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Archive for December, 2005


This is kind of cool: WOMMA is trying to raise $20,000 for charity.

The way they’re doing it is they’re auctioning 20 passes to their upcoming conference on eBay, with 100% of proceeds going to charity. The conference – called Word of Mouth Basic Training – will be held in Orlando on January 19-20, 2006. It’s a 2-day event that will focus on helping everyone learn ethical word of mouth marketing practices.

Michael Rubin (WOMMA) hopes this starts a trend. In his own words: “anyone doing a marketing conference should make charity part of the process. There are so many expensive events out there, and we hope to put out the word that giving back should be part of deal. Let’s get some blogosphere pressure going that if conference producers want our support, they need to return something to the community. The only way that we’re going to raise the money is by word of mouth.”

Sounds good to me.

If you want to spread the word too, feel free to find out more about the auction (and the event) by clicking here.

Pass it on.

Today’s best reads:

Powerful Influence (Ernie Mosteller)
The High-Res User Experience (Kathy Sierra)
Trevor Gay On Simplicity (Tom Asacker)
Brand Measurement (Brand Perspectives blog)
Recognize Your Biggest Fans (Aaron Dignan)
From Thinking Different to Doing Different (John Moore)

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Promises, Promises…

Here are some comments from critics that I found on rottentomatoes.com today:

On Memoirs of A Geisha: “I was blown away by the trailer, but the movie doesn’t live up to that dramatic promise.”– Cherryl Dawson and Leigh Ann Palone, THEMOVIECHICKS.COM

On Syriana: “I’m still waiting to see the film that was advertised in its great trailer.”– Steve Rhodes, INTERNET REVIEWS

If a brand or product is directly tied to customer expectations, be very, very, very careful what you promise your customers.

Case in point: Movie trailers.

Before I get to the point, you need to know that I love movie trailers just about as much as I love other types of ads. Much to my wife’s chagrin, I will gladly sit through twenty minutes of trailers before the main feature. As a matter of fact, I make a point of getting to movies early so that I won’t miss the trailers.

Yeah, okay, I’m a geek. Sue me.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems that trailers are really getting lousy these days. What’s going on? Who’s actually putting these things together? Sales interns? (Ooops. No offense.)

So Hollywood, if you’re listening, here are a few tips:

1) A trailer is a teaser. A taste. You’re trying to seduce us, not give us a synopsis… So don’t show us THE ENTIRE movie! See, when you show every single plot twist and special effect, you’re basically making us NOT want to go spend my money on something that our brains have already processed.

2) A trailer shouldn’t seem like it was put together in ten minutes by rushed middle-schoolers.

3) Make sure the end cut doesn’t look and sound like it got caught in aunt Gertrude’s toaster.

4) Every movie isn’t “one of the best movies of the year.” Every movie isn’t good enough to have “Oscar written all over it.” Give the fake critics a rest already. It’s sad.

Okay, I’m done. (And yeah, I feel much better.)

By the way, the best trailer I saw all year was for The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. Flawless. The three different versions that I saw were obviously put together by someone who cared about the movie and knew how to build excitement without a) lying, and b) giving everything away.

This used to be the norm. Now, it’s the exception. Sad.

What’s perhaps worse than a poorly produced trailer are misleading trailers. Don’t promise “the funniest comedy of the year” if it isn’t. Every comedy trailer I saw in 2005 had some such of endorsement from a movie critic whose name I couldn’t read. (Microscopic print flashing on and off the screen inside of ten frames is insulting.)

Not every love story is “the most romantic movie of the year.”

Not every horror flick is “the scariest American movie of the decade.”

*yawn*

Likewise, don’t make a psychological thriller look like an action flick. Don’t use clips of deleted scenes in a theatrical trailer and make us think we’re going to get to see something that we really aren’t. Don’t make us think we’re going to get one thing, and then deliver another.

Breeding cynicism in your customers is not a recipe for growth.

Every year, the US spends less and less on theater tickets. Hmmm… I wonder why.

Promise : Delivery
Excitement : Disappointment.

Not good.

My wife and I went to see Syriana this week. Smart script. Great acting. Cool cinematography. Shame on me for not having done my homework, but up until the end credits started scrolling, I was absolutely convinced that I had watched a Steven Soderbergh film. (What, with the George Clooney and Matt Damon connection, the Traffic-like plot and style, and the fact that some of the trailers I saw mentioned Soderbergh’s name, my scattered brain made an assumption.) As it turns out, Soderbergh is only an executive producer on this film. (Along with Jeff Skoll, Ben Cosgrove, George Clooney, and Georgia Kacandes.) The writer and director is actually Stephen Gaghan (who was Soderbergh’s screenwriter for Traffic).

The point is that I went to see Syriana because I thought it was directed by Steven Soderbergh… And although it looked, sounded, felt and flowed like a Soderbergh movie, it wasn’t. (In hindsight, the flat narrative should have been my first clue.)

I got suckered. Shame on me, sure, but I got suckered nonetheless.

Walking out of a movie (no matter how good) and then realizing that you’ve been duped isn’t cool.


Aside from the Soderbergh thing, check out the trailer on the official site by clicking here (or on the image above). What does the trailer promise? A pulse-pounding thriller. Action. Suspense. Thrills. It’s a great trailer.

… Only… the movie isn’t exciting. Your pulse will never clock 90. There’s no suspense. It’s a great flick, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t the movie that the trailer is trying to sell you. If you go see this movie expecting it to be like the trailer, you will be sorely disappointed.

Tsk.

Along the same lines, how many people will go see “Quentin Tarantino presents Hostel” because they think it’s a Tarantino film? (Being executive producer doesn’t mean squat.) The director (Eli Roth) only has one other movie to his name, and it’s Cabin Fever. (Arguably the worst movie ever made. If you don’t believe me, convince someone you don’t like to rent it for you, and watch it. You’ll never get those 94 minutes back, but at least, you’ll have the satisfaction of not having wasted four bucks.)

In other words, in spite of what the campaign pushing this movie would have you believe, don’t expect “Pulp Fiction” meets “Saw II”.

