Underpromise and Overdeliver: Scaramanga Has Earned My Respect Before I’ve Even Touched Their Product

We here at AJ Design strive to be top-shelf, but as little more than a one-person design firm, I’m no stranger to running a shoestring budget and a just-in-time delivery operation. I’m 100% mobile. My 15″ MacBook Pro is my only workstation. My Targus laptop bag served me well practically every day for the past four years or so. It was actually my laptop bag before I upgraded to the MacBook in August 2012.

I was disappointed when the shoulder strap anchor point broke this week, but it was understandable. Four years of stress and daily use takes its toll. Ouch…that kinds hits close to home!

So I did some homework and asked some friends what they recommend in the way of a quality laptop bag/briefcase. A fantastic U.S. product was available, but as much as I wanted to buy quality, I couldn’t bring myself to pay nearly $500 for a bag. I looked for a lower price point.

scaramanga-logoI had heard of Scaramanga a year or two ago on social media. I shopped them and ended up selecting a Medium Overlander Satchel. I read their shipping information for international orders, and I prepared to wait a couple of weeks.

The order was placed Tuesday, June 2. Guess what’s arriving today, June 5?

They promised 5 – 20 days for delivery, and they, well, delivered in only four days. These days, the only response that is appropriate is a #micdrop:

I will post a review of the bag once I get a chance to move in. But for now, I’m heartily impressed.

The New 12″ MacBook is Just a Toy

I didn’t carve out time to watch the product announcement video about Apple’s new 12″ MacBook. I completely missed it. But I saw the articles and videos about the new MacBook trending the day after. As an Apple user (and occasional Apple fan), I was intrigued by the impossibly slim 12″ MacBook released last week.

What’s not to like? Sleek, color coordinated with my iPhone, well built … wait, where’s the USB port? Or the SD card slot? Surely they at least have a Lightning port, right? Nope. There are only two ports on the beautiful little body: a headphone port and a USB-C port.

I’m charmed by the promise of USB-C, really I am. But to have a computer that can’t be connected to power and connected to storage or an external display at the same time without extra adapters or ports is just unconscionable for Apple to pass off as “Pro”.

But let’s look again. The new little hot rod 12″ glamour notebook we saw is not Apple’s idea of a “Pro” tool. In fact, Apple removed the “Pro” moniker for a couple of good and purely hypothetical reasons:

  1. They know the new MacBook is less of a pro tool and more of a toy.
  2. Apple hasn’t abandoned those of us who really are pro users of their top-shelf hardware. They just haven’t updated the 15″ MacBook Pro yet because they can’t get the Broadwell chips from Intel until later this year.

There you have it, folks. I would advise against buying the new MacBook if you are a pro user (if you earn your living in the creative arts and currently use a slightly older Mac Pro or MacBook Pro).

Let toys do their thing for the people who love them.

But the real pro users should opt for the updated MacBook Pro 13″ or wait for the revised 15″ MacBook, rumored for release sometime this fall.

Too Much Work: A Good Problem to Have?

Friend: “How is business?”

Me: “I am soooooo busy! There’s a lot to get done. I’m trying to keep up.”

Friend: “That’s a good problem to have!”

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that phrase, “a good problem to have,” I would have some serious coin.

A “good” problem. How is that possible? The implication is that it is better to have too much work than to constantly be running low on sales and trying to drum up business.

Well, my all-to familiar response is something on the order of, “Yeah, but it’s still a problem.” My clients who have been so kind to me in dealing with my capacity issues know this to be true. But my “good” problem is simply their problem. It’s their delay. It’s their broken promise or blown timeline.

Let’s all agree that even the good problems must be solved.

I’m tired — and I’m certain a few of my clients are tired — of this chronic good problem of operating at or beyond capacity. I know I have to say “no” more or arrange for more capacity through multiplied effort (subcontractors or employees). I’m doing both (saying “no” and lining up help), but apparently not quickly enough for some.

That’s something I deeply regret.

Keeping promises is one of the greatest strengths and most vital of my business and personal values. It is inordinately painful to see yourself as the go-to provider of business-friendly graphic design and yet live in a near constant state of trying to catch up.

This post, my first in quite a few months, is even something I’m questioning the value of doing, given the state of a few critical and overdue projects. However, I’ve decided that it’s a cathartic, therapeutic process for me to help decompress and process what I’ve allowed to happen in my business. It’s confessional and hopeful in nature.

The next few weeks and months will be very telling for me and for the treasured relationships I have with my clients. Will I be able to keep the promises I’ve made? Will I be successful in identifying like-minded and talented individuals to help carry the load? Will I be able to shut down the thought processes and decision matrices that lead me to say, “Sure, we can do that,” or, “Yeah, let’s meet and talk about that project.” Time will tell. And time won’t lie. I’ll keep promises I’ve made, as God gives me strength to do so.

