Saying No To Business.
My buddy Mike and I were driving back to the Albuquerque airport early on a frosty November morning. We had just enough time for a hot cup of coffee and a breakfast burrito before we took off for New Orleans.
Before long we passed a sign for “Cesar’s Mexican/Greek Diner.” It looked like the perfect spot so we turned around and pulled into their parking lot.
We hopped out of the car and were confronted with these two signs on Cesar’s front glass:
Even though all of us see these kinds of signs often enough to ignore them it’s still interesting to take a moment and think about what Cesar’s was doing.
Clearly, Cesar’s employees have been bothered by solicitors, barefoot diners, smokers, and people who expected to pay for their meal with a one hundred-dollar bill.
Of course they’ve had to deal with unreasonable customers who wanted their money refunded.
And surely their time has been wasted by non-customers who wanted to use their bathroom.
But are those enough hassles for a business to tell us all the reasons we’re not welcome there before we even set foot in the place? Are those good reasons for saying no to business? After all, the only things Cesar’s left out were “Our food sucks” and “If I were you I’d be leaving.”
Lucky for my readers Mike and I were willing to venture inside simply because I wanted to see how else Cesar’s could try saying no to business and turn us off.
Needless to say, we were the only customers inside the little diner.
The counter clerk was a master at what my father used to call “friendly incompetence.” And the guy who took our money (Cesar?) made it quite clear that he was not the slightest bit interested in us being there. Luckily the coffee was hot and the breakfast burrito was surprisingly good. But just in case they weren’t, the receipt warned us that even though it was “extra delicious,” “complaints in person with the food” would still get “no refunds.”
At least they were consistent in saying no to business.
Okay, okay, I can hear you chuckling from here. And yes, it is easy to laugh at Cesar’s egregious practices. But sniff at your peril. Because if you do you’ll miss the opportunity to improve your business and your brand. So instead of judging, why not look at your business systems from your customers’ point of view? See if you’re unwittingly throwing obstacles in their way and saying no to business.
These little problems are all ways you’re saying no to business and reasons for your customers to look elsewhere. After all, it’s not like they can’t find what you do somewhere else. And as we’ve said so many times before, in today’s connected world the function of your business is simply cost of entry.
Instead, it’s the way your brand makes your customers feel about themselves that creates both value and desire. And that’s how to differentiate yourself from the clueless companies by simply thinking about your customers.
I readily admit that this post is going to piss some people off. Especially the ones who were nice enough to send me the gratuitous greetings that inspired this rant. But please bear with me and read on. You’ll find there’s something valuable here to learn about building your brand.
Each year about this time the digital holiday cards start to fill my email box. And you know what I’m talking about because you’re either receiving them or you sent them.
As I’m sure you’ve found, the Thanksgiving designs tend to use a stock photo of a cornucopia or an autumnal field. Sometimes it’s a pumpkin or a cartoon of a turkey ironically dressed in Pilgrim attire.
The Christmas cards usually feature a pastoral winter scene or a semi-religious theme or perhaps a Christmas tree festooned with lights.
Each sports a headline that reads something like, “Warmest Wishes for the Season,” or “Happy Holidays,” or maybe a poem that starts with words like, “At this special time of year, it’s good to hear…”
I’m sure you get these gems too.
But when you open these emails do you ever think, “Oh my goodness, how nice of my insurance company (or cable provider, or septic tank service, or accountant, or power company) to take a moment in this busy season to actually think of me and send such a warm personal greeting.”
No, you do not.
If you even think about it at all you’d probably think something more in line with, “how gratuitous of the people I send money on a regular basis to have their social media person select a stock greeting template and mail merge it with their CRM software.”
Per TechTarget, “customer relationship management (CRM) is a term that refers to practices, strategies and technologies that companies use to manage and analyze customer interactions and data throughout the customer lifecycle, with the goal of improving business relationships with customers, assisting in customer retention and driving sales growth.”
Borrowing from that definition of CRM, good branding strategy also has “the goal of improving business relationships with customers, assisting in customer retention and driving sales growth.” But as we’ve seen for the last ten years that I’ve been writing this blog, great brands are All About Them. In other words, great brands provide an authentic truth about their company (or personnel or reason for being) that their consumers can use to self-identify with and to enhance their lives.
The screaming eagle tattoo on a Harley-Davidson rider’s shoulder? All About Them.
The flannel shirts at a Melissa Etheredge concert or the Juggalo makeup at an Insane Clown Posse show? All About Them.
