Corporate Communication – How Amazon Sends Better Emails

I was flipping through my emails and found 2 emails side by each, one from Amazon and one from Geek Squad, the tech support division of Best Buy Canada.

There were some stark differences between the two emails that I wanted to highlight to discuss some of the changes and demands in corporate communication, specifically digital/email marketing.

Companies haven’t been sending emails to consumers for all that long. It’s been mostly billboards, signs, classified ads… it was like that for decades. Email communication direct to consumer has become the norm among serious companies, but learning how to send emails like this is a skill, one that we’re still honing in on, so there’s no one perfect way to draft and plan them. That being said, there are better and worse emails, and specific tactics that are important to focus on. Here are a few examples I wanted to highlight.

Reason for communication – tell the customer why you’re emailing them as quickly as possible

Amazon says in the title what the email is about, Geek Squad has it nest somewhere in the body of the email. Geek Squad pads the email with a random picture of strangers, and calls your attention to the body of the email with an eye catching grey (that’s sarcasm)

Additional information – there’s a Goldilocks effect with length of email, you need to get it just right, which means picking the perfect info to include

Amazon reminds you what order this is, and how much it was, even gives you a picture to remind you. Geek Squad gives me a bunch of random numbers, a bunch of links that I may or may not find useful, and does it all in 2 languages.

Screen real estate is important. You only have so much screen, the top of the email is prime real estate

Both companies have marketing on top. But Geek Squad takes up about half of my viewing space with branding, while Amazon just has a tiny logo, and then provides useful information right away.

What do I do? It’s important to make clear what the use should do, it’s not always clear and they don’t want to read

Amazon provides 2 very clear and present links in their email. The button for “Track Your Package” and a link to the product page. Geek Squad provides 6 hyperlinks that blend into eachother. 6 is too many options, 2 is just right. Bring me to your website and show me all of the links from there.

Did I miss anything? Any marketing and communications gurus see any opportunities for either company to improve? Let me know in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter:
https://twitter.com/StephenMatusiak

Congrats on the promotion, hope you liked being happy

You’ve worked hard, long nights, schmoozing with the boss, taking on extra assignments, studying at night for that course or exam, all in an effort to get that big shiny promotion. Now that you’ve been promoted, you’ve got it made, right? Time to pop the champagne and reap what you’ve sown? Unfortunately you’re not quite there just yet.

Charles thought he had it all figured out. Starting out in the helpdesk, he hustled his way further and further up the chain at his medium sized tech support company. He got 6 certifications in a single year. He put in unpaid overtime when the power outage left a key client spinning up backups. His boss noticed his hard work too, even took Charles out for a beer after a late night of paperwork. That’s how Charles knew he’d be the perfect fit for the team lead role that was just created to help manage the troops.

Up until now, work was pretty easy for Charles. Most good decisions came naturally, and he was able to over-achieve by trying just a little bit. The exams he wrote took studying, but he could balance that during work hours. Sure, there were some late nights, but it was mostly easy work that meant spending more time with a few good friends he made on the team. But this was Charles’ big shot, a management spot. This was something to be proud of, something new, with this he’d be a big shot.

Of course Charles got the job. He was perfect for it. He nailed it in the interview, and he already had the respect of his colleagues. When they announced that Charles got the promotion, nobody was surprised, but everybody was happy for him, they even got him a cake.

What Charles didn’t realize was that nothing would ever be the same again. Right away he was thrown into some of the most grueling weeks of his life. He was staying at least 3 hours late each night, just to stay on top of the work. Everything was disorganized, there were emails and voicemails coming in from left and right, and it seemed like there was always a fire to put out somewhere — an angry client here, some office drama there. It was a nightmare. Depending on the day, Charles wavered between wishing he was back in the helpdesk and looking up “resignation letter templates” on Google. There was just no way the extra money and couple perks he got with this new job could possibly be worth it. The hardest part for Charles was wondering if it was just a big mistake, applying for this job.

