CommunicationMarketingSEOSocial Media

Medical masks

Things sure happen quickly, don’t they? Right now in Alberta “mass gatherings” can’t have more than 50 people attending it, unless it’s for an essential service.  Lots of companies, especially tech companies like ours, are having their staff work remotely.  No one has any idea how long this will last either.  Two weeks?  Two months?  Longer?  With that in mind, it’s time to dive into the options you have for marketing when more and more things are cancelled and shut down.

Advertising

a billboard advertisement

Depending on the form of advertising you’ll see different results.  As people drive less and self-quarantine more physical and radio ads will have less impact since the most common place to listen to the radio is in the car and obviously someone who’s staying at home isn’t going to see your billboard.  But if a form of advertising is likely to be seen by those trapped at home, then it will definitely still be as effective as normal, or even more effective in some cases.  If you provide something that people are still likely to search for, Google Ads are a good idea.  So a restaurant that does delivery?  Definitely a good choice.  But there are other searches that are less likely to have great results.  I need some car repairs done.  But at least until I’m done quarantining myself I’m not going to bother Googling my options.  In short, if you provide something people need, putting your extra marketing budget into advertisements can be a smart choice.  Otherwise there’s probably a better option for where you can put that extra cash.

Social Media

What better time to build a social media following then a time when pretty much everyone is stuck at home?  especially when over 50% of people using social media to check the news.  Putting in the effort to boost your social media following now means that you’re likely to see results immediately.  Even better, as you increase your following you’ll see more increases both short term and long term as your social media presence snowballs.  And unlike advertising, you aren’t just putting yourself in front of someone who you hope wants to make a purchase right then and there.  So if you provide a service that people aren’t really looking for, but you’re engaging with potential customers on social media, they’re more likely to see you on social media when they *are* looking for your services later on.

Search Engine Optimization

Google logo

Search Engine Optimization is always important, but it’s also the only option on this list that doesn’t have short term effects (normally).  That means that for a lot of businesses it has to take an unfortunate back seat to the other forms of marketing.  You want a return on your dollar now and not in several months.  So a time when you suddenly have more money to play around with in your marketing budget is a great time to finally tackle your SEO.  And the lack of short term results isn’t as important when the short term benefits for marketing are down across the board as people self-quarantine more and more.  In other words, while the downsides to putting your money in SEO are still there, they aren’t as noticeable right now whereas the benefits are still as strong as ever.

Deals on Products

Sale

Finally, depending on what you provide now might be the time to offer some deals.  A great example would be some of the phone companies in the US.  I’ve heard of several that are either increasing the data they’re giving to all their customers for free or even in some cases temporarily giving customers unlimited data plans.  Now obviously, being larger companies they can afford things like this.  Don’t run yourself and your business into the ground trying to look like a hero but it’s still important to recognize the effect that offering help in times of crisis can have.  Obviously, there’s the fact that it will certainly be easier to sleep at night.  That doesn’t really impact your business though.  What does impact you is the goodwill you create among your customers.  If you provide a service they need or one they really want right now, they’re well aware that even if you raised your prices they’d still probably buy it.  So when you offer a deal instead, while the cynical types like me will recognize it for the smart strategic choice that it is, most people will look at how it’s a gesture of goodwill.

Online Trade Shows?

photo of trade show attendees

Alright, this isn’t something that exists, as far as I can tell, but it’s an idea that I had.  And since it’s just an idea I haven’t fully fleshed it out yet so bear with me.  With conventions and conferences being cancelled, many of them are turning to online formats.  So what if there could be an online version of a trade show?  Perhaps a Facebook group, though that seems too disorganized to me.  Maybe an online forum?  Or maybe a website with information on all the various companies taking part with some sort of online version of a trade show booth.  Like I said, this is more of something that I’m mulling over.  I might even go into more detail on it next week (I make no promises though), but it’s still something to consider.

 

That’s all for now.  Hopefully these five options (well, four options and an idea in the back of my mind) will help you decide on a marketing strategy that your business can pursue in these chaotic times.  If you’re not sure what option would be best for you, or if you’d like a hand implementing your strategy, get in touch with us.  We’d love to help you out so that we can all make it out of these difficult times safely.

CommunicationMarketing

tissues and mug

The coronavirus has been pretty big in the news.  If you’re like me you’re probably already groaning about reading yet another article about it.  But I realized that there is a very important thing that businesses need to consider, regarding this pandemic.  We all know that if there’s a quarantine businesses will obviously lose sales as people stay home and only purchase necessities.  But before we even reach that point, something else will be affected first.

