The Next Marketing Tool: Deisgn

Design sells. It's something that all of us know, but few of us consciously acknowledge. There is an age old adage that warns people not to "judge books by their cover." In other words, we shouldn't judge people or products by their appearance. But this isn't true in America. We do judge books by their cover - in fact we spend billions of dollars on products that have prettier "covers."

Many people are aware how easy it is to create a web page and put your business online, but you have to ask yourself: is it going to be enough? Sure, you can get all the vitals of your business online and available for the whole world to see, but will your visitors remember your site? Will they trust it? More importantly, will your site cause them to contact you after leaving the web site?

iPods, cargo pants and cell phones

Oh my! What do these three items have in common you might ask? Design, of course.

Back in 2001 Apple Computers unveiled their new offering to the tech world: the iPod. This smart looking little gadget was an MP3 player, one of thousands already on the market. Against all odds, the iPod has risen above its vast competition and become a common household term. What can we attribute to Apple's success? The iPod did not offer any features that other MP3 players were already offering, except a sleek design, stunning advertising and Apple's clever branding. Great design has obviously paid off for Apple. In the first quarter since releasing the iPod, Apple more than tripled its net profits and sold nearly 900,000 iPods! Some may even speculate to say that the iPod has taken Apple from a failing company to the leader in portable music.

Old Navy started off as just another value clothing store spawned from the successful Gap Inc. While this company had the advantage of already having a multi-billion dollar brand backing it, it had no incentive for customers to actually buy the clothes. Old Navy has since become one of the leading clothing retailers in America becoming a multi-billion dollar brand on its own feet. Old Navy's president, Jenny Ming, attributes this success to design. Old Navy has taken a new approach to advertising and clothing style relying on fresh, new design. It seems to have worked, attracting millions of customers to their cargo pants, PJ bottoms and fleece jackets.

Cell phones. They're everywhere: on the street, in cars, and even the hands of thirteen year old girls. No amount of numbers is needed to prove that cell phones have become an everyday accessory as common as a pair of sunglasses. Back in the early nineties, Nokia realized that cell phones might one day catch on and become something of an accessory. The idea was brought up that cell phones could be made in a variety of colors and in attractive shapes. Shortly after concept, Nokia's rounded cell phones with changeable plates were introduced into the market. They were an instant success. Since then Nokia has come to be the world leader in cell phones, owning nearly 40% of the world market. Cell phone design hasn't been the same since.

Taking these ideas to the internet

Okay, so it's understandable how design sells, but web sites aren't tangible products like iPods or cell phones. Design of web sites goes beyond designing something that "looks cool" or uses fancy fonts. The design of web sites goes into the realm of usability, information design and graphical appearance. All three of these aspects must come together to create a great web site design.

First off, your web site must be usable. This means that the web site visitor must be able to read, navigate and use the different elements of your site. A web site is no good if visitors cannot find where your nearest office is located. Secondly, the information contained within the web site must be arranged in a way that visitors will naturally find the information they need in the least amount of effort possible. Lastly, your web site has to look great. It has to have a professional look and one that's both pleasing to the visitor and conveys the image you need your company to portray. Would you expect a criminal defense attorney's site to be composed of light blue and pink hues? Strong, vibrant colors project authority and power; qualities you would definitely want in a criminal defense lawyer.

Wrapping it up

Design is a major part of modern day business. Making sure your business has a well designed web site ensures you are giving your business the best possible chance. A poorly designed site can be a waste of money and effort. Don't take the chance; hire a professional to do the job.

Clues to Criminal Conspiracy in Towns and Corporations

You, too, can be a detective. All you have to do is learn the clues, listen and watch.

