All posts by Glen Gonzalez

About Glen Gonzalez

Glen is a Partner and Senior Consultant at Smith. Contact the author directly

What We're Reading

New Year 2020

Do You Suffer from Tsundoku?

Maybe you’re like me and you have a penchant for acquiring books faster than you can read them. One of our creative directors Scott Walters also suffers from this affliction, which he recently diagnosed as “tsundoku.” 

Tsundoku is a centuries-old Japanese portmanteau word that literally means “to pile up” (“tsumu”) “reading” (“doku”). Who knew?

With the dawn of a new year and a new decade, this seems like a good time to dust off those forgotten tomes and pull together a new reading list. To help spur things along, I’ve shared the titles I’m digging into and I’ve asked my colleagues here at Smith to do the same. 

Check out our list for a wide-ranging set of recommendations. If you want to chat about one of these titles, or if you have a great read you’d recommend, please let us know!

Glen Gonzalez

Poetics by Aristotle

Story by Robert McKee

Leading Change by John Kotter

Hidden Persuasion: 33 Psychological Influences Techniques in Advertising by Marc Andrews

Trey Wood

Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall

The Essential Elias Hicks by Paul Buckley

Last Stories by William Trevor

Rick Cole

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch

Eloquent Images: Word and Image in the Age of New Media by Mary E. Hocks and Michelle R. Kendrick

Sara Levinson

The Wolves at the Door: The True Story of America’s Greatest Female Spy by Judith L Pearson

White Mouse: The Autobiography of Australia’s Wartime Legend by Nancy Wake

A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII by Sarah Helm

Scott Walters

The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America by Marc Levinson

The Strategic Designer: Tools and Techniques for Managing the Design Process by David Holston

Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith

Trillions: Thriving in the Emerging Information Ecology by Peter Lucas, Joe Ballay, and Mickey McManus

Julia Wolf

Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business and Life by Rory Sutherland

Allison Artnak

Uncommon Type, Some Stories by Tom Hanks

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Gretchen Vaught

Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow 

The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy by William Julius Wilson

Things Fall Apart, Book 1 by Chinua Achebe

Michael Garcia

Seinfeldia by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

The Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts

Alone on the Wall  by Alex Honnold

Don Sanford

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro 

Mary Cohen

A Season on the Wind: Inside the World of Spring Migration by Kenn Kaufman

Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler; Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art by Mary Gabriel

Mind Fixers: Psychiatrys Troubled Search for the Biology of Mental Illness by Anne Harrington

The Hidden History of Burma by Thant Myint-U

Amy Crowell

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Copperhead by Alexi Zentner

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell

Catherine Sturges

The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults by Frances E. Jensen, Amy Ellis Nutt, et al.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens 

Horror Stories: A Memoir by Liz Phair

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Read This Before You Order that Champagne

How to Hail Your Champs of Choice (and Get Your Employees to Pronounce Important Words Properly)

Remember last New Year’s Eve when the manager of a Michelin star restaurant tried to uncork a $2,000 dollar of Nebuchadnezzar champagne with a saber, only to shatter the bottle and leave the kitchen floor lathered in bubbles?

Poor guy. While I can’t help you with sabering open a bottle of bubbly this New Year’s Eve, maybe I can help you avoid the linguistic equivalent of this gaffe — mispronouncing your champs of choice.

Even Freddy Mercury Fumbled

Freddy Mercury, the iconic front man of the rock band Queen, is known for many classic lines. 

We will rock you. 

Another one bites the dust. 

Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango? 

But among them is one flickering faux pas. In the opening line to the 1974 classic Killer Queen, Mercury sings: “She keeps her Mo-way et Chandon in her pretty cabinet …”  

Mo-way. That’s how I always said it until my wife started working in the spirits industry. Moët is actually pronounced Mo-wet. It’s Dutch, not French

It’s Pronounced Veuve …

Veuve Clicquot is another champagne with an oft-mangled name. Many say it Voove Klee-koh, but it’s more like Vuv Klee-koh.  