Apple Watches, Fitbits, Panerais and Rolex Daytonas? All About Them.
But fake greetings that transmit fake emotions? At best they get a passing nod or chuckle. Mostly they are invisible. But for some thoughtful receiver these soulless mailers further amplify the nihilistic emptiness that can be so painfully prevalent in both today’s digital society and the holiday season. After all, these are the days when our expectations of Christmas past can easily outpace the reality of our lives and our relationships.
At its most fundamental, building brands IS about building relationships.
So before you hit “send” on that CRM-approved generic mailer why not think twice? Instead of sparing every expense and doing the simplest thing possible, this year make an effort. Make your outreach All About Them.
Send a real hand-written note of thanks, a gift that shows you thought about the receiver, a donation to a charity in your customers’ names or something else that expresses how you truly feel.
At the very least your action will make at least two people feel good:
The simple truth is in today’s world of computerized production and globalized distribution products work better than we expect them to. If you do a little digging, you’ll discover that many of the components that make up the different products that we purchase all come from the same factories or are built based on the same technology and the same patents. From automobiles to laptops to microwave ovens, functionality is similar or identical to the competition because the origins and components are too.
With the introduction of digital CD technology, the problems associated with old analog record players disappeared. Why? Because unlike analog recording which loses quality and resolution with each pass, duplicating a CD is a lossless procedure and reproduction imposes no degradation or information penalty. This made function cost of entry.
After years of development, televisions have evolved to a level where they don’t break anymore. And because the TV market is mature and most everyone who wants a television has one, there is simply no reason for anyone to purchase a new set.
What happened? TVs got bigger, screens got brighter, and the sound got better so consumers would be incentivized to buy new sets. Cable-ready, DVRs, Hi-Def, smart TVs, and web-enabled boxes were just a few of the features that gave consumers a new way of thinking about and purchasing televisions. Thanks to flat screen technology, consumers could buy larger and larger sets and mount them on their walls, brining the promise of high-quality home theaters to even budget conscious buyers.
If all products and services work equally well, or at least appear to provide similar functionality, then that very functionality becomes an expected commodity. What used to be the most important feature of a product – how well it worked – is no longer an important part of a consumer’s consideration. Why? because function is cost of entry.
Instead, a new mantra has arisen that explains how and why consumers buy into today’s hyper-efficient, hyper-connected society: “People don’t choose you for what you do, they choose you for who you are.”
In other words, when function is cost-of-entry and all products are similar and acceptable, it’s the way a product makes you feel, not the way it works, that matters.
While a state-of-the-art flat screen TV might have more bells and whistles than the older and larger technology, the viewing experience is arguably similar. But the newer flat screens also provide an image of status and affluence that many consumers appreciate.
That’s the pure power of All About Them. It cuts through the clutter and immediately informs your listener that what you have to say is important to them. It often precludes facts and figures because it gets right to the heart of what matters to consumers — their own self-interest.
Here’s the ugly little secret about human behavior and the best marketing that takes advantage of it — people are most concerned with themselves. And while this seems so obvious, it never fails to amaze me how people forget about this when they’re trying to convince someone and fill their marketing messages with superfluous facts and figures that only serve to hide the true meaning that the advertiser is trying to communicate in the first place.
I’m sorry to say that you’ve done it too.
Because when most everything works, function is cost of entry. And consumers, even those with limited means, aren’t just choosing products for what they can accomplish, they are choosing them for what their purchases say about them.
And that’s what my new book is all about – showing you exactly how to harness the sheer power of All About Them to get your point across and convince your customers to see things from your point of view and purchase your products and services.
You can order it HERE.
Here’s a weird bit of time travel: You’re probably reading this post on Wednesday morning or sometime after the presidential election is over. That means you already know who our next president is going to be.
But I wrote this post before the election. And even though it was pretty clear to me who would prevail, there’s no way to know for sure.
That means I’m writing this for you even though you will be a changed person by the time you read this. How can I make my post All About Them when I don’t know exactly who you will be?
Sure, I could take the easy way out and write about an entirely different subject — Building Brand Value — for example, or effective customer service practices. But let’s be honest. While you might care passionately about those things most of the time, right now it’s all election all the time.
And even if you’re suffering from election PTSD (Post (election) Term Stress Disorder) it would still be extremely tough to capture and keep your attention if I wrote about anything other than the election.
