My fifth grade teacher Juliette Polichetti used to say, “If you don’t know what you don’t know then you don’t know.” And while you could argue that that’s another way of explaining that ignorance is bliss, I don’t think that’s what Miss Polichetti had in mind.
When I opened my first advertising agency 30 years ago I had no business actually starting a business. True, I had a design major and a business minor from the University of Florida and I had worked as an art director at a few agencies in New York and Miami, but I still had no idea what I was doing. My father called it “the confidence of ignorance.”
If you don’t know what you don’t know then you don’t know and the confidence of ignorance are just two sides of the same coin, the negative and the positive, the yin and yang. They’re both accurate but if followed they can lead the listener to very different ways of dealing with the same issue.
A few weeks ago I spoke at TEDx Delray Beach. This event was a first-time, first-class, first-rate production put on by entrepreneurial wunderkind Becky Woodbridge. Becky wrangled the City of Delray Beach, 23 speakers, 40 volunteers, and 365 on-site guests into a day long celebration of ideas worth sharing, TED’s worldwide mantra. Plus there was a cadre of traditional and online press, including video and radio interviewers, bloggers and citirazzi (citizen paparazzi) uploading the proceedings to every social media site you can imagine. And it all proceeded fairly seamlessly. Of course there were some snafus – a couple speakers’ PowerPoint presentations didn’t work as well as they expected (imagine that), one speaker might have violated TED’s strict requirements, and a few people went over their allotted time limit. But so what? All in all the event went off like clockwork.
What I found so impressive was that Becky had never done this before – she truly did operate with the confidence of ignorance. Becky didn’t know what she didn’t know so she didn’t know she couldn’t pull it off. She just went ahead and did it and marshaled all those disparate components into a cohesive and very successful whole.
Before too long the video edits of the various speakers’ presentations will be complete and submitted to TED. If some of us are lucky, the parent organization will accept our videos and post them on the master TED site for the world to watch (two of my favorites are Mike Rowe’s and Joe Smith’s BTW). But we’d have to be very lucky (and very good) because so far only 234 TEDx speeches – out of 25,000 submitted – have ever gone on to TED.com. But even if the speeches don’t make it to TED.com, they’ll be uploaded to the TEDx Delray Beach site and people can watch them there.
While the postmortem is being done and the videos are being edited, Becky is hard at work producing new events for TEDx Delray Beach. She’s planning a TEDx Women event and a live simulcast viewing of the TED Global conference on June 13, 2013. The simulcast is an opportunity to watch the program (produced this year in Edinburgh, Scotland) on a giant screen in a beautiful auditorium. Specifically, the simulcast will cover sessions four through seven titled Money Talks, Listening to Nature, World on Its Head, and Regeneration. For a complete schedule listing and speaker bios, visit the Program Page.
Thanks to my participation with TEDx, and your participation with this blog, Becky has made a number of free tickets available to my readers. If you’d like to attend with a guest, please send an email to Becky at email@example.com and let her know that I invited you. But please do it soon, because tickets are limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis.
And if the first TEDx Delray Beach event, structured on the confidence of ignorance, was so successful, just think how great this next event will be. Unless, of course, you prefer the wisdom of W.C. Fields who said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.”
My father was a passionate proponent of architecture and design. Throughout his career he worked with some of the best in South Florida, including Gail Baldwin and Don Sackman, Roney Mateu, Frank Schulwolf, Jordan Barrett and Murray Gaby, and Manny Abraben. I don’t think my dad ever worked with Alfred Browning Parker but I know he was a big fan.
Wikipedia says Alfred Browning Parker “was a Modernist architect who is one of the best-known post World War II residential architects. He gained fame for his highly published modern houses in the region around Miami, Florida.”
Once a year House Beautiful, the primary architecture magazine of the 1950s and 1960s dedicated an entire issue to their House Of The Year. Four of Parker’s homes were selected, more than any other architect. In 2006 Wallpaper* magazine chose Woodsong, Parker’s Miami residence, for their “Top 10 Houses of the World,” the only house chosen in all of North America.
