The Breaking Even Communications Blog - since 2007!

The Before & After Craze

22 May

Whenever you get on the internet or social media, eventually as you scroll through various posts, you’ll probably encounter a “before and after” image. I recently saw this article about a woman’s photoshoot before/after her gastric bypass surgery. Her photographer friend came up with a clever concept for the before/after images, where her pre-bypass and post-bypass selves were interacting with one another. Why does social media enjoy before/after images so much? Or, more accurately, why do we like before/after images so much? Perhaps we’re all a tad sentimental, yearning for simpler times. Or maybe we all secretly want to be time travelers, and looking at these pictures is the closest we can get (#tbt, anyone?).  I’m  personally leaning toward the latter explanation, but whatever the reason, we seem to be fixated on stories that depict transformation. This may also help explain our culture’s fascination with werewolves etc.

Weight and body transformations are probably the most common types of before/after images that we see go by (with fitness groups and accountability), but there are so many other types out there. It’s a timeless marketing tool (think of any laundry detergent commercial you’ve ever seen) and inspiration for entertainment (pretty much any fixer-up show on HGTV).

They show change. Whether we consider that change progress or regression, before/after images show development. This change may deliver some shock value or share the results of someone’s effort and hard work. They offer the reminder that nothing is permanent, which can be equal parts reassuring and terrifying.

Time lapses are also a way to show change. I’ve never made one myself, but it is a neat way to show how things have progressed. One of the more touching examples I’ve seen is the one where the guy takes a picture of his pregnant wife every day for 9(ish) months, until she gives birth. And it’s all captured in a little under 3 minutes, which is pretty magical.

There’s also the ever popular sunrise to sunset time-lapses, which take you through a day in a matter of seconds.

(originally found here)

They can be entertaining…

Who doesn’t love a good (or bad) celebrity transformation? Or seeing shows like Pimp My Ride or Extreme Home Makeover? There’s a reason these shows are/were successful. You can watch an average Joe’s dilapidated sedan transformed into something sleek you’d see on Fast and Furious with a control panel that Batman would envy, all in a half hour time slot with no less than 5 commercial breaks featuring whatever Real World we’re on now. I invested a lot of time in this show, and I don’t even know anything about cars.

There’s also movies like She’s All That or The Princess Diaries, where the average looking nerdy person is transformed into a beautiful popular person. These transformations are usually a matter of switching from glasses to contacts and a good hair straightening, set to an aggressively peppy pop song. Then there’s the hold-your-breath anticipation before the big reveal that we all buy into, in varying degrees. It’s also fun to see how our favorite celebs have grown up over the years.

I especially enjoy when people try to deny that there has been any sort of transformation (looking at you, Renee Zelleweger). “Seriously, I just woke up and had a different nose and possibly a few less wrinkles.” For instance,  That’s like if I decided to dye my hair black tomorrow and then get angry and defensive when people try to tell me otherwise.

Or Motivational…

In the case of accountability groups, or people who have had a traumatic experience, before/after is used as a story. “Once upon a time, I was here, but now, I am over here.” It’s a way of sharing a triumph against whatever struggles we are going through, encouraging others. This is how Kayla Itsines became Instagram famous. Her before/after pictures of clients reached a much broader audience than she ever imagined possible.

This is just a snapshot of her more recent posts, to see more check it out here:

This is just a snapshot of her more recent posts, to see more check it out here:

When used this way, before/after images can inspire others through sharing experiences and letting them know that “You, too, can make a change!

Or Terrifying…

In addition to inspiring positive, healthy transformations, before/after images can serve as a warning. During my senior year of high school, our hallway* was peppered with pictures of healthy looking people turning into promotional material for The Walking Dead. Before/after images are also used to depict really grotesque stuff. Besides PSAs for drug abuse, my other favorite “bad” before/afters include celebrity plastic surgery gone too far and terrible things happening to the environment.

*Some of you might think this is meant to be plural. It is not.

Or Sentimental.

What is it about having that to go back to? We have Transformation Tuesday, Throwback Thursday and Flashback Friday for a reason. There’s a certain “Remember when…” element to these travels through time. During Class Night (the night before graduation) my senior year of high school, everyone submitted a 3 pictures for the slideshow (usually, a baby picture, a candid, and one of the senior portraits). People laughed, people cried. In a way, our slideshow served as a before/after montage of our entire class. It was really heartwarming and we all felt closer than at any other point in our 4 years together.