My wife schooled me on this one too with this adorable rhyme: “It’s pronounced Veuve like love.” 

After the Ball Has Dropped

Pronunciation may be something to keep in mind if there are any tongue-twisters your organization relies on.

Sure, many common HR terms are easy enough to say. Copay. Performance management. Broadbanding. Onboarding. No problem. But, what about your company’s name, benefit plan names, product/service names, technologies or even the names of key leaders?

Is There Really a Right Way to Say It?

According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, pronunciation does not matter when it comes to trademarks. 

“There is no “correct” pronunciation of a mark because it is impossible to predict how the public will pronounce a particular mark; therefore, “correct” pronunciation cannot be relied on to avoid a likelihood of confusion.” 

Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure, 1207.01(b)(iv) Similarity in Sound – Phonetic Equivalents

Further, my own informal tests showed that Siri prefers the “wrong” pronunciations of Möet and Veuve.

But, like any good communication, proper pronunciation facilitates clarity and shared understanding. Saying a word the right way can be helpful anytime real humans speak to one another, when we employ a medium that includes sound, or whenever others need to ask or search for a product/service by name. 

For example, it helps ensure that when one person says Shlum-ber-zhay, the other person knows they’re referring to the French oilfield services company Schlumberger.

Plus, knowing how to say a word or name the “right” way gives people the feeling of being in the know. Once someone has that feeling, it’s unlikely they’ll give it up. It’s more likely they’ll become a sort of evangelist, sharing what they’ve learned with others. (Will you ever order — or let a friend order — a Mo-way or Voove again?)

Getting People to Say it the Way You Want Them To

There’s no way to enforce the proper pronunciation of a word (unless you’re directing a video or podcast), but you can provide guidance, inspiration and knowledge.

Here are some simple things you can add to your verbal identity guidelines to promote your preferred pronunciations.

  • Phonetic spellings when needed. That’s a no-brainer.
  • The actual name or term. This may also sound like a given, but it’s not unusual to come across a client’s health care plan masquerading under various aliases. What the administrator calls “Healthfund” might be known within HR as “the CDHP” and labeled on the intranet as something like “Health Choice Plus.” This isn’t exactly a pronunciation problem, but the outcome is similar. Pick one name and stick with it.
  • A brief story about the term’s etymology. Is it a family name (Moët)? A mythological being (Nike)? A literary character (Starbuck)? A story (like the one about Freddy Mercury) makes information more memorable and sharable. Try using them to align audiences around a common pronunciation.
  • A simple mnemonic. My sister-in-law is a drug rep. There’s a drug in her portfolio called Reyataz. She gets doctors saying it right with this phrase: “Ray of Light, Ray of Hope, Ray-a-taz.” A good mnemonic like this one and “Veuve like love” are quick, memorable and instructive. They have the added bonus of associating the brand with a positive emotion.
  • Embedded video or audio files. This could be an easy, affordable and engaging solution. For a fun example, let’s go back behind the bar. Below are the names of some Scotch whiskies. Can you pronounce them? Click on each name to find out if you got it right. 

Bunnahabin  |  Caol Ila |  Cardhu  |  Laphroaig  |   Oban

Let’s Connect

Hopefully, that helps you navigate your New Year’s Eve toast … and to foster proper pronunciations of key terms among your employees once you’re back in the office.

Do you have creative ideas for getting employees or customers to pronounce something properly? Share your story with us. If you’d like some help, let’s discuss it in the new year. Cheers!

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Better Headlines = More Readers

Why You Should Spend More Time Writing Good Headlines and Subject Lines

Extraterrestrial Buzz

In 2016, IFLS published the following article on its website.

Marijuana Contains “Alien DNA” From Outside Of Our Solar System, NASA Confirms

The story got more than half a million shares. 

The thing is, if you actually clicked on the headline to read the story, you would have realized it was completely untrue.

Don’t Read it, Retweet it!

According to a study by computer scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute, 59 percent of links shared on Twitter have never actually been clicked by the person sharing the link. 