Conventions

If you’re a local business, your marketing plan might be about to change.  Currently, conferences, trade shows, etc. all across the world are being cancelled.  In addition to working for Panda Rose, I also do some contracting in the healthcare informatics industry and a big tradeshow coming up in Florida was cancelled the day before it was scheduled to begin.  The NBA has canceled games.  Ironically there was even a conference on the coronavirus that was cancelled because of the coronavirus.  The coronavirus is now officially a pandemic and it’s gradually spreading across the world, along with the panic and toilet paper shortages.  As it spreads, local and international events are all being cancelled in an important effort to slow down the speed of infection so that our hospitals aren’t overwhelmed.

a shopping cart full of toilet paper

What does this mean for you?  If you or a conference your business was attending are in an affected area, it means you suddenly have more money available in your marketing budget.  If you aren’t in an affected area though, it doesn’t mean you won’t be affected.  It just means you’ve got a bit more time to plan for when that happens.  But in both cases, you need to know what your options are.

Your Options

This brings us to my main focus today.  Marketing is about putting yourself in front of your audience.  That’s why tradeshows can be so effective.  You are physically in front of them interacting with them.  But when people are being encouraged to practice social distancing and it becomes impossible to be physically in front of your audience, what can you do?  Not too long ago, your options were radio and television ads.  That was it.  And even then, if your audience didn’t want to stop self-quarantining they weren’t going to go in to your store anyway.  But the internet has created a much different world.  You can show up on people’s computers through their searches on search engines and on social media, both of which are much more personal than a tv spot.

Ultimately, your main options are

  • Ads in various formats like radio, tv, Google, and YouTube
  • Focusing on social media
  • Optimizing your Search Engine Optimization
  • Some combination of the above

Next week, I’m going to do a deep dive into the pros and cons and associated costs associated with all your options if the tradeshows and conventions you planned to attend get cancelled. I’ll also give you some tips that your marketing department can implement to improve your online presence that won’t cost a cent, but for now I want you just to start thinking about it.  I’m not telling you to cancel all public appearances and hide in your house for two months, but you should start thinking about contingency plans in case your marketing strategy needs to make a sudden u-turn.

Technology

I’ve been thinking about self-driving cars a lot lately.  It’s a fun topic to look into and there’ve been several interesting articles recently.  There’s been a lot of talk out there because the self driving car reports from California have come out for this year.  I agree with this article, however, which points out that these reports don’t really tell us anything except for which companies test on Californian roads.

But I’ve noticed something interesting.  In a lot of these articles, both the ones on the reports and articles on other aspects of the industry, there’s inevitably some prediction for the future and this prediction is usually contradictory to most of the other predictions out there.

Racecar on track
What do you mean “live action Cars” already exists?

Often it seems like we’re going to usher in a golden age of self-driving cars that don’t need humans and our dream of watching a live action Cars movie can come true.  (that’s everyone’s dream right?  Not just mine?)  Other times it seems like we’re about to utterly destroy civilization entirely and be left holding a single broken key fob.  With this in mind and after scouring the web for predictions on when we’ll have self driving cars I’m pleased to introduce a brand new initiative here at Panda Rose.  The Panda Rose Choose Your Own Prediction Adventure!  By following this simple quiz, you can easily come up with predictions to give to all your friends at your next cocktail party and even better, it doubles as a really cheap personality test.  Are you ready?  Alright, let’s begin!

Looking at the latest technology I am absolutely certain that we will have self-driving cars ______!

  1. before 2022
  2. after 2022
  3. the distant future
  4. never

When we get self driving cars they will ____

  1. usher in a golden age where no one owns their own cars anymore.
  2. usher in a dark age of traffic where everyone and their dog are driving everywhere
  3. not really change anything
  4. lead to the destruction of modern society and massive civil unrest.

The solution to all the problems stopping us from using self-driving cars is ___

  1. not needed.  Almost all our problems are solved already.  I’m already getting ready for my preorder.
  2. to put all cars onto rails and maybe change their name to ‘trains’.
  3. making it illegal to go near a road on foot.
  4. nothing.  There’s no solution.  We can only accept that it will never work.

Self-driving cars will eventually be as safe as ____

  1. whatever the safest thing in the world is.  I dunno. The Svalsgaard Doomsday Seed Vault maybe?
  2. a car driven by a really good human driver.
  3. a car driven by a contestant on Canada’s Worst Driver
  4. standing on the surface of the sun.

Self-driving cars are ___

  1. guaranteed to work correctly so I’ve sold my current car and invested all my money in all the companies.
  2. a good idea if they work.
  3. alright, I guess.
  4. the fifth horseman of the apocalypse which will lead to our destruction at the hands of our car overlords.

Results

Now it’s time to calculate your results.  Add up the numbers of every answer you chose.

If you scored 5 points, you’re an idealist.  Your view of the future involves you driving into the sunset in a beautiful sports car.  And when I say that you’re driving, of course I mean that the car is driving while you take a well deserved nap.

If you scored 6-19 points, you’re probably a realist.  Especially if you didn’t answer question #3 because you didn’t agree with any of the choices.  You think there’s a good chance that we’ll get self-driving cars at some point but life won’t really change all that much for us when that happens.  You’re willing to wait and see though.

If you scored 20 points, you’re a pessimist (or a Luddite perhaps).  You don’t think we’ll ever have self-driving cars but if we do it’ll be the end of us all.