"Crap rolls downhill," says the tough-talking detective, and that's a basic human truth. The expression is older than the Golden Rule, an observation common to every culture and language group. It is also a basis for analysis of human behavior, and it can help any investigator, even an amateur detective, identify when corrupt practices are taking place in town, county or state government, or in a large corporation or NGO. The principle is simple: You watch the behavior of people at the bottom. If you find blatant corruption at the bottom, it rolled downhill. If you find fear, you're looking at someone who's intimidated by the corruption up above, and doesn't want to say anything.

Now direct your gaze up the hill and study the people you see.

Do not the middle-class women of the world want to wear the same gown worn by the First Lady, or by actresses on the Red Carpet? They can't afford that same gown, perhaps only one was made for the very rich female wearing it, but thousands of milliners and designers watch the Oscar and Emmy awards for interesting new ideas, they take pictures and they make copies. They know they can always sell those copies, because middle-class women always buy the copies to look like the wealthy women they admire.

With men, it's sports equipment and casual clothing. How many men wore copies of shirts worn by Tiger Woods, and carried putters and irons with his name engraved on them? In the fifties, the Eisenhower putter was a big seller. And speaking of sports heroes, are you wearing Hanes right now?

People with lesser incomes imitate the wealthy and powerful. They make a conscious effort to look like the rich and act like the rich. This takes place whether the economy is good or bad.

The behavior of leaders in a good economy tends to be cheerful. In good times there is no pressure on leadership to "fix it," leadership can be happy, good-natured, casual. This behavior insensibly is adopted by business leaders, then middle management and the middle class and it is slowly communicated downward to the poor as "good government." The leaders are happy, they're not worried, therefore we don't need to worry.

This happy, relaxed behavior becomes something to strive for, something leaders practice and try to project in public. They don't want to appear angry or tense, because that would "send the wrong signal." But leaders do reveal themselves in subliminal ways to the people around them, and those people react by trusting or distrusting the leader.

When an economy is under stress, politicians become desperate and devious, it's difficult to be graceful when many voices are blaming you for something caused by a whole nation taking the wide and easy road of buying during boom times. Increased tension from the top of the pyramid breeds distrust and fear in the ranks, so the nervous and defensive behaviors of wealthy and influential people are unconsciously and insensibly adopted by those who look up to them. This is because people further down the wealth ladder tend to believe they should look like, dress like, act like, those at the top.

If those at the top are angry, anger becomes fashionable. If those at the top communicate hate, hate will be adopted as a majority behavior. When those at the top are greedy, people at the bottom notice how little they have.

No-one deliberately copies anyone, and no copied behavior is a perfect similitude of another's behavior. But when politicians and judges are taking bribes, even when they are merely suspected of taking bribes, we soon find policemen, department heads, housing inspectors and corporate officers who can be paid to change their minds, lose a document, or disguise a deliberate contamination of a river as an accidental spill. Magistrates who sell out may sustain only the objections of the defense, or deny a prosecutor the right to introduce certain evidence in court. How many times have we seen evidence hidden from the jury because it might tend to convince them the defendant is guilty, or for that matter, innocent?

So when the people at the top have sold us out, the people who take orders from them, people who know them, begin to sell us out also. They see their superiors, their bosses and betters, becoming rich while violating laws and ethical standards, and they think: "Hey. That's just wrong!" Then they think. "Wait a minute, if they can do it, I can do it!" And many members of the organization begin looking around for ways to improve their incomes, legal or otherwise.

Individuals who are "getting away with something" go through a series of behavior changes, and that's how others begin to perceive that they have become corrupt. Actual evidence is unnecessary, gathering evidence is a secondary act. The first stage in identifying corruption is pure, raw suspicion, the sudden realization that a leader is hinky. Sometimes we don't know what "makes us think so," but hinky is as hinky does. We can perceive the basis of our suspicions by analyzing behavior.

An ideal leader, a "good" leader, is someone who works as a member of teams, who cooperates and exchanges information, he sets positive objectives, he supports others in the achievement of their goals and he champions talented newcomers, all toward the improvement of the organization and the accomplishment of positive, life-affirming acts. Everything he does contributes to the overall success of the organization and to the respect with which the organization is held.

