A Great Article of Definition by Mike O’Horo on Law Firm Marketing and Sales


“What Kind of Guru Are You Anyway?”

guruToday I received an email from Network Solutions offering special pricing on the hottest new domain name in the domain name domain: “.guru.” At first I was intrigued, and I checked to see what domains might be available. I tried my name.guru, and that was available. I tried marketing.guru, but that was taken. Damn. So I tried various others, and most of them were open. I even tried guru.guru, just in case I wanted to be known as the guru of gurus. Bingo. Available!

But then the angel on my shoulder said, “Whoa there, swami, do you really want people to think that you think you’re a guru? A little pretentious, don’t you think, especially for a guy that doesn’t look remotely Indian. So I passed on the .guru domain. Even if it were free, I couldn’t bring myself to use it except for maybe a comedy blog about a guy who goes to India to seek enlightenment but ends up managing a sweatshop where eight-year-olds sew silk ties for a famous Italian designer.

I got to thinking, though (unusual for me before my morning shower), about what happens to words, as I often do. When I first ran into the word “guru,” it was way back in another century – the latter middle part of that century in fact. People went to India to seek a guru who would take them on as students and teach them the meaning of life. Some of them were serious. Others simply had too much money and time on their hands. The Beatles and other celebrities adopted the Swami Satchidinanda as their mascot. And George Harrison, the most spiritual Beatle, even learned to play sitar. Frank Zappa, my personal teenage musical idol (not guru) made fun of the whole idea in his song “Cosmik Debris.” The guru craze Zappa made fun of may have been a little creepy, but back then at least we knew what a guru was supposed to be: an Indian spiritual guide and teacher.

“And I said ‘Look here brother
Who you jiving with that cosmik debris?
Now what kind of a guru are you, anyway?
Look here brother, don’t waste your time on me'”
(from Zappa – Cosmik Debris)

Swami with Beatles

Now, an220px-Sikh_Gurus_with_Bhai_Bala_and_Bhai_Mardanayone who knows more than the average bear about something can bill himself or herself as a guru. Marketing gurus are everywhere. SEO gurus. Lean Six Sigma gurus. Among the many guru options available today, only the Lean Six Sigma gurus seem to actually promise spiritual enlightenment. Because I can be a bit of an ass sometimes, whenever someone introduces me to a “guru,” I like to ask what part of India they’re from. Some people think it’s funny; most just think it’s in bad taste.

You can look up “guru ” and find all sorts of history. You will find this guy, Guru Nanak, the first Sikh guru (15th century), and your more contemporary gurus of course.

Who are today’s gurus?

The Guru Girls promote condoms.
Want to see the Guru of Spores?
You got your used car gurus.
This guru is a cat.
Here’s the trade show guru.
We got your quality gurus right here.

You get the point.

Words evolve. Original meanings get lost. I get that. But we have an interesting case here. If lots of people adopt the .guru domain name, thus claiming that they are the spiritual leaders of trade shows or toxic torts or permanent nose hair removal, then nobody can be recognized as an actual guru ever again. The word will have killed the species. Extinction by etymology. And if nobody can be an actual guru anymore, then who will the rock stars of the future turn to for spiritual growth?

Just sayin’. . .

What If They Had To Stand On Their Own?

What would this year’s presidential election be like if the only thing the media was allowed to do is provide actual quotations from the candidates? No analysis. No commentary. No polls. Nothing said on TV or on the web that isn’t an exact quote from a candidate. Wouldn’t that be interesting!

Sorry if this sounds cynical, but I believe most people’s opinions of a candidate are based on someone else’s opinion, not their own. Maybe it’s whatever the FOX people are saying, or the CNNs or the MSNBCs. Or perhaps it’s the latest rants of their favorite celebrities. And if it were simply other people’s opinions about the candidates, even that wouldn’t be so bad as following other people’s opinions about the polls of other people’s opinions.

Why do I think Romney is going to win this election? It’s not because he can fix the economy. No president can do that. It’s not because of his stance on health care, social security, taxes, Israel, Syria, abortion, gay marriage, or traffic. It’s because in the last few weeks of the campaign, Romney is “trending.” The media reports on the polls which say Romney is gaining. People hop on the bus. It just snowballs from there.

And none of it has to do with policy. People say they care about policy, but they don’t. They care about what their friends and coworkers think of them. They care about who looks good on TV. They care about anything except policy, substance, simply because the real issues are complicated and flat-out too hard to understand. How many American’s can actually tell you what the national debt is or means? How many can cite the actual details of Obama’s healthcare program? How many can actually define the phrase “middle class”? And how many can find Syria on a map?

