More Brand Thinking

The brainstorming about branding continues. I’ve been sorting through some of the questions posed by the branding workshop I attended last week. I nailed down a couple of important things:

  • Who is my ideal customer?
  • What makes me unique?

My Ideal Customer

Why is it important to identify an ideal customer? You want to identify your best work environment, professional strengths, and most reliable market segment. I got my master’s degree so I could work in the space industry. Since then, I’ve become interested in other technologies as well. Below is a list of attributes for my “ideal customer.” Your mileage could vary.

  • High-technology entrepreneur or large-project manager
  • Someone who has unique and diverse communication needs on a project basis
  • Someone who needs help planning communications—what to say and how to say it
  • Someone who wants to convey the benefits of whatever they’re doing
  • Primary audiences include elected officials and staffers on various parts of Pennsylvania Avenue as well as the interested (or general) public
  • Customer’s audience should respond to their communication products with:
    • “This is a great thing, I want to (continue to) fund it!”
    • “Aha! Now that I understand [X], I want to do/implement it!”
    • “That’s a good thing you’re doing. We need to change X so it can happen!”
  • Customer doesn’t need an employee but a consultant/part-time contractor
  • Customer doesn’t mind working with someone remotely or flying them in if necessary
  • Customer is willing to pay well for communication services
  • Customer recognizes the value of and wants to work with a professional communicator

What Makes Me Unique?

So once you identify who your ideal customers are, you have to identify what about you would be interesting to them. You must answer the question, “Why should I hire you?” Uniqueness is one way to do that–explaining why you’re different.

  • Philosophical approach—I want to understand the “why” behind your project/topic
  • Passionate about learning and writing about technologies that contribute to a better future
  • Able to communicate clearly about multiple topics in multiple formats
  • Diplomatic in written and spoken communication
  • Skilled at technical, business operations, and marketing copy writing

The thinking about branding will continue. When I have some spare cash, I might even pay a graphic designer to help me create a logo that conveys some of these ideas (no idea what that would look like at this point). However, the point of branding is not merely to create a logo or a website “look,” but rather to help people remember your products or services in a particular context. That’s what’s known as brand recognition. Think Google, Kleenex, Apple, etc.

Obviously I’m still working on mine.

Music Review: Who Can Tell / Kawehi

Let’s get one thing straight up front: I am not hip.

I wasn’t hip in my teens or twenties, and I sure as heck don’t qualify now. The fact that I’m writing reviews about a couple of musical acts half my age is a random convergence of technophilia and random fandom. Therefore, the following comments should be run through the he’s-45-and-lucky-to-be-listening-to-something-other-than-classic-rock filter.

Tonight I decided to go to a performance of live music for perhaps the second time in 15 years (I attended a performance by my friend Amy McCarley, who’s excellent but suffered from bad acoustics and a loud, inattentive audience in 2011 or so). This second occasion was prompted by the appearance of Kawehi in Orlando.

We can start with the venue if you like–a dark, stark place in downtown Orlando called the Back Booth. Once the lights went down for the performers, I gave up on writing in my journal real-time. The best things the bar had to recommend it were Blue Point beer and Makers Mark bourbon. Prices are downtown-high ($5/beer, $8 call, $16 double call). Additionally, the Back Booth is relatively small (their website says they can handle 350 people at a time). This allowed most of the audience to enjoy what some might call an “intimate” performance, as everyone could see the performers’ faces clearly–radically different from an arena show.

Who Can Tell

The opening act for Kawehi was a local (Longwood, FL) female duo called Who Can Tell. Being un-hip, I’d forgotten about opening acts, so I had no expectations when they assumed the stage. I was pleasantly surprised.

Playing mostly their own songs (with a few covers thrown in that I did not recognize because, again, I am not hip), they had smooth vocals and decent musical performances. One singer (Jeni Valtinson) had the ease of a country singer while the other (Brianna Peterson) had the intensity of someone like Janis Joplin. That’s my impression of their performance expressions; the voices themselves were nearly identical or blended smoothly. I really enjoyed the quality of the singing and their relaxed interactions with the crowd. Their primary instruments included guitar, ukelele, harmonica, tambourine, bells (attached to one singer’s ankles), and kazoo (I kid you not). Imagine a quirky college act with some folk music thrown in.

