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Archive for the ‘routine’ Category

You’re always in beta. Always. If you think you aren’t, you’re already falling behind and bleeding relevance.

What does being in Beta mean? It means being in perpetual test mode. It means constantly asking “how could I do this better,” even when this worked just fine. How can I listen better? How could I improve customer service? How can I make my billing process smoother? How could we improve the UI/UX of our websites? How can I engage my user community even better? How could this brochure have been better?

I know what you’re thinking: Poor kid. He’s terminally obsessive-compulsive. 😀 (Actually, I’m just compulsive, not obsessive, but that’s a topic for another day.)

The point is this: The moment you start thinking that you have found the perfect model, the second you start adopting a “let’s not change anything” mentality, you’re screwed. The “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” saying I hear a lot in the South is may have been pretty good advice a hundred years ago, but it isn’t anymore. Not if you want your company to stay competitive. Not if you want to see your company grow. Not if you want to see chronic improvement in everything you do.

Check out today’s video if you haven’t already. And if it doesn’t launch for you, go watch it here. (Thanks, Viddler!)

Interestingly, the “you’re always in Beta” mindset that I am talking about today seriously reminds me of the mindset athletes and coaches get into when it comes to improving performance. Say you’re currently a 24:00 5K runner, and you want to relive your college glory days by running an 18:00 5K a year from now. How do you do it? Simple: By stressing your system one little bit at a time. By challenging your comfort zone with every run. Going from 24:00 to 23:55, then 23:50, then 23:45 for the same distance, and so on. Turning up the heat and the intensity for a few weeks, then giving your body a chance to adapt. To plateau. And then starting over with a new cycle of stress and adaptation followed by a rest period. During that time, you are constantly testing your boundaries, monitoring success and failure, learning what works and what doesn’t. (And yes, measuring your progress to know what works and what doesn’t.) Pretty basic stuff.

The alternative would be to keep running the same 5K route every day at the exact same speed, in the exact same way. What would happen? Well, you would become pretty good at running a 5K  in 24:00. Comfortable? Sure. But whatever happened to improvement? See where I am going with this?

Okay, now let’s complicate things a little bit:

As a triathlete, training and competing in what essentially amounts to three sports (swimming, cycling and running) adds some pretty substantial layers of complexity. Not only do I have to figure out how to train for three specific sports, but I have to figure out how to combine and integrate all three in a way that doesn’t lead to injury or burnout. I also have to fit all three in my already busy schedule. Then I have to consider how to time my training cycles to coincide with specific races. In addition, I have to incorporate changes in nutrition and hydration based on my workouts, my training mode, outside temperatures, etc. And if I get into my head that I am going to train for a marathon, half Ironman or full-on mac-daddy Ironman, all of these variables take on a level of complexity I can’t even begin to explain in one blog post. How much Gatorade should I drink per hour in 94 degree temperatures at 80% of my maximum heart rate? How many energy gels can I absorb per hour without getting sick to my stomach? What cadence should I adopt to sustain an average speed of 21mph for 112 miles? Only one way to find out: Test it.

And I haven’t even talked about gear. Will the improved aerodynamics gained from dropping my aerobars down 2 millimeters shave 20 seconds off my 40K time? Maybe… but as a result, will my upper body’s new angle offset my hip angle enough to reduce my power output or stress my hip flexors enough that I will start cramping up 5 miles into the run? How will I find out? There’s only one way: Getting out there and testing that theory. It’s clipboard and stopwatch time for the next six weeks.

Should I go with a disc wheel or a deep dish rim for my next race? How will I know which works better for me on a moderately hilly course in 15mph crosswinds? Only one way: I have to go test each wheel configuration on a variety of courses in completely different wind conditions. Then I’ll know what works best in specific course conditions.

Rear-mounted bottle-cages or frame-mounted? Aero helmet or regular helmet? Motion control shoes or racing flats? Test test test test test. You get the picture.

Call it an occupational benefit or a pre-existing condition, but being a triathlete kind of trains you to be in a perpetual Beta mindset. And it isn’t a stretch to jump from the world of competitive endurance sports to the world of business performance. Different application, but same principles and same basic methodology: Ask, test, observe, validate, learn, repeat.

