Sunday, January 23, 2005

Trade Shows

Gordon Dalgleish led his January 16 blog entry (click on the headline above, "Trade Shows") with a note about the upcoming (Jan 27-30, Orlando) PGA Merchandise Show. I commented on his blog. Here's what I said:

Regarding the PGA Merchandise Show and trade shows/exhibits in general:

My company had the occasion recently to make a presentation to the High Point (NC) Market Authority, the promotional body for the furniture industry's twice annual International Home Furnishings Exposition, aka the "Furniture Market." I told the Market Authority's communications committee that their show was at risk for several reasons: (1) Las Vegas is building its own merchandise expo and vying to compete. (2) High Point has a tradition of gouging its Market visitors. Hotel and rental car rates double during the shows, and Market visitors aren't pleased about it. (3) The town's infrastructure can't support the demand for dining, parking, etc. Needless to say, these three things are inter-related.

Worse, I continued, shows like the "Furniture Market" are on the wane anyway. (By the way, we didn't get the business.) The traditional reasons for buyers' attending such confabs aren't necessarily valid any longer. And this is where I see a parallel to the PGA Show.

1. Networking. Members, buyers, exhibitors, et al. - they used to catch up with one another, restore, rejoin, replenish their relationships and friendships and all that sort of thing.

2. New products. The PGA Show, the Furniture Market - heck, all shows, for all I know - used to provide a platform for introducing new products. Buyers felt they almost had to go in order to see and get in line to buy the latest and the greatest.

3. Distribution exclusivity. And being first to see often allowed a buyer to not only be the first, but also be the only seller on his block offering the latest and the greatest.

The first of these reasons remains valid. But #'s 2 and 3 - not so much anymore. No one holds new introductions for a show. The cycles for new product launches have changed. They're shorter and for some brands, launching outside the show cycle gives them a brief window of advantage. And almost no one can afford to offer exclusivity anymore.

Not to mention the cost. For the exhibitor the cost to be at one of these shows is astronomical, and increasingly they're asking themselves, is there a return?

So as long as the PGA Merchandise Show allows PGA members to network with one another, the show will go on. But one has to ask: How long will the networkers come if there are fewer and fewer exhibitors with a need to be there?

Blogging as a medium

The link in the headline goes to a blogging post by Lex Alexander of the Greensboro (NC) News & Record (N&R), long the leading newspaper in the Piedmont Triad area. In the Greensboro community there's been a lot written and discussed lately about the N&R's initiative to dramatically change the online newspaper into a type of participatory journalism exercise. No, wait a minute: it's not so much an "exercise"; it's really happening. (Reading the post by Alexander will take you a few minutes, but( believe me, it's worth it.)

And it makes perfect sense. As newspapers everywhere decline in circulation, they continue to lose relevancy. Once the medium of the masses, they remain popular only among older generations, and their readership declines even among those readers. Taking the local paper online years ago was an act of repurposing content intended for print without any real business model. But now, as online advertising revenues are increasing - dramatically - "repurposing" print content online is seen as the stale activity it always was.

The N&R's daring idea is truly a game-changer: make blogging the primary activity for the online edition, allow posts and comments (some might say, "posts and ripostes") to carry the news. Blogging is a community activity, and John Robinson, the N&R's editor, and Lex Alexander seem to be saying that the online N&R will be an act of community newspapering, or, perhaps more appropriately, newspapering by community.

But one of the frustrations of blogging is the old tree falling in the forest idea: if no one comments, is anyone reading? And if no one's reading, what's the use of blogging? My friend Gordon Dalgleish and I are both trying to come to terms with this: both of our blogs have a dearth of comments from readers. (Check out Gordon's blog on golf travel at We both need to do more to promote our postings. I'm still falling into the "monthly" newsletter trap, though my postings have lately been - and will continue to be - considerably more frequent. Will readers turn away from reading blogs as they increase in number so significantly?

I can't answer that for certain, though I think the novelty will wear off. But blogging does one thing for us that is unmistakable: it gives us all a chance to weigh in, either by doing our own or commenting on others' blogs. I can think of no more democratic activity than that.