If you scored 0 points because you skipped over all the questions, you probably think that you don’t have enough information to make a prediction and so you’ll keep quiet for now.  Well a noble intention, I’d urge you to reconsider.  Not having any information certainly hasn’t stopped the rest of us so why should you miss out on all the fun?

Uncategorized

Internet cafe

Microsoft has unveiled their new version of Microsoft Edge.  Over the years, they’ve released a lot of new versions, but this is the only one that’s got our development team excited.  Why?  Because, if you haven’t heard, Edge now runs on Chromium, an open-source project based on Google Chrome.  This means that instead of being some ugly mess, Edge now has a lot of the same functionality as Chrome.

So I figured I’d give you my Outlook (pun intended.  Sit tight, there’s a lot of these) on the whole situation.  Hope y’all have your Notepads (see what I mean?) out.

what has this done to the landscape of the great browser war in this Age of browser Empires? (…okay, that one was a bit too much of a stretch.  I apologize.)  Honestly, probably not a lot right now.  I’ve currently got Chrome installed on my work computer and Firefox on my home computer and I’m happy with them both so I probably won’t go through the trouble of switching my preferred browser.  While the new Edge …edges out the competition in a lot of ways (especially Chrome), it’s not a big enough advantage for me to switch right now.  That being said, when I eventually get a new home computer I’m 99% certain I’ll just stick with Edge.

With all that out of the way, here are the advantages that the new Edge gives.  Keep in mind, that I haven’t done any in depth research on this topic yet.  I’ve only done a quick Visual Basic scan of the new info that’s out there.

Privacy

a large number of security cameras

Word on the street is that the jury’s still out as to whether or not Edge is better for privacy than Firefox.  I kinda suspect the opposite will be true.  But Edge definitely beats out Chrome for now.  While Google is starting to focus on privacy, it hasn’t quite caught up to it’s fellow browsers, which honestly isn’t that surprising.  It is Google, after all.

Better Power Consumption than Chrome

Low battery warning light

Another advantage that doesn’t really affect Firefox.  But as anyone who has used Chrome on a laptop can tell you, that thing kills battery life.  Microsoft managed to find some fixes so for now it’s better than Chrome, though they did the kind thing and made their fixes open-source so it’s only a matter of time before Chrome includes them too.  That being said, all the Power points go to Microsoft

Performance

100 meter dash lane

Edge has now managed to beat out every other browser in terms of the number of performance tests it wins.  That being said, they’re all pretty close.  There’s only ever a tiny gap between the winners.  So while edge is better here, it’s not a dealbreaker either way.

Business Needs

business laptops and papers

This is where Microsoft Excels.  The integration that Edge has with Windows and other Microsoft products means that in a large company you can find the file you need on your company’s shared server just by searching Edge for it.  Even if all you know is that Bill from Engineering made the document last week.

The new logo

new Microsoft Edge logo
Microsoft Edge logo? Or Tide pod?

I wouldn’t count the logo as an advantage except for the fact that since someone pointed it out to me, I can’t unsee the fact that it looks a bit like a tide pod.  One Note I have to make is that this could actually be a disadvantage if it results in a dead meme coming back to life.

Thank you for making it through this exploration of the new Microsoft Edge.  If you feel like it was just an excuse for me to make Microsoft puns, just be glad that you get these little Windows (sorry, not sorry) into my life.  My coworkers also want you to know, you should be glad you don’t work in the same office as me.  Though at least they have it better than my wife….

HolidaysShopping

Christmas gift

Every year you buy your gifts for all your loved ones.  But then you freeze in horror.  you also have to buy a gift this year for some of the people you hate!  Ugh!  You can’t stand him/her/them.  But you can’t be openly hostile about it and send them a glitter bomb, otherwise they’ll know exactly how you feel.

Instead you need to disguise your disdain with a great passive aggressive gift.  These are the 6 best passive aggressive gifts this year.  Do keep in mind that your individual situation may warrant something not on this list, such as high speed internet for your Amish cousin or steaks for your vegan neighbours, but these ones are surefire all purpose gifts that will work in every situation.  So here they are:

6 Great Christmas Gifts for Your Enemies

chipped mug

#6 That thing they gave you last year.

Especially if it’s a slightly worn sweater or a chipped mug.  Bonus points if there’s a bit of residue in the mug from the last time you used it.  But not too much that it makes you look bad.  Ideally you should try to break at least 2 of the 7 regifting rules.

child megaphone

#5 If they have children, anything that makes noise.

The louder the noise the better and the sturdier the toy the better.  If the toy is too fragile, it will only last a month tops, but if it is sturdy it will take a lot more effort for your enemies to destroy it.  Bonus points if it makes noises when it’s left alone.

Cat calendar

#4 A 2009 calendar.

Make sure the artwork is really lame so that they know your excuse of “I thought you’d like the pictures” is completely hollow.

moss of the month

#3 A 6 month Moss of the Month Club subscription.  Need I say more?

fruitcake

#2 Fruit cake.