But let your word ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’ Anything more than this is from the evil one.
Matthew 5:37 HCSB

Veteran’s Day 2014

Many thanks to all the veterans who fought to secure and maintain our freedoms. We honor you this day, and we thank God for your sacrifices on our behalf.

An Open Letter to Our Re-Elected Governor, Nikki Haley

South Carolina Governor Nikki R. Haley

Dear Governor Haley,

We haven’t met yet, though we almost had a chance when you visited Natty’s on Trinity Street in Abbeville last weekend. I had a birthday party to attend, and when one has the chance to take small kids to Jumping Jax, one just doesn’t decline. Ever. Even for a chance to meet the Governor of South Carolina. (sorry!)

But enough about me. Congrats to you on your re-election as Governor of the Great State of South Carolina! You earned my vote with your principled conservative stance on economic issues, your perspective on the balance of power between states and the federal government, and your refusal to take the baited hook that was the Medicaid expansion. I think your first term in office did most residents of South Carolina proud. There are a few thousand people who will be leaving the unemployment system as a direct result of your administrative priorities. Thank you for your service.

But not everyone is happy with what you’ve done (or not done) so far. I believe there will always be smoke-and-mirrors accusations that come from political opponents. These attacks are rarely more than political maneuvering, and they are rarely fair. However, one such attack caught my eye. I’m referring to the recent trouble with the S.C. Department of Social Services.

One of my acquaintances is a social worker within DSS, and he didn’t have very many kind things to say about you because of the predicament in which he and other DSS workers find themselves. Actually, he and many of his colleagues were quite adamantly opposed to your re-election. They already have a difficult, thankless job. But then they are overworked and underpaid. I’m told the case load and the resources to address it are still sorely mismatched. Let me offer a quote from a social worker who volunteered some information on the matter when I asked about it. Pardon the colorful language:

[DSS State Director Lillian] Koller called for higher standards without backing the requirements with funding or more workers. Or better working conditions. Or more supervision. Children are literally dying because we do not have the resources to keep them safe. I triple dog dare any Republican to come work for Anderson County DSS. Witness firsthand the aftermath of the last four years. Ask any employee what their opinion is. Nikki Haley does not care about children, the elderly, or the poor. To her they are numbers. She makes a big deal about veterans … but there is a war here. [My colleagues] and I go to war every day to fight for the safety of SC’s abused and neglected children. It is f*cking brutal, we get no support. We are sent into dangerous situations with no protection, and all we ask is for lower case loads and better supervision so we can actually do our jobs. Nikki Haley has consistently ignored our requests and the department has deteriorated to the extent that children are dying because the workers are responsible for so many children that kids are just falling through the cracks. Haley is ultimately responsible for what happened at DSS. She made the decisions that led to the chaos.

Ouch.

I read some of your remarks about the deaths that occurred and the condition of DSS which you delivered during a recent debate. As a wife and mother, you seemed to be understandably appalled and disturbed by what happened. To be fair, I would expect a senior executive such as yourself to be more keen on the numbers coming out of DSS than on the individuals and stories that comprise the caseload. And I expect that reality would bother social workers who care about their work. There’s only so much one can do, and the realities of executive leadership dictate that you must necessarily focus on metrics and fundamentals to the exclusion of the human element.

But let me offer some encouragement: now that the gubernatorial election is settled and you are in leadership for another term, please continue to take ownership of the problems within DSS. It’s no longer a campaign issue. It’s now a real-life problem that you have the next 4 years to address with real solutions. Please commit to identifying solutions that will enable the department to function well. I was encouraged to learn from District 11 representative Craig Gagnon that there were some stopgap measures taken earlier this year to increase social worker pay and improve conditions. He tells me there are additional efforts coming in the next legislative session. This is a very good thing. And those transformational efforts will need your executive leadership to ensure their success.

There are a plethora of opinions about the extent to which the government—even state and local governments—should be involved in correcting the social and familial dysfunction that DSS is tasked with addressing. I personally believe you can’t remove Godly principles from a population and not have tremendous problems. Broken families are just a symptom of deeper spiritual problems. So as far as the source the problems that manifest in DSS cases, there’s not much we can do. Can you use the powers of government coerce men to be good and loving fathers? Can you coerce drug addicts to prefer honest gainful employment to a life of addiction? Can you engineer a utopian society? Many have tried, and all efforts to date have failed. But perhaps there are non-government organizations, nonprofits and religious organizations that could be involved in carrying or at least supporting the DSS case load. What can we do to better empower and deploy these resources to help accomplish the goals of DSS? Maybe it would be inadvisable for volunteers from churches to take on cases. Many have the heart but few have the training and expertise. But perhaps a Sunday school class could “adopt” a social worker and provide support and encouragement. We don’t always have to expand government to fix things. You have helped demonstrate that in the past four years. But until the problem is resolved and alternate solutions are in place, I think we will have to fully fund DSS to match their case load.

