How To Market a Boring Business


PR, Advertising and Marketing Strategies for Regular, Button-Down Brands

The problem with a lot of marketing advice is that the examples they use are not exactly typical. It’s hard for businesses, particularly smaller businesses, to relate to the bold innovations of companies like Apple or Tesla. Not everyone is an American Apparel.

The reality is that a lot of businesses (and books) are low-key. If we’re being honest, we might say that a lot of businesses are boring. Or, at least they think they’re boring because they read the endless supply of breathless articles about some new Zappos plan to have innovation, realize immediately that this has no chance of working for them, and get depressed.

But boring doesn’t mean you can’t be profitable and it definitely doesn’t mean you can’t use innovative marketing techniques to get quality attention. Let’s look at some of the opportunities and strategies that supposedly boring business can use:

1) First Off, Is Your Business Actually Boring?

There has to be something about your business that gets you excited. Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t have spent your precious—irreplaceable—time on it. We can’t tell you the number of times we’ve listened to clients describe their business, and were bored out of our minds as they droned on and on about tedious details—and then were shocked out of our stupor by something amazing that they skipped over. It turns out that they were sitting on some crazy fact, or some backstory that wasn’t at all obvious but was incredibly compelling. That thing instantly changes the product from boring to exciting.

Though as a side note, what often gets you excited about something—like accounting—is precisely what bores other people. You have to find what interests them.

What bores people is when a business has not actually taken the time to figure out who they are and what they do—when they haven’t figured out their story and told it properly. More than that, it wastes people’s time. It’s like a friend who tells a story about something you experienced together, but leaves all of the good parts out, and you want to jump in and correct them—you know something is there, they’re just explaining it poorly.

Point being: Before you write your business off as boring and resign yourself to marketing accordingly, I would actually double check and make sure that it is.

2) Tell a Great Story

If the difference between a boring business and an exciting one is a good story, then the key is to find and tell a great story about your business. People love stories, they use stories to make sense of the world. A great example of this is the Significant Objects Project. The project took nearly worthless junk from thrift stores, had writers craft a fictional story about the object, and then posted the object, along with its new fictional story, to eBay. The result? They sold $128.74 worth of thrift-store junk for $3,612.51. If you can tell a great story about your product, you can take something boring and make it interesting.

That being said, here is the key to great storytelling: You must make the CUSTOMER the hero and center of the story, NOT you or your boring product.

For example, selling mediocre sub sandwiches doesn’t really blow anybody’s doors off, but when Subway introduced the Subway Diet and its spokesperson Jared, their business exploded because their customers connected the story of their struggle to lose weight with Jared’s struggle, thereby making Subway not just the alternative choice but the healthy choice. Subway is now the biggest fast food chain in the world, based very much on this story that—while only dubiously true—still connected with millions of people.

3) Crazy Marketing Can Compensate For a Boring Product

We’ve all heard of Go Daddy. So many times in fact that most of us have forgotten what a boring ass business it actually is. Go Daddy is a domain name registrar. It doesn’t get more boring than that. But they have always been so over the top with everything they do—from the name itself to their Super Bowl ads—that it’s turned the company into a spectacle. You can say that this is cheap or tacky, but the business was sold for a reported $2.25 BILLION dollars (meaning they don’t care what you think).

The point isn’t that you should be cheap or tacky like GoDaddy, but to understand that a very reliable tactic for promoting a boring business is to use an advertising strategy that is focused on crazy, outlandish or fun things, and then associate your name with those things.

I want to make it clear that here we are not just talking about standard PR & Marketing—advertisements, signage, name, etc. Sometimes craziness here can be fun and a key differentiator. Car dealers are a great example of this. This Eastern Motors ad has gotten over 160,000 views on YouTube, just by having professional athletes lip sync their jingle (which is also really catchy). Remember the Mini Mall commercial? That’s another. I also like this classic ad from a BBQ restaurant in OKC. You can even make taxidermy interesting; this Ojai Valley Taxidermy ad has got over 14 million views on YouTube.

