Vegera

Maria, the Greek model, I became friends with on my transit flight from Mumbai to Delhi in January 2014, told me that in Creta, where she is from, they use a lot of Turkish words in their daily language due to the Turkish influence on the islanders in the past. Among those words, Vegera was a popular one. I told her I had never heard of such a word before and asked her what it meant. In her thick Cretan accent, Maria said, " When people sit together all night, talk , dance, eat and drink, sing songs, until the dawn. When they have a good time together around a table, that's when we say we make vegera." There are certain words in almost every language that echoes the culture, traditions and history more than anything. You can almost visualize the word in action in that culture- if you know it well. Since that time, I decided that's what my blog should be named after: "Vegera." It brings as much happiness to me as the word Keyf-i Alem ! Even though my blog's initial name Entry Level Philly and its objectives will continue to resonate throughout my entries, I believe that Vegera is more appropriate for the way I live my life- at least at this point in my life. So, this blog will be about anything from restaurants and bars I visit across the world, especially in Philadelphia to my travels across the world and life adventures- which somehow make up a lot of crazy stories in my life and to Brand stories, aka advertising.

However, more than anything, and especially recently, I have been writing a lot more about branding and advertising. A print ad, a video, an inspiring story about a brand or a company. I write about those stories that inspire me and provoke me to think deeper into the matter.  It is because I find the ad world absolutely fascinating, with lots of imagination and creativity but also strategic thinking. It is like watching a sci-fi show. I'm an aspiring advertising professional and more specifically an account planner. So in Vegera, you'll find plenty of ad related posts.

Lastly, who is the author of Vegera? She's originally from Istanbul, Turkey- trying to figure out where on earth she wants to travel next.Currently, In Philly, working as a communications specialist for a small medical supply company, located outside the city. I work with people-mainly athletes with disabilities. You'll also probably see some inspiring stories from my work life, as you read this blog. When busy saving up money for traveling/ or concerts, i.e. busy with stressful work life, I like observing people, their behavior, interactions with others and drinking wine.This should be enough info on the author now. You'll probably find out more as you continue to read my entries... There will be a lot of personal opinions, feelings and emotions articulated.. Hope you stay long to make vegera with me .. Ciao.

Who I Follow

I’m sure he used to be an opera singer in his olden days. He goes at each and every stop with his #pavarotti like voice: “Plenty of seats ladies and gentlemen! make yourself comfortable!!” 😚#peopleonsepta #cartoon #grandpa #philly #happyfriday

The other day, I met a girl from South Korea at a journalism event in Center City. She was, just like the 90% of the participants there was a freelance journalist, who had recently moved to Philly from NYC. As soon as i mentioned i went to college in Lancaster, she was excited to tell me a story about how she got to visit Lancaster recently to buy Amish products from Central Market for a wedding she attended in…. Turkey. Suddenly, my attention shifted from her visiting my college town in the US to her visiting my home country, Turkey. It was a coincidence that she even mentioned Turkey in this small talk we struck on the sidewalk in the middle of the pedestrian traffic. She was there so recently that it made me feel connected to her right away. One of her friends from the Columbia Journalism School had her wedding in Ankara, the capital, but her bacheloratte party was held in Istanbul- the right choice. She was so excited to meet another Turkish person in Philadelphia that she decided to tell me about her adventures in Istanbul but particularly one that stood out the most among all- the Turkish Hamams. At first, I giggled as I thought she was going to tell me about how awkward and funny everything was and how women working there were really rough on them while massaging and cleaning. Instead, what I heard was very positive, in fact so positive that it inspired me to finally write the long over due post about a unique experience i had during my visit in India this past winter, but I’ll get there..

The girl from South Korea started telling me about what a unique and fascinating experience the Hamam visit was, as her eyes glowed.  ” if you are plannig to have a cool bonding experienxe with your friends at your wedding, you have to do this!!” i found it hilarious that she was giving me suggestions on a wedding that is not even in near future in a mystery location in the world - no, it’s most probably going to be Turkey actually. She told me about how all women sang Turkish songs, danced, ate snacks together.  ”It was such a spiritual experience that I wanted to stop time form moving forward. I suddenly felt something deep growing inside me. It was overwhelming and soon i found myself crying. It was very spiritual.” When I asked what it was that really moved her so much, she told me it was a combination of the peaceful feeling of being away from her country, feeling completely immersed into a new culture and spending quality time with her friends in an enchanting atmosphere. 