Charles isn’t alone. While promotions are a cause for celebration, once the celebrating is over the hard work begins. Getting a promotion is a marathon, and most people tire themselves out by sprinting before they even apply for the job. What nobody ever tells you is that promotions are a radical change for any person to go through, especially when they involved completely new work, responsibilities, and earning and maintaining people’s respect.

Change is hard, even if you asked for it

Change is hard for everybody. The fact that you knowingly and willingly applied and accepted the promotion doesn’t make it any easier. You’ve been doing the same thing, every single day, for awhile now. But all of that stops with a promotion. Now your day is completely different. You’re doing different work. People see you differently, they treat you differently, and you treat them differently in return. Often times you’re learning as you go, and no company has everything documented, so you’re going to be chasing down answers to questions that nobody has.

Everything is different

If you’re lucky, you’re new position is well-established. You’re replacing someone that left on good terms, and your company has set expectations, a good job description, and you fall into a set bureaucracy with status reports, structured meetings, and channels of communication. But no matter what, nothing’s perfect. What’s already in place will have holes in them, and they’ll drive you nuts. It’ll take time to truly appreciate why those holes exist, but in the meantime, those imperfections in the (hopefully) well oiled machine will drive you nuts.

Your superpower — seeing what’s wrong

The worst part is when you look around and see what’s missing. “How do they not have a process for this?”. “How haven’t they figured this out already?”. You’re going to see problem after problem, clear as day, and that will be your own little superpower. Nobody else will see those problems as clear as you, because they’ve been living with them, day in, day out, like a bad knee that hurts when it rains. It’s normal, and it’s amazing what people can learn to live with. But until you learn to live with it, it’s going to be frustrating.

Change takes time

Lasting, effective change takes time. There’s no silver bullet for speeding things up. If you’ve just gotten a promotion, things are going to be hard for awhile. They just are. Strap in, buckle up, and be prepared. But there are things you can do to soothe the pain and make the transition easier.

  1. Recognize it’s a process, and the process takes time
  2. Get into the habit of making things better
  3. Set milestones and celebrate small victories
  4. Recognize that the problems were there before you, and you can’t fix them overnight
  5. Be kind to yourself. Meditate, exercise, do the things you love, even indulge in some of your vices. Through times of significant change, if you’re too tightly wound, you can be prone to snapping

A million small changes

Promotions aren’t one big change, they’re a series of tiny changes. Others recognize and celebrate the one big change, but you’re the one that will have to navigate the see of small changes. Remember that you’re right for the job — the hiring committee wouldn’t have picked you if you weren’t. Recognize that change takes time, and you can only do so much to increase the pace. Try to fix problems as you come across them, but don’t seek perfection. Perfection is the enemy of progress. Make things better, not perfect. Fix them and move on. You’ve got a lot of work ahead of you, and if you focus too long on the first things that raises it’s head, you won’t have the energy or fortitude to keep making things better, resulting in problems piling up.

The important thing is believing in yourself. You can do this. Remember that the desires of yesterday are still valid today. You’ve achieved something great. You put yourself out there, and were recognized for the hard work you’ve done. Be kind to yourself, be true to yourself, and forge ahead.

And if it doesn’t pan out, just quit — you’re nobody’s prisoner.

Oh button where art thou? Why Microsoft moved that button on you

We’ve all been there. Typing up a document in Microsoft Word, everything is going great, you go to the toolbar to make a change, and the damn button isn’t there. It used to be there. Where’d it go? It was that damn update. Stupid Microsoft, moving that button. Now where the hell is it?

Design vs User Experience

They all do it, all of the big tech companies. It doesn’t matter if it’s your phone, computer, or your PVR, everything was fine the way it was, and they went ahead and changed it. There are some obvious reasons we come up with.

1. “They’re stupid”

It’s easy to assume that someone did something without thinking, and for no good reason. We jump to that conclusion when we haven’t put in enough thought or can’t understand under what circumstances a decision was made. But let me tell you, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, they aren’t stupid. And the decision to move that button on you wasn’t taken lightly. Change management is a process that eats up thousands of hours of many workers’ time. Meeting after meeting, sketching up new designs and justifying the change. The work that’s required for the company to move that button is staggering, usually equating to tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. That decision wasn’t made lightly, and it wasn’t made by stupid people.

