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When changing your logo is like wetting your pants

Adirondack Trust logo change

Why Adirondack Trust changed its logo… TMI!

The bank in town recently changed its logo. They explain in the pop-up above, which appeared when checking my statement online, that they wanted to “keep up with advances in technology” and that the new logo is “very well suited to today’s mobile world” and then go on to explain the design strategy, much as the designer might have done when presenting to the client. How much do I, the customer, care about this stuff?

They’ve also got a new website that must seem complicated to use because there’s a statement at the top: “Welcome! Learn to use our new website–watch our tutorial video here.”  When I click that link I get a warning that I am about to go to a third party website, which turns out to be Youtube. The video is a screen capture done with Camtasia, where we watch as they select from a drop down menu, access a contact form and such, all without any narration. Meanwhile the old website–which is called Webwise Banking–is still there and looks pretty much the same other than the logo change and doesn’t have any new functionality. Unlike most bank websites, it doesn’t present me with a table of recent activity. I have to counterintuitively click “history” to see any of that stuff.

The best thing about all of this is that their mobile sites, both adirondacktrust.com and webwisebanking.com, have been mobile-optimized; formerly webwisebanking (I never knew about the other site) returned a micro type version of their desktop. And their app, which formerly didn’t work for making mobile deposits, has been updated as well.

One wonders why Adirondack Trust thought it was necessary to put up a video tour of the site and why they didn’t imbed it on the page so they didn’t have that warning about the third party site. (This morning, by the way, the site is glitching and clicking the video link doesn’t do anything.) And why they continue to operate two sites, adirondacktrust.com and webwisebanking.com rather than redirecting the latter.

Think about Betty Crocker and Aunt Jemima and how those food product icons have evolved over the years. Do those companies make an announcement every time they update the art? Think about your favorite apps which are constantly updated behind the scenes. If you’re curious or bored you can look up a snippet about what’s changed, but often these are silly, suggesting the developers don’t think anybody will read them.

It’s fine to update your logo (the old Adirondack Trust logo was complex and not particularly attractive or bank-y) and a good thing to improve the user experience. But just do it, don’t harp on it to your customers. To do so is like wetting your pants while you’re wearing a dark suit. It gives you a nice warm feeling, and nobody will notice but you.

Apologies for the outage… we’re back

Sorry. This blog has been running for close to 15 years but this week we had our first real outage, caused by a database failure when moving from one server to another. The problem was eventually solved, obviously, and we apologize for any inconvenience.

There’s a moral, too: if you have been thinking about checking something in our archives, or re-reading a particular post, now might be a good time to do it.

“Do you want your receipt?”

Here is a new but pervasive conversation in my home area (upstate New York). You’ll be completing a credit card transaction at a retail counter and the checker says, “do you want your receipt?” Well, of course I don’t. In an era of readily available online statements there are easier ways to track my purchases. And it’s just one more piece of paper to stuff in my wallet or lose in the shopping bag and ultimately throw away.

And yet. If I DON’T accept the receipt that leaves me open for fraud (the transaction is altered after the fact) or an error, like not picking up a sale price, that I would notice if I had the record. So my policy has been to say no if I’ve been watching the items and their prices on the register screen, and it’s a place I trust, otherwise yes. And I take those receipts, as I always do, and match them against my next statement to be sure they are consistent.

I am curious where this new policy came from. Is it supposed to be eco-sensitive because it avoids wasting a scrap of paper? Is this happening where you live? Let me know.

John Burgess: a life well lived on the internet

I thought about making this anonymous, but I don’t think there’s anything that John Burgess and his family wouldn’t want to share. And maybe they’ll see this and contact me with additional details.

Recently, for reasons of my own, I googled “what does turtle taste like”. One of the top hits was an excellent answer from John Burgess on Quora:

The flavor of turtle runs across a spectrum of fishy-to-beefy, depending on the variety and the method of cooking. Sea turtles — most of which are now protected species — actually fall on the ‘beefy’ side, often being compared to veal in both flavor and texture, though with abundant and savory fat. Fresh water turtles tend toward the ‘fishy’ side, though also fattier than most fish.

Land turtles or tortoises, I find, are pretty much indistinguishable from other reptiles, whether snake or alligator. ‘Chickeny’ would be an apt description.