You can’t sell one thing and deliver another. Contextual bait & switch is just lame.

A word of warning to everyone in the marketing world: Whether you’re advertising movies, music, cars, burgers, sportswear or prescription medication, be careful not to extend your creative license further than your customers’ expectations will stretch.

Even if you aren’t technically guilty of false advertising, even if your product ends up being great, engaging in these kinds of tactics is still slimy. The end doesn’t justify the means.

There’s a right way to do this. Tricking customers isn’t it.

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Making resolutions for a whole year seems so daunting… Which is probably why so few of us ever actually see them through.

Let’s see… Lose weight. Stop smoking. Eat better. Learn a foreign language. Take the dog to the park every day.

Yeah, right.

If there’s one thing we can probably all agree on about Western culture today, it’s this: More often than not, we tend to bite off a lot more than we can chew. (Often, literally.) We supersize everything: Houses. Cars. Shopping malls. Credit. Meals… and yes, even New Year’s Resolutions.

Maybe the lesson here is that the bigger the resolution, the less likely it is that we will actually make it happen. Likewise, the smaller the resolution, the more likely it is that we will accomplish our goal. (Losing 5 lbs by mid-February is a lot more likely a goal than say… losing 20lbs by July.)

Baby steps, grasshopper. Baby steps.

The process has to be incremental.

You have to start small.

Before you start thinking about your big goals for next year, before you start making your big resolutions, think about what you actually want to accomplish. Think about what you can realistically change once a day or once a week that will grow into something substantial by the end of the year. Don’t just go for pipe dreams. Don’t settle for what you think sounds good or grand or courageous.

Don’t fall into that trap again.

Resolutions aren’t about the finish line. They’re about taking responsibility for the changes that will get us there. They also have to find their relevance in our everyday lives.

If you’re at a loss for small resolutions when it comes to your profesional world in 2006, here are a few simple ones you will find as rewarding as they are attainable. They can even be passed on to your employees and colleagues. You don’t have to follow them, but they aren’t a bad place to start. If only one will inspire you to make lasting changes this year, then this post wasn’t in vain.

Here we go:

1. On the Frontlines: Every day, do something special for two customers. One in the morning, and one in the afternoon. That’s it. Just two. It doesn’t matter what it is. Give one a 10% discount on her purchase. Give another a gift card or coupon for their next purchase. Send their sick mother a bouquet of flowers. Upgrade their room reservations. Give them free concert tickets. Whatever. The idea isn’t to win everyone over in the first month. You don’t want to burn yourself out. You also don’t want to eat into your company’s margins. You just want to make two friends each day. Surprise them. Wow them. Just because you can. Plant little seeds of love.

Not one or three or ten. Two. That’s it. Everyone else gets your best, but just not the extra V.I.P. treatment. (Pretty soon, you’ll wish you could treat ten people to it, and twenty, and fifty… and the way you look at your customers will change. The way you interract with them will change too. For the better. But one thing at a time.)

Baby steps.

2. In the Ivory Tower: Once a week, pick one customer complaint and personally respond to it. Pick up the phone. Write a letter. Do it yourself. This shouldn’t be a drag. It shouldn’t be a hassle. If you don’t care enough about your customers to do this one thing, something isn’t right. Look into the complaint. Find out what caused the failure in the first place. Find out what it would take to fix the problem. Make it happen.

One per week. That’s it.

Yep, baby steps.

3. In the Creative Suite: Keep your outlook fresh. Once a month, go watch kids play. (No, not in a creepy way.) Go spend twenty minutes at a McDonald’s or a park playground or at an interactive toy store. Watch how kids interract with objects. Watch their hands, especially. Then go home, grab a #2 pencil and sketch a shape that kids would love to hold and fiddle with. Design a new toy with no moving parts. Mold it out of clay. Take pictures of it. Recreate it in photoshop or paintshop or whatever graphics program you feel comfortable with. Play with colors and textures. Imagine tastes and smells. Design packaging for it. Create ads and brochures for, just for fun.

Yeah, just for fun.

If you can’t find any kids, design a dog toy.

Design a food bowl for cats.

Design a perch for cockatiels.

A doorknob.

A new shifter for your car.

A belt buckle.

A toothbrush.

Even if you’re a copywriter, even if you have zero skill as a graphic artist, do this. Once a month, complete a project that is yours and yours alone. Explore your own creativity. Keep the process fresh. Hone your creative skills.

4. Managers: Once a week, ask “what if?”

What if we didn’t make customers jump through hoops to return defective merchandise?

What if we designed cooler retail spaces?

What if we trained our employees better?

What if we did something that none of our competitors ever did before?

What if we rewrote the rules?

Each week, ask a question, and find the answer. If the questions are too big, then make it once a month.

Learn what works, what doesn’t, and why. Learn your company’s strengths and limitations. Learn what stands in the way of your organization’s growth. Perhaps more importantly, learn about your own strengths and weaknesses. Learn about your own limitations and how to overcome them. Finally, learn about turning management skills into true leadership.

5. Everyone: Don’t settle for average work. Ever. Don’t settle for good enough. Don’t settle for safe or comfortable. Always stretch the current limits of your talents. Always be on the lookout for new approaches. New methods. New ideas. You’ll be surprised at how much new ground you’ll break if every day, you push your own limits just a little bit. One word at a time. One concept at a time. One sketch at a time. One spreadsheet at a time. One question at a time.

Giving your customers or clients something to talk about – extraordinary service, memorable experiences, top notch products, etc. – is a decision you have to make every single day. Every single minute.

It isn’t about grand declarations of intent. It’s about the small decisions you choose to make throughout the day.

Baby steps. Baby steps.

Lastly, here’s a simple new year’s resolution for you: Just be better.

You don’t have to suddenly become a superhuman version of yourself. You don’t have to win the Nobel Prize. You don’t have to cure world hunger. You don’t have to write the Great American Novel. You don’t have to lose 200 lbs. You don’t have to be the supadoopah. Just be better.

A little better.

Not six months from now. Not three weeks from now. Just a few times today… and tomorrow… and the day after. That’s it. That’s all it takes.

Baby steps, kids.

Itty bitty ones.

