The five authentication factors

I thought I had blogged about the five factors of authentication, either here or at jebredcal, but I guess I haven’t explicitly written a post just on this topic.

And I’m not going to do that today either (at least in any detail), because The Cybersecurity Man already did a good job at that (as have many others).

However, for those like me who get a little befuddled after authentication factor 3, I’m going to list all five authentication factors.

  • Something You Know. Think “password.” And no, passwords aren’t dead. But the use of your mother’s maiden name as an authentication factor is hopefully decreasing.
  • Something You Have. I’ve spent much of the last ten years working with this factor, primarily in the form of driver’s licenses. (Yes, MorphoTrak proposed driver’s license systems. No, they eventually stopped doing so. But obviously IDEMIA North America, the former MorphoTrust, has implemented a number of driver’s license systems.) But there are other examples, such as hardware or software tokens.
  • Something You Are. I’ve spent…a long time with this factor, since this is the factor that includes biometrics modalities (finger, face, iris, DNA, voice, vein, etc.). It also includes behavioral biometrics, provided that they are truly behavioral and relatively static.
  • Something You Do. The Cybersecurity Man chose to explain this in a non-behavioral fashion, such as using swiping patterns to unlock a device. This is different from something such as gait recognition, which supposedly remains constant and is thus classified as behavioral biometrics.
  • Somewhere You Are. This is an emerging factor, as smartphones become more and more prevalent and locations are therefore easier to capture. Even then, however, precision isn’t always as good as we want it to be. For example, when you and a few hundred of your closest friends have illegally entered the U.S. Capitol, you can’t use geolocation alone to determine who exactly is in Speaker Pelosi’s office.

Now when these factors are combined via multi-factor authentication, there is a higher probability that the person is who they claim to be. If I enter the password “12345” AND I provide a picture of my driver’s license AND I provide a picture of my face AND I demonstrate the secret finger move AND I am within 25 feet of my documented address, then there is a pretty good likelihood that I am me, despite the fact that I used an extremely poor password.

I don’t know if anyone has come up with a sixth authentication factor yet. But I’m sure someone will if it hasn’t already been done. And then I’ll update to update this post in the same way I’ve been updating my Bredemarket 2021 goals.

My 2/22/2021 progress on Bredemarket’s five goals for 2021 (the 1/8/2021 9:30am edition)

You will recall that I set goals for my consultancy Bredemarket in 2021. These goals were last revised on January 8, and I don’t see a pressing need to revise the actual goals at this time.

Well, except for the fact that I’m thinking about wildebeests rather than iguanas these days.

Black wildebeest. By derekkeats – Flickr: IMG_4955_facebook, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14620744

But this is a good time to see how I’m doing regarding my 2021 goals.

Goal 1: Help my clients to communicate and reach (and understand) their goals. 

You will recall that this is the “obvious” goal that some businesses don’t even explicitly mention because it should be second nature. Whether a business chooses to mention it or not, it’s essential that the business measure its ability to help its clients.

I cannot go into detail about what Bredemarket is doing with specific clients, but I do believe that I am assisting my clients in reaching their own goals. I’ve shared a testimonial that one of my clients gave me, and I have also received confidential feedback from clients about certain things that I have done for them.

Goal 2: Pursue multiple income streams. 

I’ve devoted a recent post to this, and things have only improved since then.

First, I have an update on my “I cried, I read, I (halfway) conquered” post in which I was trying to get two service listings approved on an (unnamed) intermediary service. When I last left the story, one of the service listings was approved, and the other wasn’t. After I slept on it some more, I revised the text for the second service listing to explicitly mention case studies. After this textual change, the second listing was approved. So I got another cookie.

Second, I have signed up with yet another intermediary service (IS) that allows me to work with a particular identity company. I was put in touch with this IS by a particular person. I would publicly identify that particular person, but if I did so, then everyone would know the identity company, and I make a practice of not identifying my clients. (Since I usually function as a ghostwriter, it’s not beneficial to me to say that I ghostwrote for Company X.) But I am thankful for that person’s efforts (and must privately thank the person personally once I finish this post). After signing up with the intermediary service, I immediately received a consulting request from the identity company, and was able to work on that request.

So now I’m signed up with multiple services, some of which are already providing consulting opportunities for me, and others which may provide opportunities in the future. We’ll see what happens.

Goal 3: Pursue multiple communication streams.

I need to work on this one.

Yes, I have this blog, my Facebook and LinkedIn outlets, and my intermittent podcast.

But other avenues might be beneficial. (Not the plane with a banner.)

I’ve been trying to think of video ideas. So far I’ve shied away from video, because a video of me sitting at a laptop computer typing stuff would not only potentially reveal confidential information, but would also be extremely boring.

But I have been toying around with a video idea that might be mildly entertaining. If I pursue it I’ll let you know.

Goal 4: Eat my own iguana food.

(Or wildebeest food. Same thing, unless you’re an iguana or a wildebeest.)

This ties in with my other goals, such as my idea about creating a video. Not that I’m going to become a 1938 Media and start creating videos for my clients, but it’s good to at least be familiar with the practice.

Goal 5: Have fun.

I am continuing to do this, especially since I have been reading other content that points out that people don’t do business with faceless companies, but do business with people within those companies.

As long as the fun is appropriate and serves an ultimate purpose, fun can be beneficial.