If you run a business that isn’t cutting edge or doesn’t naturally stick out of the crowd, it’s your job to be different and get attention. As you can see with the previous ads, going over the top can work. If you think about what these businesses are doing, it’s really deciding that their current story is too tame—so they’re telling a new one through crazy or funny commercials. Your business may be boring, but you might not be. If not, then use your sense of humor to spice up your business to show there is a real, funny person behind it, and people will be more attracted to it.

4) Do Interesting Things

Holstee started out as an apparel startup in Brooklyn, selling trendy t-shirts and wallets — not exactly earth shattering stuff. But when they created the Holstee Manifesto, an inspiring mission statement about following your dreams and living your passion, their business blew up. Because it was so much more than self-promotion the short video graphic the owners designed went on to be seen more than 60 million times and was translated into dozens of languages. Did the founders expect it to go viral and launch their company in front of millions of potential customers? No, but because it was inspiring, moving, directed at a specific audience, and concise, it had a far better chance of doing so than the countless boring and meaningless mission statements written by other companies each and every day.

Or take something we did for one of our own clients, Jerry DeWitt, author of Hope After Faith. Jerry had been a Pentecostal minister for 25 years before he left the church and became an atheist. Near the release of his book, Jerry started a full-fledged atheist “church” and held a Sunday service in Lake Charles, LA. Plenty of people write about religion, but the idea of starting an atheist church was so different and interesting that it was picked up by The New York Times.

Or take the transportation startup Uber. They’re basically an on-demand town car service. But they make it interesting by delivering flowers for your girlfriend on Valentine’s Day, bringing ice cream to your office during the summer, and even delivering Christmas trees during the holiday season. They’ve also managed to turn pretty standard lobbying and political influence into activist causes by framing their transportation issues in an exciting way.

5) Own What You Are; Honesty Works

So many businesses try to put on a facade, pretending to be something amazing and revolutionary, when they are just very normal businesses. Why not lean into what you really are, and stand out by being honest about it. If you’re a plumber, don’t act like you’re something else; you can even turn that around by saying things like “We clean up poop, so you don’t have to.”

Far too many companies obscure what they do out of guilt or embarrassment by embracing meaningless business buzzwords. In fact, a recent study showed that those buzzwords are costing companies tens of millions of dollars a year because their own employees don’t even understand what they mean. For example, can any normal person actually say what business Cisco Systems is in? Their tagline is “The worldwide leader in networking that transforms how people connect, communicate and collaborate.” Telling a story is great, but it has to make sense, and that one does not. Why not just be clear, “We make networks work” or “We make the devices that connect the world”? See how much more that story resonates? It’s because it makes sense and fits the facts.

Instead, take a good, hard look at what your business does and tell people what you do in an honest, compelling way. People are sick of the obfuscation and lies of corporate behemoths, they love when a business is upfront with them. Take the moving company, College Hunks Hauling Junk. It started with a group of college friend and a cargo van. They did a great job and had a name that differentiated them from other boring moving companies. Word quickly spread and they eventually landed on Inc Magazine’s 500 Fastest Growing Companies (and note that, in both our examples of being starkly honest about what you actually do—the plumber and the mover—you open up opportunities for humor).

6) Reframe Your Business

Lots of industries are boring not because they aren’t important, but because we take them for granted. Clean water is boring, safe food is boring, electricity is boring, internet service providers are now boring—yet these are quite literally the most important developments in human history!

People forget how important clean water is, because it’s always there, it’s become a commodity. If your boring business is something utterly crucial, but taken for granted, then show them what a world would be like without you. This lets them appreciate what they have, and creates a lot of appreciation for what you do.

In this same vein, a lot of businesses seem boring because they’ve chosen to frame and sell themselves exactly the same way as their competitors. The more there is of something, the less unique or special it seems. A way to change that is to reframe what your business stands for. Take Chipotle for example. Good, fast Mexican food is generally cheap and easy to find. But Chipotle has reframed their business from a fast food company to an advocate of the sustainable food movement, or Food with Integrity as they call it. Their latest ad promoting this angle, “The Scarecrow,” has gotten over eleven million views on YouTube.

