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Archive for the ‘being the best’ Category

pho4me-desert

The story of your relationship with your customers should read like what’s going on in Pho’s photo (above):

You found each other in the wilderness.

You connected in some way.

You liked where things went from there.

You made music together.

You had a great time.

You became part of each other’s worlds.

If you and your customers aren’t dancing, if you aren’t making music together, if you aren’t truly part of each other’s worlds, you should probably be asking yourself why.

Fact: You may be selling to customers, but you are still not connecting with people.

Reinvent the way you do business.

Get back to basics.

Get back to handshakes, smiles and conversations.

Get back to knowing your customers, not just knowing about them.

If your business isn’t touching people’s lives in a meaningful, memorable, deeply human way, your resources are being wasted on ineffective “business processes” – and the only thing you are developing is your own expensive demise.

Banks. Hospitals. Grocery stores. Software companies. Equipment manufacturers. Airlines. Retail spaces. Taxi cabs. Wireless providers. Repair shops. Restaurants. Hotels. PR firms. Universities. Manufacturers. Distributors. It doesn’t matter what industry or type of business you are. This applies to each and every one of you.

Tear down the walls, walk out into the world, and dance.

That is all. 😉

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Rock, by Olivier Blanchard

“Individuals behave in a difficult manner because they have learned that doing so keeps others off balance and incapable of effective action. Worst of all, they appear immune to all the usual methods of
communication and persuasion designed to convince or help them change their ways.”
– Robert Bramson, Ph.D.

I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to figure out why some people are so vehemently opposed to change, progress or new ideas that they will exert more energy fighting them than embracing them. I am sorry to hear that so many of you are dealing with this. I don’t have a lot of advice to give you there, except this:

Far be it from me to suggest that every new idea and every bit of change is positive. Success, after all, is more often than not the result of countless failures – some calculated, others not. I completely understand how and why intelligent professionals would (and should) be suspicious of new ideas. Due diligence does play a significant role in effectively adopting new ideas and making them work. No question.

But some people resist change no matter what. These are not people who take the time to analyze a new idea or concept, run scenarios, try to figure out contingencies, look for lateral opportunities, and get around potential pitfalls along the way. These are just difficult people who enjoy being roadblocks.

Perhaps it makes them feel important: If they can’t actually be agents of change, at least they can be agents of un-change.

Maybe it’s all one big ego trip. A passive-aggressive power play.

Maybe it’s just that making sure that things don’t change defaults to predictability in their professional ecosystem, and predictability equals security. The less you change, the less you rock the boat, the safer you are.

Which makes sense when you realize that people who tend to become human roadblocks have made a career out of doing essentially nothing. (Doing something is what their staff is for.) There can only be security in doing nothing when the alternative (doing something) can be sold to senior management as a high-risk, low reward proposition.

Maybe it’s a little bit of everything: Laziness, insecurity, ego. You name it.
One thing is certain: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Human roadblocks are wired to be the way they are. No amount of logic, enthusiasm or even authority will change them. Or move them, for that matter.
Just like speed bumps, they are there to stay. Just like speed bumps, you have to slow down when you get close to one of them. And just like speed bumps, they’re pretty easy to roll over or get around once you have a clear view of where you want to go.
The thing about human roadblocks is that they don’t go anywhere. Come back in ten years, they’ll still be exactly where they are, doing the same damn thing. Maybe some of you can take some solace in that.
So my advice to you today is this: Don’t go mistaking speed bumps for 500 foot cliffs. They’re just speed bumps. Just keep doing what you are doing, and don’t let anyone stop you from getting the job done.
If you are clearly outnumbered, however… run like hell. ;D

Regardless of whom at work is giving you a rough time, have a great Monday.

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Via OrangeYeti, from AdPulp, here is a little bit of an interview given by Maurice Levy (Publicis Groupe) to Scott Donaton (of Ad Age). If you’ve ever worked for a company that was so set in its ways that it had grown stale, you’ll understand what Levy is talking about:

“I have never stabilized an organization. Crystallizing an organization is freezing the energy. In chemistry, instability is very good because it creates some combinations you don’t expect.”

“Without change, there is fossilization,and that’s the worst thing that can happen.”

“Ideas,are so fragile, so tenuous, that managers must destroy layers that can obscure or damage them. If you have an organization that is too administrative, you are just killing the ideas. As we say in France, when you ask a committee to draw a horse, you get a camel.”

Read the full interview here.

So there you have it: As a business leader, look for flux. Look for tangents. Look for the unexpected. Recruit adventurously. Give your people the freedom and flexibility to contribute in the most personal, passionate of ways. Eliminate silos and procedures when it comes to the sharing of ideas. When it comes to dialogue. When it comes to cooperation. Decentralize “meetings”. Deconstruct the project ideation process. Empower your people to set the stage for extraordinary new products, business improvements, and creative work.

If you can’t trust your people enough to empower them, to literally give them the keys to the place, then you aren’t hiring the right people. Your job as a leader isn’t always to “lead”. Most of the time, because you aren’t there to bark orders or stand over everyone’s shoulder, it is simply to create an environment, an ecosystem, that allows your team, your army, to do the best possible work they can. It is to create a culture that makes them want to be a part of something greater than the sum of their job description. That makes them proud to be, even.

Ideas are fragile.

Without change, organizations die.

These are the two little mantras you should keep chanting every time you pick up the phone, or a magazine, or your TV remote. They should be in the back of your mind every time you shake someone’s hand or invite them to have a seat.

Embrace instability. Welcome change. Engage uncertainty. Welcome the unknown and love it for all of its infinite number of possibilities.

And they truly are infinite.