It might have been the acoustics of the Back Booth or my own bad hearing, but I couldn’t understand all of their lyrics, but what I heard I liked. And their simultaneous earnestness in performing, combined with their playing of irreverent instruments like the kazoo made their act fun and worth listening to. They were about as anti-Kawehi as an act can get, which is not bad, just very different, as I’ll explain presently.

Kawehi

Okay, so I came to this concert because I was interested in someone who became a sensation via YouTube. Kawehi (pronounced, I believe, kah-WAY-hee) has a unique approach to her performed music: she incorporates her pre-recorded background sounds and vocals into part of her performance.

And, as random luck would have it, I ran into Kawehi before her performance at a saloon around the corner from where she was performing. Being an introvert, I kept my comments short (but did ask for an autograph). So here’s what an introvert fan’s interactions end up looking like in the age of Twitter:

pleasure meeting you at the PourHouse. Sorry for the brevity. Figured you’d like to eat/drink in peace. Rock on!

@SciCheerGopher thanks Bart!!! See you soon!!

IMG_6451Moving along from my somewhat brief and awkward interactions, I’ll just move on to the music from here.

Sophisticated consumers of music expect bands to sing and record background lyrics on their various tracks, often performed by the same individuals. If anything, the primary difference between live music and studio performances is that live music does not replicate the background lyrics, if only because human vocal cords cannot reproduce different sounds simultaneously. Kawehi does something different, in that she introduces her songs by singing the background tracks first, playing them skillfully enough so that they sound like a well-played introduction rather than a set of separate one-off vocal tracks.

So imagine, if you will, some of your favorite songs played inside out: Kawehi replicates drum sounds percussively with her mouth, then starts throwing in repeating synthesizer and vocal themes, and then she starts singing the regular vocals. So when she does get to the lyrics, her audience feels it better somehow because they now understand how the song is put together.

image1 To put it more bluntly, Kawehi has made an art form out of showing us how the sausage is made using only a single voice. It is simultaneously an artistic, technological, and postmodern tour de force, as you come out of the experience seeing how it’s all done and still appreciating the result.

Like I said, it’s hard to imagine a couple of performers more different from Kawehi than Who Can Tell, and yet they both entertained well in their individual ways. So let me just throw this out there, for those who have given up on live music: there are some really fun local (and even national) acts that manage to do interesting things with music. You just have to take the time to get out and listen to them.

What is Your Personal Brand?

I created this blog (and its tagline) half in jest, half with a serious purpose. The jest is that I don’t take myself too seriously on some things. The serious purpose is that if I want or need to improve my “brand” on the internet, I need to be clear about what that brand is. So in addition to sharing some of various interests in science fiction or cool architecture, I’ll try to use this space to explain who I am, on and off duty.

Today I attended a lunch-and-learn presented by Mary Recchia Brown over at ScribbleSpace in Windermere, FL. The subject of that session was–wait for it–branding.

The point of the discussion was to get us (a room of half a dozen or so small-business entrepreneurs) thinking about our customers, the services we provide them, and what’s in it for them to employ us. Why should they hire me, for example, instead of the other writer in the room, Laura Schaefer? A lot of it has to do with whom our ideal customer would be. Other considerations would include the sorts of problems we are best able to solve and what “end game” our ideal customers hope to achieve by solving them.

Lots to think about. If you’re a professional colleague and follow this blog or Heroic Technical Writing, I would appreciate your feedback (via email to bart_leahy{at}hotmail dot com or other).

Making a Better Future

STAR TREKI’m a big fan of Star Trek. I like the notion of a high-tech, idealistic future with attractive architecture and clean streets. So I do wonder, occasionally, what it will take to get there and whether specific policies enacted now can make that future happen. Or, if not THAT exact future, something like it.

Politically it seems like most of the folks interested in making the environment clean are on one side of the political spectrum–but their primary political methods for ensuring that we get that clean environment are coercive: more government rules, regulations, and taxes. Such policies interfere with economic growth and even freedom in some cases, causing many folks to resent the policies even if they result in a better environment for everyone.

On the other side of things, we have capitalism, which depends on continual growth, which means continual expansion of products and services, which in turn means we must extract more resources and very often create more pollution. Many people believe that growth can continue unchecked without any consequences.

This endless hostility between environmentalism and economic growth doesn’t need to be permanent. There have to be policies that can be pro-economic growth that also support the environment. I’d like to see cleaner streets, self-driving electric cars, clean air and water, trash heaps used for resources or fuel, and more greenery in cities and towns.