But before you do all this – the testing, the experimentation, the analysis and learning and adaptation – you have to make a choice. You have to pick a camp. You have to decide whether you are satisfied with your business performance as it is today (“good enough” is good enough for you and your customers), or hungry for improvement.

There’s no right or wrong answer here. It doesn’t matter what camp you decide to align yourself with: The one happy with the way things are or the one looking to kick ass a little more each day. What matters is that your decision work for you. But let’s be clear about the impact that your choice will have on your business: Sticking with a “let’s not change anything” mindset will not earn you more customers, increase customer loyalty or generate more sales. Where you are today is exactly where you will be tomorrow. If you’re lucky. Eventually, perhaps not next week or next month or next year, but eventually, this mindset will seal your doom. A Beta mindset, however, will help you uncover ways to innovate, earn more customers, cut costs, increase customer and employee loyalty, improve product design and performance… You name it: Whatever the opportunity to improve, do do things better and smarter, may be, you will systematically uncover it in the same way that Apple, Nike, BMW, Cervelo, HBO, Michael Phelps, IDEO, Lance Armstrong, Comcast and Zappos have.

If you want your company to be best in class, to own a market or an industry, to be the trendsetter, the example to follow, the leader in a category, you must adopt a perpetual Beta mindset. You have to constantly stress your systems and processes. You have to turn every action into a test an look at every activity as an opportunity to experiment.You have to measure, analyze, learn, adapt and repeat the cycle over and over and over again.

Question everything.

Work harder than the next guy to build the best XYZ the world has ever seen, and then find ways to make it even better.

Perfection is a process, not a milestone.

Embrace a state of perpetual Beta.


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pita the bird


“The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”

– William Pollard.

That’s worth framing and hanging in every meeting room from Portland to Tahiti (via Paris).

Thanks to Tom Asacker for digging that one up for us, and for his fantastic post on the very topic I wanted to explore today: What traps should exciting new companies be on the lookout for? As you can imagine, this post was going to be long. (Or at least long-ish.) Thanks to Tom’s impeccable timing, you won’t have to suffer through another endless essay. (See? Your good deeds are already starting to pay off – and it’s only January.)

Check this out (again, from Tom’s post):

“Over time, unchanging relationships can turn into shackles that limit an organization’s flexibility and lock it into active inertia. Established relationships with customers can prevent firms from responding effectively to changes in technology, regulations, or consumer preferences.”

– Donald Sull
(Revival of the Fittest: Why Good Companies Go Bad an How Great Managers Remake Them.)

So… your new mission every day is to keep it fresh. That’s it. Whether you’re in the business of designing ads, repairing engines, selling shoes or answering calls from angry customers, don’t ever, ever, ever let routine set in. Try different things. Learn something new from every customer. From every sale. From every design challenge. From every product launch. From every commercial you hear on the radio. From every movie you catch on cable. From the games your kids play. From magazines you’ve never picked up.

Keep it fresh. Shake things up. Kill the routine before it starts killing you.

Ad go read Tom’s full post. It’s very good.

Thanks for reading. See you guys on Twitter! 🙂


photo by F360: Pita, resident troublemaker.

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For a little while, the folks at BrandPerspectives.com had a great little blog on Branding. They haven’t posted to it in a very long time, but some of the stuff they did post there is still up and well worth a look, so go check it out.

One of their last topics dealt with Developing a Culture of Brand Performance Accountability (which… was actually the title of their post. Ahem.)

Here’s the meat of the post:


“Just as with financial performance, measurement is critical to
improvement for brand initiatives. Creating a culture of measurement-driven
brand assessments will help executives better understand how to derive the
greatest return from their investments. (…)

Simple steps based on increasing your understanding of your
customers, and their interactions with your brand, can be implemented through
ongoing research.

For instance, the ability to quantify gaps in organizational alignment
behind your brand, or discontinuity in the customer experience (including
metrics such as loyalty, drivers of satisfaction, service levels, etc.) by
segment, region or product, can – and do – have profound impact at the executive
level.”

There you have it. Too few companies focus on assessing where their brands stand… And it’s obvious which companies do it, and which companies don’t. For the first batch, think Starbucks, Whole Foods, Target, Apple and Virgin, for starters. In the other batch… well… throw-in the companies you’ve never heard of.

