Friday, December 20, 2013

Sales versus Sentiment in 2013 Holiday Ads

Maybe it’s the seemingly never-ending economic recession, but it appears that the ads this Christmas season in large part have been pretty hard sell.  Gone, it seems, are the days when ads sought to tap that sentimental nerve in all of us that long for seasonal warmth and even a sense of nostalgia around the holidays.  It just seems like fewer and fewer ads are going for the heart.

Rather, regardless of the product, the message seems to be the same. “Time is running out.  Prices are right.  Buy!”


My take is that companies have endured a few too many soft holiday seasons in terms of sales.  In the past, it may have been a good strategy to tie a bow around a brand with the warmth of the holiday season, but this year, there’s no time or patience for that. 

Here are a few  examples from VerizonRadio Shack and Old Navy that focus on product over sentiment:



While ads can take on all sorts of forms and follow a range of strategies, here are the basic choices advertisers have to make around the holidays.

1.    Go for the heart with sentimentality or even humor, hoping that in doing so, the audience will get a good feeling and transfer that good feeling onto the brand.  This creates a favorable impression but not necessarily an immediate motivation to buy.  This often falls within what is called “institutional advertising.”

2.    Then there is the ad that may tap sentiment, but it may also touch on the social value of the product or service being advertised.  An ad that features smart phones being used by local animal shelter volunteers, for instance, plays up the emotional punch of an altruistic cause while also showcasing the societal value of the product.  In many cases, since a product like a cell phone, could be any brand of cell phone, the commercial serves to bolster the image of an entire category of products.  That’s why this is called “category advertising.”

3.    And then, of course, there are the ads that go for the jugular.  They are the ones that leave no doubt what is being advertised, why it’s being advertised, where to get it, and the call to action is – “Buy now!”

Here are a couple of classic institutional ads around the holidays.  One is from  Miller and the other is from local restaurant chain Eat 'n Park in Pittsburgh.



So is sentiment passé in holiday ads in 2013?  Not completely.  If you look, you can find it.  Here is a really nice one from Apple that just might do the trick this year and put you in the holiday spirit.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Branding Is About More than a Logo

By Kelly McKenzie

You’ve likely heard conversations about how your "brand" has a significant impact on business success.

Kelly McKenzie
brand is the essence of a company’s own unique story. This is as true for personal branding as it is for business branding. The key, though, is reaching down and pulling out the authentic unique “you.” Otherwise, the brand is a façade and will fall into the “just another” category.

The common tendency is to think of a logo as the primary component of a brand. While a logo is vitally important to a company’s success, it needs to be supported by a sound strategy that resonates with your target audience. A strong logo visual can instantaneously communicate a brand and what it is about. Some large brands are able to do this by symbol only, without words. This is the Holy Grail that brands dream about. It seems to represent the very essence of communication at its most primitive roots. Few can pull it off. Rather, logos should support the broader brand strategy that supports an even bigger story.

A strong brand approach cohesively integrates logo and visuals, color, message positioning and response to customers. It will differentiate the product or service in the marketplace – and influence consumer-buying decisions. Consistency in the marketing and communications platform conveys that an organization is razor-focused and customer-centric. Additionally, the quality of the product or service should align with the quality of the brand positioning, thus streamlining the process from initial research to a purchasing decision by the customer base. Simply put, quality marketing and brand positioning drive buying decisions.

Many organizations don’t understand the key components of a brand; the value of a compelling marketing and communications plan, a succinct global strategy and the power of a quality offering. A fragmented marketing communications plan has negative impact on a company’s bottom line and reduces equity significantly. A disjointed approach breaks down the pillars that were originally built to serve as the foundation of a company.

In our world today, time is of the essence in every facet of our lives. Each brand is competing for time and attention to break though the message clutter and build a relationship with the target audience(s). Quick buying decisions are commonplace, which means product or service offerings must engage a buyer immediately to increase the probability of a sale. A clear, concise brand strategy is a key ingredient to convince a buyer one product is the best answer to their needs.

This may make a lot of sense but also seem overwhelming. Often, companies may recognize that they need a better branding strategy but don’t have the internal expertise, time and resources to focus on the effort. Investing time researching professional marketing communications resources that can implement this process may be more worthwhile effort.

