Paul Watzlawick is an Austrian-American psychologist and philosopher. I learned about Paul while reading a book by Erik Spiekermann called “Stop Stealing Sheep and Learn how Type Works” where I came across a single line from his 1967 book, Pragmatics of human communication.
The first of Watzlawick’s five axioms of communication (and the only one I can remember on demand, my memory really stinks) reads:
“One cannot not communicate” Because every behaviour is a kind of communication, people who are aware of each other are constantly communicating. Any perceivable behaviour, including the absence of action, has the potential to be interpreted by other people as having some meaning.
This book was published in 1967, so I imagine he had that thought long before then (and probably after). I imagine today, were he still alive (he passed in 2007 – but internet years are like dog years so it’s fair to say that at least 20 years have passed since his departure from the mortal coil), he would be flabbergasted by the size of our personal networks and the rate at which they’re growing. I know I am, and I’ve been here the whole time.
I recently watched a film titled “The Jon$es.” In the film, a fake family is placed by a marketing company into an affluent neighbourhood for an experiential marketing campaign. Their goal, with the help of their corporate-sponsored lifestyles, is to influence the other people in the neighbourhood to buy the things they have, to “keep up with the Jonses.”
One character though, is unable to keep up. He goes deeper and deeper into a hole of debt that, eventually, he can’t crawl out of. Faced with the choice to come clean about his buying decisions and lose his wealth, he instead chooses to strap himself to his ride on mower and drive into a swimming pool.
David Duchovny, the “husband”, takes the blame for what happened. He’s fired from his job and vilified by his community. In his mind, he was responsible for what had happened – the unfortunate neighbour had no choice. He was powerless to resist. Arguably, this happens to us every day. If we’re hungry or thirsty, or we feel a need for something, we’re led to believe that there’s something transient that can satisfy us.
I don’t believe that’s the case though. I believe that marketing can be powerful, I believe that it’s hard to deny the path of least resistance when we feel empty. But I believe in choice. I believe, at the end of the day, that the neighbour had a choice. We all do. To have the thousand-dollar watch or be satisfied with the clock on our phone, or on our wall. To buy our jeans at the Levi store or the thrift store. Marketing doesn’t make us want things. It just confuses us when we don’t know what we want. I leads us to believe that impulsiveness can be wise.
But it can’t be. Wisdom and impulsiveness are mutually exclusive. So next time you have the urge to buy something on impulse, stop. Take a breath and think about what you really want. It might not be jeans, after all.
Just got telemarketed by a company that offered to “get me on the first page of Google.” I’m paraphrasing, but this is the gist of the conversation.
“Is this Harbour City SEO?”
“I’d like to talk about getting you on the first page of Google.”
“But I already am. For all the phrases I want.” I said.
“Yes, but…” he started.
“You realize, that I am an SEO professional. I do this for a living”
“No, I didn’t.” he said (though it’s in my name), “So, you do the same thing we do.”
“Yes. More or less.”
“Can I ask how?” he said.
“You want me to tell you how I got a first page ranking?” I think there must have been an incredulous tone in my voice.
“Well, for obvious reasons, I’m not going to. I’m sure you understand.”
Pregnant pause. Then, “Yes. I suppose so.”
Then we both had a little chuckle, he realizing the futility of the call. Me for the same reasons.
And that, dear reader, is why you should always pre-qualify a lead.
I’m an Android guy. I like the Google ecosystem. The Play store. Google Music (even though it’s substantially inferior to iTunes). I own a Nexus 7 Tablet and a Galaxy Nexus. I use Google Docs for collaboration, and I’m days away from dumping Dropbox for Google Drive.
That said, I live in a house that’s irreparably torn, toeing the line between two worlds.
My partner is Apple all the way. iPhone, Macbook (and about 4 generations of Macbooks in the attic). She actually buys music from iTunes. She’s got deep roots in the Apple Ecosystem. Feet planted firmly in the center. Not. Going. Anywhere.
The ecosystem in our house is a cobbled-together mishmash of Windows, Android and Apple, where none are the dominating force. And while I’m (at the moment) technically savvy enough to smash the square peg of Windows through Apple’s round hole (with my rooted Android Hammer), I expect that by trying to live in all worlds, I’m missing the best of any of them
Up until now, the choices of ecosystem have been limited to Apple and Android. Microsoft has been there, but not in any meaningful way.