If those don’t work for you, that’s okay. Check out Tom Asacker’s resolutions here. They’re excellent.

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A Tale Of Two Princes


Once upon a time, in a land, far, far away, a king was faced with a tough decision: Which of his two twin sons would rule his kingdom once he passed on? He decided to test them.

The king gave each son a province to rule for ten years. After ten years, he would come to visit them both, and the one whose province had blossomed the most would inherit his kingdom.

The first son built wonderous palaces and gardens and libraries for his subjects. Before long, people from surrounding provinces started to move there. His borders grew. So did his wealth. He built more and more libraries, bigger and bigger palaces, and the most extravagant gardens the world had ever seen.

The other son didn’t build any new palaces. He didn’t build any new libraries. He didn’t build gardens. What he did instead was fix the old palaces that had been abandoned by the previous governors. He bought new books for his old libraries. He appointed the best teachers to the schools he also rebuilt, and sent his most compassionate knights to make sure that order and justice reigned from one end of his province to the other.

Ten years passed, and – as promised – the king visited his two sons.

When he arrived in his first son’s province, he was astounded by what he saw: Everywhere he looked, he saw magnificent gardens, enormous palaces with golden spires and gem-encrusted walls, and more people running about than he had ever dreamed possible. He stepped away from his caravan to ask a farmer who all of these people were, where they had come from, and what they were doing there. The farmer, not recognizing the king, walked away without answering his questions. The king, outraged by the farmer’s behavior, huffed back to his caravan and ordered it to move on.

A few hours later, he saw a young boy drinking from a well on the side of the road. He ordered his caravan to stop and sent one of his ministers to ask the boy the same questions he had asked the rude farmer earlier in the day. The boy rolled his eyes at the minister and shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “Go ask somebody else. I’m trying to get a drink.”

The caravan moved on, and later that evening, it finally reached the first son’s palace… Where it was refused entrance by the palace guards. The king stormed out of his carriage and demanded to see his son immediately. The guards refused. “We’re sorry, sir. No one is allowed inside the palace without written authorization from the High Prince.”

“But I am the King!”

“I’m sorry, sir. Our orders don’t say anything about a king. There is nothing I can do for you now. You will have to come back tomorrow, when the Prince is awake.”

Furious, the king ordered his caravan to press on through the night so that he might see the state of his second son’s province by dawn. When he arrived there, he was sad to notice that in the ten years that his second son had been in power, he hadn’t built any new palaces or gardens or libraries. As a matter of fact, the province looked exactly as the King remembered it. After an hour or so, the caravan passed some farmers tending to their fields, and they waved from a distance. Though his eyesight had grown dim in his later years, he could see the smiles on their faces, even in the distance.

By mid-morning, the caravan reached a small town. The king was about to order his caravan to stop so that the horses could be watered and fed, when he heard cheers up ahead. Curious to find out what was going on, he stuck his head out of his carriage and noticed a crowd of people up ahead. He hopped out of his carriage and was met by a dozen grinning children. “Welcome,” they screamed. “Welcome to the King!”

The king was so touched by the way he was treated by the villagers of his second son’s province that he spent an entire week there, enjoying their hosptality and bon vivant before returning to his own palace.

A fortnight passed, and he summoned his two sons. The first arrived bearing cartloads of wonderous treasures and some of the finest horses in all the land. The second came with flowers, musicians and fresh fruit. The king greeted them both with love, as he hadn’t seen them in many years, and his heart ached at the thought of having to choose which of the two would rule in his place. But it needed to be done.

To them both, he said simply: “Your kingdom is your people. Whomever lives by these words is fit to be king.”

To the first son, he gave half of his wealth and perpetual governorship of his province. To the second son, he gave the other half of his wealth and all of the lands of his kingdom to rule in his place.

If that little tale didn’t make much sense, try this on for size:

For the past week, I have been on the market for a TV. (It was way time.) I shopped around for a few days and hit all of the popular TV haunts: Best Buy, Circuit City, Target, etc. Literally cash-in-hand, my wife and I finally trotted on over to Best Buy to make our purchase. Only… when we got there, we were royally ignored by no fewer than seven Best Buy employees who seemed to have nothing better to do than… um… walk around with their hands in their pockets. The two couples who were already waiting in the TV section when we got there left the store empty-handed.

We finally decide to tackle an employee and ask him for a price on an unmarked Panasonic. He stops just shy of rolling his eyes at us, pauses to think for a minute, and then asks us “um, you want me to go look it up?”

Um, yeah.

Ten minutes later, he comes back, feet dragging, shoulders slumped, obviously thrilled to be there. (Meanwhile, three of his coworkers are huddled in a corner, having a chat while other customers and desperately trying to get their attention.) He flatly gives us the price, does an about-face, and walks away without asking us if we want to buy it.

Where does he go? To chat with his three blue-shirted buddies.

We left empty-handed. So did the other customers who were ignored.

Against my better judgement, we returned to best Buy today to get that TV (hoping for better service). But the same thing happened. We were ignored again by the sales staff (who, by the way, seem to be making a point to avoid eye-contact with customers throughout the store).

So guess what: We walked out, crossed the street, and went to Circuit City. Yep, boring old Circuit City. And what did we find there? The same TV at the same price. The difference is that there, we weren’t just greeted at the door. We were greeted on the floor, by a young guy who was super helpful and very friendly. While he was checking if the TV we wanted was in stock, another sales guy who was passing by stopped to ask us if we needed any help. He was friendly too.

Best Buy lost a customer today. Circuit City made a new friend.

The skinny: Both stores are exactly the same distance from my house, carry the same products and offer the same prices. One treated me poorly and the other one treated me well.

I bought from the latter.

Just like the king told his sons: “Your kingdom is your people.” Your people are your employees. Your people are your customers. Your people are all of the folks who come in contact with you and your company.

I used to buy into the whole “hey, no worries, we don’t work on commission” song and dance, but you know what? If “no commission” means “no service when we don’t feel like dealing with customers today,” no thanks.