Chew on that. Have a great Friday. 😉

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doyoulikeit1

Word to the wise: If you don’t stand out in some way, you’re done.

You might be able to exist, you might manage to survive, but that’s all you’ll ever have to look forward to. You can be a one-man show and still be corporate. Don’t do it. Don’t waste your time being just like everyone else. Don’t waste your soul on being average.

Give yourself more credit. Everyone has strengths. Everyone has talents and abilities. Not using them every day even in some small way is such a shame it ought to be a crime. (And it’s bad business to boot.)

Whether you’re a photography studio, a web design firm, a sports magazine, a sportswear company, a triathlon shop or an antique furniture store, you either stand out, or someone who does will come along to wow your audience and steal your business right from under your nose.

Trust me on this: you can’t afford to be average. Even if you’ve based your entire business model on the lowest pricepoints, on bare-bones bottom-line imports, you have to take your uniqueness as far as humanly possible… and then some.

Yes, even accounting and financial services firms can stand out. Restaurants. Retail outlets. Breweries. Day care centers. Schools. Law offices. Graphic design firms. Janitorial services agencies. Manufacturing plants. It doesn’t matter. Your industry and specialty are irrelevant. Anyone can stand out.

Here’s a tip for you: The best way to stand out in a crowd is simply to stand for something: Producing the most useful online content for your users. Making it easy for your customers to get information on products before they shop. Providing your clients with the best after-sale service in the industry. Brewing the best cup of coffee in the world. Turning boring shopping experiences into something fun and enjoyable. Returning calls faster than anyone else. Being the easiest company your customers have ever had the pleasure to do business with.

Business models are just templates, folks. They’re the framework. Marketing, advertising, branding, PR, all of these things are great, but remember that you can customize your business all on your own too. From packaging to billing to the way you answer the phones. From the grade of toilet paper you stock in your bathrooms to the way you hire new talent. From the corners you will never, ever cut to the crazy ideas you decide to put stock into. From the stand you take on community issues to the tone of the dialogue you foster with your customers. It is all in your hands.

Stand for something. Stand out. Be extraordinary, if only for a year, if only in the eyes of a handful of customers. If only during the course of a single phonecall.

Be memorable.

Be worthy of note.

Don’t ever, ever, ever settle for safe or average or just good enough. Not in the big things. Not in the small things.

Know who you are and who you want to be as a person, as a company, as a brand, and just do it.

No one – let me repeat this – no one is standing in your way.

Now go out there and conquer something. (Yes, right now.)

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doug-benc-getty-images-b

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post on adopting a leadership attitude. (If you can’t see the above image on your RSS reader, click here. The picture pretty much IS the post.)

Okay, so… Check out the two boxers in the image. Which one do you want to be? Which one are you most acting like today?

Be honest now.

I know that everyone wants to be the guy on the right… but are you actually acting like the guy on the right? Are you thinking like the guy on the right? Are you running your business like the guy on the right? Have you connected the dots between the image and the words?

I received a lot of emails, tweets and comments about this yesterday, many from business owners who were a little stressed out by the outcome of the presidential elections, so I think it is important for everyone to take a deep breath and take inventory of what is and what isn’t: Fear of what may come – any kind of fear for that matter – is not something business leaders can afford to fall prey to, especially now. Fear is distracting. Fear distorts reality. Fear immobilizes. Fear is the enemy of progress, innovation and growth. Fear is the enemy of success. Your success. Don’t let fear, especially fear of the unknown creep into your brain. Just don’t.

Repeat after me: “Fear, go away! Go on now, shoo!” 😀

When in doubt or cornered, focus on what you can control. Focus on what you know. Focus on what you can see and affect NOW: Bringing more value to your customers. Increasing traffic to your website or stores. Improving customer service. Improving employee morale. Building strong user communities. Finding better ways to engage with your customers, boost customer loyalty, and build the foundations of a stronger brand. There are ways you can cut costs without cutting corners. There are ways to cut costs and keep all of your staff employed. There are ways to cut costs and actually grow your business. Find them. Every problem facing your business today is either an opportunity for you to leap ahead tomorrow, or an excuse to fail. Do not let your fears and worries distract you. (And if you have to stop listening to talk radio for a few days, by all means, do.)

Keep your focus. Feed your confidence. Dare to be bold. Take all of the things that have made you successful until now and use them: All of your strengths. All of your skills. All of your knowledge. Making your business successful in the coming year is going to require the kind of commitment, focus and courage that turns ordinary people into champions, soldiers into heroes, and managers into leaders. This is your challenge, and as long as you truly embrace it, you will not fall short. I promise you.

None of us can afford to be distracted by negative thoughts about what may or may not happen a year from now. Be in this moment. Work in this moment. Kick ass in this moment. Then let this moment stretch into the hours, days, weeks and months ahead until either a) the economy is healthy again, or b) you’ve realized that the economy doesn’t matter because you are not at its mercy.

Look up at the boxers one last time. The choice you are facing is simple: Be the guy on the right side of the image, and you’ll do great. Be the distracted guy on the left, and you won’t. The choice is 100% yours: Stay focused.

Have a GREAT day, everyone!

Incidentally, for those of you who inquired over the years as to when the brandbuilder would finally become more than a blog, guess what: With so many small businesses reaching out these last few months, the time has finally come for me to roll up my sleeves and help companies build better futures for themselves full time. More details on the what, how and when very soon, but yeah, I am VERY excited.

My name is Olivier Blanchard, and I approve this message.

