Friday, October 25, 2013

Tina Sharkey Pursues Her Joy At Umpqua Bank

Umpqua Bank celebrates their brand spanking new presence at 450 Sansome Street in San Francisco by hosting luminaries for "Catalyst Series" talks.  My excuse for sitting in was a chance to score a free TCHO chocolate sampler, locally made and pretty darn good.  The speaker for October 24 was Tina Sharkey, serial turnaround exec and marketing evangelist for multiple brands.  Tina's theme is seeing everything through the filter of "pursuing joy" even within business metrics.  I'll run down her most important observations and show you, dear reader, how they apply to finance.

Her career in marketing included stints at QVC, iVillage, Sesame Street, and AOL.  I didn't know the QVC producers coaches the on-air hosts in real time to address their live callers' needs until Tina revealed that TV tidbit.  Her observation that Sesame Street was a "multimedia alphabet" at its core applied her lifelong understanding of using marketing to boil complex ideas down to one sentence.  I despised Sesame Street when I was a child because it insulted my intelligence but I can see how it appeals to busy parents as a substitute nanny.  Tina's early insights into the emergence of social media in the late 1990s reflected her enthusiasm for connecting people in communities.  She shared something on branding:  "A brand is about what a friend tells a friend, not what it says about itself."  I think that's great for brands that care about their identities as thoughtful service providers.  The Alfidi Capital brand reflects my obnoxious, brash, know-it-all personality and I couldn't care less what people say I am as long as they make my articles go viral.

Tina disclosed that multiple studies of brain chemistry reveal the effects that our experiences have on the production of oxytocin, serotonin, endorphins, and dopamine.  Those are the natural chemicals that make us feel happy and drive our emotional responses to stimuli.  I learned all too well when I was in sales that seemingly intelligent people make very important life decisions based purely on emotions and then rationalize them afterwards.  I rationalize first and then act, which makes me a genetic freak.  It also makes me unfit for employment because not a single human on this planet cares for anything I produce unless they can steal it.

Here come Tina's five joy factors . . .
1) Art of the Narrative:  Have a core thing to say when telling your story.
2) Living the Four-Star Life:  Let the crowd's wisdom on how they feel about some service inform your lifestyle decisions.
3) You Really Like Me:  People use social media's retweets and Like buttons to share validation of things they like.
4) Surprise and Delight:  People like nice surprises from their service providers.
5) How Can I Be of Service to You Today:  Always be ready for service with a smile (or something like that, because I don't quite grok this one as a perpetually sarcastic social critic).

Tina also gave us four helpful design factors in branding . . .
1) Focus on reception, not conception.  A user's feelings matter when they engage a brand.
2) Unlock emotional benefits, not just functional benefits.
3) Design for validation.  Audience will tell your story if they like it.  They need to evangelize you.
4) Always design for usefulness and smiles.

I can definitely apply those five joy factors to Alfidi Capital.  Check this out.
1) My core narrative in my financial commentary is my contempt for human stupidity.  Everything I write about finance demonstrates how much I despise Wall Street's corruption and the loser investors who tolerate it.
2) My four-star life comes from being a cheapskate and doing the opposite of what the crowd's wisdom indicates is wise.  I couldn't care less for mass opinion at all.
3) I've always known that people really don't like me one stinking bit.  I stopped trying to make them like me a long time ago.  I don't like people either.  My schtick is to provoke them into hating me enough to retweet and reblog what I say.
4) I try to surprise people by thinking of rude and sarcastic things on a daily basis.  That brings me delight.  Oh yeah.
5) I am not at all going to be of service to anyone today, or any other day.

Those of you who've never read my blog before might be wondering how I can get away with turning these joy principles upside down.  It's simple.  I make money from pure Web traffic.  I provoke people into noticing me and my more controversial writings have been the most widely read things I've published.  I can't afford to play nice and get along with people because the people I've worked with in life all prefer that I die.  Yes, I'm serious.  Human beings really are randomly malicious.  I designed the Alfidi Capital brand to insult the world, and that is what brings me joy.

I am not ever going to redesign my brand with any of those four helpfulness factors in mind because that will not help me at all.  I made the mistake earlier in my career of trying to be as helpful to everyone as I could and I was repaid with insults, ignorance, threats, and utter rejection.  Never again will I ever try to please anyone but myself.  Alfidi Capital is my raised middle finger to the profession of finance.

Tina's wisdom is definitely helpful to more conventional business models even if it can't help mine.  She thoughtfully answered questions afterwards and advised us to do social good so our success is significant, and that the most successful businesses create moments of joy for their customers.  Those are generous thoughts but they really only apply to people who are sufficiently connected and pedigreed to make their own significance notable.  Read Tina's Wikipedia bio to see her roots.  Her mother ran a large corporation while she was in high school, so of course Tina would be tapped for great things like lobbying early on.  It could never be otherwise.  I knew students during my undergrad days at the University of Notre Dame who could lobby at will because their parents were CEOs or politicians.  The plutocracy that now has America firmly in its grip is choking the life out of the Horatio Alger myth of upward mobility that once made our country so attractive to immigrants.

Tina offered a lot of brand examples during her talk but the majority of her citations looked like luxury brands to me.  The examples that stuck out in my mind were Uber and Lululemon.  Those brands offer Tina's transformational joy only to well-off consumers whose high six-figure salaries enable them to sustain conspicuous consumption patterns.  I am absolutely certain that the lumpen proletariat in flyover country has no idea what those brands are about.  Blue collar laborers don't take Uber to Wal-Mart in Fayetteville, Arkansas; they drive a fifteen-year old pickup truck.  They don't exercise in Lululemon's transparent tights because they can't afford to replace their old sweatpants.  I track enough economic statistics to know that inflation-adjusted personal income for most of the American workforce has not risen in decades.  The Pew Research Center has documented the American middle class's destruction.  The Wall Street Journal found a consensus among economists that American living standards will continue to decline.  I think Tina and other marketing gurus need to realize that the definition of joy for all of the socioeconomic classes below their own will be permanently redefined downward.

I noticed that the audience for this seminar was quite well-dressed and well-coiffed.  I didn't introduce myself to anyone because I'm certain they would have objected to my origin in a lower social caste.  I get that a lot in San Francisco.  I used to introduce myself habitually at every social event I attended in The City.  I don't do that anymore because it's a waste of time.  One-percenters and their progeny object to my existence once they ask very probing questions about my family's pedigree and my own net worth, and my answers have never measured up to their expectations.  The folks in the crowd for Tina's talk really identified with the upscale brands she mentioned.  This must be how an ancien regime appears before a society crosses one of history's inflection points.

Here's my final bloviation on the whole "joy" concept.  Elitists in San Francisco experience joy when they dismiss me out of hand at social events and discourage me from pursuing a career.  This isn't just projection on my part.  I've seen the smirks on their faces and the glints in their eyes when they've told me I don't deserve to make money.  I know this because they've told me so, especially when they've remarked about my military service.  My Yelp reviews of my academic experiences at ND and USF are my permanent record.  The only joy I generate for myself is the knowledge that I can survive until the inevitable market crash resets the net worth of countless snobs from the penthouse to society's basement.  The hyperinflation that will likely follow will put them on the streets.  I salivate over this coming role reversal and I have positioned my own affairs to benefit accordingly.  My dopamines and such will flow in a mad rush when I stand over the broken lives of my former social betters.  I will even thank Tina Sharkey for showing me the way to joy.  Umpqua Bank should have me give the next talk in their Catalyst Series, and they should read my LinkedIn bio to start their due diligence.  I will definitely catalyze action and share my joy.