Want to know how to lose customers? Treat them poorly. Worse yet, ignore them. Or treat them like an inconvenience, even. As Seth Godin points out in his latest blog entry: “All the magazine ads in the world can’t undo one lousy desk clerk.”

Best Buy isn’t about a big yellow logo or huge pretty stores. It isn’t about cool ads or product selection. It isn’t even about convenience. Kingdoms aren’t about golden palaces and lavish gardens.

People buy from people. People interract with people. People form relationships with people. Whether you’re Best Buy or Starbucks or Apple or McDonalds, there’s no getting around it.

Customer service and customer experience are not commodities. They are at the very core of your brand. Of your identity. Of your raison d’etre.

People don’t want to be treated like dirt. They want to be welcomed. They want to be taken care of. They want to walk out of your store with a smile on their face. Buying a TV should be fun. It shouldn’t be a drag.

Lesson number one: Letting your employees get away with unprofessional behavior is the first step towards brand identity doom:

Looks like Best Buy has some broken windows to fix.

Oh, I almost forgot… The moral of the story is…

The customer is king.

(Always was. Always will be.)

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Check out Tom Asacker’s interview on the Being Reasonable blog: Click here.

Brain candy.

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I just got off my secure line with NORAD, and the folks there have confirmed that Santa’s sleigh is indeed airborne. Check out his progress by clicking here.

Tonight, we find out who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. (Don’t forget to leave Monsieur Kringle some milk and cookies!)

Merry Christmas, everybody!

:)

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Disney’s “Wonder” – Nassau, Bahamas

Airlines, eat your heart out. Hotels too. And restaurants. Your lousy service is inexcusable. You’ve been trumped.

Case in point: Cruises.

Cruises rock.

Here’s the deal: Until last week, I had never been on an ocean cruise. I never even wanted to go on a cruise, really. The prospect of hanging out in a giant floating hotel, surrounded by swarms of annoying tourists didn’t appeal to me. Especially with the whole tight-quarters thing going on. I’ve never been big on the group activity deal. I’m not a joiner. I kind of like to travel off the beaten path and come up with my own entertainment.

I don’t like tourist traps.

But I finally gave in and went on a Disney Cruise with my family last week, and I have to tell ya, I have a whole new outlook on the cruise thing.

I never, ever, ever expected it to be as good as it was.

So… no more sneering from this guy. No more jokes about “The Mouse”. No more “cruises are for suckers” speeches from me. Nope. Those days are over.

Crow never tasted so good.

For a week, I only saw smiling faces. Not fake smiles, mind you. Genuine smiles. The folks who took care of us were happy to be there. They were professional. Our satisfaction was their main concern, and it showed. From the elaborate towel sculptures left in out immaculate stateroom every day to the friendly smiles on every deck, their mission to keep us happy was obvious.

I have never, ever, ever experienced this level of service anywhere (and I’ve traveled in some pretty exclusive circles.)

The food was great. The rooms were great. The shows were great. The parties were great. Everything about our experience was completely flawless. The kids had a magical time, and so did we.

Believe me: I wanted to find flaws. I looked for them everywhere. I found none.

After having witnessed flight attendants treat passengers like cattle (literally), after having suffered the “next, please” attitude of five-star hotel staff, after having endured lousy service from waiter after waiter after waiter in more white-tablecloth restaurants than I care to list, after years of watching retail sink into an abyss of morose customer unappreciation, I have finally found the last bastion of true customer service: Cruises.

Cruises have it all figured out. They do. They hold the customer experience firmly in their white-gloved hands. Is it a matter of survival? Not really. They could just settle for good enough. They could just shrug and say “hey, for the price you’re paying, this is pretty darn good.” They could shake their heads at the Bulgarian waiters and South African hosts and explain to you in confidence that it isn’t easy finding good help these days.

But no. These guys would give Marines a run for their money when it comes to squaring away uniforms, bathrooms, hallways and staterooms. People you’ve never seen in your entire lives make a point of knowing your name before you ever set foot on the ship. Your glass is never empty. Your ice bucket is always full. These folks aren’t just satified with pretty good. These guys are after one thing and one thing only: Perfection.

Every single thing they do from the moment they get up in the morning is about making you feel these three little letters all day: W.O.W.

Yep, Wow. They want you to feel this way. They get off on it. They don’t just go through the motions. It isn’t just about training and procedures. It’s about pride. About purpose. About fun.

My faith has been restored.

Now… let’s start working on bringing the magic home to your neighborhood businesses. To the local restaurants and grocery stores and retail outlets. To your local garage.

To your least favorite airline.

To your wireless provider.

To your local DMV office.

Fix your broken windows. Hire the best people you can find. Shut up and listen to your customers. Never settle for good enough. Book a cruise and go find out for yourselves what great customer experiences are all about.

There’s hope for thousands of businesses, and that’s great news.

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On the road again.

I’m traveling this week, so I probably won’t be posting anything.

Perfect time to browse old posts, or better yet, discover new blogs about advertising, marketing, branding and design. Some of the best ones on the planet are in the right-hand margin for you to click on.

Be good while I’m gone.

:)

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Aids Awareness Ad


Sometimes, advertising gets it right. This one, put together for World Aids Day by Medecins Sans Frontieres is a great example of advertising at its best.

1) It conveys a very specific message.
2) It does so in a visually compelling way.
3) It is bound to affect the viewer.
4) It educates.
5) It is memorable.

The question is, will it move you to act?

Click here to see the video.

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The slogan used to go “Have you driven a Ford lately?”

Well… I have, unfortunately. I find myself behind the wheel of a Ford vehicle several times per year. Rentals, mostly. My opinion of Ford vehicles isn’t great. It isn’t great at all. As a matter of fact, unless Ford starts making better cars (or making cars better), I will never, ever buy a Ford, no matter how cheap. If someone gives me a Ford, I will immediately trade it in for another brand.

And I guess a lot of people feel the same way because despite a huge advertising budget and aggressive price cuts earlier this year, a lot of people aren’t buying Ford vehicles either.

So now, Ford is cutting 30,000 jobs.

