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Archive for February, 2006

How to blow it.

photo by saam

Here are all of the ways that you and your company can blow it when it comes to hiring new clients, new customers, new partners and even new employees:

1. Don’t make the effort to really know them.
2. Talk more than you listen.
3. Be patently indecisive.
4. Make assumptions about what it is they want and need from you.
5. Take them, their business, or their interest in you for granted.
6. Forget that you are far from being the only game in town.
7. Forget that you’re just one year away from being last year’s “it” company.
8. Say one thing. Do another.
9. Overpromise/underdeliver.
10. Make them feel unappreciated.

Think of yourself as being on a first date. Put yourself in the shoes of the pretty girl or cute guy sitting across the table from you. What are they seeing? How are you making them feel? More importantly, how will they feel once the date is over? What will they say to their friends about you?

How would you feel if you found out that despite your best intentions, this was the report on you: “He was cool, well dressed, soooo smart and talented and hip… but he seemed more interested in himself than in me.”

Bleh.

It isn’t enough to say you’re different and cool and brimming with talent. It isn’t enough to know all the right people. It isn’t enough to have the dopest portfolio in the industry or the fattest budget. It doesn’t even matter how great you are, really. Sooner or later, someone cooler, smarter and more talented, and a whole lot hungrier will come along to send you packing.

They’re already out there, inching their way towards you.

Their secret weapons: They’ll do what you don’t. They’ll treat everyone like kings. They’ll make sure their work is better than anything they’ve ever produced before. They’ll make friends with their clients and customers and employees. All of them. Not just the core group. Not just the cash cows.

Just this week, I had the opportunity to see both ends of the spectrum firsthand.

At one end, two companies I was speaking with showed me how cool they really were: They scheduled meetings with me pretty quickly. They did none of the above ten things. They asked all of the right questions and answered all of mine without reservation. They knew exactly what they wanted out of our relationship. They know exactly who they want to be to their clients and customers, and aren’t just talking about it. They’re still smallish, but they’re already category leaders in their markets. They’ve grown mostly through word-of-mouth even though they’ve never really given much thought to WOMM. Their employees are fun and engaging and infected. They’re companies infused with purpose and vision and drive. In two words, they rock, and I am happy to say that I will have an opportunity to help them grow.

At the other end of the spectrum was another company. One that I have to admit I used to be pretty impressed with. That is, until they blew it with me.

How? By displaying almost every no-no on the above list, starting with 8.

I was very surprised this week to get a call from that very company. I was offered a pretty decent opportunity with them. One that, until a month ago, I wouldn’t have thought to turn down for any conceivable reason.

A whole load of people would kill to get that phone call. I used to be one of them. And while these guys aren’t Apple or Nike or Pixar, they aren’t the kind of company whose offer you turn down either. (Even after months of enjoying their mildly entertaining and now legendary version of the runaround dance.)

I’d venture to say that they aren’t used to hearing “no” either.

Oh well.

Unfortunately, the call came six months too late and saddled with motives that, frankly, I was kind of offended by. Call me crazy, but the promise of decent money and relative prestige aren’t enough of a reason to overlook six months of bullshit.

I’m not talking about the last six months. I’m talking about what would have been the next six months.

A brand is a promise, after all.

Client. Partner. Customer. Employee. No difference.

Be careful how you present yourself. Every move you make matters.

Many years ago, a mentor shared a wonderful piece of advice with me. It was this: “Watch the way people treat waiters. It’ll tell you everything you need to know about what kind of person they are.” It’s 100% true.

When a waiter isn’t handy, watch the way they treat everyone else. The less important to them, the better.

Well, I’ve been watching.

Two companies impressed the heck out of me. One disappointed me to no end.

I’ll take those odds any day.

So the lesson here is this: If you want to blow it, do any of the ten things on the above list, or any combination thereof. If those aren’t enough, try your hand at being so full of yourself that you end up turning off even your most ardent fans.

It isn’t easy, but with a little bit of hard work and perseverence, you can do it.

