I’m moving my blog to http://www.timlaubacher.com. I’ve just started writing at the new location, so if you’re only reading this site, you haven’t missed much.

So do whatever you need to do to follow the blog at the new location. Bookmark it, subscribe to the RSS feed (http://www.timlaubacher.com/?feed=rss2), etc.

Thanks!

So most of you (zero so far actually) have asked me, “Tim, what is that image at the top of your blog?”

I often respond (not really), “Oh, the top of my web log? That’s a picture of a light fixture I took from inside my office in the Journalism Building at Ohio State when I was a grad student.”

So why in the world is that the top image on this site? There are a few reasons:

1. The best top for a site I could think of is the top of most rooms, the ceiling and lights.

2. I spend a good amount of time looking up at the ceiling, daily. It’s what I need to do to think about something and really concentrate. If you’ve had the distinct pleasure of talking to me face-to-face, you may notice that I probably break eye contact more than most people. I have come to realize that when I’m thinking about something, I often need to look away from someone’s eyes, because when I look at someone, I can’t help but try to figure out what they are thinking. It sounds complicated, but it’s not.

3. I’m about 6’2″, which doesn’t make me extremely tall, but I’m taller than over half the people I talk to. So if I find my eyes wandering while talking to someone, looking up is a much more viable option than looking down. I wouldn’t want to look like I’m staring at someone’s belt buckle, stomach, or whatever else when really I’m just tying to think.

How’s that for an explanation of a picture of some lights?

So here’s a little secret about me. I’m not too skilled at reading. I can read, but in my free time I rarely read books. I have a short attention span and when I start books, I rarely finish them. To the best of my knowledge, these are the books I’ve actually read in the past year or two in my free time.

Sex, Drugs, & Cocoa Puffs – Chuck Klosterman
Personality Not Included – Rohit Bhargava
The Back of the Napkin – Dan Roam

Now, I’m just starting Martin Lindstrom’s Buyology. So far, it looks like it may be a book I’ll get into. My only concern is whether Lindstrom attempts to make claims about an understanding of the brain and buying that simply aren’t completely understood at this point. So I’m skeptical but interested.

Sometimes I write about things I’m fairly certain about. This isn’t one of those things. This is not well thought out, but I really want your thoughts on this.

Do rivalries help brands excel? And I suppose when I say rivalries, I mean having one or two primary competitors. My initial thought is that through competing with a clear rival, a brand is able to more definitively define itself. But, while I think rivalries help brands, I don’t think they are required for the building of strong brands.

In sports, a rivalry is generally considered a great thing for both parties involved. And naturally, if a rivalry doesn’t exist, the media will attempt to create a rivalry through hyping the closest thing to a rivalry that exists.

Examples? Tiger Woods is in his own league as a player. In this era of golf, he is dominant. But for years, the media and fans of the game have looked for a rivalry to develop with another player. Does Tiger really need a rivalry? No. He defines greatness pretty well on his own. But people want to see how competition elevates the game of rivals. Sergio Garcia, Vijay Singh, and Phil Mickelson have all failed to live up to rival status.

A classic example of a rivalry that helped both players excel was John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. The world of tennis fans and even non-tennis loving sports fans could get into that rivalry and understand what each player was all about. Their strengths and weaknesses. Their personalities. Their exciting moments and frustrations. Now Roger Federer has Rafael Nadal.

So why would a rivalry facilitate branding? Well, let’s think about a brand without a clear primary competitor. If this brand is already the market leader, you may say that they are doing pretty well for themselves and don’t need a competitor. But in this instance, you will often see a company defining itself by its attributes. But attributes can be replicated by other companies. A brand’s value is that value above and beyond the physical attributes of a company’s offering. I first thought seriously about this idea when in a class taught by Sam Bradley. He said that Coca-Cola is just made up of ingredients, but the brand equity is that value you’d have to pay for above and beyond the physical ingredients, properties, machinery, etc. if you were to attempt to purchase Coca-Cola.

So when two competitors offer virtually the same or very similar physical attributes (product or service), it is the branding that separates them. The personalities of the brands can be held in contrast to each other. We treat brands like people. One person is easier to describe when you can compare that person to another.

So is it any coincidence that some of the world’s greatest brands have very impressive rivalries?

Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Nike and adidas. Mac and… PC?

That brings up a great example. Apple and the Mac computer decided to create a rivalry and it has paid dividends. PC was not a brand. Personal computers are a general category made up of numerous computer brands. So Mac creates a personality for itself and also for PC to help differentiate itself from anything that is non-Mac. And it worked beautifully.