About the Author

Guest blogger Kelly McKenzie is President of Group 2 Design.  With over 30 years’ experience in the design industry, he has helped clients of all sizes create and build strong brands.  He can be reached at 412.605.0834 or kelly@group2.comon Facebook, or on Twitter @Group2Design.


Monday, December 2, 2013

A Moment with Fred Rogers

Yesterday, I watched a PBS fundraising special that featured the documentary "Mister Rogers & Me."  I didn’t intend to watch it.  I was surfing the television channels and landed on that iconic moment in 1969 where Fred Rogers wins over the hearts and funding support of the U.S. Senate.

In all honesty, I wasn’t a Mister Rogers kid.  I didn’t grow up on his gentle monologues designed to reinforce my self-esteem.  But my kids did.  And I sat with them while they watched.  It seems I saw Mister Rogers for the first time through their eyes.

Needless to say, I have a real appreciation for his contribution to television and families.

One of the things I remember around the time of his death in 2003 was a story from an immigrant, a man who had come to this country as an older child and who did not know the language of his new home at first.  He said he watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and that’s how he learned to speak English. But he added that Mister Rogers also taught him about kindness, compassion and understanding.

What an impact.

That said, watching this television special caused me to reflect on the one time I met Fred Rogers.  The meeting is unforgettable on a number of levels. 

I met him during that period where I was a regular viewer of his program thanks to my young kids.  So meeting him at that moment was not at all nostalgic for me.  It was quite timely.

Further, I met him in a business context.  This is to say that as much as I could have fallen into “fan mode” and with the utmost sincerity carried on over all that he has meant to my family, I was forced to wear my “grown-up” business hat when talking to him.  The better part of valor is discretion, I believe is the saying.

So, we met one-on-one for about 15 minutes.  A meeting like that would normally have occurred in a conference room.  He chose to meet standing up in a quiet corner of a set of offices, more informally.  The purpose of the meeting was for me to brief him on some important communications activities.

So here’s what I remember.  No, here’s what I won’t forget.  His eyes were locked in on me the whole time. He was serious but not intimidating.  His laser-like focus seemed rooted in care for others and nothing else.

For the first few minutes of our conversation, we addressed the important business issues. But for the remainder of the time, he focused on how our work would affect others, not in a self-interest way but rather, he was completely centered on the well-being of people.  Even if for a few minutes, the experience was unexpectedly uplifting.

Fred Rogers made a career out of telling his young audience, “I like you just the way you are.”  He provided a source of positive self-esteem and unbeknownst to them, he introduced the concept of unconditional love.

I had the chance to get a glimpse of this in a business context. The business lesson for me was that Fred Rogers believed that in all of our capacities we can be a force for good.
Here is that classic moment where Mister Rogers wins over the crusty old U.S. Senate:

Monday, November 25, 2013

Pittsburgh Business Weekly Figures it Out

My local business weekly, the Pittsburgh Business Times , last week launched a total revamp of its traditional and new media platforms. 

We’ve all seen this kind of thing before.   A newspaper or magazine redesigns its graphic format and then to as much fanfare as it can generate, unveils the new look as a whole new variation of the publication. 

Because news consumers see “re-launches” of media channels so often, they tend to be de-sensitized to what the Pittsburgh Business Times did, and what it represents to the current direction of media. 

This situation is different.  So here’s what the Business Times has done.

Management went back to the drawing board and used focus group research as its guide.  Organization leadership abandoned any pre-conceived notions of what the publication needed to do and queried its readers, digital users, subscribers and news consumers in general. 

What the organization found was that digital media has not so much replaced print or other traditional media as it has added another useful layer.  However, its emergence has forced the more traditional forms of media to focus on their unique value.

To more fully appreciate this, I will lay out the conventional  view of media:

1.    Broadcasting – TV and Radio – is considered most immediate.  When a news story breaks, traditionally, a radio reporter was first on the scene and thanks to telephone technology, could file the most immediate report.  Later, satellite technology and helicopter cams gave TV the edge because of immediacy, resources and, of course, pictures.  Subsequent use of mobile communications technology have changed things even more.

