Get Your Pencils Ready

cassetteAt some point, while few were looking, the cassette tape crossed the great divide from a commodity to an experience. Steve Stepp, president of cassette-maker National Audio Co., attributes this to “stubbornness and stupidity.” Anyone who ever owned cassette technology knows it as unbelievable junk that jams, breaks and otherwise frustrates the task for which it is intended.

It many ways, it’s not unlike vinyl, which has also made an unlikely return. Warping, hissing, popping, skipping. Who doesn’t love that? Both comebacks are a function of the rise of CDs, then MP3s and now streaming, and the relative nothingness of the experience. As Bob Dylan once said of the CD: “There’s no stature to it.” Would love his thoughts on Spotify. (I, for one, love it.)

Some claim that these old analog media have a “warmth” that digital does not. Okay, but at least a bit of that warmth is that of nostalgia and, with cassettes, the warm hand of making and sharing mix tapes. It’s also about the importance of “things” as a part of the experience, and vice-versa. If that’s true for the cassette, then it can be true for just about every commodity.

We buy experiences as much as things, and today, it seems, even more so. Those trees we acquired over the holidays: Were they “things” or experiences? How many old iPod boxes do you have squirreled away in your closet? It’s all in the unboxing. With the rise of cassettes, a surge in pencil sales is sure to follow. Artisanally sharpened, of course. A mountain of things are just aching for an experiential rewind.

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Beyond Experiential

Without question, a brand’s advertising and its visual identity are part of the brand promise and experience, or at least can be dressed up to appear so. However, it is critical to distinguish between brand experiences and the brand experience.

Brand experiences can be fun moments for the customer. This might be an event of some kind, often referred to as “experiential.” As brands move away from traditional advertising, they move toward “happenings,” increasingly involving social media. It’s a remarkable video or clever tweet that goes viral.

These types of transient experiences constitute much, if not most, of what drives marketing today. It is all very cool, and can make even the dullest brand seem hip, but it still comes down mostly on the side of making promises as opposed to keeping them. It’s the 21st century version of a 30-second television commercial. Don Draper is alive and well, and living on YouTube.

Here’s the thing: Of what value is a momentary, fun, marketing-infused experience, if the day-in, day-out experience with the product or service falls short? It’s limited, at best. At worst, it can be fatal, given that nothing exposes a bad experience faster than good advertising.

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What is Serendipity?

While serendipity often involves accidents, it is not accidental, or passive, writes Pagan Kennedy, author of Inventology, in The New York Times. The term itself was coined in 1754 by Horace Walpole, and was based on “a Persian fairy tale about three princes from the Isle of Serendip who possess superpowers of observation.”

In other words, “serendipity … is something people do … That’s why we need to develop a new, interdisciplinary field — call it serendipity studies — that can help us create a taxonomy of discoveries in the chemistry lab, the newsroom, the forest, the classroom, the particle accelerator and the hospital.”

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The Fairway Trajectory

“Fairway kept expanding—stores in more places around New York—and they aimed more at the median shopper,” reports Pacific Standard. “Gradually, the store lost its edge, its quirkiness. With great size comes great McDonaldization—predictability, calculability. “Like no other market,” says every Fairway sign and every Fairway plastic bag. But it became like lots of other markets, with ‘specials’ and coupons. Coupons! Fairway never had coupons. Or specials.”

“In the first months after the private equity firm took Fairway public in 2013, the stock price was as high as $26 a share. The other day, it closed at $1.04.”

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iTunes Conditions: The Novel

Slate: “With iTunes Terms and Conditions: The Graphic Novel, artist R. Sikoryak aims to achieve the impossible: to make us read a document that virtually all of us have willfully ignored. Sikoryak’s recently completed book, published serially on Tumblr, contains the entirety of Apple’s iTunes terms of service, spreading its 20,000-odd words out over 94 pages, each styled after the work of a different comics artist.”

“By breaking the dense legalistic language up and inserting it into classic comics pages, Sikoryak sought to appropriate the visual medium’s narrative drive, creating the implication of story where none exists.”

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Culture of Candor

The Wall Street Journal: Companies from advertising firm Deutsch Inc. to hedge fund Bridgewater Associates are pushing workers to drop the polite workplace veneer and speak frankly to each other no matter what. The practice is referred to at some companies as “radical candor,” a “mokita” or “front-stabbing.”

“You have to have a thick skin to work here,” says Val DiFebo, chief executive of Deutsch’s New York office. That could be an understatement: The company once distributed T-shirts showing a giant scar with stitches over the heart.

Recipients of the critiques are expected to defend themselves or make changes, Ms. DiFebo says. “I think it’s actually more big-hearted and caring to be confrontational in that way than going behind someone’s back,” she says.

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