Strangely, you won’t find that little bit of info on Ford’s website. Instead, you’ll read that Texans Love Ford Trucks. You’ll learn that Mustang pedal cars make kids happy. You’ll learn what conferences and trade shows Ford will be attending next. More importantly, you will finally find out who that girl in the Mercury commercials is.

If you really dig, you’ll also get to read a tiny little cryptic blurb about how Ford is all about inclusion and diversity, citing Volvo’s advertising in gay and lesbian markets.

Huh?

Oh yeah, in case you hadn’t heard, Ford has just agreed to pull all of its advertising from gay and lesbian magazines in response to a boycott launched by the American Family Association. The ads were specific to the Land Rover and Jaguar brands. (Thanks to Emergence Marketing for reporting this today.)

So… Let’s recap: 30,000 jobs are going to get sacked because sales are down. Meanwhile, Ford decides to pull out of lucrative markets because of pressure from a gay-bashing religious group.

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

How about this, Ford:

1) Start making better cars. Not more expensive cars, but better cars. Cars that don’t fall apart. Cars with comfortable seats. Cars with decent suspension. Cars that people will actually enjoy driving. It’s called design. The Japanese know about design. So do the Europeans. You can learn it too. (There is life beyond giant pickup trucks.)

Maybe once you make your cars cool, reliable and fun to drive, people will start buying them again.

Don’t believe me? Look at the Hummer brand. What could be more American in spirit than that giant military-like gasoline-guzzling tank on wheels? Even with gasoline prices hitting $3 per gallon and doomsday reports of impending fuel shortages, Hummer vehicles are selling like hotcakes.

Tell me design and passion don’t drive sales. Tell me the car market is all about pricepoints. Just try to make that argument stick.

Make better cars and your sales will increase. Period. End of story.

2) If a significant percentage of gay and lesbian drivers buy Land Rovers and Jaguars, don’t do something stupid to alienate them… Like pull your ads out of their magazines. What are you thinking?!

What’s next? Will a boycott from the KKK make you pull ads from magazines geared towards ethnic minorities? How about Jewish and Muslim publications? How about European markets while you’re at it? (Those pesky French people keep saying bad things about us after all. Long live the Freedom Fries, right?)

Why don’t you start targeting white, christian, straight red-blooded Americans exclusively?

Seriously, Ford. What’s up? It’s like the lights are on but nobody’s home. Do you need a quick lesson in leadership?

30,000 jobs down the toilet, and your next move is to send away a healthy chunk of what few customers you hadn’t yet chased away? Why?

Couldn’t you have told the American Family Association that Ford will advertise to anyone it wants to? Couldn’t you have told them that you will advertise in whatever publications you see fit? Couldn’t you have told them to just mind their own business?

Perhaps you could invite their leadership to start designing your cars. Perhaps you should begin to seek their approval before launching your next ad campaign. (Is it still okay to advertise during the Superbowl? Can you still advertise in magazines like Esquire, GQ or Cosmo?)

*sigh*

Ford, you’ve hit an all-time low this week. You really have.

Let me let you in on a little secret: The reason that Japanese auto makers are kicking your butt is because -

1) They make the best car possible for the money. You make the most easily manufacturable car for the money.

2) Their attention to detail is evident in their design. Your attention to detail is almost an oxymoron.

3) Japanese cars are fun to drive. Yours aren’t. (And no, the Mustang isn’t all that great.)

4) Japanese engines. Ford engines. End of story.

5) Japanese car makers will advertise and sell to whomever loves their cars, regardless of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation.

I’m sorry to say this, Ford, but I’m not sure that you have much of a strategy anymore. Tell me, what are you about? What’s your purpose? Tell me why I should buy one of your products? Tell me why I should choose you over anyone else? (Besides the whole “buy American” thing.)

BMW’s X5 is made in America, just fifteen miles from my house. Japanese automakers are employing thousands right here in the US. Buying their cars is buying American.

Time for some leadership changes at Ford, methinks.

Related posts: Tom Peters’ “The View From Home

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Brand Strategist Jennifer Rice’s latest post on her What’s Your Brand Mantra blog brings us Mark Hurst‘s brilliant little primer on the difference between Customer Service and Customer Experience:

“Customer service is the job of front-line workers, servicing customer
requests for help – via an 800 number, e-mail, or a retail desk. It’s important
to invest in good customer service, but that’s just the tiniest sliver of the
customer experience.

Customer experience is the job of everyone in the company. My
customer experience was bad because the product, and the refund policy, are both
broken. Everyone from the CEO and CFO to the product designers and manufacturing facility contributed to this bad customer experience; and as a result, they’ve lost a customer and generated bad word of mouth. The good customer service I received didn’t – and couldn’t possibly – fix the overall experience.”

Go read the rest here and here.

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Here’s another reason why Tom Asacker is one of my favorite bloggers these days:

“I’ve never experienced so much noise and so little signal as I do in the present field of marketing. Marketing is a mess. Marketing is broken! Half of marketers are on autopilot creating award-winning, irrelevant media noise, web nonsense and events. The other half is paralyzed – measuring everything to death and covering their collective butts. Clarity: Marketing’s New Task.”

Click here to read his 2-page mini-manifesto.

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Leaders vs. Managers


Mike Bawden (who was kind enough to quote me on his blog yesterday) just wrote one of the simplest yet most astute observations about leadership that I have read in a long time.

Too many times business owners seem to be satisifed spending their careers as managers rather than leaders. When you see real leadership in action, you’re left in awe. Real leaders are active, engaged and motivating. They create an atmosphere that’s electric – both fun and productive.”

Well said.

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The Crazy Ones

image copyright © 2004, olivier blanchard

Hop on over to Kathy Sierra‘s blog for her post on bravery, confidence, and getting past the paralysis of uncertainty. Very cool stuff, as always:

“If your new Big Idea doesn’t scare the hell out of you, it’s probably not
a new Big Idea. If it doesn’t scare other people, it might be because you
allowed the consensus (or what you imagined as the consensus) to
smooth
the pointy bits
, buffing and polishing the idea into a nice safe state that
displeases nobody and delights nobody.”
(…)
“But–if we let the critics (or fear of criticism) talk us out of an idea
we still believe in, the world will be more homogeneous. Smoother. Less
interesting. Imagine where we’d be if people throughout history had always given
in to the critics (or fear of critics). Imagine the ideas that would have been
lost if others hadn’t been brave enough to stand up against smart people who
disagreed. Nature needs change and diversity, but humans tend to favor the
status quo.”