Of course I could take the easy way out by recapping what’s already happened over the last two years. But seeing as we both know that already there doesn’t seem to be much value in an exercise like that.
I could simply write about my personal opinion of the election. But we’ve all been beaten to death with other people’s election opinions and none of that helped anyone change their minds anyway.
An interesting subject could be what all of the election fall-out is going to do to Trump’s business brand. But that’s a subject that’s been written about extensively.
Plus, it’s pretty clear to anyone paying attention that before the election, Trump’s brand was known for being luxurious and brash. Now, it’s about being crass and angry. Even Trump’s biographer, Michael D’Antonio, went on CNN’s Reliable Sources and said “I’m hearing that his brand equity is plummeting.” And tourism statistics show Trump’s hotel occupancy has decreased over 17% while visits by female travelers have seen a double-digit drop.
Before you think I’m taking sides here, know that the Trump organization is concerned about this issue too. According to the Chicago Tribune, “Donald J. Trump’s latest business venture is conspicuously missing the one thing brandished on everything from casinos to pearl-encrusted table lamps: His name.” Instead, Trump’s new hotel venture will “be called Scion, offering an alternative to Trump Hotels.”
But if Trump’s already been elected then this point may be moot. After all, if you can’t sleep in the president’s bedroom, maybe you would like to sleep in the president’s hotel room, regardless of what the building is called?
I’d say time will tell but by the time you’re reading this time has told and you already know.
As you’ve probably figured out by now, I haven’t figured it out yet. Instead, I’ll leave you with the words of a president I’m sure we can all agree on – Abraham Lincoln – and then next week we can continue our conversations about how to build a powerful, All About Them brand.
Midcentury modern is a style of architecture, interior design, and product and graphic design that was created from roughly 1933 to 1965. Its development was the work of architects and designers including George Nelson, Eero Saarinen, Richard Nuetra, Arne Jacobsen, Charles and Ray Eames, and more.You know midcentury modern by its clean lines, pared-down forms, and natural materials. As well as its seamless interaction between both the rooms and the between interior and exterior spaces. In case you’re still not sure, you saw midcentury modern design in all its glory on the show Mad Men.
The midcentury aesthetic was a response to — and celebration of — the new world optimism that erupted with the economic boom after World War II. Architects and designers of the times were willing and encouraged to use new shapes and new materials. They also worked to embrace the revolutionary idea of indoor-outdoor living in their joyful designs.
That is why you see midcentury classics such as Saarinen’s Tulip table, Noguchi’s coffee table, Knoll’s sofas, and Castiglioni’s Arco lamp everywhere you look. And it’s why design-forward companies including Design Within Reach, Restoration Hardware, Luminaire, and Herman Miller do such brisk business stocking these classics.
The New York Times quoted “a range of insiders” for their take on midcentury:
LIZ O’BRIEN, 20th-century decorative arts dealer: “I continue to find super-exciting things. That happens often enough to keep me hooked.”
JILL SINGER, a founder of the design magazine Sight Unseen: “It’s beautiful materials, classic simple shapes that can seem timeless.”
JIM BRETT, president, West Elm: “I don’t know if there’s another time period with such a prolific amount of beautifully functional designs.”
MICHAEL BOODRO, editor in chief, Elle Decor: “It looks particularly good in lofts, in glass towers. The upkeep is easy.”
Like these professionals, I’ve been obsessed with the midcentury aesthetic since I was in design school. After an exhaustive search my wife and I found a 1956 midcentury ranch house in Miami’s Pinecrest suburb. We spent the next 15 years removing everything that wasn’t true to the original style while we restored and modernized the rest. In fact, the pictures you’ve been looking at throughout this post are our house. But now that we’re empty nesters, we’re moving to a smaller house that’s closer to town (but still midcentury, of course) and we’re putting our house on the market.
Thanks to the large lots and great schools in our neighborhood, plenty of older houses are being torn down and replaced by starter castles and McMansions. And I understand that could happen to our midcentury masterpiece as well. But if you know someone who loves the style as much as I do and is looking for a great house that was lovingly restored, please have them contact me or our broker.
As the New York Times said, “The best of midcentury design is undeniably beautiful and functional.” Our house is too. And it could be yours.
Greetings from Faro in the heart of the Portuguese Algarve.
We just spent a week in Lisbon and Porto. Now we’re touring the southwest corner of the country before we drive across the border Portugal shares with Spain. We’ll be heading on to Seville and Malaga next.