Short of kicking everyone you meet in the huevos, that, my friends, is how you blow it big in 2006.

Now that’s advice you can put to good use.

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Slippery Slope

image by ilisu

I don’t always agree with Seth, but sometimes, he just nails it.

“As soon as they start using the tactics of the other guys, playing the game they play, they become them. As soon as they decide that they can buy (not earn) attention, it all changes.”

Chances are that you’ve forgotten what made your company or services or products so different. So unique. So good.

Chances are that your success has driven you away from those early days, when being different from everyone else, when being better was what it was all about.

Back when taking care of every new customer was like going out on a first date.

Chances are that you’re more focused on aligning your pricing to that of your competitors now than you ever were.

Chances are that you’ve started to copy their every move. You advertise where they advertise. You offer the same services they offer. The closer you get to beating them, the more like them you become.

Chances are that you are slowly becoming a clone of the very people you once thought sucked.

“As soon as they start using the tactics of the other guys, playing the game they play, they become them. As soon as they decide that they can buy (not earn) attention, it all changes.”

Stop.

Take a breather.

Go back to the start.

Are your products still the best? Are they still unique? Is your company still unique? Are you who you promised yourself you would be when you started?

Are you still earning attention?

If the answer is yes, congrats. You’re one of the rare few. I hope you manage to keep it up for decades to come.

If not… well, maybe it’s time to get back to basics. What do you say?

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Sharing Your Passion

Matt A. – Self portrait

Every once in a while, you get to meet someone truly original. If you’re lucky, they also turn out to be everything you could ever want out of a friend or colleague or client.

Matt A. is just one of these folks, and he has a blog now- which is pretty exciting. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with marketing or branding… but it has everything to do with passion (and yes, food). We could definitely all use a little extra dose of it here and there, and it doesn’t hurt to draw from fresh sources every once in a while.

If his photos (and recipes) don’t make you drool, something may be wrong with you.

Now, the question is… if a simple blog like his can make you crave food, if a free blog like his can make you want to try some of his recipes, why is it that most websites don’t engage their visitors at all?

If you have a website, ask yourself this: Are your customers recommending your website to their friends?

If the answer is no, you probably need to find out why.

Is your website a nice, professional, by-the-numbers web presence or is it truly an extension of your brand?

… or better yet, is it an extension of you? Of what makes you tick?

Does your website (… or store… or catalog… or menu) just show what you have to offer, or does it also inspire? Does it make people feel something?

Does it make them crave more?

What you have to realize is that at the core of what makes your business special, at the core of what sets your business apart from every other business out there, is passion. You passion for building cars or cooking food or racing triathlon or shooting cutting-edge fashion photography is at the very core of your identity – as a person and as a brand. It could be brand you or the global brand you represent. Same thing.

Passion sets you apart. Passion inspires. Passion infects. Passion is ingredient X of every succesful brand.

If your passion isn’t evident in the way you present yourself to the world – if every little thing you do isn’t infused with it – oozing with it, even, you’re dropping the ball. Badly.

If your website isn’t as cool and engaging as Matt’s blog, don’t feel bad. You’re running about average…

… which means (again) that you could be doing a whole lot better.

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Corporate Manners


One thing I’ve learned in the last few years is that there are four different types of people you run into in the business world – and therefore, four different types of companies that you can do business with or work for:

1) Those who talk a good game but are essentially full of crap.

2) Those who don’t have the huevos to either say yes or no without dragging things out for six months.

3) Those who don’t bother to be polite unless it serves their immediate interests.

4) Those who strive to always give you a straight answer and deliver on their promises.

It’s been such an interesting education on so many levels… You have no idea.

Like the company that fixed my windshield in twenty minutes flat yesterday: palmetto Auto Glass. These guys find you when you have a cracked windshield (it’s uncanny), schedule an appointment, and in a day or two, send a crew to your workplace or home. They call you on the phone to confirm the appointment, and again later to tell you they’re on their way. When they get to your car, they’re fast, professional, courteous, and 100% competent. (And oh, in SC, they’re free.) Even if the service had been average, the way the whole experience was so top notch that I would have still been impressed. The thing is, these guys are so good at it that they blew me away. That’s saying something. From the first hello to the final goodbye, everything was absolutely perfect.