2.    Print Dailies were considered less timely than broadcasting.  But thanks to their large newsroom staffs and the ability (or luxury) to assign beat reporters, they became the news resource of record and could be counted on to provide perspective to breaking news within a 24-hour news cycle.  This gave newspapers more gravitas than broadcasting.

3.    News Magazine weeklies and monthlies took the newspaper advantage one step further. They had large, accomplished, sometimes renowned staff members.  Celebrities in their own rights.  They had the time and resources to develop comprehensive features and provide perspectives that neither broadcasting or newspapers could.  When you read a news magazine, you get provocative thinking, excellent writing and superior graphics and photography.

This model of media coverage has stood for decades - that is until that last few years when the Internet entered the picture.

When the Internet first exploded on the scene in the 1990s, blogs made an impact.  Terms like "citizen journalist" became commonplace, as individual bloggers with no more journalistic training than knowing how to use a computer weighed in on politics, business, hobbies and any number of topics.  The influence of both the blogger and the Internet created a new form of competition for the news consumer’s attention. 

While this made a dent in the news media business, the Internet was not done. 

It seems that just as blogging started to flatten out with blogs losing their punch due to an increasingly cluttered marketplace, social media emerged, and that changed everything once again.
Combined with this is the development of sophisticated smart phone technology that literally put the power of a full computer in the pockets and purses of news consumers.

Blogs and other forms of Internet content have led to the term “content is king,” which is to say that now we are beyond clutter.  Information is everywhere – sourced everywhere, accessible everywhere in real time.  We’re now becoming accustomed to living our lives in a sea of information that we tap whenever we want.

Against this backdrop, it’s almost ironic that newspapers would fade. How, in an era, where news consumers demand more and more information, could the gatherers and repositories of the largest amount of that information be struggling?

The short and most simplistic answer is that industry leadership has not been able to get past the fact that paper as a medium is fading but not the need for information.

That’s what makes the Business Times’ recent project so interesting.  Here’s what they found as explained in the overview provided by the Business Times’ publisher Alan Robertson:

·         Readers still see the Business Times as a “primary source of local business news.”

·         Digital users increasingly “rely on our Twitter feed and email newsletters to keep them up to date.” 

·         Subscribers spend as much as 45 minutes reading the physical newspaper and prefer to “get their news once a week.  They’re looking for the answer to the question: What does it mean?”

·         News consumers are “switching platforms at least 20 times a day – from mobile to desktop to tablet to print.”

That last bullet point almost sums it up.  News consumers are media channel agnostic.  They aren’t simply moving away from print to digital. They are moving back and forth with extreme frequency.  What’s driving their movement has more to do with where they are and what they need to know or want to know at any given moment.  Instant access is now assumed. 

So, that conventional model may not have changed as much as media watchers think.  Newspapers still have their place, as do magazines, but there are a few new layers in play.  And those layers are driving the change.

Smart media organizations like the Business Times now have a better understanding and have made certain organizational changes to meet the needs of the marketplace.

The Business Times' news delivery structure involves all platforms and a commitment to “supplying continuous content.”  Not just hourly, daily or weekly – continuous.

As Robertson says, “News will break first digitally, on Twitter and at your desktop; online you’ll read those stories that matter to you just after our reporters learn about them.”

Of course, the Business Times, like other print organizations, have incorporated video into their digital platforms, so they are now wading into the same arena as that formerly owned by broadcast organizations. 

As for the print edition, the newspaper said it will explore new reporting approaches where reporters are branded by their beats.  The newspaper will focus on more in-depth reporting and features you can’t get anywhere else.  The goal here is for such stories to “set the agenda for community discussion on a variety of topics.”

This may not sound new to you, but what’s critically important here is that a news organization restructured itself around news consumer patterns.  So, rather than simply let the news consumer pick and choose its sources at random, this news organization has best positioned itself to meet all of those needs, at least in its niche as a regional business news resource.

