Seeking My Eternity

May 13th, 2010

I didn’t think I would like the Twilight movies/books when I first heard of them in 2008. I remember thinking, golly, I’m too old for this teenage puppy sappy love story.

Until now. Earlier this year, when I was on a plane to Shanghai to visit family, I decided to watch the second installment of the saga, New Moon. It was a long trip and I was desperate for anything that was entertaining.

I wasn’t too impressed with New Moon, but it did peak my interest for the first movie. There were too many references to the first movie that left me curious. So when I came back from my trip, I went to iTunes, paid $9.99, and downloaded Twilight.

At the end of the movie, I was in tears, and then had to buy the rest of the e-books from Amazon.com – Eclipse and Breaking Dawn. I just had to know how the story panned out.

It wasn’t so much the writing or the plot. The plot has been retold many other times, and Stephanie Meyer’s writing, while humorous and folksy at times, left much to be desired. One thing I do appreciate, though – her emphasis was on developing the characters’ relationships, and not so much on vampire gore or social commentary which had been the focus of most vampire stories. It also wasn’t because of the young, beautiful actors. At some point, I actually felt like a perv when I found the young kids attractive. I mean, I am old enough to be their mother!

What caught me off guard was the hopelessness projected by two extremely different but should have been antagonistic people who were determined to make it work despite the cards they were dealt with. One was a frail  human who had low self-esteem and a finite lifespan, and the other was a self-hating vampire who couldn’t really die and had a yearning to eat this human.  Their love (or co-dependence, depending on your point of view) was so great, that they fought through human and vampire issues to be together for all eternity. Literally.

When summarized like that, it sounded like a cheesy movie plot. But as a woman who is struggling with mid-life crisis and feeling the melancholic, unforgiving passage of time, the intense despair projected by the characters somehow blanketed me with soothing understanding. It was as if someone patted me on my shoulder, hugged me deep to the bones, and said, “There there, I totally get it.”

Neither one of the characters was completely happy until the very end, when they stayed bonded in the vampire world. For, who could be happy even if one could live for eternity but alone, thinking about what should have been? Or, who could live with abandonment, knowing one’s lifespan is limited but wanting more to live? It all came down to “making it work” through the hardships and pain, finding strength in the glimmer of fragile hope along the way.

And that’s where I was when I saw the movie. I was becoming more and more aware of my mortality with the last few birthdays, yet not being able to move my life forward due to various reasons. I despaired about the future. But I also knew that I had to keep plodding on, to keep working on making it work. There’s no other way, because I don’t have eternity to get my life right. I only have another 40 years or so.

I have to make it work with the cards I’ve been dealt with. Just like Bella and Edward.

Are you still wet?

April 24th, 2010

“Are you still wet?”

I looked at the sweetly mischievous face staring up at me, her baby teeth beaming at me through her grin. Here was my niece Ashley, showing up in our room in the morning, all bright-eyed and bushy tailed. She was swinging a blue toy bear in one hand, and a bean-filled pillow in the other.

“Am I still wet?” I repeated, scratching my head. “What do you mean? Why should I be wet?”

She took a few more steps into the room, shrieked “Are you still wet!?” and proceeded to climb up on the bed. The nanny followed closely behind with a bowl of cooked eggs, trying unsuccessfully to feed her.

We were spending a few days with my brother’s family in Shanghai during our recent vacation. The last time we saw them was over a year ago. At that time, we marveled at how fast Ashley was picking up words. She was 1.5 years old then. This time, at almost 3 years old, she was able to emulate the ways adults were speaking around her, and use complete sentences and new vocabulary she had just learned. Her progress was amazing. As a trilingual kid (English, Mandarin, Cantonese), she was able to slip in and out of different languages easily, depending on the person she was talking to.

Here are some of her more memorable lines. She said “Why not?” with her hands stretched out in front of her, when someone said he didn’t want to do something. She said, “I cannot believe it!” or “Are you serious?” with her hands to her head when she became excited about some fun things. She knew when we were talking about her and mocking her mannerism, and said “That is not nice!” with an intensely furrowed brow. That was also her line whenever someone strayed from the script. For example, it’s “you are welcome” or “you are very welcome,” but not any other variations.

Once, when she was teased relentlessly by her granduncle to get her attention, she said in Mandarin, “If you keep teasing me, I am going to get mad.” At the Changi Airport, right after we arrived to see our parents, she ran up to two Singapore Airlines stewardesses and, using Mandarin, invited them to our house to visit with her uncle and auntie.