Until recently I never put a bumper sticker on my car. About six months ago I saw one I simply had to have. It says, “Is That What They Told You To Think?” Frankly, I don’t care what anyone’s stance on issues is, unless of course it’s simply offensive; I just care that they probably haven’t figured it out for themselves. They bought it off the rack. And the schlock merchants are the media on every side.

Here’s the thing. If you can’t think an issue through yourself based on the available facts and information, you look to the media who appear to be most sincere and generally in line with your overall world view. They can sell you anything. And they do it not with lies, but with selective information. Some things get reported and some don’t. Some panel moderators clearly lean this way or that, and panelists are carefully selected.

That’s why I’d like to see a presidential election where everyone had to make up their mind based on primary sources only. Then the candidates would have to really sound and look good. No hiding behind a PAC or a network or a big red and blue chart on the wall. There’s a presidential debate tonight. It will last for however long it lasts. And then we will get analysis for days. I will have formed an opinion of the candidates based mostly on who actually answered which questions and who simply evaded them. And then I may shut off the TV and not turn it on again until after the election – except to watch Walking Dead, of course, where the zombies don’t try to be anything but zombies.

Branding a Color. I Think Periwinkle’s Available.

Did you know Aggie Maroon is actually an official PMS (no, that stands for Pantone Matching System – a printing ink color standard) color? It is. A few days ago I was suggesting to a client that we use the color orange for something or other. He smiled and reminded me that half of all Texans would be offended.

If I hadn’t encountered this before, I would have been truly puzzled. But I did indeed know exactly what he meant. You can divide Texas into two camps: burnt orange and maroon. Maroon for those who go or went to Texas A&M, and burnt orange of the University of Texas. And somehow it’s all tied into football. But that a topic for another post.

Once I prepared a series of campaign postcards for an attorney who was running for local bar association president. She insisted that we use maroon as the main color on one and orange on the other. We didn’t want to leave anyone out.

While I suspect this may be a bigger deal in Texas than anywhere else, I can think of another two-color division that’s gone a bit more viral. Red states and blue states. Thanks to CNN’s election result charts from a few years back, states are now divided into either of two colors. Never before have states been so easily distinguished from one another.

If this red/blue thing had gone away after that election, then fine, it would have been just a way that a news network chose to illustrate election results on-air. But it went viral before the word viral went viral. It had legs. Viral legs. Red and blue are now part of the official vernacular of political analysts, campaign workers, reporters, bloggers, and ordinary wonks everywhere.

Who knew? And what about colored ribbons? I see pink, I think of breast cancer victims, not little girls’ dresses. Yellow ribbons are tied around old oak trees and have been since the 1940s. Ferrari has its own red. Chase bank has been trying to brand a blue by airing commercials that are black and white except for the blue chase card. More and more companies are using this trick now that they decided it’s cool. Target stores has tried to brand the color red.

Some people want their presence on earth to be immortalized in the name of a newly discovered star, planet, or moon in a far-away galaxy.

Not me. I want a color, a particular shade of something or other. I like orange and use it on my Morninglight Marketing web site. (It’s not burnt orange). But I don’t want orange as my personal brand color.

Hmmm. Maybe something akin to periwinkle blue. I like periwinkle because it’s an odd color. periwinkle is to blue what salmon is to pink – just a bit off-center. I have a friend who had a “salmon” sofa once. He’s a bit off-center, too (meant in a very good way). So if there were a color called “Peter,” what would it be. Ferrari red, A&M maroon, periwinkle peter. Works for me.

I’ve Been Pondering QR Codes, Too

QR codes. I’ve played with creating one. I’ve read how wonderful they are. Marketers and advertisers  jumped on them as the latest, coolest thing, and they are popping up everywhere. I’ve even created one with my own contact information. But I’ve always had the nagging feeling that they are a mostly solution looking for a problem. Will people really whip out their smart phones, find the scanner app, and scan the QR code on the blue jeans ad to see what they will get?

Here’s a great article by Sean Cummings on iMedia Connection called “Why the QR Code is Failing.” Sean doesn’t blame the technology, the tool. He blames the people using it. I actually wonder if he goes far enough. Sure, the way they’re being used is generally pointless. But do QR codes really have potential for marketers, even if used intelligently and creatively? I’m not sure.

Read Sean’s article HERE and see what you think.

What's This?

I wonder what scanning this will do?










And have a great Thursday!