This week, Windows is releasing the much talked about Surface Tablet alongside their new, touch-enabled OS, Windows 8. I say “much talked about”, because until it actually enters the hands of the consumer and gains meaningful market share, it might as well be a Blackberry.
A Desktop/Laptop/Notebook PC (media center) running Windows 8 (shared OS) + Surface Tablet (mobile) + Xbox 360 (set top box). I think this has some great potential, as MS is more likely than others to create apps that allow everyone (Apple and Android) to play in their sandbox.
The Android/Google Ecosystem running Android devices (mobile), including the Nexus 7 and flagship phones (Galaxy Nexus & GS3) + Google Play and Google Apps (Gmail/Docs/Drive/Etc.). I think Google wins, hands down, for productivity tools, but they don’t have a lock on it. Without a serious desktop contender or set top box (Google TV is still not available in Canada), Google will either have to learn to play in Microsoft’s sandbox or build a better mousetrap in-house.
The Apple Ecosystem is running Macbooks (storage) with iPhones/iPads (mobile) streaming to Apple TV (set top) via AirPlay (networking). Apple is currently doing networking well, so long as you stay within the Apple Ecosystem, but their productivity tools for the average end user are virtually non-existent.
Who’s the winner?
Right now, it’s impossible to say, though I think Microsoft is pretty well-positioned. Apple’s sandbox is currently too exclusive. Google’s sandbox doesn’t solve the home networking problem, so Microsoft is the only one positioned to move into both spaces. All three are running events in the next week, so join me as I observe the presentations and watch the commentary that follows to see who emerges on top.
In the midst of a local scandal regarding a decision to hire Vancouver company Ion, the representatives of School District 68 are unapologetic about their decision to move forward with the plan to spend $25,000 on a new visual identity. Donna Reimer, school board spokesperson suggests that the number is “meaningless”.
“That number really doesn’t mean anything,”… “with the new direction the board is setting, including a new strategic plan in the development stage, officials feel it is a good time to revamp the district’s graphic identity.”
Well, I think parents would disagree. I agree that in the context of the entire annual budget, $24,000 is a drop in the bucket, but in the context of no aides for special needs kids and cuts to other front line services, it means a lot. A whole lot. Jamie Brennan continues to marginalize the decision in a comment in the same article.
Jamie Brennan, school board chairman, said the $24,233 is just what it costs to hire a professional company.
It isn’t. I’m willing to say, publicly, that Jamie Brennan is out of his mind if he thinks that it costs $24,000 for a visual identity (that’s just assets. No printing costs. No development. No messaging. Just a contract to produce digital assets for use in various mediums including vehicles, signage digital and print media).
Most people, given the voice to do so, would agree that we have serious problems in the local school system. Problems that can’t be fixed with a new visual identity. Effectively, the district has already done enough damage to their reputation locally that no logo or visual refresh will change our opinion.
Let me put it another way. A business, any business, might have garnered a bad reputation through various (potentially nefarious) questionable business dealings. If same said business deals with the negative press by renaming themselves, with a rebrand, they don’t address the concerns of the existing clientele. So the rebrand is essentially for new clients only.
One local example is Vancouver Island’s Aviawest, mired in scandal since they sought (and were subsequently denied) bankruptcy protection in 2011 and more recently, were accused of illegally selling $12.7 million in promissory notes without a prospectus. The Aviawest brand is toxic. Watermint Resorts (the new brand), however, has virtually no history. The company is trying to repair their reputation by erasing their negative history.
SD68 isn’t a brand, they’re a public institution. A new visual identity won’t erase their negative history in the local community, so who are they marketing to that would be impressed by a new identity?
It was announced a couple of days ago that SD68 has hired Vancouver Design Firm Ion to create a new graphic identity. The contract is going to cost Nanaimo taxpayers a hefty $24,000 for:
a new graphic identity that – clearly and simply communicates the district’s ideals – is contemporary and innovative – appeals to a wide spectrum of stakeholders – is easily and economically reproduced – can change over time and still retain its strength – is distinctive and eye-catching – is flexible in different applications – is recognizable – is non-offensive in different cultures.
This from a school district with completion rates hovering around 70% overall, among the worst in the Province. A school district in the midst of brutal cutbacks.
But let’s consider for a moment that branding for school districts actually matters, that it’s a justifiable expense. $24,000 is an insane amount of money to pay for a graphic identity, even one that includes the following.
And to have that money go to Vancouver, well, that’s a cryin’ shame. Though, according to communications director Donna Reimer, it wasn’t that Nanaimo firms weren’t given the opportunity.