2. “They don’t care about me”

Total number of social networks users (Rapleaf's data) 
https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Total-number-of-social-networks-users-Rapleafs-data_fig2_324860729

This one is kind of true. They don’t care about you as an individual. They care about you, but only as much as they care about their other customers. These companies have billions of customers. Billions. Just because they don’t care about you doesn’t mean they don’t care about the customers. It’s the opposite in fact. They care about all of their customers, and make decisions based on what’s best for everyone, to satisfy the needs of the many, not the needs of a few.

3. “It was fine the way it was”

This brings us to the most important takeaway. When a company makes a significant change to their product, it’s for a good reason. It’s well thought out, there were many intelligent minds working on the decision, and the implementation had a very specific reason. It might be to make things more intuitive, to clean up the interface, to streamline your productivity, or to get rid of a function that nobody really liked. The most important thing for you to do when facing a change is to try to understand. Not just where they moved the button, but why they moved it. It’s not because they’re stupid and they aren’t out to get you. Chances are, the change made the product better, you’re just too close to the situation to realize it. You knew where the button was, so finding it now is a pain in the ass. But for the person who didn’t know where it was, it’s probably easier to find now.

The key to effectively using technology is not to memorize where things are, but why they’re there. Understanding is better than knowing. If you can understand the rationale of the developers, you can become immune to change. Think of yourself as an explorer, not a settler. In a constantly changing landscape, nothing remains the same. Always be open to exploring, looking for the answer to your question. Read the screen, click around, and when you find that gosh darn button, try to understand why they would have moved it there.

Lastly, if you still can’t find it. Google it. I promise you, someone has asked that same question already. Always feel comfortable hopping on the Google and typing “how to insert hyperlink in Microsoft Word”. I guarantee one of the top pages will help you along.

Keep an open mind to change, embrace change, and your world will get better.

The Open Source A.I. Boom — Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

One of the things that excites me about artificial intelligence is how open it is. All of the brilliant minds that are working on it aren’t hoarding their ideas and keeping them close to their chest, hoping to make billions off of them. The amount of free and open source technology that is available to build your own artificial intelligence is mind blowing, to the point where you can use the same underlying tech that Google or Microsoft uses, without paying a dime. Ever. No strings attached.

A lot of what has been developed in AI started with research, typically academic research. Most academic researchers publish their findings in journals, or academic texts. If you’re a nerd like me, you probably realized after leaving university that there’s no chance in hell you can afford all of those amazing journals you had access to as a student. Journals charge hundreds of dollars for access to single articles, let alone open access to their entire databases. Furthermore, academic texts usually costs hundreds of dollars each, again, no surprise to students or recent grads (or parents of students) out there.

Open Source

With technology, we’ve always had a quiet ruckus movement of those supporting free and open source software (FOSS). It’s the idea that the best way to make amazing software is by making the source code available to everybody, so that they can find bugs, fix bugs, add functionality, or build off someone else’s idea. This leads to innovation, and is the reason why more than 70% of the internet is powered by Linux, an operating system that is open source, unlike Windows or Apple Mac OS.

The research behind artificial intelligence is done by those who grew up in a world where open source software made sense. We have websites like GitHub that have over 1.1 billion contributions of open source software stretching from kids creating games, college students doing their homework, all the way to multinational billion dollar companies hosting their source code. Many AI researchers have even come out against traditional academic journals, stating that they won’t publish to their journals if they are closed access.

A good way to look at it is that source code = time. It takes time to write code, but it also takes time to collect and curate the information necessary to build and train an AI model. So the impact of working off of someone else’s code is that it let’s you start with a head start. Like a 10 year head start.

Labeling 14 Million Pictures

ImageNet is a image database that is organized in a structured format, and contains 14 million images that have been labelled and categorized by humans. You need something like ImageNet if you want to train an AI to detect objects in pictures. It is run by professors from Stanford and Princeton, and has been in development since 2009.