Same with Carolina Triathlon. Same with Go Magazine. Same with Cox photography. Same with Tenth Planet. Same with Orange Coat. Those all fit in that last category: You call, you meet, you talk, you get an answer. There’s no posturing. There’s no bullshizzle. If anything, there’s real dialogue… You know… the kind with actual direction.

None of these people overpromise. If anything, they err on the side of overdelivering.

Even if you can’t work something out with them right there and then, you want to stay in touch because you know that someday, you’ll need their services, or they’ll need yours, and you can’t wait for that day to come. When you can work something out right away, they deliver like nobody’s business.

These are companies that you are excited to recommend to friends and peers. I’m not kidding.
And as fate would have it, they’re the very best in their respective industries. We’re talking pinnacle here. Summit. Apex. None better.

Ask their competitors, and they might scoff, but I guess one man’s reality is another man’s denial. From where I stand – with a clear view of both the forest and the trees – there’s no question who rules the coop.

Size doesn’t always matter.

Now… I’ll spare you commentary on the first two categories, but I feel compelled to touch on the third for a minute because it’s a HUGE peeve of mine. Okay… ready? Here we go…

There’s no excuse for being dismissive or even rude with anyone.

Ever.

Period.

(And yes, ignoring people is rude.)

To illustrate my point, let me tap into my feminine side a bit here: Remember that scene in “Pretty Woman” in which Julia Roberts goes to a posh store on Rodeo Dr. to get herself some clothes? Because she doesn’t look like a “qualified” customer, she is rudely shooed out of a store. She returns later – well dressed this time – and gets the royal treatment from the same lousy salespeople who were so rude to her before. She lets them do their song and dance and then gives them the scoop: She had gazillions of dollars to spend on clothes, but she went ahead and took her money elsewhere.

Well, there’s a big lesson in that: Never, ever, ever treat anyone poorly. Don’t ever be dismissive or rude. Don’t ever blow anyone off. Ever.

See, that kid you blew off ten years ago, he might be CMO of your biggest potential client today. Guess where he won’t take his company’s budget. That’s right. Just because you didn’t return any of his phone calls after he sent you a resume.

Or that little old lady you ignored last weekend when she came into your car dealership? Too bad you didn’t know that her millionaire son is looking to buy a half dozen trucks for his new landscaping business.

Or the tired looking woman you gave the cold shoulder to a month ago? That’s right. Two years from now, she’ll be VP of event marketing for a company who will book 400 beds between February and May every year, but none at your hotel. Ever. Because you blew her off.

When someone contacts you, even if you don’t see the point, even if time is limited, reach back. It takes forty-five seconds to dial a number and leave a message on someone’s voicemail. It takes half as long to send a form email.

I know… I know… “But Olivier, we get sooooooo many calls and emails every day. It’s impossible to reply to them all.”

Bull.

This is the click & paste era. Stamps and paper are obsolete. Emails are easy. You click reply. You send a form letter saying “hey, thanks for contacting us but we’re all booked up right now and won’t be able to get to your problem/suggestion/question until later this year. We’re sorry if that isn’t what you wanted to hear, but we didn’t want to keep you hanging for weeks waiting for an answer.”

You write it once. You make it a template. You reply to every email you can’t answer personally. Done. We’re talking five minutes per day, tops. If you assign it to a staffer or an intern, it takes you zero time.

It’s polite and professional. It’s an absolute minimum. Period.

You might not think so now, but people will appreciate it x 1,000.

They’ll even respect you for it. Why? Because, like me, they can respect an honest no. A flimsy or insincere maybe, however… sucks.

With the exception of form letters and mass mailings, answer every written introduction. Every resume. Every proposal letter. Return calls too. Even if it takes a week to clear ten minutes in your schedule, do it. Or assign someone else to do it for you.