Original photo: Doug Benc/Getty Images

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Robert Killick on the need for intellectual curiosity and courage in the face of “unknowns” in today’s business leaders:

Risk was once seen as a catalyst for competitiveness, innovation and change in enterprise culture. Now it is seen as a negative barrier to be avoided with all sorts of precautionary measures. ‘Risk consciousness’ is the order of the day, but the preference to always dig up the dark side of humanity betrays a lack of faith in human reason. Curiosity and foolhardiness are often derided as irresponsible and egotistical traits, but the great heroes of the past have taken personal risks that benefit all of us.

Today, research and experimentation that does not have a measurable ‘positive effect’ is seen as irresponsible. Yet it is precisely through experimentation, risk – and, yes, mistakes – that some of the major scientific breakthroughs and technological inventions have come about. Without risky experimentation, and without individuals willing to take those risks in the pursuit of knowledge, we wouldn’t have aeroplanes, penicillin, MRI scans or X-rays.

The ability to handle risk – though technology, human ingenuity, reason and resilience – is a measure of modernity and it can only be achieved through more experimentation, not less. The hard won freedoms to creative expression, communication and to technological innovation should be treasured, and the twenty-first century should be when we take them even further.

Risk-adverse/risk-paralyzed leaders aren’t leaders at all. At best, they are followers promoted or appointed to positions they should have had enough common sense, integrity and professionalism to turn down.

Fact: Leaders “lead.” They take their companies in a specific direction and make sure that course corrections occur as needed along the way. Standing still, ignoring emerging market trends, rewarding business-as-usual strategies, waiting for competitors to make a move before testing the waters, or building protective walls around organizations are not examples of leadership.

No one is advocating making rash decisions of course, but in order for companies to be successful, their leaders must possess certain key personality traits – among them the essential combination of vision, courage and an unbreakable pioneering streak.

Bear this in mine when placing your bets on a company, new boss or potential candidates for an executive-level position.

Have a great week, everyone!

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From Seth’s blog:

I’ve seen it before and I’m sure I’ll see it again.

Whenever a business cycle starts to falter, the media start wringing their hands. Then big businesses do, freelancers, entrepreneurs and soon everyone is keening.

People and organizations that have no real financial stress start to pull back, “because it’s prudent.” Now is not the time, they say. They cut budgets and put off investments. It’s almost as if everyone is just waiting for an excuse to do less.

In fact, they are.

Growth is frightening for a lot of people. It brings change and the opportunity for public failure. So if the astrological signs aren’t right or the water is too cold or we’ve got a twinge in our elbow, we find an excuse. We decide to do it later, or not at all.

What a shame. What a waste.

Inc. magazine reports that a huge percentage of companies in this year’s Inc. 500 were founded within months of 9/11. Talk about uncertain times.

But uncertain times, frozen liquidity, political change and poor astrological forecasts (not to mention chicken entrails) all lead to less competition, more available talent and a do-or-die attitude that causes real change to happen.

If I wasn’t already running my own business, today is the day I’d start one.

Yep. Investing in your business during uncertain times isn’t so much a question of courage as it is business savvy. When would you rather spend money to stand out and gain market share: When your competitors are gunning for you full bore, or when they’re cowering in their holes, waiting to see if the sky will fall? This type of crisis is giving smart companies the perfect opportunity to bound ahead and plant the seeds of their next growth spurt. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next week, but definitely within the next 6-12 months.

You have two choices: a) Cower and hide, or b) grab the bull by the horns, take a leadership position and go win some new business. Financial crises aside, if you had a valuable product a month ago, you still have a valuable product today. Don’t let fear paralyze your business. Use your competitors’ hesitation over the next few weeks and months to your advantage. Strategy 101.

Have a great Monday! 😉

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Great post from Gavin Heaton over at Servant of Chaos this week about the changing face of business management. Gavin mentions an emerging new breed of business leader that might sound a little familiar if you’ve been paying attention to what our little community of Marketing+ bloggers has been talking about these last few years. Check this out:

By far, the most radical transformation will be the one thrust upon us by the generational change that is now under way. With 60 million baby boomers about to be replaced by 60 million Millennials, the workplace will never be the same again. Managing the “knowledge transfer” that needs to take place over the next 5-10 years will be a fundamental responsibility of the Business Designer.

What is a Business Designer, I hear you ask? Per Gavin:

The Business Designer does not sit in a creative studio. Rather, she operates across business units — touching marketing, customer service and new product design. The BD has a finger on the pulse of finance and lives cheek-by-jowl with the legal team. There is the touch of the management consultant in the way that the BD navigates the org chart — but also the fervour of the evangelist. She may be T-shaped. She may be a green egg. But above all, she is an experienced business professional. That’s right — she knows how to get things done.

The BD will perform the important role of “change manager” or perhaps “transformation manager” — for the domino-like changes that will occur in every facet of a business will change the nature of the enterprise. What has been rough and ready in the consumer space will become refined and repeatable in the business world for the BD will select and orchestrate the practices, tools and approaches that correspond with a company’s business strategy. Of course, this will breed a whole new round of innovation in the technology space — we have already begun to see this with Yammer, the business version of Twitter.

And there will be a corresponding transformation in the process of business, and the goals and approaches of groups charged with managing brand touch points. This goes without saying.

What’s the difference between a Business Designer and a traditional business manager? The way I look at it, the difference lies in a handful of subtle yet crucial traits exhibited by this new biz whiz breed:

1. The T-shaped trait: These folks combine a strong mix of Marketing Management and Experience Design, and understand the importance of storytelling, Brand Strategy, and Experience Design. They are gifted strategists with extremely well developed creative, communications and context-building skills. They are intellectually curious, deeply entrepreneurial problem solvers.

2. The Green Egg trait: Process improvement, an eye to new markets and a passion for Innovation are their biggest professional drivers. These folks are agents of change. These are the people who will take your company to the next level in its evolution (if you let them).