I encourage you once again to make a priority of fixing the issues at DSS. Continue to set high standards. Install a high-quality, proven director (and I’m sure the search is already underway). Fund the organizations and people best equipped to attain those standards and serve people. Usher in a new era of effectiveness and professionalism. You have the bully pulpit. You have the authority to set the agenda and set priorities. And it looks like you will have plenty of political colleagues and citizens who will support your efforts.

I don’t hold you personally responsible for the hurtful actions of others. We humans are by-and-large hopelessly broken creatures. And goodness knows we don’t need a bigger government peering, prying, and taxing it’s way into every nook and cranny of our lives. But I applaud your efforts to make government more effective and to ensure the most vulnerable among us are offered protection.

Thanks you for listening,
Andy Johnston

Improve Communications with Five Less-Is-More Tips

Communication is the Lifeblood of Nearly Everything We Do

Whether your goal is to drive sales, educate or inspire, effective communication is at the heart of practically everything you do. If you must work with or through others to get something accomplished, you need effective communication. Speaking well is certainly important, but I want to share with you a few tips that can help you improve your effectiveness in written or visual communication. If you sometimes struggle to write letters, memos or other documents — even ad copy or web content — I think you will find these tips to be helpful.

1. Consider Your Audience … and Limit Your Message Accordingly

The words you may use to connect with 5th graders would be very different from those you might use to address peers in business. We would also communicate differently with entry level employees and the board of directors. A good first step toward improving your communications is to identify your audience. Once you understand clearly the audience you are trying to reach, you can omit communication that is not appropriate.

2. Use Fewer Words

Google provides the definition of brevity as follows:


brevity definition


We may have developed a bad habit of inflating our word count to meet a quota in high school. But brevity is critical for clear communication in business. Use fewer words that convey the same meaning whenever possible.

3. Use Clear Space to Bring Attention to Your Message

Before an orchestra begins, the conductor calls the musicians (and the audience) to silence. Think of words as sound and white space as visual silence. With sufficient silence, you create room for sound — your message. Margins are a simple way to add silence to your content. Another place we find clear space is within images: copy space. Many of the best magazine ads and billboards use images with copy space. Use the silence of clear space to provide a place for the message you intend to convey.

4. Use Clip Art Sparingly If at All

Clip art is rarely necessary. Not all clip art is bad, but some of it is downright awful. If you intend for your message to be light, informal and comedic, clip art may be justified. The problem is that a lot of people seem to use clip art habitually rather than intentionally. Think of the brevity principle. If your message stands alone without clip art, leave it out.

5. Know When to Call a Communications Professional

You  may not be an art director or a marketing manager, but small businesses occasionally need the services of a copy writer or a layout artist. Think about the cost associated with a mistake. How many people would be affected? If business is on the line for a print ad, a billboard, or a press release, consider enlisting the services of a trusted professional.


 

We hope these tips make your communications more effective. If you have specific questions or if your current needs are beyond what you can handle, contact us today online or by phone at (864) 554-5061.

When Is the Last Time You Were Inspired by Marketing in the Financial Sector?

Have you seen the #TDThanksYou video? Take a look:

Okay, okay…we know that #TDThanksYou is not a charity campaign; it’s a marketing campaign from a for-profit entity. And I’m sure there more than a few people who are a bit creeped out that a bank (or perhaps a bank’s employees in collusion with family members) essentially surveilled a few customers to get the details required to be so personalized with their gifts. And we know that everyone can’t expect to receive the same type of lavish experience at TD Bank.

All of that cerebral, skeptical stuff aside, is this not one of the best marketing tactics ever?! It’s like the best parts of Undercover Boss and Extreme Makeover Home Edition applied to the context of a bank’s relationship to a few of its customers. And here we are, discussing it of our own accord at no cost to TD Bank. It’s so genius, it’s almost evil. Almost. But most people including this humble blog author can’t help but have some degree of positive feelings about TD Bank after watching this video.

This kind of marketing inspires and challenges those of us who make our trade in persuasive communication. Yes, we can tell the story of our clients’ businesses or products and tout their best points. But it takes a special kind of effort and creativity to inspire people in the process of advertising or marketing. The generous nature of the thank-you gifts overwhelms the recipient in the video and many viewers as well. The personalization of the gifts to the situations, challenges, and desires of the recipients is so spot-on, it’s uncanny.

How are YOU (and how am I) being inspirational, generous and personal with YOUR marketing efforts?

Your turn…

What do you think about this video from TD Bank? Do you feel the love, or do you remain unconvinced?