In a stunning upset, fruit cake is no longer #1 on the passive aggressive gift index.  We’re sure it will be back next year, but for now it’s stuck at #2.  The best way to give a fruitcake does take some preparation though.  Our sources tell us you need to buy it on sale at Walmart just after last year’s Christmas.

Peloton bike

#1 A Peloton bike.

This gift is specifically for the woman in your life that you just can’t stand.  Don’t want to break up with her?  Give her one of these exercise bikes and tell her she has to use it for a year and her gift next year will be the weight she lost.  That way she’ll break up with you.  Be careful though, because this could lead to her landing a gig promoting Ryan Reynolds’s gin

CommunicationMarketingSEOUncategorized

Dictionary

One of the most confusing parts of working with a digital marketing company is understanding what in the world they’re telling you.  It ends up sounding like they’re telling you to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.

John Cleese
If you’ve never seen Monty Python’s Airplane Pilot sketch, you definitely need to.

Or in the words of the great John Cleese, “The scransoms above your head are now ready to flange. Please unfasten your safety belts and press the emergency photoscamps on the back of the seats behind you.”

To that end, I’ve compiled a short list of 13 of the most common digital marketing words.  Hopefully it helps you make sense about what the marketing experts are telling you.

 

Backlink – A link from someone else’s website to yours.  If it’s a reputable website this link will increase your search result rankings.

Bounce Rate – the percentage of people viewing your website who leave after only seeing one page.

Conversion – Someone who performs an action as a result of viewing your website or ad.  Such as signing up for a mailing list, taking a survey, buying a product, etc.

CTR – Click-through rate.  The percentage of people who see your site somewhere (usually search engines) that actually click through to your website.

Follow/No Follow – Whether or not search engines will follow a backlink to your website, boosting your rankings.

Keyword – a word or phrase that internet users search for on search engines.  The more specific the term, the more valuable it is since people searching for something specific are more likely to click through to relevant sites.

Remarketing – Advertising that targets people who have already interacted with your website.

Schema – A way of telling search engines what all the content on your website is.  Such as the title, author, and/or ratings and reviews of your website or products.

SEO – Search Engine Optimization.  In other words, ensuring that Google and other search sites

SERPS – search engine results pages.  Where the results for a search show up.  Ranking higher on a SERP means that you show further up on the results page.

Sitemap – a file that lists all of the urls for a site.  Search engines can read these to find urls they wouldn’t otherwise know about.

Tags – Tags can refer to two different things.  In blogging it refers primarily to relevant words or phrases to your article so that people interested in those things can find similar blog posts.  In SEO it refers to things like the title of your page, metadescriptions, headings, alt-text, no-follow tags, etc.  Don’t worry if you don’t know what those are.  Part 2 of this series will have a lot of the most common tags in it.

Phone bookWeb Directory – a website that provides lists of other websites.  Most directories require manual submissions of entries and usually include more details like contact information.  They are the easiest way to build up backlinks.

 

If there are any terms you’ve heard before and you have no idea what they mean, let me know and I can include them in a part 2.

Mobile AppsProductivityTechnology

IPhone with apps

Mobile apps can make your life easier in a lot of ways.  Here are ten great apps I personally use to simplify and improve my life.

1. Feedly

feedly logo

Feedly is a news aggregator.  That means it allows you to see all the articles related to different topics or from different sources all in one place.  We’ve got ours set up to show us all the things related to Blogging, SEO, Social Media Marketing, etc.  Ultimately, which news aggregator you use is up to personal preference, but I find that Feedly is sleek and easy to use.  The fact that it’s also available on the web helps since I can always switch over to the desktop too.  The only downside is that since their logo is a rounded square with one corner missing, it drives me crazy.

2. Teams

Teams logo

Microsoft Teams is an alternative to texting, like Telegram, What’s App, and all of those, but in addition to chatting with contacts or groups of contacts, you can also set up teams where people can post and reply to updates and attach files.

3. Everhour

Everhour logo

Time tracking is obviously important.  Everhour makes the process simple and straightforward.  They have a free plan that allows up to 5 users though if you need more users or integrations you’ll have to go with one of their premium plans.  It works in your browser, as a browser extension, and as a mobile app, which means that you can track your time while you’re in or out of the office with a few clicks or taps.

4. 1Password

1Password logo

Did you forget your password again.  Well, it’s not too hard to remember it.  It’s one of the 1,000,000 passwords you use so that should be easy to remember.  Or you could just use 1Password.  If your phone has fingerprint detection capabilities you can fill in all your passwords just with your fingerprint.  And since you don’t have to worry about remembering your passwords (except for your 1password password.  Don’t lose that one.) you can go with those passwords that were written by 10000 monkeys on typewriters.

5. Kitchen Stories

Kitchen Stories logo

Kitchen stories is a cooking app with a major advantage.  In addition to the free recipes  in the app and added to it by users, it also includes free instructional videos on various cooking techniques making it easy to follow along while you cook.  I used it to learn how to make the perfect poached egg and now my eggs benedict is to die for.