I’m sitting on the balcony outside the rooftop restaurant at the Faro Hotel and thumb typing this post on my iPhone. I have lots of travel technology so I do have my laptop in the trunk of our rental car but I had a thought I wanted to share and I didn’t want to lose the moment.
Two days ago we were wandering around Lisbon and looking for a place for lunch. None of the places my friends had recommended were nearby so I turned to my travel technology. I opened Trip Advisor on my iPhone and paged through the reviews until I found the Taberna Da Rua Das Flores. I hit the directions button and we followed the dotted line right to the restaurant (which was terrific, by the way).
I pulled the phone out of my pocket again to text my friends who were back at the hotel and even used the amazing Google Translate app to translate the parts of the menu I couldn’t figure out.
I had flight information for the Ryan Air shuttle to Faro in my phone and when we arrived here and picked up the rental car I used Waze to figure out the quickest route to the old town. Because I was rushed before we left home I hadn’t done any research. But I do have my travel technology with me. So a quick web surf led us to the Rococo Igreja do Carmo and the Capela dos Ossos. Its chapel was constructed with 1,245 human skulls and other bones donated by the monks who had been buried in the nearby cemetery. Their motto? “What you are, we were. What we are, you’ll be.”
Next a web-based travel blog led me to the Ria Fomosa rooftop restaurant where I’m punching out this post. I’ll have to let you know how the codfish risotto and fig, almond, and ice cream cake are.
I even used the What’s App to track down a friend of a friend in Guimarães and plan drinks and dinner when we got there.
I remember driving through the Chianti region of Tuscany looking for addresses that we could never find (pre travel technology, of course). We were always lost. But we were lost in Tuscany.
I recall staring dumfounded at a street of restaurants in a strange city and trying to figure out where to eat. Of course I’d try to make eye-contact with friendly-faced diners hoping they’d give me the secret thumbs up sign but mostly I’d just wind up looking like a stalker. Sometimes we’d find a good meal – sometimes we wouldn’t.
I remember trying to order off menus written in languages I didn’t speak and then wondering why the waiter couldn’t understand my request for “delicately poached tractor pieces with metal shavings and petroleum sauce.”
I don’t mean to sound like a Luddite and I certainly don’t want to over-romanticize the dark days of wandering around without a clue and without a way of finding one. And I know that my question is the perfect definition of a first world problem. But I’m interested in hearing what you think and what you’ve gained and lost thanks to today’s travel technology and yesterday’s lack of the same. Besides my own curiosity, I think your answers will be important for us to better understand the travel brands we build for companies and destinations around the world and how we can make them resonate even more with their customers.
Please scroll to the bottom of the page to post your thoughts on travel technology. And if you’ve got a good place to recommend for lunch in Malaga I’d like to hear that too.
Every four years Americans (and those who pay attention to American politics) are treated to one of the best living laboratories of marketing and branding available anywhere – the race for president of The United States.
In the POTUS contest we find a zero sum game that is won or lost based on the allocation of three non-renewable resources – dollars, attention, and votes. If I had more time I could effectively argue why the function of the candidates themselves (i.e., where they stand on the issues) is not the main reason why most get elected. Instead, it’s the power of their brand value and their ability to distribute that brand message through technology.
For example, between 1933 and 1944 Franklin Delano Roosevelt enthralled American citizens with his “Fireside Chats.” Of course, what we know today is that by harnessing the newest outreach technology of his time – radio – FDR cemented his position as a media master.
In 1960 candidate John F. Kennedy also mastered a nascent technology when he beat Richard Nixon for the presidency. Historians attribute JFK’s win to his superior performance in the first televised presidential debate. Ironically, those who listened to the event on radio said Nixon won the contest but television viewers gave the victory – and the presidency – to the more youthful appearing JFK.
In 2008 and again in 2012, an almost unknown candidate with an unlikely name, Barack Hussein Obama, rode his media mastery all the way to the Oval Office. In this case it was Obama’s understanding of the Internet and how to use the emerging technology to attract both dollars and devotees that assured his successes first over John McCain and then Mitt Romney.
And in 2016 Donald Trump used new tech – in Trump’s case reality television and social media – to win his party’s nomination (the presidency has not yet been officially decided).
In three of these instances it was the early adoption of the most popular and available communication technologies of the time that helped their masters become the President of The United States. In the fourth, utilizing state-of-the-art technology gave Trump his party’s nomination. But a deeper look reveals that it was a profound understanding of their audiences that gave each of them their advantage.