I didn’t need to ask anymore.. I knew that feeling. I felt similarly in India in December. I was with my friends and visiting one of my closest friend’s hometown, got a chance to finally meet all her famy and friends and the city she was born and in love with: bombay. On my very last day in Bombay, Right when i was getting ready to say goodbye to everyone to catch my flight back to the US, Dadi, Aradhana’s grandma , grabbed me and Disha by the hands and took us to her mandir, the family temple for us to prayer.  As an atheist, I felt weird about it but thought it was all part of the cultural experience and was ready to embrace it. But What I ended up experiencig in that small room was far more than cultural. Dadi told us that in that room she had a representation of all Gods in Hinduism, because “one most learn to respect all gods and should not prioritize one over another. ” We were in a very small room in Aradhana’s apartment, with marble floors and nothing else muc. There were picture frames of Dadi’s deceased husband along with the God ornaments or statues. The simplest religious place I have been to in my life. 

Nevertheless, I felt something so powerful growing inside me in that temple as I breathed in the fresh odor of the oaky scents burning there. It was as if The gods were welcoming me into this holy place. Dadi encouraged us to say a prayer. In any other circumstance, I would have felt uncomfortable, but that moment I felt like I had a burning desire to express myself right there. I thanked gods for having an incredible and supportive family and a fantastic group of friends in many parrts of the world who are there for me no matter what. I thanked for having the opportunity to travel around the world despite so many complications I encounter. I felt an overwhelming and powerful feeling inside me while I was saying my prayer and realized that tears were flowing down my face. I couldn’t stop it. And I didn’t want to stop it..

The South Korean girl and I had simliar experiences during our travels felt both emotionally overwhelmed and empowered by some   force in  an environment so different from our usual surroundings. We both found spirituality in a foreign country around foreign people. The reason why some people take time off in certain stages in their lives  to travel the world in order to find peace and love suddenly made sense.  

traveling and spirituality really are interconnected.

Wow.. my most recent blog was published on Paper.li’s most recent edition, “The Physics and poetry of Branding” by Dane Solomon. I feel honored. 

While I was reviewing my notes from the recent focus group I had a chance to organize and moderate, I noticed a pattern in responses. It was not necessarily a groundbreaking idea but a repeated notion  that I had heard  from a few other consumers in various other circumstances. Most importantly iI realized  that I have been involved with this idea/notion through wheelchair sports  for the past 2 years but  never been able  to connect the dots until now. In one of my earlier blogs I wrote about my insightful conversation, a mini focus group I got to moderate where the girls kept going back to the idea of “how cool the wheelchairs have become in society” thanks to wheelchair sports and “how uncool and taboo catheters still are - even talking about catheters”. Here is the link to that if you want to check that out. From that conversation I went ahead and organized a relatively larger focus group with 7 people this time, asking them questions regarding their first thoughts on the word catheter. I also asked their opinion on wheelchairs. Very different answers for each medical product. Why is that the case?

One participant added almost in protest, “Catheters should be made mainstream. We should be able to discuss it openly!” 

I started thinking of our new ad campaign based on the ideas generated in this focus group.I imagine It capitalizing on the contrasting emotions experienced by both wheelchair users and catheter users towards their medical products. According to the participants, whose average age was about 22 , the word wheelchair reminds young adults of independence, freedom, fast-pace; whereas catheters remind them of infection, antibiotics, healthcare.. And healthcare in its most negative connotation. One participant finally added,”hey i think we should look at catheters from a liberating standpoint too. For instance, I’d say independence because thanks to catheters we are able to go out and do what we want to do.” Very valid points!