Everyone who becomes a leader wants to be seen as the ideal leader and so most leaders behave roughly within this description until they become corrupt. Once they are "getting away with something," they keep secrets, they becomes tense, irritable, and begin mandating, threatening, ordering others to accomplish tasks. Most noticeably, they begin rejecting the advice offered by highly moral friends and contacts, although they never disagree with the morality behind the recommended act.

They also become less efficient, spending a lot of money on projects, personnel and contract, which don't seem to do anything to achieve organization goals, or achieve those goals only at an unusually high price.

The corrupt leader also becomes conservative, he doesn't want to do anything that would attract too much attention. Indeed he accepts advice from fewer and fewer people, he shares only information which has already become public. In explanation of his sudden urge for secrecy, he may say: "If you give them information they'll only use it against you."

Ordering and mandating behaviors, my-way-or-the-highway attitudes, implied or direct verbal threats of termination or loss of status, and the outright firings of those who have tried to do their jobs correctly, all are indicators of a defensive state of mind, a mind which feels it is surrounded by enemies. On the one hand, the leader appears confident; at least his cavalier treatment of others and their ideas makes him seem confident. But these behaviors are expressive of a severe lack of confidence, largely arising out of guilt. Those who understand guilt and pay attention to behavior are always the first to recognize the leader is "getting away with something."

For a person with diminished moral and ethical standards, that's all it takes. "If he can get away with it, I can get away with it," they say. And so, let the corruptions commence. Any gossip permeating the organization which discusses the leader, his cronies and what they might be doing to "get away with something," should be thoroughly investigated. If an employee says, "Well, everybody knows he got paid to get those crooks a license," it's time to begin questioning the people who know this. It might be gossip, but it might be the instinctive "reading" of changed behavior by sensitive people.

Persons near the top of the chain of command are well-educated, intelligent and familiar with psychology, risk analysis and trend analysis. When the leader's psychology changes and the trend of his behavior demonstrates more guilt and "covering behavior" to disguise his growing lack of confidence, middle managers quickly adapt their operating methods to the dubious situations in which they more frequently find themselves.

When leaders become dishonest, whole pages of the rule book go out the window. Certain people who were in the "inner circle" are suddenly terminated, though they were considered to be long-term friends of people at the top. The memo on the bulletin board explains only that they "took early retirement" or have decided to "seek opportunities elsewhere." This is called bloodletting, and it means the leaders cannot trust their closest friends. The secret they share, or don't want to share, is too dangerous.

And because of this, the leaders suddenly cannot be trusted, so those further down the ladder from the top make a curious adjustment of their own. Corruption must be secret, and it must gain wealth. So in order to be successfully corrupt, the middle managers don't copy the leader's style of corruption. After all, any corrupt action he takes is secret, invisible to them. Instead, they copy his style of caution. They are as careful or as reckless as the bosses are. Always the rule is: "If he can get away with it, I can get away with it." The more reckless these employees become, the more obvious, to them, is the leader's corruption.

As corruption moves down the chain of command, threats and intimidation begin to affect the lives of citizens:

Developers freely exchange the names of Building Inspectors who can be paid to ignore the signs of unreinforced construction, and they threaten their employees with firing if they talk about this. (They talk about it anyway; of what value is a job working for a crook who builds dangerous buildings to increase his profits?)

City Councilmen who have been "taken care of" unanimously approve the construction of a sewage treatment plant across the street from a factory, so that hydrocarbon toxins can be conveniently poured into a creek, disguised by half-treated sewage, and flow without interruption into the Great Lakes. Factory owners threaten their employees: "If EPA ever so much as tries to investigate us, I can move all your jobs to Mexico and pay those people $1.56 an hour!" Intimidated, the workers keep quiet. Later, when investigators discover the cancer infection rate is suddenly three times the national average, the threat becomes: "Any of you people with cancer, if you give information to those liberals, you could lose your medical insurance."

