Comparing Obama and Romney’s Schooling Years

2 Nov

Education plays a big role in my life. I grew up in Arkansas, my family bobbing above and below the poverty line throughout my childhood — from a very early age, I knew that education was going to be the determining factor of my success in life.

I studied hard, took Advanced Placement courses in high school, attended America’s “dream school,” and am now in the process of applying for graduate school.

Education has made all the difference in my life. I am the first person in my family to graduate from college, and at 26 years old, I’ve accomplished a lot more with the cards the world dealt me than would have seemed possible.

Though education has been a central pillar in my life, I had never thought to take a look at the educational backgrounds of the world’s top leaders and compare them to my own schooling. Until now, I found it presumable that most of America’s presidents probably attended elite colleges and graduate programs, but I hadn’t thought about the full picture, beyond secondary school.

That all changed this week, though, when I came across the below infographic that takes a look at the educational backgrounds of presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. While I shouldn’t have been surprised to see that both candidates attended elite elementary schools, I couldn’t help but to be taken back a bit.

Yes, education is important. But when does the choice of attending a particular school over others start to become pivotal in a person’s success trajectory? Pre-school? Kindergarten? Middle school? High school? College? Or is a person’s success determined by many other factors beyond their schooling, such as his or her will to succeed and break molds?

I’m sure this question and others that I’ve been pondering as a result of this infographic are ripe for debate, and there’s no doubt that America’s education system still has a long way to go before every student is served well from the day they enter school until the day they graduate.

I’m not really going to get into all of those discussions, though. I merely wanted to share this infographic with you, which looks at the entirety of Obama and Romney’s schooling. Very interesting read. If you have any thoughts to add, please do comment below!

Enjoy, and feel free to enlarge the infographic by clicking here or on the image.

Image courtesy of Cain and Todd Benson and infographic courtesy of Degree Jungle

Staycations: How Americans Spend Their Summers

9 Aug

Two-thirds of Americans have taken a “staycation,” according to a recent LivingSocial survey. With the average vacation cost weighing in at a whopping $1,180 per person, it’s no wonder!

As if it weren’t sad enough that Americans only get an average of 14 vacation days per year — an international low — more than half of Americans say that increased gas prices affect their summer travel plans. Oy, come on, America.

Let’s take a look at the world of staycations with the below infographic created by timeRAZOR.

I’d have to give a thumbs up to everything except that staycations are “still a favorite way for Americans to spend their summer.” Based on the data, it kind of looks like we’re just forced into staying home, with no vacation days and too many expenses. Please, someone, let us out of here!

The State of the Wine Industry [INFOGRAPHIC]

17 Apr

Fine wine sales in the United States are forecasted to increase by 7-11% this year, according to Silicon Valley Bank’s Annual State of the Wine Industry Report, released on Tuesday.

Along with increased demand, the report’s author, Rob McMillan, projects increased grape and bulk juice prices, fewer private labels, more variation and acreage in plantings, a decline in wine quality for the price paid, and an increase in market share for imported wines.

The report also addresses the emergence of the “Fifth Column,” a group of “disparate, focused companies” that are challenging how wine is distributed, enabling it to be sold direct to consumers, cutting out the wholesaler. Some of those companies include the likes of ShipCompliant, TastingRoom.com, Lot18, VinTank and Naked Wines — believe me, that’s only the beginning.

The report was released in conjunction with a nifty infographic (pictured below) that sums up the institution’s findings.

To dig into the report, download it here, or check out this presentation on SlideShare, which is chock-full of graphs and numbers to get your head spinning.

What are your thoughts on the findings? Any you’d add to the mix based on personal observations?

Image by Erica Swallow

How to Get Consumers Addicted to Your Content

11 Apr


Tara-Nicholle Nelson, vice president of digital and content at SutherlandGold Group, presenting at SXSW 2012

This post originally appeared on NASDAQ’s blog, where I contributed articles about content strategy during SXSW 2012.

Addiction is not a subject usually pegged to positive meaning – we usually speak about addition in reference to physical or psychological dependencies on a substance, person or object.

