Monday, February 25, 2013

google glass...what's the big deal?

so i don't know about you, but i want google glass....but why?

simply put, i'm a bit of a technophile. i like them, i like technology... i during the course of my life i have bought and sold so much tech - not to mention thrown it out - that i've lost dollar count.

but what is google glass really gonna do? and is it worth adopting first generation technology? question one, who knows what they are gonna do, or ultimately what they will do - they aren't the pop up display that we see in minority report and other movies, but it's close, and might provide the foundation for those technologies to come into existence in the coming years.

answer two, probably not worth it, especially at a price tag of $1,500. but how cool would it be to be able to brag that you've got a pair? that's at least worth $1,000. but what are we going to do with them, besides look like we're crazy, and only a quarter of a star trek visor on - well remember siri? how for weeks after the virtual assistant was introduced everyone was asking siri what time it was, what's the weather like or any number of questions that didn't (and still don't) work? and then they turned off siri even though apple tried to make improvements... yeah, that's gonna be google glass, but instead of someone shoving an iphone in your face to show you siri's results, google glass is gonna be on your face...and in your email, and in your twitter and facebook feeds and all over the place...frankly i can't wait! i can't wait to show you a video of me on vacation in disney world this fall, or my commute, or my time at the gym, or playing with the dogs... oh yeah, you're gonna hate me...

but here is the downfall that i see for google glass...if we all thought pictures of food and meals on facebook was annoying, wait for the videos! wearers cutting into a steak, putting the silverware down, then putting the steak on the fork...the raising of the fork to the wearer's mouth - and then the frame going up and down while they chew like some half-crazed muppet....

pass the sea sick pills.... are we really prepared for the blair witch food project?

technology is just too good...and fast

today, was supposed to be a momentous day - we were to launch a new "day zero" in our lifecycle campaign. it wasn't the final design, more of a proof of concept to get things rolling and be able to argue with design for a different layout and template.

weeks of hard work had been put in this project - finding content, writing content, handcoding the emails...all in a effort to customize messaging to twenty-two segments, and two brands. yes you read that right, a total of forty-four emails.

the emails look good, they work on principle and are loaded in the email tool, so what's the problem? the technology is too good.

here's what i mean by that. we use a great tool, and we integrate that with salesforce like many other companies, to create a great nurture campaign series. we lead score on the back end, and we also assign different internal contacts to "speak" to the prospect. but all of that happens too quickly!

we started to test - the team went to the web, filled out the web form, and got them customized email and messaging. the first round of testing was great! then we had some members of the team fill out the form again - some members deleted themselves out of the database before filling the form again, others didn't. those that were "fresh" prospects worked as expected. those who were repeat prospects had a different experience. the subject line was correct, the tokenized content was correct, but the dynamic customized content was the same as what was originally sent to them.

so what happened? when the first email was sent the processes looked like this:

  1. the web form is submitted
  2. the tool receives the submitted information
  3. the database is updated with the new information
  4. the tool builds and sends the email
when the existing prospect resubmits the web form, the process looks like this:

  1. the web form is submitted
  2. the tool receives the submitted information
  3. the tool builds and sends the email
  4. the tool updates the database
do you see where the error is occurring? the tool is too fast in the way it's processing the information when it needs to update a current prospect. therefore the tokenized information and subject line show up properly, but the dynamic content is what is being funneled into the build process to quickly, without the record updating.

so, how do you deal with this new opportunity? there are a few different options that you can try. first off, you need to know that to discover an issue like this you need to do multiple tests and multiple q-a sessions. try to break the system. and if you discover an issue like we have, turn it into a marketing opportunity. possible solutions we are looking at:

  • changing the timing of the email send - if we put a wait step in the email logic, then the tools, scoring, and back-end processes will catch up to each other...this of course will have an effect on the user experience since receipt of the email will no longer be instantaneous. 
  • look at all the possibilities - is tokenized content or dynamic content that is causing the problem, and can it be corrected by swapping out either
  • think outside the box and look for ways to accomplish the additional requests for information in a unique way

the overall moral of this posting though is to test, test, and test again. look for ways to not just accomplish what you are looking for - in this case delivery of a custom email based on an attribute - but for ways to break the system. think like your users... if they don't get the email in a few seconds after submitting they'll resubmit, especially if they want the information; this could break the logic. they'll submit a different attribute to get additional information, shortly after the first submission, this could break the logic. so in other words, don't just test - break the system.

Friday, February 15, 2013

your email sucks - more email marketing mistakes

cut and paste - has ruined more
than one email!
today i got this email. and it's one of those things that we all have done and learn the hard way... to make sure that our subject lines are spelled properly, email marketers will often take that subject line and cut and paste the text into word or another word processor and run spell check on it. then without thinking, (i have even done it) you take and cute and paste that text into your sending tool. it looks fine right?

the problem is, that most of the sending tools need or use "plain text" and regardless of how plain a font you select with the word processor, it will always pull some amount of formatting over with it when you paste it into the tool, and it is most often associated with punctuation. in this case, this email from calvin klein (it's so cool that he and i exchange email....) should have had a subject line that said "40% Off - President's Day Sale Event", instead the apostrophe was a "pretty one" in word and it got pasted into the tool, which resulted in this subject line flub.

Of course like all "errors" with email marketing, they are completely platform specific and won't always render on all emails.

until next time...and example number 4...

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

there's deliverability and then there's deliverability...

recently, i have entered into another round of "battle of the expert"...why does it always come down to that?

as email marketing professionals we all understand that there is deliverability and then there's deliverability, what i mean by this is that there is getting the email on to the isp's server, but then there is getting it into the inbox. our enterprise sending tool shows us the server to server deliverability, which without bounce codes and so forth, you get 100% deliverability. but what about getting into the inbox?

that's where tools like returnpath come into play. they measure your inbox rates by seeding your send and determining where those seeded sends ended up, spam folder or inbox. in this case, because of dkim and domain key issues (on a single sender profile), 30% of our list landed in the spam folder of our gmail recipients.

now, we talked to our information technology department who owns the tool (why, we still don't understand!) and it is completely obvious that they don't understand the difference deliverability and inbox rates. even though i told them the reason- that they had set up the sender profile incorrectly and used the wrong dkim and domain keys - when they spoke with the tool's tech support, tech support told the techies that we we delivered 100%. which technically isn't wrong. but without looking at the returnpath seeds and understanding how it works you don't get the complete picture. now i am locked into an email battle where i get an email that no lie says "so-and-so is getting email from us and she is on gmail". seriously? she is one person, who works for us, and has gotten our email for the past few years - of course she gets the email....she has "whitelisted" us by default. she isn't one of seeds that comes from a service that we pay to monitor sends for us. so yes mister techie, of course, that logic makes complete sense. not! (battle of the expert, round five.)

the whole point of seeded sends and tools like returnpath are to get a better indication of the health of your email program and your sending ip's. not to have to argue with an information tech person the difference between deliverability and inbox rates. one day we'll get this taken care of settled, but in the mean time, you just get frustrated with having to explain your job and your expertise everyday.

Monday, February 11, 2013

your email sucks

this is my first entry for "your email sucks" - which is really just a holding place for examples
of bad emails that i have gotten.


i do email marketing for a living, so i think i am signed up on every single mail list out there.
i don't sign up for them so that i can stalk them to find mistakes for this page, but i sign up
for email so that i can get inspiration for templates and see trends and stuff. that said, i do
see some screwed up ones.


next time you should
include a subject line
example 1
issue: simply put, they forgot to include the subject line


fix: this is obviously an easy fix, slow down, check your work and make sure you put in a subject line.

of course, i'll be honest with you, when i see stuff like this, i am more apt to open the email, so perhaps it was a test by some geeky marketing pro out there.