6. Google Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive

Google Drive logoDropbox logoOneDrive logo

It’s hard to pick a favourite between the big three in cloud storage and file sharing.  Dropbox has the least free storage but it still has its benefits.  It would be a lot longer of a blog post if I went into which one you should go with and why.  I just think you should go with at least one of them.  That way you can easily access important files on any of your devices.

7. Overcast

Overcast logo

Apple’s built in podcast app is alright, I guess.  But Overcast is where it’s at.  It’s ridiculously easy to sort podcasts from newest to oldest, oldest to newest, or even sort the unplayed episodes one way and the other episodes another.  More importantly, since Apple removed their playlist feature, it’s easy to create playlists and smart playlists for yourself.  It’s only for IOS, but there are free apps out there that do similar things for Android if you can’t stand android’s built in podcast player.

8. Duolingo

Duolingo logo

I’m probably not telling you anything new for this one, but Duolingo is definitely one of the most fun ways to learn a language.  I’ve been doing their Russian course and I’ll probably try out their new Latin course too.  If you haven’t heard about Duolingo before, they are

9. Scannable

Scannable logo

A few years ago, the scanner attached to my printer stopped working.  While trying to repair it I discovered Scannable.  To this day, my printer’s scanner still doesn’t work.  Scannable is an app that allows you to scan documents using your phone’s camera.  You’d expect a low-quality scan, but I’ve been able to get better quality scans using Scannable than I get from the office printer.

10. Every Dollar

Every Dollar logo

My wife got me hooked on budgeting.  Our life is so much easier to manage now that we’ve budgeted it.  The app we used to help us manage that budget is Every Dollar.  If you’ve heard of Dave Ramsey, you’ve probably heard of Every Dollar since it’s his app.  It’s great.  It’s easier to use and gives a clearer picture of your budget in my opinion than Intuit’s Mint which is the most popular budgeting app.

 

By the way, the answer to the riddle in my last post Game-ing the System is: The man had the hiccups.  So the bartender pulled out the gun to scare his hiccups away.

EducationProductivityUncategorized

Rubik's Cube

Wolf pack
The big city was of course, the upstairs of grandma’s house

As children, we loved to play games.  Childhood is the age of games.  “Let’s play house,” “Let’s play a board game,” or “Let’s play family of wolves who are having trouble finding food because of the encroaching big city.”  Okay, maybe that last one was just me and my siblings…  The point is that children primarily learn through games.  The most effective way to get a child to learn something is to turn it into a game for them to play.

 

Eventually, we grow up.  Games are something that must be put away in favour of more somber pursuits.  They’re too unstructured for regular life, which requires rules and regulations to keep things running smoothly.

 

Monopoly money
What? No, that’s not monopoly money in my glass. Why do you ask?

But what if I told you that’s not quite true?  Games don’t have less rules than real life.  They just have different ones.  In real life, the rule is that in polite society we walk upright.  But in “family of wolves who are having trouble finding food etc….” the rule is that you walk on your hands and knees.  It’s a different rule but it’s still a rule.  Taking all my monopoly money and stuffing it into my coat is fine, if a bit strange, in regular day-to-day life, but when playing Monopoly it’s called cheating.

This cuts to the heart of why games are important.  They give us the ability to try out several approaches to a problem, also known as lateral thinking.  Lateral thinking is one of the most important tools for problem solving and sadly it’s one of the most overlooked, in part because our brains just aren’t naturally good at it.  Our brains love routine and lateral thinking forces them to step back from the rules we’re accustomed to so that we can see if there is another way to solve the problem.  Because we always do things a certain way, it’s easy to continue doing things that way, but when you play a game you have to step outside of that routine to embrace a new set of rules.

Of course, I’m not saying that you should get your boss to pay you to play Monopoly. Even if you don’t like board games, or card games, or word games, or any sort of game at all, you can still turn things into games.  Even work can be turned into a game.  If you take a goal or task you have to complete and make a game out of completing it in the most efficient way possible, in addition to the obvious benefit of work being a lot more fun, you can step outside of your work routine and look for what exactly you can do differently to boost your efficiency, since ultimately that’s what a game is.  “What’s the best way to do this thing as soon as possible.”  Whether the goal is bankrupting your opponents in Monopoly, getting more goals than your opponent in a game of hockey, or even figuring out the best way for your pretend wolves to get food from the fridge upstairs without getting caught, gaming teaches you how to achieve your goal with an (often) arbitrary set of rules and conventions.  It’s a quick jump to being able to use the same tools you build in the game world to achieve your goal with the rules and conventions of the real world.

I’ll leave you with this lateral thinking puzzle.  The answer will be in next week’s post, so try not to Google it until then.  A man walks into a bar and asks the barman for a glass of water.  The barman pulls out a gun and points it at the man.  The man says ‘Thank you’ and walks out.  Why?

