When I was in high school one of my part-time jobs was working as a bagboy at the local supermarket. Even though the walls were plastered with signs that said, “Carry-out is a Publix service. No tipping please,” we bagboys stuffed our pockets with the single dollar bills the neighborhood housewives slipped us for wheeling the groceries to their cars.
I learned very quickly that there were two keys to getting good tips – being nice to my customers and making an extra effort to serve them. Besides a big smile and a happy “hello” each time I walked up to a new cash register, insisting on double-bagging, putting chicken into plastic bags to thwart leaks, and making a show of tightening the caps on Clorox bottles were all effective techniques to ensure a bigger gratuity.
This knowledge served me well a few years later when I worked as a waiter. The same two practices – smiling and being extra helpful – helped me earn the biggest tips and get regular customers. That’s why I was so surprised when a particular patron told me how unhappy she was with my service and asked me to “get the manager right away.”
I walked back to the kitchen and told the manager that the woman at table seven wanted to speak with him.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t think I did anything wrong but she’s been unhappy with everything… her food, the service. No matter what I do, she’s angry.”
We walked back to the table together and the manager introduced himself. “How can I help you?” he asked.
She immediately launched into a litany of complaints – her salad wasn’t fresh, her food wasn’t hot, her server was surly, her water glass wasn’t filled quickly enough, and so on. Finally she stopped complaining to take a breath. The manager saw his opportunity.
“I’m sorry you’ve been served so poorly and of course I’ll take care of it right away,” he purred solicitously. “But let me ask you a question. You’re not really that upset about your lunch, are you?” He paused knowingly. “What’s really wrong?”
The woman glared at him with burning malevolence and I held my breath, waiting for her to start screaming. Then all of a sudden her face dropped and her shoulders slumped – it looked like she had been deflated. “My husband left me last week,” she said quietly. “I don’t know what to do.” She burst into tears.
The manager handed over his handkerchief. Without taking his eyes off her he leaned towards me and said, “Bruce, clear off the table and go get us two cappuccinos and a big slice of cheese cake… two forks.” Then he sat down across from the sobbing woman and told her to tell him all about it.
The two of them huddled like co-conspirators through the rest of the lunch service and continued to talk long after we had cleared the restaurant. It wasn’t until we were setting up for dinner that they got up. After bidding the manager goodbye, the woman came up to me and slipped a folded piece of paper into my hand. “This is for you,” she said before she walked out.
I never found out what they talked about that afternoon but I did learn a valuable lesson. Even though the woman came into our restaurant for lunch, that wasn’t what she was buying. What she really wanted was someone to listen to her. The manager was smart and sensitive enough to know that it was his job to give his customers not what they thought they wanted but what they really wanted.
Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” A century later Steve Jobs said, “It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want.”
For us business owners and brand marketers these are very valuable insights. After all, when we continually surprise and delight our customers by fulfilling wants they might not even know they have, we demonstrate how much we care and why they should continue to do business with us.
Oh, and that piece of paper the restaurant customer slipped into my hand? It was a $100 bill.
This email exchange is almost all verbatim. I removed the names and identifiable facts.
Potential Client: “It was a pleasure visiting your website and speaking with you today, Bruce. I have attached our ad agency RFP (Request For Proposal).
We look forward to your proposal. If you have any questions please contact me.”
Agency: “Attached is our response. Because we specialize in your industry we feel confident we can exceed all of your requirements.”
Potential Client: “We can tell you put lots of hard work into this.
We will have a meeting room with projector. Let me know what else you need.
But please sharpen your pencil.
We will be looking for you to drill down on creative, suggested media, social media strategies and spend based on demographics.
Please confirm you are on board and we will proceed.”
Agency: “We are excited by the prospect of helping you build a great creative program and we are eager to undertake the next step.
See you next week. Thanks for the opportunity.”
Potential Client: “Just received note from my bosses. As soon as you have creative they want a preview before confirming presentation. I’m just the messenger here.”
Agency: “Do they want to see existing creative we’ve done for other clients or custom work for you?”
Potential Client: “Creative ideas for us. The other agencies did submit customized creative samples, teasers if you will.”
Agency: “We appreciate that ownership wants to see our ideas before the presentation.
We hope they understand our ideas are our most valuable assets and we take them very seriously.
As you can see by our insightful RFP response we have more knowledge, understanding, and successes in your segment than any agency anywhere.
