Who is Mac fooling?

Android_Fans_Are_Laughing_Over-da9a1ffe64ab65e8fd3ab5bc0afdc95fThe latest iPhone 6 is being hailed as a game-changing device with all these amazing features that will change the way users interact with their phones.  What crack are they smoking?  Not since the iPod and the iPhone have Mac really had any sort of competitive advantage, and it’s becoming more and more obvious that the Steve Jobs Mac days are long gone.

With the iPhone 6, all of the greatest “game-changing” features have been around for years with Android.  While the Mac OS (in my opinion) still far out-performs the Android OS, that’s about the extent of their differentiation.

The reality is that Mac is reeling.  They’ve always been an amazing marketing company that does a phenomenal job connecting with specific user groups.  They do a fantastic job of making their products look clean, simple, easy-to-use, and exclusive, which is a driving force for their market penetration.  But the reality is that this is just a facade.  Mac products are not actually superior, and in fact, they may be falling behind their competitors.  Until the competition figures out how to market their products as well as Mac, however, we the consumers will have to put up with the homogenized market of average crap.


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The Greatest Painting of All Time

Pablo Picasso – Les Desmoiselle D’Avignon
The Greatest Painting of All Time

In 1907 Pablo Picasso displayed Les Desmoiselle D’Avignon (loosely translated as “the whores of Avignon”) in Paris, France. Subsequently, the art world erupts with anger, disdain, and general disapproval of the piece calling it a “hoax” and discarding it to the dregs of Picasso’s basement for decades.

While the painting was initially met with such a horrific response, the true brilliance and impact could not be denied and would eventually change the art world forever. To understand why it is the greatest painting of all time, however, you must know the context and why it is so special.

In the late 1800’s, the Avant Garde art world marveled at the brilliant genius of the Impressionists. Up until the impressionists, the art world was largely driven by artists who created visual representations of what they saw. They painted pictures of people, events and things and the resulting images looked like their actual subjects. The artwork, therefore, was considered of higher quality when it accurately represented its subject, not the artist themselves. Art was about its subject, not the artist.

Michelangelo’s Pieta – Realistic Representation of Subject

Looking back, the examples are near limitless. Michelangelo paints biblical scenes of stunning realism in the 1400’s and the art world is dominated by the Rennaisance. Ancient cave drawings that were created over 4,000 years ago depict realistic images of the animals they hunted. Baroque and the Age of Enlightment throughout the 1600-1700’s only further solidified the position that an artwork should be a realistic, identifiable representation of the subject. Since the beginning of time, the creator of the artwork was merely a footnote next to the subject of the piece.

This ideal and position was attacked by the impressionists, most notably by Paul Cezanne. In the mid 1800’s, Cezanne began the impressionist exploration of the way in which light interacts with the artist’s subject. His goal was not necessarily to glorify the subject itself, but rather explore and capture the manner in which light interacted with the subject. Cezanne is largely credited with changing the perception of the artist and focusing more on the act of painting itself, rather than its subject.

Cezanne’s Exploration of Light

This change in philosophy and approach to art revolutionized the way people not only thought about art, but about life as well. No longer was the artist’s job to paint the most realistic portrait of some random, affluent dignitary. Cezanne gave the power to the artist and changed the way the world understood art. The rest of course is history, as his contemporaries like Monet and Van Gogh, took the ball and ran with it creating timeless, “beautiful paintings” that are adorned across the world. While Picasso’s painting may in fact be the greatest painting of all time because of the way it changed people’s view of the art world, one could just as easily argue that the artist who had the greatest impact on the fine art world was in fact Cezanne.

The reason why Cezanne is important in understanding why Les D’Moiselle D’Avignon is the greatest painting of all time is because of two important concepts. First, the art world had only just swallowed the idea of changing the way art was created. For literally thousands of years, art was created in one way and one way only, until Cezanne changed that perception in the late 1800’s. The second important reason to understand Cezanne’s impact on Picasso’s masterpiece is the actual painting technique he introduced to the world – the idea of painting “planes” of light.