How we teach computers to understand pictures | Fei Fei Li

You Only Look Once

If you think ImageNet is cool (nerd), then you might find the project Darknet Yolo interesting. This tool allows you to download some software, hook it up to a camera, and you have instant object recognition capabilities. It can highlight the objects it sees and label them. If there are 3 dogs, 2 people and a frying pan in the picture, it will find them, put a big rectangle around each, with a label indicating what it’s found. Just. Like. That. It was developed by a student at University of Washington, and it’s free and open source. The best part, it was trained using ImageNet data. One amazing project that ties into another. If you want to create a smart camera to classify the objects it records, all of the hard work is done for you. For free.

YOLOv3

Google — Solving the World’s Problems

Image result for tensorflow

Lastly I want to talk about Google. Google is using machine learning to solve some pretty huge problems in health care. In developing countries, there are too many people that require medical attention that simply do not have access to a doctor. There aren’t enough doctors being trained to treat all of the patients. An example of this is the rise of diabetes in India. If you have diabetes, you need to be in and out of doctor’s offices to check not only you blood sugar, but diabetes can lead to high blood pressure, increased risk of heart attack and stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage, you can even go blind if you don’t regularly see the eye doctor. In India, there aren’t enough eye doctors for people to see. That means that people with diabetes are going blind, which is completely preventable, if you have access to an eye doctor. Google has built an AI that can help with this, and can perform a quick scan using just a camera and it’s software to determine if the patient is a high risk of going blind. The best part? The software Google used to create this tool is absolutely free. Even better, the software was created by Google. TensorFlow is a free and open source tool that Google has developed and made available to everybody to use, for free. And if it’s good enough for Google, I think it’s good enough for me.

So I’m off to go program some AI. I hope you enjoyed this post. If you found it interesting or useful, feel free to comment below.

Burnout — you might not realize you have it

Let’s talk about burnout. Why? Because most people approach the thought of burnout by associating it to weakness. A failure to rise to the occasion. Succumbing to hardship and not overcoming new challenges. This is especially true for me. As a man raised in a home where pain is temporary, chicks dig scars, toughen up and just push through the pain, it was hard for me to objectively assess my own personal challenges and my fight with burnout, stress, and anxiety.

How burnout happened for me

The hard part for me was that I did it to myself. I’m a self motivated hard worker who has high expectations, both for myself and those around me. I aim for perfection, and rarely like to settle for much less. I’ve never cared for goal setting, planning, or setting reasonable deadlines. I want to jump into a project, move forward as quickly as possible, and don’t want to stop until I’ve created something absolutely amazing. The challenge arises when an unstoppable force meets and unmovable object — or how about a slow moving object. The pace of change that an organization can handle is much slower than I’d like it to be. There are many publications discussing organizational change, change management, innovation etc. that all say the same thing “change takes time”. At the end of the day, my stress came from trying to force organizational change at a pace that was completely unreasonable, even when deploying tactics from agile project management, design thinking, ITIL, you name it.

What burnout looked like for me

Close your eyes and picture burnout for a moment. What does it look like? Do you think you’re burnt out? Why, how does burnout manifest in your actions or mood?

A common marker of burnout, and one that I faced was negativity, pessimism and cynicism. I’m usually a pretty positive person. I see the world for what it is, and my perspective of the world is that of a realist. There are many challenges that we will face, I don’t think otherwise, but generally I think that we can overcome just about any obstacle. I look at problems as opportunities. Just because something is going to be hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.

My positive attitude started dwindling, but that’s not how I identified my burnout. For me it was something else completely.

Canary in the coal mine

I have 3 dogs. A lovely band of misfits. They’re all rescues, a bunch of mutts, with all of their own problems. One is terrified of people, the other has clearly been hit. For all of their foibles, they’re absolutely lovely dogs. They seek affection, want attention, listen occasionally, and at the end of the day, they just need to be loved.