Think of it this way: When someone says hello on the street, when someone introduces themselves to you at a party and goes to shake your hand, you don’t ignore them. You don’t turn around and walk away. This is the same thing.

Either you’re polite, or you aren’t. Either you’re professional, or you aren’t. Either you’re the type of company that makes me want to work with you or do business with you, or you aren’t.

If the hangup is that you just don’t like saying no or giving people bad news, get over it. Give people a straight answer when they ask for one.

A no disguised as a maybe is just a pain in the schedule, to put it mildly. It’s an enormous waste of time for everyone.

A maybe makes youre clients/customers/potential hires call back again and again, for absolutely no reason.

So here’s a tip: If you know that something isn’t going to happen, do what Nancy would do: Just say no. Okay? Stop wasting people’s time, and politely give them the scoop: “No, we don’t have it in stock. No, we won’t write you a check for $200M. No, we don’t want to hire you. No, we can’t fit you in our schedule today.”

Don’t drag things out. It’s rude, it’s unprofessional, it undermines your credibility, and ultimately, it makes you look like an ass.

Before you focus on cool digs, catchy names and fun advertising, make sure to give some thought to how you want to treat people. All people. The pizza delivery guy. The intern next door. The waitress across the street. The next salesperson who walks through your door.

Everyone.

Think about it. Chances are, you could be doing a lot better on that front.

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24,505


So…

Mea culpa. Spike’s last post made me look. After what… six months, the brandbuilder finally passed the top 25,000 mark on technorati. I guess it’s kind of a milestone, although I’m not sure how relevant it really is.

I’ll just say this: For what it’s worth, I’m kind of happy to see the counter moving in the right direction… just out of principle, if anything.

As of today, I only have 24,504 other sites to beat before I can complete my goal of global blog domination. Yep, at this rate, it should only take me another twelve years or so to become one of those elite A-listers. (As if.)

(Hey, a guy needs goals, right?) Meh!

So thanks for reading my humble little musings, everyone. I’d share the bubbly stuff with you, but it would be kind of gauche of me… what, with my barely being a B-lister and all. (Or is that a C-lister? I forget.)

Nevertheless, cheers, sante, salud, kanpai, etc.

:)

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So… Two things:

1) Thanks to Moe’s (on Augusta Rd.) I was sick as a dog this weekend with food poisoning. Let me just say that it was a whole lot of fun.

On the plus side, I lost whatever weight I’d put on during the holidays, so I guess the last three days weren’t a complete waste.

2) Because I am still trying to catch up with three whole days of web work, I’m going to be lame and post a piece I just wrote for Corante. (I’ll be back to my true self tomorrow though.)

Here you go:

Is advertising really circling the drain or is the whole “advertising is dead” thing just a lot of noise? Whether the question is even relevant is itself up for discussion, but one thing we can all agree on is that whether ad agencies want to admit it or not, their world is changing fast… and the relevance of traditional advertising is losing some steam. This is the topic of David Wolfe’s latest post. Here’s a taste:

“After the poor showing of advertising sales for this year’s Super Bowl and the collective yawn of Americans’ over the Winter Olympics, Al Ries may have it more right than Madison Avenue yet has the insight or courage or both to admit. Great brands are being created with little or no advertising. Starbucks is one such. Ries lists others in the aforementioned interview.”

David points us to Al Ries’ piece in PR Intelligence Report (PR vs. Advertising: 3 Facts of Life) in which Al makes a compelling argument for publicity overshadowing advertising:

Steve: In your book the Fall of Advertising & The Rise of PR you state that today’s major brands are born with publicity – not advertising…

Al Ries: Yes, all the recent brand successes have been PR successes, not advertising successes. Red Bull, Starbucks, Harry Potter, Linux, Palm, The Body Shop, JetBlue, and Google.

Steve: Examples?