If there is a moral to the story it is to the news organization’s credit that it left its ego at the door and challenged itself to be what news consumers want it to be. In doing so, I think it has become a model for other news organizations rooted in a print heritage and working to find their way in this digital era.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Reporters Prefer Twitter

Ezra Klein of the Washington Post’s WonkBlog wrote an interesting piece this week on why journalists prefer Twitter to Facebook.

He laid out what many of us know, that Facebook as still much larger and on a more steady growth trend than Twitter or just about any other social media channel.  Yet, when we turn on our televisions, read news reports or listen to news, it seems that the social media driving force behind much news is Twitter.

It appears that regardless of the news story, reporters are now including reference to public reaction to the situation at hand by reporting on how Twitter users are reacting to the news.  Twitter, in effect, becomes part of the story.

Not only that, but it seems reporters and their employers are some of the most active users of Twitter, from both an output standpoint and a monitoring perspective.

Klein makes it clear: “…journalists – and quite often, the organizations that employ them – clearly prefer Twitter.”

But why?

He says that “Twitter is simply more useful for our jobs.”

This makes sense. Twitter is a structured news feed of sorts without all the extra information on users and their social life you might find on a typical Facebook page.  And it’s much more time-sensitive than both Facebook and LinkedIn. 

While posts on other social media channels may have longer shelf lives, a Twitter post may be only of relevance for less than a few seconds.  For example, when a sports reporter tweets, “If they miss this field goal they lose the game.”

In itself, such a tweet is meaningless, but that’s not how the media sees Twitter.  The media likes it because it’s a barometer of public opinion streaming in real time.

Plus, when news breaks, Twitter is a way to get inside information as it happens.  If there is a mall shooting, the media watches Twitter for tweets from people still inside the mall.  If a CEO is conducting a big press conference, reporters tweet snippets of the event in real time, all as part of the larger mosaic of coverage.

Then there is the final product.  Klein believes Twitter’s value is tied to the fact other journalists are reading their work.  He writes, “Tweeting your articles ensures they’re seen – and discussed, and retweeted – within a community that includes not just your friends and peers, but the people who might hire you someday.”

Monday, November 11, 2013

All I Want for Christmas is … a News Drone

It’s right there on Amazon and you can buy it just in time for Santa to deliver it in his reindeer-powered drone (I think).  It is in fact a drone, but not just any drone.

This one is the DJI Phantom Aerial UAV Drone Quadcopter for GoPro, to be exact.  In the interest of full disclosure, the product and the company are not a client.  I first learned of this from a Twitter post I received a few days ago when a journalism professor from Syracuse University had posted a photo of this interesting little four-prop device that could serve as a catalyst for newsgathering of the future.

Dan Pacheco is the Peter A. Horvitz Chair in Journalism Innovation at the S.I. Newhouse School at Syracuse University, but enough of the formalities. 

Dan posted to Twitter a photo of a drone with a camera mounted on it with the caption: “Hmm, I wonder where our new dji Phantom with GoPro mount will fly on this rainy day?”

The question and the photo certainly got my attention. I haven’t really thought about the use of drone technology for other than military or law enforcement applications. 

But this is for personal/private use and it’s the real thing.  And the fact that it can be used with a camera mount for newsgathering opens the door to a million possibilities.

According to the drone’s descriptor on Amazon, it arrives “ready to fly.”  All you need to do is unpack it, attach the propellers, charge the “LiPo” (I’m assuming that’s a power source) and install the transmitter batteries.  I’m also guessing that however you’d like to outfit you’re drone, that’s on you as well.  So if you want to mount a camera, you have to purchase a compatible device and install that. 

Thanks to some recent news features, I’ve seen how these types of drones operate. They aren’t toys.  They tend to fly very stable and agile.  I’m not sure about this one, but they can be disarmingly quiet.  Each of these features make drones highly efficient tools for surveillance and information-gathering.

Just thinking about the drone and its potential took me back to my own early reporting days in and how such technology might have changed the way we covered news. 

Once I hid behind a patrol car as the police negotiated with a hostage-taker in a residential neighborhood.  If I had a drone, I could have flown the thing over the house or even near the house to see what was going on, though I’m sure the police commander would have had something to say about that.

Then I thought about my role as a PR person.  How will a drone affect my work in PR?