On Friday I was lucky enough to have lunch with a group of Miami creative leaders that included Parker’s son Robin. Robin sent me his dad’s list of “Aphorisms For Architects” from an early issue of The Florida Architect that I know my dad would have loved. More relevant to all of us, Parker’s aphorisms are perfect not just for architects but for marketers, entrepreneurs, speakers, business people and anyone striving to do a great job and make a difference. You might have to change an architecture-specific term here or there to fit your own profession — and life — but I think you’ll get the picture.
I am honored to share these with you. Thank you Robin (and ABP).
Alfred Browning Parker’s Aphorisms For Architects
The Seinfeld TV sitcom was called a show about nothing. When they pitched the pilot to NBC, here’s how they described the concept: “Nothing happens on the show. It’s just like life. You know, you eat, you go shopping, you read.” Nothing actually happens.
But I don’t really think the show was really about nothing. Instead, I think the subject of the show was the show itself – a self-consciously mindful navel-gazing sitcom that could take place in a restaurant, a parking garage or Jerry’s apartment.
Sometimes I think this blog is like that. I write about branding issues and things that I see happening that might be of interest to you – sometimes it’s about how to use proven branding practices for small businesses; sometimes it’s about current events and their branding implications; and sometimes it’s about whatever odd marketing concepts I’m thinking about that I think you might want to think about, too.
But sometimes these posts are more Seinfeld-like and are about the blog itself – a metaphorical version of going to the barbershop and seeing yourself reflected infinite times in the mirrors on opposite walls. I’ve written about why I blog, what the blog has done for our advertising agency business, what technology we use, what the metrics are, and so on. Usually my goal is to let you know how easy it is to do this and the terrific dividends it pays. After all, this blog has probably been the most powerful new business tool we’ve launched. But sometimes it’s just to amuse me – I’m kind of astounded at the way this weekly essay has taken off and by the number of great people who read it, the opportunities it has afforded us, and the (mostly) wonderful comments I get from all of you.
Last week the blog was titled Nobody Writes Notes Anymore. Do You? and was about personal, handwritten letters. As Ryan Giffen from Premiere Speakers Bureau pointed out, “(I) love the irony… (a) blog post about handwritten notes.” In the post I mentioned how rare it is to receive handwritten notes anymore and cited the U.S. Postal Service’s annual survey that showed that the average American home received only one personal letter every seven weeks in 2010, down from once every two weeks in 1987.
As of Tuesday morning, 5/7/13, 28 of you commented directly on the blog. Another 43 of you sent me direct emails. And 16 people retweeted my post. But even better, 35 of you took the time to grab a pen and a piece of paper and actually sent me an old-school analog note. And I’ll bet more will come in the mail today, tomorrow, and throughout the weekend.After seven years of consistent blogging, this post generated more immediate response than any other blog I’ve written except the one about my father, titled How To Sell The Dream and another called I Have No Idea What I’m Doing.
Now I think that’s pretty remarkable. I think it’s almost a movement. And having been a child in the 1960s (as opposed to being a child OF the sixties), I get my knowledge of movements from Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant and his comments on the draft board:
“…And friends, somewhere in Washington enshrined in some little folder, is a study in black and white of my fingerprints. And the only reason I’m singing you this song now is ’cause you may know somebody in a similar situation, or you may be in a similar situation, and if you’re in a situation like that there’s only one thing you can do and that’s to walk into the shrink wherever you are, just walk in say, ‘Shrink, you can get anything you want at Alice’s restaurant.’ And walk out.
You know, if one person, just one person does it they may think he’s really sick and they won’t take him (into the army). And if two people do it… they wont take either one of them. And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in singing a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out? They may think it’s an organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day walking in singing a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out? And friends, they may just think it’s a movement.”
Well, we’ve done it you and I. We’ve started an honest-to-goodness, bona fide Alice’s Restaurant-verified movement. So if you’ve got a stamp lying around, send me a note — or better yet, send it to someone you love whom you haven’t reached out to in a while. And if you happen to find yourself up in Great Barrington, Massachusetts anytime soon and you run into Arlo Guthrie, remind him that you can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.
