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Healthy Choices at Work; Join Us on Our Wellness Journey

June 22nd, 2011

By Michael Layne

We’re taking positive steps at Marx Layne to encourage our employees to make healthy choices throughout the workday. We know healthy team members are happy and productive.

We admit we’re a little self-serving, however, since our agency reaps countless benefits such as fewer sick days and lower health care costs when employees exercise, eat right and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Still, like all employers, we’re grappling with skyrocketing costs for medical, dental and vision coverage and looking for affordable, but comprehensive, options that serve the needs of our people.

Since our inception, we’ve absorbed health care cost increases for our employees or identified alternative solutions to circumvent spikes in pricing. But it’s getting tough.

Two years ago, our insurance provider raised our premium by 20 percent. To avoid this unnecessary hike, we switched providers. Now, our current carrier is demanding a 21 percent increase for the new contract year, beginning Aug. 1. We didn’t take the news lying down, or sitting down. We chose a new plan that emphasizes wellness and maintains costs. Our new insurance program will require everyone to get a complete physical during the initial transition phase and make lifestyle changes based on their doctor’s recommendation to reduce the risk of preventable diseases.

In the meantime, we’re doing our part at Marx Layne by creating workplace opportunities for our employees to get up, get fit and take responsibility for their own health.

Earlier this year, David Stoyka, PR practitioner extraordinaire and budding fitness guru, suggested that we replace desk chairs with inflatable fitness balls to improve spinal health and minimize the damage caused by prolonged sitting. It took a minute to get accustomed to the bouncy seats, but everyone appears to be walking taller.

Last week, Pat Stoll, head of all things necessary to run the place, installed a toaster oven and single-burner hot plate in the kitchen. The new equipment is expected to save energy and spare soups and pastas from electromagnetic-radiation in the microwave. Plus, we traded bagels for organic fruit and purified water, available every morning for breakfast or a midday snack.

And some of our amateur cyclists bring their bikes to work for lunchtime rides – an encouraging sign, but they’ve established fitness goals that would make Jack LaLanne quake with anxiety.

Yet, none of these changes would amount to much if we didn’t recognize our employees’ need for a calm and welcoming environment, so we’ve assigned temperament control to our four-legged workers. Grand, a cool and collected golden retriever, and Rosie, a bichon frisé puppy with a curious nose, show up daily for work and keep the mood light. Our employees may appreciate their 401(k), but they love our K-9s.

Finally, we’ve launched this blog to chronicle these new experiences. Join us online at www.marxlayne.com/blog as we embark on our journey to wellness, managing our waistlines and our health care costs.

The place has gone to the dogs, but we’re on the ball.

We don’t need a time machine to drive the conversation

June 3rd, 2011

By MATT SCHULER, Digital Architect, Marx Layne

If you want to reach out and drive the conversation, there are four pillars of interactive marketing according to Ryan Warren, the Senior Director of Studio Orange at ExactTarget.

You can reach your targeted audiences on a broad range of platforms, but if you connect on email, mobile, social and sites, you’re doing really well.  How we communicate with subscribers, fans and followers is fundamentally changing.  There will be a crossover between the groups as your email subscribers will fan you on Facebook, follow you on Twitter, visit your website and vice versa.

How do we differentiate ourselves from the crowd?  Warren compared our growing digital world to the changing stock on the shelves of supermarkets.  Where supermarkets once carried 20,000 items, now they’re stocking more than 50,000.

“It’s becoming more and more challenging for marketers to reach the right people at the right time,” Warren said.  There will be 3,000 messages delivered in various forms throughout a person’s day and at most they can only recognize 100.

So how do you fit inside that small scope of remembrance? You have to be in the right place at the right time with the right message.  One of the main things ExactTarget does is email marketing. Warren cited statistics about the first place people turn to in the morning to start catching up. The destination? People turn to email.  This is personally relevant for me, because it’s what I do. I wake up and check in on any messages that were sent overnight.

After that, it’s social media time. I turn to Facebook and Twitter. Was there anything that happened that needs my attention?  Do I need to read up on anything?  After that I head to the web. I turn to news aggregators like Techmeme and gather in as many headlines as I can. It’s almost like panning for gold and I’m looking for nuggets.  If you want to drive the conversation, you have to know what people are talking about and plan where it’s headed.