Of course, if you ask her parents, her advanced ability to learn and express herself also pose as a challenge for upbringing. She projects the image of a more mature child but without the same ability to understand reasoning and negotiation. Often times her parents spend too much time trying to reason with her and realizing later that it was a fruitless effort.

From this side of the table, though – I thoroughly enjoyed watching my baby niece grow up so quickly. I wish I could see more of her, but since we are spread across two continents, we’ll have to keep it to yearly visits with some webcams in between. She is utterly charming with her smile, her persistence, and her surprising one-liners. When I said goodbye to her at the Shanghai Airport, she said we shouldn’t say goodbye but that I should come again on Wednesday.

My dear baby niece, I hope you remember me the next time I see you. It could be a Wednesday, but it would have to be several hundred Wednesdays out from now.

Aspire to be the Overlord

February 19th, 2010

Recently I attended several vendor-sponsored webinars on marketing. The topics included marketing analytics, sales enablement, lead generation, branding, and social media. As a marketing professional, I’m always interested to learn about vendor solutions that can help me do my job. While the vendor solutions are fine as they are, nobody talked about why or how content is an integral part of all marketing activities. Specifically, other than saying “you can use this solution to get your great content out there” or “track who downloaded your great content,” there is no discussion of how to create that “great content” to drive your activities and audience.

It is a common mindset I see from a lot of smaller companies, especially startups. The focus is on generating sales leads – and believe me, I totally understand how important quick generation of sales leads is to the survival of mid- to small-sized businesses – and therefore all the tactical activities around e-mail or direct mail marketing, campaign automation, lead scoring systems, etc.  That is not to say they are not important activities, but in the full continuum of marketing lifecycle, we should not forget the upstream activities such as market segmentation, industry trends, audience profiling, messaging and positioning, etc. that help create that “great content” to drive the selection of downstream marketing activities. It’s like dating – if you don’t have similar interests or life goals as the one you are trying to impress, putting on a nice suit and driving a fast car will only get you this far.

Perhaps I’m totally old-school in finding a mate. (I wouldn’t know, it’s been a while since I’ve looked for a mate. I don’t suppose my husband would want me to try that any time soon.) Or perhaps I’m a product marketing purist. Ten years ago during the Internet boom, when I started my first marketing job, there was a popular rallying cry “Content is King!” Ten years later, content STILL is king. But knowing what this content should be, and how to create it, makes you the Overlord of the King.

Which is a pretty cool position to be in, as there are not a lot of people who can claim to be Overlords these days.

Pssst, Here’s The Truth About Santa Claus . . . .

February 14th, 2010

Was working on some light fixtures in the front yard one Sunday afternoon last December and overheard the following from our neighbor’s kids. Before I go on, though, here’s the context: the neighbor has 6 children in the family. They are also devout Catholics who go to church every weekend. The father is a doctor, the mother a homemaker, and the children – ranging from 2 years old to 13 or 14 years old – are home schooled.

It started with the oldest boy making fun of his younger sister while coming out of their house from the front door.

“There’s no Santa Claus. Santa Claus doesn’t exist,” he said loudly.

“Yeah, there’s no Santa Clause,” said his friend who was presumably visiting for the day and hanging out at the house.

“That’s not true! There is a Santa Claus!” the girl was clearly distressed.

“No there isn’t.”

“Yes there is! Who else can spend $100 on a (**some toy, didn’t catch the name**)? Daddy doesn’t have $100. He said he doesn’t.”

“Oh Daddy has $100 in his wallet. I bet you Daddy has more than $100 in the bank.”

Pause.

“What’s a bank?”

“HA HA! You don’t even know what a bank is! You’re stupid!” The boy’s comrade-in-arms chimed in with statements of agreement.

“Daddy! Daddy! Dadddeeeeeeee!” The crying disappeared into the house. Meanwhile, the boys continued to laughed. They further backed each other up on their observation that the existence of Santa Claus is highly dubious.

Minutes later, the father came out with the girl, saying, “Don’t worry, your brother and his friend are stupid. You are not stupid. They are wrong. There is a Santa Claus. They are just too stupid to know the truth.”

The boy said, “Dad, are you calling me and my friend stupid? We know there is no Santa Claus. You know that is the truth.”

“Daddy! He said there’s no Santa Claus again!” The girl cried.

The father said to the boy, “You think there’s no Santa Claus because  you don’t understand . . . ”

“Dad, there’s no way Santa Claus can come down a chimney. He would be burned by the fire in the fireplace. Plus, how can he fly around the world to every home in such a short time? It’s impossible! It’s called physics, Dad.”