There is, however, one thing that struck me about the post. In its original version, it mentions (customer) loyalty twice. Hmmm… Loyalty… That tricky little word.

There seem to be two schools of thought in regards to customer loyalty, these days: The first believes in it. The second thinks it’s dead. Both sides have very smart and insightful things to say on the subject. But… who’s right?

Is there such a thing as brand loyalty anymore?

The answer is yes. Absolutely. Think sports teams. Think Ford vs. Chevy. Think Playstation vs. X-Box. Think Apple vs. Microsoft.

Think dog people vs. cat people.

Think Republicans vs. Democrats.

Yeah, brand loyalty is alive and well. But unless you have two superbrands battling it out and inviting you to take sides, forget it. There’s no such thing. It doesn’t exist.

Without the element of archetypal supercompetition, without a corporate nemesis, brand loyalty is simply irrelevant.

Here’s a simple example: Most people love Google… Most of the searches that lead people to this blog come from Google. But because Google doesn’t have an arch-nemesis, no one is driven to be loyal to it. People simply use it. Loyalty isn’t an issue.

What you might mistake for brand loyalty is a lot more likely to be about customers’ habits, penchant for convenience, and comfort.

Remember that customers are people. People like patterns.

Once customers find something they like, something they can incorporate in their routine, that’s exactly what they do. Even I, Mr. Agent Of Change, Mr. Try Something New, shop at the same stores regularly. I read the same blogs. Return to the same TV shows every week. Hang out with the same friends. I even like to get gas from the same places.

You get the drift.

We’re humans. Ergo, we are creatures of habit.

Here’s how it works: You have your routine. One day, your routine gets disturbed. You alter it and try something new. (The store was out of your usual brand of olive oil and this forces you to buy another brand. Your favorite airline doesn’t have any flights available, so you have to book with another one.)

Outcome A: You like the new brand better and adopt it.
Outcome B: You don’t like the new brand better and return to your usual one next time around.

In other words, it takes a significant event for us to CHANGE our habits.

It takes a catalyst.

That catalyst could be a glowing recommendation from someone we trust. It could be a really cool ad. It could be the result of an unexpected shortage in the original product. It could be an accidental discovery. It could be the influence of a cultural phenomenon.

Check out the wheel of brand interaction. What it shows is a complex but repetitive pattern of purchasing behavior. The slinky-like spiral is a brand exposure/interaction pattern we go through either daily or weekly. Some brands are closer to our comfort zone (and lifestyle) than others. (Some brands, we have only superficial contact with, while others we have regular contact with.)

Occasionally, a catalyst will force one of the tentacles of slinky-like spiral pattern to either shift, or reach out a little further than normal.

Marketers spend most of their time focusing on designing some of these catalysts: Think POP displays. Advertising. Package design. PR. Promotions. Coupons. “Branding”. “Co-branding”. Licensing. Sponsorships. Establishing a presence at trade shows and special events… or just across the street from your office. Sampling. Buzz marketing. Giveaways. Swag. New product features. New product styling. New technology. Special edition releases. You get the idea.

It’s kind of a three-tiered cycle:

Phase 1: Building the brand’s contextual foundation – The idea is that exposure to brands will make us more likely to incorporate them into our routine. Familiarity, after all, breeds trust and comfort. (As in “oh yeah, I’ve never tried it, but I know that brand.”)

Phase 2: Triggering the change in purchasing habits – Give people a reason to try your product, and make it easy to do so. (Note: Some companies purposely bypass Phase 1 and focus their energy on impulse buyers.)

Phase 3: Cross your fingers and hope the product is as good as you claim it is. You only get once chance to make a good impression. The best marketing in the world won’t save you if your product isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. Read ground zero brand-building to know what I mean.

People buy what they know, like and trust. They also tend to crave what they think will make their lives better. (That could be a red BMW convertible or a chrome-plated iPod or a new pair of Rudy Project sunglasses.) More often than not, purchasing habits are based on perceptions, expectations and experience, not loyalty.

Put simply, we tend to buy what we know only until we find something we like better. Brand loyalty is really brand comfort.