But I’d better read up on the life and characteristics of wildebeests, just in case I get asked specific questions about them.

Goal 6: Be prepared to change.

As I already mentioned, I don’t see any need to add any more goals at this time. These goals are more than enough for me to tackle at the moment.

However, there is one change that I probably should make to the existing goals: perhaps not to the public-facing goals, but to my internal tracking of these goals. The best change that I could make is to make the goals measurable. For example, I could set a particular number of income stream sources, or better still a particular number of income stream sources that actually produce measurable income in 2021. I’ll consider this…internally.

But what about your goals?

Did you set goals for 2021? Have you taken the time to see how you have performed against your goals?

And can Bredemarket help with any of your communication goals?

Take a look at what I do, and if my services can help you, contact me.

When the health passports can’t talk to each other

I’m going to open this post with something that I wrote nearly eight years ago.

I’m sure that many people imagine that standards are developed by a group of reasonable people, sitting in a room, who are pursuing things for the good of the world.

You can stop laughing now.

I wrote this in the context of the then-emerging compression format WebP (we’ll return to WebP itself later). The point that I was making was that something becomes a “standard” by brute force. If a lot of people like something, it’s a standard.

The issue with standards is that they can take years to develop, so standards are adopted after the fact.

Now let’s look at “health passports.” As you may have guessed, these “passports” can be used to enter a country, or a state, or an office building, and are specifically devoted to certifying the health of the passport bearer. If the person meets the health criteria, they can enter the country/state/building. If not, they are prohibited from entry.

An Ottoman passport (passavant) issued to Russian subject dated July 24, 1900. By FurkanYalcin3 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27699398

In a sense, the concept of a health passport is nothing new. Before entering a country, you are often required to satisfy various health conditions, such as being free of tuberculosis.

The current impetus for health passports, of course, is COVID. When COVID spread across the world a year ago, and governments began shutting down borders between countries, a lot of people at a lot of government agencies and a lot of companies began asking two basic questions:

  1. When reliable COVID tests are developed, how will we know whether someone has successfully passed a COVID test?
  2. When reliable COVID vaccines are developed, how will we know whether someone has successfully been vaccinated against COVID?

These questions, especially the second one, were mostly theoretical a year ago, but the government agencies and the companies needed answers to them as soon as possible. And the governments and the companies weren’t going to wait for the entire world to agree on a plan; they wanted to move ahead THAT DAY.

It’s a year later, and COVID tests are readily available, and COVID vaccines have been developed and approved in various countries. And we’ve made a lot of progress.

Or have we?

As Jim Nash notes in a Biometric Update article, there are several different solutions to the “health passport” issue. Nash lists two of them:

  1. The state of Hawaii is working with Clear, United Airlines, and Delta Airlines on a solution. Initially this only documents testing, but it could be expanded to vaccine documentation.
  2. The Malaysia Aviation Group is working with “local authorities” on its own solution.

And that’s just the start of options for health passports. In addition to Clear’s Health Pass, there are a myriad of other options, including AOKpass, CommonPass, IATA Travel Pass, IBM Digital Health Pass, the Mvine-iProov solution, Scan2Fly from AirAsia, VaccineGuard from Guardtime, VeriFLY from Daon, the Vaccination Credential Initiative, and probably some others that I missed.

Can you say “early in the product lifecycle”?

Now the wealth of health passport solutions isn’t much of a problem for most consumers, since we’ll probably need one or two health passports at most as this market matures. Maybe a US person might need one or two health passports for domestic travel, and maybe one to get into the office. In extreme conditions, maybe they’ll be required to enter grocery stores, but this is doubtful considering the resistance of American personalities to governments telling us what to do.

But the wealth of health passports IS a problem if you’re a business. Imagine being at an airport gate and asking a traveler for a Clear Health Pass, and getting an angry reply from the traveler that he already has a VeriFLY pass and that the airline is infringing upon the traveler’s First and Second Amendment rights by demanding some other pass.

Eventually there will be enough of a brouhaha over the multitude of incompatible passes. At that time, several efforts will be made to establish THE standard for health passports, or at least for health passport interoperability.

Yes, “several efforts” will be made. Because each vendor will unsurprisingly advance its own passport as the best one for the standard, or perhaps will form alliances with selected other vendors.

And it will get messy.

Take WebP, which Google was trying to push as a standard eight years ago, with some people accepting WebP, others not supporting it, and others opposing it and then supporting it. Well, while that fight continues…

…Google is experimenting with WebP2.

Yes, progress is good, but there’s a cost to planned obsolescence.

What is the difference between the showroom and the workroom?

When Arizonan Carl Hayden first joined the U.S. House of Representatives, a fellow Congressperson advised Hayden, “If you want to get ahead here, you have to be a work horse and not a show horse.” When Hayden became a U.S. Senator, he dispensed the same advice to incoming colleagues.

But it doesn’t just apply to U.S. Senators.

I thought of this “workhorse/showhorse” distinction last night. It was Valentine’s Day, and I was driving in the dark to pick up some pizza that we had ordered to mark the day. No, that wasn’t’ my Valentine’s Day present; my wife had already received chocolate-covered strawberries.

No, not THOSE chocolate covered strawberries. She got some REAL ones earlier in the day.

So anyway, I was driving back home in the dark after picking up the pizza and noticed something odd. Somewhere out there in the darkness, there were all these glittering tiny lights. I thought to myself, I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the tiny lights glitter.