… Well, not all humans. Some of us are wired a little bit differently. It isn’t so much that we’re difficult. We really aren’t. It’s just in our DNA to a) figure out ways to make things better for people around us, and b) to find ways to take these ideas and actually make them happen.

We just want faster wheels. Safer helmets. Sharper pictures. Easier web interfaces. Cleaner fuels. Smarter workspaces. Softer beds. Fun retail spaces. Cheaper orbiters. More powerful telescopes. Tastier drive-thru coffee. Food, clean water and medicine for every human being on the planet. Better advertising. Put simply, we have the skills to make these things happen, and don’t feel like waiting for someone else to get around to it.

Kathy posted a link to the very cool ode to “The Crazy Ones”, from Apple. Remember the ad? If not, maybe this will refresh your memory:

Here’s to the crazy ones.


The misfits.
The rebels.
The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.

The ones who see things differently.
They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.

You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them,
disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.
Because they change things.

They invent. They imagine. They heal.
They explore. They create. They inspire.
They push the human race forward.

Maybe they have to be crazy.
How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?
We make tools for these kinds of people.

While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.
Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Amen.

Related post: Fear Is Irrelevant.

And in honor of Evan (see comments), check this out. ;)

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Sayonara to the Glitch


There. Good as new.

The comments & trackback features are back up.

Sorry about the inconvenience.

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Innovation & Brands

There you go. Get me started on innovation, and I won’t shut up. It’s a thing.

Brand Central Station‘s Mike Bawden posted a great piece about the connection between innovation and brands on his blog last September, which I found again by accident yesterday. Here are some of my favorite passages:


“Why do we get the inspiration for innovation? I think it may be part of the
human condition – that we’re always trying to make things better. Sometimes it’s
a personal challenge to see if we can outdo what’s been “done” before. Other
times, it’s a more practical reaction to a need expressed by someone we care for
… a customer, a co-worker, a family member.”


“It’s important to understand how innovation can effect the perceived value
of your brand. Done right, innovations can keep your brand fresh and relevent to
those people who already know and understand it. Innovation can also open your
brand to new market opportunities.”


Yep. Innovate or die.

Check out the full post here.

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Tangelo Moo-Cows


I kind of like Ernie’s latest post entry, over at Tangelo Ideas‘ blog. (I never grow tired of Purple Cow thinking.) Here’s the skinny:


Family resemblances are a good thing. For families. But for
agencies, it can get you into trouble.
When the
stuff you create for your boat manufacturer client starts to look or sound or
feel just like the stuff you’re making for that software startup, oh, and the
athletic-shoe retailer, and maybe the fast-food restaurant, too; you have to
ask: Are you doing what speaks best to the audience? What’s best for the client?
Or are you doing what you personally think is cool? Worse yet, are you doing
what the competition is doing, too?”


Absolutely.

I was flipping through some old issues of Fast Company this morning, when I found this very cool little article by Christine Canabou entitled Fast Ideas For Slow Times (May 2003). In it, Christine makes the argument for the fact that offering something different/unique is now a crucial part of any company’s success.

Creativity is no longer exclusive to the ad agency world. Likewise, innovation is no longer exclusive to the design world. In order for businesses to thrive, creativity has to become part of their product operational DNA. In order for agencies to keep doing exceptional work for an ever-growing list of quality clients, they have to breed curiosity, exploration and innovation into their DNA.

It isn’t change. It’s evolution.

Here’s the thing: If you keep doing the same thing you’ve been doing, nothing new is going to happen to you. Your sales aren’t suddenly going to double. Your market share isn’t going to enjoy a sudden increase. Nobody is going to really notice you. If you’ve been growing at 6% per year for the past ten years, it’s probably safe to say that you’ll keep seeing 6% growth for a while longer.

A little while.

As Christine puts it: “Do nothing new, and you won’t make a mistake. But do nothing new for too long, and you risk making the biggest mistake of all.”

Yep. It’s easy to let your successes pigeon-hole you into Sisyphean repetition. Before you know it, companies come to you with requests to do for them what you did for your other client(s): “That thing you did for Spalookaboo, Inc… the thing with the talking cow and the karate-chopping mongoose… can you do something like that for us?”

Look. The last thing the world needs is another subservient chicken. More to the point, the last thing Crispin Porter + Bogusky needs is another subservient chicken project.

Something is only original once. Something is only creative once. After that, everything becomes derivative and stale. Copies of copies of copies are just what Seth Godin would call brown cows. (No matter how good and cool they are, once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.)

It’s completely natural to see a competitor’s latest product or ad and think “Doh! Why didn’t we think of that?” It’s also natural to want to jump on the bandwaggon by doing something similar. (The reasoning being that if it works for your competitor, it’ll work for you too.)

*sigh*

Copying for the sake of not being left behind is an expensive and terribly ineffective business strategy. (And it’s lame.) 1) You’ll come across as an “also in”. 2) You’ll back yourself into a price comparison corner (kiss your revenue goodbye). 3) You’ll be turning your back on your biggest competitive advantage – the practical application of your creative power: Innovation.

At best, being a brown cow guarantees stagnation.

At best.

It also guarantees that you will have to spend huge amounts of resources to promote yourself over and over and over again. That’s time, money, people… all of which could be better spent actually doing something rewarding and relevant that will help your business grow.

You could be creating WOM-worthy work for smaller clients, for example. For non-profits. For NGO’s. For niche markets.

You could be broadening your horizons… meeting new people, immersing yourself in cool new subcultures. You could be making every day a learning experience. An exercise in curiosity. A creative harvest. (By the way, the cross-polination of ideas and disciplines is the lifeblood of innovation. Ask IDEO and FROG Design, how it’s worked for them.)

Yeah, Hybrid Thinking. That’s where it starts.

By default, you would also be broadening your reach across a wider range of industries than any other agency in your sphere of influence (not just because it makes great business sense, but because it’s fun.)