...but wait there's more scroll down to see the next example...





don't let sliced images
become sliced up by
gmail and other email
clients
example 2
issue: images appear "broken" within the header table

fix: this one is a bit tricky, and it is one of those that as soon as you figure out how to fix it, it becomes seconding when you're coding.

the image of the woman is sliced into three parts, and those images are set into different cells of the table - which is the correct way to code an email (oh the things we have to do as email coders!). here's where it gets tricky, the coder probably put 'padding="0"' in his/her code, and they are halfway there.

what they need to do next is add the style tag to the img code, so that it looks like this: <img style="display:block;" src="filename" width="x" height="y" border="0" /> . if this was an image that extended across the email, you can actually make it a bit more mobile friendly by leaving off the height, this will auto-collapse the email if the reader has their images turned off, ensuring that your message is fully visible.

using the style portion (text in red) makes gmail stop "slicing your images", and will make the sliced images appear as one big image, ultimately increasing readability and shortening the rendered email by a few pixels, which on mobile screens can make all the difference in the world.

this one really pains me though. i'll admit it, i like ikea - i like their design, the concept of the store/company, and the value. so when i see stuff like this, i just wan to scream at someone because its such an easy fix - if you know about the problem, meaning you need to test across different platforms and clients. once you see the issue, all you have to do is google for a solution.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

this blogger is quoted

originally posted on the posterous site. july 25, 2011 at 03:45:25pm

recently, at work, the team i work with completed a beta program for one of our vendors -- not so much a vendor as they are a consultant and partner in the email marketing game.

yours truly was instrumental in providing data, insight, and direction with the project. as a result, i'm quoted in the case study/press release and have had a few interviews with industry leading bloggers and blogs - as those are published, i'll post links.

just thought you'd like to know, and yes...i am blowing my own horn.

click on the link to read the whole press release:

military.com gains visibility into mobile's impact on marketing campaigns with return path's campaign insight

how i met porter gale or the power of microblogging

originally posted on the posterous site. july 24, at 02:49:00pm

it’s been a long time since i have blogged and for my “loyal following” i apologize…i do have a few more in the pipeline, and i knowhow you hang off my every word…lol.

that said, here is my latest entry...

tonight (june 23rd), i saw in action the power of what i do (e-marketing, social media) in action. sure i know, you’re saying, “but kirk, you do this for a living, and if you were a skeptic, what the heck am I [the reader] doing here?”. to some degree, you bet, sure i was a skeptic about the usefulness of social media and e-marketing, some times seeing both as anything more than ways to get coupons and well frankly, twitter as nothing more than the “collective’s state of consciousness”, if you were to see my inbox, you’d agree – if i get another email about my faulty hip-replacement, i’m gonna break some one’s hip –more over, what the hell kind of websites do I visit i end up on anyway…

anyway, back to the subject matter at hand… as i’m writing this, i am in san francisco airport, waiting to get on a plane to get home to dc. i should clarify, i am waiting stand-by to get on a flight to get home to dc.

i called the airline this morning, told them that i wanted to know if there was the ability to fly stand-by home this evening, instead of flying home tomorrow morning. the call center agent told me sure, there is plenty of room on the flight, and to just show up at the airport two hours before the flight. i repeated to the rep, “so there is more than likely enough room to go home this evening; i just need to show up two hours before the flight. yes was the response (or something along those lines).

i worked all day, in our san francisco office, and went back to the hotel and packed. checked out, and shared a cab – yes i know…i shared a cab, with a guy who snored the whole ride! got to the airport, and went to the virgin america gate. it was here that i met abby, a wonderfully sweet agent who started processing the stand-by request and then it happened. abby said to me that the policy is that you can only fly standby on the same day of the flight you’re already scheduled for, and since i was supposed to fly out tomorrow on the first flight (at 7:00am), i would have to pay the change fee and airfare difference, which was more than $800.00.

i told her that wasn’t what i was told on the phone, and she called over a supervisor. the supervisor said that policy was policy and that no exceptions could be made. abby said that i could call the call center again, and talk to them, and ask them to pull the recording of the conversation and to note it in the file, and then maybe something could be done. i called, talked with franklin, who was not willing to make a concession at all, asked to speak to his supervisor – because at this point i was stranded at the airport, i had already checked out and everything. i got amy. amy talked with me and went in depth about how it is the airport staff’s option to bend the rules and make an exception. i asked her to call the gate agents and speak with them, and she said that since it was their decision, there was nothing she could do. i explained to her that since it was her employee who gave me misinformation, that she should as a courtesy call the gate and tell them and try to advocate on my behalf. she was having no part of it and said that I could tell them to call her (well the call center) and that they would pull the recording of my call this morning and verify that misinformation was given and that it would still be up to the airport staff.

i went back to abby, told her, and she called over a different supervisor. the supervisor said to abby, hold on, there may be something we can do – i need to make a phone-call. the supervisor returns, and says to abby in passing – the decision has been made, he’s not getting on – and walks away.

it was at this point that i took to twitter. i’ve been following porter gale for a while now, she is the vice president of marketing for virgin america. and i tweeted to her and to virgin america that i couldn’t believe that they wouldn’t stand behind the call center’s misinformation and that i was now stranded at the airport. friend’s picked up the cause too. it was then that I walked down to the usairways counter, having found a same day flight for $400.00 to dca. talked with the rep from usairways, she told me to book it online cause if i purchased it from her, it would be an additional $35.00 since i was dealing with a real person and told her how nice it was to hear the full story from an airline and i proceeded to call virgin america again, to ask, nay beg, for them to refund the airfare home, so that i could purchase the ticket with usairways. while i was explaining the issue, another call came into my cell and it was a 650 number, and i answered. it was abby the gate agent.

abby said to me, mr. gray we have your stand by ticket, can you please come back down to the gate and pick it up. i walked all the way back to terminal two, and found abby who had the ticket printed for me, told me what i needed to do and where i needed to go. and then in what had to be the most professional move i have ever seen by anyone in a service oriented job, came from behind the counter, said that she was sorry for what had happened and shook my hand.

it was then that i looked at my phone when I got in line for security and there were a bunch of messages from virgin america and porter gale in my feed saying to please contact them to explain what was going on, that they were sorry for the delay and that they knew it was being taken care of. i immediately tweeted that i knew that virgin america really was the rockstar airline that i knew they were.

i got to the gate, had dinner, checked in with the gate agent, and gave her my “get out of jail” pass, and saw her pick something up and put it behind that (it was actually my boarding pass). and she said to me, if we have any seats, we’ll call you up 20 minutes prior to loading the plane. i waited around, and low and behold, I was actually given a prime seat – aisle, and allowed to board with the rest of the passengers – in fact in zone 1. the first time ever! i asked the gate agent if my twitter conversation was in my notes, she smiled and politely said, i don’t see anything out of the ordinary and a wink.

all said, the morale of this story, and one that we are taught from day one as customer service reps or marketers is that good service goes unrecognized – and if it does, you know you’ve done your job. bad service though on the other hand…well that one person who received bad service will tell ten people…and they’ll tell 10 and so on. and that was before the days of social media, i told 130+ people about my poor experience and my friends told untold numbers of people. in a matter of minutes, a rock-star reputation can be turned into one of a snake-oil salesman. so it is important to respond to clients and to naysayers alike in a timely matter on social media, the comments and the feelings get communicated at 4G speeds (okay i carry an iphone4, so at 3G speeds) to every corner of the planet, and they live on forever on some server somewhere.

a recent survey conducted by forrester on behalf of dell found that companies that implement and engage customers through social media see positive business returns in customer satisfaction and loyalty metrics1. meaning that people may not still tell more than one person about the good service you’re providing, but they will and can tell hundreds and thousands more about the bad service and that is a public conversation, and they need to be cleared up as soon as possible.