Ultimately, before and after images are narratives. Everyone has a story to tell, it’s all about how you tell it.

Cracks me up every time.

Cracks me up every time.


When Automated Marketing Goes Wrong

18 May

Earlier this week, I received the following email from Pinterest:


You may wonder why this is at all significant. Kassie, Pinterest sends emails like this all the time…Yes, they do. But guess what? I don’t hate running- I really, really love it. “Embrace the morning run” makes it even better-I pretty much only run in the morning. Maybe Pinterest and I need to spend more quality time together, because we clearly don’t know one another well at all…

While this was ultimately a hilarious experience, I would be mortified if I was the person who sent this email. It’s a great example of when automation goes wrong.

Scenario 1: Pre-Scheduling/Automated Posts

Not all automating is bad. I use it to schedule Facebook posts, tweets, and blog posts in advance. The thing is, you can’t just put this stuff on autopilot- consider Murphy’s Law. Facebook, for example, went through a month-long phase where it wasn’t publishing any of the posts I had pre-scheduled. It made it on my radar, and for awhile I had to manually publish everything, but it would’ve made me look lame if updates weren’t publishing for a month because I scheduled them and forgot about it.

Another potential danger to look out for in pre-scheduling  is the actual content. You don’t want to schedule things too far ahead, because new information is constantly coming in and you don’t want to be known for posting month-old articles. In keeping scheduled posts relatively short-term, it’s also more likely that you’ll remember what you’ve scheduled to go out and make adjustments as necessary. For instance, if an event that you’re promoting gets cancelled, but you’ve scheduled some status updates to build excitement, it’s really awkward if those end up getting published because you forgot about them.

You can also set up automated posts to respond to mentions on Twitter or Facebook (or anywhere else). As a warning, the results are often hilariously terrible. For example, this automated response from Dominos Pizza:



This person had an excellent Domino’s experience…but Dominos apparently believed it needed a different PR approach on it’s Facebook page…and apologized for the inconvenience.

Scenario 2: Automated Names

These often fail the hardest, and are the biggest giveaways that robots handle your marketing. If you have no interaction with a person besides him filling out a form on your website, you don’t necessarily need to be on a first-name basis. This chart below (from Beachhead) shows the most common reactions to errors in a personalized email.



If it’s a larger corporation, I generally assume most of the marketing emails I get have been automated, so I’m a bit more forgiving (it’s not like the CEO of Old Navy knows my first name). But, if it’s a smaller business and I’m a loyal customer, getting a personalized email for “Amanda” would be a bit offensive. On a scale of “Never visit the website again” to “Automatically delete emails,” I’m probably more of a “Continue receiving emails for mild amusement but never take this business seriously again.” Depending on the individual, you may get more of a “Meh” response to a “This is totally a personal affront” repsonse.

Fun fact: we don’t have first name fields enabled on our email newsletters, and it’s not because we don’t appreciate our individual subscribers- it’s because we read about automation fails and know how potentially damaging a glitch in the system can be).

Scenario 3: Marketing the wrong things to the wrong people.

This tends to be more of a large scale business problem that comes from sending automated sales emails. It’d be kind of embarrassing to send out an email trying to sell a specific type of lawnmower to someone who just purchased one from you earlier in the month. Being on the receiving end of that email would also be confusing: maybe the customer and salesperson had some lengthy phone calls/email exchanges about the purchase, examining options in a way that made the customer feel really, really awesome about his/her new lawnmower. I’m talking zero-buyer’s-remorse positive. This person was raving about how attentive the business was to the needs of individual customers. And then…this tragic email.”What the…it’s like they don’t even know me…

Heavy automation takes away the humanness of marketing. The risk, especially with smaller businesses, is that your existing customers feel undervalued. The reason people enjoy small business interactions is because there’s a unique quality of service implied: a genuine friendliness, a concern for the customer’s needs (in other words, they kind of expect that warm and fuzzy feeling).

This is where something like email segmenting can come in handy, if you have the time and patience to sit down and go through it all. This can help add a personalized element to your automation, plus, your messages are going to get more bang for your buck when they get to the people who will benefit from them.

