Why I have always underestimated the benefits of bowling

Gallery-Entrance_700x700_acf_croppedNot far from where I live in the NYC suburbs, a new mall has opened which in and of itself is unusual in the U.S. today.  It’s easy to write about the demise of malls which has been mostly the result of the behavioral changes of Americans over the past fifty years.  Bowling in some ways has mirrored the heyday of malls as has its subsequent fall from being a pastime.

One of the ‘experiential’ stores that has opened at the new mall is a ‘classy’ and chic bowling place (not an alley) called Pinstripes, that serves quality food and drink.  I’ve not yet visited but my son has, and he reported that it was much nicer than he expected and will definitely go back.  There are just over a dozen units listed on the website.

The idea of bowling being part of a mall is not a new thing.  A number of years ago I visited a bowling place in a mall in Tampa called Splitsville, which was much the same concept – a bit more upscale, billiards, quality food and drink.  I thought that concept was cool and might catch on.  Splitsville is still around but only a half dozen units appear to be in operation.

From www.bowlingmuseum.comDuring the 20th century bowling gained rapidly in popularity.  In the early 1930’s after the end of prohibition, beer companies were looking for new venues of advertisement. Many teamed up with the Bowling Proprietor’s Association (BPAA) to promote their brand through the sport of bowling. Companies like Pabst, Hamm’s, Stroh’s, Meister Brau, Falstaff, and Anheuser-Busch sponsored semi-professional teams. The height of popularity for the beer teams was reached in the 1950s when bowling became televised regularly. Names like Dick Weber, Don Carter, and Ned Day became household names as these bowlers reached stardom.

The invention of the automatic pinsetter really helped bowling become a popular sport in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Particularly in colder climes.  People would sign up for bowling leagues where they would commit to showing up for 30 weeks on whatever night(s) and they’d bowl.  I know you’ve seen pictures.   I used to go bowling a few times a year but if I’ve bowled 5 times in the past 10 years I’d be surprised.  I am neither a good nor bad bowler and am completely fine with that.  Which is notable since there are few things in life about which I feel that way.

When I thought about it there are several things I like about bowling.

  1. Bowling is easy to learn and do for people from 4 – 100+
  2. Nobody cares if you are a lousy bowler. Once you have a couple of beers or drinks you care less too.
  3. When going out with a bunch of people you can never really tell who’s a surprisingly good bowler, or who’s a terrible bowler. Of course, as I noted above for some reason in bowling, nobody cares.
  4. Bowling does not take long and wearing the shoes is actually kind of cool even if you wonder who might’ve worn them last. But ignore that.
  5. If you lose at bowling, nobody cares.
  6. If you win at blowing, still nobody cares.

I have a hard time coming up with something to do with family, friends, and even business co-workers and associates besides bowling, that would be less aggravating and more fun.

Today many bowling alleys (I guess they are still called that), are quite a bit different from the musty, dirty, and dank places that were all over the U.S. for such a long time.  League bowling is not nearly as popular and renting lanes for an hour or more is becoming the standard.

Since it’s the holidays and families can sometimes spend just a little too much time together, allow me to recommend an excursion for all to an updated bowling center.   You will laugh more than you thought, and nobody will be aggravated with one another and people will have a good time.  Hopefully that bonhomie lasts throughout the holidays and into 2020.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Happy Kwanzaa and my best wishes for a healthy and happy new year.


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Not all Boomers are OK Boomers

Memes can be funny and cutting at the same time.  But they can also generalize to the max. Given that I am a baby boomer I am very aware of the different ways Boomers process and react to the current work environment.  Because of the way Boomers came up through the ranks can be so different it cannot be expected that all end up feeling the same way.  That’s true of every generation before the Baby Boomers, and will be true for generations yet to come.

The article on NPR here addresses some of the general cluelessness of Baby Boomers.  I laughed a bit when I saw one millennial wrote that a Boomer with who she has casual professional contact noted ‘you look good today’.  And her reaction was – “And I’m like, that’s such a weird thing to say…”   So, by extension it’s a bit creepy to have someone you know note that you look good today?

As a late Boomer, here’s something that I am struggling with. Sometimes I compliment other men on their clothing, shoes or watch.  I have in the past (and not the distant past) complimented to women that ‘I liked your outfit’ or shoes or hair or whatever.  It didn’t seem creepy since it was simply meant as a genuine compliment, but now it’s viewed as creepy?  Times change.  We all must change with them.  But please excuse my sensitivity to an all-encompassing dis that is actually far from accurate or universal.  To wit, I still feel confident in holding doors open for people (men and women) and car doors for women (I’ve rarely done that for a man who wasn’t a relative).