in my case, virgin america did turn out to be the rockstar company that i knew they were, that they would do the right thing, and porter gale and the others at virgin america knew that by doing this, and staying on top of the conversation, that the level of engagement would net them a customer for life. they know that “you have choice when it comes to air travel…and they thank you for flying virgin america”.

so do yourself a favor, as a marketing professional, develop a social media plan, and follow it and engage your customers and clients. as a customer or client, use the power of the internet sparingly. a wise uncle once said, “with great power, comes great responsibility”.

follow porter gale on twitter
follow virginamerica on twitter

1Survey Reveals Social Media Listening and Engaging Pays Off. Retrieved from, http://socialmediatoday.com/steve-olenski/320749/survey-reveals-social-media-listening-and-engaging-pays on July 23, 2011.

it’s not always your content...

originally posted on the posterous site. february 14, 2011 at 09:00:00am

this is another one of professional posts, so my friends probably won’t want to read this one, but my other readers might....

that said, the business of e-newsletters and e-mail marketing is a constantly changing, constantly challenging one. it is a delicate balance of relevant content and reader engagement…you are constantly looking for the appropriate teaser text that won’t give away the story, but will engage the reader and entice them to click on the link to read the rest of the article, or fill out a form, or drive impressions.

but what do you have left once you have optimized the delivery of your emails and get great content from a staff of content providers that “get it”? have you considered that maybe your templates are stale, and by stale i mean overexposed, old, and no longer pleasing to the eye of your audience? we did, but there was always some excuse not to change out the templates - time, resouces, money, access to the build/send system...

there in lies the biggest challenge for marketing people, how to change out your template, while retaining your open rates and more importantly your brand. just like a favorite beverage we all can pick out periodicals more by branding then we can title – yellow rectangles, big red serif fonts…the elements of brand are visible in the print world, why not the digital world? our websites are all branded and prominently display the logo – don’t sacrifice all that hard work by not carrying it over in your digital communication.

when i started at my current job, our templates were probably four years old, yet our website’s look was probably only two. the templates were nothing short of stale, dated and well while utilitarian, just not up to snuff and surely not compatible with a mobile viewer. sure our readers were still opening them, the content is always compelling, timely and well written, but lets face it…our communication’s presentation, was like going to a five-star restaurant and getting your bacon-wrapped filet mignon served to you on a paper plate…presentation is everything.

we worked with our in-house creative services team to come up with new templates, ones that would incorporate suggestions made by our email consultant, return path, that would build on best practices and ones that are consistent with our brand.

guess what happened? click thru to the website, time spent on the website and the number of pages per visit increased by thirty-plus percent. that thirty-plus percent also lead to the significant increase in the number of on-site ad impressions increasing, which resulted in an increase of income – and that was for just one set of templates, we currently have ten templates that we send out in any given week. imagine what new templates for all of those would do! oh and guess what all those clicks say to your readers isp’s? that your reader is not only opening the email, but that they are engaged with your newsletter and better the engagement, the better the inbox rate.

how did you do it you ask? well it’s simple, good old a/b testing. in our test cases though it was a/b/c testing, followed by a/b testing. because we have an in-house design team, and at the time i was working on a digital design diploma at the time and needed to demonstrate grid design for a class, we came up with three options (creative services did two and i came up with one), because we didn’t have to pay an outside design firm. the first two rounds of testing were all three templates and the control (the original template). after looking at click thru and open rates on those, we were able to clearly get rid of one of them, and we ran a final round of a/b testing to confirm our suspicions. so basically all told, within a month of getting the new templates from design, we had chosen and implemented the final design.

somethings to keep in mind when you are testing and developing:

  1. what do your readers respond too? you want the templates to be branded enough so that they know that it’s your communication, but also fresh enough to engage the reader. 
  2.  organization is important. organizing your newsletter consistently either in sections or in a logical order, leads to ease of reading for your reader and better engagement of that reader.
  3. mobile versions. we have not adopted mobile versions, but we know that our mobile readership is actually higher than the stats you read online and what are considered “industry standard”. if you haven’t adopted a mobile website or mobile templates, keep your templates “skinny”. meaning that they shouldn’t be so wide that readers have to scroll to the right to read everything on their mobile device. iphone does a great job of making things readable on the small screen, but know that it’s not fail proof and that sometimes your emails may not render properly.
  4. an email consultant like return path is not your enemy when it comes time to redesign your templates. but wait, doesn’t my consultant just monitor my inbox rates and look for deliverability issues? well sure they do that, but our consultant actually renders our emails in different browsers and different clients and publishes that image for us. this report was beyond helpful to us. we already knew the make up of our database and that report told us where our coder needed to spend his time.
  5. use marketing best practices  along with your own. it's your program, they are your readers and you know what they respond too.
  6. brand yourself. carry over your site's brand to your email -- keep colors, fonts, imagery all consistent from one outlet to another. if your newsletter has a cool name that is recognizable  use it in the subject line, but remember that it takes away from the subject line length, 35 - 50 characters/five to six words.

so for me, it wasn’t our content, it was just that our templates were designed to be viewed on a commodore 64 and just not doing our site, our content providers or our readers any service. the moral of the story is to look at best practices, follow the trends, watch technology blogs for emerging technology and talk with your team – your analytics people, your content providers and if you have an email consultant talk with them about things and to finally consider “it’s not your content, it’s the paper plate it’s being served on”.

i am a designer - it feels official now

originally posted on the posterous site. january 29, 2011 at 01:01:16am

in may of 2009, i started a digital design program with art institute of pittsburgh. i finished the program in november of 2010. it was an intensive program, one that taught me the principles of design and how to use the adobe suite of products. but like so many other things, even though the program was done, it didn’t seem like I had accomplished anything because i hadn’t gotten the magical “piece of paper”. it finally arrived yesterday! so for all intents and purposes, i am a designer now. some of the work i produced for that program is in the student portfolio section of this blog.

…begin online education soapbox rant…

it took me about 18 months to complete the program, which was another successful attempt at online education. there are naysayers of online education and the “predatory practices” of schools, promising high-paying jobs and degree acceptance, and in some instances there is some truth in that. but i think that the same thing could be said to traditional brick and mortar schools everywhere.

why would i say that? well think about it… it starts with everyone saying to you from a young age that education is important, and that is not a lie. education is important. but education isn’t accessible for everyone, due to any number of root causes: cost, test/grade requirements, student-drive and timing. online education (as a whole, looking at the “industry”) when accredited by one of the accreditation boards, and coupled with an informed student, work well and fill the "root cause void". these institutions have met the same programmatic requirements for education as the brick and mortar schools, problems arise when students aren’t informed and don’t make proper decisions.

the program is going to be intensive – you are expected to complete sixteen weeks of study in a third to half the time, the time is cut but amount of work isn’t. you are required to do all of the work, do a lot of reading and do a fair amount of self instruction and it does take dedication, self-control and determination. i am not sure that all students who enroll in online education understand that, and they get in fixated with the possibility of bigger paychecks. this amount of unanticiapted work is probably what contributes most to the high dropout rates.

now that being said, the high dropout rate -- as high as 57%1 -- isn’t helping employers understand the value of an accredited diploma from an online university. i know this first hand. i sat in an interview with a president of a company for a marketing position and he said to me “university of phoenix huh? never heard of it…did you get your diploma from the back of rolling stone?”. this person was phd educated from the university of maryland and was a professor there. my reply was, “they are the largest for profit university in the u.s. and interestingly enough, the catalyst for the university of maryland founding the university of maryland, university college – the online education arm of your alma mater and employer – and since you are done reviewing my credentials, we’re done with this interview…i appreciate your time.” and i left. the recruiter called me, i told her what happened – I didn’t hold back about what a jerk this guy was. she called me back two days later saying that they wanted to talk further and offer me the job. i politely declined.

that being said, no one is doing anyone any favors to sure up the reputation of online education or educators. investors in online education see profits and stock prices; recruiters (probably) see salaries tied to numbers (and see commissions), ill-informed students see a quick way to a better life while failing to see the required amount of work (‘the forest for the trees’) and dropout. and because of all that some employers “just don’t’ get it” and don't interview or hire online education graduates (even though they may be older, have expereince and the required degrees). then there is the worst set of offenders...those of us who don’t speak up in defense of our hard work, the quality of instructors and education, or our school like those students who graduated from traditional schools. in all honesty it is a lot easier to defend a school with a winning basketball team then it is it to defend a school based on the amount of the work i did… in my opinion, online education is still a fledgling industry, and it’s going to take time for a full understanding (and informed students) and acceptance of the online education and the diploma.

