In hindsight it wasn’t such a good idea.
I had already tossed my blue box of fishing hooks and lures down into the boat next to my rods. Instead of climbing down the ladder after them, I had the bright idea to jump the three feet from the pier to the floating dock below. I put my hand on the piling to steady myself and stepped off. But the second I headed down I felt a searing pain in my left hand. Crashing onto the dock, I looked down at my palm and wondered where my wedding ring was and why my finger was turning red and hurt so much. It suddenly dawned on me that my ring was jammed up against my first knuckle, sort of under the shredded skin, so I gritted my teeth and pulled the ring back down and then slid it off my finger just before my ring finger swelled up like a chicken drumstick.
After my wife pulled a bandage from the first aid kit in the blue box and cleaned the wound, I figured out what had happened. When I grabbed the piling, my wedding ring got caught on an errant nail sticking out of the wood. When I jumped off the dock, my ring stayed behind. Lucky for me the piling was old and weathered and the nail had been hammered in with the grain, so my weight pulled the nail up and out of the wood instead of causing the awful alternative.
To this day, my ring is an oval instead of a circle and has a little nick in it and my finger has a scar where the ring dug in. Remember to ask me the next time we see each other and I’ll show you.
Already a repository for emotion, this near-miss gave my wedding ring a whole new meaningful story. But it didn’t change the functional value of the ring itself – despite what it represents, including almost yanking my finger off, my wedding band is still only worth its paltry weight times the current cost of gold.
If I was selling wedding rings, it would behoove me to not sell their functional value (weight x cost of materials) but instead to sell their emotional value. The big question is how do you do this in the store or online to make the ring more valuable BEFORE it has been invested with personal experience?
One company has figured this out. By taking their wedding bands (and other products) and presenting them in blue cardboard boxes with white ribbons, Tiffany & Co. instantly instills their goods with additional perceived value at very little cost.
Are Tiffany’s wedding bands and engagement rings better than the competition’s? It does depend on how you define the word better, but from a functional point of view it would be hard to argue that any well-made ring is much different than any other. However, when a spouse-to-be is on their knees proposing to the love of their life, most of us would agree that the experience would be even more dramatic if the proffered ring is presented in that iconic blue box with the white ribbon.
What’s the takeaway here that you can benefit from? Quite simply, it is in understanding that the things you do are no different from the things inside Tiffany’s blue box. At their most functional level, your services are worth what the market says they’re worth – metaphorically defined as weight x cost. But at an emotional level what you do is worth as much as you say its worth, IF you can define it in a way that imbues your services with value.
I finally finished writing my next book. As much as I enjoy writing the books, the thing I don’t like to do is write the proposals for the agent and publisher. Even though I know how important proposals are to the process, it seems silly to me to spend time writing an overview instead of working on the book itself. And the worst part of writing the proposal is answering the question, “What books does yours compete with?”
What books does mine compete with? Are they freaking kidding? No one’s ever written a book like mine before!! It’s unique, singular, exclusive. Not one author in the history of the world has ever written a book like mine. Not one. Not never.
Instead of answering this belittling question, I thought I’d be smart as a fox and actually write and design and lay out the book instead of writing a proposal. Then I’d order a few custom published printed samples and cart them around to agents and publishers, drop them on their desks and say, “Here. It’s all done. You want a piece of this?”
I figured if I produced a real sample then agents and publishers could actually see what they were buying. I wouldn’t have to explain my idea, I wouldn’t have to demonstrate that I could write the manuscript, I wouldn’t have to promise that I would actually complete the book, and I wouldn’t have to define the competition. I could plop the sample down and the book would speak for itself. Publishing success, here I come!
But pride doth indeed cometh before the fall.
After all this planning and scheming, the first question from the first agent I spoke to was “what books does yours compete with?” Clearly Steinbeck (and Burns before him) was right when he wrote: “The best-laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.”
Luckily, I didn’t stomp off but instead blurted out the one book that I thought was most similar to what I had produced. Even more lucky, the agent told me that he keeps that same book on his desk to show people who ask him what kind of book they should write. Wow. It really is better to be lucky than good isn’t it?