Molly
Buddy
Evey

We had another dog before these three. Her name was Abbie, she was a Rottweiler mix, with her own separation anxiety and other issues. Abbie and I were besties. She was stuck to me like glue, she was a 95lbs lapdog. We were inseparable, and she made me feel like the most amazing thing in her life. She went nuts when I came home after being gone for 5 minutes, she would spoon with me all night, even when it was so hot out that she was panting. We would play for hours together.

Abbie

I’ve always missed the bond I had with Abbie, especially because I feel like I haven’t yet forged that same bond with my new dogs. I used to think that maybe the new dogs just don’t like me as much. They aren’t looking for the same thing from their human. Maybe they’re past situation was so much worse than Abbie’s that they’re incapable of bonding the same way.

I have since changed my perspective. Dogs have an intuition for good people. The reason why my dogs hadn’t taken to me as well as before is that I was different. I had Abbie before I was in a leadership role. I had Abbie before I had money to manage. I had Abbie before I had stress.

I now look at my dogs as canaries in the coal mine. An early warning sign of problems. If I get frustrated with them, or they seem distant, I look inward. Dogs don’t carry a grudge, they don’t do things to spite you, and they don’t formulate an opinion of you based on anything other than your actions.

My dogs and I grew distant because I lost my patience. I was quick to anger. I was too busy focusing on work to focus on them. They weren’t happy when I came home from work because I wasn’t happy. Walks became a chore because they pulled my focus away from work, away from solving problems. I lost the ability to just sit and pet my dogs, whether it be for 5 minutes or 50 minutes. That’s when bonds are made, and I just didn’t have the time, patience, or headspace to do that.

Recovery

The same thing that helped me identify my burnout has been a big help overcoming it — my dogs. I’ve aligned my mental wellbeing with my relationship to my dogs. I know that if I spend more time with them, not only will we grow closer together, but I’ll be better for it, mentally. Sitting and petting your dog can be meditative. You should feel free to take the time to go out for a walk and enjoy yourself. Play time isn’t wasted work time — it’s necessary for balance.

Spending more time with my dogs isn’t that only thing I’ve changed to eliminate burnout. I’ve taken steps to change my expectations, set clear goals that are reasonable and achievable, ensured alignment between the work I do and the work that brings me joy, and I’ve set clear boundaries between my work life and my personal life — but we can talk about all of those things in a future post.

If you think you’re suffering from burnout, take action, and get some help. Many companies have an Employee Assistance Program that offers stress coaches and other services. Speak with your manager about some of the challenges you’re having. I also use meditation and journaling as a way be more present in the moment and to combat negative self talk.

If you’re interested in learning more about stress and burnout, I found this article helpful: https://www.forbes.com/sites/learnvest/2013/04/01/10-signs-youre-burning-out-and-what-to-do-about-it/#6f92565f625b

One millennial’s struggle moving into management

I first stepped into a leadership role at the age of 28. At that time, nobody I was close with had really managed a team before. Like many people, I saw this opportunity as the obvious next step, a move in the right direction — up. It would be a great opportunity for me to build a skill set I didn’t have. My career up to that point had been focused on getting computers to do what I wanted them to do, in an efficient way. I was good at it too. Every job I had, I would collect all of the boring work I was expected to do and I would automate it so that a computer would do it for me. This made my productivity and effectiveness skyrocket, which is what probably led to this promotion in the first place. I remember someone early in my career warning me though, “with computers you tell them what to do once, and they do it, exactly as you told it. People, not so much…”. What I want to talk about today are some of the unexpected challenges I ran into moving away from leveraging computers and into leveraging people. By no means do I regret it, and I’m not telling you to dissuade you from moving into management, but I want to share my story to help prepare others for their journey ahead.

It’s Lonely at the Top

Early in my career I never bothered to stick around a company for more than a year. That meant that people came and went, without the opportunity to really get to know them. My whole career I was always the youngest in every team I worked with. By a lot. That meant that we didn’t have a lot in common. I have fond memories of all of my coworkers, but I never really crossed paths with people that I ended up going out with after work — they were workplace proximity associates.

