Generational Vocab
(Try this quiz)

THOUGH I WORK in a cutting-edge technology business, I am neither inured to nor beyond appreciating how the wonders of technology have transformed the world you and I get to live in.

What on earth that thing with the finger holes?

What on earth is that thing with the finger holes?

Not too long ago, not even royalty had our standard of living, what with climate-controlled homes, luxury cars, and fridges filled with fresh foods from all over the world. And even at my (cough, cough) young age, I recall when picking up my favorite band’s latest meant a trip to the CD store, seeing a post-run movie meant running to Blockbuster, research meant a trip to the library where I’d dust off a dry, brick-like encyclopedia that was out of date before it went to press, and banking meant having to put on clothes, leave the house, enter a building, and actually speak with someone.

While my kids will doubtless see technology change their world as well, they will grow up taking for granted the innovations I find wondrous. 

Want to feel old? See how anyone born in 2000 or later fares with the following questions, which I bet most readers will answer with no trouble: 

  • Why do we call typing “typing”? Dialing “dialing”? Hanging up “hanging up”?
  • Why do we call news outlets “the press”?
  • Why does holding a fist to the side of your head with your thumb extended to your ear and your pinky to your lips mean “Call me”?
  • Why do we say we’re “rolling up” the car window?
  • Why do we call type “type,” fonts “fonts,” and the space between lines “leading”?
  • What does “that show isn’t on right now” mean?
  • What does “cc” mean? What’s a “carbon copy”?
  • Why do we call taking a video “filming”?
  • Why do we call that handheld thing a “tablet”?
  • Why the “smart” in smart phones”?
  • Who is Ringo Starr?

If you’re really a glutton for punishment, next see how many newer terms your kids use that fly right over your head.

Besides serving to make some of us feel out of touch, the above exercise has marketing implications. Rapid advances can separate markets not just by age, but by vocabulary and worldview. It’s important not to miss key audiences by speaking from a standpoint that unwittingly excludes them.

Venturing into another generation’s vocabulary requires care. Watch a younger generation’s eyes roll when an older one looks silly attempting, not successfully, to pull off using their argot. Good luck to us all.

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The informed vs
the uninformed

Nearly 37 years after physicist and author Isaac Asimov penned “A Cult of Ignorance” for Newsweek, this sentence is still often cited:

The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

For those who find “ignorance” a little harsh—I do—I offer this softer version:

… the false notion that uninformed opinions are as valid as informed ones.


Perhaps you have run into situations where an uninformed opinion overruled your expertise. Say, when a decision-maker pooh-poohed a conclusion validated by testing and data purely on the grounds that it contradicted a prevailing, often comfortable assumption. “I don’t care what you saw through your telescope, Mr. Galilei. It’s my opinion that the sun orbits Earth.”

When facts contradict closely held opinions, a convenient out is to cast aspersions upon expertise. Consider some of the words society uses for expert that damn by connotation: Egghead, nerd, geek, pundit, elite, ivory tower, and intellectual, to name a few. A criticism recently levied at a friend sums up the attitude: “What is this obsession you have with facts?”

What Asimov didn’t see coming was the Internet. It has spread the above-cited quote farther and wider and, ironically, spread misinformation even more.

The rise of satire sites like The Onion and The Borowitz Report hasn’t helped. More than one well-intended dupe has taken satire pieces as factual and spread them via social media. Perhaps you are familiar with Poe’s Law, coined in 2005 by Nathan Poe:

Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humour, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.

Besides this blog (thank you for reading, by the way), I write for various financial services industry publications. Yet for me to assume that having an audience makes me an expert would be to get things backward. Expertise is the product of doing your homework. I take seriously the responsibility to get my facts straight, and to promptly correct errors when I blow it. Would that more writers would do the same.

Verifying facts and informing one’s opinion is also the reader’s responsibility. We are not helpless. Here are a few tools to keep at hand for sorting sense from nonsense:

• Search in “incognito” or “private” mode. Google and other search engines learn and play to your proclivities. That’s no way to challenge your assumptions. Going incognito disables that bias.

• After a search, search again adding the word “fraud,” “scam,” or “con.” This can help you find your way past propagandists who front-end load the Internet.

• Consult, which follows up on claims made by public figures. No one is consistently accurate, so expect to find the site confirming and contradicting your most-liked as well as your least-liked people, which I take as a sign of commitment to fairness.