Here’s what I learned: If you actually tell your agent that your book is like nothing else in the market they’ll hang up on you. First, it’s doubtful that out of all the millions of books that have been printed, and the billions that have been suggested, yours is totally different. Second, with all the potential authors scrambling for advantage, if no one’s bothered to write a book even remotely similar to yours it’s because there’s no market for it. Third, if you don’t know what else is out there, you haven’t done your homework. And fourth, no agent believes you’re actually smart enough to come up with something totally new.
How many talented musicians languish in obscurity because they can’t (or won’t) pick a lane? “My new album? It’s kind of a ground breaking countryish, punkie, hard rock take on classical Broadway show tunes expressed through an urban techno-voicing over authentic Celtic rhythms.”
“Sorry,” says the A&R guy, “iTunes doesn’t have a category for that. Next.”
How many valuable non-profits can’t secure funding because they don’t (or won’t)pick a lane in the clearly defined sections on the grants applications they fill out?
How often do you see famous actors who can also dance, sing, play musical instruments, and do other things you didn’t expect from them? Actor Robert Downey Jr. singing with Sting; musicians Mandy Moore and Queen Latifah acting; actor Richard Gere playing the piano in Pretty Woman, the trumpet in The Cotton Club, and performing song and dance in Chicago; boy-bander Justin Timberlake and comedian Jimmy Fallon doing anything.
Despite all their prodigious talents, each one of them became famous for one thing because they knew, or someone told them, to focus.
As Steve Jobs said, “Do not try to do everything. Do one thing well.” Why? Because “deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” In other words, pick a lane.Published on December 8th, 2014
Cyber Monday’s business press was all atwitter looking at that day as well as Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Technology Tuesday. Makes me wonder when they’re going to celebrate WTF Wednesday, too.
But this year something new happened. All of a sudden Cyber Monday sales figures are coming in wonky. And experts are falling all over each other to explain what’s going on.
Shay pointed out many consumers don’t feel like the economy has recovered from the recession yet. That makes it difficult to gauge how much they plan to spend on Cyber Monday or any other day.
New York-based analyst Simeon Siegel put it this way: “You can’t outsmart the consumer anymore. You need to pander to where the consumer wants to shop and when.”
Still other retail experts pointed out that lower Cyber Monday sales were actually a good sign. They theorized this meant consumers were confident and didn’t need retail gimmicks to get them to buy.
Take Cyber Monday itself for example. According to The New York Times, “The name Cyber Monday grew out of the observation that millions of otherwise productive working Americans, fresh off a Thanksgiving weekend of window shopping, were returning to high-speed Internet connections at work Monday…” Of course, this was written in 2005 when most consumers didn’t have high-speed Internet access anywhere but their offices. Today WiFi hotspots are as numerous as Kim Kardashian’s husbands. There is simply no reason for shoppers to wait until they get to work to go online and shop. And since shoppers know the prices they see on Monday will still be available on Tuesday and Wednesday, they’re in no hurry to grab bargains on Cyber Monday.
Unfortunately, the retail industry has trained consumers to expect, demand, and wait for low prices and shoppers now exercise their Pavlovian right to the best deal available regardless of what stores and websites are yelling about.
The only place where this unfortunate reality is not sucking the profits out of retail is the luxury goods market where brands such as Apple, BMW, Hermes, and Louis Vuitton sell more than just the sum of their components. Instead of using price and function to fight it out, these savvy brands understand that whether or not consumers rush to the mall or the Internet, they will pay top dollar for exclusive experiences that define their lifestyles and themselves.
Published on December 2nd, 2014
Lots of people quote the old bromide, “All PR is good PR” but few people actually live it. Recently I had a friend tell me that not only did he believe this saying but he wanted to promote his brand on radio and TV as I’ve done. So after arranging some media training and making some phone calls to various network honcho friends, I was finally able to get my buddy on a few radio interviews.
At first he was terrified, then merely anxious, and now he’s done enough interviews that he’s getting a little lackadaisical about the whole thing. His visits to local studios have become so routine that he’s taken to calling the stations he’s been on by the call letters WNEL (W No one Ever Listens).
Yesterday he sent me this email about all the good PR he’s getting: “I will be on-air again tomorrow but no one cares. Think about the result of throwing a pebble in a raging river. Think about WNEL with even fewer listeners. Think about the proverbial tree falling in the empty forest and the effect it has on the planet Earth. I could go on but I would only depress myself further. Why do I bother to do this anymore?”