When I walked downstairs to grab my mail today Shelly told me that I had “won the mail sweepstakes.” Sure enough, my mail slot held the biggest pile on any of the shelves. “Of course,” Shelly added, “most of it is junk.”
But hidden amongst all the trash were three hand-addressed envelopes. Coincidentally, I had also dropped three hand-addressed envelopes into the outbound mail that morning.
According to the U.S. Postal Service’s annual survey, the average American home received only one personal letter every seven weeks in 2010, down from once every two weeks in 1987. If that’s the case, is it any wonder that a handwritten note gets such attention these days?
One note was from Ron, thanking me for some help I’d offered with a project he’s working on. One was from Brian, complimenting me on a presentation I’d given the week before. And one was from Michelle, introducing herself and letting me know that we would meet in July.
Here’s the best part. I opened those handwritten letters first and actually thought about the people who sent them, even putting the notes aside to make sure that I respond in a similar fashion. Because a recent study quoted in the Harvard Business Review showed that the average corporate email account sent or received more than 100 emails per day, and that Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 now send or receive nearly 100 texts per day, I took the time to count the number of electronic messages I received. At 7:00 PM, the count was 127 emails (not counting pure spam) and 42 SMS texts.
Included in those 127 emails were three notes from kids who are looking for internships and seven sales pitches from companies looking to do business with us — certainly requests that might have been worth the time it would take to send a handwritten note. Truth be told, when I receive those types of emails I often wonder if the sender could have possibly made less of an effort to get my attention.
Indeed, that investment of time and effort is part of what makes a hand-scribbled note so valuable. The person who wrote it had to dig up some stationery, find a pen, and actually scratch their thoughts onto paper. And without spell checker or the AutoCorrect option, they might have even had to write the note more than once. Then they had to put the note in an envelope, look up and copy down the correct address, affix a stamp, and even lick the flap. What could be more personal – and more intimate – than that?
But there’s another side of letter writing that’s important too – the pleasure the sender gets in indulging in such an anachronistic activity. Maybe it’s because I love to doodle and draw, but I really enjoy pulling out my stationery and my dad’s fountain pen. I notice the texture of the pen and the flow of the ink. I pay attention to the way I craft my letters and I even try to find stamps that make an aesthetic or social statement. And because I’m left-handed, I’m forced to write slowly so my hand doesn’t smear the drying ink.
Dropping the weighty envelopes in the mail feels like I’m actually putting a little bit of myself into every letter I send. And I feel the same sense of personal connection when I open and read someone else’s carefully crafted note.
By the way, this isn’t the first time I’ve written about the value of handwritten communication. In January 2012 I wrote a post about the GMCVB’s CEO, Bill Talbert, and his branding tips under $100. Tip number two was titled: No one sends personal notes anymore. Except Bill.
Bill is one of the most tech-savvy CEOs I know. But whenever you spend time with him, you can expect a personal handwritten note to show up in the mail a day or two later. Bill knows that as the world gets more and more high-tech, the way to break through the clutter and make a statement is with high-touch. Not a phone message. Not an email. A handwritten letter. With a signature. And a real stamp on the envelope.
And when the news is really important? Bill takes a tip from Michael Gehrisch, CEO of the Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI), and sends it in a FedEx envelope. After all, what other correspondence gets brought to your desk the minute it enters your office? It’s a heck of a bargain for 15 bucks, I think.
What do you think? Write back and let me know.
In response to last week’s blog post How To Skin A Horse Of A Different Color, John Calia wrote, “A great modern day parable that explains the power of inductive reasoning. It’s McKinsey-level strategic thinking applied to everyday business and personal challenges.”
Thanks, John. I just thought it was a simple explanation of a complicated concept.
That’s what we do every day — reduce very complicated and not very compelling product explanations into short, simple, easy-to-understand, and profitable brands. Because these strategically simple messages make consumers regard, remember, and respond.
But if you’re thinking about how to reduce your brand message to just one word, I know what you’re thinking. “Sure, Bruce, defining an issue and standing for something makes a lot of sense and I can see how it works for others, but…(big sigh)…I’m different. After all, my business is much more diverse, much more creative, and much more customized to my clients’ specific needs…(bigger sigh)…you see, I do too many different things. There’s just no way I could shoehorn everything I offer into a couple of words.”
