Pithy Quote by Ray Bradbury

A recent Forbes "Asked & Answered" section interviewed Ray Bradbury.  When discussing the fact that his fear of flying kept him from doing so until the age of 62, Bradbury said,

"My train going home was canceled, so I thought God was telling me, 'Fly dummy'. They gave me three double martinis and poured me into my seat."  "Since then, I crossed the Atlantic something like 20 times on the Concorde, but the key to avoiding fear on that was to not look at the bill."

If Charles Ingalls Had Venture Funding (or How America's Heartland Is HOT)

Joel Kotkin, internationally recognized author on global economic, political, and social trends, has written yet another fantastic piece called Little Start-up on the Prairie.  Maybe it's that we in the Midwest are just jazzed when someone notices us or that our geometric shape stood out when flying over it, but the bottom line is that our humble agrarian rooted section of the country houses much of the greatest economic growth potential for the future.  Kotkin's tale begins in Aurora, Nebraska, a town of 4500.  Kotkin states quite simply that,

"Aurora and other places in the American Heartland will provide a critical outlet for the restless energies and entrepreneurial passions of its people. In some senses, such a trend represents a reprise of the region’s role in the evolution of the country and the shaping of its national identity."

In fact, since folks are realizing that on-shoring and in-sourcing are not only economically feasible, but highly desirable, the problems shift from lack of affordable housing...to a lack of any available housing at any price and a dearth of workers. 

Kotkin goes on to mention Iowa and specifically Des Moines many times in the piece highlighting that,

"In virtually every measurement, students in key rural states—particularly the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas—tend to perform better than those in more urbanized ones, as measured by graduation rates, college attendance and enrollment in high-level science and education programs."

The key take aways for me are:

  1. Be bullish on the Midwest (and specifically Des Moines) economies. 
  2. Iowa has a massive amount of talent and future skilled workers from a robust and respected University system so we must cultivate that talent.
  3. We must impart upon these young minds that the best for them does not lie 6 hours away to the north and east.  Rather, it lies here.   There are great reasons to visit other places but even more reasons to build a life here.
  4. The opportunity to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond can accelerate your path to success.  I've lived that coming from Riverside, CA where I was but a simple GPS coordinate on a suburb that extended 250 miles in any direction. 
  5. The talent pool here is immense.  It seems every day that I meet someone new that teaches me something. 
  6. The people here are different.  There's something deeply rooted in much of the Midwestern population, but it's subtle.  It's a pleasant, hard working, almost zen-like kindness that's exuded since years have not been spent strengthening a "coastal exoskeleton."
  7. Buy as many houses and high rise condos as you can.  We will be successful in our quest to convince the next generation (is it Z now?) that staying can be profitable and cool, and someone will need to rent to these people as they flow through the more natural progression of home ownership. The life path of a twenty-something is so very skewed in the large metros where someone graduates college and is faced with the prospect of a $600k starter home 1.5 hours from their job.  We can help break the cycle of thinking that this is acceptable by providing a wonderfully fulfilling alternative.
  8. The ethos does exist that, "If I can't make it on the coasts, I'm a loser compared to my peers that can".  This type of thinking is outdated.  In fact, if making it means spending 5x on housing and generating debt, then yes, you're a loser.  I'll take the label and remain more economically viable.
  9. Renewable energy is perhaps the most clear example of the power of the Midwest economy.  Daily, I read economists and social commentators (I almost used "Socialists") that bemoan the continuing process of discovery and innovation in this area.  "We're starving kids in Mexico" and "we'll never have enough land or corn" are the battle cries.  Thankfully, few have listened and the process of harnessing the true power of the earth goes on.  If we put the brakes on or take one step back in this area, we'll simply hand over the power to those who never stopped believing.  Recently, Iowa State lost a $500 million funding opportunity in renewable energy to UC Berkeley and U of I (Champaign-Urbana).  Maybe we need a journeyman-actor-Governor to lead our charge?  Who would you pick?  I'd pick Brandon Routh since Tom Arnold would have a tough time using complete sentences.

Of course when I executed my geographic arbitrage from CA to IA, I really didn't appreciate what I was doing.   I knew that I loved what I'd seen and I was drunk with joy over housing prices.  It turns out that I'm smack dab in the middle of Ethanol Alley and the heart...of the heartland Renaissance.  Michael Landon would be proud.

Get A LIFE Bloggers!

I hope the headline has captured you and left you wanting more.  When you read this post, please keep in mind that I'm not attempting to discredit the internationally known author and speaker involved...rather I'm trying to make some observations about the fit of blogging into marketing tactics for any business. 

I recently participated on a panel discussion and presentation on heavy equipment GPS monitoring and tracking at the American Rental Association show in Atlanta.  My session immediately followed one on Guerrilla Marketing for the Rental Industry presented by Orvel Ray Wilson.  Mr. Wilson has authored many books and his "hit hard and hit fast and be different" approach is awesome.  His company is called the Guerrilla Group and I recommend you explore what his company could do for your business.  His seminar was by far the best I saw, full of energy, humor, and valuable marketing advice.