Now this idea of rivalries in branding is far from the rule, or a necessity. Disney is one of the world’s strongest brands. Who is their rival? They are an enterprise and exist in many different industries. They may have a theme park rival, a children’s television rival, and a rival in whatever other industries they’re in, but as far as I can tell, they don’t have one primary competitor.

I really want to know what you think. This is something that has really been on my mind this week, and I’d love to know your thoughts.

I got mail (yes, real physical, paper mail) yesterday and couldn’t help but laugh when I saw some other guy’s name “or current resident.” A few years ago I had the term “junk mail” eradicated from my vocabulary and replaced it with “direct mail.” But what says “junk” to a consumer more than the “or current resident” label?

Let’s take a look at the two sides to this:

1. What happened to me yesterday. I received mail intended for a previous resident of my apartment. But am I supposed to believe that the “or current resident” makes it relevant to me too? It would have to be a very very very enticing offer for me to open mail that was intended for someone else.

2. What if the mail had said “Tim Laubacher or current resident”? Direct mail pieces attempt to make the mail feel personal and relevant to the recipient. But saying “or current resident” would leave me, the recipient, believing that the mail is really for anyone, not just me. It’s like being invited to a very special party, or if you don’t want to go, please give the invitation to the next stranger you see, or just toss it up into the wind.

Now, I don’t know all the legal requirements with direct mail. I’m just taking a mail recipient’s perspective on this. I also have not seen ROI directly related to “or current resident” pieces. That information would be useful to look at, because one man’s opinion is not more powerful than actual industry statistics.

Today, I took some trash out before getting in my car and heading to work. I live in an apartment, so I share a dumpster with all my neighbors. This fact must be perfectly clear for any entertainment to come from this story. So what did I see, when I got to the dumpster? A trophy. Upon closer inspection, I saw not one, but two trophies. The first to catch my eye was a bowling trophy, followed by a golf trophy.

I stood there in disbelief. Who threw out these trophies?

Was a husband forced by his wife to throw out these trophies to start 2009 in style? Maybe a family’s apartment was getting too cluttered with children’s Christmas gifts, so the trophies had to go. Or perhaps it’s much deeper than that. Maybe a man, let’s call him Robert for the sake of story telling, threw the trophies away out of shame. Perhaps Robert was an athletic star growing up, but as he neared his 40th birthday he felt he had lost a step. So maybe Robert began taking performance-enhancing drugs to dominate the local bowling and golf leagues. And now, years later, he looks back on his multisport stardom and he’s ashamed of himself.

But it’s probably not that dramatic. Either way, those trophies come with a story. I just wish someone was around to tell it.

(I hope you can see now why it was vitaly important to understand that I go to a community trash dumpster. If I had found trophies in my own trash, we’d all know they were mine. That’s not the case here. I’m way too competitive to toss out plastic symbols of athletic prowess.)

I was just thinking about some of the terminology I used to use writing papers in grad school.  Somehow, the terms “synchronous” and “asynchronous” communication just popped into my head tonight. Well, communication and cognition professor Sam Bradley would probably explain that a thought didn’t actually just “pop into my head,” but that’s what it felt like.

And when thinking about synchronous and asynchronous communication, I started thinking that maybe the line between these two form of communication is becoming less well defined. I should probably try to define these terms. This is an oversimplification, but basically:

synchronous communication: real time, such as face-to-face conversation, talking on the phone, live chat on a Web site

asynchronous communication: not dependent on timing, such as leaving posts on message board, e-mail

In the 1990’s, when Internet access began to increase in households across the world, we saw a few great examples of these classifications. Web sites were generally static and consisted of content being placed in cyber space for any to read on their own time. The fact that users could get content on their own time was the asynchronous part of the communication. Message boards began gaining popularity, another example of asynchronous communication, as a user could pose a question for a community and return to the forum minutes, hours or even weeks later to see responses.

At the same time, online chats allowed users to connect to each other in a more conversational format. These synchronous chats could be used for various purposes including discussion between people with similar interests on topics like music, sports and whatever else you can think of. Some companies have utilized chats connecting customers with customer service representatives. Instant messaging also represented a form of synchronous communication, as it connected two people sitting at their computers.

These are just a few examples of synchronous and asynchronous communication. But what is clear is that most ways of connecting people were fairly easy to define as one or the other. But now, it seems to me that people want the freedom of asynchronous communication (we do things on our own time, think DVR) while still having the ability to get real time feedback in a conversational format.