Fun feeds creativity at least as much as new experiences.

Think about it. What if instead of chasing big clients, you focused on helping great little companies grow into extraordinary ones? What if you only worked with clients that you want to work with? What if you turned away work that didn’t interest you? What if you did what every innovator has done since the beginning of time: What if you changed the rules, one client at a time, one project at a time?

Would you rub a few people the wrong way? You bet. But they’d get over it.

There are also other options beyond simply increasing the breadth of your playing field. The very nature of the way you approach your work, your services and the way that you market them doesn’t have to be set in stone. Don’t sell yourself short.

Tom Peters, for example, makes a good argument for agencies to evolve into more deep-reaching Professional Services Firms (see his downloadable ‘PSF Manifesto’). After all, if creatives can come up with great advertising ideas, they can surely come up with insightful ways to improve a company’s customer service call center, design unforgetable retail spaces and help create groundbreaking new products, for starters.

This kind of transition won’t happen on its own. Client companies certainly won’t be the first to suggest it. (“Hey um… you guys make great ads, but… do you also do product design?”) It’s one of those build it and they will come things. Create the service. Create the market. Become a purple cow all over again.

More importantly, help your clients become purple cows in their own fields. (Ultimately, that will be the key to your success.)

Trust me on this, many of them wish they had access to this kind of insightful innovation for hire. Not everyone can afford to keep top-notch designers on staff. Or brand strategists. Or marketing communications specialists. Or graphic artists. As for consultants… well, they can be terribly expensive and often too narrow in their approach.

Similarly, not everyone can afford a PR firm and an ad agency and a product design studio and a retail design consultant. (Assuming that, even if you could, all of the pieces would fit together properly… which is pretty unlikely.)

Enter the fully-integrated PSF/Agency: Cost-effective, versatile, nimble, responsive, insightful, completely immersed in their client’s culture. One-stop shopping for all of your innovative needs. Beyond its core team, imagine a network composed of the most brilliant minds and creative talent in the world, just a mouse-click away. A phone-call away.

Imagine if a PSF/Agency like the one I just described suddenly opened shop in your town. What if it were courting your clients? What if it had more talent than you could hire in a lifetime? What if they were a lot cheaper than you are?

What if, although advertising were only one of their revenue streams, their work still blew yours away?

What would you do?

What if they cut your revenue in half inside of two years? What would you do to stay alive?

Advertise more? Lower your prices? Work for free?

Purple cows don’t have to shake their baby rattles to be noticed. They don’t have to put up billboards all over town. They don’t have to engage in price wars. All they have to do is be purple cows.

Pistachio cows.

Tangelo cows.

Here’s a fresh little bit of Set Godin insight:


“Ad agencies have been backed into a corner and mostly do rattling. It’s the
high-cost, high-profile, high-risk part of marketing, and the kind that
rarely works. What a shame that some of the smartest people in our field
aren’t allowed (by their clients and by their industry’s structure) to get
behind the scenes and change the product, the strategy and the approach
instead of just annoying more people with ever louder junk.”

Yesterday’s purple cows are today’s brown cows.

Tomorrow’s purple cows won’t look or feel or sound anything like you.

The question is, what are you doing about it?

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Out with the clutter, I say!

(And it’s amazing what you can do in a day if you set your mind to it.)

I hope you’ll find the new design a little less cluttered and a little more fun than the old one.

:)

PS: Thanks to my Buzznet focus group for all the feedback

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all rights reserved, olivier blanchard 2005

I dig Tom Peters’ blog. I dig it a lot. He’s a genius, plain and simple.

But I don’t always agree with him.

This piece is from a recent post of his:

“Leadership is all about love: Passion, enthusiasms for life, engagement, commitment, great causes, and a determination to make a damn difference, shared adventures, bizarre failures, growth, insatiable apetite for change.”

Um… Yeah, these are attributes of great leaders, but they don’t necessarily have anything to do with leadership.

Take PM (Master Chief) Renard, of the French FUMACO, for example. I was his CO for a year during my 1990’s stint with the armed forces, so I got to know him pretty well. A more natural leader, you’ll never meet. Whatever makes a great leader, he had it: Confidence. Intensity. Courage. Determination. Charisma. Decisiveness. Competence. PM Renard never had to yell at his team. He never had to square anyone away. His guys just followed his every command because he inspired them to by his very presence. The guy was a leader through and through.

Yet PM Renard wasn’t all that passionate or enthusiastic about anything. He didn’t care about causes. He didn’t care about making a difference. He never once showed the slightest sign that he favored change in any way, shape or form. PM Renard was a simple man with simple pleasures: The only things he seemed to enjoy were a quiet beer with friends, having the shiniest boots in the Navy, and occasionally a good cigar.

There’s a kid on my son’s soccer team who hardly ever says a word, but the other boys naturally follow him. He’s the team captain. He drives their tactics. He’s a leader on and off the field, but it has nothing to do with passion or an apetite for change. It has to do with those attributes I just listed above: Confidence. Determination. Charisma. Competence.

On the flip side, I’ve worked with a number of people who had all of the ‘enlightened’ attributes Tom mentions but didn’t have the leadership gene.

(To be fair, Tom did list more TRUE leadership traits such as integrity, action and grace, but in a looser context.)

Now… bridge the passion and enthusiasm for life thing and the confidence and charisma paragraph, and whoa. Yeah. You’ll have something very, very special.

Now, I don’t want to seem like I’m beating up on Tom because I’m not. I just thought that his list only took into account half of the qualities that make a person a true leader.

As an aside, this piece from his same post almost made me cry out with joy because it is sooooo dead-on, and sooooooo important:

“I fervently believe that the capitalist dream comes true and profit is maximized when … turned-on people are empowered to dream big and produce awesome products and service experiences for their customers and communities.”

Bingo!

PS: If you want to see leadership in action, do yourself a favor and rent “The Thin Red Line” (Terrence Malick’s 1998 version.)

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“pookie’s kung-fu” – all rights reserved, olivier blanchard 2005.

Read Part 2.

