Applied College courses? Or ‘rubrics’?

Today: pondering if ‘academic theory’ folks at Ontario colleges might consider adjusting the ‘pedagogical frameworks’ (???) for applied courses. Ontario Colleges got their start as centres of applied learning; I’d love to say we still ‘own’ that role, but threats exist. One threat is so ‘It-cool’ that I’ll take grief for daring to question its omnipotence. Some folks in admin roles (often in roles requiring little to no actual teaching, at least not applied courses), are in love with ‘rubrics‘.

What’s a rubric? It’s a grid to let students see how the overall grade is weighted by parts of an assignment- either split by some academically appealing virtue (Originality, Appearance, Spelling, etc) or by section of an Assignment (eg Cover Page is worth 5%; Introduction is worth 10%, etc). A rubric might actually be useful in junior courses, as students try their hand at very basic assignments. However, as instructors use work-world learning to advance a student to application-based, work-like assignments (eg in senior courses) a rubric should often be left behind.

The more advanced the course, and the closer the student is to graduation, the more ridiculous rubrics are. Administrators who defend them vigorously may be unaware rubrics don’t apply in the work world; eg in business, anything can be 100% of ‘grade’!

  • Do an OK job, but misspell the company name or brand?- hammered!
  • Swear during the Q&A session? -hammered!
  • Skip an entire section, but wow a Client with superb Story Flow, impactful analogies & a resourceful Q&A? -nailed it!

Parsing ‘content bits’ up by section lets students pick & choose and act like…. students.

eg if ‘Cover Page: accounts for 5%’ —??? They get a 5% of the credit, if they do nothing but a cover page. A cover page if nothing at all follows it?  Ridiculous!

So… thanks to a (real world background) colleague who gave me an ‘out’; an ‘overall professional output‘ rubric if forced to use one where it makes no sense (btw I typically also attach a list of ‘price of entry ‘conditions’; imo it’s not too much to ask students, or coworkers, to spell the brand correctly & not swear in the middle of a presentation).

Exceptional: (consistent with or better than best practices in Canadian business) eg 4.5 to 5 out of 5

Good: (on par with good Canadian business practice) eg 3.5 to 4.4 / 5

Satisfactory: (minor flaws detract from good Canadian business practice) eg 2.5 to 3.4 / 5

Below Expectations (major flaws detected or content not provided) eg 0.0 to 2.4 / 5

Will a Wealthy Wave ‘Trickle Down’ post lockdown?

Bloomberg draws attention to CIBC data on how much savings high-income Canadians amassed as the lockdown limited spending. Although much of the (Reagan era) ‘trickle down’ economic theory proved overblown, I’d bet on a wealthy spending wave THIS TIME, especially: Travel & Spoil-Me/Look-At-Me discretionary items (Fashion, jewelry, watches, art, luxe autos, golf, home reno- but NOT DIY stuff…) & indulgent services/experiences (spa, recreation, space travel, etc).

The counterpoint? Sectors that soared under lockdown may soften. Puzzles, RV’s, DIY, Food delivery, Amazon, paper (Cascades paper/tissue quarterly results are already fading), cleaning/hygiene items.

Whatever sector you play in, you might consider if your products & services are properly placed & promoted to catch this Wealth Rebound Wave (insert Beach Boys song here!).

If in a lockdown-‘favoured’ sector eg RV’s, puzzles, DIY crafts/projects: what programs or new products/services might soften the downturn? ie to hold onto those lockdown-generated newcomers, promote ‘continuity’ of use, increase use-up rate, engage with contests and communities and other 2.0 content, etc?

Vertical / Cyclical Integration

Vertical Integration activities often go through cycles; eg newspapers sprint to buy wood harvesting rights; streaming giants all bid for content or leap into producing content.

Attention is often on firms that don’t deleverage at the right time (eg Blockbuster held onto downstream retail locations far too long) but sometimes the news highlights the risk of a LACK of integration eg when Auto makers’ single source of airbags, or catalytic converters, is lost after a tsunami.