Really? Your business is too complicated to brand simply? Well then, consider Volvo.
Volvo is ostensibly in the car business. But that means they are really in a number of different businesses — transportation, manufacturing, research and development, metallurgy, engineering, upholstery, design, import/export, logistics, to name just a few. Plus, they operate retail stores (for both new and used products), and also provide sales, service, and accessories. Volvo operates under the governmental regulations of the hundreds of countries, states, and municipalities they operate in. They work in multiple languages, with multiple consumers, and in multiple currencies. And don’t forget that they don’t just make consumer automobiles. Volvo also manufactures buses and trucks and provides engines and engineering for lots of other companies. And yet despite this incredible complexity, Volvo still describes themselves with their commitment to one word: safety.
Volvo’s brand description isn’t even about what they actually provide. Nowhere in their branding do they talk about transportation or about getting from point A to point B. They talk about safety. And this positioning is so valuable that when Volvo introduced an SUV, arguably the new American suburban family car, their XC70 outsold all foreign SUVs (European and Asian) combined.
But it’s not just Volvo that understands the value of a simple brand position.
New York is “The Big Apple.” Chicago is solidly Midwestern. Los Angeles is movies, Las Vegas is sin. Miami is hip. What are you?
Apple built their brand on the da Vinci line, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” and it’s driven their product philosophy ever since, most recently resulting in one single button controlling your iPhone or iPad. Despite the outcry from Blackberry users, Apple’s iPhone does not have a raised keyboard.
Here’s what Mr. Mo’ sang:
“Two cars, three kids, six phones; a whole lot of confusion up here in my home.
500 stations on the TV screen, 500 versions of the same ol’ thing.
Y’all know it’s crazy, and it’s drivin’ me insane.
Well, I don’t wanna be a superman, I just wanna go somewhere, use my hands.
And keep it simple.
I called my doctor on the telephone; the lines were open, but there was nobody home.
Press one, press two, press pound, press three; why can’t somebody just pick up the phone and talk to me?
Well I went down to the local coffee store; the menu went from the ceiling all the way down to the floor.
Decaf, cappuccino, or latte said the cashier; I said gimme a small cup of coffee and let me get the hell up outta here.
Y’all know it’s crazy, and it’s drivin’ me insane.
Well now I don’t wanna be a superman, I just wanna go somewhere, use my hands.
And keep it simple, real simple.”
Thoreau famously wrote, “Simplify, simplify.” But maybe if he had heard Keb’ Mo’s song, he would’ve cut his credo in half to just “Simplify.”
A friend of mine got into some trouble recently. He left a bar after having a few drinks, got in his car and headed home. On the way he was pulled over by a highway patrolman and arrested for driving while intoxicated. I’ll spare you the long and sad story of his journey through the legal system but suffice it to say it was very expensive — my friend paid enormous legal bills, actually lost his job and insurance, and had his car impounded — even though he was never convicted of a crime. And while he didn’t do any jail time, he paid an enormous price just the same.
A few weeks after my friend finished with his ordeal and started rebuilding his life, he was punished again. But this time he was punished by a private industry that uses the democratized information the Internet provides along with a well-intentioned Florida state law to extort people who have had legal trouble.
Here’s what Safe Shepherd — a website that offers “news and resources on privacy” — says about one of these services, Mugshots.com:
“Mugshots.com (and similar sites) scrape police databases for mug shots and then display the pictures and other arrest information on their website. Many police records are legally required to be made public (registered sex offenders), but having every arrest record published to the Internet becomes an invasion of privacy. Due to regulations, most Americans don’t have to worry about an arrest record tarnishing their reputation, but unfortunately for citizens of Florida, the state’s Sunshine Laws make all arrest records public, meaning that if you were ever arrested in Florida your mug shot will be on the Internet – forever.
…In order to remove your mug shot from Mugshots.com you are required to pay a third party affiliate $399 to conduct the removal… With no other options available to remove your picture from Mugshots.com, paying $399 to remove your record more than borders on extortion.
Perhaps the most concerning part of Mugshots.com is that your picture is posted immediately after the arrest, so even if you are never convicted of the crime, your mug shot will still be immortalized on the Internet… unless of course you pay the $399.”