What a good and complete answer! And as often happens on Quora, I was drawn down a rabbit hole, this time by Burgess’ profile description: “A diplomat is one who is paid to dine for his country; I’ve done so globally.” Well!

When you get to his profile page you find that Burgess has written over 12,000 Quora answers on every topic imaginable, a lot of them on the Middle East (and specifically on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, or KSA) where he was stationed for many years. His answers are invariably terse yet complete, objective and informative. No wonder he is a “top writer” on Quora, a designation I have not seen previously.

I say “is” when referring to John Burgess because his words are as fresh and relevant as when he wrote them, but I noticed something: he wrote 13 answers on January 26, 2016 and two on January 27, then never wrote again. I also noticed the word “remembering” above his profile, something else I’ve never seen on Quora. I realize that John Burgess, the man, is dead.

I googled “John Burgess obituary Sarasota” knowing that was where he lived from some of the posts, and got confusing answers including an unrelated scoundrel who was arrested for DWI. Then I tried “John Burgess obituary Sarasota born 1947” because I’d been able to extrapolate that birth year from some of his posts. It pulled up this wonderful obituary which was posted by his high school.

John Burgess seems to have had quite a life. He saw the world as a foreign service officer and made the most of the opportunities his travels provided. In retirement he used his experience as a consultant for various media and film producers. He was thoroughly involved in Sarasota, where he was a fan of the local historic architecture and also sport fishing.

I don’t know when Burgess retired, so I don’t know how much he got to enjoy his post-foreign service years. He was just 69 when he passed, so I’m hoping he mustered out well before age 65. I also don’t know whether his death was anticipated or sudden. On January 26 he was writing pssionately about many subjects, then three weeks later on February 16 (his 69th birthday) he was dead. If he suffered, it wasn’t a long illness.

And what is kind of majestic about all of this, what we know and what we don’t know, is how John Burgess lives on through the Internet. His life and his knowledge are there for us to share, thanks to Quora. May we all be so generous and fortunate when our time comes.

A copywriter with a broken arm is like…

(Insert your own punch line.)

Nobody respects a broken arm. That’s one thing I’ve learned after three weeks with my right forearm and part of my hand in some variation of a cast, with three more weeks to go. “What did you do, punch somebody?” people invariably say when seeing my condition. By comparison, wearing a boot after achilles surgery this past winter drew lots of sympathy. Feet and legs are noble; arms are somehow a joke.

My accident, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, was indirectly related to the foot surgery. I felt I was finally ready to return to free weights after working on machines at the gym. I was carrying a 55 pound weight bar when I tripped on the foot of a bench and went down, head first. I did not let go of the bar, maybe thinking it might fly off and hurt somebody else, and when I hit the mat it bounced and came down on the top of the radius bone, breaking it in two places. A physical therapist told me it is very common for people to make accidents much worse because they do not let go of whatever they are holding. In my case, a freak mishap I could not repeat if I tried.

Lots of things are difficult to impossible with one arm, like pulling on socks, buttoning pants (which is why I’m going to holiday parties in sweatpants this year), opening jars, hand washing dishes, cutting foods, wrapping presents and of course typing. My wife was out of town the day of my accident and for several days after, so I got to drive myself back and forth to urgent care and the ortho clinic (yes, that’s illegal) as well as trying all the above.

I am thankful the arm will apparently heal without problems (though it does have a plate in it, one more of a growing collection of metallic body parts) and am making a resolution to be more mindful of my surroundings in 2018. Two surgeries in one year is one, and maybe two, too many. You too, be careful out there.

Reflections on Black Friday weekend 2017

Black Friday was the catalyst that turned me from a wise-ass cub copywriter, marking time till I sold a screenplay, into someone serious about their profession. Not a few years ago, I got a job as direct mail ad manager at the Broadway, a defunct chain of department stores in Southern California. One of my first assignments was the sale catalog to bring people into stores on the day after Thanksgiving. (No evening-before previews then.) I had to wrangle departmental buyers all of whom wanted more space than they’d been assigned, or wanted to jam more product into their allotted space. It was a nightmare. I seriously thought about quitting.