Covid shortages are now constraining the supply to chain restaurants; expect the QSR industry to rethink their logistics model, and invest to better assure control of supplies.…/bus…/taco-bell-shortage/index.html

Streaming Upstream

More entertaining than some content they offer: Streaming content wars. ‘Vertical Integration’ is a big strategic dilemma; popular classic examples include The New York Times buying forestry rights (integrating ‘upstream’ ie to better control/ access supply) and Tesla setting up own dealership showrooms (integrating ‘downstream’ to better control/ access consumer prospects). While Tesla built its Vertical Integration downstream, Amazon bought downstream (Whole Foods). A truly classic strategic dilemma- buy or build?

And now it’s…. buying time! Amazon bought MGM studios for the library & series-friendly licensed properties, in a very predictable development. It had to be one of The Big 3- Disney, Netflix or Amazon (in fact, I wrote this post weeks ago & temporarily revealed a draft that had the winning bidder as Netflix, not Amazon- oops!). But the race for streaming content isn’t done yet, is it?

Step right up folks! See the epic battle! This is a Ragnarok of gods & giants (Amazon, Netflix, AT&T, Disney) in which ‘presently sidelined sidekicks‘ are gaining some serious appeal (and value).

Netflix created some net-new hits (eg ‘Stranger Things’): Maximum Control achieved, albeit at major Cost & Risk.

Buying a proven winning library is less risky. Hence Amazon taking the Tier 1 path: buying MGM an entire studio and proven successful library. A slam-dunk of Low Risk, but High Cost. But there are only so many major studio libraries.

Tier 2 acquisition possibilities (on a scale of Maximizing likely Return, while minimizing risk of failure) might include (imo) License Content holders with less proven TV streaming appeal, but reliable fan appeal in graphic novels, manga, theatres, etc (Mark Millar, LOTR).

Tier 3 of Risk/Return: Content holders that made it to TV or theatres but didn’t succeed in a big way (Goosebumps, Animorphs, Golden Compass, Series Of Unfortunate Events) OR deserve an update (James Clavell, Jack Higgins, SilverWing young adult, etc) OR series promoting an understanding & perspective of First Nations & Visible Minorities.

Tier 4: Popular books or graphic novels that haven’t ‘taken a run at’ TV format eg the ‘Stormbringer’ fantasy books (I’d written ‘Ringworld’, then heard Amazon has moved ahead on that project–> Move Fast! Inventory is Going Quickly!’)

Tier 5 would include Greek, Norse or Roman myths/fables not already ‘owned*’ by Disney (*I wince, as ancient tales such as Cinderella lack any real 1 ‘owner’) or 1-off novels with a pro-ecology, pro-female &/or pro Visible Minority message that SHOULD be brought to streaming – eg ‘The Demon Breed’ by Schmitz.

Can’t wrap up w/o an uneasy* prediction. George Friedman gives uncannily accurate geopolitical predictions; given his ‘The Storm Before The Calm‘ forecast of 2020’s as a chaotic decade of change, I bet ‘reassurance’ will be hot, so Westerns will be hot. Why? Their reputation is they give much-desired (albeit often woefully oversimplified*) moral clarity. I’m uneasy with this since, if Westerns are not interpreted at some depth, one may overlook an often-substantial message & merely build Confirmation Bias. If you think a Western through deeply, you may find they aim to enlighten, promote tolerance, etc. I invite you to view Star Trek or Serenity (Westerns, set in space), Silverado, The Magnificent Seven; you may find Westerns’ “simple” B&W Morality (Right vs Wrong, Peacemaker vs Villain, Good vs Evil) is a myth. Westerns can carry progressive messages; if you haven’t seen the classic ‘High Noon’ in a while, view it, then reread Friedman’s eloquent, wise interpretation.

So ….what property/character/series/novel(s) would you like to see resurrected for the Streaming World?


Baking a Strategic Dilemma

News by CBC that the Weston empire is selling its namesake bakery. ‘History’ and “Legacy’ are nice, but times change. I’m surprised it took this long for Loblaws, a grocery & commercial property giant, to exit the brand supplier biz. Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) is a very different business than Retail or e-tail, arguably more strategically demanding & less day-to-day ‘execution dependent’. It involves different strengths, investment time horizons & marketing training /emphasis.

