Being Relevant, Empowering, and Significant.

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I was sitting in the audience at the The National Speakers Association annual meeting listening to Jay Baer, the author of the social media how-to guide, Youtility, talk about how to promote blogs. After hearing Jay list many of the things I’ve been doing with this blog for years, I elbowed my seat neighbor Scott Halford in the ribs and rolled my eyes.

Jay Baer

Jay Baer

“Now I’m really bummed about my blog,” I whispered.

“What are you bummed about?” Scott asked. “Your blog’s great.”

“That’s the problem,” I answered. “I’m not unhappy because my blog is bad. I’m unhappy because it’s good.”

Scott made a face that said I was crazy and turned back to listen to the speaker.

Although it’s been attributed to many different people, in her book A Return To Love, Marianne Williamson wrote:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’”

In his latest blog post Would They Burn Your Jersey?, Randy Gage wrote about LeBron James leaving Miami to return to Cleveland:

“If you want to be a thought leader, market leader, or change the world – you have to give up the need to be liked. Telling people what they want to hear makes you popular. Telling people what they need to hear makes you relevant, empowering, and significant.”

Relevant, empowering, and significant. THAT’S what I want my blog to be. Come to think of it, that’s what I want my professional advice to be. That’s what I want my parental advice to be. Hell, that’s what I want to be. Relevant, empowering, significant.

Looking at it through that lens it should be pretty easy to figure out what to write next, what to design next, what to do next. Being relevant, empowering, and significant means that the ideas that are shooting around through my head need to be creative and focused and delivered in such a way that they matter to others simply because they matter.

Randy Gage

Randy Gage

Being relevant, empowering, and significant means that social expediency has to take a back seat to real-world usefulness. It means we need to speak our truth even when covering it up might be the easier thing to do. It means we have to be willing to suffer the slings and arrows – literal AND figurative – that the others who don’t want to hear our message might fling our way.

Being relevant, empowering, and significant means that we have to strangle our circumspect misgivings, the ones that ask Williamson’s question, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?” and answer it with her second question, “Who (am I) NOT to be?”

Being relevant, empowering, and significant means we have to stand up and deliver what we know to be right – even when we’re not so sure that anyone wants to hear it. Because the alternative is unacceptable. Because the alternative trades momentary comfort for eternal uselessness. Because the alternative opens the door to the darkness.

Being relevant, empowering, and significant means that we have to accept the importance of what we do, think, and feel and move forward with the true conviction of belief even when we’re not entirely sure we are actually strong enough to believe in the first place.

Rebecca Staton-Reinstein introduced me to the Japanese psychiatrist Shoma Morita who entreated us to, “Know your purpose. Feel your feelings. Do what must be done.”

Morita, Baer, Williamson, Gage, and so many others are trying to show us the path to being relevant, empowering, and significant. All we have to do is take it.

Posted on July 14th, 2014


How Perception Creates Reality. Or, Eggs Used to be Good for You.

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Eggs used to be good for you. Along with some crispy bacon and toast with butter, they were part of a healthy breakfast – or so they said. Then all of a sudden eggs were bad for you. Too much cholesterol. Then the yellows were bad for you but the whites were good. Now our perception is that eggs are good for you again.

For hundreds of thousands of years, before systemized agriculture, early humans lived on animal fats and proteins. Granted, we didn’t live much past 45 years old because the world was an inhospitable place back then. But sometime around the middle to end of the last century, meats – and specifically animal fats – were deemed bad for us. Nutritionists and physicians alike recommended a diet high in whole grains and low in fat. Unfortunately, after almost 40 years of this diet, obesity rates are higher than ever and we’re starting to hear that the culprit is carbohydrate – white sugar and white flour mostly, but also the formerly deified whole grains.

All of a sudden animal protein and fats are back. And nutritionists and food writers from Nina Teicholz to Gary Taubes are falling all over themselves to recommend a return to the high fat, low-fiber diets our grandparents ate. Marbled meats, butter and cream, offal, and even bacon, are making their dramatic return on trendy menus and people’s plates.

It’s good for you. It’s bad for you. It’s good for you. It’s bad for you. Wait, now it’s good for you again. How can anyone be expected to know what they should be eating, especially when the perception is that the experts don’t know either?

The pendulum of political viewpoints and solutions, too, swings from apex to apex – collecting acolytes and fanatics along the way. These folks build their worldview on the hearsay and unproven theories that appeal to them the most. They often spout personal opinions disguised as empirical evidence and use the unsubstantiated historical references they believe confirm their beliefs. If you’ve tried to have a conversation with someone who’s firmly set in their ways and lives in the reassuring echo chamber of media sources that support their dogmatic perceptions, you know it’s an exercise in futility. After all, you can’t logically talk someone out of something they didn’t logically talk themselves into.