…end soapbox…

anyway, that all being written, i now have my digital design diploma in hand, and feel like it’s official and that “i r a designer”.

goal two in the career path accomplished, lol. (for goal three i have even gone back to school, online education – art institute of pittsburgh again – for an additional bachelors in web design and interactive arts…check back in another year for that sheepskin!).

1 dropout rate at 16 for-profit colleges was 57%. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-09-30/for-profit-college-dropout-rate-of-57-is-likened-to-casino-odds-by-harkin.html

e-mail marketing and the "reader engagement statistic"

originally posted on the posterous site. january 17, 2011 at 04:23:00pm

this is my first professional post, if you’re a casual reader – skip this one, you’ll be bored out of your mind.

as most of my readers may know, my chosen profession is in e-marketing and email marketing. this industry of course continues to evolve and grow – and because it can be such an instant gratification form of marketing, it is here to stay.

email is a daily part of almost everyone’s life (i say almost because i got my mother an ipad and showed her how to use e-mail and yet, i’ll send an email and get a phone call in return…moving on). pingdom reports that there were 107 trillion emails sent last year, and pingdom assumes that 89% of those were spam. meaning that 262 billion spam messages were sent by, well spammers, world wide1. i am of the mindset that 200 billion of those spam messages ended up in my personal email box, i mean seriously what sites have i visited that would put me on a list telling me that the hip replacement surgery i recently had could have included a faulty medical device that has had a recall issued? (for the record, i’m 36 and as far as i know, i have never had hip replacement surgery). to put this in to some sort of perspective, in 2009 usps processed 177 billion pieces of mail2.

that being said, and with those statistics being predicted, the last quarter of 2010 found “user engagement” being tossed around as the latest buzzword and the latest fire that e-marketing professionals needed to put out. needless to say, all of this email puts a huge drain on the resources of the internet – the servers at the isp level, the end users’ computer and inbox; all of these things are affected by all of this email.

in response to all this spam, our friends over at google in late 2010 introduced the “priority inbox”. this setting looks at your gmail box, and determines things like: who you email the most, what messages you open the most, what keywords spark your interest, your reply habits and if you classify the message as important and unimportant. eventually, the gmail box becomes so good at this that “like messages” are presented first to the reader3. great! you are helping me as a person to better organize my box, awesome. but, as an e-marketing professional, you’ve made my work that much harder.

so how do i know that my lists are actually working? how can i help google (and the other isp's that will follow with similar options) to make sure that my email is not classified as spam or pushed to the bottom of the box and never seen? sure, i’m getting into the email box (my monitering software/consultant tells me i am), but i need open rates to determine if the members of my list are actually reading it, and to deliver the promised impressions to my advertisers.

with the company i work for, we are lucky. we get into email boxes, and have been pretty successful getting in and staying in those in-boxes and most of the time we keep a low complaint rate. but we are still concerned with user engagement and always thinking of ways to measure it.

the first way we look at engagement is since our newsletters include dart/dfp /doubleclick by google served ads, and our emails tend to be long; think we have content way below the fold; and by using the reports from dart/dfp /doubleclick by google we are able to look at the number of impressions delievered per ad (i.e. is the reader scrolling below the fold) and since they are arranged vertically down the “page” we can extrapolate where the biggest number of readers clicked off the email and didn’t come back.

the second one which requires less work/calculations is to use not one but two open pixels in your email. open pixels, i have found can be interesting “creatures”. some systems will record the pixel fire regardless of where it appears in the code, in the header, in the body…just about anywhere. our system isn’t like that – our system is a homebrew system, so while it has a number of quirks -- we also have the ability to make those quirks work for us at times. our system will only record the pixel when it is “scrolled over” i.e. the open pixel at the top will fire because it is “seen” in the preview-pane or when the email was actually opened, the bottom pixel won't fire until it "appears" in the preview/reading pane, meaning the reader actually scrolled down the page. for some of our email templates, since we knew this, we place open pixes at both the top and bottom of the template, which results in two open numbers. the first being the top (which is what we use to report impressions) and the second the number of readers who scrolled to the bottom -- or far enough for the pixel to fire. doing some math, we can determine the delta, and therefore know the percentage of readers who didn’t scroll to the bottom, or the percentage of people who aren’t fully engaged with your email.

sure this isn’t scientific, but it does help you to understand more about reader engagement and what needs to be done to get readers to look at the full email or at the least get overall engagement up to a point that google, hotmail or aol say is acceptable. i am of the mindset that email marketing is more art than it is science, and that there will always been a “few ounces of assumption” and at least one missing data point because you simply can’t obtain it (especially with a homebrew system like ours).

we have found, prior to updating our templates, we had about a 30% drop off on those emails (we have one email that is all headlines at the top, and the story and headline is way below the fold that enjoys an 85% drop off rate, it is the next template to be redone) and now with new templates and better delivery of content – using dedicated sections – we are seeing about a 16% drop off rate. which was hugely surprising for us during the testing phase because we expected it to stay constant because we were increasing the number of stories/content by probably double what was being sent out before (i.e. more exits). the other surprise, is that traffic back to our website increased by 30%, increasing clicks, time spent on the site, impressions and ad revenue.

to recap, the world sends a lot of email per year (most of it spam) and to cope with the increased volumes major isp’s are coming up with processes and products that make the inbox owners' life “easier”, but the role of the e-marketer harder, but you can get the information you need to get better engagement, cleaner lists and higher in-box numbers. we’re marketers, we went into this field because we are creative by nature (analytical by necessity) and you just need to put that creativity towards problem-solving sometimes. just put your mind too it…

i’d love to hear your comments and suggestions on reader engagement and email marketing, feel free to comment below.

1 Internet 2010 Numbers. http://royal.pingdom.com/2011/01/12/internet-2010-in-numbers/
2 USPS Postal Facts. http://www.usps.com/communications/newsroom/postalfacts.htm
3 Gmail Priority Inbox Beta. http://mail.google.com/mail/help/intl/en/priority-inbox.html

spam, car dealerships and cutting ties

originally posted on the posterous site. january 15, 2011 01:40:00pm

it’s been a long time since i have posted, so first off, happy new year to those that read this blog and then i do have some more blog entries in the pipeline, one that is professional in nature, and then some other personal experience ones. i’ll work on being better about them this year. for today’s post, i wanted to relay the “personal struggle” i have had with the dealership who sold me my car, a 2008 mini cooper convertible. that’s right, i bought the car almost 3 years ago now, and this battle still continues to this day. i have taken it to the internet though – facebook, twitter, this blog…so enjoy the back story. i will preface this with the fact that i first tried to enjoy…my break-up letter:

attention fans and friends of mini of sterling: this dealership is beyond deplorable. i purchased a 2008 mini from them, and ahmed shaker was my representative. ahmed and i exchanged several (and i mean like 25+) emails when i ordered "kirby", telling him that i wanted the car alarm, that i wanted racing stripes and that under no circumstance was there to be a mini of sterling logo on my car unless they wanted to pay me an annual fee for advertising their dealership. he understood my concerns and said it was all taken care of. the day i went to pick up kirby, there was no alarm, no racing stripes and guess what, a big fat logo on the back of the car for the dealership on the car. ahmed shaker went home sick before my appointment to pick up my car, he didn't call me to tell me that he was doing so, nor did he tell anyone in the dealership that i was coming to pick up the car. reluctant to take the car, I did so anyway...the financing person called ahmed shaker at home and told him my issues. he then got on the phone with me, and told me that he would take care of it and that by the end of the week all would be fixed with the car, of course the slimy car salesperson in him then said to me "you are gonna give me all 5's on the survey right?"

