A ranting lunatic on the value of design.

•2010/01/16 • 1 Comment

Just thought I would share a piece that I wrote in a sign industry forum I frequent.  I think the same principles apply in other businesses. Not sure how. What do you think?

A ranting lunatic on the value of design.

Hey peeps.

As many of you already know, I don’t make signs and I couldn’t design my way out of a wet paper bag.

But having worked with sign companies and in the sign industry for my entire career, I’ve obviously become afflicted with some kind of passion (or some form of madness) for the sign business. Some of what fuels that passion is a simple, curious interest in what works and what doesn’t… and why. I look at signs all the time and wonder that (See? Madness.).

My family (who don’t share my passion) love me enough to at least indulge me as I launch into the occasional rant…

“Who the hell made that sign?! The lettering is too damned small to read from the highway! And look at the readerboard underneath! Who is going to read a paragraph of text, even if they could?! That poor guy probably wasted 15 grand on that sign – and he’s probably happy with it – even though it’s slowly putting him out of business!”.

Rants are fun, but clearly there is a direct correlation between knowledgeable, skilled design… and the value you create for your customers. There’s also a direct correlation between the value you create for customers… and the amount of money you get to charge for your work. Give them signs that improve their business in measurable ways, post results-oriented testimonials or case studies on your website… and raise your prices.

As I drive around, ranting, I can’t help but wonder why more sign shop owners don’t invest more in improving their design chops – on an ongoing basis.

So what’s your excuse?


Wanted: Constructive Criticism

•2010/01/06 • Leave a Comment

This morning, in a sign industry forum I frequent, I had a friend who just started a Facebook Page ask me for tips on how to make it more popular… and about how to use social media for marketing.  My response is below.  I would be curious to know what you think.

First, a little background:

This friend is is the owner of a small sign business, a very talented designer, a good guy… and a perpetual prospective client.  I think I can say fairly that his marketing consists of ongoing experiments with various marketing tactics, but without a clear strategy, and – as many of you might guess – that holds him back.

[Friend’s name]:

I can’t teach you what you need to learn about social media marketing in the space of one post. I’ve been meaning to put together a webinar series [for the community] on the subject… but client work (which I am grateful for, don’t get me wrong) keeps getting in the way.

Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc… are just tools. They’re great (and necessary) tools, but still just tools – for networking and for propagating “Word of Mouth” (good, or bad) about your company and the services you provide. They work best – and therefore must also be seen as – a part of an overall web marketing strategy.

So, if you want to get the most out of tools like your new Facebook Page…

  1. Know, or learn how to network effectively. “How to Win Friends and Influence People” (Dale Carnegie, 1936) is a great start (and an enjoyable read).
  2. Consistently wow customers with a terrific buying experience, and – when you do – ask them to become a fan (and to share their great experience with others)… to do it consistently, you need systems/processes.
  3. Have a website/blog hybrid that offers real value and is optimized for lead generation… using calls to action, a/b testing, and Google Analytics, etc.
  4. Integrate with email marketing to close the loop, nurturing prospects and growing customers by keeping them engaged.

As for tactical “tips and tricks” for optimizing Facebook pages… Not to be coy, but unless you’ve got 3 out of 4 of the above working for you… I think you should be focusing your attention elsewhere. I can help with all four (and with your social media marketing), BTW. It’s what I do.

Hope that helps… at least a little.

So… What do you think? All comments welcome, including (and especially) constructive criticism.

Delicious Tags – Twitter, and The Back Burner

•2009/11/24 • 2 Comments

I’m a long-time Delicious.com user.

For anyone not familiar with it, Delicious is a “social bookmarking” site that stores your bookmarks on the web – which makes them accessible from anywhere with internet access.  It’s “social” because anyone can see my public bookmarks, just as I can see theirs.  You can also see what tags they used to describe the content they’re bookmarking, who and how many people have bookmarked a given web page, and more…  all of which can lend a measure of credibility to information sources, and can help you spot trends.

Through the magic of RSS, Delicious also makes it easy to subscribe to bookmarks by user and/or tag, which can be pretty darned handy.  For example, I recently subscribed to Chris Brogan’s “CaseStudy” tag… so every time Chris bookmarks a Case Study he finds useful… I will know about it.  I’m practically hard-wired to the guy’s ginormous brain! How cool is that? You have to love the social web!