It turns out that there was a guy, standing next to his van, holding glow-in-the-dark hearts that he was selling.

I didn’t stop, and I didn’t buy. (And I didn’t take a picture, because I knew it wouldn’t turn out well.) But as I was driving home I thought about the guy. And two things came to mind.

First, I doubt that the guy was out selling his products by his van earlier in the day. Why not? Because they wouldn’t look that good early in the day. They would look much better in the dark, in a parking space away from any store or street light. Buyers would then be attracted to his product, like moths to a flame. (Actually, moths probably aren’t attracted to flame. But I digress.)

Second, I realized what would have happened if I had succumbed to the urge to buy one of these glow-in-the-dark hearts from the guy, and if I had taken it home and brought it in the house.

  • Where it wouldn’t look so good, because we have lights all over the house that would diminish the effect of the present.
  • And if I tried to get my wife to go outside to see how the lights looked in the darkness, she would have refused to go out and would have returned to eating pizza.

The challenge that faces any provider is to provide a service that not only looks good when you buy it in the showroom, but also looks good when you put it to work in the workroom. Now there are certainly some providers who are more than happy to take the money and run, but most providers seek to provide long-term customer satisfaction, which is key to getting repeat business and references.

After all, if you go to a car showroom in California and buy a used car, you have the option to buy a contract that allows you to return the car within two days. So if that used car looks great in the showroom but is unsatisfactory when you drive it off the lot, the used car dealer loses that sale, and perhaps loses any future business from you and your friends. Many businesses, such as Amazon, offer similar policies that allow returns under certain circumstances.

Perhaps I’m making assumptions, but I’m guessing that the guy in the van in the dark didn’t have a return policy. It’s not economically feasible in his business.

And now I’m hungry for chocolate covered strawberries. But I’ll probably just get M&Ms and Welch’s fruit snacks.

I cried, I read, I (halfway) conquered

Remember my goal number two, “pursue multiple income streams”?

Well, I was updating my profile on one of my “intermediary services” today, and I thought that I’d list my Bredemarket 400 Short Writing Service and my Bredemarket 2800 Medium Writing Service on that service’s profile.

It turns out that when you add services to your profile, you need to include images along with the listing.

Adding images to these service descriptions should be easy, I thought. After all, I don’t need to create the images myself, I just need to have a good (and royalty-free) concept. Piece of cake.

TL;DR: it wasn’t. So far I have only been partially successful. If you have any suggestions after reading my story, feel free to add them to the comments on this post.

The first attempt

For my Bredemarket 400 illustration, I didn’t have permission to cite any of the blog posts that I’ve written for my clients, so I posted an image from one of my own blog posts instead.

I already had a picture that I could use to illustrate the Bredemarket 2800 Medium Writing Service.

So I uploaded these pictures to the IS.

In this case, “IS” stands for “intermediary service.” It’s good to define your acronyms; otherwise, you might think that I was referring to the Input Station 2000. (OK, you probably wouldn’t think that.)

RTFM

The IS replied to both of my picture uploads with a message that indicated that I didn’t RTFM. I’m not going to define that acronym for you. If you don’t know what RTFM is, Google or Bing or DuckDuckGo it yourself.

You see, I thought it was a GREAT idea to illustrate my writing services with…well, with writing. But if I had RTFM, I would have realized that was the WORST thing I could have done.

Your project requires revisions before it can be approved because the images included do not adhere to our project guidelines. Specifically:

Image contains excessive text. For certain types of work, it is necessary and relevant to include images with text. However, this should be kept to a minimum and the images should be clear.

So I was trying to think of an image with minimal text that I could use to illustrate my writing services.

And that’s when a song popped into my head.

I sang

I wish that I could say that the song in my head was a profound and meaningful song, like Freur’s “Doot Doot.” But sadly, the song in my head didn’t convey the universal truths that Freur’s masterpiece did.

In fact, I couldn’t even remember all of the lyrics of the song that was now stuck in my head. All I could remember was the chorus.

All the people gonna come to Portland
All the people gonna come to Portland
All the people gonna come to Portland
All the people gonna come to Portland

And it’s probably just as well that I couldn’t remember the rest of the lyrics, because this was a song that I wrote myself many years ago, when I was in college in the city of…guess. (Hint: the town is not in the state of Maine.)

I could remember the title of the song, though: “Town Crier.”

I cried

The title caught my attention, because town criers catch attention, because they have to. The Wikipedia article on the town crier explains that a town crier “was used to make public announcements in the streets.”

Prior to widespread literacy, town criers were the means of communication with the people of the town since many people could not read or write. Proclamations, local bylaws, market days, adverts, were all proclaimed by a bellman or crier.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Town_crier

People are literate today for the most part, but there’s so much cacophony surrounding us that sometimes extraordinary means are required to deliver important messages. I’m not suggesting that it is a good marketing practice for people to SHOUT AND WEAR ELABORATE ATTIRE, but you need some mechanism to get people to read your message.

And that’s what Bredemarket strives to do.

So I began to think that the image of a town crier would be just the thing to submit to the IS. And as it turned out, that Wikipedia article included a public domain image of a town crier, taken from an old, old postcard.

By Unknown author – postcard, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7691878

So I submitted that image to the IS and waited for a response.

When the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing

And I got a response a few hours later, stating that my Medium Writing Service image had been…rejected.