But of course, Chipotle has been like this from day one. That doesn’t mean you can’t change, or reframe your business. One of our clients, Microventures, originally billed itself as a crowdfunding platform but that didn’t stand out in a crowded space or properly explain their real strengths. They’re now in the process of rebranding as the “Gateway to Venture Capital”—in other words, an entry point for investors looking to make their first startup investments rather than a technology platform. Their branding, imagery and framing will change and more media attention and customers will follow.

7) Reframe/Rethink Your Business Model

Selling shoes isn’t inherently exciting, but TOMS shoes—even though they are basically a single style of slippers—are exciting because they baked great marketing into their business model. The story of TOMS is about a business model of giving—for every pair of shoes they sell they give one to a child in need. The key is that in their story, the consumer is the protagonist in a heroic story of helping poor children worldwide. Every aspect of the TOMS story, whether generated by the company or the customers uniquely furthers the TOMS company story. They built that interesting activity into the heart of the brand instead of just taking it on or doing it as extra.

Or look at Dollar Shave Club. They disrupted a boring business (men’s razors) by rethinking the business model. They saw a gap in the market (quality razors are actually cheap to make) and made a great recurring revenue business out of thin air by making it subscription based. They also launched their business with an honestly funny video that has been seen over twelve million times. Even better, the founder of the company wrote the script and performed in the ad himself—you can’t get more authentic than that.

When James Altucher released his last book, he got press and attention simply by deciding to accept a new payment method. By being the first author to exclusively take Bitcoin as a payment method, he was was picked up by some of the biggest news sites in the world, like Yahoo! News and CNBC. By tweaking the business model of his book release a little, we were able to get major attention for James’ book during launch week.

8) You Don’t Have To Appeal To Everyone

Every client wants to be “in the news.” They want the front page of The New York Times. They want to go viral, or they have absurd expectations about who wants to cover them. Outside of (totally understandable) vanity, when you really ask them why, it’s usually for a simple reason: they don’t know who their actual customers are and therefore default to a shotgun approach. They think that reaching millions of people nationwide is the best way to get to the 250 people within a mile radius of their business that are actually interested in their product. Which is silly right?

My friend Brandon Mendelson likes to point out the example of Blendtec, who you’d think would be a great example of successfully marketing a boring business. After all, their videos got millions of views and drove tons of “awareness” for their expensive blenders. Except sales didn’t really go up very much. Why? Because they sold expensive blenders. The audience for these are very small, and they generally aren’t watching videos on YouTube.

Marketing a boring brand should still have the key strategic objective of, you know, selling products. You could argue that while they successfully told an interesting story, they erred by telling it to the wrong people.

If you sell a product that appeals only to a small niche, perhaps your industry press is the best place for you since that’s where your customers are. Noah Kagan, founder of the daily deal site AppSumo, explains it simply: “Marketing has always been about the same thing—who your customers are and where they are.” Do your research and find out where your customers congregate. Smaller media niches can be not only A LOT easier to pitch but the results are usually much more effective. It might not boost your ego, but it’s what gets results.

This point overlaps with #1, but what we are saying here is simple: Your business is probably boring to most people—so don’t try to sell it to those people. It probably isn’t boring to your prospective customers…so sell it to them!

9) Build the Marketing Into the Product

Word of mouth is ultimately the most effective and most desirable form of marketing for any product. First, we’ll assume that whatever service or product you’re selling is worth sharing. After that, you have to encourage the growth you’d like to see by adding campaigns that enable sharing.

When the iPod came out it it was clear the product was incredibly exciting and innovative—and we understand that not every product is going to be like that. At the same time, Apple’s best marketing decision for the whole project may have been a choice they made on a relatively standard accessory: the color they chose for their headphones.

Think about it. Before the iPod came out ALL headphones were black. When people started hitting the streets with the white iPod headphones, everyone knew what they were listening to — an Apple iPod. Millions of people all around the world were marketing for Apple because they built it directly into the design of their product. Apple took a boring part of their product and turned it into a marketing opportunity, which is something you can do for your “boring” business as well.

