Inside My Brain

Thoughts about startups, tech, marketing, and life

It’s All Relative, I Guess

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is one of the most important concepts in the history of man. Though it spawned from physics, relativity can be applied to any situation where there is some kind of comparison. But it’s taken to a whole new level on this forum about household income (HHI) that I came across on UrbanBaby.com.

As you can see, someone posted on this site a forum topic that asked – “What’s your HHI and do you FEEL poor, middle class, upper middle class or rich where you live? No judging.”

The responses here range from honest to fake and hilarious to sad. Here is what I’ve learned from this:

  1. Rich, Upper Middle Class, Middle Class, and Poor seem to be relative terms that are functions of where you live, the lifestyle to which you’re accustomed, and with whom you associate and not just absolutely based on income alone.
  2. People in NYC are either totally delusional, completely disconnected from the real world, or just have no idea how to balance their checkbooks.  There’s no doubt that the cost of living in NYC is astronomical but if a family makes “about $3m this year…been $1-6 the last 10 years” and “feels very middle class,” or a household makes “$300K per year and feels so, so, so poor,” then there is something so, so, so wrong on some level. By the way, I ignored the “no judging” request here.

What are your thoughts? Do you find yourself thinking about things (social status or anything else) in relative or absolute terms? My NYC friends – is it really THAT bad living in the city with your paycheck or are NYC residents’ views totally skewed? Let me know!

Facebook – Making You More Social, Less Personal?

There was a great article in the NY Times the other day about how some people are refusing to sign up for or are unsubscribing from Facebook, stating how “it’s a little unhealthy” and how they’re not “calling their friends anymore.” I wouldn’t go so far to say it’s unhealthy, but I do agree that Facebook has had two profound effects – making people much more social but at the same time much less personal.

As we all know, Facebook allows everyone to stay in touch with people they may not otherwise stay in touch with and wish people Happy Birthday when they otherwise would have never remembered. But it has also allowed users to think that someone typing “Happy Birthday Dude!” is a personal birthday greeting. I’m totally guilty of this but don’t feel too good about doing it (I bet I see way fewer “Happy Birthdays” on Facebook when June 9th rolls around.) Back in the day, giving the birthday guy or girl a physical birthday card, making a phone call or even sending an email was the way to go. Now it’s just typing a few letters in the upper right corner of a website.

Has Facebook changed the way you behave toward your friends and made you more social but less personal? Let me know what you think. Feel free to comment here, tweet me @mikewchan, or post to my Facebook page, but if you want to really talk about it, maybe you should call me.  ;)

Happiness vs. Satisfaction

Happiness has many different meanings to many different people, as does satisfaction. But for a long time I’ve been thinking: Happiness or Satisfaction – which is harder to attain? Which one should be the ultimate goal?

I think most people will instinctively say that satisfaction typically comes first, as happiness is harder to attain and is usually the end goal.  But I think there’s more than one perspective.

Let’s put this in the context of food, which I love and eat a lot of. If you eat a decent dinner at your local pizza parlor or burger joint, the meal may be satisfactory and you might be satisfied with your full belly. But if you ate an absolutely delicious meal in a 4-star restaurant like Komi (god I love that place), you’ll likely be a very happy camper.  In this case, satisfaction comes more easily and often and happiness is typically more difficult (and expensive) to attain.

Now let’s look at this in a different context. (Name drop alert) Over a year ago I read my big boss Ted Leonsis’ book, The Business of Happiness, which really puts happiness in perspective. A couple of months ago I sat down with Ted and discussed his experiences and how he attained happiness. But then I asked him – what’s the difference between happiness and satisfaction? You’re obviously happy but are you satisfied?

Does that make any sense? Let me explain. I’d say I’m in a pretty good situation in life. I have an extremely loving and supporting family; a fun and rewarding job; an awesome girlfriend; I live in a very nice condo (with my awesome girlfriend, who is also my roommate and landlord) in a great city; and I have a bunch of amazing friends. BUT I want more success in my career, I want to eventually get married and start a family, I want many houses in many cities (a little materialistic, but obviously everyone needs a mountain cabin for the winter and a lakehouse for the summer), and I want to continually grow my network of friends and contacts.

So am I happy? Absolutely. Am I satisfied? Not even close.

What about you? Are you happy, satisfied, or both?

Feelin’ lucky? The role of luck in success

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve come across a few articles and quotes about the role of luck in success. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this in Outliers – how success many times can be attributed to factors outside of the subject’s control.  Jim Collins kind of agrees in this excerpt of his new book “Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck — Why Some Thrive Despite Them All” but believes luck is more the catalyst than the cause.

I’m obviously not in Bills Gates’ league, at least not yet :), but I do think luck and timing have a ton to do with success, and I know this first-hand; if it weren’t for luck, I believe I wouldn’t be the Director of Strategic Marketing for the Washington Capitals.