But addiction can have a positive meaning, too. Some of us get our fix with coffee; we all know someone addicted to Angry Birds, FarmVille or Words with Friends; and there are already some Pinterest nuts popping up all over the web.

There’s a synonym for these types of addictions, says Tara-Nicholle Nelson, vice president of digital and content at SutherlandGold Group, and that word is “love.”

For content addicts, this love is usually expressed by frequenting a small group of sites on a regular basis. Just think – are there any sites that you visit on a daily basis? What exactly is it about those sites that keeps you coming back?

Nelson says that brand publishers must understand what motivates consumers to consistently return to content sites, and then take those learnings to heart. Only then, will brands learn how to create addictive content.

Every brand goes through a process to becoming a brand that is loved by its consumers. That process entails reach, trial and stick. Once a brand has reached out to a consumer, that consumer must then try it out. If these two stages go as planned and the consumer keeps coming back for more, the brand has achieved “stick.”

There are three steps to generating “stickiness,” says Nelson, and some brands are already doing a great job at it.

1. Don’t Publish Information. Fuel Aspirations.

Brands must understand what their customers want to keep them happy. People want change more than ever, says Nelson. We want to be smarter, live cleaner, be more passionate, eat better foods, be more frugal. And we are more committed than ever to achieving our goals and dreams, she says.

To achieve our goals, we want knowledge. Brands can help us make our goal achievement smoother to achieve our aspirations, she says.

There is an opportunity, then, for brands to help consumers visualize, track and reach their goals. This can be as simple as creating content – how-tos, for example – to help consumers get what they want.

Or it can be as complicated as creating new products that help users track progress towards their goals. Products like Mint (personal finance tracking), Chartbeat (real-time blogging analytics) and The Eatery (healthful eating visualization) all do this.

2. Market Your Manifesto.

Brands should create manifestos that transcend the utility that the brand provides – they should take on topics that are bigger than their brands or the verticals that they work in, says Nelson.

Lululemon’s manifesto, for example, is all about a way of life that that has very little to do with yoga and exercise, its core areas of business. Instead, it’s all about life, love, relationships, health. Here’s an excerpt:

“Do one thing a day that scares you… Stress is related to 99% of all illness… Dance, sing, floss and travel… Sweat once a day to regenerate your skin… The pursuit of happiness is the source of all unhappiness.”

Your manifesto may even become an integral part of your company’s revenue. Sound silly? Think again. Design company Holstee began offering up prints of its company manifesto (as pictured above) last year. The message went viral, and so far, the manifesto has been viewed online more than 50 million times and print sales accounted for 50% of the business’s revenue.

3. Double-down on Content Experiences.

Keep in mind that a consumer’s experience with your brand doesn’t end with a tweet or a visit to your website. Whenever possible, couple content with real experiences.

Lululemon, for example, hosts free yoga events in its store and even puts on an annual worldwide Salutation Nation yoga gathering, where yogis from all around the world gather at 9 a.m. their time to practice yoga together. Not only is Lululemon helping yogis improve their practices during the event, but it posts videos and pictures online afterwards for attendees to enjoy.

Likewise, a number of subscription-based mail services are cropping up, including poster child, Birchbox, a beauty-samples-by-mail company. Birchbox creates a content experience around the arrival of its latest beauty sampling in the mail. The Birchbox team creates video tutorials and how-to posts on how to best use the samples. And users even post their own reviews and how-tos across the Internet.

Birchbox also maintains a lifestyle-oriented blog and social media presence that follow topics that appeal to its audience. For example, the team put together a SXSW packing list chronicling the must-have items that they’d be bringing to the conference – great packing tips for fellow attendees.

Nelson’s tips are a great start towards creating a brand and content that people love. What are your tips for creating addicting content?

What Content Strategists Can Learn From the Movies

11 Apr


Content Strategist Carmen Hill presents at SXSW 2012

This post originally appeared on NASDAQ’s blog, where I contributed articles about content strategy during SXSW 2012.

What does content strategy have in common with the movies? At first glance, not much. Hollywood is all about red carpets, premieres and red carpets – and content strategy is about analyzing performance data and tweaking strategies to optimize success rates.

