The semi-professional blog of Albert Ciuksza Jr.

Month: July 2010

Post-Gazette Says the Kids Aren’t Alright … Again

The Post-Gazette ticked me off. Again. I just can’t take it anymore. So here’s the letter I wrote to the editors:

Dear Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editors:

I’m writing because I’m a 20-something and just can’t take it anymore. The “young people need to grow up” articles just have to stop.

On April 14th, 2010, Maria Sciullo wrote an out-of-touch, connect-the-dots-that-aren’t-there article entitled For Gen X men, seems growing up is hard to do, re-titled on the web as For some 20-somethings, growing up is hard to do, an adjustment that was likely made because she seems to have confused Gen X for Gen Y. In addition to being factually incorrect, Ms. Sciullo makes a leap of Grand Canyon proportions — from Ben Roethlisberger’s abhorrent behavior as a $102 million Super Bowl-winning quarterback to the behavior of the average 20-something male who’s making his way in society. Somehow, she brings the boomers into the fray as well, suggesting that the 50-to-65-year-olds who feel a decade younger than their age is a celebration of immaturity. Add a heaping helping of Tiger Woods, Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Sandler, along with quotes from authors and experts, and you have the perfect example of a “the kids aren’t alright” hit piece, even if it veered off course for a moment to mention the generation who sang the Beatles’ When I’m Sixty-Four at the top of their pot-smoke-filled lungs.

I wrote a lengthy letter to the editor then, but never quite nailed the tone, so it sat in my “Drafts” folder for a few months. I forgot about it. Until today.

Maria Sciullo is back today with an article entitled Modern weddings a social conundrum. She mentions that there are many people who are upset about being left off the 400-person guest list for the Chelsea Clinton, which is undoubtedly true and has been covered extensively by the New York Times, Washington Post, and other publications that often cover well-connected, politically-oriented, elitist whiners. However, Ms. Sciullo once again makes a leap even Evel Knievel wouldn’t attempt, going from the multi-million-dollar wedding of the former first daughter to the average couple who happens to share details about their nuptials on Facebook/online. She uses the word “friends” in quotes when referencing the connections made on Facebook and Twitter, and goes on to talk about how rude it is to make all of these people feel left off a wedding guest list. There is another round of quotes from authors and experts that reinforce her view that, again, us kids aren’t alright. At least she spared the baby boomers this time.

It seems that Ms. Sciullo’s opinion of Generation Y is as follows: we’re a bunch of immature social media addicts who just don’t understand basic common courtesy, offending our Facebook/Twitter connections left and right with our need to tell the world about every minute detail about your lives. The repeated publication of articles like this (I once had an email argument with Bill Toland regarding an article he wrote in his The Diaspora Report series that had a similar tone) suggests that this isn’t simply the opinion of one reporter, but something a bit more pervasive throughout the culture of the newspaper. To put it kindly, this again shows that the Post-Gazette is hopelessly out of touch.

I’m more than willing to help you understand the culture of being a 20-something in our modern world (my contact information is below). However, if you prefer an example from another columnist, I suggest reading The Kids Are Alright by the New York Times’ Gail Collins, who covers the exact same topic as Ms. Sciullo’s article, but comes to a much different conclusion.

Thank you for your time and I hope you take this to heart. I will be publishing this letter on my blog ( and will be sharing it with my “friends” on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I will be interested to hear their reactions.

Best regards,
Albert Ciuksza Jr.

P.S. My reference to the Beatles and Evel Knievel was intentional — unlike your disinterest in better understanding my generation, I have a love for the cultures of my older cousins, parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents. I wanted to make sure I made connections we could both understand.

Learnin’ to Ride #1 – Blogging My Motorcycle Adventure

'86 Honda Rebel 450

'86 Honda Rebel 450

Five years ago, I worked with a company called M&R Products based out of Vineland, New Jersey. While primarily focused on racing safety products, they also had a line of motorcycle products and accessories. I was responsible for the new logo/trade show booth/collateral, but not the use of “tie down the ones you love”. That, my friends, would have violated my marketing-to-women sensibilities, even then.