Image is not related to the service being offered

I guess my “town crier” representation of my writing service was a little TOO subtle for the IS reviewer’s taste.

So I wondered if there were a better image to illustrate my writing services, since written text was apparently forbidden, and esoteric conceptual illustrations were also forbidden.

Unfortunately, the only idea that came to me was an image of two appropriately diverse people, smiling while looking at a piece of paper.

You know, something from the canned stock images that I detest so much. Note to the reader: using canned stock images to illustrate your marketing materials does NOT make you stand out from the competition.

And by this point I was married to my “town crier” idea anyway, and began thinking that if I actually referenced the words “town crier” in my description of my service, then the picture might become amazingly appropriate after all and would pass IS review.

I became more attracted to the “town crier” concept when I received a message a few hours later from the IS regarding my Short Writing Service.

Congratulations! Your project has been approved.

So, let’s recap.

  • Two similar writing service descriptions were submitted to the IS for approval, both using the same “town crier” image.
  • One was approved.
  • The other was not.

Obviously the descriptions were sent to two different approvers at the IS. Or perhaps the same approver saw both descriptions, and finally figured out my subliminal meaning when he or she read the description for the second submission.

So I decided that I would add a reference to the “town crier” to the unapproved description. And while I was at it, I figured that I’d add the same reference to the description that was already approved, in case another reviewer looked at the description later and didn’t like the image.

But I wasn’t going to do anything that evening. I decided I’d sleep on it.

I read

And as I was sleeping, a new idea popped into my head.

Since I had the opportunity to change my Medium Writing Service image anyway, perhaps I could select an image that was similarly themed to the “town crier” image. This would help distinguish the two services from each other a little bit., while emphasizing their commonality.

Ideally, the new image had to have an “old” feel to emphasize that commonality.

I wondered if a picture of (old) books from a library would do the trick. After all, if you post white papers and case studies on your business website, the documents serve as a “secret salesperson” to continue promoting your message, even when you’re not around.

So I found this image.

By Karl Thomas Moore – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58968347

This worked for me. So I proceeded as follows:

  • I added this image to my Medium Writing Service description, and added a textual reference to a library in the descriptive text, and resubmitted it to the IS.
  • While I was at it, I added a textual reference to a town crier to the descriptive text for my Short Writing Service, and resubmitted that to the IS.
  • Because repurposing is good, I added those same images and text descriptions to the Short and Medium writing service descriptions on the Bredemarket website. I went ahead and added the images and text to the appropriate entries on the Bredemarket “Services” page on Facebook. (As I am writing this post, I realize that I probably ought to update some of the other services at some point. I’m putting that on the “to do” list.)

And now I waited to see if the new, improved (WITH EXTRA WORDS!) description of my Medium Writing Service would be approved by the IS.

You won’t believe what happened next!

And…the new submission was rejected.

Project category chosen doesn’t match the description or images

Because the IS doesn’t have a “white paper” category, I listed my Medium Writing Service under the “case study” category. However, my guess is that it doesn’t matter whether I use “case study” or “white paper” as my product category.

So, how do I illustrate a case study if I can’t show a literal case study?

Do I need to explicitly talk about case studies more frequently in my textual description?

At this point, I’m just going to sleep on it some more. Although if you have any suggestions, feel free to add them to the comments on this post.

And the exercise wasn’t a complete failure. Even though the Medium Writing Service remains unapproved, my Short Writing Service is now listed on the IS website, and I’ve made improvements to my Bredemarket web page and my Facebook page. Multiple wins for me; I get a cookie.

I’ll provide an update if I revisit this.

Special postscript for Spotify users

If you love “Doot Doot,” there’s an extended six minute version.

And is it just me, or is the ending of the song a little reminiscent of “The Boxer”?

When wildebeests propose

(No, this is NOT a post about wildebeest mating rituals. If that is your interest, go here. This is a post about how businesses develop sales proposals that they send to other businesses. This process has its own rituals, but they are not studied by biologists.)

Bredemarket isn’t my first time working as a contractor.

I still remember a night in October 1994. I had been contracting for several firms, and had just started a new contracting assignment in Anaheim, in an oddly shaped triangular building. I was contracting with a company’s Proposals Department, despite the fact that I had never written a proposal before. I had once helped to write a Request for Proposal, but that RFP was pretty much just a checklist.

As a contractor, I was paid by the hour, so I didn’t mind the fact that I was asked to work extra hours that October evening. While the actual employees were feverishly working on a response to a state-issued RFP, I was tasked with writing sole source proposal letters for things I had never heard of before that day. So there I was, writing letters that explained the “Input Station 2000” and the “Latent Station 2000” and things like that.

I continued contracting after that night, and eventually became an employee of the company as a proposal writer. I spent over five years writing about Input Stations and Latent Stations and Search Processors and amazingly small Fingerprint Processor boards, and after a while I even knew what I was writing about. I still remember my joy when I mentally had an understanding of RAID.

After my five years in Proposals, I stayed with the company in another role (product manager) through two corporate acquisitions, and after the second corporate acquisition I rejoined the Proposals organization, spending another five years there. And even after I left Proposals for the second time, I continued to contribute to proposals afterwards. My flying pig did a lot of flying.

I have continued to do proposals work for Bredemarket, helping a firm develop standard proposal templates that its salespeople can use.