Like every generation, Boomers come in ALL shapes, sizes and varieties.  It never dawned on me how it would be to be part of the ‘older’ and ‘out of touch’ generation.  For a long time I felt Boomers were kind of cool.  And it was more than just going to Woodstock.  Yeah, yeah, I know those days are over and people know that was a long time ago, but sometimes it’s ignored that not all Boomers behave in the same way.

‘OK Boomer’ lumps all Boomers together as one.  There are plenty of clueless Gen X’rs, Millennials and Gen Z’rs too.  To some degree people are all products of the environments in which they have experience.  Times and attitudes change, and some people are better at adapting to those changes than others.  Looking at life in the 1970’s and 1980’s via the lens of the 2010’s is going to reveal unenlightened viewpoints.  As would some of the American attitudes of the 1930’s and 1940’s might have looked to the subsequent Boomer generation.

30 years from now when the oldest millennials approach 70 years old some of the current viewpoints and attitudes will seem out of touch.  Meanwhile a meme has been born, and cashing in on it will have to happen in a hurry before OK Boomer becomes a forgotten phrase.

It cannot come soon enough for me.

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Flying without Free Wi-Fi isn’t as fun

Last Friday I flew on Delta to Florida and back up on Southwest Sunday morning. Neither plane had a video screen, both had an option to purchase Wi-Fi for the flight. Neither airline made me happy. I do appreciate the low prices generally offered by airlines and have written about the idea that airline costs are lower than they were 30 years ago. But costs are going up and services continue to be taken away.

I haven’t yet gone out of my way to fly only Jet Blue, which has had free Wi-Fi on its flights for nearly two years. But I am starting to think about it. Be assured that I won’t cut off my nose to spite my face as the saying goes, by paying more on a non-Jet Blue flight than the cost of Wi-Fi.

Airlines continue to find new an unusual ways to generate additional revenue. Like charging $15 for early access overhead bin space. You have Frontier Airlines in 2014 to thank for that. United this week reported that overhead bin space was being increased and that now you would pay $15 for it.

Not having video screens on planes is fine as that helps the airlines keep costs (fuel and system maintenance) down. But ALL planes should be equipped with Free Wi-Fi. No it’s not an inalienable right, but it should be standard. And at the same time it mollifies the passengers and keeps them quiet. Planes have never been quieter since nearly everyone is wearing headphones and watching something. Yes some still read but they’re quiet too!

When Jet Blue launched its Free Wi-Fi I posted that it was a smart move and would have to be followed by the other airlines. Nearly two years later I am amazed that this hasn’t yet occurred. Eventually all will feature Free Wi-Fi as the world and airline passengers will demand it.

When first boarding the plane this past weekend, I did not notice Wi-Fi being available and noticing that there no screens I started to think that I was flying back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Those were the days of dumb flights. And free but lousy food service. So at least Wi-Fi was offered and there was ‘Free’ content provided by the airline in the form of movies and TV shows etc.. But why both airlines were compelled to charge $8, (or more) for Wi-Fi still mystifies me.


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The key to survival is embracing your professional struggle

Most mornings I drive to a train station and hop on a commuter train heading to New York City from my town in the suburbs. I have lots and lots of company doing the same thing every day. Sometimes I see someone older than me getting on the same train heading to work just like me.  I used to think that it was a shame that that person was still commuting after working for so many years. Today it impresses me.

When I was younger I, like many, believed the goal was to be ‘done’ and retired at as young an age as possible. Getting down about the day-to-day professional struggles was something to try to avoid. What I’ve come to realize is that the daily struggle itself is something to embrace and not eschew. When you stop having to struggle with professional challenges (being very specific since there are many challenges physical, mental and otherwise that you always wish to avoid), there’s a good chance that you begin to lose your professional edge on the road to your likely future professional irrelevancy. That’s the way it goes for most people once they retire. There’s lots more ‘free’ time, but also there’s the loss of connection and energy that one gets from testing oneself on a daily bases.

Life is an unending series of challenges. We humans want to make things easier, for ourselves, and the people we care about. That’s always a good goal, but believe it or not we should not want to make things TOO easy. Overcoming challenges is fundamental to a feeling of accomplishment and personal growth. Why would you EVER want to stop doing that?

I am not blowing smoke here and realize that there are many circumstances where ‘embracing the professional struggle’ would seem laughable. When you have a lousy boss, or a less than stellar product or service you have to represent, or a totally dysfunctional team or situation, it’s just a pain in the neck every day. Yet you can manage to find ways to work around the problems to make it at least tolerable and in that process can learn something about yourself. Lifelong learning is something in which I strongly believe.