more than a week goes by, and nothing is done to fix my car. mini sends me the survey and i fill it out, giving him less than 5's. two days after the survey is submitted, i get a call from ahmed shaker, and I am told that all of the "parts are now in" and that he wants to come get the car so that he can deliver it properly. great!

ahmed shaker brings a loaner car to me, rolling up into the parking lot of my office, gets out of his car and greets me with "you f*cking cost me my commission, you cost me three-f*cking thousand dollers, what the f*ck man?” (i don't know about you, but when someone "f*cks me" they generally say hello first...) he cussed me out. this guy literally came to my office and cussed me out because i didn't rate him as an excellent sales person. this is the stuff of a seinfield episode.

i called the management of the dealership, and ahmed was supposedly put on suspension for a few days while they decided if they were going to keep him or not -- because he was the number 2 salesperson in the country. i was also told that to make up for it, they would deliver the car properly and would give me a dinner at morton's. the dinner never happened, but i did get the car delivered to me the way it was ordered, though they did scrape up the leather wrapped steering wheel, which had to be repaired.

when kirby went in it’s first service, i asked about the dinner, and was told that the certificate had been issued and mailed to me and that they would call morton's to see if it had been redeemed. apparently it never had been, probably lost in the mail somewhere and they said that they would just give me a "we're really sorry gift" – an american express gift card. well that never happened either.

i called them and told them at that point to forget it and to not contact me again, that passport mini of alexandria was opening soon and that i would take my business to them (which i have and the dealership its simply amazing, i've never been cussed out and i “proudly” display a license plate frame with their name on it – being good marketing people, they simply put it on my car while it was in for it’s first service).

the communication from mini of sterling stopped, and about 9 months ago, mini of sterling/bmw of sterling began spamming me - i have never bought a bmw, and i have no business relationship with them -- other than them being the parent company of mini of sterling.

they (bmw of sterling) used a third party email provider (like constant contact) to mass email people. i unsubscribed from the list and also sent an email to the company and told them this story and that i should have never been put on their mailing list. apparently, they dropped mini/bmw of sterling and the dealership took their list to a new email provider, i know this because i got another email from them! i contacted that company and told them the same story and i contacted mini/bmw of sterling's isp and told them the story too.

to this day I still get email from them – just not from the third party vendors -- and I have repeatedly told them to not contact me. last week i got a mailer (snailmail), and this morning, i got an email from a sales person: "dear kirk: i wanted to follow up with you to see if we can set up a time to meet and test drive the cooper. do you have some time to stop by today for a visit?"... seriously follow up on what? it’s clear that I hate these people and they simply don’t know how to break up with someone.

so if you want to run the risk of bad customer service, horrible people that won't keep their promises and make good on their "peace offerings" that will forever taint the way you feel about your otherwise new car, then by all means, purchase a car from mini of sterling. my recommendation is to motor clear of them, go over to passport mini of alexandria and enjoy a true dealership with trained professionals and a group of fun, professionals!

and now, the break-up letter...

dear mini of sterling:

I am not a sadistic person, I know when a relationship is not healthy, and i know when its time to cut the knot that binds us. you on the other hand don’t. please consider the above story of our relationship our restraining order. i am sorry that it has come to his, but your yelling at me so many months ago and your repeated attempts to make things right never came to pass and i simply can not hold onto some shred of hope that you’ll leave me alone. i simply do not have it in me anymore to shrug off the contact and the mail (if beyonce Knowles was writing this letter she would use the words “burning my phone up like a collector”)…you need help and i really hope you get it. don’t worry, the kid is fine and well taken care of and when it comes time to send him off to college (be traded-in) he’ll go to a respectable dealership – not yours.

again once and for all, do not contact me again, if you do then i will have to find the the guy in california that now makes a living suing entities who spam. thanks a lot fot he months of laughs and the years of driving a good car, but i’m really sorry to tell you this, you’re a f*cking a$$hole and it’s over.
*edited to comply with the “branding guidelines” of ‘lostinthedin’, to remove language, but emphasis added through use of bold

tsa pat-downs and the blogger

originally posted on the posterous site. december 4, 2010 at 09:47:00am

okay, i have been absent from the blog-o-sphere for a while, and i apologize for that…and i do have some entries on my to-do list, that i hope to address and write this week, but today’s is about my experiences this morning.

pat-downs. i don’t think in recent history (like the past six weeks) that there has been a hotter topic. and honestly, i have been of the opinion that if you decide to opt out of the full-body scanner for whatever reason, then you should be subject to the pat-down. this procedure is in place to protect our nation’s skies (and in part the economy) and fellow passengers -- all good ideas. all things i have agreed with, and i have questioned under my breath all those people who say that the pat-down is invasive and disturbing…well question no more, i was the subject to a tsa pat-down this morning, and not by choice.

i flew out of washington dulles international airport (iad) this morning bound for san francisco. iad has backscatter scanner technology in place. this contraption uses x-rays instead of radio waves to scan the person, essentially producing a skeletal impression of the body and not the “naked” pictures that so many are upset about.

i will interject here that i do have body piercings – sorry mom – and that one is stainless steel and the other is titanium, and then of course my ears are pierced, i wear sterling silver hoops and have for many years. all of my extra holes are above the belt though.

as i stepped into the backscatter scanner, i did as told, put my feet in the blue boxes, and put my hand above my head, simple – well apparently though for the people in the control tower my mid-section lit up like a christmas tree. as i walked out to the staging area, the tsa agent told me that he needed to get a supervisor. another agent asked me if the four unclaimed articles were mine and proceeded to collect them. i was told that i would have to be patted down.

the supervisor took my items and i followed him to a room off to the left side of the security area. once in the room with two imposing tsa agents, i was told that there was an anomaly in this area, the agent motioning on his own person his crotch. again, none of my anomalies are below the belt. the other agent, the supervisor, told me that he was going to do the pat-down, and explained the procedure to me, where he would use the back of the hand – on my butt – and where he would be using the front of his hand – essentially everywhere else. (so it’s okay to feel my crotch up, but not okay to pinch my ass?)

that said, in this room, you are essentially at their mercy, i started and remained facing the wall, and i couldn’t help but to think the whole time “stranger danger”. there was no way for me to know what was going on behind me, minus the uncomfortable pat-down that was going on. i can say that this disturbed me more than the lack of information, unless i’ve seen you naked or am paying for that kind of touching, i want to see what is going on!

he then came around to the front, all opened palmed, and frankly the leg portion of the pat-down was just as invasive as getting your inseam taken at the tailor, no biggie, until he put his in and around my waist band. in my opinion, he never searched the area where the anomaly was found on the scanner. he left and said that he would be back, that and instructed the other agent to get my name and information.

i asked the agent if this was going to blacklist me, and he said no, that they just needed the information, why would I ask such a thing? oh i don’t know mr. somewhere between security guard and armed police officer, i want to know if now need to be at the airport 3 hours before my flight instead of two – i didn’t say it, but i sure as hell thought it! the only thing i said to him, was that it was probably a piercing and if there was a difference between titanium and stainless steel when they showed up in the scanner, he didn’t know. i will admit that i left the experience shaking, pissed and feeling violated.