But Bredemarket also writes its OWN proposals, which is how Bredemarket gets some of its business.

You’ve heard the saying about eating your own dog food. That statement bored me, so I started talking about eating your own iguana food. Eventually I tired of iguanas and pivoted to wildebeests.

Black wildebeest. By derekkeats – Flickr: IMG_4955_facebook, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14620744

Whether dog, iguana, or wildebeest, you get a slightly different perspective on proposals when you’re writing them for yourself.

But only a SLIGHTLY different perspective. After all, you’re still promoting a product or service, and still communicating benefits to a potential customer. That remains true whether the proposal was written on behalf of Printrak, MorphoTrak, Bredemarket, or one of Bredemarket’s clients.

But things are still a little different when you’re proposing for yourself and your service.

For one, the approval cycle is streamlined. As part of a multinational corporation, the MorphoTrak proposal approval cycle was relatively complex, even after my boss took extreme steps to simplify it. If MorphoTrak was going to release a $20 million dollar proposal, there was a good chance that someone at MorphoTrak’s corporate parent in France was going to have a seat at the approval table.

Now I’ll admit that Bredemarket has never issued a $20 million dollar proposal. Because of this, all of the proposals that Bredemarket has issued have only required a single approver.

Even then, however, you may have to wait a day to get that proposal approved. After all, the proposal approver is a strong practitioner of the “let’s sleep on it” school, and usually comes back with revised proposal ideas a day later after sleeping on it.

For example, let’s take a recent proposal that Bredemarket submitted to a potential client. The proposal was pretty much done, but the “sleep on it” interval had to take place before it was re-examined the next morning. I incorporated my new ideas (my dreams?) into the text, and then I printed a copy of the proposal for one last review.

A few minutes later, the printed copy was filled with changes.

So I made the changes, printed the new final version, and reviewed it one more time.

And added more markups, resulting in changes.

In the end, the proposal exceeded the three review cycles common in some of my offerings. And I probably could have reviewed it one or two more times, but I wanted to get the proposal out the door.

And even as I emailed the proposal to the potential client, I realized that proposals are often iterative, and that my potential client may have some requests for changes, resulting in a proposal modification.

Or maybe more than one proposal modification.

Back when I was at MorphoTrak, I regarded a proposal modification as a sign of failure. It meant that we didn’t get it right the first time, and therefore MorphoTrak would have to spend money to issue a revised proposal, and perhaps a re-revised proposal, and perhaps more. At the time MorphoTrak appended a letter to its revised proposals – “a” for the first revision, “b” for the second revision, etc. To my knowledge MorphoTrak never issued a “z” proposal revision, but we did go fairly deep in the alphabet.

By Serg!o – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=83494916

From my present perspective, I’m a little more welcoming of proposal revisions. It’s an admission that I don’t know everything about the client, although I can hazard a guess as to what the client needs.

Remember Bredemarket’s client who needed standard proposal templates? Well, my own proposal to that client went through a few revisions, even after the original contract was finally approved. There weren’t any huge overhauls in the original proposal content, but there were a few things here and there that needed to be tweaked so that both parties were satisfied.

While I’ve had some successful proposals, some of Bredemarket’s proposals to potential clients did not result in business. (Yet.) These potential clients, for various reasons, decided not to pursue business with me.

Of course, this is true of any proposals organization. No proposal team that I know of has sustained 100% success over an extended period, although I know of one team that won the majority of its competitive bids over a 2 to 3 year period.

But the wildebeest continues to hone his own proposal skills, while using what he learns to benefit future clients.

My entry for the Spilled Coffee Story Challenge

All the cool kids are doing online social media challenges. Some of these challenges, such as the Ice Bucket Challenge, are very beneficial to society. Others, such as the Tide Pod Challenge, are not.

I believe that this challenge, the Spilled Coffee Story Challenge, falls somewhere between the two. It won’t cure any debilitating diseases, but it won’t kill you either.

Before continuing, I want to emphasize that this is the Spilled Coffee STORY Challenge, not the Spilled Coffee Challenge. The Spilled Coffee Challenge could be very dangerous, because coffee is hot. So DON’T do that.

By Julius Schorzman – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=107645

Now most of you have never heard of the Spilled Coffee Story Challenge. That’s because I just made it up based upon an online conversation. So I’ll start by explaining how the Spilled Coffee Story Challenge came to be, and then I’ll tell my spilled coffee story.

How the Spilled Coffee Story Challenge came to be

Not too long ago, Sumair Abro and Rhonda Salvestrini were on a podcast together, talking about storytelling. To illustrate the importance of storytelling, Abro proceeded to…tell a story. It’s a story that he overheard about a woman who spilled coffee. By the end of the story, we all knew that…well, I’ll let Abro tell his story. The video can be found here.

After telling the story, Abro mentioned three points:

  1. “When you tell a story from your personal experience – people are genuinely interested.”
  2. “Don’t show all your cards immediately – have an element of surprise.” (Abro’s story DEFINITELY had a surprise at the end, revealing how spilling coffee could be a wonderful event for a particular person.)
  3. “Tell your story to the right audience.”

Salvestrini then chimed in, noting how stories need to be engaging and relevant.

Before going on, the brief clip that I linked above is actually part of a longer conversation between Abro and Salvestrini, which I mentioned before in this blog post.