Okay, so we’ve established that a brand’s DNA is bound to the DNA of the people who drive its growth (from its top management, through its employees/agents, all the way out to its fans).

Second, we established that a company’s DNA shapes its identity.

Third, we established that, to a very great extent, a company’s identity is the basis for what most people would refer to as its brand.

So far, so good.

So, going back to the source of a brand’s success, we find ourself looking at DNA, and more specifically, the DNA of the people on the “inside” of that brand.

Yep, people. The ones with the ideas and the dreams. The ones with the vision to see them through. The ones who translate data into insight. The ones who connect the dots. The ones who ask the right questions. The ones with the courage to seek real answers.

The ones who are never satisfied with “good enough”.

You get the idea.

Likewise, people without dreams, without vision or insight, without talent or drive can infuse a perfectly good company with their lackluster DNA and… well, poison it from the core.

Ineptitude. Arrogance. Nepotism. Cowardice. Greed. Laziness. Stupidity. Indifference.

Nasty bugs, all.

Since the source of a brand’s success can be found in the people who drive its growth, it is crucial – for those of us called to work with (and for) a wide array of companies in our careers – to be able to identify those organizations whose key people will make it possible for us to help them, and those organizations whose key people will make it impossible for even the most skilled of us to get anywhere.

Not everyone who can pay your fees is capable of handling what you have to offer.

Not everyone who asks for your time deserves it.

When you’re sitting across a table from a C.E.O. whose ego is inversely proportional to his I.Q. (and I don’t mean that in a good way) and you know that he is going to be impossible to deal with, that your firm’s work will end up being weeded down to a pale, bland, predictable version of its intended brilliance, why would you still consider taking his money?

Why?

Many consultants, ad agencies, marketing firms and other strategic partners fail quasi-daily in this regard by selling themselves short. When clients become a hassle to manage, why not put them on notice? Why not fire them?

Better yet, why not hire better ones to begin with?

We aren’t alchemists. No matter how skilled, talented and smart we are, transmutation isn’t within our capabilities. We can’t turn lead into gold.

Selecting the right clients, partners and employers is just as important to our success as hiring the right art directors, designers and account managers.

Once you come to terms with that, the good news is that the process is pretty-much the same.

Step 1: Know what you want.

Step 2: Find out if they fit the bill.

Yesterday, we looked at five specific things to look for during your interview with the big enchilada. Today, here are a few more tips that relate a little bit more to potential dysnfunctions that could get in the way of your success. Here’s how to probe a company’s DNA, from the inside, from the moment you walk through its door:

1) Probe the family dynamics:

First, set up a series of low-key meetings with key execs. 15-20 minutes in their office. Talk about what they do, what they want to do, what they think their organizations strengths and weaknesses are. What they would like to see happen in the next year or so. Basic stuff.

Second, meet again with these key execs together in one room and see what happens. See if they click. If they communicate well together. If they’re on the same page. Look for bullies. For showboaters. Look for signs of stress or even fear.

Third, get them all in the same room with the big kahuna and see if the dynamics change. Do some of them turn quiet? Do some of them suddenly try to show off? Do some of them suddenly change their position on an important issue?

Most families are dysfunctional to some degree. Organizations are no different. Everyone plays a role, some disruptive, some not. In some cases, the dysfunction is manageable. In others, it isn’t. Learn to identify red flags and interpret them. (If group dynamics and profiling aren’t in your bag of tricks, hire someone for whom it is, and put them in that room.)

2) Probe the company’s extended family:

You can always judge how a company will treat its customers by the way it treats its employees.
Good management = real smiles.

Lousy management = at best, mandatory smiles.

Walking through the offices, do the company’s employees look engaged? Do they “flow”? Do their workspaces “flow”? Are they friendly? Do you get the sense that they are there because they “choose” to be there, or because they just need a job? Do their workspaces show a sense of pride, or are they drab little boxes of austerity?

The company’s identity is all around you. Take a snapshot of your surroundings. What do you see? How do you feel? Is this a company you want to do business with? Do you see a bright future for them, or just… more of the same?

Be honest with yourself.

3) Probe the details:

How does the gatekeeper answer the phone or greet visitors? How much pride does this company have in its products or services? How is that pride articulated? How old or adequate is their software? How much dust is on the magazines in the waiting room. How good is their coffee? How alert are their store managers? How clean are their bathrooms? How friendly and helpful are their points of contact? Does anything cool or smart or engaging jump out at you?

Do you see any signs that perhaps someone is asleep at the wheel? That someone doesn’t care to sweat the details? That maybe… they just stopped trying?

If so, start asking yourself why.

Find the answer. For your own sake, find it fast.

4) Probe their customers:

What do people say about this company? About its products? What do people like or love about it? What do people wish they would do better?

Find out why the company isn’t responding to their customer’s wants and needs.

5) Probe yourself:

Are you excited at the thought of helping this company?

It’s a simple yes or no question.

Are they just a paycheck, or are you excited about doing something special with them?

Have you clicked with the people there? Are they kindred spirits? Do they get it? Is it in their DNA to be WOM-worthy? To be extraordinary in some way? To break new ground? Are they ready to become the kind of company their peers will look up to?

The next Starbucks? The next Netflix? The next Google?

The next Fifine?

If so, strap on your seatbelt, baby. It’s going to be a fun ride.

If not…

… well…

… if not, why on Earth would possess you to waste your time on a relationship that you know will suck?

Why would you do that to yourself?

A brand starts with the people who drive its growth. A brand isn’t something you put together in a studio and slap onto a company for a fee. It doesn’t work that way. No matter how much money an average company spends on advertising and PR and image consulants, if it’s still average, no amount of cool creative will change that. If that isn’t a recipe for frustration and failure, I don’t know what is.

Instead, look for exceptional talent in your clients. Look for vision and courage and child-like curiosity. Look for passion and compassion. Look for a certain measure of humility and wisdom. Exceptional businesses begin with exceptional people. Always. Call them kindred spirits. Call them smart. Call them enlightened. It doesn’t matter. Their brand’s DNA flows through their veins and permeates their entire being. That’s where it starts.

(Not that you didn’t already know that.)

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