3. The “good enough” aversion trait: These folks are way too passionate to tolerate a “good enough” mentality. Their job is about much more than turning a crank and picking up a paycheck. They’re change agents – not for the sake of change, but for the sake of driving to necessary leaps in a business’ evolution.

4. They ideation trait: These folks bubble over with ideas. They sketch a lot. They prototype. They like to test out their ideas. They seek out peers who can help them bring their ideas to life. They tend to be gadget and accessories freaks, even if they only own a few. They are designers at heart, if not technically in practice.

5. The connected trait: These folks have connected with their time. They understand the underlying strategic shifts going on right now that will change the landscape that your company operates in. They are good at connecting the dots: By being plugged-in to the world today in ways that most are not, they can clearly see what the business landscape will look like in two, five and ten years. This gives them the ability to be the architects of your company’s future. You may frown at their interest in social media tools like Twitter, Seesmic, Yammer and Facebook, but these are the tools of their trade: This is how they connect with their peers, with information, and with the shifting tides that will drive the market changes that will either sink or remake your business in the next decade.

Here’s more on that from Gavin:

We are also reaching a certain maturity in the way that marketers work with social media. There are now case studies on the effectiveness of social media, there are tools that help us measure and react to conversations and there are an increasing number of corporate roles for “community managers” or even “directors of social media”.

In this environment, the focus is no longer on learning the tools, but on refining the way that we interact with them. It is about bringing social media into our businesses, integrating it with our other marketing efforts and focusing efforts in a way that deliver business results.

Read the whole post here.

I am glad you brought up the notion of this new type of business leader, Gavin. I’ve been trying to put my finger on this for a few years now. Still not quite there yet… But for those of us living at the intersection of Business Management, User & Community Engagement, Marketing Communications, Product Design, Innovation, and the evolution of Social Media tools, starting to put a name to the thing is way overdue. With most business leaders spending at least 85% of their time turning the crank and making sure their businesses run properly, who is in charge of actually driving the business to its next evolution? Department managers? Sales? The COO? The CMO? 15% or less of a business leader’s day potentially devoted to improving – not just running – their business. Scary. In a rapidly changing world/economy/market, it pays to have at least one person (better yet, a whole team of them) a) focusing on what’s next, and b) getting the business ready for it.

Does the opportunity for such folks exist as a layer between the CEO and the other C-suite execs (CMO, COO, CFO, Manufacturing, Design Engineering, Sales, etc.)  Is the role better suited to function as a team-based cluster of upper-mid-level Business Directors? Perhaps a Brand Czar who provides direction to all departments but answers directly to the CMO? Is there a better name for the role? Can this type of individual force an overhaul of the traditional corporate org chart?

Big tip of the hat for getting that discussion started, my friend.

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Found on Francois Gossieaux’ Emergence Marketing blog today:

Most breakthrough innovations happen at the edges or at the intersections of various disciplines.

Yep. At least half of that statement goes hand in hand with the cross-pollination I have talked about in previous posts and presentations. Cross-pollination usually happens when two worker bees with completely different backgrounds and experiences meet, learn from each other, and start applying the new insights they have learned from each other to improve the way they work. Cross pollination doesn’t just introduce new ideas and methodologies into otherwise rigid systems, they transform them. In this transformation is the catalyst of any organization’s evolution.

Take this simple process as an example:

Same methodology + same methodology + same methodology + same methodology = same methodology.

This type of closed model creates no opportunity for innovation. Companies who get stuck in this type of monotheistic mentality remain the same year after year. The world around them changes, evolves, moves on, but they trudge along. Their occasional innovation play involves acquiring smaller companies with once innovative products, but their timing usually misses the mark. Symptoms: Eroding market share, eroding margins, difficulty in recruiting and retaining top talent, and growth by acquisitions rather than market penetration. Nothing wrong with that model, but it just isn’t the best way to go about building a truly solid brand in any industry.

The alternative process looks more like this:

Same methodology + new methodology + infusion of cross-cultural/interdisciplinary insights = transformation + evolution.

Bring a design engineer from the automotive industry and ask him to work with a mobile phone designer and watch what happens to mobile phone designs within six months. Also watch what happens to dashboard designs when the automotive designer goes back to his car factory.

Pair a brand planner from the fashion world and a marketing honcho from the IT world (yes, they do exist) and watch how their cross-pollination of ideas and insights transforms the way they approach their work.

Cross-pollination gets companies and individuals out of their routines. It expands their horizons. It opens new doors, new possibilities, new directions for companies willing to embrace proactive change – the kind of change that yields results, not only on Wall Street, but also in the hearts and minds of the people who will either embrace their brands’ fresh new energy, or eventually reject their inability to remain relevant in an increasingly commoditized and fickle world.

I have heard it said that going through the same motions over and over again and expecting a different result every time (or every quarter, as it were) is the definition of madness. Fair enough. The question that begs asking then is: How is this different from companies with repetitive strategy syndrome expecting improvements in market share, revenue growth, brand relevance and customer loyalty?

Most breakthrough innovations happen at the edges or at the intersections of various disciplines.

Fact: People outside of your industry have the solution to the problem you can’t figure out how to fix.

Fact: You have the solution to the problem that someone in a completely different industry is struggling with.

Fact: Without cross-pollination of some sort, neither problem is likely to be solved anytime soon, especially not by you.

Without cross-pollination of ideas, innovation takes longer, or doesn’t happen at all. Innovation isn’t about inventing the wheel out of divine inspiration; innovation is about finding the principle of the wheel outside of your normal environment, and applying the insight gained from this somewhat random experience to addressing the problem at hand.