  • Why not talk tax breaks (not subsidies, which are direct payments of taxpayer monies) for such technologies?
  • Why not streamlined regulations to bring newer, safer nuclear power plants online?
  • Why not treat space as an economically undeveloped area (“enterprise zone“), where space-based solar power and asteroid mining can be developed tax-free for 20 years until the space above our heads has an economy strong enough to produce growth?
  • Why not zoning laws that set aside space for and encourage greener technologies?
  • Why not capitalist-based incentives to develop carbon sequestration or other technologies?

bosco-verticale-on-the-move-upScience fiction author David Brin calls these technological efforts TWSBDA (Things We Should Be Doing Anyway). If you find a way to provide incentives for building world-improving technologies that lead to profit (without direct government spending), you might eliminate some of the political friction in the climate change debate. We can do all these things–create a better, growing economy with more clean energy and more technology–without coercion and without sticking it to “the system.”

Or perhaps I’m just being too optimistic again. Jeez, I hope not. I really want to see someone build a starship.

Urban Planning in Orlando

Traffic on Interstate 4 in Southwest Orlando--the usual mess.
Traffic on Interstate 4 in Southwest Orlando–the usual mess.

I have no idea who handles urban/civil planning for the City of Orlando or Orange County in general, but whatever process(es) they’re using are guaranteed to promote two problems:

  • Sprawl
  • Traffic

Sprawl

Here’s the reality about how people get around southwest Orlando, which is where I live and spend most of my time: the locals find the unused roads and do their best to avoid Interstate 4. Eventually, of course, the city planners realize, “Hey, look! We’ve got a lot more traffic on Blahblahblah Boulevard! We need to expand the road!” So they expand two-lane roads to four-lane divided highways to handle the increased traffic load. Naturally, the next stage in the process is that real estate developers will note the wider, more accessible road and will start selling more property on said road–commercial and residential. Businesses are built, people move in, the street becomes a “destination” area and once again the locals try to find “the road less traveled.” Here’s a crazy idea: next time you find a road that has high traffic that flows at reasonable speed, leave it alone!

Traffic

The worst traffic in SW Orlando is Sand Lake Road, from its western end at Apopka-Vineland Road all the way to Kirkman Road. The stretch between Dr. Phillips Blvd. and Universal Blvd. is particularly bad, but that area of high traffic is about to be extended by adding a Trader Joe’s on the north side of the street between Della Drive and Apopka-Vineland. I have no gripe with Trader Joe’s per se. The problem with most of the Dr. Phillips commercial area is the lack of adequate parking. This is hardly a new problem. Trader Joe’s, undoubtedly a popular chain, failed to provide a decent amount of parking for their new Winter Park store, with similar ensuing congestion.

What this results in is people driving around and around the streets (or parking lots) looking for a decent spot. A couple other crazy notions here:

  • Increase the amount of space allotted for parking
  • Reduce the number or size of new commercial properties
  • Increase the number of turn lanes
  • Improve public transportation (light rail would be a good fit if we have room for it)
  • Leave the land alone?

I am not a civil engineer, so I’m throwing myself on the mercy of those of you out there who are charged with designing streets, ramps, and parking lots made to support commercial properties. Please: stop what you’re doing. Update the equations that you use to estimate traffic flow by comparing estimates vs. reality…especially along Sand Lake Road. Do something different. Your processes for “growth” are increasing density where it’s least wanted and forcing more and more people to head out to the suburbs to fill up the empty space and avoid the congestion messes you’re creating.

Book Review and Literary Experiment II: The Emotional Thesaurus

English department creative writing majors have this dictum beaten into their skulls early and often: “Show, don’t tell.” Intellectually, I understood what the profs meant: describe situations rather than have the narrator explain what happens in a particular scene. However, it wasn’t until I read The Emotion Thesaurus that I understood how this dictum translated into actual writing practice.

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Imagine you’ve got a very emotional story to tell. We all know how much emotion is internalized, in feelings or words. However, your publisher has dictated two important rules:

  1. Thou shalt not write interior monologues.
  2. Thou shalt not explain the meaning of an event in the narration.

I’ve been guilty of this for years, which is one of several reasons why I make my living as a technical writer, not a fiction writer. But here’s where those two rules force the writer to get better at his/her craft: if you can’t as Author explain how everything fits together, you have to depict the impact through characters’ dialogue, physical actions, or other descriptions of behavior. Again, the point of this approach to writing is that some of the burden of understanding the story is given over to the reader. Another advantage of this type of writing–should you be so inclined–is that it is much easier to translate “external” writing into TV or movie productions because everything is right there on the page.