I’m not suggesting that drunk drivers shouldn’t be punished for their actions. But since my friend wasn’t convicted of a crime, he should have been considered innocent until proven guilty. And even if he had been found guilty and served his sentence, what right would a private company have to further punish him by continuing to promote his crime after he had paid his debt to society? What’s more, Mugshots.com is only one of the companies that uses the state’s access to information laws to extort money from people who have been arrested. So even after he paid their $399 fee, my friend still had to research other companies who post his pictures and pay them off as well.
There’s an old public relations adage that says it doesn’t matter what kind of press you get as long as they spell your name right. In Washington DC political circles the tasteless but ubiquitous maxim is that bad press is never bad unless you’re caught with a live boy or a dead girl. But in this day and age of accessible information and the 24/7 amateur news cycle, this kind of irresponsible — if not criminal — activity can destroy a brand overnight and forever.
It also proves a third adage which applies just as aptly to branding as to politics and child-rearing: It’s easier to stay out of trouble than to get out of trouble.
I am sitting in exit row seat 12C and looking out the window at the great Florida prairie. Led Zeppelin’s Heartbreaker is blasting through my ear buds and I’m thinking about the talk I gave last night to The University of Florida Ad Society.
My talk was originally going to be about some of the things I’d learned in the ad business in the last 30-something years (gulp) since I was a design student at UF. But listening to the students report on their doings before my talk inspired me to change my entire presentation at the last minute.
Instead of talking about what today’s companies need to do to build their brands, I talked about what today’s students need to do to get an internship or a job.
What I realized as my talk progressed was that the techniques for building a great brand are the same whether we’re talking about Rolex or Rolando, Mercedes or Mercy, Samsung or Samantha.
As we’ve discussed so many times in this digital discussion, people don’t buy what you do, they buy who you are. And students looking for employment need to understand that simple statement just as clearly as the brand manager trying to sell her company’s products.
Of course accomplishments and skills are critical to getting a job. But like the functional attributes of the last car you bought, those accomplishments are just cost of entry. In other words, if a car doesn’t get from point A to point B, doesn’t get good gas mileage or doesn’t operate flawlessly, you’re not going select it. But just because it does all those things doesn’t mean you’re going to select it either. First you have to WANT that particular automobile in your driveway.
By the same token, if a student doesn’t have the proper degrees, computer skills or industry knowledge, they’re probably not going to get hired. But just because they do have those things doesn’t mean they’re going to get hired either. That’s because those skills are merely table stakes in the employment game and because these days, students with those attributes on their resumes are a dime a dozen.
Speaking of resumes, why do they all start with the same run-on sentence? “I am endeavoring to find an employment situation where I can utilize my professional skills in a productive and fulfilling environment committed to personal growth, creative expression, and increasing remuneration opportunities.”
Wouldn’t it be refreshing to read a student resume that started differently? “It’s my lifelong dream to be an art director. I will work 24/7 doing anything you need for the chance to learn my craft and prove that I can be valuable to your company.”
I found it shocking that fewer than one third of the students I spoke to use social media to prepare for their job search. For the first time in history, democratized media has made it possible for students to build rapport with the people they are planning to interview with before they actually meet them, turning difficult cold calls and awkward first meetings into warm calls and expanding relationships. And yet, today’s digital natives not taking advantage of the technology they grew up using.
Randy Gage, prosperity thought leader, says he gets more new business leads and speaking requests on Facebook than from calls into his office. How? Randy spends two hours a day on social media, building his tribe of followers and potential customers across Twitter, FB, and YouTube. He uploads his blog posts five days a week and adds a new VLOG (Video Log) to his YouTube channel every Monday.
Randy believes that to build your own followers and create your own opportunities you’ve got to have a point of view and get out there and promote your message and offer valuable content. And he’s certainly the poster child for practicing what he preaches.
How does he get it all done? Because the first word of social media is social, Randy eschews auto posts and other mechanized tools and builds his tribe by creating real-time online relationships one person at a time. And for those of you who are reading this and asking, “Two hours? Who the hell has two hours a day to spend on social media?” Randy would answer that because there’s nothing else that brings as much business to his website, there’s nothing more valuable he could be doing with his time.
