In September 2008 I will ride my bicycle from my home in North Carolina to the Santa Monica Pier. If I tried to make this ride tomorrow on New Year's Day I would probably make it to Greensboro (about 100 miles) before wheezing my way back home. Tomorrow I turn 50 and start two-a-days.
Two-a-days, for readers who didn't spend half their life playing football, mean getting my butt out of bed before the sun is up and heading to the gym for a second workout after a long day at work. I have to lose thirty pounds or pay for every extra pound on every hill I climb. This means I have to not eat while I work out hard and am half asleep. This ride is a BHAG or in "Collins-speak" a Big, Hairy, Audacious, Goal. BHAG's are how we know about ourselves. They define us. They are why people sky dive, climb Mt. Everest and ride bicycles long past sore butts and aching backs.
This blog may be like a tree falling in the desert with no one there to hear it, but if, at some point, someone does fall upon this entry please share your BHAG's so I can feel less alone when the alarm rings at 5:00 in the morning, I am hungry enough to eat my clothes and I fall asleep riding my trainer. Happy New Year and Happy 50Th birthday to this BHAG chaser.
P.S. This is a great book. Collins is smart and he gets it. Check out his BHAG blog at jimcollins.com.
Read more about BHAG's at ScentTrail.blogspot.com.
Monday, December 31, 2007
Sunday, December 30, 2007
How Web Sites Are Like Movies
Story was a revelation. The book is meant for screenwriters and as a companion to McKee's famous seminars. I am not a screen writer, but would highly recommend this book for anyone trying to tell a story online. I kept writing "web too" in the margins. My next goal is to try and understand how to adapt Story's concepts to a web site. Web sites seem more like film to me than anything else. The trick to a site is the interactivity and the ability to go backwards and forwards. If anyone knows highly cinematic web sites please share them. I will share more on this "web sites as movies" topic as it develops in my head.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Want to get into the college of your choice? ScentTrail is about marketing and may help you, your son or your daughter get into the college. The first marketing most of us do is writing the feared college application essay. As an Assistant Director of Admissions at Vassar College (1980 - 81) I reviewed applications from thousands of students.
Think of that for just a second. Reading thousands of essays puts a different take on your essay - or it should. My first rule of effective college essay writing is MAKE IT SHORT. Start the bar at 500 words. Once your 500 word essay is polished and perfect cut it in half. Use the "word count" feature of your word processing software. Even if the college of your choice has a "suggested" length, do more with less and to increase chances of getting into the college of your choice.
Second rule of college essay writing is GRAB YOUR READER. Think of the poor overworked and under played Assistant Director of Admissions reading on an assembly line late at night with little sleep and you see why that first sentence must grab and hold. Your application will be graded harshly or ignored if it doesn't grab and hold. Two outstanding essays saved otherwise marginal students from the wait list at Vassar my year. Your essay writing effort can make a difference. Remember we read thousands of essays and two stood out. The first thing both of those essays did was grab our attention. How do you grab a tired and somewhat jaded Admissions officer's attention?
BE DISTINCT is my third rule of college essay writing. The tricky part is what you think makes you distinct at 18 or 19 is rarely what is in fact distinct. At Vassar every third student spent a summer in France, or Germany or did social work in far off lands. These are all good things to have on a college application, but how you tell the story is critical. How you tell the admissions staff about your life that is what matters. What you did, in this context, is less important than your story about it.
Someone else will have something cooler, more self sacrificing and seemingly more "Joe College". Guaranteed. The good news is almost every one of those students will think that the thing itself is sufficient. It never is. The story about the thing is the key. If you make your normal teen life sound funny, interesting and special then you win. It is that simple and that complex!
What about prepared topic essays? Don't be fooled. The purpose of prepared topics is to see how you present yourself within the topic. No one is expects E=MC squared so don't go there. Stay with what you know even if the college is asking you to stray. Those who stray and try to sound smart are caught in a trap. Pontificating is a sure trip to the waiting list.
BE FUNNY is my last college essay suggestion. I got an A on a Philosophy paper once because I mistyped the "Idea of the Good" calling it the "Idea of the Food". At three or four in the morning when I was writing the paper Plato's ideas got expanded to desperately needed munchies. I made my professor, someone reading thirty of these same papers late at night, laugh. Humor is always good.
The problem is your humor may be my nightmare. This is why you must have your college essay REVIEWED BY AT LEAST 10 READERS. Listen to their feedback. If more than half your readers find your humor funny you are good to go. Less than half means back to the drawing board. If your mom and dad are reading your essay, and I would suggest they should, then you need at least 12 readers.
Martin's rules for an effective college essay:
* Make it short.
* Grab your reader.
* Be distinct.
* Be funny
* Share with 10 readers not related to you.
I will be glad to be one of our 10 readers. Send your essay to email@example.com. There is no charge for my review. I do this for fun. Remember my suggestions are only suggestions. There is no college essay template or magic bullet. The twenty sons and daughters of friends have been offered admissions to the college of their choice. Their success must be related to those magical, funny, short and distinct essays they crafted. That is my story and I am sticking to it :) .
Read more about how to get into college at http://ScentTrail.blogspot.com.
Ever have the proverbial V-8 moment when you are supposed to be doing something else? This happened to me when I was at E-Tail listening to Marie Toulantis, CEO Barnes&Noble.com. Marie was discussing how B&N had 1,000,000 sku's (stock keeping unit). Marie's excellent presentation was several years ago, so I am sure the number of books in B&N's inventory is larger now. Inventory, I realized, is now a form of advertising.
Barnes and Noble was using inventory and search engine marketing (SEM) as a way to capture share. Once a new customer was acquired their life-time-value (LTV) would more than pay for the cost of having 1,000,000 books in inventory. When compared to costs for traditional advertising, inventory can be a cheap way to acquire a new customer. Inventory is advertising.
Chris Anderson's book The Long Tail made this connection between inventory and advertising stronger. Anderson's book is a Must Read for anyone who does anything with websites. The Long Tail discusses how hit driven we've been and how egalitarian we may become as marketing niches can easily form around any tent pole. Anderson's favorite examples are electronic inventory such as songs on iTunes because the cost of carrying that inventory approaches zero yet the return can be large when a community forms around an obscure artist, song or album. When Marie discussed having 1,000,000 books at B&N's beck and call I realized that Anderson's model can be applied to physical things as well as bytes.
Granted, we have to be a little more creative with the accounting when real things take up space in real warehouses, but acquisition is gained and capable of being valued. I've pitched this "inventory as advertising" to my current management team and no one is buying. I think that is because there are no metrics that I am aware of to support the idea. That last sentence is a plea to anyone who may know of a formula to value inventory as a form of advertising in our new SEM world.
I understand the problem. The idea that physical things in their number, potential exclusivity and obscurity can represent a viable form of advertising does sound strange, but wear the idea for a bit and see if it doesn't make sense.