Isn’t it funny how quickly my friend’s viewpoint changed? When he first got on air he was almost shaking with excitement and nervousness and now his once-coveted appearances have become a dreaded drudgery and odious obligation.
Of course I have a little of experience here and can empathize a bit. Sometimes supposedly good PR appearances can feel like you’re just screaming into a chasm. Sometimes the echo of your own voice is the only thing you hear through your little headphones at the exact moment when you’re hungry to hear the cheering accolades of millions of adoring fans.
Sometimes being in the wrong place at the wrong time allows you to get all the kinks worked out so you’ll be ready for the good PR when you get to be in the right place at the right time. Sometimes that little extra bit of practice, screaming into the chasm as it were, shows you what to do — and more importantly NOT do — when your big break finally comes along.
Although those big breaks do seem to happen to others with alarming ease and frequency – think Justin Bieber being discovered on YouTube or Ava Gardner being discovered when her photo was spotted at a portrait studio – they are certainly anomalies. Most people who make it big become overnight successes only after 20 years of hard work and nose to the grindstone stick-to-it-ness.
Which is exactly what my friend is doing with his day in and day out appearances on WNEL, honing his skills while he gets the experience he needs to be ready for his big shot at good PR whenever it happens to appear. His on-air goal should not to reach a lot of people yet but to be prepared to paraphrase Norma in Sunset Boulevard and vamp, “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up” when his big opportunity finally shows its beautiful face.
My father used to remind me “when opportunity knocks you can’t say ‘come back later.’” Instead you have to use the downtime before your big chance, the calm before the storm, to make sure you’re as ready for your opportunity as you can be. Because sometimes opportunity knocks early, sometimes it knocks later, and maybe sometimes it doesn’t knock no matter how hard you prepare for it. But to have opportunity come knocking when you’re not yet ready to answer the door would be the most frustrating of all.
Victoria’s Secret UK showed a lineup of beautiful young women wearing their lingerie under the headline “The Perfect Body” and generated over 26,000 angry signatures. Protesters complained that the campaign “offensive and damaging to women.” The uproar was not enough to get Victoria’s Secret to apologize or scuttle the campaign but they did reissue the same ad with a new headline that read, “A Body For Every Body.”
Apparently Victoria’s Secret wants its naysayers to know that they were heard and the company responded appropriately. But in their rush to do as little as possible, Victoria’s Secret used the same picture and they continue to use similar pictures in all of their advertising and marketing. It’s ironic that Victoria’s Secret imposed their new headline, “A Body for Every Body” over a picture that only shows one type of body.
What I don’t understand is why the line The Perfect Body is damaging enough for people to protest but the Victoria’s Secret picture of 10 tall, thin, young, busty, beautiful women with long straight hair in their underwear is not. After all, if the problem with the headline is that it suggests that all women need to conform to a particular body type to be perfect and beautiful, then why doesn’t the photo cause the same uproar?
The bigger question is really who is the Victoria’s Secret advertising created to appeal to in the first place?
For years, advertising for men’s clothing was created to appeal to women because the reigning wisdom was that women bought 80% of men’s clothes for their husbands, sons, boyfriends, etc. While this purchase percentage has changed somewhat in the last few years, it’s still a fairly universal belief that women buy, or are responsible for motivating the purchase of, most menswear.
But women’s wear is different. Not only don’t men buy very much of it for the women in their lives (not even sexy lingerie) to begin with, but most women don’t even dress for men; instead they dress for themselves and for other women.
Of course this practice is not solely limited to female shoppers. Regardless of whether Tommy Bahama men’s clothes are bought by men or women, it’s interesting to note that Andy Lucchesi, the model used in the ads for the past decade, can’t be much more than 40 but sports the hair color of someone almost half again as old. Tommy Bahama’s message, like the Victoria’s Secret message, is simple: You are younger, better looking, and in better shape than your age (or actual condition) would suggest and wearing our clothes will only enhance that feeling.
By the way, it’s not only clothing that uses this aspirational strategy. Few sports cars ever go faster than 70 MPH — but they could.