In other words, most people appear to retweet news based solely on the headline.

Did You Fall for This?

NPR found a similar result to an April Fools’ Day prank. They posted a headline: Why Doesn’t America Read Anymore? In the body of the article, they wrote: “If you are reading this, please like this post and do not comment on it. Then let’s see what people have to say about this ‘story.’”

Nearly 50,000 people commented on the story.

Be Sure Your Headlines Do This

While these studies and pranks suggest how eager we are to share things on social media, they also highlight the importance of headlines. 

Headlines get people—a lot of people—to do things. 

If the thing you want the reader to do is actually read your article or email, you need to craft a headline or subject line that does this:

Make an intriguing but believable promise of benefits to the reader.

The alien DNA story and the NPA article don’t actually do this, of course. They use a different approach. They make a wild or provocative claim. That’s an effective technique for catching attention and generating shares but, if you want people to read your message, you have to catch their attention AND offer them something of value.

Use Headline Formulas

A quick way to improve your headline or subject line is to apply one of several so-called headline formulas. Headline formulas are types of headlines that have proven themselves effective at garnering responses to direct mail and email marketing. Below are a few examples.

HEADLINE TYPEEXAMPLE
How / How to … How to Choose 401(k) Investment Options Based on Your Goals
Numbered List 3 Tips for Choosing the Right 401(k) Investment Options for You
Secrets / Ways to The Secret to Retirement Investing
Why … Why Some Retirement Investors Do Better Than Others
Ought to Know What You Ought to Know About Saving for Retirement
Simple & Direct Get a 100% Match on Your 401(k) Contributions
Yes or Yes Question Do You Want FREE Money for Your Retirement?
News / Announcement Introducing 5 New 401(k) Investment Options

Take the Time to Write a Good Headline

Don’t let your headline or subject line be an afterthought. When I write, I sometimes start with the headline — the promise — and then make sure I fulfill that promise in the body copy. Or, sometimes I’ll write the copy, come up with a good headline, then go back and revise my copy to be sure it delivers on the headline’s promise. 

As I stated in a previous blog, People Don’t Read, your goal is to get people to pay attention to your message. Your headline is what will get them to pay. Just be sure your content provides them a return.  

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Why Urban Legends Become Legends

What Makes a Message Immortal?

  • Is Walt Disney’s body kept in cryonic storage?
  • Does McDonald’s buy their beef from a company called 100% Beef so they can claim they use “100% Beef” in their burgers?
  • Did an attorney really use the “Twinkie Defense” to beat his client’s murder charge?

These are some popular urban legends featured on the myth-busting website Snopes.com. We’ve all heard the classics … “A man wakes up in a tub full of ice …” But how do so many untrue stories survive in a society of skeptics? Why do we need a website like Snopes.com to help us separate the “true” from the “false”? 

It’s because good urban legends, the ones that never seem to die, share some important characteristics that, if properly applied, can make a message almost immortal.

  • Details. Details add credibility, and a good urban legend is chock full of them. An effective storyteller includes names, real places, and vivid details to overwhelm the audience’s doubt. That’s why we at Smith generally recommend that clients back up their key messages with examples and facts … in addition to communicating truthfully.
  • Credible Source. Whether we get it through email or hear it at the office water cooler, an urban legend often reaches us through someone we personally know … and why would someone we know lie to us? If you have a message to deliver, be sure it comes from someone the audience trusts.
  • Relevance. “The legends we tell reflect current societal concerns and fears as well as confirm the rightness of our views,” says Snopes.com. In other words, the moral of the story is something we can relate to; it means something to us. Often, even the details in these legends are updated with each retelling to keep them contemporary and recognizable. Know your audience and make your message relevant to them.
  • Story. Good urban legends are good stories. They have characters, tension and action. Storytelling is a useful tool for connecting with an audience emotionally, and a good storyteller will enhance the message’s effectiveness. Good stories are also more memorable, which means they are more likely to be retold or, in the contemporary parlance, go viral.
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