Of 13 proposals submitted, four were from Vancouver Island (including one from Nanaimo), six were from the lower mainland and three were from the B.C. Interior. The request for proposals was posted on the school district website, on BC Bid and was sent through the BC Association of Graphic Designers to members. Firms that SD68 was aware of locally and in the lower mainland were also sent the request.
There’s an epidemic of overspending on graphic design and web development by the public sector. Consider this. NEDC just contracted Trinex to build a $27,000 web presence. The City of Vancouver just spent 3 million dollars to revamp their official site. Tourism Tofino just spent an estimated $90,000 on a web-marketing campaign. I don’t have any idea on why the numbers are so high (my guess is padding to compensate for project management), but I’ll tell you that nobody in the private sector is chucking that sort of cheddar around.
I’m waiting for comments from friends of mine in graphic design, but so far the response has been (overwhelmingly) that the costs are way, WAY out of line for a project of this nature.
I can forgive tourism and economic sectors, but I find it hard to understand how a struggling School District can justify spending so much on what amounts to a vanity, something that offers virtually no value to the public.
Are you a Nanaimo design firm who didn’t get a shot? Have an opinion about the costs of developing a graphic identity? Follow the conversation on the Nanaimo Bulletin, or share your thoughts here.
In the news on Friday, it was announced that Parksville design & development company Trinex will be building the new website for NEDCorp at a $27,000 price tag. The decision, I have no doubt, will be met with skepticism. Especially after the previous CEO, Susan Cudahy, hired a firm from Toronto to build an $8,800 website, a decision which led to a scandal and, consequently, her “relocation” to parts unknown (at another hefty price-tag for taxpayers).
Trinex is closer, at least, and they have some experience working with municipalities, but I’m only cautiously optimistic. $27,000 is a lot of money for a website, especially when at least $1 of that is coming out of my pocket.
It’s the first major public expenditure attached to the new CEO Sasha Angus, who has been hailed for his social media savvy. Even though he likely had little to do with the bid process, now that he’s here, all eyes will be on him to ensure that this project goes smoothly.
I was curious what NEDCorp and the Nanaimo taxpayers were getting into, so I asked Sasha Angus and NEDCorp on Twitter a few questions. Moments later, Jenn Houtby-Ferguson, responsible for NEDCorp’s media relations and travel trade was kind enough to take a few moments to answer me (as well as providing me with a copy of the RFP and addendums!).
So, what should the taxpayers expect for $27,000? The list below is a combination of keywords I pulled from the RFP and addendums, with my own thoughts about how they could be interpreted in the design.
1. Progressive content design
There’s a requirement that the site be designed using progressive enhancement. Progressive enhancement essentially means designing from the content out vs. graceful degradation, where you design around a browsers’ ability to render your content. A List Apart has a great article on progressive enhancement vs graceful degradation.
My main concern here is the use of PDFs for displaying content, instead of creative solutions with HTML5 (but we’ll get to that shortly). There’s talk of page-turning technology, but most of that relies on flash, meaning that content will be inaccessible to people with the most current smartphones and tablets.
In the RFP (and addendum #4), there’s talk of “telling the story”, content interaction and an enjoyable user experience. One NEDCorp quote that jumps out:
We would like it to be more fluid and intend to have a focus group to help us decide on content placement, navigation and clearly
define the visitor experience.
If done correctly, this could go a long way towards determining the usefulness of the site, like usability testing with personas, but with real people.
2. Responsive design.
Section 6 of the RFP calls for “tablet-friendly design, scalable pages, mobile plug-ins, and customizable auto-detection/re-direction.”, which means responsive design for me. Responsive design essentially means you design the content to fit any viewing window gracefully (like this design for a clean air challenge. Go ahead, resize the window if you’re on a desktop, or visit the site on a tablet or smartphone, cool huh?).
I’m excited to announce that it’s a part of the new design, confirmed in the conversation I had with Jenn Houtby on Twitter.
3. Deeply integrated social plugins.
Yep, I want deep integration with Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest and whatever else is coming down the pipe. Section 6 of the RFP calls for “the ability to share content via social media (Facebook, Twitter and beyond)”. To me, this implies an inherently social framework, with content designed for sharing and interactivity. According to Jenn, we can expect some social integration, though how much we’ll get is still in question.
