Archive for the ‘Commerce’ Category

A tribute to nostalgia

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012
A tribute to nostalgia

My boss and I saw the Dark Star Orchestra channel the Grateful Dead the other night. He’d seen a Pink Floyd tribute band earlier in the year with his brother-in-law, who racks up 20 or 30 such concerts a year.

My wife and I had just attended a concert by the three remaining members of the Moody Blues. In the summer we’d watched Ringo wow the audience at Woodstock and, before that, seen a smattering of old-timers try to resurrect icons of the 1960s—the Yardbirds, Zombies and the Spencer Davis Group.

Now we’re looking forward to the upcoming season. Several legends of pop are scheduled to appear this winter at the Van Wezel Center, including Paul Anka, the Fifth Dimension, the Beach Boys, the Temptations with the Four Tops and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. And across the country, the Rolling Stones will have no sympathy for the devil or aging critics as they hit the road to commemorate 50 years in show business.

Once upon a time, white-haired musicians were the province of symphony orchestras. No longer. Watching 60- and 70-year-olds bounce across the stage is both jarring and inspiring. Questions like “How did we get so old?” mix with statements like “I can’t believe he can still hit the high notes,” let alone spend an eternity on a tour bus, bring energy to songs older than most audience members and stay up past 11 on a weeknight.

Sometimes there are so few original musicians in the bands of that era that the reincarnations seem like the original tribute bands. At times the copycats sound better than the originals. But most of the time we rejoice in the music and give thanks to the musicians who brave the road to bring us a glimpse of a time when we were young and moderately hip. They keep on truckin’ so we can keep on hoping. It’s an example all of us can appreciate.

Jerry Garcia’s dead. Long live Jerry Garcia.

Zig Ziglar will now see you at the top

Thursday, November 29th, 2012
Zig Ziglar will now see you at the top

After Garrison Keillor, he was America’s storyteller.

Zig Ziglar died yesterday at the age of 86. Over a bowl of spaghetti in his hotel room, the dean of motivational speakers shared his wisdom with me in this interview.

Jumping off the fiscal cliff

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012
Jumping off the fiscal cliff

What’s the best way to position your portfolio so it doesn’t fall off the fiscal cliff? Try doing nothing.

That’s not what you’ll hear in the media, or from some securities firms. Fidelity recommends real estate investment trusts that specialize in healthcare. Seeking Alpha says investors should reduce exposure to U.S. industrials while overweighting global technology. Bond manager PIMCO sees “fiscal contraction without fiscal catastrophe” and an opportunity to sell long-term Treasuries in preparation for inevitable inflation.

Our friends in Venice, Kelly Caldwell and company of Caldwell Trust, say they are creating a defensive posture in client accounts by emphasizing less cyclical investments while keeping equity exposure at current levels. And one writer for the Wall Street Journal cautions about harvesting profits ahead of an almost-certain rise in the capital gains tax rate, advocating a focus on prepaying expenses such as tuition and state taxes.

At Vanguard, the cost-sensitive mutual fund company believes investors should take a wait-and-see approach to portfolio allocation. Rather than anticipating tax rates, you might:

  • Make sure any tax-related decisions are truly in line with your long-term financial goals. A question to ask: are you choosing to recognize capital gains this year because it’s a good move for your portfolio or because you’re speculating that rates are headed higher?
  • Keep taxes in mind throughout the year, not just at the end. That gives you plenty of time to evaluate your situation and make necessary changes.

To that advice I would add a third point, one that Vanguard has championed for years and is echoed by several writers at the Journal: when it comes to your portfolio, think about strategic rather than tactical asset allocation. Year-end shuffling in anticipation of possible rate hikes is a form of short-term trading, one that’s subject to the views and emotions of the moment. Those will change. Your long-term goals probably won’t. Allocate for that.

Then turn off the news.

Getting smart about smartphone safety

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012
Getting smart about smartphone safety

Four in 10 smartphone users in the United States will click on an unsafe link on a mobile device this year, according to a new report by Lookout, a smartphone security firm. That figure will only continue to grow as the number of smartphone and tablet owners in the world hits a billion over the next few years, according to Forrester Research.

Unsafe links include those that download viruses, malware and spyware onto a user’s mobile device—the usual culprits most people have heard about. Lookout flags several more insidious methods used by hackers that are spreading from Eastern Europe and Russia, including attempts to tamper with legitimate mobile tools and advertising systems. “Five percent of free Android mobile applications contain one or more aggressive ad networks, which can access personal information or display confusing ads,” it says in the State of Mobile Security 2012. “In addition, a number of high-profile iOS applications raised red flags about privacy issues this year.”

Aggressive ad networks often push out-of-app ads, change browser settings and accessing personally identifiable information without suitable notification or transparency.