People work because they have an ongoing need to ….SURVIVE! When lucky people win a lottery (or an inheritance) most often the first thing they say or do is quit their job. Figuring out what to do next is often a bigger problem than they might have imagined. When I talk with my friends and colleagues about what they will do once they stop working at their current job, I ask them about what they plan to do ‘next’? At times it’s as if they’ve not really considered anything aside from stopping what they were doing. Which is fine. But stopping altogether means giving up the struggle and in the process you are giving up much more than you ever thought.

Work, struggle, win, lose, fight, decide to not fight now; all of these are part of a professional life and all combine to give your life meaning and forward motion. Struggling is key to your survival – now and forever.

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Offers that don’t motivate devalue the brand

Upon occasion I guest lecture at some NYC area universities and colleges. I talk about direct marketing and entrepreneurship and ask the students which is most important in direct mail – Creative? List? Offer? Do you know? All are important but not equally important. I’ll reveal the standard a bit later on but will focus on offers. Smart marketers know good offers motivate and compel action. But what about lukewarm and even lousy offers?

There are marketing efforts don’t make compelling offers. But they make them anyway. Take Lyft for example. I am not a regular Lyft user. I expect that I have less than 20 Lyft rides in a year. I expect that Lyft (a service I prefer over Uber for several reasons), has all the data on me from all my rides on Lyft over the past few years. Yet the offer Lyft continually makes (to me at least), is 10% off on up to 10 rides in the next week or two weeks etc. As if that would motivate me to choose Lyft rides more often. If my average ride is $10.00 Lyft’s offering me a whole dollar off is entirely un-motivating. For me it seems even a little desperate. My hope is that Lyft has evidence that this works with other riders, motivating them to choose Lyft either over Uber, a taxi or some other ride service, but call me skeptical.

What could Lyft do offer-wise that would be motivating? How about take 5 rides and the 6th one is free? Or 3 rides and the 4th one is free? And give me a month to do it since my behavior shows that I am unlikely to go from 1 ride a month to 10. If the idea is to get me to be a more regular rider something more compelling has to be put in front of me.

Hotels are not particularly good at making compelling offers either. Giving me a ‘free night’ after I’ve spent 3 or 4 nights isn’t an awful offer as potentially ‘saving’ more than $100 is attractive. Until you remember that you’ve already spent several hundred dollars at a non-discounted rate to get that deal. I don’t remember ever jumping at an offer for a ‘free’ night as almost all the time it’s not the best deal available.

Less than great offers do not reflect well on brands. I feel that if a compelling offer is not on the table, most brands are better off not making an offer at all. Deliver a great customer experience on all counts, don’t promise more than you can deliver (over-deliver as my colleague Brian Kurtz will tell you), and let the chips fall where they may.

And the answer to the question is – list always takes precedence over creative and offer. You can have a great offer or deliver great creative to the wrong people and it will most likely fail.

Offers that don’t motivate are not worth making.


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Electronic delivery might be too inexpensive

At the beginning (way back in the 1990’s), when people began to access the World Wide Web, many services were ‘FREE’.   Different industries were impacted to varying degrees. Publishers of printed materials like newspapers and magazines can tell you all kinds of stories about how it ‘used to be’ and their own response to putting their content out digitally at the same time as it was being printed and shipped. Many of those publishers didn’t make it and the ones that remain have adapted and will continue to adapt, or they will perish as well.

Most marketers know that giving away something for free and then trying to charge for it later is difficult at best. This does not include free trials since the offer is for a trial period and then there is no longer access provided unless the user pays for it. Pay walls are here to stay but consumers are still adapting to them. The advantages of digital delivery for publishers are many with the most significant being not having to produce or ship anything physical.

Electronic delivery is cheap. You know this because all day long you send and receive text messages, email and social media messages with no concern about how many you send or receive. It costs the same right? NOTHING! But imagine if you paid a small fee to send an email for instance? A penny an email? A penny doesn’t seem like much even if you send 300 emails a day that’s only $3. I truly hope that nobody reading this is sending even 100 emails per day but it’s possible. Enterprise services like Slack and Google Hangouts don’t normally have costs associated with them paid by the day-to-day users as their company covers those costs.

The United States Postal Service has been in dire straits for years. The loss of First Class Mail volume has been going on for years. That’s why the USPS is delivering packages for other companies. After all, the mailman still comes to each residence and business 6 days a week.

At one point in the past 20 years the USPS considered giving each citizen an usps.gov email address. They even had a revenue model per email. Clearly that did not go over well since you probably never even heard about it. An interesting article from Bloomberg in 2016 notes how the USPS almost became a big email provider.

So electronic delivery remains really cheap. This is great right? Well yes and no. How much more unsolicited email do you receive today than you did years ago? Even with Can-SPAM’s protocols and rules, in my opinion the email senders are way ahead of the regulators. Why not email everybody and his brother since you may pick up a few customers along the way?