Another great example of this Evernote, the note-taking software company. It’s nearly impossible to make note-taking software sexy or exciting, so instead of forcing it, Evernote took a different route. When building Evernote, the company didn’t spend a dime on marketing, instead using that money for product development. While that decision definitely slowed growth in the beginning, it has paid off because Evernote is now far and away best productivity and note-taking application on the planet. It’s so good that Evernote started hearing from users that they were getting into trouble in meetings because they started taking notes on their laptops with Evernote. In response, the Evernote team made stickers that said, “I’m not being rude. I’m taking notes in Evernote.” Thus, their most loyal customers were turned into billboards that went from meeting to meeting.

Or consider Dropbox, the cloud storage company. At this point there are a handful of cloud storage companies competing for users—why is Dropbox so much bigger than other cloud companies, like Sync? For one, Dropbox doesn’t make boring Twitter ads like the one above. Sync’s ad only vaguely tells users how they’re different than Dropbox when the whole point is to get Dropbox users to leave and sign up for Sync.

Instead, Dropbox bakes marketing into their product with their storage referral program, which incentivized people to share the product with their friends. For every friend you signed up for the service, you received 500 MB of free storage from Dropbox. The results for Dropbox were astounding. Signups increased by 60 percent and they now have 2.8 million direct invites a month because of the referral program. Think about creating incentives for your customers that will make them want to organically share your product or service.

So…what are you going to do with your boring business?

Of course the typical options are also available to you. You can spend tons of money on advertisements or you can hire an expensive traditional PR firm. But I have to tell you, it’s going to be a hard slog. It’s like running into a headwind…through sand. And it is expensive.

It doesn’t have to be that way though. Your business doesn’t have to be boring. You can lean in to what makes you different by telling your unique founder story. Or you could throw caution to the wind and make a crazy, funny ad that only your business could think of. You could also bake marketing into your product or even your business model, giving yourself a marketing advantage that your competitors won’t be able to replicate.

When we meet with “boring” companies or see their marketing efforts out in the world we’re sometimes puzzled; it’s almost as if they’ve given up and decided to simply do what all the other businesses in their niche do.

No matter how staid you think your business might be, there is an aspect of it that you can create a story around to make it compelling to other people. Turn up what makes you different or unique and don’t be afraid to stand out from the crowd. It is precisely in doing this that will make other people attracted to what you do as a business.

Ryan Holiday is a founder of StoryArk Creative, a marketing and advising firm whose clients include Tim Ferriss, American Apparel, creativeLIVE and Microventures. He is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying and Growth Hacker Marketing—his monthly reading recommendations are found here.

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Facebook Starts Showing Fewer Text Status Updates From Pages, More From Friends


 

 

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Facebook has just announced a slight tweak to the Newsfeed algorithm. The newest version of the Newsfeed will show fewer text-based status updates from Pages, but will serve more text-based status updates from users.

 

The good news for Pages administrators is that Facebook will probably be distributing more status updates from Pages that are media- or link-based, as opposed to text-based.

 

According to a blog post, Facebook learned through testing that, the more simple, text-only status updates people see, the more they share. In fact, the initial test resulted in an average of 9 million more status updates written every day.

 

However, a text-only status update from Pages didn’t yield the same result as text status updates from regular users. Knowing this, Facebook has decided to pull back on text updates from Pages.

 

So what should Page administrators do to make up for the traffic?

 

Aside from the obvious switch to more media- and link-based content sharing, Facebook recommends using the link share tool rather than embedding a link in the text of the update, as it provides a more rich media experience for the consumer.

 

Last month, Facebook made changes to the feed that showed more links, likely an attempt to battle other news discovery tools. Of course, rumors suggest that tweaking the newsfeed is just a battle in the war on news discovery apps, as the social network is planning to launch a Flipboard-like newspaper competitor in the near future.

 

Here’s a copy of the announcement:

 

The goal of every update to News Feed is to show people the most interesting stories at the top of their feed and display them in the best way possible. We regularly run tests to work out how to make the experience better. Through testing, we have found that when people see more text status updates on Facebook they write more status updates themselves. In fact, in our initial test when we showed more status updates from friends it led to on average 9 million more status updates written each day. Because of this, we showed people more text status updates in their News Feed.