What can mobile users do to protect themselves? Several things, some physical, some virtual.

  • Set a password on your mobile device so that if it is lost or stolen, your data is more difficult to access.
  • Only download apps from trusted sources.
  • Beware of pirated apps that were once sold and now appear to be free.
  • Once you’ve clicked a link, pay attention to the address to ensure it matches the website it claims to be.
  • Check your phone for unexpected activity such as unusual text messages or suddenly decreased battery life.
  • Check your phone bill for unexpected charges.
  • Download and install firmware updates as soon as they are available.

The cause that refreshes

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012
The cause that refreshes

Has branded journalism come of age?

Long considered promotional by traditional journalists, branded journalism is gaining credence as consumers looking for news that reflects their personal interests.

The discipline scored a big victory last month when the New York Times covered the reinvention of Coca-Cola’s website as an online magazine. The site offers articles on entertainment and the environment as well as company-centric news and features on corporate social responsibility. While content comes with a point of view, Coke says it wants to serve as a credible source of information. As with any of these sites, the key for journalists and consumers alike will be full disclosure of those commercial and political relationships.

Given the greater credibility readers grant editorial over advertising, marketers have promoted branded journalism for years. Several agencies, such as VSA Partners in Chicago, not only provide the service for clients but coach others in best practices.

I have long advocated for content marketing as a way to engage audiences in a compelling way, going back a decade to my first book, The Spirit of Swiftwater, a history of not only the corporation that has become Sanofi Pasteur but the vaccine pioneers who made it a success. I’ve continued working in that discipline for the past eight years as principal writer for Mack Trucks’ Bulldog magazine, one of the oldest corporate publications in the nation.

There are two things I like about corporate journalism. It allows us to reach the essence of all news by creating a story about the people who benefit from the brand, whether that’s a commercial of philanthropic interest. And when done properly, the discipline requires the transparency of traditional journalism, with its bedrock insistence on accuracy of fact and tone.

That doesn’t always fly with senior management but it’s something practitioners owe to readers. By meeting that mandate, we can help organizations tell their stories in ways that even journalists can accept.

For marketers, that’s refreshing news, indeed.

10 things Fla. can learn from Hurricane Sandy

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012
10 things Fla. can learn from Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy wasn’t our first major storm but it was the first since we bought property in Sarasota, Florida. After five days without water, power or reliable phone service, we’ve discovered what many Floridians know: that while you can’t move your home out of harm’s way, you can mitigate the discomfort with a little planning. Here are 10 tips from a northerner who has learned about infrequent but damaging storms:

  1. Plan for the worst. Create two options, one for sheltering in place, the other for abandoning your home. Find a place to shelter before hurricane season. If you can’t stay with relatives or friends outside the disaster zone, investigate nearby motels and plug that contact information into your mobile phone. You can tough it out without hot food but not a shower: you don’t want to report for work with bat hair. Don’t assume your neighbors can shelter you. Chances are they won’t have electricity, either. Book lodgings at least two days before the storm hits or you’ll lose your place to other homeowners and utility crews.
  2. Everything runs on electricity, not just AC and the Internet. Even alternative-fuel systems with electric starters, like pellet stoves and some gas hot water heaters, won’t work. Credit card and ATM machines need power. So do gasoline pumps at service stations. Assume no one will have electricity, including the municipalities, and plan accordingly. That means bulking up on generators, manual appliances, and cash.
  3. Invest in battery backup. Power outages outlast computers, cell phones and smartphones. Consider universal power supplies and dedicated cell-phone chargers. Once a storm approaches, charge all devices every night you have power. And remember to check the batteries in flashlights. You don’t want to be one of the things that go bump in the night.
  4. Sign up for text alerts from the electric company so you’ll know when it restores power to your home. Create a neighborhood phone tree so when the electric company says it has restored power, you can verify, or challenge, that assessment.
  5. Store essential phone numbers on paper. Keep a copy in your house, car and pocket.
  6. Inventory your medications. Keep a list in your wallet or purse. As soon as the first storm forms, refill your prescriptions. Every time the weather service begins tracking a new storm, use those alerts as reminders to check your supply.
  7. Save plastic containers to fill with water for washing, drinking and flushing toilets.
  8. Fill your cars with gasoline as soon as the weather service says a storm will make landfall within a few days.
  9. Pack a crash bag and keep it in the trunk of your car. Include clothing, personal hygiene items, bottled water, flashlight, cell-phone chargers and over-the-counter and prescription medications. If you’re stranded on your way home, you’ll have a few essentials.
  10. Don’t overstock the refrigerator or freezer. Perishables perish. In addition to paper products and plastic utensils, stockpile liquids packaged in bricks, dry goods like pasta, peanut butter, bottled water, canned goods and a manual can opener.