[If you’re reading this and don’t already know who Chris Brogan is… I like to think of him as the Santa Claus of Social Media.  Check out @ChrisBrogan and ChrisBrogan.com.]

I suspect I am a fairly typical Delicious user. I bookmark tons of stuff on Delicious  — more often than not — for some kind of ambiguous, unknown, unpredicted “future reference”.  When tagging, I try to be as descriptive as possible, while attempting to predict what keywords I will be searching for later on.  Over time, my tagging has grown a little sloppy (Typos, changes in the way I tag certain phrases, etc). I’ll get around to cleaning it all up one day. No. Really.

Anyway, to get to the point, my tagging habits have been changing lately,  as I continue to strive to become more efficient and more productive.  I thought some of you might be interested in the new methods I’ve developed for myself in the process:

  1. Tagging with twitter names:  Whether it’s the author of original content, someone I follow on twitter who was mentioned in an article, or the generous tweep who shared the link… I tend to connect good information to people.  If they’ve written, inspired or shared good information… they’re bound to do so again.
  2. The Back Burner: Several of my more recent Delicious tags are short-form names for projects I have on the back burner, or am preparing to start at some point in in the not-too-distant future.  Unfortunately, tags like “tp360” “teej” and “s101” are pretty much meaningless to anyone who might happen to be browsing or searching my bookmarks (sorry!), but they will be invaluable to me when I get to the stage of organizing/planning the project in question.

If you’re a Delicious user, I would love to learn about your tagging habits, or how they are evolving. Please drop me a comment below.

Wow. All I’m saying.

•2009/10/22 • 2 Comments

For anyone who has doubts about the importance or urgency of integrating social media into your marketing strategy, these simple graphs make a pretty compelling case for getting started on your social media strategy TODAY.

Join my #GoogleWavePact

•2009/10/01 • 15 Comments


I only started paying any attention to Google Wave this week, after reading about it on LifeHacker. I decided I wanted it, so I requested an invitation from Google – but there is no telling how long you might wait.  So, in some weird form of sudden desperation, I started following and RTing complete strangers just because they claimed to have invites to share.  Then I started feeling like a sucker — like I was being played. I hate that.

So here’s the deal:

If and when I get my Google Wave invitation — and assuming it comes with invitations to share — I want to share it with friends. And I would like my friends to do the same for me.

If you want to join in my #GoogleWavePact, just leave a comment below. The only rule is that we must be friends, or at least be acquainted with one another first… and it’s never too late for that to happen. Just tweet me up @JonAston.

On #12for12K’s “Go Global 24” Successes

•2009/09/30 • 15 Comments

It’s the morning after #GG24.

I don’t know what the final figures are yet, but we didn’t hit our fundraising goal.  I think we probably added about $2500 to the roughly $5500 that @GlobalPatriot and his event teams raised for Doctors Without Borders.

It is still September as I write this, and if for some reason you haven’t already donated to Doctors Without Boarders, you still can via 12for12K.org.  Just hover over events in the nav bar and choose “Go Global 24 – Contribute”.  All donations large and small are welcome.  Together they all make a difference in the lives of people less fortunate than you and I.

While missing our fundraising goal is disappointing, I think everyone involved (and I do mean “everyone” – I’ll get to that below) can hold their heads high this morning. We accomplished alot, both for 12for12K and for Doctors Without Borders.

In the weeks and days that  led up to #GG24, and for the 24 hours during which the event took place, we made alot of new friends. I have no idea how many — but I watched the stream pretty closely and there were constantly new faces tweeting and retweeting about #GG24 and #12for12K.  At times, the pace of tweets became impossible to follow. They literally came pouring in – from all over the world.

With help from Henie’s #GlobalKindness network, #12for12K really has become a global movement – with a global reach.  I’m not sure I’m ready to call it a “tipping point” just yet, but through #GG24 I have no doubt that we have taken a major step toward achieving Danny’s new “Connect Globally, Help Locally” vision for #12for12K.