Over time, we noticed that this effect wasn’t true for text status updates from Pages. As a result, the latest update to News Feed ranking treats text status updates from Pages as a different category to text status updates from friends. We are learning that posts from Pages behave differently to posts from friends and we are working to improve our ranking algorithms so that we do a better job of differentiating between the two types. This will help us show people more content they want to see. Page admins can expect a decrease in the distribution of their text status updates, but they may see some increases in engagement and distribution for other story types.

Many Page owners often ask what kind of content they should post. This is difficult to answer, as it depends on who your audience is and what they want to see.

Still, one thing we’ve observed is that when some Pages share links on Facebook, they do so by embedding the link in the status update, like the one below:

The best way to share a link after this update will be to use a link-share, so it looks like the one below. We’ve found that, as compared to sharing links by embedding in status updates, these posts get more engagement (more likes, comments, shares and clicks) and they provide a more visual and compelling experience for people seeing them in their feeds.

 

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YOLO: You’re Doing It Wrong


“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” — The Buddha

Modern technology has forever changed the way we experience things. Gone are the days of enjoying a scenic view or dreading boring dinner conversation in a quiet restaurant. For better or worse, these experiences and many others are being replaced by smartphone selfies, Twitter updates and awkward Snapchats. All is not lost however. Cultural friction has inspired some resistance to these practices. In the so-called “Age of Distraction” calls to live “in the moment” have become all the rage; but the very skill that enables this “mindfulness” requires dwelling purposely on the past. Reflection actually complements and enhances the practices that in-the-moment advocates suggest and will help you be comfortable with your past as well as embrace your future.

Reflection Complements Mindfulness

The “Art of Now” is actually complimentary to reflection and an examined life is better suited to live in the moment. As The Buddha admonishes, we are not to “mourn for the past.” The way advocated for mindful (in-the-moment) people to do this is to accept that negative emotions are present, acknowledge why they are there and to realize that some negative emotions are part of living. This is not contradictory to the act of reflecting. Mourning involves a deep sorrow and longing. Reflection, on the other hand, involves examining your thoughts and actions and the underlying facts and assumptions those reveal. Indeed, you are deliberately focusing on the past in order to analyze, accept and learn from it.

Mindfulness promoters will tell you that concentrating on the present and savoring your daily activities will keep you from worrying about the future. They promote actively enjoying something from your daily routine like a walk or a meal rather than worrying about events that haven’t happened yet. Worrying involves an anticipated setback that has not occurred yet and may never occur. But deliberately and consciously thinking about your future can also alleviate worrying. Using the lessons learned from reflecting on your past, you can decide on guidelines for your actions in the future that will better position you for success. In this case, reflection encourages proper planning so that you can set the conditions for a successful future, freeing your mind from worry.

Benefits of Reflection

Aside from enhancing your moment, reflective practices have many benefits in and of themselves, the best being that they transform experiences into genuine learning. Consider a hot stove and a child. The child touches the stove and is burned. Those who advocate living in the moment will say that the only solution is to accept the pain, examine it and acknowledge that it is appropriate to feel that pain. In this case deliberate reflection is hardly needed, as even the child’s brain has already done it unconsciously. This enables the cognitive development that touching a hot stove will burn their hand and that they don’t want to do that again.

For a more pertinent example, consider working with a disagreeable boss. Living in the moment acknowledges that the boss is not responsible for your unhappiness and that only you can choose to be happy today. That is absolutely true. Taking yourself out of the moment and reflecting on the situation is equally important. Reflecting on your relationship with your boss can reveal the true reasons you dislike your boss. Perhaps there are steps you can take to remedy the situation. Perhaps you caused the situation in the first place. You might even find that you don’t enjoy your work and therefore you find your boss disagreeable, regardless of their actions. With proper reflection you can come to conclusions about how to improve the situation now and learn how to avoid it in the future.

Reflection can also help you solve complex problems. Gone are the days when you should just “sleep on it” and let your unconscious mind decide for you. Also recently disputed is the “go with your gut” approach to making decisions in the blink of an eye. Just as Benjamin Franklin advocated, often the best way to make a complex decision is to deliberately reflect on it. By listing the pros and cons of a decision you are forcing yourself to use facts and assumptions, rather than emotions, to make the decision. This method complements the “sleep on it” method rather than subtracting from it. You can find yourself in an “analysis paralysis” when you lose your deliberative state of mind or include unnecessary and irrelevant data points. If this happens it is indeed best to take a break and focus on something else or even go to sleep.