Al: Starbucks spent less than $10 million in advertising its first 10 years. That’s less than one million a year, a trivial amount for a national brand. Here’s what Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, has to say about advertising. “It is difficult to launch a product through consumer advertising because customers don’t really pay attention as they did in the past. I look at the money spent on advertising and it surprises me that people still believe they are getting returns on their investments.”

Want to read more? Here’s the link. It’s definitely worth going through.

As an aside, I find it interesting that on this side of the Atlantic, a distinction can be made between advertising and publicity. In France – the land of cheese, wine and yes, advertising – there is no difference between the two. “Publicite” (or “pub” for short) means both publicity and advertising. The power of traditional advertising is still pretty potent over there, so there may be something to that.

Speaking of France, check out what Grant McCracken had to say about Bernard Henri Levy’s take on America’s identity crisis. Now… to be fair, I haven’t read BHL’s book “American Vertigo”, but having followed his work for over two decades now, I expect that any commentary on US culture by BHL should be about as relevant as a vegan’s review of a Texas steak house. But hey, read his book and prove me wrong.

To come back to the original point… Advertising’s demise and all that jazz, well, here’s what’s next: Economics might be circling the drain too! (Yay!) Ever the watchdog, Grant McCracken (yes, him again) points us to yet another “disappointing showing” this week with his response to this statement by David Brooks, which all but ushers the end of economics as we know it. Here’s what Mr. Brooks had to say:

“Economics, which assumes people are basically reasonable and respond straightforwardly to incentives, is no longer queen of the social sciences. The events of the past years have thrown us back to the murky realms of theology, sociology, anthropology and history. Even economists know this, and are migrating to more behaviorialist and cultural approaches.”

Sharing the same name as the famous MIT Economics professor should make me a bit of an authority on the subject, but since it doesn’t, I’ll let you read Grant’s complete response here. (Go ahead. Google my name. I dare ya.)

Okay, so… advertising is dead. Now, the subject of economics seems to be following suit. What could be next? Ah yes, the internet. How so? Well, Mary Schmidt raises some very valid (and scary) points in her appropriately titled “Is The Internet Doomed” piece Monday:

“Broadband vendors want to start charging hefty fees for access. Their reasoning is that they provide the pipes so they should get paid more. However, that also means “them that has, gets,” at the expense of the smaller companies who can’t pay premimum fees. So, the Long Tail would be abruptly bobbed, drastically reducing business opportunities and innovation.”

Let me just say two words: Bad idea.

Very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very bad idea.

Definitely read the rest of Mary’s piece and follow her links. While you’re there, check out her response to Slate’s assertion that blogging – having peaked – is probably going to die soon as well. *sigh* Check out Slate’s “Twilight of the Blogs“.

“Like many others who are constantly analyzing blogs, the on-line pub just flat misses the point (and power) of blogging. It’s not an industry, product or trend – it’s a way of communicating. And, communicating never goes out of style (sloppy as it may be at times.) What is changing is that the spin power of media, ad agencies, and governments is rapidly diminishing.
(…)
The bell has rung, the horse is out of the barn and there’s no going back – regardless of government censorship, business wishful thinking, and pundit pontificating.”

Wow. Well said.

Rounding up today’s posts, also check out Johnnie Moore’s links – especially the one on “the end of the silver bullet”.

… Okay, that one doesn’t really count, but it’s worth reading anyway: First, because it will help improve your health, second, because it will illustrate a thing or two about the power of assumptions (like… “eat low fat foods to stay thin,”) and third, because it will also teach you a whole lot about the power of denial. Oh yeah, I almost forgot… it also announces the end or death or demise of… something. It seems to be the popular theme this week.

So… Is it the end of this, or the end of that? Doubtful. The French will continue to be French for a while, Americans will continue to be American for a while too, and so will advertising, blogging, marketing and economics, for starters. People will keep buying diet aids and fat-free ice cream and low-carb pasta. We will keep watching the Olympic Games and the Superbowl and whatever the next big network TV hit may be. We will keep noticing billboards on our way home from work. We will continue to notice great print ads in our favorite magazines, which, by the way, we will continue to buy or subscribe to. Sure, the world is changing fast, but none of these things will die. At least not in the next few years. We aren’t talking about VHS of 8-track here. You can’t compare advertising to 33-turn records. At this point in time, it’s kind of silly.

