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What word do you “own”?

November 5, 2009

Yesterday as I was flying home from a totally unplanned trip to Hong Kong, I sat next to this kid on the plane. I think he’s about 13 or 14, I dunno, but he was traveling alone to Singapore to see his mom. We sort of started talking nonsense and halfway over the South China Sea, he came up with this idea of playing a word association game.

How it goes is one of us picks out a random word and the other says out the first thing that comes to his mind. The original word could be anything. You got 3 seconds. Where’s the fun you ask? Hell if I know but my objective was to make it harder and harder for him to respond.

So it was my turn and it went something like this.

Me: “Airplane”

He: “Wings.”

Me: “Spaghetti.”

He: “Meatballs.”

Me: “Mechanic.”

He: “Harley Davidson.”

Me: “Amateur.”

He: “Uhh… porn?”

I stopped dead in my tracks. “Porn? PORNNN?? Whoa, what’s the connection?” I asked.

“Ummm… nothing, nothing.” he stammered, embarrassed. “It just came to my mind, that’s all.”

“Riiigght,” I said with a big grin on my face. “So what else have you been looking at on the net?” I asked innocently. 😀

Anyway the point I wanna make is, word associations don’t apply to objects only. They apply to people too.

So if I said Einstein, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? What if I said Megan Fox? Or George Bush?

You’ll notice that when it comes to people, word association responses tend to evoke one thing – reputation. Maybe its the most memorable part of someone and because of that, the word association tends to be descriptive. Like genius, sexy, trustworthy, slimeball.

Okay, so what if someone mentions your name? What word do you think will come back? Jerk? Fun? Boring?

Let’s say your friends have one word to say about you – crazy ass, and the reverse works the same way too. Mention crazy ass and your name immediately pops up. Congratulations, that’s one heck of a confirmation that you own that word, like how Jack Russel terriers own the word “havoc.” Good or bad, you’re that word and that word is you. At least in your circle of friends.

So how did you get to own that word? By accident or by design?

If you can answer that question, you’re well on your way to understanding how brands work.


The fastest way to glory

October 30, 2009

“How much is that super-Pro tennis racket?”

“Is this the same guitar brand used by Eric Clapton?”

“So this car is better than the M5?”

“You sure this bike was used Carlos Sastre used to win Tour de France last year?”

All these questions have one thing in common. They’ve been asked by newbies all over who want to take a short cut to glory by buying the best equipment money can buy.

Have kick-ass equipment, will rock.

And actually, despite the naysayers you do rock. People love you because you got the money to buy a $20,000 bicycle or because you give them funny stories to tell at the bar.

Here’s one funny story (see, its working already. lol.) I had a classmate in California who bought a brand new Corvette car in his senior year. Everyone went “Wooo…” I had a chance to take a ride out with him and yup, he drove like a pussy. The only vehicles that didn’t overtake him on the freeway were heavy trucks and a few pickups that were carrying illegal Mexican workers. But it didn’t matter because it certainly caught a few ladies’ attention. At the end of the day, that’s what its all about. 😛

You know why equipment is so important? Because we all need an outside object to pin our egos and frustration on. We buy something big to compensate for something small (and no, I’m not necessarily talking about that something.) But its how it works. Have right brand of squash racket, got ticket to the big boys table. Have road race to lose, got car to blame. Its stupid yeah, but it serves a need.

Bottom line? You might not know it but sometimes, what you buy says a lot more about you than you think.

Have a good weekend folks.

How to make cashiers not want your money

October 29, 2009

Yesterday I learned an excellent way to save money. You may already be a master at this.

Here’s what you need:

1. A wallet with 1 or two pieces of the biggest banknotes you can find. $100 notes are ideal. Put away anything smaller than a $50.

2. A straight face.

Here’s what you do.

You’re out with a couple of friends for a drink. The bill comes, let’s say for $24.90. You open up your wallet, slap your forehead and say loudly, “Oh shit, I only have a $100 note!”

Cashiers love customers with small change and if your friends are normal well-balanced people, they’ll have a wad of $1’s, $5’s and $10’s in their wallets. So at the cashier…

– Friend A holds out 2 $10’s and a $5.

– Friend B holds out a $50.

– You hold out your $100 bill.

Guess whose money will the cashier take?

Go ahead, try it and see what happens.

The good thing about this technique is, you can always lay it on the cashier for not wanting your money. 😀 You get a free ride and nobody can blame you for not offering to pay.

As for your friend, you could tell him you’ll pay him back once you get your hands on some small change. Not that it matters coz in 3 days time, he’ll forget about it and so will you.

Remember, the trick is to never keep anything smaller than a $50 in your wallet whenever you’re out on some social entertaining.

My gratitude to my sifu Mr. I-Never-Have-Small-Change for this wonderful tip. 😛

What about you, have any “good” tips to share?

Your CEO sucks? Here’s why your company will extend his contract.