When a house is partially burned, the Town Council orders it completely demolished, citing health and safety, because the councilors get a percentage from the developer who rebuilds it, and they want him to rebuild the whole house, not just the burned portion. The percentage is bigger, but sometimes this leaves people homeless because their insurance won't cover the cost of the entire house. The Town Council doesn't care, they just resent the loss of that larger percentage.

So the perfidious acts of elected officials and corporate officers are beginning to produce negative impacts on the lives of the working poor. When corruption becomes the norm among the middle class and middle management, the poor merely see it as "the way things are going." Risk-taking poor individuals now commit crimes of armed robbery, while risk-averse individuals commit crimes of drug sales and identity theft. Again, the only behaviors that are copied are the behaviors supporting caution or the lack of caution.

The more profligate the corruption at the top, the more outrageous the anti-social behavior will be at the bottom. The first public clue to widespread corruption is an increase in local crime, unemployment and prostitution, coupled with an increase in outrageous behavior in schools, sports events and places where alcohol is served.

When adults commit crimes against children, and when children routinely engage in acts of cruelty against each other and small animals, these are signs that the corruption has become thoroughly entrenched in a regional society. Parents are communicating their corruption to children, perhaps by screaming, threatening, or attacking them, and secretive acts committed throughout the community (murdering pets or wildlife, arson, vandalism) demonstrate a growing depraved indifference to life, a growing disrespect for the feelings of others. School teachers, coaches or administrators become oppressive, threatening, they engage in severe punishments more frequently than in the past. Politicians call for stronger laws to "deal with these out-of-control teen-agers." Children and teens exchange acts of corruption and cruelty in the schoolyard. Drug use may increase if drugs are available. Frustrated teen-age drivers swerve on the highway to kill raccoons and possum because it "makes them feel better." Verbal communication in the lower classes of local society begins to be infused with threats, intimidation, bullying, anger, contempt, ridicule. Jokes become jokes about death and murder: "Oh, look," a pretty girl says, "a small child, kill it," and all her friends giggle. Signs posted in the local public park threaten litterbugs with prison. "Civilized" young adults gossip and there are no limits to the lies they spread. To a stranger, the local society appears vicious, more dangerous than a ghetto.

All these signs are symptomatic and related. They are forms of evidence indicating the local society is damaged by the corruption in leadership. People are angry and frustrated at being unable to improve their situation. An error frequently made by investigators is the assumption that when one or two flagrantly guilty persons are indicted, the investigation has been successful. This is generally not the case when corruption originates at the top of society. When "successful" persons in the middle of a hierarchy are violating ethics and laws, they are taking their cue from at least one, perhaps all, of the top five senior leaders in the organization. Someone up above middle management is "getting away with something," and the flagrantly obvious deviants below are merely copying what they see.

Throughout the organization, people "know," without having proof, that their leadership is corrupt and that the corruption is bleeding into the lives of average citizens, it is affecting business, it is altering the economy. There will be programs to "cut spending" because the leadership has been siphoning money out of the local or company economy to fill their offshore accounts.

When money becomes unavailable or more expensive, honest bankers and savvy journalists begin to question where the money is going. Soon the leaders confirm their suspicions by erecting barriers to public communication, barriers to criticism. They design twenty-page "security agreements" which all employees are required to sign; the excuse is security, but the purpose of these agreements is to prevent whistleblowing and exclude union activism. Leaders may refuse to answer questions or sit for interviews. They punish those who ask "too many questions." Journalists may be threatened, lose their entry credentials, suckered into other stories with red-herring bait or their editors may be influenced to reassign or terminate them. In cities and towns, new laws may be passed to prevent public meetings or to require a license application and fee for any person or group sponsoring a large gathering of citizens. The police may investigate anyone found to be circulating a petition. This will be "for the security of the community." Whispering campaigns may warn middle-class citizens to "keep away" from someone considered too inquisitive. Strangers may circulate through the parking lot, writing down the license plates of citizens who gather to discuss the problems of the community. Threats are focused on the wives and children of men who attend those meetings, because women "fold" more readily.