now before you comment about this is a procedure that needs to be done and stuff like that, part of me still readily agrees with that but as a consumer and citizen, i deserve to be put at ease, to have questions answered and asked of me – had they asked if i had piercings, we would have skipped the waist band search and I would have willing lifted my shirt and shown it to them. the addition of mirrors in the exam room would have put me at ease cause I would have been able to see what was going on and a better explanation of why my personal information was taken and a copy of the form where my information was recorded would have been nice too.

i fully understand why the pat-down has to happen, but i have to admit that this lack of information and communication from the authorities is quickly moving us in the direction of police state. i’m a polite traveler, i say hello to the tsa agents, i wish them happy holidays, i take my laptop out, i put my shoes on the belt not in a tray – i follow the procedures to a “t”. why can’t i get the same in return? hell, i wasn’t even offered a cigarette after he put his hands down my pants. sure the pat-down is intimidating, and to some degree it should be, but there is a difference between intimidating and “stranger danger uncomfortable”. i guess with the republicans back in control, we can begin to look forward to the further erosion of civil liberties, what’s next gitmo for a failed body scan? of course, tsa will transport you there by bus or boat since you can’t board a plane. i can’t wait for the return flight home…

better living through chemicals

originally posted on the posterous site. september 25, 2010 at 10:20:00am

first off, i know that it has been about a month since i have blogged…for all my loyal fans, i apologize (to all 3 of you), now to move on. i have a list of things i want to blog about – i.e. more postings will be coming soon, but today, looking around my desk i thought as my eyes locked on my medication, that would be a good topic…

most of my friends and co-workers know that i was diagnosed with adhd earlier this year. of course those individuals are the same people that tell you after the diagnosis, “i could have told you that”…gee thanks! other people who find out are always a little taken-a-back, which surprises me… anyway, what prompted me to go to the doctor and have this discussion? i was on a virgin flight across country to san francisco for work, and watched a documentary about adult adhd, and how these individuals struggle with daily life; not just work and home; but the amount of time people with adhd spend looking for keys, trying to remember why they walked into the kitchen, where they put the list that was supposed to tell them the things they needed to do that day, money lost from not paying attention to monthly finances and so forth. dude, can i tell you how many hours over the course of my lifetime that i have spent looking for my keys? my sister pointed out that i should just hang them on a hook by the door, great solution…i would still though spend hours thinking where did I put my keys? that show was a snapshot into my life, one that i hadn’t shared with anyone ever before, because i just thought that was who i am – and i even had/have friends with adhd!

while in my san francisco hotel-room, i took an online assessment, i want to say (not because i didn’t pay attention, but because it was so long ago) that it was a test that basically scored you daily activities and so forth to a possible score of 100, being the “wanna go ride bikes, oh look shiny object” pinnacle. my score, 87. i started to read more and then when i got home a week later, i went to my doc. the nurse brought me the same assessment, but in print, to take and I told her my score from the online version. She was like wow, that’s higher than my kid, i’ll go ahead and put in the script for you because the doc is going to put you on a drug to help you control it for a month and see how things go. my doc comes in and we have quick discussion, and he says yeah you have it…no question.

he put me on vyvanse to help control adhd. that was a friday. I came home that afternoon, took the drug and boom, the “static in my head cut off” and, the drug after all is a stimulant and i was up for probably the next twenty-four hours, lol. if i take the drug after noon, you can pretty much promise me a sleepless night, so i take the pill first thing in the moring, right after i walk the dogs and i’m fine. one thing I like to do, but don’t do enough of it is, is read (between work and school there isn’t a lot of time), and when i do have time, it takes me on average 3-6 months to finish a normal book (there are exceptions to this, the trueblood series took me about a month each and the final harry potter book took me a week, but those are exceptions) – that weekend, i read ‘abraham lincoln vampire hunter’ in just two days. something i have never done.

in addition to being able to read a lot faster and not be distracted, the quality of my work increased; the amount of time it takes to complete most tasks decreased; and i began to enjoy certain aspects of my life and job that i hadn’t before. another thing that happened is that I realized that things that take longer to do are for the most part things that bore me or that I don’t want to do in the first place, before the management of adhd, I just thought it was just something that took longer – so I procrastinate the things i loathe, lol. but we all do…but to finally realize that was a break through! for the most part i am more productive – there are still things that slip by; like taking that real estate salesperson exam which is related to test anxiety and not much else. about three months, the contributions i make at work were rewarded with a promotion, which is always a good thing and allows one to enjoy the other aspects of their life.

so what’s the lesson? this posting is no way meant to be one of those toot-your-own-horn posts that many bloggers do, but hopefully if someone reads this and are prompted to think about adhd and their experiences, then that’s great. if not and some reads this and says kirk we’ve known for years about this, then i’ll answer, you know you could have told me sooner so that so much of my life wasn’t mis-used while i stumbled on this discovery and started to chart a better course. we all get there one way or another, its just that the gps software we use is different.

for more information on adhd check out adda: the attention deficit disorder assocation

is drag a dying artform?

originally posted on the posterous site. august 21, 2010 at 09:22:00pm

i admit it, i have watched rupaul’s drag race (with some devotion) – both seasons - and almost monthly i visit ziegfields, the local drag bar/club here in dc. but i can’t help but to wonder if drag isn’t a dying art form, especially after a recent trip to see the girls.

rupaul him/herself will be 50 this year – she doesn’t look a day over 30. in addition to being a “dude in a dress”, rupaul is a six-foot-seven-inch tall icon that has worked to bridge the gay/straight divide and even probably to some extent the racial divide by being the first (african-american) drag queen signed to be a MAC girl. but is a single icon, regardless of height and accomplishments enough to keep this art form alive? seriously, i can think of only two other mainstream queens, divine (from the original hairspray) and the lady chablis (from garden in the midnight of good and evil) and maybe ann coulter.

ru, as she is called by those close to her, in addition to being a pop-culture icon hosts a reality television show where the average age of a queen on season one was 29, and 28 for season two – but in dc, lets just say that when ella fitzgerald says ‘its all an illusion’ she just might mean it. the camera may add ten pounds but lighting and pancake make-up erase the years.

some of these ladies are pushing careers (in this case a polite way of saying ages) as large as their wigs. don’t get me wrong they aren’t card-carrying members of aarp. the “ladies of illusion” are lovely, capable and “fierce” and if you haven’t seen them, do it! but when these ladies take their final bows, there are going to be some big heels to fill and it seems that there isn’t any new up and coming talent as refined as these ladies to wear them.

the little bit of talent that has presented itself surely doesn’t understand how easy they have it now because of performers like ella fitzgerald, billie ross, rupaul, devine, the lady and others. the queens on drag race seem to be (self-)centered on contracts and extending their fifteen minutes of fame, and there is nothing wrong with that, we all have to eat… but the ladies at ziegfields have a cult following that happily lines up each week while they lip-sync to the latest song by lady gaga, beyonce or ballad from whitney – without corporate sponsorship or drag challenges. some of these ladies even make ends meet with crumpled up singles hurled at them from their adoring fan base, all while wearing a new gown or costume. and all the fan base asks in return is a peck on the cheek or a squeeze of the hand when you take their dollars, though some in my circle of friends end up smelling like “designer imposters” and wearing more lipstick then their high school prom dates did – that’s another blog post all together.

in contrast, and i’m sure that backstage the ladies of ziegfields have their cat-fights and drama, the new face of drag is reality tv. catch phrases such as “i am from chicago”, “was your barbeque cancelled cause your grill is ‘effed’ up” and “don’t ‘eff’ it up” have prime-timed their way into the nomenclature of my circle of friends as easily as “where’s the beef” did in the 80’s. why? because reality tv is unscripted drama served in sixty minute sound bites and we consume it like a fat kid lovin’ cake. this is the new faces of drag?