These 2 focus groups gave me some solid ad ideas which will probably not find the right segment to enter the advertising world, because of the budget constraints in our company. As I was developing my ideas around this new ad campaign, I stumbled upon a video that I instantly felt connected with. A short cliip from this year’s Lions Health in Cannes, @InterbrandHealth’s Executive Creative Director R. John Fidelino speaking on “healthcare and cool.” #chasingcool 

"The trouble with healthcare and cool is that we dont often think of those words together,  he opened his speech. He gives example images of stents, a waiting room and even a catheter. “Your Catheter is so cool!! even to me, as someone who spent 2 years in the urological supply industry that sentence felt awkward. He explains why he thinks we don’t use the word cool in healthcare. First, because healthcare is serious, you don’t joke about someone’s health.”Cool just doesn’t seem to fit.” Second, I’ll quote Fidelino here, “healthcare and health matters so much, so deeply and so profoundly that trivializing it with a word like cool just doesn’t do it.” Third, the word cool in the concept of healthcare and health isn’t professional enough.

At the end of the short clip, Fidelino closes his introduction by powerfully stating the following: I think healthcare is cool.

I tried to find Fidelino’s entire speech at Lions Health on Youtube everywhere as I was so excited to hear about what he was going to say next. Unfortunately, Lions Health seems to have strict privacy rules on these  videos. What was great about finding this video was that I suddenly felt connected with a world beyond the walls of my small office in the suburbs of Philadelphia. A world that’s  trying to transform healthcare through technology and through powerful patient insights. What I have been trying to achieve by myself or with very little support didn’t matter anymore to me.

If more people from agencies and employees working in healthcare industries  went in front of patients and spend some quality time with them, industries one by one would go under massive transformation and that would come naturally through marketing and advertising strategies built upon these ideas. These changes will then ultimately affect the way we perceive certain things and react to them. Yesterday’s taboo will likely become tomorrow’s conversation topic. And, I think that’s what we have been seeing in healthcare communications. It just needs to branch out to other subcategories that are underrepresented in the market. At the end, we will be able to say “your catheter is so cool” or “that stent is cool” without any hesitation. Thank you Interbrand, Lions Health and R John Fidelino for leading the way.

Three hands. All representing different bodies, beliefs and traditions. All different in shapes. What unites them is pure love, love for each other and a love of life. #blackandwhite #photography #kitten #fatimashand #pasha

it’s time for a change in spirit, to free  your mind, set sails to the endless sea, and to vegera. 

I’ve been reading a lot about building strategies and how focus groups constitute an important element of it- if not vital to that process. The books and blogs I read are mostly written by strategists at agencies who moderate  focus groups to get a better understanding of their clients' needs/ anticipations/ desires/ daily routines. Then their job is to share their results with their clients and discuss how to best come up with a strategy. 

Today, I had my first official focus group that I moderated. “If your career doesn’t take you where you wanna go, you take it.” I have been passionate about my job and helping people with disabilities, but I feel that as a company we need a change in our communication with our consumers as we’re hitting some road blocks-especially as a team not necessarily as a company- yet. 

So, I presented the luncheon series to our management team with the purpose of bringing some accomplished young folks in wheelchairs in our area together and have them say what they wanna say about catheters, living with a disability, medical supplies, daily issues.  These students/ recent college grads had so much to say and I felt privileged to be there at that moment for over an hour. 

We were about 6 people and I had about 10 written questions to ask even though I knew as conversation flowed, I’d  be asking other  follow up questions. One of my hesitations from the very beginning was how to present myself and my boss, who is there to make money but also excited to hear what these kids had to say. I was first reluctant to even mention I was from ABC. But then my boss introduced himself that way and I felt like it would be hypocritical  to not mention where I work and what our ultimate goal is. At that moment I realized that I was not only marketing the least marketable product in the world, aka catheter (YET, soon it will change i strongly believe!) and I was also moderating an in-house focus group with my boss wearing an ABC Medical shirt on. From another perspective, I thought that it would be beneficial for not only us but for the participants to know that we are indeed from ABC and were taking the time to meet these individuals because we care and value their opinions. Soon my reluctance turned into pride. Then, 2 participants kind of revealed they were with ABC medical, not in a very explicit manner but still sort of… One of them asked, “i guess I’m with you guys for about 6 months now? ” I tried to make a point that it didn’t matter at all, we were just interested in learning more about her. Then, towards the end, I was pleasantly surprised to hear them giving suggestions on what we can do that’s different from competitors. and those suggestions were quite big and worthy of planning well to pursue later! A few self-criticism both positive and negative

1- I could have introduced myself a little better ( again I think I was somewhat confused as to how to present myself still that’s why!) 