The equipment rental industry is somewhat old school...but the perfect playing field to stand out and be different right?  Mr. Wilson's discussion had included only a mention of email marketing...but had zero mention of social media or blogging.  Anytime someone stands in front of me and ignores something that I believe to be incredibly powerful, I feel obligated to discover the big "why".   

I approached and asked the question below and I'm paraphrasing the best I can recall based on notes taken immediately afterward.

The Chat
Doug:  "I didn't hear you mention anything about blogging during your discussion, what role do you believe it plays in the guerrilla marketing equation?"
Mr. Wilson:  "Ahhhh blogging...well I don't blog...basically because I have a life...(chuckling)...I mean there's a million blogs out there and there's a lot of garbage.  You have to know how to write...write editorial copy...and write well....(he got busy and began doing some other tasks).
Doug:  "Interesting...I really wanted to see your take since blogging is a powerful tool for some."

Mr. Wilson was busy cleaning up his laptop, etc. from his speaking session and was interacting with many of the A/V staff so I stopped asking questions and tried to take in what I'd just heard.  Of course, the first thing that fired off in my brain was, "This is going to be a good post for discussion among my readers". 

So I'll leave you with a few observations and questions that are still resonating in my travel fogged head.

The Takeaways

  1. The belief that blogging is something for only good copy writers is a serious miscalculation.  Blogging exposes the writer's true voice and reveals their style, tone, and method doing business very often.  Anyone that reads my blog "already knows me".  They know my positions, my pauses, my emphasis and my passions.   Many of my top 10 marketing blogger friends around the U.S. often use "real language" to communicate their vision/passion/point.   Editorial blogging is typically as boring as "mainstream media"...you know the media that folks are paying less attention to.  Although many bloggers write well and with clarity, others destroy the English language and its grammar and do just dandy.  Should everyone blog?  I'm sure there are reasons why some shouldn't...but one of those reasons should not purely be the editorial quality of the writing.  Should everyone read blogs or have searches automated to see what folks are saying about them?  Yes.  In fact, Mike McLaughlin who wrote Guerrilla Marketing for Consultantsblogged on this same topic a while ago.  Interesting.  Mike says, "If the purpose of a business blog is to reach your targeted audience, it’s best to know someone out there would want to read your stuff. Any one of us could rattle off a number of industries where blogs are still an oddity, not a fixture."  No and Yes.  How would I have ever known that finding a certain part number for an internal air card on my Dell laptop could help so many people around the world?  Well...it happened, because I blogged on it.  I had absolutely no idea that anyone would find that valuable...but they did, by the boat load.  In the heavy equipment rental space, I bet there are few blogs if any.  If yours was the first and you blogged with even a modicum of skill in tagging or linking, you'd be found.  Trust me.  Why must the only value in your blog come from your direct industry?  I've achieved higher search engine rankings and first page results on many key topics that I blog about often like customer service and relocation.  In many cases, my more popular blog entries show up well ahead of the company's intended marketing message.  Old school business models may benefit from a blog more than more high tech businesses.  There's more cutting edge technology and marketing taking place in some seemingly old school segments than one would imagine.  GPS technologies and telematics are taking this industry by storm and allowing equipment rental companies to provide an unparalleled level of service. I'd bet that within 90 days, I could place higher than most when searching for "equipment rental" if I put my blogging efforts toward it.
  2. The belief that blogging is relegated to those that don't "have a life", is putting it lightly...ignorant.  AUTHOR'S NOTE:  I received a phone call from someone that knows Mr. Wilson suggesting that his comment about "not having a life" was likely geared towards his own personal schedule...meaning that "He'd not have a life if he were to try and blog". I have updated my post to reflect that I can see this point of view.  I had been quite fair that the comment was probably just a passing commentary lacking much context, but the rest of my post stands on its own and I hope the larger point is still the overriding one)  I'm pretty sure that Mr. Wilson's comment wasn't meant as a direct derogatory commentary on me, Seth Godin, Brad Feld, Tom Peters, Mark Cuban, and Guy Kawasaki.  Likely it was a humorous off the cuff remark that we all make from time to time.  I could list a thousand other blogs written by not so known names but the point holds.  We have a life.  In fact, we've taken on blogging as a means to communicate in an unfiltered way with our customers, potential customers, and casual observers.  We're using our real mojo and experiences in the life-business ecosystem to provide value for others.  We've all simply put a priority on understanding a new technology and new media platform.  It's the platform that our future employees are very familiar with.  It's the platform that can bring thousands of visitors scrambling to see what you think about the business trends and emerging issues.  Undoubtedly, this post will reach Mr. Wilson because of linking and tagging, and will probably be forwarded to him by a blogger with a life. 
  3. At the very least, interpret "blogging" as maintaining automated blog searches and tag searches to find out what people are saying about you when you're sleeping.  Nothing is more powerful than receiving an unsolicited "Thanks" or "Ooops" from the CEO of a company because they were paying attention.  If you're paying attention you have a serious competitive advantage vs. those who aren't.  Leverage that and odds are, you'll do better than "the rest".  Period.