Cezanne’s Planes of Light

These planes were visual pieces that when brought together helped create the illusion of depth on his canvas. As you can see from the picture to the left, Cezanne would draw out a plane on an object, paint, and then move to the next. In its crudest form, Cezanne used a paint-by-number approach to create his timeless, and priceless images – breaking the subject into pieces to color. Make no mistake about it though, Cezanne’s art costs more than a country – there was a reason that the French government had Cezanne’s picture on their currency.

These planes of light fragmented the subject to the point that the closer in proximity one actually viewed the painting, the less recognizable it actually became. It literally separated the form and the subject, and this was a revolution in regards to the art world of the time. While Cezanne may or may not have intentionally painted in this manner, there was no mistaking the deliberate approach Picasso took to craft Les Desmoiselle D’Avignon.

The other important point to make with Impressionism is that the subject of the painting remains in relative proportion to reality. The size of a woman that Cezanne paints is very much the size and shape of a woman – Picasso broke this mold by breaking the visual representation of form and changing Cezanne’s “planes of light” into “planes of form”.

Les Desmoiselle D’Avignon disengaged the artist from any sort of mastery of the traditional form as represented by paint that created within the viewer a sense of beauty. It took the viewer into a subconscious area in the deep recesses of their mind and evoked an emotion that was different, and yet arguably, much more impactful – disgust.

In the 1900s there were hard parties, loose women, and drugs. But the affluent crowd, the bourgeois, they wanted in on the culture, but were not prepared for the shock of the new.  They wanted to be a part of the artistic movement and wanted an opportunity to own a pretty painting. Up until this moment in 1907, they were used to seeing beautifully colored paintings and having a grand ole time at the gallery and salon openings. Of course, the art world had seen naked women for many years, but the moment the bourgeouis realized the subject of Picasso’s masterpiece was represented in such a grotesque and unfinished appearance, they were disgusted. And are they wearing masks? oh the horror!

Picasso had created within the viewer a feeling of disgust, confusion, and animosity, something which had never been done at such a prestigious level.

Once the Avant Garde realized the power they had to evoke not only this type of emotion but potentially others, the art world changed forever. No longer was the artist bound to visually represent his subject. Picasso continued to produce paintings diving deeper into the concept. Soon he was joined by Georges Braque, and together they created and drove the art movement known as Cubism.  The break between the visual form and it’s visual representation was complete.

While Paul Cezanne’s evolution of the way form was represented on a canvas was the first truly “new” approach to painting, the metamorphosis of the artist’s subject itself was thrust into a new direction the day the painting was displayed in the gallery in Paris in 1907. This new direction was at the forefront of all Modern painting, and arguably, art.

The “shock and awe” impact upon its release forced Les Desmoiselle D’Avignon underground, where the art world kept it covered for years, eventually being purchased by Doucet for 250,000 francs, a paltry sum for a priceless work of art. Today, the Museum of Modern Art in NY City houses the masterpiece which cannot be purchased for any amount of money.  Any art enthusiast who is in NY would enjoy the room where it is typically displayed.  On the opposite wall I have seen Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, as well as several other priceless paintings including Monet’s waterlillies.

And there, unmistakably large and in your face, is Les Desmoiselle D’Avignon.  The fractal forms crude and raw.  The African masks appear as though Picasso used a #2 pencil eraser and scribbled them on.  The wine jug and the grapes?  of course – the subject is within a brothel.  It oozes sexuality.  It bleeds sublime primitivism.  It is disgusting, and it is the greatest painting of all time.


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The Folly of Being Well-Rounded

Growing up I was privileged in the fact that my parents strived to expose me to just about anything and everything.  As a child, my short attention span would have me painting a picture in the morning, exploring nature by the afternoon, and spending plenty of time with my toys and games in between and this behavior was encouraged and supported. 