Coordinating the message across channels is important, because it will allow people to connect messages together. If they see something in their email, an update on social media, a link on a news site or another message, it has a good chance of being recognized.

“Real-time data is the new black,” Warren said.  Right now, we’re only on the tip of the iceberg when it comes to interaction management.  We can implement better operations, technology and strategy to manage the conversations more effectively.

“Data is the key. How do you have more real-time conversations with your customers?” Warren asked. It comes back to monitoring.  Do we have the right tools to do the job? They’re out there; we just need to use them.

We don’t need a time machine to drive the conversation—we just need the right tools and we need to use them.

This is the last of a seven-part series taking a look at how we can be a force of change for those around us.

Introduction: Back to the Future Midwest

Part 1: We don’t need a time machine…to predict the weather.

Part 2: We don’t need a time machine…to stay relevant.

Part 3: We don’t need a time machine…to know where we’re going.

Part 4: We don’t need a time machine…to tell the future.

Part 5: We don’t need a time machine…to live in the clouds.

Part 6: We don’t need a time machine…to bridge the digital divide.

Part 7: We don’t need a time machine…to drive the conversation.

We don’t need a time machine to bridge the digital divide

June 2nd, 2011

By MATT SCHULER, Digital Architect, Marx Layne

“Your mom does Facebook better than you do.” And with that, John Meyer and Scott Meyer of 9 Clouds started their Future Midwest discussion.

Can you remember the last time you pulled out a yellow book and flipped through its pages?  It must have been 1989 the last time I looked through one. The Meyers made a fantastic point about the digital divide, saying your mom is already equipped to do the right things on Facebook because your mom has been doing it forever

I need a reminder to remember my friends’ birthdays, but how many mothers had a card system sorted by months and days to remember to send a card out to a loved one.  The older generation already has the offline skills of being social, but it’s important to translate those into digital capabilities.  “They’re not going to use all of the toys on the playground,” the Meyers said.  “They’re going to focus on one thing.

When you look at the fastest growing demographic on Facebook, lately it hasn’t been teens, it’s been baby boomers.  Parents and grandparents are getting on Facebook because they want to be connected with you and see your pictures

There’s a huge difference between social networks, both in terms of numbers and in types of conversations.  The Meyers compared Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.  For interactions, you have to “know your voice and the playgrounds you’re in.  Do what you do best.

The type of listening that your mother is good at is the type of listening a business should be good at online.  The internet is a gigantic place and we can reach more people than we realize.  “We are no longer hindered by our geography,” the Meyers said.  Online we can reward the trust people place in us, and build it just like we would offline.  There needs to be reciprocity if people are going to cross the digital divide.

One of the things 9 Clouds did is something a lot of businesses are hesitant to do.  They created a tutorial on how to create an iFrame page for Facebook business pages and gave it away.  People used it, and the Meyers said they would often come back because that trust was there.

To bridge the digital divide, time is a large component.  You have to inch people in to things and prepare them, especially if they’re a public business, to take criticism.  The Meyers advised that it doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment, but it should be a consistent one.  You can set up notifications to know when people responded or mentioned you.  By responding appropriately to negativity you can change people from complainers to evangelists for your company.

One important point the Meyers made was about services with comparatively lower number of users.  “Instead of seeing low numbers and saying no one uses the service, use it as an opportunity to say hey I can stand out here,” they said.  There’s a lot of work that can be done in a space that has a smaller subset of users.

And a final word of warning for people who aren’t embracing social media, “five years from now people are going to wish they were on social media.”

We don’t need a time machine to bridge the digital divide—we just need our moms.

This is the sixth of a seven-part series taking a look at how we can be a force of change for those around us.

Introduction: Back to the Future Midwest

Part 1: We don’t need a time machine…to predict the weather.

Part 2: We don’t need a time machine…to stay relevant.

Part 3: We don’t need a time machine…to know where we’re going.

Part 4: We don’t need a time machine…to tell the future.

Part 5: We don’t need a time machine…to live in the clouds.

Part 6: We don’t need a time machine…to bridge the digital divide.

Part 7: We don’t need a time machine…to drive the conversation.