October 28, 2009

I like Formula One, especially when my heroes are winning, and this season has been full of surprises. Here’s one that I picked up recently from the world of F1. Glad to know even that vaunted sport is not spared.

“‘News of the discontent at Brawn has filtered down the pit lane prompting rival teams, including Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari, to attempt to lure the top brains behind the championship-winning car with lucrative job offers.’

Brawn chief executive Nick Fry, though, insists he is unaware of any unhappiness in the camp.

No one has said anything to me about this,” Fry told the paper. “I am extremely surprised. We will look into any concerns that people have, though I am not aware of any. As far as we are concerned these are internal matters but if there is an issue with anybody we are quite happy to talk to them about it.”


Sound familiar?

You probably know a company or two where everyone’s fed up with the working conditions. The grapevine’s busy with crude jokes and cartoons about senior management. Its been going on a while. Some are so pissed they argue openly with managers. Then when you ask the CEO about it, he’ll go, “No, I’m not aware of this. No one told me. I am extremely surprised.” 😀

You also know companies whose customers are so pissed at their services they go to blogosphere for a noisy roasting. A hundred comments pour in from other similarly pissed customers. But ask the CEO and he’ll say, “No, I’ve never received a single complaint. I’m surprised. As far as I know, everything’s fine.”

So what do you do with such a CEO? Or more precisely, what should the board do with him?

Fire him?

Haha, in your dreams. Come year end, 9 out of 10 times they will give him a handsome raise and renew his contract for another 2 years. Yes! Give us more of your magic!! the board says.

If you doubt this, go read the local papers. See what’s happening in companies where morale is at rock bottom. See how the CEO’s contract gets renewed every time, with a nice bonus thrown in.

So all you management gurus, care to tell me what’s up?

I can only guess and here is my guess. It has nothing to do with morale. It has everything to do with numbers.

Okay, here’s what I’d do if I were the evil CEO.

See, sometimes when shareholders are clamoring for numbers and sales figures aren’t good enough, the only way to make profits look good is to revert to that old trick – cut costs.

So I cut corners. I reduce training. I do away with the coffee and tea in the pantry, the subsidized parking, the toilet paper. I axe the company trip and annual dinner. I also cut extra services to customers. No more refillable soda at the counter. Whatever I can restrict I restrict.

The staff will be pissed. So will the customers but I will give just enough not to scare off my most valuable customers. The 20% who gives me 80% of my money. I also look after the staff who keep this 20% happy. The rest of them I wouldn’t give a sh*t.

Meanwhile I will get ready for half the company to leave in disgust but I already have plans to get new blood in so go ahead make my day. Leave if you want.

The immediate effect: sales stay the same but because my costs go down, my profit goes up. The staff curses and swears at me but the board loves my numbers. I get my contract renewed.

I know what you’re thinking. How long can this go on? I agree. But it buys me time to clean house and get something going with the new blood I’m getting from the outside. New brooms sweep the best you see.

If that doesn’t happen, simple. I’ll just cite uncontrollable market changes, propose a buyout or merger and with some accounting magic, I still come up ahead.

Now you know why evil CEOs survive. But you know what? He’s not the only one to blame. Think of your hunger for good P/E ratios if you happen to have a few lots of the company’s shares. 😀

Her First Big C…

October 26, 2009

That’s “c” as in check you dunderheads. Or cheque as you guys spell it here. Yeah my friend Jasmine just received her first big payoff for a freelance job as a copywriter. A bunch of us went out last night in typical Asian style to help her spend some of her fortune. Thanks J. 😀

I wanna talk about viral magic today. If you’ve dug around the net a bit, you might have bumped into something with a title like “Her first big …..” Its not everywhere but its starting to get viral (noticeable), the use of similar sounding titles I mean, not the content, especially if you stray into that area where clothes are optional.

Ok, porn. There, I said it.

And no, its not my habit to hang out there. Got better things to do with my time. Its just interesting where you end up when you innocently follow one link to the next.

Now me being me, I do have one habit. I tend to question the truth or validity of the words I see. Yeah, irritating. So if a product flyer says, “We’re No. 1 worldwide!” I say, “Really? Let me check on that.” Sometimes I find they are no. 1 in some freaky category, like first in the world with blue durians that smell like strawberries, something like that. Sometimes the claim turns out to be anything but true.

So media titles like “Her first big…” got me thinking. How did the producers of the flick know it was her first big …? I mean with her skills, she obviously had plenty but its like saying its her first delicious cupcake. What if she went to that other shop tomorrow and ate an even more delicious cupcake. Would she still say that previous cupcake was her first delicious cupcake? Furthermore, for that claim to be true there would have to be an independent 3rd party there to confirm that it was indeed her first big whatever. That 3rd party would have to check her background and activity history to confirm or refute the claim of it being the “first”.

Only then we have a believable title.