On the flip side, stories that are very internalized or are overburdened with narrative explanation are notoriously difficult to translate into visual images. The only film I know that did a halfway decent job of this was Dune, which was a stinker on other levels, but captured the internal monologues of Frank Herbert’s cerebral series well.

What The Emotion Thesaurus does is provide the writer with a range of emotions, their definitions, physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, cues of long-term emotional effects, and cues to repressed emotion. Through all of these, the writer can better “method act” their characters into life through words alone. I found this visceral approach to “show, don’t tell” so worthwhile that this lesson alone was worth the price.

***

Not sure what I mean by show vs. tell? I’ll try an example to see if I can depict it honestly.

Telling
Jerry saw the news: Chicago nuked by terrorists. He couldn’t believe it: half his family–or more!–wiped out in the mother of all fires. And for what? He swore revenge right there and then.

Showing
Jerry turned on the TV, saw a wide-eyed reporter with pursed lips and watery eyes explain with a shaky voice, “…terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the destruction. First incorporated in 1837, the city of Chicago has been utterly obliterated by a high-power hydrogen bomb. The casualties…” The news reader choked up, paused, and composed herself. “At a guess, over five million people died in the initial blast. How many might be injured or suffering from radiation burns will take weeks or months to determine as emergency crews from neighboring cities attempt a rescue effort. Because of the electromagnetic pulse and the extent of the damage, we’re only getting fragmentary images, mostly from people in Indiana, Wisconsin, and Rockford, where damage was bad, but survivable.”

The images on the screen were shaky, but featured screaming voices, anguished cries, faces contorted with pain or burns so horrific that blur spots were insufficient to cover the blood or discolored flesh on the screen. “I must warn viewers, that some of the images you are about to see, are extremely disturbing….”

A spasm crossed Jerry’s face. He poked at the mute on the remote, then dropped it as his hands began to shake. He began reciting names as his eyes touched on every cherished face, young and old, and every familiar South Side apartment building, restaurant, and church in the pictures on his wall: “Momma. Daddy. Regina. DaSean. Malcolm. Mokeena. Auntie Jessie. Auntie Carmela….you bastards. You stupid, f—ing bastards!”

The crawl under the news reader’s face shared casualty figures, statements by the President, by Congress, FEMA, the Red Cross… “Who did it?” He shouted at the TV.

Teeth clenched, Jerry picked the remote off the floor and jabbed repeatedly at the mute until the sound came back on. “…nce again, the Department of Homeland Security has confirmed that Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the attack, which is unprecedented in the history of terrorism and this country…”

Jerry’s lip turned up in a snarl. He spat at the screen, not caring about the mess. “Okay, that’s fine, you bastards. You’ve made up my mind for me. I will m-make it my mission in life to destroy you.”

But before he took any action in that direction, Jerry collapsed into his recliner and cried long and hard for the next two hours.

***

Obviously the “Tell” version is a lot shorter, but the “Show” version gives the reader more time to experience and feel the moment along with Jerry. We’re able to “see” Jerry’s character better. “Telling” is brief and, pardon the expression, bloodless. We don’t have a sense of the event nor of Jerry’s reaction to it. Okay, now I get it.

The trick becomes–will I get better or different stories out of this lesson? Time will tell.

Architecture

Hoping to add more color to this page. For grins, here are images of architecture that I like. I would like to live in a future where people build, work, and live in aesthetically pleasing buildings. I’d like to think that’s not too much to ask, but then I’ve seen many places acquire cancer of the strip mall. So here’s to beautiful buildings, bridges, and structures! The future should look cool.

frank-lloyd-wright-6 Frank Lloyd Wright Ellis Island fran-gehry-marques_de_riscal_winery___designed_by_frank_ghery Fountain and Seashore ??????????? fallingwater-1 Entertainment Grotto Encased Tree Earthship Earthship Interior Earthship 2 Coruscant Coruscant Night Contrast Concert Hall Clean Lines citylayout_big Architect: Santiago Calatrava, Valencia Bungalows bicentennial31 betta_house_stone_planter_rea Beach House Beach House 2 atmosphere-emitter ArizonaStateCapitol Arcosanti-Rendering-Paolo-Soleri arcosanti-5000-master-plan Arco-5000w architecture_valencia_future_modern Alternative LAX Angular Interior Adobe and Wood