We don’t need a time machine to live in the clouds

June 1st, 2011

By MATT SCHULER, Digital Architect, Marx Layne

When I think of living in the clouds, several different movies come to mind.  Of course, there’s the skyway in Back to the Future Part II, then there’s the Cloud City in Star Wars, and the freaky planet in Avatar.

Of course, you could also say that everyone is living in their personal cloud right now.  That was part of David Leider’s message about The Evolution of Digital Media.  Leider is the CEO of Gas Station TV.  Everybody is using digital devices and each of them have a different cache of inputs.

“We are wired to be wired,” Leider said. Think about all of the different ways that we gather information.  Leider listed several of things for himself, but his inputs are different than mine and ours are different from yours.  If you’re in the content industry though, you have to compete with a growing field of competitors for a shrinking audience of viewers. Leider cited statistics that in the distant past you could run one ad on one of the TV networks and reach 80 percent of the population.  To achieve that same feat now, you’d have to advertise on 100 channels.

Because everyone has so many options at their disposal it’s important to reach people where they’re at.  You have to seek out and find an audience and make them love you. That’s a very important distinction too, because people will find a reason to be offended. Leider said, “you have to be bold and you have to push and really focus to get people to love you.”

We don’t need a time machine to live in the clouds, people already are.  We need to focus on avoiding the traps, and being bold and aggressive to reach our targeted audience.

This is the fifth of a seven-part series taking a look at how we can be a force of change for those around us.

Introduction: Back to the Future Midwest

Part 1: We don’t need a time machine…to predict the weather.

Part 2: We don’t need a time machine…to stay relevant.

Part 3: We don’t need a time machine…to know where we’re going.

Part 4: We don’t need a time machine…to tell the future.

Part 5: We don’t need a time machine…to live in the clouds.

Part 6: We don’t need a time machine…to bridge the digital divide.

Part 7: We don’t need a time machine…to drive the conversation.

We don’t need a time machine… to tell the future

May 31st, 2011

“All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.” I love that line from the sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica because it’s so applicable to the world we live.

When you look at history, you can see how things repeat. You can look for the signals of how things will change.  You can also gain a lot from looking at all of the current data to plan for the future. Josh Gunkel talked about turning foresight into action.  Gunkel is the Foresight Curator for Hallmark and leads the social media research team there. He also writes a blog called Curating Pixels.

“The future is here – we just haven’t discovered it yet,” Gunkel said.  When mining data, Gunkel goes back about one year for analytics.  There are a tremendous number of tools out there that have a range of costs. Gunkel listed several sites he uses to analyze how trends interact between each other, including TrendWatching and TrendSpotting.

Remember the message John Connor left for his mother in The Terminator?  “The future is not set. You must be stronger than you imagine you can be.”  To tell the future, you need to gather everything about it you can and analyze it at all possible angles.  But even with all of the information, you’re not going to get everything right.

One thing we can know for certain though is that the younger generation is growing up today with a dramatically different set of tools than ever before.  Digital devices are an extension of themselves instead of something they use.  Have you read the article about how every child needs an iPad?

You might laugh, but there’s definitely a trend toward what Gunkel called the “untethered life.”  That is that when we’re digitally connected, we can do anything, anywhere, anytime.  We don’t have to be tied down in our office to respond to emails or call clients. We can accomplish goals while on the go.  If you have access to everything, you can do anything.

Think about one small change you can make at your company.  A one-degree change right now could be paradigm shifting in the future of the company.  “What do you need to do today to capture the future?” Gunkel asked and it’s a prescient question for any company in any field.

When Apple launched its iOS platform, did it really think they thought it would end up commanding a more than 75-percent of its profit? Perhaps, and if it did make such a bold prediction internally, it was done so with tremendous research and foresight analysis. Now, it’s a dominating force in the smartphone and tablet field.

There’s a tendency to think business and the economy is returning to a level playing field or some type of normalcy, but looking ahead there’s a lot of volatility, Gunkel said.  There are dozens of start-ups out there with hundreds of ideas to dislodge entrenched companies.

To social media work, it’s not going to be a silver bullet of growth for any company, but it’s a fantastic way to get into the mind of your consumer.  You can listen to people talk about brands and categories. You can hear what they have to say and react accordingly.

Looking up and looking ahead, there’s a lot of volatility. There’s a tendency to think we are returning to a level playing field or some type of normalcy. Warfare: you knew who the enemy was thirty years ago, but today with terrorism you don’t know where the enemy is.