In 2005, the company needed someone to go down to Daytona for Bike Week and work a booth selling their wares. Being a city boy who had never touched a motorcycle, I was called upon to advise people how to secure their $20,000 bikes to trailers of various sizes. You’d think this would be a disaster, but it wasn’t — by the end of the week I had showed more than 100 people how to configure their tie-downs and anchors for optimal safety. It’s amazing how basic knowledge of geometry and physics can come in handy when you’re completely making it all up as you’re going along. By the end of the week, I had guys coming to introduce friends to the “expert”. Yeah, about that…

In any case, in the week I was there, I fell in love with motorcycles, if not the culture (“If you can read this, the bitch fell off” t-shirts aren’t really my thing). I asked everyone and their mother what kind of motorcycle I should get. Some suggested the super fast “crotch rockets”, others suggested cruisers. Perhaps the most hilarious answer came from a 60-plus guy who had obviously seen a ride or two in his day. When I posed this question to him, he suggested that cruisers are the way to go since: 1) you could have a passenger; 2) that passenger could potentially be female; and 3) that female passenger could prove to be a good companion (I’m paraphrasing of course — he said it in a slightly different way using different terminology). It was a compelling case — a cruiser it is!

I spent the next five years thinking about it, secretly pining for a bike of my own. In the meantime, my friend Doug bought a bike, a little 250cc Suzuki and then a 1982 700cc Honda Magna. He’s a bit of a tinkerer and an engineering genius, two things I can’t claim to be. I watched him on his bikes and thought, “you know, I’d probably kill myself on one of those.”

I pulled a little vision board together last summer and in the bottom right corner I placed a picture of a gorgeous Harley cruiser. I’ve hacked at a few of the things on the board within the last year year — I’m learning wine, I started B-school, I’ve worked on my leadership skills and I’ve scheduled another skydiving trip to build my jumps for future certification. But, just sitting there staring at me was that bike. I looked into what I needed to do to get my license and, to my surprise, the learner’s permit only required $10 and a 20-question multiple-choice test based on the state’s motorcycle operator’s manual. So, last Saturday, I popped down to the closest DMV, waited 15 minutes, took my test and left with a class M learner’s permit. I also discovered that Pennsylvania holds free Motorcycle Safety Foundation courses near my house, which fulfills the requirements needed to get a full license. Classes start Wednesday, meaning that it will be a learner’s-permit-to-license in three weeks. Awesome.

The downside? My dad is ticked (like seriously ticked, probably more than he’s ever been at me), my friends are a little leery (I was chewed out by my good friend Meghan) and my extended family thinks I’m nuts. This is par for the course, however.

I found two helmets on sale (yes, they’re DOT certified and, according to online reviews, very good helmets): one, a full-faced helmet; and a 3/4 face. I bought both not knowing which I’d prefer (I’ve since found that the full-faced helmet is more my speed). I got a pair of gloves with Kevlar knuckles and am shopping for a padded jacket. I’m committed to doing this conservatively, the right way and as safely as humanly possible.

After talking a little bit this weekend about riding, Doug was kind enough to offer to put me on his little Suzuki so that I can get a feel for the bike before I go into the MSF course. He started from scratch: starting the bike; using the clutch; engaging both the front and rear breaks; and changing gears from neutral to first. Then was the real test — riding around the parking lot in first with my feet up on the pegs. Success! It was awesome. I made it a few laps around. On my fourth lap, I had a slight mishap — my glove got caught on the throttle as I was pulling the break (don’t ask) and, well, I hit a curb and dropped the bike. Fortunately, neither I nor the bike had even the tiniest scratch. My back is a little sore from picking it up, but it was a worthwhile first lesson. Doug was forgiving (he’s a saint and taught me how to drive a standard, a life-threatening prospect in its own right) and I had completed my first little training, even if it wasn’t error-free.

So, this is my story and the first of a series of posts about my motorcycling experiences. I’m not sure if they’re particularly interesting to anyone but me, but I figured others might like to hear about the step-by-step process of a brand new rider.