In her SXSW presentation, Social Media and Content Strategist Carmen Hill explained how content strategy and the movies are actually quite similar, though. In fact, she went as far as to say that content strategists could learn from Hollywood screenwriters by obeying the rules of the classic narrative arc.

Content marketers tend to focus on the sales funnel, a systematic approach to sell a product or service. The funnel illustrates a consumer’s path of discovery, consideration and decision-making in the buying process.

Instead, Hill says that content marketers should be thinking like screenwriters, taking consumers through the classic narrative arc, in which a story or movie incorporates the setup, a conflict and a resolution.

In these stories, there is always a hero, or protagonist to go on what is known as “the hero’s journey” through these three levels of storytelling. In “The Wizard of Oz,” for example, Dorothy is the hero. The setup is where all of the main characters of the movie are introduced. The conflict takes up the bulk of the story, and is invoked by a catalyst, or inciting incident. In this case, a tornado takes Dorothy’s house flying through the sky to Oz. Dorothy and her crew go on a mission to see out the Wizard of Oz during the conflict section of the movie. And finally, the resolution of the story comes when the hero saves the day – in this case, Dorothy discovers that she has had the power all along to return to Kansas, and everyone lives happily ever after.

So, where do customers come into play here? Customers are the heroes in the content strategy story. Hill explains that Hollywood heroes have a call to adventure, accept that call, seek knowledge, face their fears, overcome challenges and, in the end, become the masters of their worlds.

Consumers follow this same path, says Hill. They have a call to action when they discover that something is missing in life. They must then commit to making a change and research options, consuming content along the way. They face challenges, such as finances, in justifying and making their decisions. And finally, they acquire the good or service that helps them solve the problem, thus becoming the master of their world.

Brands, then, need to understand who their heroes are. They can figure this out through character development exercises. Much like a screenwriter spends time figuring out the personas behind his characters, a content strategist must figure out the persona behind his audience members. Are they decision-makers? Influencers? What do they care about? Where do they live?

Understanding the main characters of the story is a step in the right direction towards telling a provocative and meaningful story.

Just remember, unlike in the movies, the audience is in control of the story when it comes to your brand’s content. While content strategists may try to create the perfect script incorporating the narrative arc with absolute accuracy, the story will always be reshaped and influenced by its readers.

For your listening pleasure, here is a recording I took of Hill’s full presentation. Please ignore the typing noises — I was composing the outline for this post. :)

What Are ‘Green’ Wines? [INFOGRAPHIC]

4 Apr

As some of you may know, I’m into wine, even to the point of figuring out how I can start my own winery. And I’m continually inspired by winemakers stepping out into and shaping the world of natural winemaking. It just makes sense to let the fruit do the talking, ya know?

As far as my personal journey into winemaking goes, I completed my harvest apprenticeship at the City Winery in New York City in December. I learned about the basic stages of winemaking and launched a beautiful blog for the winery. The experience was priceless.

Since then, I sort of lost track of next steps. After all, I realized that starting a winery is time-consuming and expensive — the costs deadened me in my tracks.

But this week I’m picking back up where I left off. I ordered a number of books that will get me caught up on natural winemaking and even get me started towards making my first batch of wine this year:

Hopefully after reading up, I’ll be on my way to at least a few gallons of Swallow Winery wine — with or without a “winery” per se!

Along the way, I hope I internalize the history, criticisms and defining characteristics of “green” wines. For starters, and for those of you with not enough time to read five books on the topic, I ran across this infographic from Wine.com, which offers up some introductory thoughts on the space, defining natural, biodynamic, organic and sustainable wines. It’s a good start. Enjoy!

My SXSW Panel Gets Drawn

14 Mar

I spoke on a panel about brand journalism with Twitter’s Karen Wickre, Eloqua’s Jesse Noyes and MarketProf’s Ann Handley at SXSW, and oh my lucky stars, it’s been documented via live graphic art. Isn’t that awesome?

This isn’t the first time I’ve been on a panel lucky enough to be noted via live graphic art, though. The first was at WOMMA 2010. Hopefully this is only the beginning of this colorful trend!

See the full-size drawing here.

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