The Black Cow: Better Than Baking Soda in the Fridge

Every so often a truly great marketing coup comes along that stands out from all the rest. When Arm & Hammer told us to put boxes of baking soda in the refrigerator, nearly every fridge in America got one as a gift. The onions no longer fought with the fish and the leftover pizza. And just in case you missed that part of the campaign, part two reminded you it was time to change the box of baking soda. So if you didn’t have one there already, you ran out and bought one. Yet another great scam perpetrated on “Boobus Americanus” (see H.L. Mencken). It doesn’t really matter whether or not the baking soda works (it probably does); what matters is how effectively they marketed it to solve a problem that most people didn’t have. If your refrigerator stank, the usual solution was to throw out the spoiled food that caused the odor. Or just accept the fact that you’re gross.

But the ad agency that did Arm & Hammer had nothing on whomever the American Angus Association brought in to convince Boobus that black cows taste better than brown ones, white ones, brown and white ones, and all the other possible colors of cow. And we bought it big time. Hundreds of restaurants now have the word “Angus” in their names. McDonalds and Arby’s proudly offer “Angus” beef products at a premium price. Supermarkets let you know which ground beef and steaks on their shelves came from a black cow.

After all, what do we really know about Angus cattle other than their black color? Have you ever read of a national taste test comparing prime aged and well prepared steaks from different colors of cow? No, neither have I.

This could be the greatest marketing coup, dollar for dollar, yet.

I can just picture it. It’s about 7 pm at the ad agency office. The 20-somethings are sitting around thinking about who their next client should be. Then somebody says, “cows.” I bet we can convince people that the color of a cow affects its taste. Do you want to do white cows, brown ones, or black? OK, let’s go with black cows. Somebody go check to see if there’s a black cow ranchers’ association or something like that. There is? Great. We’ll call them in the morning and see if they agree that the genus Boobus Americanus is just as stupid or even stupider than the Arm & Hammer guys thought.

Or maybe the black cow ranchers got the idea first. Either way, it’s pure evil genius.

“Happy People Are Broken”

Church signs just ain't what they used to be.

“Happy People Are Broken.” That’s what the lit-up sign outside the massive Second Baptist Church on Woodway Road in Houston said yesterday. I went back this morning to get a photo, but they had changed it to something more administrative. Since I can’t presume that the belief expressed in that sentence is part of official Baptist theology, I have to think something else is going on. And what that is seems pretty obvious.

It’s a teaser. It’s designed to get people asking “WTF?” (Baptists may express this using some other acronym.) The point, I presume, is to get you to come in on Sunday and find out what that sign actually meant, which was surely not what it says. Thus, dear friends, it’s a marketing ploy. Not a new one, mind you. It smacks a bit of the old bait-and-switch, doesn’t it?

So I had two reactions. My first was horror. How could anyone say that? Why would anyone say that? It’s awful. Let’s get these folks back on their meds before they hurt someone. I wanted to run in and find the pastor and ask him what was so wrong in his life that he would allow such a sign on his big megabucks church. Then I had the “aha!” moment, the one where you realize how stupid you are. If I went looking for the pastor, I’d get a cheerful pat on the back and a loving look and be told to return Sunday for the true meaning, which, no doubt, would include the rest of the sentence. Something like “Happy people are broken unless their happiness comes through Jesus” – or something like that.

That’s when I had my second reaction kicked in. What about this sort of marketing? You communicate something clearly offensive in the hope to lure in curious passers-by.  It reminds me a little (just a little, really) of the tactic often used by furniture stores, appliance stores, and car dealerships on tv ads: be so loud and annoying that people remember your name. OK, it’s not really the same thing, but I was reminded of the technique – a technique I never liked, no matter how much the cash registers may ring.

My respect for mega-churches has never been very high, since they seem more like big business than anything else. But this church has perhaps achieved a new low. I have more respect for the little church with the sign in the picture above than for this one; at least they’re honest.

My questions:

1) Is what the Second Baptist Church did ethical?
2) Is it good (i.e., effective) marketing?
3) If it’s not ethical, but it doesn’t really hurt anyone, and it is effective, is it wrong?

My answers: No, No, and Yes. Anyone else want to chime in?

P.S. The signs outside religious institutions have taken on a social and political role of their own of late. What do you think about that?



So How Do They Do It?

If I still worked there, I’d have been fired today for asking the CEO why his company is making lots of money in spite of the fact that it doesn’t care much about its clients. The guy and his crew violate just about every rule of good marketing, such as failing to build client relationships, suing clients at every opportunity, spamming them, providing poor service, and the list goes on. Did I mention that whenever they have a marketing manager or director who cares, that person has a short shelf life? And yet, I hear they’re having one of their best financial years ever.