Then, on that morning (yes, we worked the day after Thanksgiving then) Marketing VP Jan Wentzel put me into his car along with my boss, Lisa Stanley. We drove to several stores to watch the people lining up to get in, and then lining up at cash registers–LONG lines–to purchase the very products I had been working so hard to present in an even handed way. For the first time, I realized that what I was doing had something to do with the company’s success and, by extension, all of us keeping our jobs.

In more recent years, I’ve pretty much ignored Black Friday, especially as it became easier to shop online. This year, at the goading of my teenager, I decided to check it out. I hit Walmart, Target, Sears and our local mall on Friday afternoon. I also made a serious attempt to find online deals which could count as Amazon-killers because they combined online and pickup-in-store shopping.

Walmart was the winner at that category. I bought a device which was one price online, but $30 cheaper if you bought in-store. However! You could order online for in-store pickup, know it wasn’t going to be out of stock, and get the same $30 discount. I did that and went to the store to pick it up, scanned a bar code at a kiosk, and realized I could buy a couple more things while I was waiting for them to bring it. Very smart, Walmart.

Sears was just sad. Not a lot of shoppers but even fewer cashiers, so there were still long checkout lines. What you’d expect from a store that’s teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

I like Target a lot but ended up buying just one thing from them. They had a nice sale on Fitbits as a doorbuster, but the model I wanted was gone. I found it on their website and ordered it. Unfortunately I then found it elsewhere at a lower price so the item will be returned. Feeling bad for Target, I spent a good amount of time checking their website for other bargains to buy, and returned yesterday on Cyber Monday when they were offering 15% discount and free shipping on everything. But time after time, when I got to the product page it was unavailable to ship, check inventory in store. Where I wouldn’t have the 15% discount.

The one sale product I really wanted was a Sony wireless Blu-Ray player, marked down from $119 to $49. It was “temporarily” out of stock online and finally disappeared from the website. Amazon, surprise, had it at the same price and I ordered it. Not going to the mall was more than worth the $7.50 in theoretically lost savings. Amazon wins again.

Tips for making the most of DMA &Then annual conference in New Orleans

The DMA Annual Conference happens next week, October 8-10, in New Orleans. If you haven’t registered, you can still get a ticket here. The format has been revised again, eliminating the Ignition sessions I’ve led the last three years, so I will be sitting this one out. Please have a beignet and a muffuletta on my behalf.

In case this is your first DMA, a couple of tips. The content has reverted to a focus on use histories presented by marketers and their agencies, which can vary from life-changing to self-serving and there’s often no way in advance to know which is which. My strategy is to choose backup sessions in each time slot and sit at the back of the room, so I can slip out unobtrusively if the session turns out not to meet my needs. I’ve found there is little correlation between the size of the room or the popularity of a session and its quality, so you shouldn’t necessarily jump into a room because it’s standing room only. Read up on the speakers and their companies and plan accordingly.

My second tip is to spend a good amount of time in the exhibit halls. Of course you want to see what the exhibitors are up to (and support their investment in the show), but this is also the place where I run into old colleagues, clients and friends who are randomly trolling the floor like I am. Speaking of networking, my third tip is to sit at tables during the meals where not only do you not know anybody but the participants don’t appear to know each other. That’s how to meet new prospects (because I’m a copywriter, almost everybody is a potential prospect for me) and learn new things.

And finally, take the time to enjoy New Orleans, one of the great food and entertainment cities of the world. The Convention Center is somewhat removed from the most interesting areas as are the big hotels, so you’ll need some initiative to make the most of the city. Go to the French Quarter early in the morning when the locals are waking up. Stroll, smell the flowers, get chicory coffee along with that beignet at Cafe du Monde. If you’re there on Sunday, take the streetcar out to the Garden District and have brunch at Commander’s Palace. Walk the French Quarter again at night, where you can enjoy much of the jazz (including Preservation Hall) simply by standing outside the open windows. I’m jealous!

Scary lesson from the WordPress hack

Last night I received about 800 emails confirming my subscription to various WordPress blogs, obviously the result of a hack. After I figured out what was going on I deleted them. No harm done, since almost all of them followed the best practice of requiring the recipient to confirm that they did indeed subscribe.

Unfortunately, two (so far) blogs did NOT require a confirmation and I’ve already started receiving peppy messages from them. Of course, these go straight to my junk mail folder. I am sure the thousands (millions?) of other recipients will do the same which effectively ruins the deliverability of future emails from those addresses.