CommunicationSelf-Improvement

What place do personal beliefs and opinions have in an office?  On the one hand, conversations around the water-cooler about politics or religion can lead to tense working relationships to say the least.  On the other hand, conversations about the weather aren’t conducive to building strong friendships.  The heated nature of political and religious discussions arises because those beliefs are fundamental to who we are.  We have an emotional investment in them and when the topics come up we start speaking with our emotions.  So instead we discuss the regular small-talk and keep our work-life and our private-life as far away from each other as possible.

Nuclear Explosion
Don’t let your workplace conversations turn into this…

Now, personally, I think this is a fine status-quo for a large company.  Each employee represents the company first and foremost.  You aren’t going to be friends with the CEO so the office small-talk when you’re stuck in an elevator with him makes sense.  But I’m not so sure it’s the best way for a smaller business.  The biggest advantage of a small business is the personal connection between the company and the customer.  The most important tool in building that personal connection?  Seeming like a person.

The human connection is an amazing asset for small businesses, but it doesn’t come out of thin air.  It comes from building friendships between you and your coworkers and between you and the customer.

 

Donair
Now I’ve done it. Now I want a donair,

When I go to a big box retailer I’m not there to say hi to any of the staff, I’m there to get what I want and get out as quickly as possible, I’m polite to the staff of course but I don’t want to hear their life stories.  But when I go to a small family-run business like my local donair restaurant I want to know if the owner’s car got fixed, how is kids are doing, if his wife got back from her trip, etc.  Sometimes it seems I stop in because I want to catch up, rather than because I really want a donair.  Why?  Because, since he doesn’t have to represent a faceless corporation, he’s free to chat about life while he prepares my donair and to infuse his workplace behaviour with his personality.

Not to blow our own horn, but Panda Rose is another great example of that personal connection.  The other week I was sitting at my desk when the boss came over and said, “I need to see you in my office.”  A single sentence that is able to put the fear of God into any employee.  When he said it to me all I could think was, “What have I done now…”  I walked into his office, gingerly sat down in the chair facing him, and prepared myself for the worst.  “I need your help finding a Catholic priest to bless our offices.”

It goes without saying that I was taken aback ever so slightly.  This wasn’t quite the phrase I was bracing myself for.  But I rallied myself sufficiently to manage a simple, “Uh… what?”

Panda Rose Office Blessing
Even the server room got a blessing.

Because our office is such a tight-knit community, the boss knows that I’m Catholic.  We’ve seen each other at different Catholic events and I met him through a mutual Catholic friend of ours.  He also knows that I’m good friends with a lot of Catholic priests in the area.  So when he wanted to get a Catholic priest to bless our offices, he figured he could let me handle it.  I got my parish priest to drop by and bless the offices and as you can see, things went very well.

How did this happen?  Because in our office environment we’re comfortable talking about our opinions and beliefs.  They don’t dominate the discussion, and it’s never in an argumentative or confrontational way, but because we know we can have conversations on the stereotypical taboo workplace topics we’re able to understand each other and work as a team better than if we felt we had to walk on eggshells when talking about our personal lives.

One important thing to emphasize is that I’m not telling you to be obnoxious about your beliefs.  Don’t yell at your coworkers because they voted for someone else.  Don’t make every single conversation about your religion.  Don’t be annoying about it.  What I am saying is that if you are able to have friendly conversations about controversial issues where both you and your coworker walk away understanding each other better, you’ve strengthened your team, not hurt it.

Uncategorized

Search Engine Optimization is hard.  Balancing optimizing your results right now with preparing for changes to the Google algorithm, you sometimes start to wonder how other people do it; how they keep pace in an ever-shifting world.  I know that I do.  That’s why it’s always good to seek advice from other professionals in the industry to figure out what works and what doesn’t.  And while you can’t always personally ask every Search Engine Optimizer for their advice summed up into one quick sentence, that’s where the power of the internet comes in!  Here are 7 great quotes, six of which are from people with lots of real world SEO experience and one is from Douglas Adams because let’s be honest, who doesn’t love Douglas Adams?

1. “Good SEO work only gets better over time. It’s only search engine tricks that need to keep changing when the ranking algorithms change.” – Jill Whalen

2. “The objective is not to “make your links appear natural”; the objective is that your links are natural.” – Matt Cutts

3. “Google only loves you when everyone else loves you first.” – Wendy Piersall

4. “You wouldn’t buy pills from someone who sends you a spam email so why would you do that with your SEO?” – Kelly J. Rose

5. “It’s much easier to double your business by doubling your conversion rate than by doubling your traffic.” – Jeff Eisenberg

6. SEO is a marketing function for sure, but it needs to be baked into a product, not slapped on like icing after the cake is baked.” — Duane Forrester

7. “A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.” – Douglas Adams

Hopefully these quotes can help you achieve SEO Success, or at the very least help you know what SEO Success actually looks like.

ProductivitySelf-ImprovementTechnology

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty’—that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” – Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats

There is a lack of beauty in modern life.  “Form ever follows function,”  We’re told that Beauty is merely an unnecessary ornament.  Even though that ignores the full meaning of the quote.  In reality, according to the originator of the phrase, Louis Sullivan, “Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, form ever follows function, and this is the law.”  So, while the appearance of a thing should never be disconnected from its purpose, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be beautiful.  That would imply that beauty itself was without purpose and, as we shall see, it is not.