• Bookmark Merrimack College communication and media professor Melissa Zimdars’s page, “False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical ‘News’ Sources.” Keep in mind, however, that the list is by no means complete, nor can it ever be. Zimdar pledges to continually update, but don’t assume that absence legitimizes a source.

• Give expertise its due. Where the title expert is fittingly bestowed, it’s an indication you’re dealing with someone who knows more than the average Joe in a given area. Yes, experts can be wrong; but when a majority arrive at the same conclusion, you’re dealing either with something that is likely true or a vast conspiracy. That’s where Occam’s Razor can help. Which reminds me …

• … Keep Occam’s Razor in mind. It’s not a surefire validity gauge, but it’s a help. Named for a Franciscan friar by the name of William of Ockham (1287–1347), it states:

Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.

The above resources can be useful when making marketing decisions. Marketing is an area with an abundance of sound data, but it’s also an area with an abundance of unproven opinions brandished as facts. Sorting informed from uninformed opinions can increase your odds of a marketing success. Or, at the very least, it can decrease your odds of an embarrassing failure.

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A choice of where to
read my new article on
the ROI of digital banking

WE HEAR it over and over: Digital banking is the future, and financial institutions are well advised to hop on that bandwagon yesterday or sooner. But the question has remained, Aside from keeping up with the times, what does digital banking offer financial institutions in terms of ROI? 

CB GraphicABA Graphic

Happily, a recently completed study, “Quantifying the Value of Digital Engagement,” conducted by Fiserv in partnership with Bank of the West, offers early, encouraging answers. I write about them my article, “Measuring the ROI of digital banking.” You can even choose if you’d rather read it from ABA Bank Marketing or CB Insight.

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The Positive Side
of Cross-Selling

Electronic devices tend to work  better with batteries.

Batteries should be recommended.

Perhaps you heard: Cross-selling was in the news not long ago.

United States Senator Elizabeth Warren’s comment “Cross-selling isn’t about helping customers get what they need” went instantly viral. There’s no telling how many people it reached and prejudiced against what can be a mutually beneficial customer service.

To say that alleged abuses make cross-selling not about helping customers is like saying that overeating makes food bad for you. There is responsible and irresponsible eating, much like there is responsible and irresponsible cross-selling.

The difference responsible and irresponsible cross-selling isn’t hard to detect. Responsible cross-selling is all about helping customers. Irresponsible cross-selling isn’t.

Responsible cross-selling consists of identifying and offering to fill needs or wants. It provides a valuable service, because customers don’t always think to request what they need. If you ever brought home a new electronic gizmo only to wish the cashier had cross-sold you some batteries, you can identify.

For that matter, customers don’t always know what they need. A friend recently bought a canoe, life jackets, and paddles. The salesperson suggested—cross sold—a small dolly designed for hauling canoes from the parking lot to the water. My friend had never heard of canoe dollies, but the next day as he lugged the canoe up a long, sloping path, he found himself grateful he’d been cross-sold.

Sometimes customers are aware of needs but unaware there are products that fill them. When I worked in the marketing department of a sizable bank, I became an instant hero when I informed another department that the printing company they used also provided automated envelope stuffing. A bit of cross-selling on the printer’s part would have saved staff from months of needless after-hours envelope-stuffing.

Responsible cross-selling takes care of customers by offering them what they may need (and backing off when the answer is “no thanks”), and helps out banks and merchants with ethically earned, incremental profits along with increased loyalty.

Irresponsible cross-selling consists of browbeating or deceiving customers into buying what they neither want nor need. I’m sure you can identify with that, too, if you’ve ever experienced salespeople all but wrapping their arms around your ankles and threatening to hang until you buy.

Cross-selling’s “brand” has taken something of a hit in the media these days. If you have a responsible cross-selling program, good, though you might want to consider calling it something else for a while. Perhaps “customer care.” Which, in fact, it is.

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My new article for
The Financial Brand

tfbSmartphone banking: Still evolving

The day may be nearer than anyone thought when children wonder aloud what on earth their forebears did with those folded, leather things displayed in the museum. Tell them they’re looking at a checkbook cover and a wallet, and they may well ask, “What’s a checkbook? What’s a wallet?”

[Click here to read the rest of the article in The Financial Brand]

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