“Well, let me explain physics to you, son. Your current understanding of physics is limited. You don’t get it . . . ”

“I understand enough physics to know that it’s impossible to travel that fast.”

“Are you going to let me explain or do you think you are too smart to listen?”

“There is NO SANTA CLAUS!!!”

At this point, the girl started crying again and ran into the house. The father ran after her, still trying to assure her that her brother was wrong. Seconds later, I heard the sound of banging on piano keys. I assumed she was very upset, and his assurance hadn’t quite worked.

As for the boys, there was much comaradarie and laughing as they walked further down the street to play.

Needless to say, that encounter entertained me tremendously while I worked in the yard. If the girl had asked for my opinion, I would have told her that there is no Santa Claus, but that her brother should not have called her stupid. Of course, one could argue that since I don’t have to deal with that family’s changing dynamics of parents and children overlaid with the opposition of faith and science, it is easy for me to think honesty can solve the problem. Regardless, I doubt if the father’s handling of the problem actually solved anything. Santa Claus is just one fantasy bubble to burst. There will be many more.

Interviewing or harvesting?

November 19th, 2009

It has now happened to me a couple of times now, so I would like some validation. I’m referring to job interviews that turned out to be knowledge harvesting.

The company is a startup in the web security space. Let’s just call it Company D (first letter of the company name). Looking for a product marketing person, CEO/founder wanted to talk, so okay, let’s talk. It began with the usual introduction of the company. That went fine. Then he asked me about my experience. As a product marketing professional, I am very proud of the fact that I drive integrated campaigns that directly impact product adoption, so I gave him a summary of my current responsibilities over our security products.

When I came to the part about demand generation, and the number of leads that were generated over a couple of quarters, I could literally see his ears perked up over the phone. He started asking for details, such as how many e-mail lists were used, how many contacts within each lists, how many whitepaper downloads from which list, what made the e-mails successful.

My answers were as specific as I could without giving the whole store away – “e-mail lists had between 15,000 to 30,000 contacts,” “the e-mail content was what drove the high clickthroughs and downloads because I did the market research to find out what customers need,” “house list has the highest conversation rate,” etc.

“Can you give me some best practices regarding e-mails?”

I told him about how the e-mails should really target a business need of the audience, and be relevant to them.

“Well, did you use a question in the subject header? Does that work better than a sentence? Give me an example of something you used that really worked.”

I reiterated what I said earlier about content, and said I wasn’t comfortable sharing the content at this point, but would be happy to share with him when we meet face-to-face (I was assuming we would have a face-to-face).

He wasn’t satisfied. He said, “Where did you get the e-mail lists?”

I said we used a combination of house list and lists from trade publications.

“Which ones? Can you tell me the names?”

At this point I was feeling a little used. I wanted to say, “I’ll tell you if you pay me $200 per hour of consulting fee,” but I bit my tongue.

He took my hesitation as a sign of ignorance, and said, “If you need more time to think about it, we can come back to this question.”

I said that this was proprietary information and I was not comfortable talking about it. Besides, don’t you want to hear all the OTHER product marketing stuff I do?

“Oh I understand if it’s proprietary and you don’t feel comfortable talking about – but I don’t think this information is proprietary.”

I was pretty annoyed by now. I said, “You know, I feel like you are harvesting best practices from me. I was under the impression that this was a vetting call to see if I would be someone you wanted to speak to face-to-face.”

He denied it and insisted that he was just trying to see if I have the experience for the job. We ended the call pretty quickly after that as I didn’t feel the need to ask him any more questions. Right after, I sent an e-mail to the recruiter, told him I didn’t think I was a good fit for the position, and that his CEO asked questions that I consider to be proprietary to me  AT LEAST on the first call. I never heard back from them again (not that I was expecting it).

The other time this happened to me was with a Santa Clara company that develops software, tools and services for laboratory research. The VP of marketing who interviewed me was asking me a whole bunch of questions and furiously writing down everything I said. At that time, I was flattered, then later realized that didn’t add up because he told me his marketing plan was to create marketing collateral, get more sales people and a couple of other forgettable projects. Finally, when he asked for detail feedback on a brochure he had created, I decided to give him generic feedback like “the font is too small” and “there’s too much information on one page.” Of course, I never heard back from him.

I wonder if this is a common occurrence? Were the two executives really harvesting information from people they couldn’t afford to hire? I guess I’ll never know.