No doubt, I would have to take into account that news reporters could and would gain access to places we’d prefer they not, such as near power wires, and plant and company employees, to name a few.  Would we be within our rights to “take down” the drone if it flies into our private space?  I don’t know.  I do know that such acts of surveillance and retaliation would not come without significant controversy.

What about our own use as PR professionals?  Can we use drones to access areas that before may have been logistically impossible to access?  I would think drone technology would come in handy for capturing visuals of everything from a complex or vast manufacturing process to a store grand opening.

WATCH: First time students fly newsgathering drone prototype October 4, 2013 in Syracuse University's Manley Field House.

Dan Pacheco first started using drones on campus almost a year ago.  His purpose was to experiment with aerial footage for journalism.  Of course this is not without its challenges.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered a couple of state-funded journalism schools to shut down outdoor use of drones. So Syracuse uses its indoor athletic facilities to serve as laboratories for drone navigation.

From a timing standpoint, the FAA is supposed to issue a method to certify commercial drone flights by September 30, 2015. 

My apologies in advance for this (pun intended), but clearly when it comes to newsgathering drones and the possibilities, the sky’s the limit.

Monday, November 4, 2013

How to Engage Employees

In the early part of my career one of the things I would do periodically as editor of the company newsletter was to follow the mail cart through the office when my newsletter was distributed to employees.

I’d maintain enough distance so that I could get an honest glimpse of how employees were receiving the publication.  As you might expect, the reception was varied.

Some would instantly grab the newsletter off the top of their mail pile and drop it into the nearest trash can without ever opening it up to read it. Thankfully, these individuals were few and far between.  Others would turn right away to the last page where we ran little blurbs on employee promotions, honors and other “people in the news.”  Still others would arduously start from page one and work their way through to the back.  Of course, I did readership surveys and other things to obtain reader feedback, but I found this was probably the most unvarnished way to see the employee newsletter at work.

The one constant, I noticed, was that whatever the response, the newsletter received the immediate attention of most everyone who received it.  It almost never accidentally slid to the side of the desk while employees opened other, higher priority mail.  Almost to a person, the newsletter received immediate attention.

What this told me was that regardless of the attitudes of employees towards their employer, the employer’s efforts to communicate to employees will get their attention.  The challenge, however, is to get the employee to give the employer a chance to deliver its message.

With this in mind, here are five tips to create ways that not only get employees’ attention but helps create positive engagement:

Speak to the self-interest

There are many ways to find out what employees care about, from focus groups and surveys, to simply walking around the workplace and informally talking to employees on a regular basis. Over time, you will find out what employees care about beyond pay and benefits, though these two items are always tops on the list of employee concerns.

They also care about job security, safety and health, work-life balance, job satisfaction and career mobility.  And each demographic and segment of the work force likely views these concerns at varied levels of importance to them.  A younger employee, for instance, will likely care less about the company’s 401(k) plan than an employee in his late 40s.  A male employee may be less concerned with the organization’s maternity leave policy than his female counterpart.

Personalize the message

Personalizing the message is an off-shoot of speaking to employees’ self-interest.  But it takes it one step further.  It’s one thing to discuss a new benefits plan that is good for employees, but it’s quite another to communicate the news in simple terms, avoiding jargon, legalese and corporate-speak. 

Use conversational language in your communications.  Create forums such as small group meetings, or in large group settings town meetings, where employees are encouraged to ask questionsCreate dialogue. Demonstrate that communication is not one-way.

Humanize management

October 10, 2013 - Southwest Airlines employees face off
for the 2013 Southwest Airlines Pigskin Plane Pull to celebrate
the annual Red River Rivalry game between the Oklahoma
Sooners and the Texas Longhorns in Dallas.
Source: Southwest Airlines
The age-old term for management in industrial settings was to call managers “suits.”  Usually this is a derogatory term that represents an insular management style.

It’s important for management to work to break such barriers down but to do so in genuine fashion so that employees understand the effort is sincere and part of a real commitment to engaging with employees. 
Everything from how managers dress and interact with employees to where the interactions occur all send a message.  Hosting a barbecue for employees where senior management dons aprons and serves up the food is one way some organizations work to help break down barriers.