So the question you have to ask yourself is this: What are you doing to make your customers not want to consider switching over to other brands?

(Or if you’re trying to attract new customers, what are you doing to make your competitors’ customers want to consider switching to you?)

Does your brand evoke the same level of excitement and customer comfort as Target, Starbucks, Apple, Whole Foods and Virgin?

If not, why not?

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“The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”

– William Pollard.

That’s worth framing and hanging in every meeting room from Portland to Tahiti (via Paris).

Also, via Tom Asacker:

“Over time, unchanging relationships can turn into shackles that limit an organization’s flexibility and lock it into active inertia. Established relationships with customers can prevent firms from responding effectively to changes in technology, regulations, or consumer preferences.”

– Donald Sull (Revival of the Fittest: Why Good Companies Go Bad an How Great Managers Remake Them.)

Do you see where I’m going with this?

So… your new mission every day is to keep things fresh. That’s it. Whether you’re in the business of designing ads, repairing engines, selling shoes or answering calls from angry customers, don’t ever, ever, ever let routine set in. Try different things. Learn something new from every customer. From every sale. From every design challenge. From every product launch. From every commercial you hear on the radio. From every movie you catch on cable. From the games your kids play. From magazines you’ve never picked up.

Keep things fresh.

And go read Tom Asacker’s post on that very topic. It’s very good.

Have a great Monday, everyone.

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“So I was wondering, what is that exact point where a company stops caring? Stops paying attention to their customers? Stops with the phenomenal customer service? Is it when they reach a certain sales figure? A certain number of employees?”


These were some of the pertinent questions posed by Brains On Fire’s resident firestarter Spike Jones some time ago.

This is too big a topic to try to cover in only one post, but the least I can do is to try and get the discussion started. Here is a short list of what you might call purple cow killers. These business diseases can strike a perfectly cool little company with quasi-infinite potential, and turn it into a bumbling corporate flunkie faster than you can say “I.P.O.”:

1) Routine

People lose their passion for things they love when those things become routine. Think about it. Your first day at a new job. Your first drive in a new car. The first time you see a good movie. A first kiss. Everything is exciting at first… but then you eventually get jaded. The excitement wanes. You lose some of your passion. Details become someone else’s problem. So do your products. So do your customers. Deny it all you want, it’s true… and it’s inevitable unless you do something about it.

The trick is to keep the fire burning by keeping things fresh. If routine is a passion-killer, then build a corporate ecosystem that actively fights routine. Easier said than done? Nope. Quite the contrary. (But that’s a topic for another day.)

2) Bureaucracy

The bigger you get, the more you start to rely on procedures. The more you start to say things like “no” and “can’t” and “we’ll have to charge you extra for that”. The harder it becomes for the people at the top of your organization to stay in direct contact with their customers. That’s bad. It shouldn’t take thirty minutes for a customer to get a return authorization. It shouldn’t take seven transfers to get a product manager on the phone. Nobody should ever get the runaround. Ever.

Bureaucracies slow things down and build walls between employees and between you and your customers. As you grow, take the time to develop systems that overcome this problem. Again, this isn’t hard, but you can’t let these things fall to chance. You have to be just as proactive in building your company’s structure as you are in building its markets.

Don’t lose sight of the fact that a company isn’t a building or a logo or a set of rules. A company is always, first and foremost, a group of people united to pursue a common interest. And while you may not think of it that way, this applies to your employees as well as your customers. As a business leader, one of your jobs is to make sure these people are all connected. If your organization disconnects them from one another, you are majorly shooting yourself in the foot.

3) Comfort

If you’ve only worked on the agency side of the business, chances are that you’ve never heard these dreaded words: “We’ve been doing things this way for ____ years, and we’ve been successful at it, so there’s no reason to change.”

(Nails on a chalkboard.)

Yeah, well, in the wise words of Jack Spade, “Never believe anything you’ve done is successful.” The minute you do, you’re dead. End of story. In business, getting comfortable = getting lazy.

Reality check: Markets change. Technologies and tastes change. People grow old and younger ones take their place. Renewal = relevance. Even old-school luxury houses like Bentley and Cartier have adapted to new markets. (If you don’t believe me, watch MTV sometime.)