Few four-wheel drive sport utility vehicles ever go off road or actually do anything that an old-fashioned station wagon couldn’t do just as well – but they could.
Our Olympics-quality running shoes don’t help us run any faster, our state-of-the-art laptops don’t make our prose any more profound, our ceramic chef’s knives don’t cut our frozen pizzas any straighter, our Eric Clapton limited-edition vintage Fender Stratocaster electric guitar doesn’t make our blues riffs any deeper. But they could.
Instead, consumers use their purchases to confirm the aspirational dreams we all have.
The products – underwear, Hawaiian shirts, SUVs, whatever – don’t make us any better. But they could.Published on November 17th, 2014
My buddy’s name was misspelled on the invitations. His talk was scheduled in a room that wasn’t shown on the map. And his headshot wasn’t included in the program with the other speakers.
Needless to say, my friend was angry. He shot off a nasty email to the organizers and threatened to pull out of the event all together. But before he did anything rash my friend asked a brain trust of his friends for their opinion. When cooler heads gave the opportunity a once-over, everyone realized that pulling out of the event was not his best strategy.
Here’s some of the good advice from the email thread my friend received. I think you’ll find the input pretty universally relevant:
“Unless you’re a diva I would not back out. That would only disappoint the people who want to see you. This kind of crap is all part of the game, like bad PA systems, broken projectors, bad lighting, etc. We’re pros, so we find ways to make each opportunity work.”
“Hey, these things happen all the time. Incorrect lighting, bad introductions, being positioned right after the “we’re firing you all after this speech, so listen good, you hear?” kind of comments, etc. Play the cards you’re dealt. Make the most of the opportunity.”
“One way you could grab the bull by the horns would be to send out notices letting your fans know where you’ll be. Have a special gift for them like a free PDF or audio download. Print up some special business cards for that event clearly indicating where you will be, how people can reach you and how they can take advantage of the offer you’ll make that day only. In other words, make the opportunity something great despite what has already happened. This will take extra effort for you but could pay off in bigger ways than if everything had gone correctly from the beginning.”
“I think you’ve confused the purpose of networking events with selling books. C’mon, you’ve already sold what, over 3 million books? So if your appearance sells 24 or 240 (or even 2,400) of your books, it is statistically irrelevant.
The reason to speak at this event is because it’s prestigious and may get you in front of the single person who makes a difference. After all, you never know where your next opportunity will come from.
As the pioneering retailer, John Wanamaker famously said: “Half my advertising is wasted. Trouble is, I don’t know which half.”
“One of the requirements for success is being in 1) the right place at the right time. To do that, however, you have to be in 2) the right place at the wrong time, 3) the wrong place at the right time, and 4) the wrong place at the wrong time.
There are no guarantees except that your presentation will result in one of the four scenarios listed above. But if you never go, you’ll never know.Published on November 10th, 2014
Many people complain about the various forces keeping them from success. But it’s becoming more and more clear that the things that hold us back from success are not external factors but our own fears, insecurities, and concerns.
As Pogo the Possum said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
If you spend a lot of time reading the new gurus of prosperity and productivity you’ll be confronted with a lot of advice that tells you success will come when you decide to “Be The Best,” “Be Sensational” or “Be Unique.”
I’m here to tell you you’ve been lied to. You don’t have to be the best to achieve success. Fact is, the best of the best rarely make it to the top. They’re too concerned about being great to be good.
As Sting sang, “To search for perfection is all very well, but to look for heaven is to live here in hell.” Truth is, you don’t have to be the best at what you do, you have to be the best at showing your prospects how you will make their lives better.
So what are you waiting for? Get up, get out, and show the world what you can do. And here’s the bonus: While you’re building your path to success, you’re also improving the skills you need to be successful.
As detrimental to success as trying to be the best is, it’s not the only obstacle in your path. The other myth that holds you back is the myth of uniqueness. That is, the never-ending search for a distinctive and wholly individual identity.
Everywhere you turn, people say that success requires you to be unique. “No two snowflakes are alike. No two fingerprints are similar. Be unique.” They say it with the back of the hand attitude that makes it sound simple and easy. But do you know what an exacting term uniqueness is? The dictionary defines the word as “being the only one.” So unless you place a modifier such as fairly in front of unique, the word is absolute with no room for variety or compromise. You can’t be a little unique any more than you can be a little excellent, a little perfect or a little pregnant. Unique is unconditional. You either are or you ain’t.