Marketing to Women #12 – Wrapping Up the Semester

Hey all — I’m happy to report that it is the end of the semester and, with it, the end to my Marketing Management course. It’s been a rough summer juggling classes (we had about three days off between terms), the real job, a couple of start-up projects, building a web site for a client, troubleshooting another site for that client and doing this Marketing to Women research. It’s been a wild ride and I’m looking forward to weekend trips, rounds of golf and all of the other things I have time to do now that I don’t have papers and tests to worry about for a month-plus.

In a short period of time, I’ve become incredibly passionate about the need for all marketers to better understand how to reach women in a compelling, honest way. I’ve had the good fortune of speaking with talented, successful marketers who have accomplished so much in their careers:

This truly is the short list of people who’ve taken the time to answer my questions, from the silly to the sensationalistic. Hell, I even had a great Twitter exchange with Tom Peters ( @tom_peters), one of the few men consistently discussing this publicly, who kindly declined a request for an interview (*ahem*). In the end, I can’t thank everyone enough for their perspectives, guidance and continued support.

The one question everyone keeps asking is, “what do you want to do with this when you’re done with the research?” I guess it threw me off because: 1) I hadn’t thought of it; and 2) unless I sprout a female brain, I don’t suspect that I’ll ever be done. My short answer is that I want to grow to be a better marketer and have the ability to compete in what is essentially a women’s market (as Tom Peters said, women are the leading buyers of “damn near everything”).

I’ve taken two things from this project: 1) the 90%+ of creative directors and the 75%+ of marketing executives who are male are acting as if nothing is changing in the way gender influences the market; and 2) as a result, there are few men educating themselves about how to stop insulting 35% of women and making the majority of them feel “vastly underserved”. Why is this a problem? Because companies end up making crappy products that are less useful than they should be and drive us consumers crazy. They make our lives more complicated rather than less so. Their products don’t feel right in our hands when we use them. They don’t have great customer service when their poorly-designed products break or don’t make sense. And the companies who are selling this stuff aren’t paying attention either, making the buying process painful and causing us think twice about buying the product in the first place. It makes everyone miserable. If women do, in fact, make or influence 85% of spending, then companies are loathe to forget one axiom — if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

Now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I have a long answer to that question. I’d like to help be a translator. I feel that marketing, user interface and customer service have the power to make the world a better place. I also feel that continuing to allow those areas to be driven almost entirely by men’s preferences is hurting, not helping. I’m not expecting miracles, but simply hope to nudge the process along. Perhaps my discoveries, many of which seem to obvious to women, will help my fellow male marketers. And I think that’s worth the time that will continue to go into this exploration.

Thank you all for reading and your feedback. I couldn’t be more appreciative. Keep it up — I need all the help I can get.


Marketing to Women #11 – The Challenges of Research

Wouldn't it be nice?

Wouldn't it be nice?

I’ve spent the last four years in market research, almost entirely focused on analyzing secondary data sources (i.e. getting data and/or conclusions from someone else and analyzing them for some other purpose). It’s a fantastic way to do research, mostly because the hard work has already been done and you, the secondary researcher, simply has to pull it all together, see a pattern and develop conclusions from the available work. It’s (relatively) fast, cheap and easy compared to surveys, focus groups and other primary research methods.

The problem is that the studies aren’t always right. Maybe it was bad methodology. Maybe there wasn’t enough data. Maybe the margin-of-error was too large or the sample size was too small or the test subjects weren’t random enough for the data to mean anything. Sometimes the study is developed in order to reach a specific conclusion (do you think industry-sponsored studies are always conducted for the benefit of the public?) or maybe there was a political reason why there just had to be a conclusion to justify the money spent on the study. It’s a minefield.

“85% of purchases are made or influenced by women.”

That’s a big deal, right? And it’s critical to the argument of the importance of focusing on women in the marketplace. Is it true? I don’t know, because I can’t find the data to support it. Despite the fact that it is used in nearly every presentation/article/book I’ve come across, I can’t seem to find where it originated. The problem gets worse as the game of statistics telephone continues — I’ve seen it said that 85% of purchases are made by women, which is a whole lot different than adding influencing and buying together. What is the 85% in the first place — is that on a dollar basis or a number-of-purchases basis? And what the hell does “influence” mean, anyway? Does she have veto power, is she subtly hinting at a decision, or are men asking for women’s input? These details are important.