the reality tv drag queen has left me wondering where is the elegance and performance that i know as drag? when it comes time for our beloved queen’s last application of make-up (you know they’ll look fabulous in a coffin), will this new brand of queen be there for our local club’s stage lip-syncing for singles? or has even this art form become so open that we need to see just how catty gay men in make-up can be to each other? sure a gay man in drag being bitchy to a gay man in the audience is expected and the kind of camp that makes us pee our pants because it’s so funny, but has the world been finally been subjected to enough bitchy gay men out of make-up that we have to exploit the drag illusion?

i don’t fault ru for this at all, it’s how our society has evolved, but perhaps in season three the show may focus more on the struggles that pioneers have overcome and focus on the art form and how these ladies develop cult status and carve livings and evening gowns out of washingtons. look we know that there is drama, but when i go to ziegfields, that’s what i am escaping when i give the queens a dollar...i want tomorrow’s drag queens to be like a vegas buffet – big, over the top, full of surprises, without end – that they leave me full, but wanting more – and most importantly capable of filling the heels of those who lip-synced before them with as much showmanship, elegance and artistry.

a tale of two iphones

originally posted on the posterous site. july 31, 2010 at 05:49:00pm

while i was in san francisco, i returned my iphone 4. why on earth did you do that, especially since you got it on release day after waiting four hours, you ask? the reason was because i don’t have reception (for the most part) when i am home, and more precisely in the man-cave. what did i get instead?

i got the htc evo on sprint. welcome to the world of big screens, 4g service and cheaper bills. for what it is, and for it’s targeted users, it’s a great piece of equipment. while i was in san francisco it worked perfectly – got email, internet access, text messages, and reception…the iphone got great reception there too, surprisingly enough. but…there is always a but isn’t there?

this monday afternoon though, my love affair with the evo began to quickly deteriorate. i’m a digital marketer by profession, and as such i need to be able to see html emails – you know the pretty ones – on my mobile device so that i know that they are readable on mobile devices. the htc evo, and what appears to be most android devices are not able to get html emails via exchange 2003; exchange 2007 and 2010 work flawlessly, but no matter the app or the setting I was unable to get them. strike one.

strike two came in the form of the maps application. while driving, I discovered the maps don’t scroll in the direction that you’re driving – they are all oriented north; the locator arrow points in the direction your are going. i personally find it difficult to navigate like this, i have actually ended up walking the wrong direction waiting for phone to catch the gps signal and that’s when i know I have gone the wrong direction. i have a good sense of direction until you start telling me north, south, east and west…then i’m directionally challenged.

strike three, came in the form of just general disappointment about android and what i can only describe as an operating system that isn’t polished. i found interfaces looked fuzzy and graphically speaking, user interfaces for applications just seemed to look less than professional -- like the developers rushed it to market, knowing that the community of users would fix it. i honestly don’t care if this thing could actually print money and turn into a private plane to take me to private island, without html email, i’m carrying a brick in my pocket.

oh and guess what, no reception on the evo in the man-cave…david says that is due to all the coke zero i drink…

that said, i have returned the evo and gone back to the iphone 4 (sans bumper). now, as much as i hate uncle steve telling me what i can and can not have on my phone, i have come to the conclusion that i am not an open source kinda guy and have come to (over) appreciate the retina-display and the simple interfaces of iphone apps and as you the reader is my witness, as soon as the jailbreak is released for this sucker, it’s on like donkey kong – is there an app for donkey kong?

dealing with the death of main street

originally posted on the posterous site. july 25, 00:55:00am

it’s no secret that I grew up in a small town and now live in the “big city”, and for as much as i didn’t appreciate small town life growing up in it, there are times now as an adult when the death of main street makes the biggest city-living promoter to grieve a little...

this last trip to san francisco, i was lucky enough to explore the city more and see neighborhoods that i hadn’t before. san francisco has it all: comfortable climate, culture, lots-to-do, architecture, a liberal mentality, progressive attitudes, great food, eclectic mix of neighborhoods, and unfortunately like small towns everywhere -- dying main streets.

i started traveling to san francisco in february of '09 when i started with my current employer, and over the course of the last eighteen months or so, portions of market street have continued to sit empty. not being familiar with local politics and the whose-who and what-not, i can only speculate on why these prime locations, continue to sit empty; perhaps it's recession or just bad business venture…the list of potential reasons goes on and on. but i do know that these empty store fronts serve to strangle neighborhoods.

during this trip I was lucky enough to read an article in the san francisco examiner, penned by andrea koskey, that explores the “death of main street” in the neighborhood of north beach. the merchants there are fed-up with these blemishes, and feel that unoccupied stores have a negative effect on the neighborhood. the merchants argue that successful neighborhoods become that way because of the mix of merchants, which in-turn attracts people, making the neighborhood a destination and that foot traffic attracts more merchants – empty store fronts on the other hand deter foot traffic.

the merchants want to enact legislation through the board of supervisors that would make it harder for landlords to take advantage of tax-law loop-holes by fining the property owner based on the length of time the storefront remains empty (some of those storefronts have been empty for years - prior to the recession). great thinking, but i personally think the idea needs to be fleshed out more.

the neighborhood should look at business improvement districts, or bids. bids seem to be the new layer of government these days and are as powerful as home-owner-associations in the residential world. these authorities “equally” tax (if there is such a concept as equal taxation) both commercial property owners and businesses, using the funds to pay for street-level improvements (i.e. plantings and beautification) and for services like street concierges that promote the neighborhood, provide directions, and so forth (if north beach currently has a bid, then please forgive my ignorance).

with the merchants and the board of supervisors working with a bid to fine property owners for empty stores fronts, the neighborhood now has an agency that not only promotes local business, but can manage those fines and funds locally -- instead of them being lumped in with local tax revenues. these fines should be used to jumpstart the neighborhood.

how you might ask? with the bid as fund manager, potential new independent merchants could access local grant funding to establish their new business in that neighborhood. this removes the empty storefront, increases the local tax base for beautification and street-level improvements, and ultimately speeds the transition from sketch to destination. existing businesses could even tap into these funds, through low-interest long-term loan programs, to expand their businesses into empty storefronts.

i applaud the merchants of north beach for the idea-seed of fining absentee landlords and those responsible for the neighborhood blight, but that’s not solving the problem. the merchants of north beach should not only look at punishment for those who are killing main street, but they (and merchants everywhere) should consider the opportunities that come with punishment. fining and possibly over-fining landlords is only going to turn empty storefronts into empty storefronts with for-sale signs and further muddy the often love/hate relationship that merchants can have with their landlords.

but, using those fines to give independent business owners a start would drive new business and jobs, which begets filled store fronts (and happy landlords), which begets foot traffic, which begets destination status and merchant profits.

everyone wins in the end with that solution, not just local government, who lets face it, has a hard time balancing a check-book as is.

the funniest thing i have heard while in san francisco (this trip)

 originally posted on the posterous site. july 19, 2010 at 11:13:00am

i've seen a bigger engine in a smart car...

friends don't let friends drive on center dividers

originally posted on the posterous hosted site. july 19, 2010 at 11:06:00am

well, actually apparently we do.

i'm here in san francisco for work, got in on saturday, and spent time with a former co-worker - she's gotten a new job and moved on - and we had a great time.

saturday night, we went out dancing and had a great time! really did, her friends were fun, and the dancing -- once i knew the songs, easily caused me to sweat the cider away. but i will say this, for an 80's bar, well lets just said i have fillings older than some of the patrons...

the cab ride home was fun - cab driver was playing mash-ups, one of which was miley cyrus...yes readers at 1am, we were rockin the cab to "party in the usa"...we arrived home and all was well...things didn't stop on sunday morning either

sunday morning the sun rose on san francisco, and we decide to go to "kate's kitchen" in lower haight. it was a good choice - southern organic food...if you wrap your mind around that one.

