to learn more about letterpress shops that offer classes for the aspiring print enthusiast, check out the resources below. This is a great starting point to find a letterpress class or workshop near you.

Letterpress Links:
The Briar Press list of upcoming letterpress workshops and events
Search the Briar Press yellow pages to find letterpress associations, museums, printers, schools and suppliers wherever you are

Cooking School Links:
The Viking Cooking School
Whole Foods Market Cooking Classes & Culinary Centers
Local Cooking Classes
Central Market Cooking School