Think about how few successful people actually pass the strict dictionary definition of unique. We all balance on the shoulders of giants and even the most successful among us built their success on what came before.
Let me be as clear as I can — success does not require uniqueness, certainly not in the fingerprint or snowflake category. Instead, it requires that your audience can see and understand your authentic difference.
History is riddled with stories of unique characters who were ignored, shunned, and denied until some act of fate finally broke their ideas into the mainstream. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. A penniless Van Gogh committed suicide. Jimi Hendrix died of a drug overdose. Even Steve Jobs, the businessman of the century, was fired by Apple before he made his stunning comeback. The evidence is clear that forging a unique and individual path is not the way to success or happiness.
The need to be unique is a presumptuous, egotistical myth. But it is not a key to success. Instead, create an authentic identity that tells the world NOT why you’re different but who you are. Position yourself through the eyes of your potential audience and watch how they relate to you. If your tribe feels that who you are makes them better, thinner, smarter, richer, happier or whatever, they’ll pay – and pay big – to be around you. Who’s accomplished that? Lots of people you know, including Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres. You feel good watching them because they help you feel good about yourself.
In the end success comes down to Oscar Wilde’s great quote, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”Published on November 3rd, 2014
New mother Heidi Dobbs was busy teaching her pre-school children to read when she had a brainstorm — what’s the point of teaching kids the ABCs if it doesn’t actually help them read? Wouldn’t it be better to teach children the letters’ sounds instead? That way her kids could sing the sounds together and automatically read the word.
Example? Joey knows all his ABCs. Courtney doesn’t know her ABCs – but she knows her lettersounds. Both kids start kindergarten. The teacher asks Joey to read the word “ant.” He recites the letters “A…N…T.” The teacher asks Courtney to read the same word, and she says “aaaaa… nnnnn… ttttt — ant!”
Heidi developed her program and sent both her children and her nieces and nephews off to school already knowing how to read simple words and sentences.
Their teachers’ reactions?
Some of their teachers were thrilled. Some were nonplused. But most were surprised that kids who couldn’t identify their ABCs could actually read while the other students who knew the ABCs could not.
Despite this, none of the teachers were interested in using this system in their classrooms. After all, the ABCs and reading had been taught the same way for years. The teachers pointed out that the system wasn’t proven. It wasn’t accredited. And its inventor didn’t have “Dr.” before her name or a string of impressive initials after it. The fact that Heidi’s kids and her sister’s kids were the best readers in their classes didn’t seem to matter.
So Heidi did what so many red-blooded American inventors have done before her. She developed her system herself and offered it to exactly the people who would be most interested – the engaged and involved parents of preschool-aged children. Except instead of having to create books and games and work with printers and pay for inventory and rent storage space and pay for advertising and shipping, Heidi used Internet technology and created an app called Babyfonics Genius.
Five days after uploading her reading app to the Apple App Store, Babyfonics Genius was made available to the public and parents everywhere were given access to a whole new way of teaching their children to read.
There’s no publishing company, no middleman, no distributor, and no wholesaler. In other words, there’s no one to get between Heidi and the kids she wants to teach. Just a great new idea that’s helping parents everywhere.
FOX Business anchor Melissa Francis, herself a mother of small children, interviewed Heidi on her show Money with Melissa Francis, and parents who tuned in were immediately able to pull their phones out of their pockets and download Babyfonics Genius. But of course it didn’t stop there. Heidi repurposed the footage on YouTube and on her various social media feeds (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) and gave even more parents the opportunity to learn about her innovation.
Soon more and more new students will show up at their schools knowing how to read but not knowing the names of the letters they’re reading and more and more teachers will be puzzled. At a parent-teacher night or at a PTA meeting maybe, they’ll ask a parent how come their child can already read and more folks will know about Heidi’s disruptive breakthrough. But none of it will have gone through the traditional channels.
But right now Babyfonics Genius is a disruptive little idea waiting to be discovered. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. And don’t hesitate to download it if you have little ones at home.Published on October 26th, 2014