2- the setting of the room was ok. next time I wanna make sure we’re more of a round table as opposed to a long rectangular. 

3- It was great we had pizza and beverages! 

4- I didn’t have a recorder but i think I did a great job taking notes, same with my boss. 

5- Questions were definitely thought provoking. 

6- I let them spend too much time on the first few questions and didn’t havee enough time towards the end. 

7- The purpose of the focus group could have been made a little bit more clear. I really wanted to have them sign a consent form, which i had actually prepared. But my boss said he’d have to run it by the attorneys to get their blessing on it. It was too late and therefore we decided we won’t do it. 

8- huge dilemma although I knew the answer: so there were 2-3 people who use supplies through a different company. At the end of the group, I did take their contact information to follow up. How appropriate is it to ask them whether they’d consider switching on a follow up email? Yes, Huge Dilemma! I run into this regularly as I befriend people and then feel super awkward to ask them to support my company. I shouldn’t though! I know I shouldn’t.  

Overall, especially for the first big focus group that I had to moderate in my life, It was a wonderful experience. The best part was to get feedback from the participants at the end that they enjoyed it a lot and found it very informative. If participants can take something out of a focus group too, then I say we’ve succeeded!  I personally took my notes and learned my lessons. The next one shall be a lot better, more organized and structured! Can’t wait! 