After being promoted into a leadership position, and sticking around a company for long enough to form some bonds, I realized that my relationship to my coworkers would need to remain professional. Wherein before I never knew anyone well enough to see after hours, in my new position it wasn’t really something I could do even if I wanted to. I promised myself I would be a non-traditional leader — someone who didn’t care about what the typical picture of a manager was. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s easy to form the appearance of favoritism. Having lunch with the same team member every day, grabbing a beer with someone after work, casually texting or messaging people outside of work… Yikes! Those would all have significant consequences at the end of the day.

In an organization, the pool of people that you can be friends with is typically your group of peers — the people on the same level in the hierarchy as you. Most hierarchies shrink near the top, which means the higher up you get, the less people you have to draw on. This can be challenging, when you run into a tough situation that you just want to vent about, when you want to talk through a problem with someone else.

You’re involved in everything

I remember a time when someone would bring me a problem and I would say “oooooo that’s a tough one, you should talk to the boss about that”. All of the hard stuff gets kicked up to management. That means that there’s a filter. Problems float upwards in an organization. Hopefully there’s a filter, so that you aren’t dealing with every problem in the organization. If there is, you reduce the over all number, but that filter only eliminates the easy stuff. It’s the hard stuff that gets through. If your team has a lot of problems, or aren’t used to solving problems on their own, then day after day, hour after hour, you’re going to be working on solving really hard problems. In Star Trek they have a test called the Kobyashi Maru — it’s impossible to win, and it’s used to assess your decision making when faced with a no-win scenario. It’s not uncommon for leadership to be filled with these scenarios, and it can get taxing on your brain, and your confidence. When you’re always focused on just getting by, it can feel like you’re never doing a really good job, unless you have the perspective and headspace to step back and see the big picture.

Your brain never stops

This is a by product of the above challenge. Gone are the days of performing a task. With your new found promotion you don’t perform tasks, you solve problems. Sounds exciting right?! Problem after problem, day after day. Have you ever had a really intense debate with someone where you were constantly challenged and had to keep thinking of ways to get your point across? Or have you ever played a challenging game like chess with an opponent worth your time? Remember in school where you had 5 papers, 3 exams and a presentation all due in the same week? That’s what leadership is — all the time. When you think of manual labor it’s clear to understand the soreness and pain that comes from working with your hands, standing, lifting and moving all day. Your muscle ache, your joints hurt. Everybody can empathize with that. Your brain is a muscle too, and if you spend all day every day flexing a single muscle, that things going to get sore. It’s going to ache. It’s going to fatigue. Take care of your brain. Don’t strain it, recognize when it’s tired and give it a break.

You only have so much emotional energy

Emotional intelligence is becoming an increasingly popular skill for leaders. That’s because to be a good leader in the 21st century, you need to care. You need to empathize with your team. You need to care about the customer. You need to take people’s feelings into account when making decisions. The challenge is that you need to save up your emotional energy for your home life. Your family deserves to see you at your best, and if you’ve tapped out your emotional energy for the day at work, you may not come home in the right frame of mind to give your family the support, caring and love that they need. This can be very painful for your loved ones, and it’s something I think leaders will struggle with as we continue to learn the value of emotional intelligence as a skill for successful leaders. If public speaking is something that you aren’t good at but need to do as a leader, you can learn to give speeches and exhaust that part of you at work with little/no impact on your family. If you’ve given all of the fucks you have at work, and have none when you come at home at the end of the day, you’re going to be grumpy, short tempered, and unable to empathize with your loved ones.

Is it all doom and gloom?

Of course not. The best way to combat these challenges is to surround yourself with people that care about you. People that you can be honest with. People that will listen to you. But even with these people in your life, your problems won’t magically go away, you need to talk through them. Share your challenges. Don’t feel badly about complaining about your fancy new role, with all of the extra money and perks it brings. Those things don’t matter if you aren’t happy. Success doesn’t only bring joy and happiness, it brings new challenges and hardships, and it’s ok to talk about those things