There is a lot of great tools for future planning. Establish a framework for working toward the future.

Social media isn’t a silver bullet, but the growth of social media is good to listen to people talk about your brand or your category.  Get in the mind of your consumer. Make sure you don’t confuse a reflection of yourself as the consumer.   We don’t need a time machine to tell the future, we just need to use the tools at our disposal.

This is the fourth of a seven-part series taking a look at how we can be a force of change for those around us.

Introduction: Back to the Future Midwest

Part 1: We don’t need a time machine…to predict the weather.

Part 2: We don’t need a time machine…to stay relevant.

Part 3: We don’t need a time machine…to know where we’re going.

Part 4: We don’t need a time machine…to tell the future.

Part 5: We don’t need a time machine…to live in the clouds.

Part 6: We don’t need a time machine…to bridge the digital divide.

Part 7: We don’t need a time machine…to drive the conversation.

We don’t need a time machine… to know where we’re going

May 27th, 2011

By MATT SCHULER, Digital Architect, Marx Layne

Do you have a smartphone? Does it have GPS enabled?  There’s been a dustup recently with the tracking that occurs on these devices.  Both Apple and Google were called before a U.S. Senate subcommittee to detail their respective mobile privacy policies.

In our current technology-driven world, location-based services are about more than just checking in.  It’s great to let people know where you are via Foursquare, Gowalla, or one of their competitors, but value must be added to the check-in.

Bobby Ghoshal, CEO of FLUD News, diverged from his planned talk at Future Midwest to address the sense of panic in the location-based services.

People are hesitant to share their location because of privacy concerns, but Ghoshal would argue that sharing your whereabouts could directly benefit you.

Ghoshal predicts that in the next couple of years there will be a lot more sharing and a lot more data output. When data collection is anonymous it’s beneficial with minimal risk.  I can find out where a restaurant is in a new city, get directions and possibly even make a reservation all with a couple of taps.  The best experience comes when the app I’m using knows where to start and to get at that information, I have to share my location.

Localization is the key to any kind of device or service like this though.  One of the examples that Ghoshal gave was Groupon, but you could just as easily look at its competitor LivingSocial.  Both provide local daily deals and both are looking ways to expand service. Groupon just launched “Now” in Chicago that asked people if they want to go out, go shopping, exercise, have fun and more.

If there’s a lack of good options, if there’s a lack of functionality, people will be less likely to share their location.  As to the concern over privacy issues, Ghoshal said there’s so much information shared that the tracking of it will be harder to do than just sitting outside someone’s house and waiting for them to leave.

We don’t need a time machine to know where we’re going.  Location-based services will give us all the information we need to know when we get there, if we’re willing to embrace them.

This is the third of a seven-part series taking a look at how we can be a force of change for those around us.

Introduction: Back to the Future Midwest

Part 1: We don’t need a time machine…to predict the weather.

Part 2: We don’t need a time machine…to stay relevant.

Part 3: We don’t need a time machine…to know where we’re going.

Part 4: We don’t need a time machine…to tell the future.

Part 5: We don’t need a time machine…to live in the clouds.

Part 6: We don’t need a time machine…to bridge the digital divide.

Part 7: We don’t need a time machine…to drive the conversation.

We don’t need a time machine… to stay relevant.

May 26th, 2011

By MATT SCHULER, Digital Architect, Marx Layne

At Future Midwest, Jason Schmitt’s topic was one that had me most perplexed.  “What New Technology Firms Can Learn from Detroit Rock and Roll.”

“It is an unusual juxtaposition,” Schmitt writes on his blog. “I’ll give you that. But yes, I am in fact having the gumption to suggest the most modern of new tech startups, and iconic behemoths like Google and Microsoft, might want to peruse other creative ecosystems, like Detroit rock music — and to investigate these sites with the hope of better understanding their continued market relevance.”

Detroit has had a tremendous amount of creative success, and Schmitt would say the city is “getting somewhere in an information age where creativity is seemingly the king pin commodity.”

The key to true success is relevancy and in particular staying relevant for a long period of time.  It’s not enough to be a one hit wonder. You have to be edgy, defiant even.  You can’t follow the herd—you have to stay unique.