In each case the candidates displayed a clear All About Them strategy that made their supporters feel good about themselves. In FDR’s case it was his famous quote, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” These simple words empowered Americans battered by the Great Depression and frightened by the rise of both Nazi power in Europe and Japanese aggression in Asia to move forward into the global reality with confidence.
Likewise JFK’s vision of Camelot, expressed in both his words and his movie star visage, also empowered Americans to embrace hope and opportunity.
Obama did the same with his now famous three-word mantra, “Yes we can!” Obama’s line was positive (“Yes”), inclusive (“We”), and aspirational (“Can”). As a matter of fact, I believe “Yes we can” will go down in history as the second or third best advertising line ever written (Want to know the first two? Drop me a line and I’ll tell you).
And even Donald Trump – who has taken a decidely more negative approach to his communications than the previous three – makes his followers feel better about themselves. After all, if a successful billionaire such as Trump can speak as despairingly as he has about women, Mexicans, Moslems, disabled reporters, Jews, and other minorities, then perhaps less successful people who have said (or thought) the same things can feel better about themselves for what was heretofore socially unacceptable behavior.
The idea of creating an All About Them brand can be summed up this way: A good brand makes people feel good. A great brand makes people feel good about themselves. Powerful brands from Apple to Zynga have used this simple yet profound formula to create the transformational brand value that generates enormous shareholder value. Powerful politicians use the same effective know-how to win their seats. Especially when they run for the president of the United States. And you can do it to build your personal and professional success too.
By now you’ve probably heard the joke about Trump and Samsung:
What do the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 and Donald Trump have in common?
One overheats for no reason, spontaneously bursts into flames, and is creating a disastrous situation for its stakeholders and supporters.
The other is a smartphone.
I know, I know. You’d laugh if it didn’t make you want to cry.
But despite the obvious similarities for Trump and Samsung and their brands, the way they’re handling their problems are light years apart. And the difference is something you can learn from, whether you’re a Samsung user – or a Trump supporter – or not.
While the electronics giant is trying to figure out if it’s only a battery defect that’s affecting their Note 7 smartphones, Samsung has announced they’ve decided to stop producing the entire line. Their official announcement is that it’s for the sake of consumer safety and for Samsung to regain the trust of their consumers. According to CBC News, Samsung will also “provide a full refund at the original price or replace Note 7 units with any other model of Samsung phone, and give refunds of the difference in prices, along with a 300 yuan ($45) voucher.” But I’m sure as days pass Samsung will significantly sweeten the pot and make sure that their consumers know how contrite and concerned the company feels.
Trump has taken a very different tact. Instead of apologizing for any of his misdeeds, the Republican presidential candidate has doubled down on his aggressive strategy. He’s written his vulgar words off as “locker room talk” and tried to pivot by accusing former president Bill Clinton of doing much worse. And Trump continues to toss red meat to his supporters with his hastily arranged press conferences, promises of investigating Hillary Clinton, and accusations that the press is even more crooked than his opponent.
First, unlike Trump the politician, Samsung is not a one-trick pony. Even though it’s estimated that their exploding smartphones will cost the company four to five billion dollars, Samsung earns income and continues to please customers with their semi-conductors, display panels, and even their other smartphone, the flagship S-series.
Trump, on the other hand, has no other political options. Election day will be a make-it or break-it for him and his campaign.
Second, because Samsung is attacking the problem head on they still have the chance to prove that the faith their loyal fans have trusted in them was not misplaced. Because Trump is not admitting any wrongdoing (other than saying he was embarrassed and sorry “…if anyone was offended”) he will have to face the wrath of the electorate once he fails to lead them to the promised land.
Finally, Samsung has lots of upcoming chances to introduce new innovations and sexy new reasons for people to reconsider their products. But Trump is playing a zero-sum game. Ever since the 12th amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1804, the second place finisher in the race for the US presidency does not get to be vice-president. Instead, one candidate goes on to occupy the White House while the other goes home to lick their wounds.
It’s true that Trump’s approach has energized his base. Unfortunately for Trump and his followers, his brand strategy doesn’t make mathematical sense. Because while hundreds or even thousands of people may clap and cheer at Trump’s rallies, millions of Americans vote (126 million in 2012). And while the majority of those voters won’t be voting for Trump, they might be following the election results on their new Samsung smartphone.