(By the way, FORTUNE magazine recently listed blogging as the #1 tech trend to watch in 2005. Here's the link:,15114,1011763,00.html. Plus, there's another piece from David Kirkpatrick from November. You'll find that here:,15704,767537,00.html)

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Leading by ideas

I was cleaning off a shelf at the house the other day, trying to make room to store some books, going through a stack of old magazines I had saved because at the time I first started stacking them there, they seemed indispensable.

From the April 2000 FastCompany, I came across "Report From The Future," a regular feature in the magazine then, this time entitled "Change Your Mind, Grow Your Company." I highlighted this, a quote from Douglas Atkin, then a partner and director of strategic planning at Merkley Newman Harty.

"These days you can't succeed as a company if you're consumer-led - because, in a world full of so much constant change, consumers can't anticipate the next big thing. Companies should be idea-led and consumer-informed."

More true now, for sure. Consumers do not anticipate what they next want, not beyond improvements to things they currently have. I want Apple to combine phone and email features with my iPod's ability to store and play music, and sync my calendar and contacts. In short, I want a "shazzam" moment that will combine a Blackberry with my iPod, with the resulting elegance and "cool" in most Apple products. That's not innovation or an idea, it's an improvement (yet, I say to myself, a worthy one).

Consumers adopt ideas by first choosing products. Then after using their purchase, they recognize its tranformative power and like what it's done for them. (Or in some cases, what it's done to them.)

We at BURRIS are focusing our energies and our time on our ability to help generate ideas, the kind that drive innovation, the inspired solutions that overcome particularly thorny marketing problems. The kind that can lead to real innovation. First we need to convince our customers that they need ideas, that the best way out of their challenges is through some fresh thinking.

But we're challenged. How do we sell your ability to facilitate something so shapeless as "ideas"?

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Customer Service

For the companies that used to be known for better than average customer service, this is a tough time. Their cost structures are a little different, and new companies - or companies with a newer model for managing costs - are putting all kinds of pressure on everything.

I won't pick on the airline industry this time. (Although it's soooo easy; just take a look at Delta.... Seen a "red coat" lately?) In fact, I won't pick on any company; I'll let you do it.

Who does a good job with customer service? And how do they do it?

Monday, January 10, 2005

Delta update

Within 24 hours of my posting a critical (again) review of my Delta Airlines experience last week, the struggling legacy carrier announced a much-improved approach to its fare structure. I can't take credit for that. Nor can I take credit for the two emails I received today from Delta concerning my scheduled flight to Orlando for 2:40p.

Today at around 8a I received an email telling me the flight is on schedule and departing from Charleston's gate A3. Okay... Then at 11:35a I received a second email, this one advising the flight is now delayed and scheduled for a 3:20p departure.

If I trust the information, then I can work at my desk a few extra minutes, instead of steaming at the airport about a delayed flight. Maybe they're starting to get it right?

Friday, January 07, 2005

Making Noise

Our friend Mel Poole at SponsorLogic passed along the news that Sprecher Bertalot, an advertising agency in the Midwest somewhere, had changed its name to - get this - Noise.

Mel's suggestions were just too good:
"Maybe McDonald's should change its name to 'Crap.' Winston cigarettes can change its name to 'Death.' And Bridgestone shoudl call its product 'Rollover.'"

You can learn more about Noise here:

Advertising agencies trying to be clever. Geez! Boy, am I glad to be out of that business!


Thursday, January 06, 2005

Resolutions, relationships and friendships

I'm on the phone early with a friend this morning. He asked about any new year's resolutions I might have:

"I'm 51," I said. "What am I going to resolve to do that's worth trying or that I haven't tried before?"

He tells me about his business, how his biggest customers are asking - in the name of "partnership" - to help them out before they sign their agreements or contracts. They need his help.

In the name of "partnership?" I ask. "What kind of relationship is that?" "I'm out of the 'partnership' business. I want customers; that's a relationship everyone understands better now anyway."

He was surprised. After all, I'm the guy who's written and preached about the power of a good business relationship, he says.

"Well," I said, "too many partnerships turned out to be one way streets, and I felt I was coming to the end of the road. I'm out of the 'partnership' business. 'Friendships,' now that's a relationship I can believe in."

My friend and I said "So long" and set up dinner and a round of golf in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Another reason to blog vs. email

As you know, my newsletter for years has come via email, either in text or with an attachment.