Neither cross-pollination of ideas nor innovation ever happen in a vacuum. Companies which actively foster cultures of innovation will always see tremendous growth. Companies which instead favor cultures of assimilation will continue to churn and puff and trudge along until their bloated carcasses are pushed out of the way by yesterday’s “little guys.” It’s just the way of the world. Evolution is inevitable. Evolution doesn’t care how relevant you were yesterday. Evolution happens because some entities adapt to change while others prefer to exist in a state of denial, thinking that what has worked for the last ten, twenty or thirty years will continue to work ten years down the road.

Jack Spade once said “Never believe anything you have done is successful.” Solid advice if you ask me.

Inject some cultural diversity into your workforce: Recruit creatively, across various disciplines and industries. Internally, create multi-discipline work groups to work on special projects or design concepts. Revamp your customer service. Question the effectiveness of your packaging or messaging or web design. Engage with your customers. Embrace and foster their communities. Create better means of listening to what they needs are, and find renewed purpose in delivering on their requests. Leverage diversity in every layer of your organization to do this. Whatever needs to be changed, change, especially if that change is difficult. Rip complacency and old habits to shreds, and upgrade every aspect of whatever methodology or system you have pounded into a stalled routine over the course of the last five to ten years.

“Change the world or go home” starts with you and your organization.

😉

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(Corporate leaps of faith rock my world.) photo by toimaginetoo

I like to go back to the archives every once in a while – partly because I’m a little crunched for time these days, but mostly because the vault contains some pretty solid posts that you guys might never had the opportunity to read. I originally wrote this post for the Corante Marketing Hub, back when I was its online editor.

Back then, Grant McCracken had pointed us to Coca Cola’s apparent then-new shift to the long tail:

“Given its pending portfolio of coffee soda, gourmet teas and Godiva drinks, Coca-Cola is expected to expend more time and energy on low-volume, high-margin categories than ever. (…)

Rather than look at beverages on a category by category basis, Mary Minnick, head of marketing, innovation and strategic growth, has said Coke is looking at how beverages fit into consumers lives. She has described the need states as, “Enjoyment today,” “feel good today,” and “be well tomorrow.”

– Kenneth Hein, from Strategy: Coke Seeks Relief (Again) By Scratching The Niche. (Adweek. March 06, 2006.)

And that seemed fine and good and all, but… whatever happened to… just… great taste?

When I order a latte from my favorite coffee shop or buy a bottle of Orangina or and IBC cream soda, it isn’t because of “enjoyment today,” “feel good today,” and “be well tomorrow.” It isn’t because of clever packaging or image or transference or projection. It’s because I’m in the mood for a particular flavor. This is about mood and palates and lifestyles, not “feeling good” and “being well”.

Oh, I know… I don’t have TCCC’s millions of dollars of research at my fingertips… but you know what? I’m wired just like everyone else, and I know why I buy drinks. I know why my friends and colleagues buy drinks. They like the taste. They look for context. Catch-phrases have nothing to do with it.

You can make any study and any set of numbers and statistics and results say anything you want. Especially when you have a whole lot of time and money invested in new products whose development needs to be justified to a board of directors.

Could this be a case of the tail wagging the dog? (TCCC’s need for some kind of ROI from its product development programs?) Is TCCC’s real strategy just a numbers’ game? Is it to throw as many products at us and see if anything sticks? Where ten years ago, none of these new drinks might have ever seen the light of day, now they’ve found a chance at life in “the long tail.” Could this just be a front? I guess the question is worth asking, even though I’ll assume – for the sake of this discussion – that this isn’t the case.

TCCC, here’s a tip: Drop the gimmicks. Focus on taste. Whether you love wines, beers bubble teas or kefirs, it always comes down to flavor. Most people who choose to drink Coca Cola do so because they prefer it over the taste of Pepsi. It isn’t because the cans are red or because Coca Cola makes them feel happy or look cool. (The glass bottles might be the exception.) The taste, before anything else, is at the core of the Coca Cola experience.

Whether you’re The Coca Cola Company or a startup with a great idea for a product, before you spend millions overthinking your strategy, just focus on making a really great product. One that people will love to discover and use and talk about. If you love it, chances are that lots of people out there will love it too. If you really want to grab hold of the long tail, you have to start with you. The game isn’t about pleasing everyone – or the majority of “the market” (which has been TCCC’s strategy for decades). It’s about creating a product for a very specific core of rabid fans/customers.

The trick though, is this: You can’t do it by trying to fill a need based on market research (American women between the ages of 32 and 46 with a median annual income of $68-97K responded favorably to XYZ… yadayadaya…). It’s what TCCC has been doing for years, without much success. It’s what everybody’s been doing too. It’s what you do if you want to be an “also in”. Your only recourse once you’ve greenlighted a new product launch is to outspend your competitors in everything from advertising to POP displays to licensing rights, and then try to hang on as long as you can. It’s ridiculous.

The right way to do this is to do the work. The real work: Instead of quantifying a culture, penetrate it. The supertool here isn’t statistics, it’s anthropology. Here’s another tip: the moment you start quantifying tastes, you’ve lost your focus and drifted back to the lukewarm center, just like everyone else. This is the easiest mistake to make, and also the most common.

The way you develop a chocolate-flavored drink isn’t by talking to 10,000 people on the street. It’s by talking to 10,000 chocoholics. These might even be people who love chocolate but hate chocolate drinks. (How cool would it be to have 10,000 people with such specific tastes tell you why they love chocolate but hate chocolate drinks? Tell me you wouldn’t crack that code with that level of feedback.)

The point is: Do your research at the extreme edge of the bell curve.