If you don’t constantly question what you could do better or where you might go next, you’re done. Period.

4) Nepotism

It’s natural to want to surround yourself with people you know and trust. It’s another thing altogether to promote buddies and family members to positions they are neither qualified for, nor passionate about.

Furthermore, while surrounding yourself with people who won’t ever challenge you might be a nice ego boost, it is certainly no way to keep your company moving in any kind of direction.

If all your key managers are passionate about are their 401K plans and their annual retreats to Tahiti, then it’s no surprise that your company has lost its focus.

5) Fear

“Show me a guy who’s afraid to look bad, and I’ll show you a guy you can beat every time.” (Lou Brock)

Yep.

The older you get, the less chances you are likely to take with your career. The larger your company is, the less likely you are to risk screwing something up.

Too much to lose, you see.

So you stop taking chances. You start worrying about what your “competitors” are doing. Instead of leading them, you let them lead you. Next thing you know, you’ve exported all of your production power to China, your quality takes a dive, your customer service is anything but, every bit of talent you ever managed to hire has walked out on you, and you find yourself on the losing end of a price war. Other than just plain dishonesty, that’s how great companies fail.

Well, bollocks. Playing it “safe” is the fastest way to screw yourself over. (And your customers.)

If you don’t have the huevos to stretch the boundaries now and again, to be an innovator, a pioneer, and to sometimes be okay with making some people really hate your latest product, then you need to find another occupation. Being a leader isn’t about staying put. It’s about… well, leading.

6) Denial

Most companies who don’t get it think that they do get it. That’s the tragedy. Once your distribution channels are well-developed, once you have thousands of active accounts, once you’ve been a market leader for twenty, thirty, forty years, the sheer momentum of your growth can carry you into another decade or two. As long as your growth closely matches whatever opportune economic indicator you are following, things might look pretty decent.

You might be under the delusion that you have it all figured out.

So what if you haven’t actually spoken to a customer in twenty years? So what if you don’t even bother to use your own products anymore? So what if you’ve chased away companies that could have become your partners in a number of cool ventures, and they went to your competitors instead? So what if your best people are quitting, one after the other? So what if you have absolutely no idea what people are saying about your products, about your customer service, about your company, about your leadership?

No news is good news, right?

Right?

*sigh*

How do we end up in sad little places like this? Really. You’d think that by now, we’d ALL know better. Tsk.

Before I get back to work, I’ll leave you with another Jack Spade favorite:

“The bigger you get, the smaller you should act.”

Every C.E.O. on the planet should be required to recite that line a hundred times every morning before they even get to their desk. (Let me propose a UN resolution. Do I hear a yay?)

To leave comments (and read previous, related posts) hit the brandbuilder’s main page.

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“The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”

– William Pollard.

That’s worth framing and hanging in every meeting room from Portland to Tahiti (via Paris).

Thanks to Tom Asacker for digging that one up for us, and for his fantastic post on the very topic I wanted to explore today: What traps should exciting new companies be on the lookout for? As you can imagine, this post was going to be long. (Or at least long-ish.) Thanks to Tom’s impeccable timing, you won’t have to suffer through another endless essay. (See? Your good deeds are already starting to pay off.)

Check this out (again, from Tom’s post):

“Over time, unchanging relationships can turn into shackles that limit an organization’s flexibility and lock it into active inertia. Established relationships with customers can prevent firms from responding effectively to changes in technology, regulations, or consumer preferences.”

– Donald Sull
(Revival of the Fittest: Why Good Companies Go Bad an How Great Managers Remake Them.)

So… your new mission every day is to keep it fresh. That’s it. Whether you’re in the business of designing ads, repairing engines, selling shoes or answering calls from angry customers, don’t ever, ever, ever let routine set in. Try different things. Learn something new from every customer. From every sale. From every design challenge. From every product launch. From every commercial you hear on the radio. From every movie you catch on cable. From the games your kids play. From magazines you’ve never picked up.

Keep it fresh. Shake things up. Kill the routine before it starts killing you.

Ad go read Tom’s full post. It’s very good.

Have a great Monday, everyone. 🙂


photo by F360: Pita posing for the camera.

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