Can Weston Bakery rise to success with Ace, Wonderbread & other brands, without its powerful parent? imo the firm (division?) has acted like a FMCG player for decades: investing in brand, innovating with new entries, avoiding the ‘down & dirty’ end of the market (unlike many house brand manufacturers). However, if Loblaws cuts ties, then (a newly independent) Weston must ensure its entries legitimately earn their way into distribution at Canada’s #1 retailer (its current parent, Loblaws) and associated banners. I doubt Weston entries have had a free ride, but I also suspect Weston parentage has worked in their favour in the Weston family empire.

A dilemma: is Weston Bakery better off as an IPO/Indie FMCG player? or better off acquired by another FMCG player? I hope for the first option, for the sake of the Marketing staff. If Weston Bakery is bought & the acquisition plays out like a typical FMCG takeover, most Weston Brand Management and R&D staff will need to find new jobs, pronto. Not to be negative, but that’s how it works in FMCG. The gobbler staffs the brands they acquire with ‘their people’.

Either way- for the bakery firm, there are both sunny and cloudy signs ahead:

In their favour: they’ve proven able to identify & seize upon consumer trends such as ‘artisan’, upscale offerings, multiculturally appealing lines, ‘Pull support’ for their brands- as per any successful FMCG firm. Also: the Bakery’s ‘Loblaws linkage’ has likely limited their success to date at Loblaws’ direct competitors -Metro, Sobeys, etc. Erasing that iffy parent tie may result in more lines carried at Grocery stores nationwide.

Going against them? The gluten-free and anti-carb trends- and the new reality of fighting for shelf space, paying full rent for those lovely (and effective!) secondary display racks in the Deli section, etc.

In my home, fresh Ace bread is an affordable indulgence – a ‘treat’ that doesn’t break the bank. That’s good enough for me to hope this soon-to-be-ex Weston entity keeps baking up success.

Gig economy, Gag jobs

Below: unsurprising coverage how ‘Gig economy’ aggregators (businesses that consolidate & resell the ‘product’) gain equity & leverage power, yet show little empathy or consideration for their relatively powerless front line workers.

One might claim “No one forces these drivers to work for” a power-wielding employer (this firm is notorious for arguing they’re not an ’employer’, ergo not subject to employment laws or standards). That “No one forces them to…” phrase, typically uttered by society’s Well-Born, should be removed from vocabularies. They are forced to take these jobs. Some to pay the bills; some to realize their potential (eg youths raised with little wealth who aspire to a post-secondary education, must not only win every high school scholarship, they also take multiple simultaneous part time jobs- they aren’t forced to take minimum wage jobs; those roles are just the only ones available).

Apologies for waxing philosophical, but Gig Economy Worker Rights is a looming #ethics issue, like Data Privacy & compensating Local News providers (yes, I’m aware of the irony of linking to this article). The issue begs for government or inter-government action, but who will tackle it? Gig Economy behemoths work the ‘hazy spaces between‘ existing regulations, beyond national governments’ usual zones of control, squirming between laws, past traditional definitions of jurisdiction. A certain accommodation-sharing aggregator app plays like a hotel, but not one that follows hotel rules for zoning, hygiene, worker rights, etc. A taxi service aggregator app plays like a taxi service, but not one that follows taxi rules for driving training or vetting, vehicle safety, worker rights. One must respect the dark genius of the Gig business model! All upside and control- no accountability or cost!

Behold Ozymandias! As in the intimidating battle looming for Nations/Citizens vs Social Media giants on Data Privacy or Local News, you can expect Canada will not play a role putting the Beast At Bay. It’ll be the European Union, or Australia, or another nation that values its workers & citizens, more than it values ‘not rocking the boat’.

Sleep on.


Environics Data – Saved by the Bell? Or For Whom…?

I was lucky to be a client of awesome Jan Kestle & her team >25years ago, benefiting from a terrific (then underappreciated) ability to help a Marketer tailor messaging & media on a neighbourhood level. What an awesomely powerful toolset! imo that was the beginning of applied psychographics as we now know it; her team was Compusearch (Micromarketing).

20 years ago when Equifax bought Compusearch, then flipped it to R L Polk, I was baffled; my understanding is all Polk wanted was auto sector data expertise for themselves, thus leaving applications in other sectors unfulfilled. [I was reminded of that acquisition 2 years ago, by a similar move; Amazon wanted to use Kiva’s robotics logistic capabilities (which had applications in many diverse areas/sectors) so they bought… the entire company].