Intro
One should create her own career path. If it doesn’t take you anywhere, you take it where you want it to go.. As long as you stay focused, passionate and continue to bring  business to your company, no one can question you.  Become your own mentor if there isn’t one already that will take up the responsibility and that you can trust. It is truly a unique learning experience. Read and Write a lot. Open up your imagination, go on long runs, think.  Observe people and analyze their behavior. Read and write more on what you see.  That’s what I’m doing these days. Follow influential figures. Meet  leaders who can guide you and introduce you to others. You’ll soon feel the change. It’s incredible. Very positive. You’ll feel it in the way you think, the way you speak, the way you act, the way you create, etc.
Below might be the story where it all actually began for me… The moment of realization= The moment of fascination. Afterwards is a story..
One of the more inspiring and unforgettable moments of my work happened to take place at the lobby of the Hyatt Regency with two girls that I was supposed to train that day for their upcoming event. That didn’t work out because of other reasons, but what we ended up doing was perhaps the training of a lifetime for them and for me. For privacy reasons I cannot provide any names or details, but I think you’ll get the point anyway.
One thing I realized is focus groups are on their own the simplest way of advertising, aka advertising in disguise. Based on this insightful conversation I had with these two smart young women, let’s call them Becky and Emily, fresh out of college and who are very involved in the disabled community in various ways, I have been able to create original stuff that I personally think no one else in the company could have, because I spent the time with them and made the effort in listening and understanding them, challenging them and vice versa.  
One these girls is a customer  and is not involved with any sports; whereas the other girl, although not a customer of the company, a consumer and a great softball player at her school. Both were born with a birth defect.
One of the first questions I asked to the non-customer (Becky)  was what she thought about our brand when she saw us at events. 
I think you guys really combines the 2 worlds together both the medical world and the sports world. When you go to sports events, the last thing you want to talk about is products, aka caths. But, ABC is doing a great job in presenting it. It doesn’t feel like a hospital with ABC.
Catheter is a taboo subject for some reason. People like to talk about wheelchairs a lot more then about catheters. But, by having young and knowledgeable people out there at events, you guys make it look cool again. I would want to come up and talk to you. 
How about the logo and the motto? Does that give you the same cool and energetic feeling
It doesn’t make me think of catheters- which is awesome. It makes me think of sports, energy . I want to adapt believe and compete. it takes the medical taboo out of it. It doesn’t make you feel weird anymore. ABC is really a getaway to talk about things you don’t wanna talk about. 
How do you feel about seeing a wheelchair athlete on our brochure? 
I love it. I am a wheelchair softball player. i can relate to it. It’s not intimidating as other manufacturers that only show catheters on their brochures. It’s more marketable. 
Emily you don’t play sports. What do you like about ABC? 
I think for me the fact that you are very involved in charity work, social services is important. It’s not only about sales for ABC . It’s about giving back. So when I talk to people about ABC, I mention that a lot. 
Becky- I don’t want to be defined by my medical issues. Other companies out there really make it feel like that. Being a young person in a wheelchair it is different. Especially if you’re using catheters. 
Say neither of you has heard of ABC before and both of you use supplies. What would make you  want to find out more about ABC? What is the most important selling point for you about a medical supply company? 
Emily - I think it’s a combination. But, I’d deifintely mention the free catheter sampling program. In fact, if you could give it out right at that moment and tell them to come back and give feedback on it, that would be the best way to convince.
What would attract you to the table at an event? 
Seeing sports! And maybe some customer testimonials! Like if Matt Scott had something to say about ABC , I’d definitely consider switching. It’s like seeing Michael Jordan  drinking Gatorade. I want to drink Gatorade, too. 
Is there a type of catheter you prefer? Say I showed you a few of these brands. Which one would you want to use? 
- Becky: for me packaging is important. This makes me feel like I’m in the hospital. Really not interested in even trying it. This looks really big, but I like colors and all. This one is probably my to-go though. 
So, you guys made an interesting point earlier about wheelchairs. why is wheelchair not a taboo anymore but catheter is? 
Becky- Wheelchair is cool! I see all these athletes in their wheelchairs and they’re successful. But, catheter’s image is still very negative. I guess all these commercials or ads with caths featuring old people or sick people really made a bad image for the supplies. 
So do you think using famous faces, athletes, young people, “cool’ people would change that perception? 
Both- absolutely. 
Becky- Like when I’m at events, I see Xmax and then I see some other wheelchair company. i wanna go talk to Fernando and not to another company. Those guys are just so cool! Or Push Girls for example, they’re cool too. 
Emily- CH just wrote a book called “Push G.” You guys should partner up with them. 
Oh i see! Would you be interested in talking to us if we had a copy of the Push Girls book available at our table at an event? 
Both- Absolutely. 
Becky— Testimonials from people who are active like matt scott, or like T. Adams  on your table will really help.
The conversation went on and on .. As I said, full of insights, vast amount of information.It’s been more than 5-6 months since I had this conversation with these two remarkable ladies. Since then, I have been only thinking of materials that will resonate with our customers. As Jon Steel always says, include the customer at every stage of your strategy planning. Couldn’t agree more! You’re going to create a campaign to help you sell  something  to someone without knowing who that person is or what he /she is looking to see in a campaign? That won’t work, let me tell you that. 
Since this conversation, I have created the below ad campaigns that many people I know in wheelchair found it captivating, but the people in my company are indifferent to them. Now, I’m no creative, nor a graphic designer. I’m an aspiring strategy planner. But a planner must also be a good creative to at least inspire the creatives. Of course there is a lot more to be done to these images. But, they’re just a start…
Then, I’ve created a landing page to promote the  sampling program which will become the theme of our first social media campaign. I’m also working with two other organizations that we support but are dependent on our marketing expertise on generating traffic towrads their sites. The agreements have been made and we have already started working on them. 
So, yes things can still be exciting when you have a positive spirit and a curious character like I do to constantly want to learn something new about what I am interested in doing.  Again, passion,  staying focused and determination are key elements for success at least have always been for myself. If only I could become more optimistic… 
Hope you enjoyed reading it..
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Reverse the classic method of your company: what- how- why

You can inspire action by first telling why, explaining how, and then say what.

Another great talk from Simon Sinek.