Too Many Parts to the Whole

Fast forward to college where I exposed myself to a multitude of diverse intellectual challenges spanning from art history, to economics, to wine tasting.  This well-rounded upbringing exposed me to so many interesting things and allowed me to fully explore the world in front of me.

It also screwed my chances of truly becoming a one-of-a-kind individual on this planet. 

Savants, throughout history, seem to have something in common, a one-track mind.  Picasso was only interested in art, Bill Gates in computer science, Tiger Woods in golf and the list goes on and on.  You don’t hear stories of Picasso getting involved in other facets of life during his most productive years for the simple truth that it didn’t interest him, and he remained focused on his singular artistic ambitions.

Knowing how to select a red wine from France, speaking intelligently about economics, all while being a respectable golfer is fine, and I’d like to think that I’m pretty darn good at all three of these examples.  But the real question lies in the desire to be great.  In order to stand out from the crowd, one must have the ability to block distraction and maintain a committed focus and work ethic towards their goals.

The kick in the face of course is the ultimate reflection point.  Would your life be better if you were one-track minded to the point of being unique, and “great” in a certain field if it meant sacrificing your ability to circumnavigate other areas of life?  Would you be happy if you were nearly as successful an artist as Picasso if it meant that you had no clue what economics was, drank boxed wine, and were an intellectual infant in any non-artistic aspect of life?

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Happy Workers

I’ll be starting a new consulting project soon and with any new role you have to adjust to the company’s and management’s “rules”.  Rules are of course necessary, but some of them, while typically put in place to create structure and a happy work environment, are not always in the best interest of your employees.

It’s hard to disagree that dress codes are needed.  While I enjoy the mini skirts and flip flops as much as the next bloke, they can be quite distracting and do not portray a professional image.  Rules to keep people’s comfort level in an acceptable state are necessary, expected, and should not be challenged.

Rules however that interfere with an individual’s natural work behavior should be constantly reviewed and revised.  For example; ‘no personal items on your desk’ is a bit of a hard core rule that many can find disheartening.  I understand the idea of not having distractions, but a picture of the family,  to give you solace during a stressful day, is hardly that.

The other guideline that is of questionable usefulness  ‘No eating at your desk’.  Like many workers I know, I prefer to grab a quick bite, and bring it back to my desk to eat while I check over some mundane tasks like email responses.  This to me is counter productive to my day.

Which resolves to the larger point.  If your workers are ingrained in their behaviors, let them stay that way so as not to disrupt their natural mindset.  People are naturally hesitant to change, so why would you introduce new behaviors into their regimen?  The consequence is having workers who become too focused on mundane behavioral correction and ignore the larger issues – the ones that actually make your business money.  More freedom in the work place leads to more productive and happy workers.

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The Cheaper the Goods, the More Expensive the Customer

Cheap Labor

Business has been driven by one primary objective over the past decade:  Produce more with less cost.  The idea is simple really, if you can make something for less capital, you’ll be able to charge less for your product or service than your competitor, and what customer doesn’t want to pay less.

Walmart is the quintessential example of today’s big business models.  They’ve integrated their vertical supply chain cutting out any and all excess fat along the way.  The goods that Walmart sells are cheap to make, cheap to ship, and can be sold in bulk for cheap.  They can find cheaper labor, cheaper ways to make parts and products, and cheaper shipping costs which filter into cheaper products for the customers.

But that’s the benefit of Walmart – cheaper shit.  It works for them, in part because the people who buy their stuff want to buy it for cheap and they don’t give a rats ass about the experience of buying it.  They don’t need a Walmart employee giving them the run down of why you should buy this TV and not that TV.  Walmart customers don’t care if it takes 40 minutes of their day just to check out because the cheap labor is slow and inefficient, they only care about one thing – what it costs them at the cash register.

Long ago (more like 2 or 3 decades ago really) this was not the case.  There was a difference between cheap, and quality.  Quality offerings went above and beyond, people were happy to go the extra step to make you happy.  Customer service was a corner stone of some businesses offerings,  and their customers on the whole were more satisfied.  This approach, will be come critical in the future of business as more and more consumers are demanding more from the businesses they patronize.