Nobody on the #GG24 team had any experience organizing anything like this before.  There were infinite unknowns and many unforeseen obstacles placed in our path.  We had plenty of frustrating and demoralizing moments — and plenty of opportunities to postpone, or to cancel altogether.  Frankly, giving up would have been alot easier.  But we didn’t.  We put ourselves on the line, risking failure and embarrassment, because — as #12for12K’ers — we happen to believe in something bigger than ourselves.  I’m guessing the critics out there (you know: the one’s who have already forgotten more about fundraising than we will ever know) are gloating.  But the truth is that they don’t matter.  Being a critic is easy.  Try something new (and it was all new),  on a global scale, is not.

“To experiment, to fail, to learn and to try again. To never give up. To sacrifice. To persevere. To overcome. To succeed.” If that isn’t a recipe for personal and organizational success, I don’t know what is.  And although I’ve never seen it articulated by #12for12K, I have certainly seen it demonstrated.  I think we owe that to Danny’s vision, but it also says alot about the character of the people demonstrating it.  We have already learned from #GG24 and will apply those lessons to future #12for12K events.

Over the course of the past couple of weeks, we’ve heard alot of nice things said about the people who comprised the #GG24 team.  And I know we often have nice things to say about one another.  I think I am speaking for the team when I say that we have deeply appreciated the love and support that has come our way, but — at the end of the day — EVERYONE who came together around the event and who tweeted, retweeted, blogged, DM’d, skyped, phoned, emailed, volunteered, donated, sponsored and otherwise supported 12for12K deserves our deep thanks and appreciation.  Without you, we’re just five enthusiastic #12for12K voices. With you, we are a growing, global philanthropic movement.  This isn’t about individuals.  It’s about what we can accomplish together, by giving whatever and however we can. So thank you!

One danger in thanking individuals, especially when there is a whole whack of individuals… is that you will overlook someone.  I have no doubt that as the 24 hours of #GG24 wore on; as the volume of tweets ebbed and flowed throughout the day, as we spotted familiar faces in a sea of new faces,  as our attention was spread over many todo’s and minor crises, and as we began suffering from sleep deprivation… We missed a few (maybe more than a few) opportunities to thank someone.  If that someone was you, please don’t feel slighted — and please do accept the #GG24 team’s sincere apology.  It was a long and challenging couple of days, and we are only human.

I’ll wrap here with some final thoughts about the non-financial goals and successes of #GG24.

The #GG24 team set out to show “the world” that #12for12K is as fun and diverse and inclusive and passionate a group of people to belong to as any you can find.  I don’t know if we succeeded. It’s hard to be objective.  We made alot of new friends out of perfect strangers and our ranks have swelled in number.

The whole point of attempting to get the entire 24-hour event sponsored was to free all of us from the need to repeatedly ask all of our followers for a small donation…all over again.  Selling out our entire inventory of sponsorships was entirely optimistic. So was any hope (at this stage) of sponsors competitively bidding against one another.  But we did sell some sponsorships and we learned alot about sponsored events in the process.  This is a model that clearly will work, in time.  Our sponsors really do deserve a shout out for so willingly taking part our little experiment.  I will follow up with each of them personally in the days ahead.

We set out to strengthen our global network, not just build it.  If my own experience with #GG24 is any measure, then I know we succeeded.  I’ve met many new people, engaged with others who were previously just mutual follows, gotten to know passing acquaintances better, developed new friendships and have bonded for life with a handful of really incredible human beings.  I’ve learned more about who people are, what they do, and what they stand for than I possibly could have under any other circumstances.  In other words, my involvement with #12for12K is of great benefit to me personally and professionally, which, by default, unquestionably strengthens #12for12K’s network…multiplied by the number of people who had similar experiences through #GG24, and have through #12for12K on an ongoing basis.

In the process of conceptualizing and planning #GG24, we also realized that we needed to improve #12for12K communications.  We took some steps decent steps forward, and learned a whole lot, but have a long way to go.  The good news is that every future #12for12K event or campaign will benefit from applying what we’ve learned and implemented.  One day, in future, I have no doubt that we, as a movement, will be unstoppable.

So. that’s it.

What are your views? What worked? What could we have done better, and how?  If we could improve one thing for future events, what would it be? All constructive criticism is both welcome and encouraged.