4. Fast loading speed
It’s gotta be fast, this site by Trinex does pretty good (especially for a CMS, which can be clunky). 77/100 with the Google Page Speed tool, I think – with some minimal effort, they could come in over 90 (meaning, it loads faster than 90% of sites indexed by Google). This metric is especially important for mobile users, who have data plans to think about when they load a site. Speed isn’t part of the RFP, but it is part of SEO, which is raised in section 6, and is next on my watchlist.
5. Professional SEO
SEO, to some extent, is supposed to be part of the deal. Section 6 asks “Detail your SEO approach and the level to which the NEDC can control your on-page optimization.” and asks for support for schema.org. Additionally, I would expect basic meta control (no keywords please, seriously!), URL management, appropriate headings, clean code, the right mix of images and rich media and more.
6. Professional photography
It looks like a no-go for HTML5. According to addendum #3, “…HTML5 is an evolving platform that will likely not be standardized until at least 2015. In addition; the compatibility with browsers, especially Internet Explorer, is troublesome at best. Most versions of IE are not compatible at all.”
That’s essentially true, but it’s an oversimplification. Consider that HTML4 is still being worked on, and HTML5, while experts are saying that it won’t be a proposed recommendation until 2022, it’s already gone through last call, and is currently published as a working draft (the next steps are recommended candidate, followed by proposed candidate).
8. Cohesive branding and messaging across all channels
NEDCorp desperately needs a re-brand (as does the tourismnanaimo.com site), but it’s not in the cards this time around, though it’s a little confusing. The RFP says “Web pages should communicate strong, consistent branding” (6.2), also “(the website) is the gateway into a collection of consistently branded web-delivered content” (6.3). But later on, it’s mentioned that “The NEDC will be undertaking a brand exercise in early 2013 at which time colours and logos will need to be updated throughout investnanaimo.com and tourismnanaimo.com. The NEDC will consider the “re-skinning” of the website within the scope of the initial proposal as well.”
So the redesign actually includes two designs. I find myself wondering why they’re pushing so hard for a redesign now, though I can imagine it’s to get the site live and wash away the bad taste the previous site left in everyone’s mouth, but why not push for a rebrand before building the new sites? Wouldn’t that decrease the overall costs?
At this point, it looks like NEDCorp has the best of intentions, and it’s an ambitious project, but if you’ve ever heard the maxim “a camel is a horse designed by committee“, you’ll know how quickly things can get out of hand. If NEDCorp is offering, I (and several people I know, I’m sure) would love to participate in usability round tables as we move forward.
How about you? What would you like to see included with the new website for that $27,000. Widgets? Dancing dogs? Let me know!
Author: Sean Enns, posted on August 29, 2012 at 1:02 pm, filed under Content Marketing, Copywriting, Marketing, Search Engine Optimization, Social Media. Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink.
Nanaimo has hired a new communications director, a Mr. Philip Cooper, to step in and help paint a better picture of Nanaimo. Phil, Philly, Philbert, hails from Victoria by way of Fort McMurray, where he spent the last several years as communications director. Now, he’s coming to Nanaimo, and some of the locals are outraged. Forget the near-$100,000 price tag, forget that he’s not from Nanaimo. The biggest outcry is from Nanaimo’s social media scene, where Phil has no public face, virtually no presence at all. The question posed to Phil by so many is, “how can you call yourself a communications director when you’re not on Twitter?”, and it’s totally valid. Many people, including one of Nanaimo’s top influencers and Twitter advocate Don Power, believe that this is an egregious oversight.
New Communications Manager for the City of Nanaimo is not on Twitter or LinkedIn. That makes him instantly unreachable (and mostly irrelevant) to someone like me…
And I would tend to agree. Because, as anyone who’s active in the social media space will tell you, just because you’re not on social media doesn’t mean the conversation stops to wait for you. My favourite quote (probably of all time) is Paul Watzlawick’s First Axiom of Communication, which states that “One cannot not communicate”. To break that down for Mr. Cooper.
Any of the above may or may not be true, but by not being available, Phil is leaving everything to our imaginations. Additionally, since I can’t ask about him, I’m left to my own devices to find out what I can covertly, so here goes.
Philip Cooper holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science from the University of Western Ontario and a Master of Arts Degree in Applied Communication from Royal Roads University. Mr. Cooper has also supplemented his degrees with a Graduate Certificate in Project Management and a Post Diploma in Corporate Communication.
Philip Cooper used to (and may still) drive an Audi, a silver B6 A4 to be precise. Here’s a picture of it.