Let’s assume that the 85% number is based on the number of actual decisions to keep it easy (i.e. buying a car is equivalent to buying a bottle of shampoo). I’ve completely made up the following data (seriously, please don’t cite me as a source for these bogus graphs) but let’s see how this might look depending on different methodologies and conclusions:

There are four scenarios above: the first is that women are making 85% of the decisions, which is a pretty amazing number; the second is that men and women are separately making 15% of the decisions, but influence each other on 70% of purchases; the third is that decisions are different for each gender with regard to both income source and influence; and the fourth differs by how women are influencing the decision. Wouldn’t those differences matter to your analysis?

Why does any of this matter?

We’re often attracted to data that justifies things we already believe, known as confirmation bias. In a recent post discussing policy research, which is particularly susceptible to confirmation bias, Will Wilkinson says:

Fairly few political commentators know enough to decide which research papers are methodologically convincing and which aren’t. So we often end up touting the papers that sound right, and the papers that sound right are, unsurprisingly, the ones that accord most closely with our view of the world.

This might seem unusually wonky, but I think it’s critical to what we’re all trying to accomplish. One of the ways we can convince marketers of both genders to pay attention to this subject is to give solid evidence that marketing to women is critical to sales success. If we’re throwing around numbers that sound unrealistic or are based on easily-refuted research, we’re making the focus on women easier to dismiss.

On a personal level, I tend to think the 85% number is close to accurate on a dollars basis (that’s huge) and that women have an amazing amount of veto power in purchasing decisions whether or not she’s writing the check. What are the percentages? Whose money is each person spending? Those things matter and would change my behavior in how I reach out to consumers.

Do any of you know where to find well-written research in this space? Do YOU have the source for the 85% number? Have you ever seen a piece of research that you found questionable? Have you ever made a decision based on bad research?

Marketing to Women #10 – Chief Detail Officer

I found a TED Talk by Rory Sutherland (an ad agency veteran from Ogilvy) called Sweat the Small Stuff, where he argues that some of the best solutions are also the simplest and least expensive. Mr. Sutherland says that the challenge is:

“…the tendency of the organization or the institution is to deploy as much force as possible … whereas actually the tendency of the person is to be almost influenced in absolute reverse proportion to the amount of force being applied.”

Since everything I do these days is seen in context of this research project, I couldn’t help but think of how a lot of what I read/hear from interviews says that women see detail in ways that often escape men. While I couldn’t find any “numbers” research on this, the results of the countless interviews, focus groups and surveys conducted by the women who have spent their lives in this space suggest this is true. In many ways, I think this issue is exactly what most executives (read, mostly men) are getting wrong in the marketing of their products and services to women — they throw a ton of money at problems where simplicity is often the best solution.

I see two areas of “detail weakness”…

User Interface

User interface (or UX for those who like to show that they’re in the know) is the way an individual interacts with a product. Most often used in web development, the term is finally making its way into product design. The most recent example I saw happened this weekend when I saw a cup holder on the side of a baby car seat — while I totally understand the reason (sippy cup, snack holder, etc.) it’s something I never would have thought to include (remember, I’m a single guy who’s an only child and has only passing thoughts of ever having children). User interface is also mentioned by all of the marketing to women professionals — women want products that work with minimal effort, are ergonomically designed for how they use them, and have straightforward controls that don’t take a of learning to use (the web version of this is convincingly argued in the book Don’t Make Me Think). Often, these problems are not solved with multimillion dollar budgets, but with creative thinking.

I have my own low-budget test for this. There are two people in my life who serve as my “if they can get it, anyone can get it” guinea pigs: I go to my mom to test my web interfaces and instruction manuals; and another friend (who shall remain nameless) for product assembly/use. I give a set of instructions and, if they can find it/accomplish the task, I feel confident that it will work for nearly anyone.

Promotion (Ads, PR, etc.)

Women often complain that they’re not adequately represented in the advertisements they see and roughly 35% of them are actually insulted by the way advertisers reach out to them. I don’t think this is a budget problem, it’s a detail problem.