Thankfully, much of the Compusearch team later ended up being recreated, still in Toronto, under the Environics umbrella, as ‘Environics Data’ – to this day, they were still run autonomously, from what I could see.

Recent news that Environics Data was bought by Bell leaves me perplexed- again. I see potential for Bell to offer a Full Service Suite of media & messaging applications, differentiating them from Rogers, Shaw, etc. And letting the Environics Data guru’s work with Bell’s extensive mobile phone data could yield GOLD for modeling & ad targeting. But what happens to Environics for Retail location services? (an area where their data can – and has – been very productively leveraged) or its USA market applications?

Having Bell as a parent imo brings little to those markets & may prove an impediment (what if a parent firm fails to appreciate those opportunities.?). Hmmm…

any tips for new grads?

Hey, ‘Pay-It-Forward’ types! Might you be willing to offer ideas or tips for the next generation of post-secondary Marketing grads?

C’mon- share some pearls of wisdom! Another group is soon to graduate; they’d benefit from your golden guidance, pithy perspectives, astute admonishing &/or rigorous reality checks as shared via Comments.

If you wish to remain anonymous- duly respected. If you want to be cited, happy to do that, too.

It takes a village to raise a business professional…

Here’s what my latest tips are- bet you can help improve and update this

Yoda you are not

I’ve been lucky to see many different writing styles, after working in Canada & abroad, and after an education in Arts, Science & Business. There’s no one way to write, but I hope these 7 pages help you with ideas how to write for business here in North America. Feel free to agree or disagree with the list, but (for what it’s worth) I’ve learned these Do’s & Dont’s at some cost.

Content comes in many forms

7 years ago I was asked to redesign a course in Digital Marketing for Seneca College’s School of Fashion; then-Chair Gitte Hansen and colleague Michel Côté, now Chair, let me shift the course from ‘building websites’, to focus on:

  • understanding the power of (then fairly new) social media
  • deciding which SoMe venues were ‘high-fit’
  • learning how often posts were expected, by platform
  • strengths & weaknesses of the platforms wrt handling complex messages, visual/audio capability, ‘share-ability’, etc
  • calendaring SoMe activity
  • acquiring conflict-free site domains & building basic landing sites
  • ‘creating’ high-fit content for a fashion brand’s digital presence.

It’s topical again as students & colleagues build a digital presence amidst covid; sometimes one hears signs of despair as they struggle to create enough new ‘content’, I checked my notes and found my old list of different types of ‘content’

  1. New original content: eg trivia, how-to images/videos, info-graphics, tips, Top 10 lists, original articles we write, product or service news, published results, images, product shots, etc (This type of content is slowest to come up with, but most control & copyright friendly)
  2. Reshare category news without interpretation, just a link (I rarely do or propose this; other than for a news service, it seems ‘off mission’)
  3. Reshare category/industry news WITH interpretation (competitors, retailers, suppliers, consumer trends, PESTLE updates such as new regulations, etc)
  4. Events: let followers know what fashion show is coming up, the ‘game time’, trade shows, symposiums, group news eg reminders about CMA or AMA events, etc
  5. Solicit User input: this depends heavily on the brand, but it might consist of eg ratings, survey invites, goofy polls, Top Ten, Vote for Best, etc (ESPN/TSN are superb at this!).
  6. ‘Invite An Image’: cajoling pics/videos of users/supporters wearing your brand, using your brand, holding a sign, reciting a tagline, doing a trending dance step, etc (this also can lead to more of #5 ie ‘Vote for The Most Inspired…’)
  7. Anniversaries, celebrations, remembrances, etc
  8. Corporate Social Responsibility: use your digital presence to help a cause ie help raise funds, find volunteers, raise awareness of a cause, fill seats at events, participate in a charity auction, etc
  9. Promotions, Specials, Discounts, Offers, etc on your product line.

Has any of this gone ‘out of fashion’? Perhaps. The point is: let’s all remember that ‘content’ does NOT imply one needs to create all material from scratch.

P.S. See a problem here? Whoever heard of a ‘Top 9′ list? Help me out! Send ideas to so we make this a Top10 list! Please!