According to Schmitt, “most new tech firms are hardly a blip on the longitudinal timeline of creative success.”  And he’s right.  Taken in the context of history, the 13-year history of Google, seven-year history of Facebook, five-year history of Twitter and two-year history of Foursquare and two-month history of Color are a pittance.  They are blips right now and 100 years from now could be viewed as a passing fad, or as a titan of industry.

The comic xkcd illustrates how quickly change happens with its maps of online communities.  Part one, released spring 2007, is a dramatically different landscape than part two, released Spring/Summer 2010. That was just three years.

“Detroit has waded through the decades without majorly altering its course,” Schmitt writes.  “Detroit has been able to keep its compass aimed in the same direction: making good, truthful, gritty rock music. To continually do this, Detroit acknowledges the most recent fads and fashions with a grain of salt.”

Continuity is important. We don’t need a time machine to stay relevant.

This is the second of a seven-part series taking a look at how we can be a force of change for those around us.

Introduction: Back to the Future Midwest

Part 1: We don’t need a time machine…to predict the weather.

Part 2: We don’t need a time machine…to stay relevant.

Part 3: We don’t need a time machine…to know where we’re going.

Part 4: We don’t need a time machine…to tell the future.

Part 5: We don’t need a time machine…to live in the clouds.

Part 6: We don’t need a time machine…to bridge the digital divide.

Part 7: We don’t need a time machine…to drive the conversation.

We don’t need a time machine… to predict the weather

May 25th, 2011

By MATT SCHULER, Digital Architect, Marx Layne

In our world, a storm is always on the horizon. Josh Linkner opened up Future Midwest 2011 with a clear point, how are you going to prepare and what are you going to do to confront the storm?

You see we don’t need a time machine to predict the weather. In the world we live, the landscape is changing faster than it ever has before.  Entrenched properties are being dislodged.  We need “new skills for the challenges of the day,” Linkner opined.

You may have heard of Linkner before. He’s the CEO/Managing Partner of Detroit Venture Partners.  He’s also written a New York Times best seller and updates a weekly blog.

Among the challenges set forth, we need to be looking forward to anticipate the storms.

“Most companies are heads down on the problems of the day,” Linkner said.  “When you’re heads up, you notice new trends and what’s happening… It’s time to double down on innovation and creativity.”

You see there’s a problem in our American culture today.  There’s a dearth of creativity, as children become adults.  Linkner cited statistics that report 98 percent of kindergarteners say they are creative.  That number drops to a startling 2 percent at high school graduation. These kids became adults and something sapped their creativity and killed off their innovation.

The problem as Linkner puts it, is that we destroy the creativity of kids.  “We teach normal but we reward the opposite.”  You can look at the standardization of testing as a problem because if a young student doesn’t fit inside these guidelines they’re considered failing.  “Our bureaucracies beat out the creativity from us,” Linkner said.

Creativity is 85 percent learned behavior, Linkner said, citing another study. “We attribute labels to creativity. It doesn’t matter what your job is. You need to be creative.”

The movie Black Swan springs to mind, the story of a dancer, played by Natalie Portman, who could dance perfectly.  Of course the movie is about more than that, but Portman’s character was chided for lacking the creativity and emotion to dance the Black Swan.  She was like that, because she was brought up to dance perfectly, to do things within the lines and not to break the mold.

We’re scared to break the mold because we might look foolish.  We hide behind timidity.  “The world doesn’t need another me too anything—it needs creativity.”

Originality matters.  We should reward remarkable thinking. We all have a choice.   We can be the storm in the eyes of the competitor. We can be the disruptive force.  We don’t need a time machine to predict the weather; we need new skills to meet our challenges for today.

This is the first of a seven-part series taking a look at how we can be a force of change for those around us.

Introduction: Back to the Future Midwest

Part 1: We don’t need a time machine…to predict the weather.

Part 2: We don’t need a time machine…to stay relevant.

Part 3: We don’t need a time machine…to know where we’re going.

Part 4: We don’t need a time machine…to tell the future.

Part 5: We don’t need a time machine…to live in the clouds.

Part 6: We don’t need a time machine…to bridge the digital divide.

Part 7: We don’t need a time machine…to drive the conversation.