But in this case, we’re only talking about the short excerpt on storytelling. I shared this excerpt myself on my Bredemarket LinkedIn page, making the following comment as I did so:

But my coffee-spilling story, in which I almost spilled coffee on a customer (but thankfully didn’t), would be hard to spin into a wonderful business truth.

This prompted a response from Rhonda Salvestrini:

Coffee-spilling stories are authentic and let our audience know that we are human. I’m sure you can spin it into a wonderful business truth. Let’s try!

Sumair Abro also chimed in:

hahaha..you dont need to spin it. It’s authentic as mentioned by Rhonda

Well, Rhonda and Sumair…CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

My Spilled Coffee Story

My spilled coffee story took place a few years ago, when I was working for MorphoTrak. MorphoTrak was a merger of two former competitors that combined their operations—including their previously separate user conferences. I had been involved with the old Motorola User Conferences, so I knew the customers from that side of the company. And as time went on, I got to meet the customers from the non-Motorola side of the company (the Sagem Morpho side).

Me at a User Conference, several years after the coffee incident.

One of the ex-Sagem Morpho customers was from Hawaii. Specifically, the Hawaii Criminal Justice Data Center. This customer not only used MorphoTrak’s fingerprint identification technology, but also used its facial recognition technology, providing Hawaii law enforcement with the ability to use faces as an investigative lead when solving crimes.

Several years ago, the Hawaii Criminal Justice Data Center was represented on the Users Conference Executive Board by Liane Moriyama. Moriyama is a key figure in Hawaii criminal justice, since she was present when Hawaii established its first automated fingerprint identification system in 1990, and was also present for the establishment of Hawaii’s facial recognition system in 2013. But she is proudest of her accomplishments for vulnerable populations:

“We realized that we needed to help the non-criminal justice communities by using the technology and the biometrics (to protect) our vulnerable populations, our children, our disabled and our elderly through licensing and background checks. That really does protect the common citizen, and the culmination of all of that is when I was elected chair of the National Crime Prevention and Privacy Compact Council. I served two terms as the chair nationally and we have made tremendous strides in keeping the vulnerable populations safe.”

Liane Moriyama, Women in Biometrics 2017 Award recipient, quoted in Secure ID News

So Moriyama was a key customer for MorphoTrak, and a nationally recognized public security figure. Oh, and she’s a wonderful woman also (she gave away more macadamia nuts than the guy from Magnum P.I.).

All of this was very true when I was walking down the hall one fateful day. The Users Conference Executive Board was in town planning the next Users Conference. I was not involved in Users Conference planning at the time, but I would usually see Liane and the other customers when they were in the facility.

USUALLY I’d see them.

I didn’t see her one day when I went to the lunchroom to get some coffee, then exited the lunchroom and turned the corner.

Only THEN did I see her, as I turned the corner and found her right in front of me.

And disaster struck, and I spilled my coffee.

Luckily, I spilled it on MYSELF, and DIDN’T spill it on Liane.

She was extremely concerned about the fact that I had spilled coffee on myself, and I was incredibly relieved that I hadn’t spilled coffee on her.

Because if you have the choice, it’s better for you to suffer a mishap than for the client to suffer one.

So all ended well. Liane didn’t have to incur a dry cleaning bill while traveling, I took care of my own clothes, and she still gave me macadamia nuts in the future.

So now I’ll ask you: is “if you have the choice, it’s better for you to suffer a mishap than for the client to suffer one” a wonderful business truth?

Why you need current online content (or, one reason to prove to your customers that your firm is an ongoing, viable concern)

This is a follow up to my post from two days ago…with a critical data point.

In that prior post, I listed some ways that a company’s website and social media channels could look attractive or unattractive to customers. I focused on the second of my three issues, which was whether the website/channels have current content.

But that prior post consisted of my opinions regarding why your company should hire Bredemarket to work with you on written content creation. Obviously self-serving.

But to be honest, is current content all that important? “Does website and social media content really matter?” you may ask. “Don’t B2B customers gather data by word of mouth anyway?”

The Demand Gen Report June 2020 B2B Buyer Behavior Study

Um…word of mouth is not that prevalent, according to Demand Gen Report, which released a B2B study last June entitled “2020 B2B Buyer Behavior Study.” You can download that study yourself for free here.

Much of the study concentrated specifically on COVID-19 related effects, but one item on pages 7 and 8 of the study caught my eye.

This portion of the study concentrated on the sources that B2B purchasers referenced when making buying decisions. Specifically, the survey participants were asked, “What were the first three resources that informed you about the solution in question?” Responses were as follows:

  • Web search: 53%
  • Vendor web sites: 41%
  • Review sites: 30%
  • Prior experience with the vendor: 28%
  • Peers/colleagues: 27%

Yes, almost twice as many B2B buyers depend upon the web for initial research rather than asking peers and colleagues.

Demand Gen Report offered the following comments on these and related responses (emphasis mine):

Making a positive first impression is important in any buying situation, but the survey showed that it is becoming an even more critical part of the buyer journey. Not surprisingly, most buying journeys start online, with a general web search, specific vendor websites and review sites as the first resources buyers used to inform them about a specific topic area related to their purchase….

The survey underscored that content remains a critical influence on B2B buying decisions, with 76% of respondents saying the winning vendor’s content had a significant impact on their buying decision.

Demand Gen Report, 2020 B2B Buyer Behavior Study, page 7. Available via download (5,664KB).