but on the way there, things became uncontrollably funny (i'll preface this with no one was hurt, and no property was damaged). you see the person who was driving is one of the most responsible people i know - smart, level-headed, sensible - so what happened next can only be described thusly...have you ever been to disneyland/world and ridden autotopia/tomorrowland speedway? you know -- the go-carts with the steel rail in the middle of the road so you can't just go anywhere? well my responsible friend was driving on what obviously is a new street for her, and became fascinated with something, and didn't hear me say "red light, red light, red light". the next thing i know, from the left hand lane we make a right hand turn, but only before i hear the oh so familar grind of the center divider, followed by the never-before-accomplished stunt at disney, that's right we jumped the center divider.

you would have thought she was driving a rental because as casually as one would say "it's a rental," she said "good thing it's a four wheel drive." my reply, in-between the laughs was, "you didn't see the red light?" neither of us were concerned about the stunt show that just took place, and thankfully no damage was done. she even confirmed this wehn we got to kate's kitchen by checking the tire and then stereotyping me saying "kick the tire you're a guy, you'll know what it should feel like", i was like "um, it's round and black and on this car they are expensive...that's about all I know about tires."

her stunt show became the running joke for the better part of the day, as we road around the streets of san francisco...again all is well and no one was hurt, but i will say this, my bet is that my responsible friend trades in the car soon because the tire is scrapped up...lol

holy crap...what a morning

originally posted on the posterous hosted site. july 17, 2010 at 11:06:00am

for those of you who don't know me, if you ask my friends they will tell you that (1) i'm a great guy (2) i'm a bit off-center and (3) holy crap he goes from zero to d-bag in 3 seconds.

yeah, that's the kind of morning i've had. honestly there is nothing that will bring out my alter-ego (number 3) quicker than the parking garage, besides driving or not obeying the rules... this morning, the garage set me off, and i will be the first to admit it is no one's fault but my own...but in my own defense, i relay this story to you...lol.

the story goes like this... i got up at 4am so that i could get to the airport on time for my work trip to san francisco. and then it happened -- i realized that the clicker for the garage door is in the car. yeap, you guessed it, the monday-to-friday ("pop-culture" reference, bonus points if anyone gets it - tad you can't play) clicker is in the monday-to-friday car. doh! let me explain: we rent a parking space in a residential building that is managed by a commercial company, and at 4am they are closed. they actually close around midnight or something like that, which left me with me with no access, that's right boys and girls...no way to get to kirby (the name of my mini). without the clicker there is only an after-hours number to call.

finally i got through on the number, and am told that it would be 45 minutes to an hour before someone could come out and let me in -- that there were ten other people ahead of me (but wait, i'm a monthly contract holder doesn't that result in some sort of priority and customer service -- ah-um that would be a big nooooo).

needless to say, i was flying out of dulles and still needed to stop by the office, there was no way this was going to work. the oh so polite (not) person on the phone tells me, dare i say informs me, i have one of two choices, "deal with it or take a cab." well at 4am, i have a shorter than normal fuse and well, let's just say if the fcc fined people for bad language on the phone, i'd be in jail right now. i went back in the building, told david about the situation, barked some orders about not parking there anymore (this is not the first problem i have had with them - they park full-size cars in compact spaces all the time and by god i own a mini for a reason, those compact car spots are like a shot of vodka at an aa meeting -- hard to find) anyway, i then proceeded to get my bags, and hit the streets for a cab...

cabs...which when i was dealing with the parking garage, locked doors and bad customer service, were a dime-a-dozen, i saw no less than ten of them. i am not lying, it was like a motorcade of cabs, like macy's was replacing the floats in the thanksgiving-day parade with cars for hire. on my return to the street - not so much...it was like a ghost town. no cabs, no nothing. i finally hailed a cab, but you guessed it, he doesn't take credit cards. so i decide i'll walk three blocks to the hotels to catch a cab there -- no cabs there either. finally one shows up, he takes credit cards and says sure, "i'll take you to your office in tysons and then on to the airport." but there is one catch -- no a/c. normally at 4am, this wouldn't have been a problem, but when i was walking to the hotels it must have been like 80+ degrees and 125% humidity (we had thunderstorms last night, on top of the earthquake that morning - earthquakes? yes i know it's dc, that's another post for another time) and needless to say i must have looked like i just ran a marathon, badly.

i take the no a/c cab, and when we get to my office, i found out that the front door to the building doesn't have a key sensor (that I could find) and i had to run around the building to the parking garage. the taxi-driver must have thought i was a nut. i did what i needed to do, and returned to the waiting un-air-conditioned cab.

but all said we got to dulles with no problems (though i think he might have dozed off once on the toll road) and surprisingly enough it was cheaper to go from the house to the office and then from the office to dulles on the meter then it would have been to go from my house to dulles, the normally stated rate is $60. so i might have to do that again. and now, i'm sitting on a plane on my way to san fran for the week for work blogging about my morning, it can only get better - right? (oh no, second round of turbulence....)

losing touch with the american dream and the golden rule

originally posted on the posterous hosted site. july 17, 2010 10:50:00am

this is the first of two blog entries today.

this one is a rant about how in our efforts to become politically correct i think we have lost site of two things: the first is the american dream and the second is that all of us learned everything we need to know in kindergarten.

first the easy one, we did learn everything we need to know in kindergarten. we all learned to treat everyone with respect and kindness. it’s this guiding principle that drives “works well with others”, “uses time wisely”, and so on…in our efforts to become “politically correct” we apply labels to so many things, that we’ve lost sight of this. the golden rule has been taught for millennia and somehow we have decided it’s not enough and that we have to not only “re-write” it but we have to redefine this single teaching in the guise of political correctness.

now seriously there is nothing wrong with political correctness, but the major defect in this twentieth-century morale is the way that society applies it and uses it as a scapegoat. if we simply just changed the name of the “golden rule” to “political correctness” then this wouldn’t be an issue. the golden-rule was unchanging, steadfast, resolute, but by redefining it, it has morphed into this idea that is no longer only a life lesson, but it is this new found “quasi-corporate-american philosophy" that is an excuse for people to behave badly. i say this because anytime someone behaves badly, someone then goes and amends the political correctness rules, followed by weeks of online training and in-services that we’re all familiar with. this week it could be not using a certain word (and not the obvious ones) because it offends a group and next week it could equal employment laws for individuals with blue-eyes. you see how ridiculous this gets. if we would have simply left the golden rule alone (do onto others as you’d have done unto you) we all might live in a better place.

now onto how we’ve lost touch of the american dream. this one is more muddled, mainly because i don’t know why we’ve lost touch of it. in my eleventh grade history and english classes i learned that the american dream is to build a better life for your children, that everyone should be able to have a home and an education and that through hard work its one that is achievable.

i’m not saying its not attainable still but just that we have lost touch of it. perhaps it’s because of the internet and the ease at which information and data flows between people. and maybe because of globalization, maybe we need to redefine the american dream. the part that bothers me the most about the definition i was taught – education, home, yadda, yadda – is that we have so much in this country now (excluding the current recession) but yet we have people who lack college degrees or even high school diplomas, and people without homes. of those that bother me the most is the military, this group of individuals put their lives on hold for a commitment of time, and then put the life on the line for their country to defend our american dream and yet we can’t give them a free ride to college and a home? i am the first to say that i would make a run for the northern-border if my name came up in a draft and that i do support the troops (not the wars, and i do believe you can do both) but for a volunteer service to not get a complete free-ride to college, well i can’t call that fair. sure there is the gi bill but that doesn’t come close to paying for all four years at most institutions of higher learning.

so that said, how does one wind down this post? the golden rule isn’t “those who have the gold make the rules” it’s “do onto others….” and that by remembering that perhaps we can go back to living the american dream and not some imitation thereof.