Back to the Future Midwest – We don’t need a time machine

May 25th, 2011

By MATT SCHULER, Digital Architect, Marx Layne

One of my favorite movie trilogies of all time is the “Back to the Future” series. Sure there are others out there that may have more drama, or more laughs, but there’s something special about Marty McFly and Doctor Emmett Brown that delights me.

I love the thought of time travel, and the prospect of doing good things, or fixing wrongs.  When I think about the Future Midwest conference held for the first time this year in Downtown Detroit, I think of this trilogy, namely a particular quote from Marty McFly that ends Part II and begins Part III.

“I know. You did send me back to the future. But I’m back – I’m back from the future.”

If you’ve seen the movies, then you know the course of events that has the duo time traveling from 1985, to 1955, to 2015 and all the way back to 1885.  Think about the future that the filmmakers envisioned for us.  We’re almost to there, a scant four years away but we’re driving innovation in dramatically different ways.

That innovation was on display at Future Midwest.  I didn’t get a chance to attend all of the talks, but from the ones I did gather, there was a tremendous amount of insight from some really creative minds in the digital field.

We don’t need a time machine to impact the world.  Join us for our seven-part series taking a look at how we can be a force of change for those around us.

This is the first of a seven-part series taking a look at how we can be a force of change for those around us.

Introduction: Back to the Future Midwest

Part 1: We don’t need a time machine…to predict the weather.

Part 2: We don’t need a time machine…to stay relevant.

Part 3: We don’t need a time machine…to know where we’re going.

Part 4: We don’t need a time machine…to tell the future.

Part 5: We don’t need a time machine…to live in the clouds.

Part 6: We don’t need a time machine…to bridge the digital divide.

Part 7: We don’t need a time machine…to drive the conversation.

White House channels massive audience through social media engagement

May 5th, 2011

By MATT SCHULER, Digital Architect, Marx Layne

Millions of people were watching President Barack Obama Sunday night as he declared American forces had killed Osama Bin Laden.

It was a late-night speech. If you had gone to bed early, there’s a good chance that you didn’t hear the news until the next morning.  But the White House drove viewers to the president’s speech and they did so through social media.  You don’t “break” news on TV or in the paper any more, and a lot of people knew what was going on before it was announced on the news.

Jon Stewart made the point a few minutes into “The Daily Show” on Monday.

While the media was broadcasting a preview, people were talking about what was actually happening on social networks.

Maggie Fox make the point in her post Osama Bin Laden, The White House and Social Media.

“I stand in awe of the White House and their masterful understanding of how news is now realtime, and the role that Twitter plays in the information cycle as “circulatory system”. Knowing that seeing the President announce that Public Enemy #1 is dead, and making that emotional connection, human to human, is of critical importance, the White House brilliantly managed information release around the announcement.”

Fox also has an exceptional timeline of the events as they unfolded that evening:

10:00 – watching CNN, we were informed that there was to be an important announcement regarding “national security” at 10:30 – Twitter immediately lit up with speculation

10:20 – the announcement is delayed, and strong speculation that it’s about Osama Bin Laden’s death starts to emerge

CBS News Producer Tweet10:25 – Twitter is on fire, with a tweet from a CBS news Producer (with fewer than 4500 Twitter followers) confirming a leak that Bin Laden is dead retweeted over 1000 times

10:50 – The White House invites Facebook users to discuss the pending announcement (where the Presidential address is also scheduled to be broadcast)

10:53 – print media demonstrates where it can’t compete so well, with a journalist for a major national magazine noting that this announcement was going to “profoundly screw up” their Royal Wedding edition.

11:15 – Osama Bin Laden’s death confirmed by the White House

11:22 – We’re still waiting for the President to speak on TV

The administration used social media masterfully to drive the audience to the television. By doing so, the ratings were huge.  In fact, if you look at the picture below from Mashable, you’ll see that it was his highest rated speech of his presidency.  The president’s speech drew half as many viewers as the Super Bowl.  A lot of people tuned in and it’s there’s a good reason why.

President Obama Speech TV Ratings

Then it all goes back to the man who was tweeting live as the operation was taking place.

Man Tweets During Osama Bin Laden Raid

In the end, the world’s most wanted terrorist is now dead and the Barack Obama administration provided a textbook example of how to channel an audience through social media engagement.