I’ve been guilty of this. While working on a consumer product, I hired an ad agency to build a look-and-feel, including some photography that showed attractive models (two female, one male) using/wearing the product. The company sold to both men and women (a rougly 60/40 man-to-woman ratio), so the design was supposed to lean male, but not too much as to exclude anyone. The photography came back and I (i.e. my testosterone-fueled self) was in love. There was one particular shot that showed the two women facing the camera, but chest-to-chest, with one of the women’s hand on the other’s shoulder. I thought it was sensual without being over-the-top.

“So, I guess we’re using gorgeous lesbians as our marketing strategy”, my 22-year-old female marketing assistant said (herself a runway model). She hated the entire shoot. I dismissed her concerns as being ridiculous. “We need to be a little bit edgy, especially with our audience skewing male … besides, it’s a good aspirational shot for women … isn’t that critical?”, I responded. She snorted and didn’t talk to me for a week. Guess what? I was wrong. We backtracked and used the far less sexy images — while they were still a little too edgy, we were able to use some of the shots without totally abandoning our investment. I think that’s a great example of our male-centered world being “normal” to us, but not not women.

So what’s the point?

Sometimes, you don’t need a gazillion-dollar marketing initiative to tease out the little design details that make the difference between a usable product that sells and one that frustrates your users and gets a two-star feedback rating on Here are a few ideas how:

  1. The customer is the target, not you — This is the greatest challenge for designers and ad executives. We often huff and puff that, if our customer can’t figure it out on their own, they’re not smart enough to buy our product. Well, unfortunately for that kind of team, they are smart people — smart enough to take your product back if it doesn’t work the way they think it should. My college Chemistry professor said, “KISS … Keep It Simple Stupid”. It was great advice.
  2. Take Mr. Sutherland’s advice and hire a Chief Detail Officer — Designate someone who looks at the world just a little bit differently — an outsider not caught up in the minutiae of what you do on a daily basis — and have them look at what you do. Does it make sense to them? Can they understand how to use it immediately? Do they ask questions like, “why doesn’t it have/do/look like/feel like [fill-in-the-blank]”? Pay attention to their reactions and have the humility to realize that you/your team/your engineers might not have all the answers (or you’re answering the wrong questions). Want real honesty? Ask a twelve-year-old and pay attention to what she thinks is stupid.
  3. Eliminate the budget — Perhaps this is my start-up bias, but cash-strapped companies with products just coming to market have to be obsessive about usability. For instance, I’m involved in a project now that will require roughly $100,000 to get off the ground, with a considerable amount of that cost related to having injection molds made. We don’t have the type of money to go back to the drawing board and make five or six molds before we have our final product — we have to get it right on the first shot. That means obsessive testing at every step of the design process and constant feedback from potential users. What would you change if you didn’t have a budget? What are the simple things (color-coding, obvious on-off switches, directional arrows) that can be done to eliminate confusion?

It’s incredibly simple to make it simple, it’s just not very easy. Find others with a different perspective on the world, ask questions and step back from your own place to come up with ways to make your products, and our lives, easier and better.

(Rory Sutherland video after the jump)

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Shameless Self Promotion for PortaBeer

As my friends and family are aware, I’ve been an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember. No matter what I’m doing with my life — full-time job, school, whatever — I always have a project or three that I’m working on as a 5-to-9 job (I discuss this concept in a post over at Untemplater).

You know you want one next Memorial Day

You know you want one next Memorial Day

One of my recent projects, along with three great friends, has been developing a portable draft beer delivery system targeted to tailgaters and campers called PortaBeer (@PortaBeer). Beginning as a giddy conversation while camping with the guys last July, the project has taken on a life of its own. In the 11 months since we first came up with the idea, we’ve been able to haul in two awards (3rd Place, University of Pittburgh’s Big Idea Competition and 3rd place in the PCKIZ Business Idea Challenge for Point Park University), secure some engineering assistance, finance the R&D effort, develop a couple of quality strategic relationships and begin to see the results of all of our hard work. Not only that, we’ve founded a company where beer qualifies as a legitimate R&D expense.

In any case, as a result of the Pitt Big Idea Competition win, I was fortunate enough to talk about our product on The American Entrepreneur radio (AM 1360 in Pittsburgh) yesterday, guest hosted by Dave Wilke of Wilke and Associates.