Philip Cooper said of Victoria and Fort McMurray, “Victoria is a beautiful city, and it has a story that is well-known and favourably told,”… “But from the career point of view of someone in public relations, it’s not a terribly challenging story. So I decided to take the offer and move to a community that was offering the exact opposite.”
In 2011, Philip was named in Connect’s “top 40 under 40″ feature.
Phil will be making about $100,000/year as Nanaimo’s communications director.
Phil likes long walks on the beach, holding hands and movies with Renée Zellweger.
Most interestingly, perhaps, is this snippet – which gives us a tiny glimpse of what we can likely look forward to with Phil at the typewriter.
“One of the things I enjoy doing the most is helping people see the facts through all the fiction,” … “There’s a tremendous sense of accomplishment to be had when you’re able to help someone see your community through a lens they either didn’t know existed, or didn’t choose to look through.”
Draw your own conclusions from that. I’ve drawn many, many that do not paint Nanaimo’s city council in a favourable light. And since Philip is unavailable for comment (or even to say whether he prefers Philip or Phil), I’ll just have to continue my conjecture until he steps out from the shadows to say otherwise.
The conversation is happening Philip, with or without you. Won’t you join us?
Scott Cooper, the owner of Nanaimo’s iconic Modern Cafe, is the very picture of what should have been the story of a continually rising star. Scott was very, VERY active in social media, building a following of thousands on both Facebook and Twitter.
In the early days, the Modern received some excellent press from the local rags, talking at great length about Scott’s progressive attitude towards using Twitter, Facebook and other social media to create not just a following, but a real place in the community. He was among the first locally to start using iPads as ordering systems, Scott took a powerful stance on anti-bullying after a particularly heated exchange with an anonymous Twitter user, and was applauded for the grace in which he handled the situation. More recently, the Modern rocked a radical ad campaign, utilizing models for a 50′s style photo shoot and commercial.
With all that momentum and media driving them, the citizens of Nanaimo were taken aback when Scott slammed on the brakes. This week, the Modern Cafe closed their doors, or rather – had their doors closed for them.
Restaurants, even good ones in my experience, come and go for all sorts of reasons. The restaurant lifestyle is hard, at the best of times. Anthony Bourdain said it well, in suggesting that it’s a profession primarily meant for misfits, something one is born to do, that one ultimately gives in to, because of an aversion to the standard chains of a 9-5 or factory job.
But, joining the ranks of the restaurant industry means a lot of late nights and long days. Your time off is everyone else’s time on. There are drugs, and debauchery, and sinning and seduction and swearing to make a sailor blush and a host of behaviours most of us would consider wildly inappropriate in the workplace, but which turn out to be perfectly suited to a place filled with freaks and geeks.
And while it wasn’t to my taste, I saw the Modern as an institution for the young and hip of Nanaimo’s social scene. I live downtown, and every time I drove or walked past it, the place was packed to the rafters. I don’t know what kind of restaurant experience Scott had, if any, but he definitely had entrepreneurial skills, enough to keep business humming. So, now that the doors are closed, and the rumours are about to fly, my question is, why, with all of his fans and supporters and social media acumen, did the Modern close at all?
The answer, I think, is surprisingly simple.
The Modern Cafe under Scott Cooper did one of two things, they invested their profits poorly, or they didn’t have enough profits to remain sustainable. I can’t for certain say which, but I can say that any troubles were well- hidden behind a smoke screen of social activity, that the impression I got was that things were flourishing. But if things are flourishing, they don’t usually slap a bailiff’s notice on the doors, right?
I can’t say for sure whether the Modern was, or wasn’t spending their money wisely; Scott seems like a nice enough guy. I can’t say that the Modern was irresponsible, but I can say that the locks were changed – which is a sign that things weren’t all rainbows and unicorns. The closing thoughts on the Modern’s Facebook and Twitter pages aren’t conclusive, but “anguish” is a really strong word.
However the Modern ended up here, they did it in spite of success in media, in social media, in search and, in spite of some serious good will from the downtown community. But that’s the trick. Good will, SEO, social media, marketing. They’re smoke and mirrors.
If you’re doing everything right, if you plan for contingencies, if you’re sustainable, then search and social media can catapult you to new levels. But they can’t right a sinking ship, they can’t stop an out of control train. You need to repair the holes in your boat first, to make it whole, stop it from losing water; only then will it stop sinking and take you to your destination.