But another reason why I've switched to a weblog format is that, increasingly, my "broadcast" emails aren't getting through your junk mail filters, either on your individual computers or on your companies' servers.

One of the great things about blogs is that not only does the blog itself have a web address, so do the individual comments. The dialogue just works better.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The Burris Newsletter changes its [blog]spots!

"Allow yourself to consider the impossible. You can worry about making it a possibility later." - Peggy Kennelly, a VP at IBM, in a web-streamed interview on
A friend recently reported the results from an annual contest The Washington Post has to identify new, descriptive terms for some of the things we see and suffer. Here are three of my favorites from this year's list:
Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
Glibido (v): All talk and no action.
Dopeler effect (n): The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
I had the opportunity to fly Independence Air ( from Charleston to Greensboro (through Dulles) today (January 4). I arrived at 5:20a for a 6a scheduled Delta flight (through Atlanta), only to learn that the flight had been cancelled. (Cancelled when? Had to have been the night before when the flight from wherever didn't come into Charleston. "And why didn't Delta call you?", my wife asked, still a little sore because she had to take me to the airport. "Aren't you a Medallion flyer?" Yes, I am a Medallion, but I couldn't explain why they didn't call.)

My re-booked Delta flight wasn't going to depart until 10:38a, so I walked over to the counter next to Delta and inquired about Independence Air's ability to get me to Greensboro sooner. I could board a flight departing at 6:45a and arrive in Greensboro at 10:00a. For $202.

Let me point out several things, especially since I have often railed against the airlines in this space in the past.
- My original Delta flights departed at 6a and arrived in Greensboro (through Atlanta) at 9:45a. My new Independence flights departed Charleston at 6:45a and arrived in Greensboro (through Dulles) at 10:00a. Much more efficient.
- As a walk-up, one-way flyer, I would expect a normal airline to hose me with a high rate. But at $202, Independence was almost a no-brainer. It was as close to "impulse shopping" as you can get with air travel, I guess.
- The Independence Air experience was friendly, helpful and (I can't believe I'm actually saying this) satisfying. My expectations were exceeded in terms of on-time travel, service and comfort. (Now, I must say that the new carriers, the Southwests, JetBlue's and such, have successfully reduced our expectations about flying; that's been part of their success, I think. We don't expect more legroom or meals or any of those special touches. The new carriers tend to stick to the basics. It's almost as thought they say "We'll get you there on time if we possibly can and for less money." And the "less money" promise is virtually guaranteed.)

I don't need to rag on Delta today. (I will later if they fail to credit my ticket cost.) Because I think I may have found an alternative, at least for now.
You're reading this newsletter in the form of a weblog, or "blog." That's not new; I've been posting my newsletter as a blog for almost a year now. Fortune, in the January 10 issue, says the blogging community represents the #1 tech trend in 2005. (Here's the link:,15114,1011763,00.html)

The benefit of blogs, they say, is how they democratize the information process. (Lots of examples, from DanRatherGate in the fall to a fascinating story - on p. 47 - about IR'S Kryptonite locks). "It all sounds like so much insanity: a worldwide cabal ready to pounce on and publicize any error a company makes." But not all are negative. As surely as some blogs have outed bad products and practices, they've also promoted some impressive winners.

What I'm doing differently beginning this month is posting my blog myself. In the past I've asked Troy Martin, our resident interactive webspert (and rock star) to post for me. His expertise has been helpful in "Burris-izing" my postings, as he's added a small bit of programming to make my newsletter appear and function better. But part of the value of a blog is its ability to spark instantaneous dialogue about a topic or opinion. So I'm going solo now, removing the Troy-net, and posting for myself.

Also, with this posting I'll cease the formal monthly frequency, and I'll blog whenever: wherever I feel like it, whenever I have something new to write (or rail against). So I hope you'll bookmark this blog and come back, visit, and see what's up. Also, please feel free to comment to what you read here, whether you give feedback about something I've written or something someone else has added. A good blog is truly a dynamic dialogue, and I'm determined that this will be a good least for those who want to visit.

So as we begin a new year, let's all think of new ways to communicate, work, interact, cooperate, support and enliven the debate. Have a happy and prosperous one.

Mark Burris
P: 336.510.8697
Skype me: mburris
1050 Revolution Mill Drive - Studio 5
Greensboro, NC 27405 USA