Now I don’t want to quote the entire study: again, you can download the study yourself. And I’ll admit that I’m only concentrating on a portion of the entire study.

But there’s no denying that a company’s online content is critical in B2B buying decisions.

Does your content cater to potential buyer behavior?

So, is your website and social media content the content that you want your customers to see?

  • Have you posted product-specific content on your website blog and/or your website “news” page in the last 3 months?
  • How about your website case studies, product data sheets, testimonials, white papers, and/or presentations? Are these recent, or is your company relying on past successes and failing to communicate present successes?
  • Have you posted relevant content on your company LinkedIn page in the last 3 months?
  • How about your other company social media outlets? Facebook? Instagram? Twitter? YouTube?

Although I refrain from linking to them, I know of countless bad examples of outdated content. Web “news” pages or social media accounts with no posts in years. LinkedIn company pages with no posts at all. Companies that haven’t posted presentations in a decade. Data sheets that prominently mention a product’s compatibility with Windows 7. Companies that post wonderful YouTube videos, but then fail to share the video link on their other social media channels or on their own website.

Call to (your) action

This is the part of the post where I share my “contact with me!” pitch, but before I do that, perhaps you should take the following steps yourself.

  1. Take a look at your website and your social media channels from the view of one of your potential customers. When putting the “customer” hat on, do you like what you see?
  2. If you don’t like what you see, what are you going to do about it?

Now perhaps Bredemarket is NOT the answer to question 2. Perhaps you have an employee who has the time to update your content, and do so on a regular basis.

But if you find that you need outside help in creating content (short blog posts, longer white papers, whatever), feel free to contact Bredemarket.

As a reminder, my process to work with a client to create content is a collaborative process. For example, here’s the process that Bredemarket uses when working with a client to produce written text of approximately 2800 to 3200 words, such as the content for a white paper.

  • Agree upon topic (and, if necessary, outline) with client.
  • Client provides relevant technical details.
  • Bredemarket conducts any necessary research and provides the first review copy within seven (7) calendar days.
  • Client provides changes and any additional requested detail within seven (7) calendar days.
  • Bredemarket provides the second review copy within seven (7) calendar days.
  • Client provides changes and any requested detail within seven (7) calendar days.
  • Bredemarket provides the third review copy within seven (7) calendar days.
  • Client prepares the final formatted copy and provides any post-formatting comments within seven (7) calendar days.
  • Bredemarket provides the final version within seven (7) calendar days.

(By the way, these times are maximum times. For the white papers that I have written, both the client and I have provided our deliverables in less than seven days, and we didn’t need all of the review cycles. Better preparation up-front minimizes the need to fix things at the end.)

A similar (but simpler) process is used for shorter Bredemarket writing projects of approximately 400 to 600 words, such as blog posts or LinkedIn posts.

Regardless of the specifics of the process, the goal is to work together to create text that states your company’s message and attracts your company’s desired clients.

And letting your potential customers know that you exist.

Three ways to prove to your customers that your firm is an ongoing, viable concern

[Update, January 27, 2021: a July 2020 study from Demand Gen Report explains WHY up-to-date content is important. I addressed that study in this post.]

When a customer is looking for a business to provide products and/or services, the customer would probably prefer to deal with a business that is not bankrupt.

Now I haven’t conducted specific surveys on this topic. This is just a wild hunch that I have. (As the meme says, prove me wrong.)

The search for viable businesses also applies in B2B relationships also, or businesses that provide services to businesses. Bredemarket, of course, provides marketing and writing services to businesses, and I’d be wasting my time if I pursued businesses that no longer existed.

What if your business IS still an active business, but just LOOKS like it no longer exists?

I’m going to list a few things that I check out, either when Bredemarket is looking at selling something to potential clients, or when I as a potential customer want to buy something. If you’re a business owner, here is a three question checklist to ask yourself when you look at your website and your social media channels.

  1. Make sure your business website still exists.
  2. Make sure the business website and social media channels have current content.
  3. Get the copyright date right.

After looking at these three items in the checklist, I’ll then have a few more comments on the SECOND of these three items, current (NOT outdated) content, because this is the one for which Bredemarket (or another consultant, or perhaps one of your own employees) can have the most impact.

Checklist Item 1: Make sure your business website still exists

This sounds like a no-brainer, but I’ll say it anyway. If a business website no longer exists, either the business is bankrupt, or the business has changed its marketing and forgot to take care of a loose end or two.

Just today I was surveying local businesses in a particular industry, and I ran across the Google listing for a particular business. The business was highly rated in Google reviews, so I checked out the business a little more. In the process of checking out the business, I found its Yelp page, which had one negative review (and an explanatory reply from the business owner). I also found a social media page for the business, which included a post about the company’s brand new location and how wonderful it was.

But in between checking out the Google listing and the Yelp page, I happened to check the business’ own website. This website was prominently mentioned on Google, Yelp, and the social media channel. And when I followed the link to that website, I saw this.

Now I’m going to give the business the benefit of the doubt and assume that the business DIDN’T send unsolicited commercial email, violate copyright, or used fraudulent credit cards. (If it did, the business owner is in REAL trouble right now.)

I’m just going to assume that the company didn’t pay its web hosting bill.