If there’s one lesson Hurricane Sandy has taught us it’s this: hope for the best but plan for the worst. Your future self will thank you.

Learn about how to prepare for hurricanes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Ready.gov site.

Boomers lead pack in business creation

Monday, November 5th, 2012
Boomers lead pack in business creation

The new face of innovation has a few wrinkles.

Forget the idea that young bucks in Silicon Valley create all the new companies. According to a study by the Kauffman Foundation, older entrepreneurs start more businesses than any other age category.

“Contrary to popular belief, research shows that since 1996, Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 have had a higher rate of entrepreneurial activity than those aged 20-34,” study authors said. “With many in this age bracket reaching retirement, but still wanting to work, entrepreneurship is an increasingly popular choice.”

Boomers represent 20.9% of new entrepreneurs, up from 14.3% in 1996.

The study suggests a couple of reasons for the trend. One is that baby boomers have the time and the disposable income to start new businesses. The other is that boomers seem to be more optimistic about the future.

Florida ranks among the highest states for entrepreneurial activity, Kauffman reports, with residents creating a little fewer than 400 ventures per 100,000 adults. In 2011, an average of 0.32% of the adult population, or 320 out of 100,000 adults, created a new business each month. That rate translates into about 543,000 new businesses being created each month last year.

The average number of existing self-employed business owners in 2011 totaled 11.5 million, or 6.3% of the adult population. Although the entrepreneurship rate declined in 2011, it remained higher than before the start of the Great Recession, which officially dates from December 2007.

As Technology Booms so Does Need for Simplicity

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012
As Technology Booms so Does Need for Simplicity

What’s cool to one person can leave others cold. Technology is like that. Some get excited by it. Others get tangled in it.

As homes incorporate more sophisticated technology, builders and designers have to question whether customers will be wowed by all of the gadgets or struggle to operate them. The question goes well beyond the old cliché of whether older eyes can read the buttons on a remote.

Some thought-leaders are addressing the issue.

“Boomers are a very diverse group,” said Anne Postle, AIA, owner of osmosis art and architecture in Colorado. “Many are quite tech savvy, but others don’t want technology that complicates their lives. Examples of this are controls that require that you get out the instruction manual whenever you want to adjust a light, AV controls that require that you adopt a teenager (who understands the remote) if you want to watch a movie, or any system that loses all of its pre-programmed settings when the power fails.

“Too often, the technology that is ‘old hat’ to the Millennials can be very frustrating to the boomer. Consider things like night path lights through the house on a motion sensor, charging stations for phones and tablets and outlets that include a USB port for electronics. Smart builders will take a cue from Steve Jobs and offer technology that is intuitive, solves problems and truly simplifies the Boomers’ life.”

A Capitol Christmas

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012
A Capitol Christmas

The folks in Washington may yet have a happy holiday this year. Next month a custom-decorated MACK® Pinnacle™ model will transport the 2012 Capitol Christmas Tree from Meeker, Colo. to the Capitol lawn. At the wheel will be former U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who drove a similar tree to the Capitol a dozen years ago. He’s as pleased as a kid on Christmas morning in this video, courtesy of Mack Trucks.

 

Home smart home

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012
Home smart home

The home of the future will look like the home of today, only with a few more gadgets.

By 2020 experts believe our homes and appliances will contain more advanced technology but that many of us will prefer working with non-digital systems. That’s according to a survey of 1,021 Internet experts, researchers and observers conducted recently by the Pew Research Center.

In other words, predictions of the demise of the analog home run counter to behavior, much like those predictions of the paperless office.

“Hundreds of tech analysts foresee a future with ‘smart’ devices and environments that make people’s lives more efficient,” the Pew Center reported. “But they also note that current evidence about the uptake of smart systems is that the costs and necessary infrastructure changes to make it all work are daunting. And they add that people find comfort in the familiar, simple, ‘dumb’ systems to which they are accustomed.”

Smart technology can manage systems that control heating and air conditioning, power, appliances, security, entertainment and communications. Some systems allow remote monitoring and access by way of mobile devices.

Slow digital adoption could reflect the age of homeowners. Younger people who quickly adopt technology haven’t had the years to save for a down payment. The “typical” age of a homebuyer has remained at 39 years since 2007, according to the National Association of Realtors. Census figures show that while 43% of households with a householder under the age of 35 own a home, 81.6% of those with a householder between the ages of 55 and 64 do.

In the survey some experts believe homeowners will adopt technology that saves energy and money. Others think that for the moment the issue is a “marketing mirage.” Aside from programmable thermostats and Internet-enabled security cameras, which technology will nudge homeowners toward the digital domicile?