Southwest Airlines, a company known as a model for strong employee engagement, holds a Pigskin Plane Pull each year to celebrate a football rivalry its employees in Texas and Oklahoma share. This is just one example of the kind of creativity at play in great workforce communications programs.

But such efforts need not be so elaborate.  The key is to find ways for managers to have face-to-face meetings with employees as regularly as possible so that both management and employees see each other as people first.

Acknowledge there is life outside of the company

If you were to stop by any break room and catch casual conversations among employees, as often as not, they are talking about life outside of work – family, weekend plans or activities, vacations, or just balancing the daily grind of both work and personal matters.

It’s good to tap into this reservoir of goodwill and understanding simply by integrating into certain employee communications channels acknowledgement of life outside the company.

Including employee family news in workplace media, hosting regular events beyond the summer picnic where families are invited, volunteer and other group activities where family members are included. 

Balance content

When creating company videos, Intranet articles or blogs targeting the work force, it’s easy to fall into the trap of populating the majority of the communications channels, top-down, with important information and messages management wants employees to know.  But it’s equally important to understand what employees want to know and need to hear.

It’s good to make sure that articles and features about changes to benefits plans, for instance, are offset by an article about a long-time employee who volunteers at the local animal shelter. 

The key to engagement is always to maintain the human touch.  That is what creates an environment where employees give employers a chance to deliver important information.

Credits to: @workforcenews, @Inc., @SouthwestAir  

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Effective CEO Communicator

While the job of a chief executive officer (CEO) is multi-faceted, he or she tends to be judged from the self-interest of each key stakeholder group.  Investors judge a CEO based on financial performance. Employees judge their boss on managerial style or perhaps whether and how often they see raises and bonuses.  The public and the media may judge a CEO on the public persona created through community involvement or even celebrity status.

That’s not to say CEOs are loved and admired everywhere they go, and more than a few CEOs will be the first to tell you this.  Some recent studies have suggested that some CEOs suffer from narcissistic personality or other psychological disorders. 

Forbes magazine recently did an online feature called America's Top 20 Favorite Bosses.  To be sure, Forbes is more likely to judge a CEO based on business results, but according to the feature, the top picks were based on ratings from employees. 

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook topped the list with an approval rating from his employees of 99 percent.  On face value with stories like this, it’s quite common to assume Mr. Zuckerberg’s management style deserves all the credit, but the company’s initial public offering in 2012 and the financial windfall that accompanied it may have had something to do with employee satisfaction with leadership.

Other companies' employees that rated their CEOs highly were SAPMcKinsey & Company, Ernst & Young, and Northwestern Mutual to round out the top five.

But what does it take to be an effective CEO communicator?

In my experience, CEOs who connect with all of their major constituencies take it beyond simply the self-interest of the stakeholder.  Investors, for example, want a  CEO to be more than one who delivers financial results, but also who understands everything from product development and branding, to creating a vision that the work force can follow. 

Employees want a CEO whose vision provides a future for them and their families, a workplace that makes them want to come to work, and compensation that enables them to achieve their personal dreams.

Others, such as customers, vendors and the larger community, want a CEO who has a handle on corporate social responsibility, cost management, competitive pricing and much more.

And yet, while all of this is important, it can mean nothing if the CEO can’t communicate on these levels so effectively that targeted stakeholders find a connection with the organization.

That is what it takes to be an effective CEO communicator and why it’s so rare to find a CEO that can do all of this and do it well.
Fred Smith, the founder and longtime CEO of FedEx is one I had the opportunity to see in action.  He has proven to be a model for CEO communication.  Here is a 9-minute interview with him on his company, its evolution and its future.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Quit Being a Dumb App: How to Keep Your Smart Phone from Screwing Up Your Relationships

By Lloyd Corder, Ph.D.

Recently, I got this note from an entrepreneurial client and friend of mine who started a metal powders company that makes high tech parts for spaceflight companies like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin:  

I have to tell you, that I think of you more than you realize I'm sure.  Every time I'm going into a meeting with someone, I pull my phone out and turn it off or to vibrate.  You did that one time we met and I never forgot how I felt "Wow, he's taking this very serious and only wants to concentrate on me while we're meeting."  Very powerful stuff.