Food, water, warmth, and sleep are just some of the basic necessities of life.  It’s pretty obvious that we can’t survive without them.  I’d argue the same can be said for beauty.  In some ways it’s even more necessary.  As Dostoevsky said, “Man can live without science, he can live without bread, but without beauty he could no longer live, because there would no longer be anything to do to the world. The whole secret is here, the whole of history is here.”

Sadly, for many of us a lot of that beauty has perished from the world.  We wake up.  We drive out into the gridlock.  We sit in our cubicle next to our coworkers in their cubicles, above and below other workers in their cubicles on other floors.  All of us typing away on identical screens until we eventually go back through the gridlock and get home.  Maybe then we’ll finally have time to go to a park or play a game, or maybe we’ll just sit on the couch and watch the same show that are neighbours and their neighbours and their neighbours’ neighbours are watching.  Just another cog in an ever-expanding machine.  Where is the beautiful in our lives?  It’s been replaced by a drab monotony.

City skyline
A forest of man-made trees is a sight to behold

Now, what modern architecture does right, it does really right.  There is truly something awe-inspiring in a row of towering skyscrapers in the skyline.  The view from an airplane window as it comes in to land is breath-taking.  Cities from far away look amazing.  However, up close and personal, the drab monotony comes back.  And I’m not the only one who thinks so.  Here‘s an article from the NYT written in 1964.  We’ve been living and working next to these ugly buildings as they slowly but surely tear down the beautiful architecture of the past replacing it with more of the same.

Suburban Housing
I live in the house with two top floor windows in the front. …No, the blue one. No, the other blue one.

Suburbia doesn’t fare much better.  Let’s be honest.  Is there anything awe-inspiring of a row of houses of near-identical design?  Not really.  The only thing that makes you and your neighbour different is that you couldn’t pick his shade of green for your house so you had to pick that yellow that you don’t really like.  The endless variations on the same theme are enough to drive me insane.  (a short trip, according to my wife.)  and good luck navigating without an address.  In some parts of Canada addresses are meaningless.  The terrain and even the houses themselves are so unique that you can navigate by landmarks.  But try doing that in the city and you’ll find the opposite is true.  Addresses are the only way to navigate in a world where every street looks just like the last.

 

High Rise
I don’t think the elevator is working. It says we’re on the 23rd floor but it looks just like the 2nd floor!

It’s even more true of a high rise with identical apartments piled one on top of each other to fit as many people as possible inside.  The only difference between the 23rd floor and the 22nd floor is that the people down below are slightly smaller on the 23rd. Don’t get me wrong, with the high populations in urban centers high rises and apartment complexes are definitely necessary.  Without cheap mass housing, there would be a lot of people without places to live.  I just think we need to remember the costs as well as the gains.  We need to remember to provide beauty for their residents.  It’s easy for the well to do to live in an ugly city.  when they need to see something beautiful they can buy a painting.  Or go hiking in the mountains.

 

At one point, this lack of beauty wasn’t an issue.  The average member of society always did one thing every week regardless of their economic status.  They always went to church on Sunday.  Regardless of who they were or how much they owned, they could see beautiful statues and domed ceilings every week.  But gradually as society has become less religious and as religious buildings have begun to match their urban surroundings more and more, this source of beauty has faded as well.

Notre Dame, Montreal interior
They don’t build ’em like they used to, do they?

This has caused detrimental effects on our mental health as studies have shown.  This is one of the reasons why urban environments are a greater mental health risk than rural ones.  Without the beauty of nature we’re left with whatever the cities can or can’t provide.  Of course, the drab monotony of the city has an effect on our workplace productivity too.

Fortunately, life finds a way.  Though many of the traditional ways we’ve expressed beauty throughout society have faded, several of them are making a resurgence and new methods are appearing too.  With smartphones we have access to all of the classic books of literature in our pockets.  With gigapixel cameras and websites like 360 cities we can tour architectural and natural marvels without the costs of travel.  As museums digitize their contents, we can see the relics of our past from across the world.  As VR technology develops and becomes more mainstream this will only expand.  As we realize the importance of our surroundings on our productivity and well-being, traditional office layouts are being redesigned into more open concepts with a focus on aesthetics again.  That’s why so many modern office buildings are doing away with the drab row of cubicles lit by fluorescent lights and replacing them with natural lighting and greenery alongside more character and personalization for employee workstations.  Beautiful web design is replacing the clunky boxes of the past as we realize that beauty helps our companies stand out of the crowd.  We’re realizing that not only does beauty have a purpose in the professional world, but that it helps make every aspect of both our professional lives and our life at home that little bit better.

So all in all, I’m pretty hopeful for beauty.  We’ve realized that it’s necessary in the modern world, we’ve seen that without it mental health issues rise, and in response we’ve begun rebuilding society to include the beautiful once more, whether that’s through new techniques and technologies or by reinviting nature back into our cities.  We’ve realized the age-old truth that beauty should not be a privilege of the rich but a gift for the world.  For as Dostoevsky says, “Beauty will save the world.”