The way you develop a new endurance drink is by talking to rabid cyclists and triathletes and marathoners. The way you develop a new game console is by talking to avid gamers (not casual gamers). The way you develop a new Pop Tart flavor is by talking to people for whom Pop Tarts is a major food group. This isn’t about talking to 0.3% of American shoppers who are representative of the 60% of shoppers who place Pop Tarts in their Top 10 likeliest breakfast foods. It’s about talking to the fraction of a percent of people who live and breathe the stuff that is at the core of your new product’s identity and raison d’etre and will buy your new flavor of Pop Tarts every other week.

Not just talking to them, but understanding what makes them tick and embracing them completely.

The long tail, after all, isn’t about markets. It’s about cultures. Subcultures, even. The more specific, the better. Think skateboarders. Think triathletes. Think online gamers. Think photography hobbyists. You either become a central part of those cultures, or you go home packing.

(Incidentally, the Pop Tart team absolutely gets it.)

If TCCC wants to grab hold of the long tail and make its new strategy work, it needs to un-Coke itself. It needs to shed the TCCC formula where these offshoot brands are concerned. It needs to create truly independent subsidiaries staffed by people who live inside the cultures they are trying to cater to, and completely outside the reach of the Coca Cola culture.

Think of it as United Artists trying to produce “independent” films with $100,000 budgets. The only way they could do it well would be to create a smaller studio managed and staffed by people who live, eat and breathe the indy culture… and let them do their thing without corporate interference, bureaucracy and big business politics. Anything short of that would result in total and utter failure.

Remember Coca Cola Blak? That was the type of product Mary Minnick was talking about: Low volume, high margin (wishful thinking if your product is perceived merely as water, natural and artificial flavoring, food coloring and high fructose corn syrup… and doesn’t taste so unbelievably good that it will make people want to trade their current favorite flavor for it). TCCC going after the Starbucks crowd with Blak may have seemed like a good idea on paper, and I guess it was worth the shot (no pun intended). It might even have worked had the price point matched the perceived value of a Coca Cola retail product.

Blak launched in 2006, when his piece was written… and finally died a few months ago after a long painful battle with dismal sales and lack of interest. (Most likely due to its very high pricepoint – holding true to Mary’s strategy – than its missing the boat on taste. Red Bull doesn’t exactly taste delicious, yet it has found its market. Draw your own conclusions.)

Beware business plans that look great on paper and are based on top-down (wishful) thinking. Successful entrepreneurs (and their projects) usually do a whole lot better when their ideas come from the bottom of the distribution tree: See a need, fill a need. (That includes understanding the pricepoint-value perception feedback loop.)

Truly understanding your customers, your users, your future fans (your market), heck, actually getting back to becoming one of them is the only way to discover your next great game changing idea. The rest, as they say, is up to you.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone.

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Ever noticed how positive attitudes are infectious? You walk into a store, and everyone who works there is jazzed and happy to be there and energetic… and by the time you leave, you have completely adopted their mood?

Ever noticed that the opposite is also true: Walk into a business where everyone is negative or apathetic, and you find yourself feeling the same dread and negativity?

Sitting in Houston’s Toyota arena with thousands of the world’s most innovative Microsoft partners, I was reminded of the power that other people’s attitudes and moods have over our own – and remembered a post that Kathy Sierra shared many moons ago on her brilliant but now sadly defunct “Passionate Users” blog. It talked about happy vs. angry people, emotional contagion, and the role mirror neurons play in our involuntary tendency to be drawn into other people’s positive or negative attitudes. Very cool stuff, and particularly relevant to some of the discussions I have been involved with in the last few days with some of my international peers. I did some quick digging to find it so I could share it with you. Here are some of the highlights:

Mirror neurons and our innate tendency to pick up other people’s behaviors, good and bad.

There is now strong evidence to suggest that humans have the same type of “mirror neurons” found in monkeys. It’s what these neurons do that’s amazing–they activate in the same way when you’re watching someone else do something as they do when you’re doing it yourself! This mirroring process/capability is thought to be behind our ability to empathize, but you can imagine the role these neurons have played in keeping us alive as a species. We learn from watching others. We learn from imitating (mirroring) others. The potential problem, though, is that these neurons go happily about their business of imitating others without our conscious intention.

Think about that…

Although the neuroscientific findings are new, your sports coach and your parents didn’t need to know the cause to recognize the effects:

“Choose your role models carefully.”
“Watching Michael Jordan will help you get better.”
“You’re hanging out with the wrong crowd; they’re a bad influence.”
“Don’t watch people doing it wrong… watch the experts!”

We’ve all experienced it. How often have you found yourself sliding into the accent of those around you? Spend a month in England and even a California valley girl sounds different. Spend a week in Texas and even a native New Yorker starts slowing down his speech. How often have you found yourself laughing, dressing, skiing like your closest friend? Has someone ever observed that you and a close friend or significant other had similar mannerisms? When I was in junior high school, it was tough for people to tell my best friends and I apart on the phone–we all sounded so much alike that we could fool even our parents.

But the effect of our innate ability and need to imitate goes way past teenage phone tricks. Spend time with a nervous, anxious person and physiological monitoring would most likely show you mimicking the anxiety and nervousness, in ways that affect your brain and body in a concrete, measurable way. Find yourself in a room full of pissed off people and feel the smile slide right off your face. Listen to people complaining endlessly about work, and you’ll find yourself starting to do the same. How many of us have been horrified to suddenly realize that we’ve spent the last half-hour caught up in a gossip session–despite our strong aversion to gossip? The behavior of others we’re around is nearly irresistible.

Why choosing who you work, play and hang out with matters.