Why am I assuming this? Because after I visited the web page, I looked at the Google listing again, and took a more careful look at the other content that I found on Yelp and the social media channel. When doing so, I noticed that no reviews or other content had been posted about the business in more than a year. (See the second item on the checklist, below.) So my guess is that the business is no more.

Now, of course it’s possible that the business is still operating in a minimal way, without a website. (If I felt like it, I could drive by the new location advertised on its social media channel and see what’s there.) Or perhaps the business created a new website with a different URL and never closed the old one.

But do people really want to do business with a company that doesn’t pay its bills?

Checklist Item 2: Make sure the business website and social media channels have current content

Lack of current content is something that troubles bankrupt companies and ongoing companies alike. Ever since I started Bredemarket, I’ve dealt with several companies that are facing a “dated content” problem. Now I know that these companies aren’t bankrupt, and are in fact bringing in revenue; it’s just that their content is outdated.

What usually happens, in small and large companies alike, is that an effort is made at some point to “spruce up” the content of a website and/or its social media channels. Perhaps an employee is assigned to this task, or perhaps a consultant does it. (I’ve done both.) A heroic effort is undertaken, and a bunch of new content is produced, impressing the company heads and the company’s clients.

But then…things happen, and next thing you know your online channels have content that is three years old…or ten years old.

Or if the exact year of the content isn’t explicitly identified, there are clues within the content itself as to its age, such as “Our product is now supported on Windows 7.”

What are the ramifications of dated content? Visitors begin to wonder why there isn’t any new content.

  • Perhaps the company went bankrupt; see my first checklist item, above.
  • Perhaps the company is still a going concern, but hasn’t done anything in the last few years. Maybe that great customer reference from three years ago was the last new customer that the company got, or maybe that great presentation from several years ago was the last time the company presented anything.
  • Perhaps the company has continued to do business, but its more recent business isn’t as impressive as its previous business.
  • The most positive explanation is that the company HAS done amazing things in the last few years, but hasn’t taken the time to tell the story of its most recent accomplishments. (TL;DR: I can help.)

Now I don’t always eat my own wildebeest food myself in this regard. I’ve previously noted that my Empoprise-NTN blog isn’t updated regularly; in fact, it has only had one update in the last five years. (And no, I can’t really use COVID as an excuse.)

If you’re a business owner, ask yourself: do you want your business social media channels to look as outdated as the Empoprise-NTN blog? I don’t think you do.

Checklist Item 3: Get the copyright date right

This is a simple little thing, but it can stick out when it’s not fixed.

Now I’m writing this in January of a new year, so I’ll cut a little bit of slack here for companies with a “Copyright © 2020” notice on their web pages that hasn’t been updated to 2021 yet.

But if your website still says “Copyright © 2019,” fix it. Now.

Incidentally, I found a site that says “Copyright © 1996-2019” at the top of the page, and “Copyright © 2021” at the bottom of the page. Confusing.

But let’s get back to Checklist Item 2

Outdated copyright notices are more of a nuisance than anything else, and if your company has already gone bankrupt there isn’t much that can be done.

Outdated content is something that a company CAN remedy. And it’s something that the company SHOULD remedy.

Neil Patel provides one practical reason for removing outdated content:

The more low-quality content you have on your site, the less authoritative you’ll look to Google, and the harder it will be to rank.

But that’s just Google. Google and Bing are important, but perhaps not as important as real people.

Hugh Duffy wonders how those real people react to outdated content.

An outdated site makes your firm seem behind the times. These days, that can be cause for potential clients to steer clear. They think if you’re not updating your site, there may be other aspects of your business left unattended.

You don’t want your dated website to cause Google to question it, and you certainly don’t want your dated website to cause living breathing people to question it.

So fix the content in the website and the social media channels!

To fix an outdated content issue, you just have to ask yourself a few questions.

  • What do you want your online channels to say (the message)?
  • What recent examples can you cite in your online channels that support your desired message?
  • Who knows about these recent examples? (The account manager? The program manager? The customer?)
  • Who can talk to these subject matter experts (SMEs) and convert the examples into the proper messaging?

Now of course the step of eliciting the correct information from the SMEs and finalizing a written message has its own sub-process. For example, here’s the process that Bredemarket uses when working with a client to produce written text of approximately 2800 to 3200 words, such as the content for a white paper.

  • Agree upon topic (and, if necessary, outline) with client.
  • Client provides relevant technical details.
  • Bredemarket conducts any necessary research and provides the first review copy within seven (7) calendar days.
  • Client provides changes and any additional requested detail within seven (7) calendar days.
  • Bredemarket provides the second review copy within seven (7) calendar days.
  • Client provides changes and any requested detail within seven (7) calendar days.
  • Bredemarket provides the third review copy within seven (7) calendar days.
  • Client prepares the final formatted copy and provides any post-formatting comments within seven (7) calendar days.
  • Bredemarket provides the final version within seven (7) calendar days.

(By the way, these times are maximum times. For the white papers that I have written, both the client and I have provided our deliverables in less than seven days, and we didn’t need all of the review cycles. Better preparation up-front minimizes the need to fix things at the end.)

A similar (but simpler) process is used for shorter Bredemarket writing projects of approximately 400 to 600 words, such as blog posts or LinkedIn posts.

Regardless of the process(es) that I use, or that another consultant uses, or perhaps one of your employees uses, the goal is to create written text that meets your company’s needs.

And if you have an outdated content problem and need a consultant to help you fix it, contact me.