The overall message sent down to the working poor by a corrupt leadership is this: "You are powerless, we are strong. We can terminate you, we can take away your pension and your medical insurance. We can have you arrested and punished. We can have you ostracized from your community. We can have your children harmed if you make it necessary. We can frighten your wife, and if she cannot convince you to behave, we will harm your children. Do you want to be responsible for the pain they suffer?"

When a small town is prosperous, it is generally prosperous because one of two situations exists: 1. Everyone works very hard, they cooperate, they exchange information and they have a "one for all and all for one" attitude. OR, 2. There is one key player which provides employment for a lot of people. When that key player (a big factory, a bank, a military base) hires many workers and contracts with small business in the region, the economy is boosted, people become prosperous, and the middle class becomes generally thankful that the key player is in their little town. They would consider it a tragedy if the key player moved or went out of business.

A relationship between any two individuals will evolve, will change, as the individuals enjoy prosperity or suffer financial loss. The relationship between citizens of a town and the management of a key player is no different. Sooner or later, the key player begins to recognize the financial dependency of the town's middle class on economics generated by the key player. Suddenly overconfident, the management team of the key player begins to communicate heightened expectations of cooperation from middle class citizens. They begin to make demands. Who has not observed or heard of the heavy-handed influence of a large factory in the elections of a small town? The management of the factory wants greater influence in the design of laws and enforcement of law in the town; therefore any unethical exercise of power to support the factory's chosen candidate becomes acceptable long as it is secret.

The longer the factory or bank controls the town, the more radical the demands of its management become. They have grown confident in their power and they feel they have a divine right to increase their control. Simultaneously, their overconfidence leads them to make decisions which they know would cause a public outcry if the decisions became known. So, overconfident, but feeling guilt and fear at the thought of "being caught," they make decisions which can only be described as a cover-up. They become desperate to halt inquiries made into their dealings, they begin to make "enemy lists," they engage in secretive behavior. Threats and lies follow the secrecy, terminations of "talkative" employees follow the threats and lies.

When a key player is continually successful at electing its "insider" candidates to the town council, the swelling confidence of management makes greater demands on the candidates who are elected. The pressure is on to accomplish tasks the key player has decided are necessary to its success. At the same time, co-optation strategies (bribery, extortion, threats, public accusations) are used to gain the unwilling cooperation of "outsiders" who are accidentally elected. As a result, new laws are passed to support activities of the key player, and to thwart activities of those who are considered by the key player to be its enemies. Thus we have the image of the one-factory town in which the one factory is acknowledged by all citizens to "have the whole town sewed up."

Two aspects of behavior exist to demonstrate when a key player is moving aggressively to dominate a small town. First, the "outsider" candidates complain during elections that they are attacked unfairly, that others are telling outrageous lies about them, and that the truth they tell is never printed or distributed by local media. Second, the design of laws passed by "insider" legislators may provide clues to the influence of a key player.

In a typical town, a petty law exists and is strictly enforced. No citizen is allowed to post bills or signs on the telephone poles and fences belonging to the town. This seems unfair to most Americans, it is a custom in free cities of America, when your puppy is lost, you put a picture of the puppy on a sign saying "Lost Puppy" and staple the signs on phone poles around the neighborhood. But in a town where the greatest fear of the key player's management is a union organizer whose sign might read: "Fight for Union Wages, Bob's House, Saturday Night!" the posting of bills is strictly prohibited and violators are warned, threatened, arrested and prosecuted.