When we’re consciously aware and diligent, we can fight this. But the stress of maintaining that conscious struggle against an unconscious, ancient process is a non-stop stressful drain on our mental, emotional, and physical bandwidth. And no, I’m not suggesting that we can’t or should’nt spend time with people who are angry, negative, critical, depressed, gossiping, whatever. Some (including my sister and father) chose professions (nurse practitioner and cop, respectively) that demand it. And some (like my daughter) volunteer to help those who are suffering (in her case, the homeless). Some people don’t want to avoid their more hostile family members. But in those situations–where we choose to be with people who we do not want to mirror–we have to be extremely careful! Nurses, cops, mental health workers, EMTs, social workers, red cross volunteers, fire fighters, psychiatrists, oncologists, etc. are often at a higher risk (in some cases, WAY higher) for burnout, alcoholism, divorce, stress, or depression unless they take specific steps to avoid getting too sucked in to be effective.

So, when Robert says he wants to spend time hanging around “happy people” and keeping his distance from “deeply unhappy” people, he’s keeping his brain from making–over the long term–negative structural and chemical changes. Regarding the effect of mirror neurons and emotional contagion on personal performance, neurologist Richard Restak offers this advice:

“If you want to accomplish something that demands determination and endurance, try to surround yourself with people possessing these qualities. And try to limit the time you spend with people given to pessimism and expressions of futility. Unfortunately, negative emotions exert a more powerful effect in social situations than positive ones, thanks to the phenomena of emotional contagion.”

This sounds harsh, and it is, but it’s his recommendation based on the facts as the neuroscientists interpret them today. This is not new age self-help–it’s simply the way brains work.

Emotional Contagion explained.

Steven Stosny, an expert on road rage, is quoted in Restak’s book:

“Anger and resentment are thet most contagious of emotions,” according to Stonsy. “If you are near a resentful or angry person, you are more prone to become resentful or angry yourself. If one driver engages in angry gestures and takes on the facial expressions of hostility, surrounding drivers will unconsciously imitate the behavior–resulting in an escalation of anger and resentment in all of the drivers. Added to this, the drivers are now more easily startled as a result of the outpouring of adrenaline accompanying their anger. The result is a temper tantrum that can easily escalate into road rage.”

From a paper on Memetics and Social Contagion,

“…social scientific research has largely confirmed the thesis that affect, attitudes, beliefs and behavior can indeed spread through populations as if they were somehow infectious. Simple exposure sometimes appears to be a sufficient condition for social transmission to occur. This is the social contagion thesis; that sociocultural phenomena can spread through, and leap between, populations more like outbreaks of measles or chicken pox than through a process of rational choice.”

Emotional contagion is considered one of the primary drivers of group/mob behavior, and the recent work on “mirror neurons” helps explain the underlying cause. But it’s not just about groups. From a Cambridge University Press book:

“When we are talking to someone who is depressed it may make us feel depressed, whereas if we talk to someone who is feeling self-confident and buoyant we are likely to feel good about ourselves. This phenomenon, known as emotional contagion, is identified here, and compelling evidence for its affect is offered from a variety of disciplines – social and developmental psychology, history, cross-cultural psychology, experimental psychology, and psychopathology.”

[For a business management perspective, see the Yale School of Management paper titled The Ripple Effect: Emotional Contagion In Groups]

Can any of us honestly say we haven’t experienced emotional contagion? Even if we ourselves haven’t felt our energy drain from being around a perpetually negative person, we’ve watched it happen to someone we care about. We’ve noticed a change in ourselves or our loved ones based on who we/they spend time with. We’ve all known at least one person who really did seem able to “light up the room with their smile,” or another who could “kill the mood” without saying a word. We’ve all found ourselves drawn to some people and not others, based on how we felt around them, in ways we weren’t able to articulate.

Happy People are better able to think logically

Neuroscience has made a long, intense study of the brain’s fear system–one of the oldest, most primitive parts of our brain. Anger and negativity usually stem from the anxiety and/or fear response in the brain, and one thing we know for sure–when the brain thinks its about to be eaten or smashed by a giant boulder, there’s no time to stop and think! In many ways, fear/anger and the ability to think rationally and logically are almost mutually exclusive. Those who stopped to weigh the pros and cons of a flight-or-fight decision were eaten, and didn’t pass on their afraid-yet-thoughtful genes.

Happines is associated most heavily with the left (i.e. logical) side of the brain, while anger is associated with the right (emotional, non-logical) side of the brain. From a Society for Neuroscience article on Bliss and the Brain:

“Furthermore, studies suggest that certain people’s ability to see life through rose-colored glasses links to a heightened left-sided brain function. A scrutiny of brain activity indicates that individuals with natural positive dispositions have trumped up activity in the left prefrontal cortex compared with their more negative counterparts. “

In other words, happy people are better able to think logically.

And apparently happier = healthier:

“Evidence suggests that the left-siders may better handle stressful events on a biological level. For example, studies show that they have a higher function of cells that help defend the body, known as natural killer cells, compared with individuals who have greater right side activity. Left-sided students who face a stressful exam have a smaller drop in their killer cells than right-siders. Other research indicates that generally left-siders may have lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.”

And while we’re dispelling the Happy=Vacuous myth, let’s look at a couple more misperceptions:

“Happy people aren’t critical.”
“Happy people don’t get angry.”
“Happy people are obedient.”
“Happy people can’t be a disruptive force for change.”

So can Happy and criticism live happily together?

One of the world’s leading experts in the art of happiness is the Dalai Lama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. Just about everyone who hears him speak is struck by how, well, happy he is. How he can describe–with laughter–some of the most traumatizing events of his past. Talk about perspective

But he is quite outspoken with his criticism of China. The thing is, he doesn’t believe that criticism requires anger, or that being happy means you can’t be a disruptive influence for good. On happiness, he has this to say:

“The fact that there is always a positive side to life is the one thing that gives me a lot of happiness. This world is not perfect. There are problems. But things like happiness and unhappiness are relative. Realizing this gives you hope.”