Critically, reflection causes you to examine your assumptions and the beliefs based on those assumptions. This is beneficial because once you have questioned your own assumptions you are more likely to be receptive to questioning from others. Having examined your beliefs, you can respond with confidence and calmness to others who would question them. In turn, you can politely listen as they outline their own assumptions and beliefs. Understanding the assumptions that your beliefs are based on allows you to both learn from the beliefs systems of others and teach them the benefits of yours.

How To Reflect

There are three ways to reflect: after an event, during an event, and before an event. Reflecting after an event requires you to first look back at the situation. You must review the actions, thoughts, facts and assumptions that you and others made in that situation. Analyzing these points can help you determine why you acted the way you did and also determine the outcome of the situation, not just for yourself, but for others involved as well. Following this analysis, process your conclusions into learning points.

Reflecting during an event requires a you to re-focus on the task at hand. Close Facebook and put your phone in another room. Narrow your attention to what you are doing at that moment and review the progress you’ve made so far to see if you left anything out. Surely, mindfulness could be described as a state of reflection in action.

Reflecting before an event is the conscious culmination of what you have learned. Starting with the imagined goal or successful situation, you must identify similar experiences (successful or not) that you have had or heard about. This is how studying history, especially in business and the military, helps develop better leaders for the future. Using the learning points from the totality of these experiences you can develop guidelines for actions that will accomplish your goal.

As important as it is to live in the moment — enjoying the now without mourning for the past or worrying about the future — it is equally important to remember the “life which is unexamined is not worth living.” Without a doubt, reflection will enhance your Now by bringing about acceptance and true learning instead mourning for the past and remove worry from the future by identifying constructive practices to set the conditions for success.

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HIGH TECH HIGH TEA


Thomas EdisonTechBash – Part 4

John Jonelis

I’m at Chicago’s premier social incubator – i.c.stars. Fresh faces of their current crop of interns rim this boardroom-sized table. All neat. All professional. As the tea makes its rounds, I hear well-crafted introductions. Mannerly. In-depth. Heartfelt. Spoken by people who have known each other during months of intense struggle. It’s more like introducing family than business associates. icstarg 35And I notice something else that’s significant. The interns introduce each other—not themselves—and they do it with a high level of trust, mutual respect, and selflessness.You can’t help but be moved by the way they describe each other. This is High Tea—a curious ceremony that takes place each day and has such a big impact on those who attend the i.c.stars program. Continue reading HIGH TECH HIGH TEA

Google’s “High Handed” Bus Memo


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Like the last time people tried busing as a solution to a socioeconomic problem, the tech busing in San Francisco has become a hot-button issue.

The Google buses, dubbed “spaceships” containing “alien overlords” by writer Rebecca Solnit, have become potent symbols for rising inequality within the city. They are now a symbol of other unwanted repercussions of the tech boom, including rising housing costs, Ellis Act evictions and a ”let them eat cake” mentality very publicly exhibited by many tech-employed, Bay Area newcomers.

Reading articles about Google using a yacht to ferry its employees across the Bay, or hiring security guards for its commuter buses, evokes a not-so-distant dystopic future.

Thus, the city of San Francisco, which currently lets the commuter buses use MUNI stops free of charge, is scrambling desperately for a compromise. Tomorrow the seven SFMTA board directors will vote on a proposal for shared use of the bus stops. And in preparation for tomorrow’s board meeting, the Transportation Team at Google sent the following memo to its SF employees:

[Misc-sf] Next week’s public hearing on shuttle regulations

Transportation Team XXXXX@google.com Fri, Jan 17, 2014 at 11:35 AM Bcc: XXXX@google.com
IF YOU DON’T RIDE THE SHUTTLE TO/FROM SF, YOU CAN STOP READING NOW. Dear Shuttle Riders,

This Tuesday (1/21), the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) Board will meet to vote on the proposed shuttle regulations we told you about last week. The hearing will take place on January 21 at 1pm PT at San Francisco City Hall (room 400). While we recognized that many of you won’t be able to make it during the workday, we encourage any interested Googlers who live in San Francisco to speak in favor of the proposal (please RSVP here if you are planning to attend). While you are not required to state where you work, you may confirm that Google is your employer if you are so inclined.