Lesson: go right now, if you have a blog or a contact link on your company website, and be sure you require the additional confirmation step. If not, fix it now!

Hopkins Scientific Advertising for free?

Would you like a free copy of Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins? Sure you would, because this marketing classic is as relevant today as when it was published in 1923. Here are four principles from the book, as summarized on the Marketing Experiments blog:

1. People are selfish.
2. Generalities are worthless.
3. Advertising is salesmanship.
4. Advertising is a science.

The last is obviously to self-justify the book. But would you disagree with any of the others? Of course not, for reasons we have written about here many times. The world may change, the delivery mechanism certainly does, but people are still people with universal wants and fears.

Since the book is long out of copyright, a number of links to free downloads are available on the web. My favorite is this page by Roy Furr which showed up last week in my LinkedIn feed. Furr is a disciple of Jay Abraham who will of course use the podium to sell his own works while he has you engaged. But there’s no obligation, and I will take it on faith that opt-out requests will be honored.

You can go to this page and get full exposure to Furr’s marketing message, which is classic long form copy though a little long on analytics and short on emotion for me. In true Jay Abraham fashion, he really massages the info premium. Scroll to the bottom, and not only can you get the PDF download, but you can get an audiobook which Furr “recorded for my personal use”. The reader is pretty professional sounding, whether it’s Furr or somebody else.

My own publisher, FastPencil, is not so smart about freebies. They’ve discontinued the preview download feature whereby I offered the first ten chapters of Copywriting that Gets Results! at no charge. But a complete PDF is just $6.99, and since you’re saving so much on Claude Hopkins why don’t you just buy a copy?

Prosper vs Lending Club: which is a better investment?

In November 2015 I tried an investing experiment. I invested $2500 each in Lending Club and Prosper, and chose an auto investing option that put me at a medium level of risk where I could expect annual returns in the 10% range, after some write-offs for nonperforming loans. Both sites spread out your risk by buying small slices of many loans, and both reinvest the money as loans are repaid. So how’d I do?

I’ll start by saying that investing in these peer-to-peer micro loans (the face value of most notes is $25 or so) would make an interesting hobby for a numbers geek. There’s a lot of information on the websites, both historical and projected, and once you’ve invested you can drill down to the details of each loan (though, obviously, not to the detail of the borrower’s identity). Prosper initially appears more user friendly and click-and-forget but actually has more options when you get down in the weeds. For example, it allows you to specify that you will only lend to somebody who is employed. On the other hand, while both sites let you specify whether you want to make 36-month or 60-month loans or both (down below I’ll explain while that is important), only Lending Club will show you how your projected return varies with your choice.

I actually started writing this post back in March of 2017, and cited the following inquiry I sent to Lending Club at that time:

I opened this account around 11/15/15 with $2500. The value of the account is currently $2376 which is a net annualized return of –4.06%. If I back out past due notes my NAR is still just 1.76%.

By comparison, I invested $2500 in Prosper at the same time and my NAR with them is 11.42% with a total account value of $2736. Not knowing whether they adjust for past-due notes I looked up the itemization and found that three of 76 loans were past due (but less than 30 days, none longer than 30 days) with a total value of $130. If I take the drastic step of writing off those three loans my account value is $2606 which is still way above my returns with LendingClub.

In both cases I selected a middle range of loans which was projected to yield returns of around 10%.

When I look at the scatter chart of accounts with similar rates of returns at [gated page on website] my returns are far below almost all other Lending Club investors.

What is wrong with my account? How can I adjust my automated investing so I make money, rather than lose money?

I am happy to talk about this on the phone, but wanted to put the facts in writing to give you some background first. If you can give me a complete reply in writing that’s great, otherwise let’s set up an appointment next week to go over this on the phone.

Thank you, Otis Maxwell

A few days later, Lending Club answered as follows:

Thank you for your email. I have reviewed your account and noticed that  you have allocated most of your funds towards the riskier loans of grade C and below. This is one of factors that can be affecting your return since those loans are known to have a higher charge off rate.