And among the “happy people”, there’s Mahatma Gandhi, a force for change that included non-violent but oh-most-definitely-disobedient behavior. A few of my favorite Gandhi quotes:

In a gentle way, you can shake the world.

It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings.

The argument for and against anger

But then there’s the argument that says “anger” is morally (and intellectually) superior to “happy”. The American Psychological Association has this to say on anger:

“People who are easily angered generally have what some psychologists call a low tolerance for frustration, meaning simply that they feel that they should not have to be subjected to frustration, inconvenience, or annoyance. They can’t take things in stride, and they’re particularly infuriated if the situation seems somehow unjust: for example, being corrected for a minor mistake.”

Of course it’s still a myth that “happy people” don’t get angry. Of course they do. Anger is often an appropriate response. But there’s a Grand Canyon between a happy-person-who-gets-angry and an unhappy-angry-person. So yes, we get angry. Happiness is not our only emotion, it is simply the outlook we have chosen to cultivate because it is usually the most effective, thoughtful, healthy, and productive.

And there’s this one we hear most often, especially in reference to comment moderation–“if you can’t say whatever the hell you want to express your anger, you can’t be authentic and honest.” While that may be true, here’s what the psychologists say:

“Psychologists now say that this is a dangerous myth. Some people use this theory as a license to hurt others. Research has found that “letting it rip” with anger actually escalates anger and aggression and does nothing to help you (or the person you’re angry with) resolve the situation.

It’s best to find out what it is that triggers your anger, and then to develop strategies to keep those triggers from tipping you over the edge.”

And finally, another Ghandi quote:

“Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

If the scientists are right, I might also add,

Be around the change you want to see in the world.

Strong organizations and communities are able to harness the power of emotional contagion to create engaging, productive and extremely effective collaborative ecosystems. The truly exceptional among them also manage to extend this collective positivity to their human/customer touchpoints (retail outlets, salespeople, CSRs, etc.). Obvious examples of this are Starbucks (except in airports), Mac Stores, and Whole Foods grocery outlets.

This week, a very large scale example of this (and the trigger for this post) was Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston, TX.

The complete opposite of this might be, say, the checkout at Walmart, Home Depot or Taco Bell, a prison ward, or an Vietnamese sweat shop.

Success breeds success. Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm. Professionalism breeds professionalism.

Likewise, mediocrity breeds mediocrity. Apathy breeds apathy. Negative attitudes breed negative attitudes.

Now you know. What you do with this knowledge is up to you. For me, the choice is pretty simple. Always has been.

Have a great Friday. 😉

photo credit: Christopher Wray McCann

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Today’s bit of Marketing, Customer Experience, Design & Product Development advice comes from the archives of Kathy Sierra‘s blog:

“Your job is to anticipate… To give them what they want and/or what they need just before they have to “ask” for it – to be surprising yet self-evident at the same time. If you are too far behind, or too far ahead of them, you create problems, but if you are right with them, leading them ever so slightly, the flow of events feels natural and exciting at the same time.”

Walter Murch

iPod wasn’t designed by users. It was designed for users. No… wait… it was designed to be loved by users.

If your job deals with customer experience design, (product, web, retail, customer service, touchpoint ideation, advertising, etc.) print either the sentence that came just before this paragraph or Walter Murch’s bit of wisdom, and pin it to your office wall. Either one can (and probably should) become your new mantra.

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On Aug. 16, 1960, Col. Kittinger stepped from a balloon-supported gondola at the altitude of 102,800 feet. In freefall for 4.5 minutes at speeds up to 714 mph and temperatures as low as -94 degrees Fahrenheit, he opened his parachute at 18,000 feet. (U.S. Air Force photo).

What did you do today?

Or rather, what could you have done better today: Could you have fought a little harder for a budget? Could you have stood your ground about going with the best idea? Should you have turned away a HUGE client for all the right reasons? Did you hire the smaller agency rather than the big bloated one because you know it is a better fit?

Whatever your job is – entrepreneur, attorney, recruiter, CMO, creative director, account exec, product manager, copywriter, marketing VP, Business Development manager – let’s face it: Nobody is asking you to fly up into a high altitude weather balloon, jump out at 100,000 feet with a diesel truck battery strapped to your ass and a parachute on your back, freefall for almost five minutes through an absolute hell of terror and space-like cold temperatures, open your parachute at exactly 18,000 feet, then land… wherever and wait for the helicopter to come get you.

All you’re asked to do is sit at a desk, shake a few hands, come up with some great ideas, sell them to someone, and make them happen.

Tell me again what’s so difficult and stressful about your job?

It’s a brand new week. Make it count. 😉

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From Tim Coote‘s always brilliant and enjoyable blog:

“When people ask me how do you make it in show business or whatever, what I always tell them — And nobody ever takes note of it ‘cuz it’s not the answer they wanted to hear. What they want to hear is here’s how you get an agent, here’s how you write a script, here’s how you do this — But I always say, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” If somebody’s thinking, “How can I be really good?”, people are going to come to you. It’s much easier doing it that way than going to cocktail parties.”

Steve Martin.

All of the strategies and marketing angles will be trumped by this one piece of advice everytime – “Be so good they can’t ignore you”. If you’re catching balls in the end zone week after week or motivating people to do their best and it works week after week you will be noticed. People want to notice you because it’s why the world spins. It’s why people are able to get out of bed and go to work. Aspiring to greatness is the honey in the lion.

Damn, Tim. Well put.

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