You see where I’m getting at? Truth in advertising FTW!!! Hehe. 😀

There’s another increasing trend I spot on the net that I have no idea where or how it started. In blogs, pictures or videos, have you ever come across titles like this one – “Cute Mei Ling loves to camwhore in her pink cardigan while holding a cup of tea with her left pinkie.”

Aww come on, gimme a break. How on earth does a blogger know that Mei Ling “loved” to do whatever she was doing? What if she did it because she had no choice? Or that she was paid to do it, and that if you paid her a little more she would have “loved” to pose in the green cardigan and she won’t “love” the pink one? And uhh… is that your definition of “cute”?

Okay, I’m laughing my ass off. My IQ just dropped 10 points in the last 60 seconds. Seriously dude, if you believe any of these titles, you obviously need your head checked. But you know what’s interesting? Its how you don’t have to be smart to attract eyeballs. Sometimes you just have to appear lame and make it sound so irritatingly ridiculous that people must go check it out, if nothing else just to see how someone can be so lame.

Conclusion? Its not always the high IQ stuff that gets the attention.

Think about it the next time you advertise.

The high dominance link to success

October 23, 2009

Overheard (again) in a coffee shop:

“No, you have to be a dominant character in business. Otherwise you cannot win!”

Wow, no shit.

Ok I guess it is true, in a world where intimidation is the only road to success. The question is, is that how you’ve set yourself up?

I say “set yourself up” on purpose because I believe that’s exactly what it is, a choice. We choose to jump into a crowded market with a product with plenty of substitutes. We choose to cling to suppliers with a disproportionate bargaining power over us. We choose to hire staff without conducting background checks. Then to have it go our way, we tell ourselves we need an iron fist. 😀

There are many ways to get the same results. How about not selling products that every guy and his brother are selling. How about dealing only with suppliers with roughly equal bargaining power. Or doing some work and actually filter job candidates before you hire them.

But you wouldn’t like that would you. Its a lot more fun to just fling the doors wide open and lie in wait with a baseball bat, as many alpha types would prefer to do. No need to think so hard.

I came to this disturbing conclusion after observing something funny. A company says its has a problem. Only a dominant guy can solve it. Then I find that these problems are self inflicted. Problems easily avoided if only people were mindful enough. For instance, why would a company tell you people are its best assets, put you though the most laughable hiring process and then spend thousands getting dominant managers on board to get rid of the misfits and troublemakers they wrongly hired? 🙂

But I can’t ignore the bizarre side of the picture too. The side where the highly dominant and the passive/timid actually meet to serve each other’s twisted needs. You’ve seen them before. Those with an intense craving to be in control of something just to feel good about themselves, and those that say, “Please master, control me!!” just to feel they’re not hopelessly lost. It would’ve been funny if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. Sick.

So in my opinion dominance = success is a myth. If you’re struggling to win the race despite being the little dictator at the shop, check your tires or your spark plugs, cause sometimes its not the lack of aggressive power in your engine that’s failing you.

Counter offers – should you take them?

October 21, 2009

Dear Damien,

After being at my wits end for a year, I tendered my resignation last week and am serving my notice. But guess what? My company decided to give me a counter offer. A promotion to Assistant Manager position and an immediate 20% raise which I had been fighting for all along. This package puts it at par with the offer that I got outside. Should I take the counter offer?

Dear Megan,

If it was the highest bidder you were after, then you should go to whoever pays you higher, even if its $100 more. There’s nothing to think about.

But if its more than just about money, then think before you jump. There’s pros and cons to everything.

First, the pros. If your initial gripe was about money and position, then you got what you wanted. You need not re-learn anything. You know your way around, people know you, life goes on as usual. The difference is you having more money in your pocket and a more flattering title on your business card.

The cons: History can and will often repeat itself.

By giving you a counter offer, the company basically admits its a poor judge of talent and a worse one at handling it. Perhaps they didn’t think you were worth that much. Or perhaps they did, but they thought they could get away with underpaying you. If its the latter, then you know there’s something fundamentally dishonest about that counter offer.

Personally, I think the cons are bigger than the pros. Why do I say that?

Because by taking the offer, you’d be falling back on the same old mechanism that screwed you over in the first place. Unless they’ll make changes like transferring you to a new boss who actually knows what he’s doing, who’s to say you won’t find yourself in the same situation next year?

Second is what accepting a counter offer might say about you as a person and its usually along the lines of money can silence you. You can be bought. True or not, its a perception. A statement of character. It can impact your superiors’ choices about you later. The more senior you are, the more damaging u-turns can be to you.

So my advice to you is, before you accept a counter offer, ask them some hard questions like

1. Why the counter offer and why now

2. How did they drive you to a point where you felt you had to leave to save your career

3. What are their plans for your future

4. Will they put you in this situation again

Only reconsider your departure if real reconciliation is possible. If not, you’re better off elsewhere.

Good luck.