And then there’s LinkedIn. Two and a half years ago I wrote a post Who are you? And no I’m not going to accept your LinkedIn invitation. Some commented that I was being overly negative. I actually thought that was fair and that my own experience might be different from others. But it’s only gotten worse. LinkedIn claims to have rules in place to curtail unsolicited offers and invitations. However there’s lots of evidence to the contrary. Every single day (including weekends) I receive offers to ‘connect’ and talk to a service provider who wants to help with ‘warm’ leads, accounting, financial and other services. The solicitors appear to have little to lose in spraying and praying that someone like me will reply and become a warm lead myself. If those solicitors had to pay for each email their behavior would change and they’d use more discretion. And wouldn’t that be grand? (they probably are paying linked in – I can’t imagine it’s free)

For those that do not know, when companies or individuals rent email lists of those they would like to reach out to, they rent the names for an agreed to amount of uses (one or more), and the provider of the email names sends the email to their chosen audience. This way the buyer does not have actual access to those names/email addresses unless someone replies to the email. You pay a fee for that which can range from $.10 per name to more than $.50 per name depending on how refined are the data sets. The more refined the more expensive. This works pretty well and marketers decide on email as a channel based on its ROI just like everything else.

When there’s low cost to send – as in the case of electronic mail and social media messages etc., discretion goes ‘out the window’ as there’s no reason to be discreet. Paint the world and hope you catch a few along the way.   It’s a lousy model and we the recipients of the world feel there’s little we can do about it.

Maybe revisiting charging a sending fee should be revisited? What do you think?


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Can brands be built concurrent with taking day-to-day orders?

When it comes to marketing, I am first and foremost a direct marketer. In today’s language – I am a D-T-C proponent and advocate. Over the years I’ve worked with companies that have cared little about their brand identity (just get the order and we’ll find other items for that new customer to buy) and focused on beating break-even numbers as quickly as possible. Investing in a brand was and is time consuming AND expensive.

Companies that were interested in building a solid brand understood that careful planning and execution had to be undertaken in order to create and maintain the desired brand identity and promise. Ten years ago this meant driving consumers to purchase the product most of the time at a retail location. The Direct to Consumer marketers were running all different types of media promotions incentivizing consumers to stop what they were doing and call and buy now. The incidences of reverse engineering a brand to begin as a DTC and move to a full-scale retail brand were rare. Tempur-Pedic mattresses on which I worked for many years was a rare exception and today for the most part has forgone its direct response roots.

In the last ten years companies like Warby-Parker, Harry’s, Dollar Shave and others have disrupted the retail AND the direct response landscape. As an agency owner the fallout has come in some unexpected ways. More than one client has expressed a desire to create a good and ‘cool’ brand but at the same time they all need orders to sustain their growth and spending. These companies are not funded by venture capital or private equity so they feel they have to straddle the line between brand and direct. This is fine for our shop as we often discuss the idea with clients and prospects that we stand at the intersection of brand and direct response.

But there’s a catch. It ain’t easy and there’s not a magic formula that can be plugged in that will guarantee success. Oh sure, clients will say they understand that success is not guaranteed but that’s not completely true. Every company is hedging their investment to protect the downside risk. That’s just smart. But can straddling the line between brand and direct response actually be successful?

The answer is YES – with a caveat (of course). Understanding and mapping the customer journey is the key. And it is not always immediately transactional – despite what we all would like! Depending on the product or service, the promise, look and feel of a brand’s appearance must be aligned with the consumer’s personal journey. For some products it’s a one step and one stop solution – i.e. cool product that’s useful, easy to buy and needs no further information. The support for a product like this can be simple, straightforward and more promotional than a multi-step sale in which the consumer will research, check other information and more carefully consider purchase options.

There are inherent difficulties in attempting to capture customer orders while building a lasting and valuable brand and they do not always work in concert. Professional major sports teams are a good example of brand building while being transactional. Sure it’s great to have a good year where lots of people buy tickets, subscribe to watch, and pay for team merchandise. But many teams survive despite a lack of on the field success and over time the value of their brand (franchise) increases whether they have a winning tradition or not. Unfortunately the model that works for pro sports teams is not easily replicable for most other businesses.

Building a lasting brand of value requires a longer-term plan. Quality products, a good value proposition, and great customer service are all critical elements that make up a successful brand. If getting people to ACT NOW! is all that matters, there can be a big disconnect in laying the foundations of a successful brand while trying to make incremental sales in order to keep the lights on. How can this be done? Very carefully with detailed planning and execution.   I said it wasn’t easy but creating something of lasting value is rarely easy.

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