That’s where text messaging and Twitter come into play. Cell phones are everywhere, carried by people young and old. But a phone conversation requires both parties to be available at the same moment. So text messages were invented and a person can send a text to a friend knowing that the friend can return a message when they have time. This is actually less frustrating than playing phone tag with voicemails, although it is nearly the same (except text vs. audio). But despite lacking the constraints of time dependency, texting can feel like a conversation. When cell phone users opt to text back and forth with very little delay between messages, you get something similar to real time conversation. Text messaging seems like asynchronous communication wearing synchronous communication’s clothing. Or is it the other way around?

And the line becomes even more blurred with Twitter. You can have a conversation with a community of people by broadcasting thoughts to all who follow you. When two or more Twitter users are tweeting at the same time, it is essentially synchronous communication. But the technology gives users the ability to express thoughts and return to check for responses by scrolling through messages or checking replies with the @username.

As technologies advance, they provide more versatile communication. The communication becomes more difficult to define in categories but more powerful and convenient for everyone.

I just saw a video on Yahoo.com of a journalist in Baghdad throwing both of his shoes at President Bush. See the video here.

What’s most shocking to me is that the journalist got away with throwing a second shoe. I guess I sort of imagined that the instant a journalist looks ready to throw anything, secret service would have jumped all over the guy. I’m guessing security understood that the media in the room did not possess any weapons, but I’m still surprised at the casual defense of this minor incident.

To his credit, Bush showed some skills and avoided both shoes.

1214081350Today, I was doing some Christmas shopping at Best Buy. On the way to checkout, I found myself looking at the sign saying, “restrooms.” Fair enough. But they sure look like refrigerators to me.

Come to think of it, a few years ago I noticed a fridge with a TV screen on the door. Maybe this is just the next step in fridge technology.

refrigerador con baño

I guess that explains what the bottom compartment is for.

If you know me, you probably already realize this. I’m competitive. I’m not just a little competitive. I’m extremely competitive. The thought of losing is terrifying and makes me uncomfortable.

This competitive nature isn’t limited to just one or two aspects of my life. I don’t like losing in a sport, any sport. Yes it happens. I’m not Michael Phelps or anything, but I avoid losing at all costs. I don’t like not understanding something, whether it’s the logic behind some problem or even a memory that I can only partly remember. I get angry at myself for forgetting things, because I figure I should somehow be better than that.

I am actually pretty embarassed by how competitive I can be. I’ve learned to control it a little better over the years. But people still realize it and joke about it. The thing is, my competitiveness is like this possession of mine that I get frustrated with, but when others give me a hard time for it I get really defensive. Weird but true. Beth and Marcie tell me I’m too competitive at volleyball at Flannagan’s. I believe them but I hate hearing about it.

So do you know how I deal with this competitiveness? At times, I have to treat it just like others might an addiction. I have to keep myself out of tempting situations. I really don’t like to play boardgames, because there’s so much chance involved I might lose, so I try to stay away from them to not have to deal with it. I prefer to play videogames alone, because I’ve turned a few fun times into less than fun times by destroying a friend in a college football game or something similar. I’m not good at playing nice.

Where does this all come from? I’m not really sure. There was probably a time when I was a kid that I realized winning felt alot better than losing. I know it’s like that for everyone, but for some reason I have a hard time getting over losses. I was 17-2 in tennis my senior year (along with my doubles partner, Brian), but you better believe I remember my two losses were against St. Thomas Aquinas and Wooster. For the record, we beat Wooster the other time we played them. Of course, I had to mention that, since I’m competitive.

My competitiveness has probably contributed to the 4 fingers I’ve broken playing football. No, those weren’t my fingers. I often put a little too much on passes and it’s resulted in broken fingers for two friends my freshman year of college (one was with a glow in the dark football), one flag football teammate my sophomore year, and a radio DJ I was working an NFL Experience event with. Also, my competitiveness probably helped sprain my friend Jon’s ankle when we were playing basketball at Jesse Owens North in college. I was driving for a lay-up and noticed the look in his eyes telling me that he was going all out to block my shot. Well I made sure to go up strong and he came down awkwardly with a sprained ankle putting him on crutches for weeks. I don’t want to even talk about the fact I’ve knocked pitchers out of games in baseball as a kid (line drive up the middle to the shin) and in softball in college (line drive up the middle to the gums).

Now I work in advertising, as a Brand Strategist. Being able to help a client build a brand and show great return on investment are wins. Being part of a new business pitch process that leads to new business is a win. Finding great insights through research that guide advertising decisions in the right direction is a win. So I guess I’m in the right place. I just hope nobody gets hurt along the way.

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