Even today, the worlds best brands demand a premium price for their products in large part because of their ability to go beyond “cheap” and offer the customers real value.  BMW offers customers free maintenance (including new brakes, wear and tear items, oil changes, etc) on new cars for the first 3 years, Zappos has repeatedly been praised for their customer service, and Ally Bank allows customers to skip any automated teller response for call-ins simply with the press of a button – all great examples of offering the customer more.

Social Media forces business to interact with their customers throughout their life cycle.  No longer can a business hide after they sell a cheap, crappy product to the customer because that individual will tell the world about their experience.  Because of this interaction, the shift from customers wanting cheaper shit to better overall experience and value is rapidly happening and beginning to grow in demand.  Customers are drowning in internet data, reviews, and information and as a result are demanding more from the products and services they use.

The moral of this tale? Be smart – offer better, smarter service to your customers, and don’t focus as much on cutting costs.  If you have a superior product or service, charge a premium for it and then execute.  You’re not competing with the rock-bottom price dealer, you’re forging a new level of customer experience, and that warrants the premium price.  If you or your products or services are better, they’re worth more, and the customer will pay for them.

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Blackberry Death

When will Blackberry up and die already, it’s death has taken longer than explaining the rules of cricket to an American WWII veteran. The wild thing is that super government organizations, banks, massive corporate america giants still use blackberrys for their workforce. There must be some antiquated view dictating that if your mobile web experience is so horrible you won’t spend your work hours on facebook?

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Models & Advertising

An interesting argument is bound to occur during your marketing career. The argument is simple. Should you use images in your marketing material of actual, real customers, or images of staged, scenery perfect models?

To answer this conundrum, one must step away from their marketing profession and get in the mind of their consumers. Are your consumers happy with the way they are, without your product? Or are they purchasing your product because they aren’t completely happy and need your product in order to help them get closer to the ideal situation?

Customers buy your jeans/car/butter not because they need it, but because they like the way the product helps them get closer to their ideal self image. When customers buy the latest TV/iPod/electronic they’re doing it because it makes them feel as though they are elevating their self worth, that they are making themselves more important, valuable, cool, and sexy.

The only way they get this feeling is if the product and brand give them that edge and the only way to build your brand is to put it above reality in a place that your customers can reach with your product.

A few years ago Dove made a lot of waves in the advertising world when they promoted real women in their commercials. The ultimate problem with this approach is that the real women don’t evoke a sense of desire. People don’t want to be real, they want to be elite, unique, special individuals that make their own decisions and rely on no one. Its the responsibility of the marketing team to create this image and promote their products as the gateway between the ideal and reality.

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Vices, Behavior, Positioning

Every morning I drink more coffee than I probably should. I don’t think about the way the caffeine eats my insides, stains my teeth, spikes my caffeine levels or gives me a dull headache I choose to ignore for the rest of the morning. Instead, I’m hooked on the black stuff because it tastes good, I enjoy the routine, and it perks me up a bit – it’s instant gratification.

I also don’t make much of a beef to those that enjoy their nightly drinks, cigarettes, cuss like a sailor, or stare insensitively at attractive passer-bys even though all of this behavior may not be in societies best interest. There are tons of “help” for these people however, and oodles of books and professionals who can help you correct or change your behavior.

As a marketer however, it’s way too expensive to change a user’s behavior. Selling a product that only is beneficial to non-smokers to a smoker for example, is infinitely more difficult than selling a product that caters to the smokers directly. Common sense maybe, but not always top of mind when the strategic product teams get in a room and decide the direction of your companies offerings.

If you’ve introduced a new brand, product, or way of doing things, unless every star aligns, or you work for a global powerhouse brand like MSN or Apple, good luck changing people’s status quo behavior. In fact, effective marketing isn’t about changing the way people behave, its understanding why they behave the way they do and positioning yourself within that pattern.

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