I really do know the answer, of course. This company has a large national sales staff (they call them BDs) that manages to find lots of fresh clients whom they can work with once and then never again worry much about. As long as the pond remains well stocked with prospects, they can pull out fish after fish, take a bite, and throw the rest back. And it won’t matter because by the time the pond’s been over-fished and there’s nothing left, the owners and investors will have made their money and can move on to their next big idea.

So, this is a viable business model, right. If it’ll keep you going long enough for you to meet your financial goals, and if you don’t care about the wake of pissed off clients and disgruntled former employees you leave behind, then who’s to say it’s not a valid approach?

I do. Lots of people do. I’d say it’s a head-on collision with ethical behavior. But, as a cultural relativist, and knowing that there have been societies where it was perfectly acceptable, if not downright mandated, to eat your enemies or sacrifice your daughters to Kong, maybe I shouldn’t rush to judgment.

I’m so confused.


Are You Talking About Drugs or Breakfast Cereal?

I forget just what triggered it – something I saw on TV, or a news article I read. But the thought occurred to me that there are a fair number of words that have come to us from the world of illegal drugs that are now in common use in completely different contexts.

Here are a few examples:

Fix – used to refer to heroin use, but now it’s used for any craving, e.g., “I need my chocolate fix.”

Jones – once referred to heroin addiction, now it’s any addiction, as in “I got a bad jones for you, baby.”

Busted – once referred primarily to drug arrests, now it’s any flavor of being captured or caught, e.g., “My dad busted me for driving the Bentley without permission.”

Hit – a “hit” once meant primarily a drag on a joint or pipe of weed. Now it’s anything, e.g., “Let me have a hit off your ginger ale.”

Narc – used to refer to a narcotics law enforcement officer. Now it’s usually a verb, not a noun, and it simply means “tell on,” as in “He narc’d on me for cutting school.”

Rush – once referred to a certain drug-induced feeling – especially from LSD, like things were rushing at you or past you very quickly, like a strong wind. Now, it’s used for anything exciting and often used in commercials, e.g., “Feel the rush as you step inside your new Toyota.”

I know there are lots more, but these are the ones that came to mind.

Why is this interesting? I think it’s because every group or subculture develops it own argot to some degree. And when that group or subculture starts becoming generally known, some of its special language leaks into general usage. In other words, the culture at large takes what it likes and finds useful, even from a subculture of which it disapproves.

It’s yet another quirky aspect of language that I find fascinating.

Just Change the Name to Perrystan

OK, I know I’m not a political writer. I bitch about unqualified people commenting on complex topics, so I should shut up. But I live in Texas, where we have this governor who wants the state to secede from the union and wants to be President of the United States, too. Question: would he want to be President of The United States of Everything Except Texas? I guess he could hand-pick a president for Texas if he offered enough foreign aid. Maybe W would take the job; he’s not that busy reading all the books in his library.

So I met Rick Perry exactly once. Well, maybe I didn’t exactly meet him. Under duress I attended a fund-raiser for him that was sponsored by my former employer a few years back. At least I didn’t have to write a check! I was in the receiving line as Mr. Perry entered the room with his posse and shook each of our hands in turn.

If he had been, say, Bill Clinton, he would have looked me in the eye, shook my hand. placed his other hand on my shoulder, and asked me how everything was going. But this is no Bill Clinton. Perry stretched out his hand for a shake while looking everywhere else in the room except at me. At first I thought, I get this, he’s hungry. It’s  been a long day and he wants to find the shrimp. If he spots it, I’ll follow him over there, we’ll both put too many shrimp on our plastic plates, and we’ll have a nice chat about education and jobs and where the lottery money goes.

But then I had a revelation. A light shone from above, right through the roof and ceiling, and illuminated Perry’s head in such a way that I could almost see through it. No, it wasn’t God sending Rick a personal God-o-Gram or fixing his hair. The message was for me. Perry wasn’t hungry for shrimp; he was hungry only for big, tasty campaign cash so he could continue to run things in Texas. Whoever in the room could provide the most green would get Rick’s full attention this day – although even that may not be much – and it certainly wasn’t going to be me. Rick could tell that just by the cut of my jacket. So he didn’t even look at me while shaking my hand, and then he moved on.

The word “opportunist” has been spoken by many a political analyst regarding Perry. And they’re right. Perry doesn’t give a damn about policy; he just wants to be crowned King of Perrystan and not have to wear that wig any more. Actually, I do suspect it’s a rug. Let’s start that rumor: Perry’s bald, bald, bald. Now if he’s not he has to prove it on national TV. Maybe on the Letterman Show.