The essence of guerrilla marketing for me is doing what isn't normally done, doing it cheap(er), doing it different.  Blogging is the pinnacle of cheap, different, and REAL.  It's worth an hour long workshop to understand the basics.  Then, if the CEO can't seem to put a coherent thought together, then find someone in the organization who can or hire someone. 

I think next year, you'll see a seminar by Doug called, "Social Media and the Heavy Equipment Rental Industry:  How To Get A Life Through Blogging!".   I invite your commentary.

Digital Fortress: Dan Brown

In typical Dan Brown fashion, I was at first interested, then excited, then totally hooked and sweating...racing to get to the next chapter of Digital Fortress to discover what twists and turns the tale would take.  The jist of the story is that an "unbreakable code" has been developed that would literally halt the NSA's ability to cipher any code whatsoever.  The code is developed by a guy with a grudge that wishes to put it on the open market.  Then, many unlikely "scholarly" heroes are thrust into the plot to stop this from happening.  Brown's heroes seem to always be the perfect blend of book smarts with enough street smarts to survive their fast paced adventures.  It's a fantastic "airplane book" because chapters are short and the story is quite easy to follow.  If anyone wants to borrow this book in the DSM Metro, just ask me.      

There are much better written reviews on the Amazon site linked above...but you'll love this tale if you love Dan Brown's style and heros.   

Wikipedia & Google: Antibacterial soap for historical cleansing

I'm getting nervous.  It's not over the climate or human rights or the safety of our universe.  It's over Wikipedia and Google.  Nick Carr at Rough Type has written about this and much better than I, but think about how Google is gathering the collective knowledge of the world (books too) into a historical record...a record that is only as "valuable" as its component's relevance or "click frequency". 

Wikipedia editors are passing judgment daily over what's important or not.  Our children are using what's "out there" as the gospel truth and the foundation of all historical knowledge.  Heck...why do we even have libraries anymore right?  In a few more years, once all old books have been cataloged...we're home free since everything new is electronic first.

Can you remember something that has "become truth" or the common story after so many years of misinformation being published? 

Today the "truth" has become a subjective relevance quotient...with it's own CPM rating.

At our current pace, is it unreasonable to believe that within 50 years our history will be rewritten and edited...cleansed by the Illuminati and Google-ati...in a Bradburian fashion until we have no real history (who would know anyway since we all use the same source) or that it will be ripped from us by the wiki-police? 

I hear the fire trucks coming now...gotta run.   

Red Robin Brand Save!

Some of you will recall a detailed customer service rant about an experience my family and I had at the couple month old Red Robin here in West Des Moines called The Power of One Bad Experience.  I'd like to share with you what's happened since then. 

  • I wrote the piece on Monday October 30 and sent it into RR corporate at 10:05AM.
  • I received an email from Corporate that was copied to a list of additional managers and higher ups at 12:58PM same day, October 30 expressing deep sorrow and regret for what we'd gone through.
  • I received a call from the RR manager at 3:30PM that same Monday 3:30.  Juan Salinas handled this situation as expertly as possible. 
    • He made no excuses
    • Expressed his extreme embarrassment over what had happened
    • Made no attempts to explain away what happened (people calling in sick, etc.)
    • Offered to win us over again and to show us what Red Robin is really all about at our convenience
    • Offered to send us gift cards but encouraged us to come back as a family to be his guests
    • Gave us his cell phone number so he would be sure to be there when we came in
  • We were finally able to schedule our visit for last night the 17th of November.  We arrived and took our booth without telling anyone that we were "the ones here to see Juan". 
  • We were served perfectly by Kristina and introduced to Juan.  He continued to take full responsibility for what happened, explained how he used this as a team building and learning experience, and most importantly...didn't overdose on the "love" giving since he knew it would have come off as "make up love".
  • Finally, the real professionalism and customer service recovery came near the end of our meal when Juan provided us with gift cards and asked that we come back, totally unannounced (undercover) and then report back to him in case our viewpoint was "tainted" by the extra attention we thought were getting on this night.

Now that's fantastic.  Bravo Red Robin!  Let's break this down in simple economic terms...devoid of emotion:

  • Value of a lifetime RR customer:  ~$3k-$15k depending on family size and booze consumption
  • Cost of Recovery for Mitchell's:  $100 (aka the freebies)
  • Net economic gain to RR over lifetime $3k-$15k - $100 = CHA CHING

I would highly recommend that you visit this establishment and please ask for Juan.  Tell him that  you read Doug Mitchell's blog experience and are now certain that Red Robin gets it!  You made a big deposit in the Red Robin brand today Juan and Kristina.

I wish that Bankers Trust would have had a chance to read my post here before my buddy Drew McLellan posted his piece on what a $115 dollar "duh fee" charged to a loyal client can do for your  brand image!  Bankers surely would have understood the economic "lifetime value" of a client...right?

Do you think that Red Robin and Bankers Trust are a bit more interested in what blogs can do to support your branding?  Doing a Google search on Red Robin customer service yields 4th place for me on my original rant. I'm just ahead of a very nice announcement touting Red Robin's use of Six Sigma through partnership with GE Capital to improve milk shake quality.  I didn't try for that or expect it...but it's happening.  I hope this post ranks even higher.