Whether you’re looking for your first job, making a career change or promoting your own business, I’m confident this strategy will work for you, too. And if you’re an Ad Society student at the University of Florida, I’m especially talking to you.
Our Monday morning run takes us through Matheson Hammock Park and out to the marina, a small spit of land that juts out into Biscayne Bay. If you stand just so, you can look out across the endless bay and see the same unspoiled vista that the Tequesta Indians enjoyed hundreds of years ago. Some mornings we get there early enough to watch the sunrise. One time we saw dolphins frolicking in the surf. And sometimes we run past cars parked under the streetlights in the marina parking lot.
I always assumed that an expensive car or big SUV sitting in the lot at 5:30 in the morning meant that its owner was out on their boat somewhere in the Caribbean – Bimini maybe, or the Abacos. But today one of my running buddies, commenting on a shiny black Lexus parked by the yachts said, “That’s what happens when your wife throws you out of the house and you need a place to stay.”
Funny, in a million years it never would have dawned on me that that was why that car was there. Clearly my runner friend and I have very different life experiences that helped us to see the exact same situation in very different ways. In marketing, that’s what researchers call “self-referencing criteria.”
When you assume, you make an “Ass” out of “U” and “Me.”
Years ago our branding firm tried to establish a working relationship with the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island. We had great ideas for them to incorporate online and nascent mobile technology into their marketing programs. So after convincing the gatekeepers in Atlantis’ South Florida sales office, I flew to Nassau and met with the resort’s owner, Sol Kerzner. Thanks to his successes in the Bahamas, Dubai, and South Africa, Kerzner was a billionaire developer who looked every bit the part, from the personal jets at his beck and call to Ian Douglas, the urbane and capable executive assistant who shadowed Kerzner and took care of his every need.
After we made our presentation, Kerzner shook his head and said, “That’s ridiculous. No one will make hotel reservations on their cell phones. How many people even carry the bloody things around?”
Before you laugh at that statement, you need to understand that Kerzner didn’t carry his own cell phone. When he needed to make a call he’d just tell Douglas to call his wife, his banker or whomever. Because Atlantis’ CEO evaluated our idea with self-referencing criteria, the company didn’t become an early adapter of mobile technology.
Years before that we had been hired by Bacardi Imports to create a new brand marketing idea for their spiced rum. Specifically Bacardi wanted us to introduce the product to a younger audience than the 50-somethings that had been buying Bacardi Añjeo to sip and savor.
When we made our presentation, we showed it to our direct reports at the spirits company, and a special guest – one of the Bacardi family themselves – who had stopped by to watch the show. After we were done, he spoke up. Señor Bacardi wanted to know why we hadn’t talked about the great history of the product, Bacardi’s “two ells” he called it — Legend and Legacy. After all, he said, that’s why our customers buy our products in the first place.
“With all due respect, sir,” we countered, “That might be why you drink the product, but the twenty-somethings we spoke to couldn’t care less about that. In fact, we have pretty extensive research to prove how disinterested they are in anything other than their two ells — getting Loaded and getting Lucky.”
Most of the other Bacardi folks in the room recoiled at our gumption – apparently they weren’t used to seeing anyone disagree with an actual Bacardi. But to his credit, Señor Bacardi thought for a moment and then agreed that maybe we did have more relevant insight than he did and asked us to proceed. His openness allowed the whole room to put their self-referencing criteria aside and consider options they might not have thought of before.
Because we make mistakes when we make assumptions, the advertising industry has built a robust research protocol to make sure that strategic decisions aren’t based on a survey of one. However, in our personal worlds it’s a lot harder to put our biases aside and remain open to ideas that at first may not jibe with our own lives and sensibilities. But often that different viewpoint is where the real opportunities for connection and success lie. After all, Bacardi really doesn’t care which ells you respond to as long as you’re buying their bottles. And that black Lexus sitting in the Matheson Marina parking lot might have belonged to a happy fisherman, a hapless husband or someone else that maybe we hadn’t even thought of yet.