Takeaway: “Ultimately people buy from people.” Automation clearly has benefits, otherwise no one would be doing it. Find a happy automating medium that feels right for your business.

The Amy Schumer Moment (Or Era)

15 May

The world has been watching a lot of Amy Schumer lately.

I watched a video someone on Facebook shared, of her on the couch at Ellen and Ellen laughing so hard she was practically crying. It was when I read her speech at the Gloria Awards that I was hooked. Here is that speech.

I then proceeded to watch two seasons of Inside Amy Schumer practically back to back.

Yes, we’ve had shocking reality shows for awhile.

Yes, we’ve had female comedians pushing boundaries before.

I actually struggled to find a video clip for this blog. (The best ones are not so appropriate, but the one I have above gives you an idea of the style of the show.)

So why are we blogging about Amy Schumer besides the fact that she’s pretty, funny, smart, and someone who you’d clearly want to hang out with?

Amy Schumer has a clear brand. 
Her comedy, if I could summarize it, is intelligent and slightly shocking feminism. From women’s role on late night comedy shows to actresses celebrating someone’s last #$%^able day, Amy has given herself enough room to be creative but enough of a clear message that it can come through in all her material.

Amy Schumer is honest.
In 2015, we are of the era that people should be real. We love untouched Instagram pictures, knowing someone’s tweets are actually coming from them. Amy Schumer feels authentic. You can tell that, while she probably has some savvy PR people helping out, she is true to what she wants to say and her fans love her for it.

Amy Schumer is talking about topics that are important to people.
Plenty of comedians, male and female, are funny, smart, and seem pretty honest but their messages don’t necessarily get as far because they aren’t trying to effect change. Amy Schumer’s messages are not only funny but a cultural commentary that has gotten people talking more about feminist topics like body image and discrimination in our culture.

Amy Schumer is leveraging video.
Video is increasingly popular as more people view the internet on their mobile devices. (Let’s face it, you may not watch a 10 minute comedy video at work but you will watch it lying on your couch with your phone.) Amy Schumer isn’t blogging but instead thoughtfully producing videos and using sites like Facebook and Twitter to get them to her followers. Pretty big change in peoples’ video watching habits in the last couple years, huh:

Anyway, whether you love or just like Amy Schumer, watch her online. She is owning in the internet in a way I think we all could learn a little something from, whether we would talk about our sex lives on stage or not.



Tech Thursday: Copycat

14 May

If you have a sibling, then you are probably familiar with the copycat game (for those who don’t know- it’s a unique form of torture where someone mimics everything you do until you have a meltdown and Mom has to intervene. At least, that’s how the Strouts played it…).

In this week’s Tech Thursday, we’re exploring the different social media networks and how they’ve each been accused of copying elements of another (idea inspired by this article claiming that Google+ Collections are just copying Pinterest Boards). There are only so many different things you can do with social networks- how do we define copying?

Watch the video and find out:

Dude’s Guide to Pinterest: Part 4

12 May

Pinterest is one of those wildly popular websites we find ourselves explaining to people. Most people think it’s for women only so we thought we’d have our token male, John, look at the site and report back. For the next few weeks, John will delve deeper and deeper into Pinterest in an attempt to explain it to everyone but in particular a certain half of the population. This concludes the series of posts that take a look at social media through a guy’s perspective. (If you missed posts one, two, and three, give them a read!) 

There’s a lot of detritus out there.  Seriously, someone has a how-to on how to cook make perfect crispy bacon. (Step 1, open package; Step 2, place in pan; Step 3, throw pan and bacon in trash because you’re too dumb to cook bacon.)

There’s also a lot of catch phrases that turn me off. “Paleo,” being one of them. “Gluten-free” being the other. One recipe called for “Himalayan sea salt.” That’s way too a specific a salt to for any self-respecting guy to ask his grocery store clerk for. There are only two types of salt. The small kind and the big kind. It doesn’t matter if it comes out of the ocean or not, it still tastes like salt.

I’ll forgive you Pinterest. Because now I’m soaring on the chicken wings of my dreams.

But … will I continue to use Pinterest? Would I recommend it to other, like-minded dudes?