I went to their “Edit Allocation” page and found that indeed I had somehow created a “custom” allocation. I changed it to a “platform mix” with most of the notes grade C or higher, but of course that only affects new loans. Since then five months have passed, and we now have 21 months of history. My total account value at Prosper is currently $2837 which is a 7.2% annual return. At Lending Club it’s $2515 for a 0.38% AR. Those rates are without adjustment for delinquent or charged-off loans. Less than $70 of my Prosper loans are delinquent and only one, for $24, has been charged off. At Lending Club $600 in notes have been charged off and $169 is currently delinquent. The average rates on my Lending Club loans are higher, which is why the account value difference is not more that it is.

It might be that Lending Club is more rigorous in its charge-off procedures in response to their widely reported management and cash flow issues in 2016. I have now changed my allocation to 65% B and 35% C notes, the same ratio as at Prosper, so we’ll see how that affects returns going forward. But (especially considering I was originally looking at 10% returns) how great is Prosper’s 7.2%, which drops to 7% when I back out past due notes? (These numbers are net of fees, by the way.) In recent times you could have done much better in the equities markets, obviously, but also worse with conservative bond investments. I guess I feel like I do when I win back the cost of my entrance ticket at the Saratoga Race Way. I’ve had some fun experimenting with peer-to-peer lending, the process was easy, and I’ve made a little money.

However, there’s an 800 pound gorilla in my portfolio: what do I do when I want to get the money out? I have to turn off my automated reinvestment instructions and wait for all the loans to mature which will take 5 years (or 3 years if I’d selected only shorter term loans at the beginning, with a slightly lower NAR). During this time my annual return is going to steadily drop until it finally reaches zero. You could also resell the notes. Both Prosper and Lending Club contract with a third party, Folio, as a trading platform, which offers this fascinating disclaimer (especially the part I am going to put in bold type) to the buyer:

Purchasing Notes on the Trading Platform is inherently risky as the asking price is set by the seller, and may be priced higher than the remaining return expected on the Note.

Purchasing Notes with a negative Yield to Maturity or with large markups are almost certain to return less money than the price you will pay, producing negative returns on your investment.

There are various reasons a current Note holder chooses to list a Note for sale. Often Note holders are simply looking to liquidate their holdings; they may place Notes for sale at or slightly below par value (i.e., below the remaining interest and principal remaining on the Note). However, other sellers may be seeking to profit on their sales. They may price Note above its par value, either in the hopes that a buyer will view the Notes as very valuable or because they may hope to profit from a lack of buyer’s insight. They may hope that the buyer will not realize that the price has been set so high, or they may hope that a buyer will not be paying close attention to the price set.

Please be wary of Notes that are priced at high premiums.

In addition, the original interest rate set by Lending Club was based on the borrower’s credit attributes at the time the loan was requested and may no longer represent the underlying risk of the Note. While the underlying risk may have increased, the interest rate has not and may not offset the risk a buyer undertakes when purchasing a Note.

Since the Note was issued the borrower’s attributes have most likely changed, among these could include changes to credit score, income, employment, credit utilization, debt-to-income, and many other important factors. You should buy a Note only if you understand and are comfortable with these risks.

There’s some crazy talk in that. But as I’m looking to be a seller and not a buyer, I’ll likely need to price my notes a bit lower than their face value AND I’ll need to pay a 1% service fee to the exchange on each transaction. So I can certainly expect my NAR to dip to perhaps 5.5% for my Prosper portfolio by the time I’m done. (I’m assuming these $25 notes will be harder to sell, and thus require a larger discount, than notes with a higher face value.) That’s still better than a treasury bond or CD.

If you’re still with me, I’ll answer my question: from evidence to date, Prosper does a better job of managing its loan portfolio. They offer all the functionality of Lending Club (except for that glitch about the projection of return by loan period, which is informational and doesn’t affect your actual return) as far as I can tell. So no reason not to go with them. Now that I’ve balanced my criteria so they are apples-to-apples across the two services, I’ll report back in a year or so. I’ll also tell you about my experience (if any) in reselling loans.

Meanwhile, here’s a wild card: Kiva. This not-for-profit is a platform for making micro loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries. You don’t get paid interest but you do get your money back (according to Kiva, 97% of loans are repaid) and you can either withdraw it or use it to fund another loan. Less profitable, but possibly more satisfying, than the peer-to-peer options we’ve been talking about today.

 

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