Rejecting behavior toward "undesirables" has become more sophisticated since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the various Hate Crime laws of more recent vintage. Blatant, angry behavior of power groups toward the people they despise has disappeared, and rejecting activities are much more subtle and refined. These actions fit into a formula combining freedom of speech, legal acts of avoidance and secret maneuvers or gossip. When a large, successful organization engages in rejecting activity, the actions of their supporters are subtle and sophisticated, because they are advised by attorneys. These rejecting behaviors become habitual among the middle-class culture which seeks to imitate and please the powerful organization which dominates them. Thus we have the image of the "town without pity."

As the key player becomes more powerful, the desire of the management team for control and domination of the town begins to violate the U.S. Constitution. Laws which are not strictly legal are passed to keep "undesirables" out of town. Forms of propaganda may be circulated, may even be taught in the high schools and preached in the churches. The propaganda is designed to destroy respect for the federal government, especially with regard to investigative agencies which enforce financial (SEC, FDIC), environmental (EPA), labor (National Labor Relations Board) and other major groups of federal laws. Any "over-the-top" conspiracy theory which is being fed to young people should bring an investigation of the school board, the church hierarchy, or whatever decision-making group is responsible for championing this propaganda. Investigators should inquire to learn why the theory is being taught and who financed the effort. Members of the public should be informed that they have a right to refuse the "training" sessions, disagree with what is taught, and that any effort to punish them for disagreement is illegal, discriminatory and a good reason for a public lawsuit. When whole communities are spoon-fed a political theory which undermines respect for the government, there is usually a financial payment, funds are donated to churches and private in return for the delivery of the desired propaganda. The source of financing should be publicly identified.

In one town, when newcomers rent or buy into the neighborhood, they are visited within the first weeks by a middle-class neighbor, generally smiling and bringing a small gift. A clue to the purpose of her visit may be the number of questions she asks, specifically with regard to how the newcomer earns a living. The newcomer's next experience will be of two policemen showing up at his door, asking questions and mentioning that they have received an anonymous complaint. The police will have checked the newcomer's arrest record, they may demand his social security number. These visits by police will never stop, they may be weekly, monthly or quarterly, but their investigations will continue as long as the anonymous complaints keep rolling in, and the complaints will continue until the unwanted newcomer leaves. The police will never mention that the officer taking calls at the station knows all the middle-class and wealthy people in town by the sound of their voices. In a small town, there is no such thing as an anonymous report, but the officer at the phone is careful never to write down the names of leading citizens.

Middle class citizens involved in a local culture which protects the key player will shun or insult certain newcomers. This is a demonstration of their confidence and their fear at the same time. They owe their prosperity to the powerful mover-and-shaker, so if a newcomer is identified by insiders as an undesirable, they feel no social obligation to be polite or to moderate their anti-social behavior. They may quietly insult him with a smirk, they may scream at him in the public street, they may quietly gossip behind his back, but their behavior will not be moderated by any obligations to the ideals and ethics of the larger society. They are demonstrating their membership in a powerful, ghetto-like gang.

This membership is strongly enforced by gossip, and it creates comical situations. Members of the insider group have been warned away from the newcomer. They have been told not to deal with him or do business with him, to make him go away. Some of these members may accidentally become involved in a conversation before they realize they are speaking in public with someone who must be shunned. Suddenly the face registers surprise, the insider stops talking, steps back confused, turns and walks away without even finishing a sentence. When this happens three or four times, assume you are being shunned. Make a list of the people who are shunning you.

An associated clue might be your equality of racial and economic status with the insiders. If members of other races are shunned, or if middle-class people self-importantly shun working-class people, the newcomer might decide the cause of shunning is his racial or economic differentiation. But if a man is white, middle-class and Christian, and he is shunned by white, middle-class Christians, that is a clue which has great importance. The newcomer is perceived as a threat; the members of the clique which supports the key player have something to hide. They fear the newcomer.

Because he is their intellectual and social equal, he might perceive their secret. He might "see right through them."

"Yeah," says the tough detective. "White men know all about gravity. Crap rolls downhill."