I was at NYU Stern getting my MBA with hopes to start my career in the sports industry.  I attended a sports panel at the Media and Entertainment Conference at NYU, on which my current boss, Joe, was a speaker. After the panel, I introduced myself to Joe learned that he was also a Georgia Tech alumnus, which allowed us to converse easily. Over the next year or so, we kept in touch and when he became the Director of Marketing of the Washington Capitals, he tried to contact me to interview for an open position but lost my email address. Luckily we were connected on LinkedIn; we got in contact, I interviewed with him and his boss and got the gig. I later found out that there was a chance that Joe couldn’t make the conference but luckily he did.

Sure, one can say that I worked hard to prepare for that moment. I studied hard to get into schools like Georgia Tech and NYU, I was outgoing enough to network with people in my desired industry, I was persistent enough to keep in touch with Joe for a long time, I interviewed well, and I’ve worked hard since I started at the Caps.  But if Joe didn’t make the conference, if he didn’t happen to attend Georgia Tech, and if one or both of us weren’t registered for LinkedIn, I may not be working for the Caps nor would I be writing this blog post.

Do you think luck and timing are big factors in success, or do you attribute success solely to hard work? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Everyone’s an expert now, but who really is?

With the advent of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, it’s easier than ever for someone to get “published” and to be an “expert”. Case in point – this guy (pointing at myself).

But what really constitutes an expert nowadays?  Is it the guy or gal who creates the most blog posts and distributes it to the most friends and followers on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn? The one with the highest Klout score?

Back in the day, you were an expert if your work was included in a respected publication such as the New England Journal of Medicine, the New York Times, The Economist, etc. But now with user-generated content sites such as Huffington Post and Bleacher Report and the aforementioned social networking sites, it seems that everyone now has an expert opinion. I don’t mean to break this down into black and white; it’s just that I subscribe to many industry blogs and newsletters and have realized that a lot of the content sounds the same.

So have there been so many experts all this time, and now they just have more media to broadcast their expertise? Or do we go back to those respected publications to identify those true, distinguished, proven experts? Or somewhere in the middle?

I really don’t know, so let me know what you think!

The Power and Weirdness of Sports

Sports is probably one of the most powerful forces in many people’s lives. Passion for your favorite teams can make you act angry and crazy or joyful and elated. It can also make you desire things you never thought you would. Here are two distinct examples.

Let’s start with craziness and anger. Last night, I watched ESPN’s “Catching Hell”, which told the story of Steve Bartman’s infamous attempt at catching the foul ball at Wrigley Field during game 6 of the 2003 NLCS (for more info, click here. It was a pretty awesome movie.). After the Cubs lost that game (and eventually the series), fans were livid and many sent Bartman death threats for basically doing something they would have done if they were sitting in his seat. Nevermind that Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez made a critical error and the pitchers couldn’t get out of the inning.  It was all Bartman’s fault. Irrational now? Of course.  Back then? Pure passion.

Now to the weirdness of desiring stuff you wouldn’t normally. I’m a big Yankees fan, have been since I was 7. But we’re playing Tampa Bay tonight, and they are dead even with the Red Sox for the final playoff spot in the American League, and tonight is the last game of the regular season.  I want the Yankees to lose, only because I want the city of Boston to cry that the Red Sox didn’t make the playoffs. Yeah, I want my team to have outfielders pitch and attempt to bunt at every at bat so the Sox will lose. What the what?

Sports can make people crazy like nothing else out there. And I love it.

Good Luck, Tim Cook: The Test of Apple’s Culture

Unless you live under a rock, you know that Steve Jobs has resigned as CEO of Apple, with COO Tim Cook taking over the reins. What kind of company will Apple become without its uber-creative, visionary leader? I think this is the absolute biggest test of all of the organizational management theories about culture development at a company.

I don’t think there is a better example of a brand that is so inextricably linked to its leader than Apple (to me, Virgin and Richard Branson come in a close second). Steve Jobs’ laser-like focus on minute details, such as fonts and angles, helped Apple create some of the most elegant products ever.  And his ability to predict what consumers want without surveys or focus groups (Jobs has been saying, “It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want,” for years now) is unmatched. On the other hand, I’m sure Tim Cook is a very smart man, but his expertise is in logistics and sourcing – super-valuable to keep profit margins high, but not too relevant to product development and design.

Will Tim Cook have the vision that Jobs had?  How will he uphold the design-centric culture at Apple? Another way of asking the question is, has Steve Jobs ingrained his philosophies deep enough into the culture to allow the company to succeed without him?  

Only time will tell. Good luck, Tim Cook. The world is watching.

More Important in Marketing – Data or Creativity?

I read an article on Clickz yesterday called “Data Geek or Creative Genius?”  (http://bit.ly/nTPQxn) that touched upon the argument of which is more important in marketing today – creative ideas or data-driven decisions. The bottom line is that these aspects must work in synchronization to produce effective marketing that drives business results. Yeah, it’s kind of a cop out (like saying “it depends”) but it’s true.

