Why Inertia Is Your Toughest Competitor

A little after 4pm last Monday, an ear-shattering siren sounded in Terminal C of Milwaukee's General Mitchell Airport, just as I was arriving to my gate area to return home. 

This wasn't an elementary-school fire alarm signal. It was an air-raid-like blast, complete with flashing lights, and an occasional garbled PA announcement that no one could discern. 

And yet—as you'll see from the video above—no one moved. Some barely looked up from their smartphones or tablets. Most were merely annoyed by the noise. 

Instead of displaying "if you see something, say something" urgency, the default response was merely "meh." (Even though, you'd suspect, that an airport would be a high-value target.) 

Sociologists might refer to this as the psychology of crowds—the tendency to move or act in accordance with everyone around you. 

But for communicators and marketers, the bellowing horn blasts another warning: More than ever, it's easier for people do NOTHING rather than something in our distraction-filled world. 

Inertia is your organization's toughest competitor. 

The Truth Will Not Set You Free

Dear US Oil & Gas Industry: 

I'm a liberal-minded guy who supports the development of domestic energy resources. 

That makes me a minority, I know. But here's the thing: You can win over more liberal-minded people if you're smart about what you do with yesterday's EPA report that hydraulic fracturing is not poisoning the nation's water supply. For instance: 

— Don't crow about the results of the EPA report and encourage your supporters to post "I told you so" comments on Facebook. Think instead: "We can do better." 

— Admit your numerous errors and demonstrate what you're doing to correct them. Knock it off with "fracking is safe" messaging and, instead, issue a "zero tolerance" pledge to prevent any and all water contamination. 

— Work with the government to develop ultra-strict fracking regulations. Be relentless in pursuing and punishing reckless drilling companies. 

— Collaborate with communities to create local watchdog groups for early identification of problems in regions where you're doing a lot of work. 

— Stop your incessant advocacy advertising and put the money to work creating safer technology with a smarter name than "fracking." Investing more in clean-energy technology would benefit us all in the long-term, too. (Just don't advertise it.)

If you believe that yesterday's EPA report will change the minds of your environmental opponents, you couldn't be more wrong. 

The truth will NOT set you free unless you change the rhetoric you use to communicate it. You can make the most of this opportunity with humility, not hubris. 

Sincerely, Frank J. Oswald 

Most People Won't "Get" This Ad, Which Is Why It's So Good

If you want to create something great, ignore the opinions of "most people." 

"Most people," for instance, won't relate to this Norwegian.com travel ad.

They'll tell you that they want to read Cussler or Carr on vacation, not Kierkegaard. 

They'll wonder why, after a exasperating winter, anyone would want to book a trip to an icy moonscape rather than a sandy beach. 

And they'll question why this guy is sitting all alone rather than taking selfies with family and friends wearing Viking helmets. 

Of course, "most people" would never travel to Oslo, Norway, let alone care about the Northern Lights. 

But a certain kind of person would—someone more independent, inquisitive and adventurous. Someone equally interested in self-examination and exploration. 

And that, of course, if why this is such a good ad. 

Great marketing begins with understanding real people not most people. In the often-superficial world of advertising, that's as existential as most questions get. 

The 49-Cent Communications Breakthrough

How many emails do you have in your box this morning? 

How many DMs from bosses, colleagues and clients? 

How many Tweets, Facebook posts and LinkedIn requests? 

How many robocalls and pieces of junk mail?

And, finally, how many hand-addressed cards or letters? 

So which are you going to open first? (And maybe even save.) 

Then tell me why, again, you've been too busy to pick up a pen to write a card or note to someone important in your business or personal life? 

(Full disclosure: I had to look up the current cost of a U.S. postage stamp.) 

What Makes An Artist an Artist?

"Dice Man," YOHO Artists Open Studios, Yonkers, NY (May 2, 2015) 

"Dice Man," YOHO Artists Open Studios, Yonkers, NY (May 2, 2015) 

There's a big difference to me between an artist and someone who makes art. 

But until I met this man, I couldn't put it into words. 

I walked into his open studio on Saturday and saw two paintings on the wall that I thought an organization I know might like to buy.

"Could I make an introduction for you?" I asked. 

"Sure," the modest man said, staying more focused on his canvas than on me. "But they don't have to buy the pieces; I could just lend them to hang up. I just want people to enjoy them." 

The gentleman didn't have a card. So I asked him to write down his email address, which included the words "dice man" in it. 

That was odd, I thought, so I asked him why. "It's a book I once read about a guy who is bored, so he starts making all of his decisions by rolling some dice," he explained. "Sounds good, but it ends up getting him into a lot of trouble." 

"That idea always stuck with me, but I'm not sure why," he continued. "Because I don't really have a choice; this [gesturing to his canvas] is what I do." 

Not "what I want to do." Not "what I choose to do." But "this is what I do." 

And that's what makes an artist an artist.