We are excited to share that knowledge with you to create powerful work. We are not willing to share our ideas before we have planned a strategy with your input nor are we willing to do that for free.”
Potential Client: “I will share your comments and get back to you.”
Did we get the meeting? Have we won the business? What do you think?
When a potential client asks for free ideas, a short turnaround time, AND lower prices before we’ve even met, what’s the chance that it could possibly turn out well? This is a presentation we won’t be making.
After all, to win business we will do everything. But we won’t do anything.
Have you read about Carnival Cruise Line’s latest woes? Of course you saw the bloated corpse of the Costa Concordia floundering like a beached whale off the coast of Italy, you saw the 2,758 stranded cruisers on the Carnival Triumph eating onion sandwiches and using the Lido deck for a latrine, and you saw 4,300 passengers from the Carnival Dream being ferried back to Florida after that ship’s generator failed. But those are the sexy things the news media loves to splash across its pages and screens. Have you seen the numbers?
All of this bad news has eroded the company’s profits. Carnival says it expects to post a 2013 profit of $1.45 to $1.65 per share, down from its previous projection of $1.80 to $2.10.
Last Tuesday USA Today reported that Carnival Corp “…lowered its 2013 earnings forecast yesterday afternoon, acknowledging that bad publicity and reduced ticket prices have taken a toll on its bottom line. Several analysts immediately lowered the company’s stock ratings, and share prices dropped overnight.”
And a recent Harris poll of more than 2,000 U.S. travelers showed a 17% drop in their trust in Carnival Cruise Lines. Worse, the trouble isn’t just limited to Carnival’s core brand. Harris found that trust in rival lines including Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Carnival-owned Holland America also dropped.
So what can Carnival do? Needless to say, the first thing is to stop the bleeding. To fix their problems the company has announced a full operational review and says they will spend close to $700 million to upgrade back-up systems across their entire 101-ship fleet. Cruisers, investors, and rival lines can only hope that that expenditure will stop Carnival’s continued problems. If evenly applied, that enormous expenditure only adds up to about seven million dollars per ship, not very much when you consider the cost and complexity of each vessel.
But even if almost three quarters of a billion dollars fixes the ships, Carnival’s still got a boatload of work to do before the ship hits the fan again. Here are just five of a long list of things I believe the worlds largest cruise line should do immediately to get their image — and their profits — on the road to recovery.
1. Manage Carnival’s Face Time (Part I).
The next time there’s a mishap, Carnival’s president line should immediately take a helicopter out to the stranded ship. He should stand with the captain and announce that he’s there for the duration and will be doing everything he can to see to the cruisers’ safety and comfort. His presence will help show Carnival’s passengers that he’s got skin in the game — his own.
2. Manage Carnival’s Face Time (Part II).
When the Concordia went down in Italy, Carnival chairman Mickey Arison should have been on the first flight to Civitavecchia and set up Carnival Central Command right there. After all, nothing says you care like being there.
3. Manage Carnival’s Face Time (Part III).
While the Triumph was floundering, an iPhone picture of Miami Heat owner Arison sitting court side at that evening’s game went viral. Even though we all know there’s nothing Arison could have done to improve the stranded ship’s situation, someone still should have said, “Yo Mick, why don’t you catch the game at home tonight?”
4. Enhance Connectivity.
In today’s hyper-connected world, being disconnected makes people very nervous. Carnival should install 100 Iridium satellite phones on every ship so that stranded guests could at least let their friends and family know they’re okay. A quick, “Yeah, we’re stuck but we’re fine” conversation would relieve a lot of stress and pressure.
5. Finally, Carnival should change their corporate name.
In addition to the Carnival-branded ships Carnival Cruise Lines owns ten different cruise brands, including Seabourn, Holland America, Cunard, and Princess. But each time a Carnival ship is stricken, consumers have no way of knowing whether the bad news is about a Carnival-flagged vessel or one of the other brands the parent company owns. Carnival should separate the brands so they’re not always painted with the same brush.
Sure, the entire industry will still suffer when there’s an accident. But as we’ve seen, other brands didn’t suffer the loss in consumer confidence that the Carnival-owned ships did.
My suggestion for a new corporate name for the holding company, by the way? Change Carnival to Tarison in honor and memory of Carnival’s late visionary founder Ted Arison.
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.”