I wrote about this topic in the SportsBusiness Journal in 2009 (http://bit.ly/ro61gj) and have reposted the article below.

What are your thoughts on this? It would be great to hear from marketers from both sides of the spectrum!

——————————————

Let science of marketing drive creative solutions

Published September 21, 2009

Greg Economou’s article (SportsBusiness Journal, Aug. 31-Sept. 6) about the art and science of selling was spot on, and I believe that this philosophy could and should be applied to marketing in sports as well.

Sports marketing is many times inextricably defined by big events, captivating advertising, eye-catching design of signage and collateral, and sometimes simply slapping a logo on a product. Of course, these artful elements of the marketing mix are imperative to success, but the science of marketing should be applied to drive decisions regarding these creative components.

The first scientific element of marketing is market and consumer insight (or more boringly named “market research”). To start, properties, agencies, and brands must have a detailed, thorough understanding of their fan base, including demographic characteristics and psychographic/behavioral traits, in addition to analysis of the competition and the overall economy. Additionally, companies must use research to understand what their fans think about the positioning of the brand in order to properly develop effective advertising, engaging design, and exciting events. For example, Red Bull understands that their core audience is typically young and involved in high-energy activities; thus they allocate their sports marketing funds to extreme sports such as surfing, motorbiking and flying and highlight these activities in their advertising to really connect with their consumers and differentiate from their competition. I highly doubt you’ll see the Red Bull logo on the Pro Bowlers Association sponsor roster any time soon nor will you see Red Bull’s primary competition leapfrog them in market performance.

Second is testing and measurement to drive decision-making about the use of marketing assets. This can be broken down into two types of measurement: testing of key performance indicators (KPI) and measuring financial performance, or return on investment (ROI). 

Regarding testing KPIs — let’s say you’ve just designed a few handsome e-mail templates to send out to your fan base. Everyone in your organization looked at a few of your designs, threw in their 2 cents, and chose design No. 1 to launch. Art had great influence in the decision, but where’s the science? Instead of using just a few insiders’ eyes to choose, you can use your fans’ eyes to select the best design. Most e-mail programs have A/B testing capability, where you can send multiple designs to different segments of customers, see which designs resonate more by comparing open rates, click-throughs, etc., and select the best template based on these KPIs. Testing has been historically applied in direct marketing, but isn’t used enough in the digital sports world, where it is much easier and cost-effective. This can be applied to Web sites, landing pages, microsites and most other digital assets. 

In today’s economy, ROI is a hot topic, and why not? Who wouldn’t want to know how much money you’ll make from sponsoring a property or holding an event and compare that to the cost of your initiative? Bank of America stated that for every sponsorship dollar they spend, they obtain $10 in revenue and $3 in earnings. With their huge stable of sponsorships, they’ve obviously put a lot of work into measurement, and rightfully so (after all, those TARP funds didn’t grow on trees). Though measuring ROI isn’t easy, any kind of financial measurement will help sell initiatives to upper management. 

I’m not downplaying the art of marketing, as it’s clearly very important; all I’m saying is that the science of marketing should be the driver of a lot of creative decisions. A thorough understanding of research, testing and measurement will help sports marketers become more effective in executing creative ideas.

Mike Chan
Washington, D.C.

The Importance of Consistency

You could be a smart QB with a rocket arm who throws for 4000 yards and 40 TDs over the course of a season, but if you alternate between games of 350 yards/3 TDs and 150 yards/0 TDs, you’re likely not taking your team to the Super Bowl.

A TV show can be entertaining and deliver great ratings in a season, but if the show can’t replicate that success season after season, it’s going to lose viewers and won’t be on the air for long.

You could be a great marketer and run a great campaign for your product and service but if you’re not continually communicating with your customers and delivering value, you’ll likely lose them to your competitors.

Being good or smart once or twice isn’t enough to win. You have to deliver at a high level, all the time. Consistency is really, really important.

I hope that my blog posts are somewhat interesting and provoke some thoughts, but if I posted more often than once a month, I might have more than 30 readers. I’ll try to be more consistent. :)

Intellectual Curiosity

When you interview someone for a job, what do you typically look for? There are plenty of really important aspects, such as a relevant background, success in school or past jobs, ambition, strong people and communication skills, personality, fit into the company culture, among others.

What I’ve found to be the most compelling trait is intellectual curiosity. I’m not the most seasoned recruiter, but I’ve been part of the interview process for full-time and intern positions here at the Caps, at my former consulting firms, and even back in high school when I worked at Champs Sports and the local supermarket. I’ve discovered that to me, the most influential characteristic of a candidate is the ability to ask insightful questions to garner a deeper understanding of how things are done and how s/he can impact and improve the company, even if the job is selling sneakers or scanning groceries. I think that intellectual curiosity can overcome certain shortcomings, such as a lack of direct experience for the position at hand, as it shows the ability to learn, assess, understand, and adapt.

What do you think? Have you found that intellectual curiosity is something that’s important to you?