If you do choose to speak in favor of the proposal we thought you might appreciate some guidance on what to say. Feel free to add your own style and opinion.

  • *I am so proud to live in San Francisco and be a part of this community
  • *I support local and small businesses in my neighborhood on a regular basis
  • *My shuttle empowers my colleagues and I to reduce our carbon emissions by removing cars from the road
  • *If the shuttle program didn’t exist, I would continue to live in San Francisco and drive to work on the peninsula
  • *I am a shuttle rider, SF resident, and I volunteer at…..
  • *Because of the above, I urge the Board to adopt this pilot as a reasonable step in the right direction

 

You can read the full press release announcing the proposal here, and we’ll keep you updated in the coming weeks as the proposal moves towards approval. Feel free to email us at transport@google.com with any questions.

Thanks, XXXX, on behalf of the Transportation Team

The missive was then forwarded to Heart of the City, the activist organization who organized the faux Google bus performance at SF Pride and the first Google bus blockade on Dec. 9 (though not the subsequent one in Oakland that turned violent). They sent it to us.

In the email, Googlers are given boilerplate talking points to take to the board meeting, including “If the shuttle program didn’t exist, I would continue to live in San Francisco and drive to work on the peninsula.”

It’s notable that a Google employee actually points out the heavy-handedness of the memo on the thread, mentioning that this would look bad for Google if leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle or Valleywag.

“Am I being too paranoid?” the employee asked. No.

This message comes off a bit high handed and I don’t think it would be good if it showed up on the front page of the chron or valleywag.

Or am I being too paranoid? XXXX
[Quoted text hidden]

“They’re urging their employees to say they would drive if not for the shuttle program to keep the ‘eco-friendly’ excuse alive and continue using SF’s tax-payer funded bus stops for virtually nothing,” a representative from Heart of the City wrote in response to the memo. “[According to an SFMTA survey] 31% said they wouldn’t be able to make the trip at all, which implies over 5200 people would choose to live closer to their work in Silicon Valley.”

The survey did not include the option “Quit Google and join an SF-based startup.”

Slide from the SFMTA shuttles proposal.

Slide from the SFMTA shuttles proposal.

If voted through tomorrow, the 18-month Shuttle Partners Program pilot would mean the creation of around 200 legal commuter shuttle stops, according to the SFMTA, and charge the commuter buses $1 per stop, a fee that would not result in any profit for the SFMTA (though the $1.5 million raised would cover the cost of the program).

Raising the fee to the total fines accrued for using the stops illegally or implementing a tax to bring in meaningful revenue for SFMTA, as activists propose, may require voter approval, according to SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. Heart Of the City estimates that if the SFMTA decided to implement the $271 fine for each time the commuter shuttles used the stops illegally, it would add up to approximately $1 billion dollars.

Busing is just one element of a perfect storm brewing in San Francisco — tech workers vs. the rest of the city — where proponents of the free market come head to head with people unhappy with the loopholes in that market, i.e. the millions in tax breaks offered to tech companies like Twitter or the Ellis Act. The activist argument is that if tech companies don’t have to pay taxes (or fines), they should somehow be responsible for protecting the community in other ways.

While it is a perfect storm, there is no perfect solution for the problems caused by the tech boom and no straightforward explanation as to how the busing affects the real estate crisis, though every resident has an opinion on it — usually emotionally charged. Here is a particularly nuanced one on Quora.

Should corporations feel a fiscal responsibility to a community if they’re leaning on public infrastructure — like public bus stops — to accumulate their cash piles? My views are my own here (not TechCrunch’s), and I think so, though the issue is too complex to fully dissect in this post about a leaked email.

Perhaps Google should build a Google.org focusing only on Bay Area municipal issues? What I do know is that Google, instead of canned talking points, should be sending their employees links to both sides of the debate and increasing awareness instead of acting vaguely like Big Brother.

Image via Flickr

http://techcrunch.com/2014/01/20/google-sends-high-handed-memo-with-busing-talking-points/