What happened to Eatons?

Growing up, if someone had told me that Eaton’s would cease to exist, I would never have believed them. The department store was a Canadian icon. It had prime locations in downtowns and malls across the country, produced an aspirational Christmas catalogue, sponsored the Toronto Stanta Claus parade and, in Winnipeg (where I’m from), was the book end of a Portage Avenue stroll that started at the Bay and finished at the venerable merchant.

Yet here it is 2009 and Eaton’s hasn’t been a part of the retail landscape for several years. There are many reasons for that: different shopping needs, complacency, an inability to change.

I thought about Eaton’s after reading Matt Hartley’s article in the Financial Post on Canadian business’s reluctance to embrace online advertising (and I would say the same applies to other social networking opportunities, too).

It made me realize that a lot of what we consider certainties are time (and trend) sensitive. Sure it’s comfortable relying on the familiar. But in business, as in life, innovation, ideas and growth come from risk-taking and knowing when to try something different for a change.

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When time is not of the essence

Maybe it’s the slower pace of Victoria Day (a holiday Monday in Canada). But I’ve been thinking about timeliness and how we seem to attach a sense of urgency to many things that may not require immediate attention. (That’s to say some attention is necessary, we just don’t have to jump.)

Certainly in communications and client service, we need to be responsive. And with social media’s ability to spread like wildfire (combined with some folks’ lack of judgement), it seems like there’s a mini online issue that must be dealt with every other day.

That’s the new reality. And we accept it.

However, I was catching up on some blog reading this weekend and tweeted about two posts I found to be smart, insightful and well written: Joel Postman’s thoughts on attribution and Gini Dietrich’s take on being a CEO-entrepreneur.

Both were ‘in the archives’, so to speak, in that they had been published in late April/early May. And I noticed I started my tweets – ‘catching up’ – as if I felt I had to explain my sharing delay. But does that lessen the value of the content? Of course not.

It got me thinking that in our world of Twitter-immediacy, we need to make sure we’re not solely focused on timing at the expense of ideas.

Sure, we’ve always paid attention to things that rise to the top (i.e. news). But, there’s a lot of important and useful information that happens to have been written yesterday, last week, last month, last year… etc.

And that content deserves your attention when you happen on it; when it’s most relevant to you.

Why I hate asterisks*

I was on the subway yesterday looking at the sale ads and getting ready to score an amazing deal…on something.

But my hopes were dashed when I noticed that fateful symbol perched on BIG OFFER’s shoulder. And though it’s barely visible, it packs a wallop that slaps you back to your senses.

I’m talking about the asterisk.

I don’t like asterisks because they represent exceptions. Exceptions, usually, to a screaming overpromise.

What I resent most are the enticements that purport to ‘build me up buttercup, just to let me down’. Having an asterisk is like keeping people spellbound by a sprawling story, only to admit in the end that, well, maybe much of what you said, just didn’t happen.

Granted, the promises seem too good to be true. And they’re easy to spot. In fact, the front section of today’s Toronto Star featured 24 ads; 17 of which had a disclaimer of sorts, 11 with the ubiquitous asterisk. That’s nearly 50 per cent.

Now, although I’m singling them out, asterisks aren’t the sole culprits. And to be fair, there’s a group of other hench-symbols (they know who they are) often found lurking with expressions like ‘up to 80 per cent’, ‘for a limited time’, ‘select merchandise only’, ‘dealers may vary’, ‘quantities limited’, ‘some items not exactly as shown’, etc. And while they may be just as bad, asterisks are the ones you notice most often at the scene of the crime.

Perhaps as a new, more balanced economy emerges from the tatters of our old reckless one, we can ask for a straight exchange on the asterisk and the worst parts of the sales pitch. And if we’re lucky, maybe we’ll receive a credit toward credibility – all at no extra cost!

*Not to be confused by the French comic Asterix, of which I have yet to form a definitive opinion.