Monthly Archives: December 2011

Military spouses are troopers

I’ve been a single mom for over a week now, and let me tell you, this is not a state I would be happy in permanently. And it’s not like I’m dealing with diapers and night feedings, my kid is a teenager! I can’t even imagine how much more difficult it would be if she were small and utterly dependent on me.

My husband went to California on business and then took some time to visit with his sister and her family. I was all for it. I wanted him to have a break, particularly since his company was paying for the airfare. Everyone deserves a break from their normal lives once in a while. Most people call that a vacation, but when you’re taking your family with you it’s not the same kind of break.

I was okay for the first week. It was kind of like a stay-cation for me and my daughter. We didn’t really do anything we wouldn’t normally do, but we could have, and that meant something. There were, however, a few downsides that I hadn’t anticipated. The biggest was meal preparation. And by meal preparation, I mean cleaning up after meals.

I don’t like to cook, but that’s one of my jobs anyway. The problem is I know how to multi-task; most women do – men don’t. (Look it up if you don’t believe me.) That means I can do other things and still get dinner on the table at a reasonable hour. If dinner were left up to Andrew, we’d eat, but not until after I’d lost my patience and maybe stomped off to bed. The reason I don’t mutiny about cooking is that Andrew typically cleans up, by which I mean he washes pots and pans, the stuff that requires a bit of muscle to get clean. This week, I’ve been cooking and cleaning up.

The other thing I’ve been soloing on is being my daughter’s chauffer. This is what Saturday looked like: I took her to the mall first thing to shop for a dress she doesn’t need until January, but just had to look at during the worst time to visit the mall, the week before Christmas. Then she needed to get to the movie theater to meet friends, the theater that’s not accessible by bus, and I had to pick her up when it was over. She couldn’t wait for someone else to drive her home because there was very little time to eat dinner before we had to leave again to get her to an indoor soccer game, a twenty-minute drive from home. After all that is it any wonder I insisted we stop for ice cream on the way home? It wasn’t for her, it was for me. I wanted recompense for all my hard work.

My husband will be reading this blog while he’s away. I am not writing it so that he’ll feel guilty. Really, truly, I am not. I’m writing it to say, next time you see a veteran from our most recent war, or any of them, stop them and tell them how happy you are to see them home safe, and how, for the sake of their spouse, it wasn’t a moment too soon.

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The art of branding (products, not cows)

There was an article in the New Yorker (October 3, 2011) called Famous Names, by John Colapinto. It’s about how the importance of branding has evolved and how naming fads (my word, not his) have changed over time. On a simple level, branding is the practice of naming a company or a product ─ anything really. You can even have a personal brand, something no one should be without. The brand name is the spearhead for marketing. It can increase perceived value in the marketplace. Colapinto said, “The ideal contemporary name works across languages, on search engines, and on Twitter and Facebook, all while displaying the ingenuity necessary to stand out…”

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page here, I offer you two successful branding examples; Kleenex and Xerox. When someone’s nose is running, they are as likely to say, “Can you hand me a Kleenex?” as they are to ask for a tissue. Similarly, if you need to photocopy something, you’re as likely to say, “I’ve got to Xerox this,” as you are to “copy it.”

The art of branding is rarely part of a company’s core competency, so when it is time to brand a new widget some may choose to pay big bucks to branding consultants. Sometimes they pay many thousands of dollars to hire a firm and then ignore their input. You see, branding, like so many things a marketing person deals with, is highly subjective. Branding is about making up names, a game the whole company can play. And if it’s a game the whole company can play, the boss usually wins. (To fully appreciate where I’m coming from, you may want to reread my post, Writers Get No Respect.)

I’ve named a few products in my time, or tried to anyway. Once, after spending many weeks working with a cross-functional team, we reached consensus on a name for a new product. With great excitement we presented the name to the president of the company. He nodded and smiled and seemed pleased with our recommendation. We left the meeting sure we had our name. The president then visited each member of the team and expressed his displeasure with the name we’d chosen ─ and presented one he preferred. Guess which name won in the end?

Another time, at a different company, management insisted that I hire a branding firm. Their process was not unlike the one I used myself, but they facilitated the brainstorming and charged for the basic trademark research that our in-house counsel could have done. After the list of possible names was whittled down to a few strong contenders, the consulting firm asked us, without irony, if we would consider one more: Blazuli. I am not making this up.

The company had created this name at some point and remained convinced that it would be good for some product, some time, if only they could get a company to take a chance. I rejected Blazuli and ultimately management rejected all the other options that our twenty-five thousand dollar investment unearthed. The boss had a better idea.

I honestly do not remember which product this story supports, but I do remember Blazuli. Maybe we should have used it. It sounds contemporary. It doesn’t appear to mean anything in Spanish, Macedonian, or Azerbaijani. A Google search turns up next to no hits from anything vaguely competitive, and according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office it hasn’t been trademarked. And best of all, it’s easy to remember. I’ll race you to the trademark office.

Avoid the last minute gift scramble

Last week I allowed myself the luxury of a small rant about having a Christmas birthday. It seems fitting to follow that up with a related rant about birthday presents, and gift giving in general. I have observed that if you have a winter birthday, people tend to give gifts aligned with the season; gloves, hats, scarves and other items designed to make winter bearable. Those things are useful, no doubt about it, but if you’d rather be lying on a beach in the Bahamas, winter weather-related gifts won’t warm the cockles of your heart.

Summer birthday gifts can include bathing suits, sunglasses, and flimsy shirts. All wonderful, I’m sure, unless you’re dreaming of your favorite season, winter! How many people born in June do you think get skis for their birthday? I’m guessing very few. If you had a summer birthday and lived for winter, I imagine birthdays could feel like lost opportunities to you. But for those of you with summer birthdays, all is not lost! If you’re one of the 93% of Americans who celebrate Christmas and you’re seasonally disappointed on your birthday, all you need to do is make your desires known and then sit tight for half a year.

Gareth Cook, a Boston Globe columnist, recently wrote an article called The Perfect Gift. He said that a scholar at the Harvard Business School, Francesca Gino, reports that people appreciate gifts that they’ve requested more than those that you give without consulting beforehand. For me, this is terrible news. According to the article, “Gino has published a detailed scientific paper, complete with tables and footnotes, describing her findings,” and I believe every word of it sight unseen. But it doesn’t apply to me. I don’t want you to ask me what I want. I want you to know me well enough to know what will make me happy.

I’m always making little notes to myself about what might make a good gift for someone. When I hear you say, “Gosh, I’d really like to have a widget someday,” I write it down so I won’t forget. I want to give you something you want, but I want to surprise you, too. That means I have to be attentive to you all year round. That sounds like a tall order, but it isn’t. It simply means that I listen when you talk. Then I can reflect back on the conversations we’ve had over the year and extract clues and hints about your heart’s desires. If I’m lucky, I have a stated desire or two written on a piece of paper somewhere.

If you are an adherent of Ms. Gino’s, you may think you’re honoring me by asking what I want for my birthday, but I want to be surprised. I believe it’s the thought that counts. I’d like you to think about me. Have you been listening to me over the course of the year?  The greatest gift I could get would be for you to say, “I remember you saying that…” If I thought you listened to me, I wouldn’t care what was in the box.