So, don’t pay too much attention to some of the doomsday noise bouncing around out there: Just because new clouds are rolling in doesn’t mean that the sky is falling.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone.

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Note: For those of you getting this on RSS, sorry for posting it three times.

Diane Mermigas gives us this eye-opening article on TV advertising’s most potent foe to date: (No, not apathy or Tivo.) Downloadable TV programs.

Yep, that’s right: Those $1.99 commercial-free downloadable episodes of Lost. Folks are buying them, the numbers are growing, and the technology’s use is spreading fast. But we aren’t just talking about hip cats and early adopters with DVRs and video iPods driving the demand here. There’s something a whole lot more compelling pushing this impending shift: Revenue.

TV networks can actually generate more money from the sale of these individual episodes via broadband than they currently do from selling advertising.

Hmmm… Now, where do you think the networks are going to go?

That’s right: Where the money is.

But let’s backtrack for a second and look at numbers affecting potential downloads. As Brandplay’s Aaron Dignan points out:

LOST has 10+ million viewers every week. If at the end of a good cliffhanger episode they ran an ad that said, “wait until next week to find out, OR go to iTunes right now and find out for $1.99,” they’d probably sell a hell of a lot of downloads.

Now, to put those numbers in perspective (downloads turning into $$$ revenue) check out this bit from Diane’s article:

Wang makes some telling comparisons in his report “Waking the Sleeping Giants.” Such hit primetime series as “Desperate Housewives,” “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “Survivor” and “Lost” command about $440,000 per 30-second advertising spot, which implies a $26 cost-per-thousand rate. With a typical 17 million viewers and 13 minutes of commercial time per hour, one episode of such a hit series generates about $12 million in gross ad revenue, he said.

By comparison, even in the worst-case scenario — with 20% of TV viewers opting for downloads, 100% of which overlap with existing programs — downloaded episodes of such popular series can generate an estimated $15 million in revenue.”

The main reason is that the $1.44 in download revenue per user (or 70% of the $1.99 per download) is greater than the estimated 57 cents in advertising revenue per user generated under the current model,” Wang said.

I think the word you’re looking for is “whoa.”

Thanks to Brandplay’s Aaron Dignan for the heads-up. Read his insightful post here. (Good to see you posting again, man.)

So the issue here may no even be about great advertising vs. weak advertising. It may instead be a question of technology changing the game’s economic landscape.

Will broadband kill TV advertising? No. Of course not:

One, it’ll be a while before we reach a technological tipping point.

Two, for this model to work, each download (or the inevitable monthly download fee “a la napster“) has to be above a certain $$$ amount. Since the more TV we watch, the more expensive this could get, this system could quickly be cost prohibitive for folks who watch a whole lot of TV. In addition, exponential growth in broadband distribution could hit cable companies hard and send them crying uncle to their friends on Capitol hill. (We’ll have to revisit this topic when we have more time because it gets kind of… big.)

Three, eliminate TV advertising, and you eliminate the need for pay-per-downloads. (duh.) iTV or iShows (or whatever they’ll end up being called once they truly become mainstream) are very much the yin to TV advertising’s yang.

So… TV advertising isn’t going anywhere. That being said, get ready for some serious changes in the way television networks do business in the next couple of years. Networks, not advertisers are going to be in the driver’s seat again, and if HBO is any indication of what that kind of creative freedom can generate, viewers could be in for a hell of a great ride.

Yep, the rules of the game are about to change. This isn’t a prediction, it’s a fact.

With the balance of power about to shift clearly in favor of TV networks, advertisers are going to have their work seriously cut out for them. Whether this turns into what the French would call un bordel monstre or pushes both networks and advertisers to reach new heights of content quality, it’s is going to be fun to watch.

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