Here’s the audio:


Nothing like talking about a little beer heading into a Fourth of July weekend. On that note, enjoy, be safe and have fun!

Marketing to Women #9 – Women Drive Word of Mouth?

Women Talking

Look at us using up our 16,000 words!

In my reading, I keep encountering the following:

Women talk. A lot. Constantly, even. And way more than men.

It makes sense, right? I mean, there are plenty of studies to support this. The Female Brain, written by Louann Brizendine M.D., cites a statistic that women use 20,000 words a day to men’s measly 7,000. Like the misinterpreted conclusion of Albert Mehrabian, who said that 7% of communication is the words, 38% is body language and 55% is vocal tone (this is true only in the expression of emotions — think of the many possible definitions of a significant other saying “I’m fine”), the 20,000 number spread like wildfire. This is especially true amongst marketers, who grasp for any data they can get their hands on to support a hypothesis.

The problem? It isn’t really true.

Contained in a Boston Globe article that fact-checked The Female Brain is the following:

According to a 1993 review of the scientific literature by researchers Deborah James and Janice Drakich, “Most studies reported either that men talked more than women, either overall or in some circumstances, or that there was no difference between the genders in amount of talk.” The research since that review … follows the same pattern. [Emphasis mine.]

In fact, a study published in 2007 by the journal Science found that, “participants’ daily word use was extrapolated from the number of recorded words. Women and men both spoke about 16,000 words per day.”

So, if words matter more than pop-marketing suggests (Albert Mehrabian has lamented at how his work has been taken out of context) and men talk just as much as women, then what can marketers conclude about gender and word-of-mouth?

In the book What She’s Not Telling You by the team at the Manhattan-based consultancy Just Ask a Woman (Mary Lou Quinlan, Jen Drexler and Tracy Chapman — @justaskawoman), women are driven to tell their friends about new products and services to show that they’re on top of things and “in the know” to reinforce an approval need. So, there you have it, women have a need to share their experiences, good and bad. In fact, the book says:

Women will share the story of a bad experience with four to seven others, but they’ve been known to repeat a really hurtful incident for as long as 23 years.

That’s pretty rough (23 years!). But, what does all of this sharing mean? Is word of mouth is still king of trust? I’m not so sure. A recent article in AdAge published Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer that showed in 2010 only 25% of people consider their friends credible, down from 45% in 2008. So what’s killing trust? To quote the article:

“When you’re seeing so much noise, it’s very easy to dismiss a lot of it, and that’s a problem marketing messages have had for a while now,” said David Berkowitz, director-emerging media for 360i. “Facebook really exemplifies this with the live-feed and news-feed options,” he said. “If you use the live feed and have a few hundred friends, some kind of peer recommendation, whether it’s explicit or not, appears every couple of minutes and sometimes they come in a matter of seconds. If you’re seeing all of that come in, it can be overwhelming.”

That’s where I am cautious about word-of-mouth marketing as the be-all-end-all. I’m not saying it’s ineffective — it’s hugely effective when someone we trust recommends a product or service. But, if it’s true that women have a need to share product “finds” with their friends, and a woman has a lot of friends, that can mean some conflicting recommendations (or, as mentioned above, noise).

I’m also going to throw out an entirely data-less anecdotal opinion that counters conventional wisdom — I believe word-of-mouth might just be more effective for men than for women. Why? Because men are often more direct and solutions-based. We don’t seek many opinions, we ask the one friend we trust to quickly solve our problem. And, in the rare case that a guy friend gives us a lead unsolicited, we often take note and act on it. My hunch is that the conversion rate on recommendations between men is higher than women.

The point of all of this is to say that there are a lot of assumptions being made based upon layers and layers of quoted statistics coming from studies that are, at best, misinterpreted. As marketers, we need to be careful to avoid putting too much faith in data that backs up our own biases (women are just walking gabfests, for instance) and, instead, attempt to devise a marketing mix that identifies spheres of real, tangible influence. Is that a friend? Is that a PR campaign? Is that a mommy blogger? Is it traditional advertising? Social media? It depends on your product, service and budget. All-in-all, this should serve as a warning that word-of-mouth won’t necessarily carry the day for your brand.