I’m still leaning toward “no.” I enjoyed the fact that I could find an easy wing recipe, and that it came out great. But I can just as easily find that sort of thing on,, or the plethora of other online recipe depositories out there. My other pinboards are largely empty.

Just like real-life scrap-booking has little appeal to me, I can’t really recommend Pinterest to other dudes. I work a lot, I have two kids, and there’s just not a lot of time for this pinning nonsense. My Pinboards will collect whatever the equivalent of dust is on the internet.

So long, Pinterest, and thanks for all the wings.

Don’t Be Afraid of Google Changes

08 May

I got no short of 50 emails in the last two weeks asking me the same question:


Fear mongering much?

Some of you may be wondering ‘Why now?’ Well, Google changed it’s algorithm April 21. Some called it ‘Mobilegeddon’ which is something that would make many people 1) pay attention and 2) freak out.

The link above is to an entire archive of Google’s changes. Yes, Google changes. several times in one year (at least 6 times a year according to that link). But a few things to keep in mind when dealing with this (or other) changes from The Google:

1) Dealing with a neg artist is not really fun.

If you get an email out of the blue from someone you barely know (or even better, someone you don’t) negging your website, this means you are dealing with a certified d-bag.

Negging is a term I am borrowing from the pickup artist world. It means when you subtly (or not so subtly) insult someone as a way to get their attention and bring down their confidence a bit. This guy will tell you all about it. (Note comments disabled on the video, wonder why.)

Don’t let the web guru equivalent of this dude insult your website. It’s not their place to give you feedback. When you are ready for feedback, a website person you trust will happily (and nicely) give you constructive advice when asked.

Negging in the dating world works on insecure people. Someone negging your website will only work if you are insecure about your website, which brings me to…

2) Coming to decisions from fear and lack of information ensures they won’t be good ones.

Take some time to understand about this Google change if you are concerned about it. Moz and other trusted search engine specializing websites and blogs will have information when Google does a shift: (Nicole summary: Um, the world didn’t end. At all. There was a bit of an uptick though in traffic for mobile-friendly sites.)

My point is don’t listen to some random person emailing you to scare you. Do research and understand the change as much as you can, so you can make the best decision for you and evaluate the advice you are geting.

3) Your customers AND Google want you to have a mobile friendly site.

If you look at your website data, you can see mobile versus non-mobile user behavior. Not just percentage of people who come to your website but how long do mobile visitors stay? What information do they look at? What device are they on? etc.

So Google is now giving some juice to sites that are mobile friendly. OK but guess what? Your customers also want you to have a mobile friendly website so if you are going to make the change, do it for them too.

4) You aren’t just relying on Google to get people to your website.

The people I meet who truly panic about changes like Google made a couple weeks ago are those who only rely on Google traffic for their customers. When you go from the #1 ranked, say, coffee mug dealer to #3 in Google and you ONLY get customers from Google search, of course you’ll panic as a Google change, however small, means less dollars in your pocket.

But most of you have multiple ways you reach your customers online. You do social media. You have an email list. You do paid ad listings occasionally. You have a blog on your website. You crosspromote stuff with your online friends.

In other words, the faucet is not ever being completely shut off for you because you smartly are NOT putting all your eggs in one basket.

5) Do your thing, don’t care if they like it. -Tina Fey

I know a lot of people make a game of ‘tricking’ Google. Oh hyperlinked keywords are now being more heavily weighted? Let’s go through all 1,100+ blog posts we have and change all the link text we have.

Um no.

In general, just follow the rules Google has always says it wants you to follow and you’ll be fine. If one year, Google decides to prefer search engine friendly links higher to, say, h1 tags, you don’t have to worry because you’re doing both!

Common sense stuff to do (for Google and the people who visit your website):

1) Have words people are searching for on your website.

2) Use tools like bolding and larger fonts for more important concepts.

3) Have search engine friendly URLs (ex: versus

4) Name photos and use alt text/captions to describe what is in the photos.

5) Make sure your website loads fast. Here are some tools if you need to check.

Things spam websites do (to make sure you aren’t doing them):

1) Use content that has appeared elsewhere before. (A lot of spammers copy content from other websites and put it on theirs.)

2) Pretending your website is about X topic when it is really about Y topic. (Anything deceptive really.)

3) Ads all over the place.

4) Use so many keywords and phrases that it sounds like your robot wrote your website.