CommunicationEducationUncategorized

I love riddles.  Give me a book of riddles and my productivity tanks as I spend the rest of the day thinking about them.  I love old riddles, new riddles, and I especially love creating riddles.  My wife and I will try to stump each other with riddles for hours and we even created our own riddle game where one of us thinks of a punchline for a joke and the other person has to create the setup.  (It’s great for long road trips.)  But why do we riddle?  What purpose do riddles serve?

Riddles Unite Us

Sumerian Mosaic

Riddles serve to pull us together.  Throughout human history, riddles have been a part of life.  All cultures have them and many riddles have been shared across cultures and languages.  The riddle of the sphinx comes from Greece originally but versions can also be found from Estonia and even on the Marshall Islands.  This connection with people across cultural and linguistic divides helps us to understand them and to see how similar they are to us.  it transforms them in our minds from the Other to the Same.  Riddles even bridge the gap of time.  As long as there as been English there has been people telling riddles in English.  But going back to the dawn of written language we even have riddles from the ancient Sumerians.  Here’s an example:

A house based on a foundation like the skies
A house one has covered with a veil like a secret box
A house set on a base like a goose
One enters it blind,
Leaves it seeing.

The answer?  A school.

So in a sense, we ask riddles because we always have.  Asking and answering riddles is a part of the human experience.  It unites us across cultures and eras and helps connect us to them.  We can now say that the Sumerians valued education just as much as we do.  All from one short little riddle!  That still doesn’t really answer the question though.  The unity riddles give us is a powerful effect of riddles, but it is only one effect. It is not the purpose behind them.  What is that purpose?

Why Tell Riddles?

Oedipus and the Spinx
Um… Uh… A really weird cow?

Ultimately, riddles teach us.  They teach us essential problem-solving skills when we’re young and they help us enhance those skills when we’re older.  Sometimes riddles teach you that the answer was hidden in plain sight.  Which word in the dictionary is spelled incorrectly?  ‘Incorrectly.’  These sorts of riddles rely on double meaning.  What can travel around the world while staying in a corner?  A stamp.  Some riddles rely on clever metaphors.  The riddle of the sphinx is a classic example.  What walks on four legs in the morning, two at mid-day, and three in the evening?  A person.  No matter what trick the riddle uses, when you’re told a riddle you know it’s a trick.  You know the answer is hiding right behind it waiting to be discovered.

There’s an even greater challenge in creating a riddle.  A good riddle is solvable but not too solvable.  If there isn’t an answer, then it’s not really a riddle.  If it’s too easy to find the answer, the thrill of the chase is gone.  When you create a riddle, you have to solve it yourself without any clues.  You need to figure out what the twist is going to be and then build the riddle around that.  And once you know the answer to your riddle.  You just have to figure out the question.  So both solving and asking riddles requires creativity and helps us train our brains to think laterally.

Riddles in Life

The lateral thinking that riddles give us is essential to success in the modern world.  Unexpected problems crop up all the time and they usually require unexpected solutions.  If you’ve trained your brain to be prepared to think laterally, to step outside of the box and wrestle with your problems, you’ll be better equipped to solve them.  Whether it’s figuring out what’s wrong with the code in your program, discovering a way to stay under budget in your department, or even finding the best angle to chop down a tree, lateral thinking and problem-solving skills are essential for success in life and enable us to take charge in our lives and deal with our problems head on.

A very real example comes to us from the 19th century.  Until less than two hundred years ago it was a point of professional pride for doctors to never wash their aprons since they showed how experienced they were.  To make matters worse, they’d only wash their hands at the end of the day since they knew they’d just get them dirty again.  The high infection rates in hospitals were attributed to stale air but the real source of the problem was completely unknown even though it was right in front of them.  Along came Dr. Joseph Lister.  He was able to step outside the box of accepted medical practice and so he realized that the lack of hygiene was the real culprit.  He was gradually able to convince others and the changes he made to the medical industry saved countless lives and he is now called the father of modern surgery.  If he wasn’t able to think laterally, how many more people would have died from easily preventable causes?  While the situations we’ll be faced with in our daily lives generally won’t be that dire, lateral thinking is still just as necessary for us now as it was then.  Without keeping our brains sharp we won’t even know what problems we’re missing, let alone how to solve them.

The Bayeux Tapestry

As a final thought, I’ll leave you with this Anglo-Saxon riddle from the book of Exeter.

I am an eminent thing, known to nobles,
and I often abide, notorious among the people,
both mighty and poor, traveling widely,

standing a stranger at first 
to my friends, a plundering hope—
if I must keep hold onto the profits 
or a brilliant good in the cities.

Now wiser men love me the most,
my companionability. I must reveal wisdom
to the multitudes. They never speak there,
any of them across the earth—

Although the children of humanity,
of the land-dwellers, pour over
my tracks, I conceal
my footsteps from every man
at times.