That made my day.

I’ve spent my professional career helping others become better communicators.  It may be called marketing research, ad testing, strategic marketing planning, leadership communications or even university teaching, but it boils down to figuring out how you can be better today than you were yesterday.  Slight, continuous improvements lead to big results over time.

In working with hundreds of clients over the last 25 years, I’ve come to believe that the most profound gift you can give someone is your time and complete attention.

Within in your grasp—every day and at multiple times—you have the power to show you truly care…you are a great listener…you can accept someone for who and where they are in their life…you can show and be loved…and—most importantly—you can make someone’s life better.

But giving your time and complete attention is darned near impossible if you’re spending all your time fiddling with your phone.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love my smart phone.  I can reply to clients faster.  I can delegate projects instantaneously.  I can update my social media status like no body’s business.

But smart phones have a dark side too:

·         Smart phones are the single biggest distraction in our lives.  For many of us, instead of us being “all in” when we’re meeting with someone we know is important—like our friends, family members, coworkers and others—we are only partly paying attention.  We may be there physically, but mentally and emotionally we’re thinking about emails, texting someone miles away, surfing the Internet or wondering how many likes we’ll get from our latest post.  Our smart phones make it seem like we are afflicted with some form of attention deficit disorder.

·         Smart phones mess up our eye contact.  We trust people who look at us.  It’s tough to read someone when they are constantly looking away or at their phone.  It suggests they would rather be somewhere else or doing something different.  Smart phones are seductive.  They trick us into thinking that I’ll just look away for a moment, and then I’ll be able to refocus.  Forget it.  You’ll want to check your phone every few minutes.  It will become such a force of habit that you won’t even realize you’re doing it.

·         Smart phones make us feel like we have more control, but we actually don’t.  We have so many new communications tools available to us.  But are we any better communicators?  Are your relationships better now than they were five years ago?  Does it really matter to you that you now know the minutia of other peoples’ lives through their barrage of posts?  Wouldn’t you rather understand the big picture of the people you care about?

Well, what should you do about all of this?  Especially if you’re younger and have spent your entire life online, taking a break from your phone may be an out-of-body experience for you.

From my vantage point, you have two basic options.

First, you can go on letting your smart phone be the boss of your life.  Bring it everywhere you go.  Never turn it off.  Let it distract, seduce and control you to your heart’s content.  If you chose this path, don’t worry.  A lot of people are on it.  You’ll blend in fine and most people won’t notice the difference anyway—since they will be on their smart phones doing the same thing.

Or, if you dare, you could decide that maybe part of the purpose of your life is to help make the world you’re living in a little better place, if just for one moment or one minute or one hour or one day.

You can do that by sharing your time and complete attention with the people you’re in front of.  Forget about your smart phone for a minute.  Silence it and put it away.  Be totally in the moment.

If you’re in a business meeting, require that everyone put their “screens down” and give their attention to topic at hand…especially if you’ve spent a fortune getting them to the meeting.

What I’m suggesting may sound like it’s easy to do, but it’s easier not to do.  You will struggle.  Your smart phone will tempt you to pay more attention to it than who you’re meeting with.  But don’t you do it!

Just try getting through one meeting without your phone.  If you falter, forgive yourself and try again with your second meeting.  Like any important change in your life, it will take two or three weeks of diligent effort, then it will start to seem totally natural to put away your phone and get focused on the conversation at hand.

You will also quickly find yourself in the top five percent, separated from your competitors and everyone else…and being noticed by important people and people who are important to you.  You’ll seem like a natural winner.

And at that point, you may just find that your influence, impact and life are exponentially better than they were when you were playing with that dumb phone all the time!

About the Author

Tim O’Brien has worked with Lloyd Corder, Ph.D., on several projects.  Lloyd is founder and CEO of strategic marketing research firm CorCom, Inc. and teaches at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University.  He is a frequent keynote, convention and motivational speaker, and he has appeared on business-oriented radio and television programs.  Lloyd’s studies have been published in more than 500 magazines and newspapers.  For additional information and resources, please visit or contact him at  On Twitter: @CorComInc