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 12.22.48 PM

As Patrick Daniel Moynihan famously said, “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” But as we’ve seen, the problems start when viewpoints are presented as facts and perception becomes confused with truth.

This comingling of fact and fiction gets even worse in the arena of public opinion where perception serves as reality. The history of marketing is littered with examples of better products that didn’t succeed because of the perceived value of their competitors. Betamax lost to VHS even thought the former was technologically superior. Post (and pre) Jobs Apple almost lost to IBM even though the product was more advanced. GM’s Saturn — “A different kind of car company, a different kind of car” — went the way of the dodo bird as did Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and Saab because the perception of their brand value couldn’t compete in the marketplace.

What’s both beneficial and dangerous about perception is how powerfully it drives our actions. Physicians and pharmacists have long accepted the placebo and nocebo effect, where patients respond positively to the medicines they believe will help them regardless of the content of the actual drugs they’re taking.

Consumers buy based on perception. Voters vote based on perception, too. Public opinion shifts based on numerous factors, many of which have no actual basis in function or reality but still affect business and political outcomes in very real and consequential ways.

As our worlds become more and more digital and increasingly separated from physical realities, what is evident is that perception, and the ability to harness and control perception, is becoming more important than ever. And in a world of constantly changing recommendations and advice, consumers are looking for things they can believe in and thought leaders they can trust. They’re looking for the sense of Tribal Equity™ that reassures them that their perceptions are right, the world is secure and their direction is correct.

Even if they’re not so sure about eating eggs.

Posted on July 8th, 2014


What Does Today’s Consumer Want Today?

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We jogged past the Matheson Hammock tidal basin and reached the bay just as half of the giant sun poked above the horizon and Biscayne Bay reflected a brilliant orange carpet straight to the shore. Neither Bob, Tim nor I had our phones with us so the scene will have to live in our memories exactly the way it seared across our optic nerves.

Of course we’re all old enough to be okay with that. But if we were millennials the experience might not have had much value if we couldn’t upload it to our favorite social media sites. It’s sort of the 21st century version of the old riddle about a tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear it: If something great happens to you and you can’t post it on Facebook did it really happen?

Millennials are searching for authenticity and reality and some of that need is satisfied when they share their lives online. But I think this also heralds a larger phenomenon that we are all feeling – regardless of age.

A host of realities have combined (conspired?) to change the world we live in so quickly, so profoundly, and so comprehensively that many of us are still wandering around wondering why our old habits no longer succeed. Quite simply, a lot of the old techniques that once assured personal and professional success simply don’t pay off anymore.

  • Thanks to the great recession, many companies don’t need the bloated bureaucracies they used to require. If you were a well-paid middle manager and you were laid off, you’re probably finding that the jobs you used to interview for are nowhere to be found.
  • Thanks to technology, many companies can produce products of market-acceptable quality regardless of where they are around the world. If you’ve been selling your products based on how they function or how good they are, you might be discovering that your sales are slipping or have fallen off completely.
  • Thanks to the ubiquitous reach of the Internet and faster and faster delivery services, consumers can buy whatever they want from wherever and whomever they want. If you’re a bricks and mortar business that relied on foot traffic, you might be waking up to the new reality that your customers are using you as a hands-on showroom before they purchase online.

If you’ve experienced any of these situations, you’re probably wondering what to do to build — or rebuild — the business you want. What is becoming clearer is that today’s consumer is looking for ways to find authenticity and real passion in a world full of digitally homogenized pabulum. The answer is what we’ve discussed so many times before in this blog — that is that while a good brand makes people feel good, a great brand makes people feel good about themselves. Consumers want brands that deliver what they promise while also delivering a good dose of positive experiences. This is the concept of Tribal Equity™, the value of a person or organization’s identity to the tribe(s) that matter most to them.

In the case of brand phenom Harley-Davidson, senior vice president and chief marketing officer Mark-Hans Richer told The New York Times this about the iconic motorcycle’s fist electric vehicle: “To be a true Harley… it has to be cool. It has to make you feel something important about yourself.” When asked about the technical descriptions Richer added, “We’re not getting into spec wars at this time. The point is how you feel riding it.”

Electric-Harley-Final

The way to create this feeling is to deliver the true essence of what it is you or your company provides. Harley’s Tribal Signature™ is not a trumped up, over-hyped, generic facsimile manufactured to be all things to all people, but their simple truth. What people want is what they get from the artisans at their farmers’ market, the engineers at Tesla, the musicians in The E-Street Band, the chefs in that exciting new food truck, the software engineers at Adobe, the athletes on the US soccer team, the pilots in the Blue Angels, and yes, the gear heads at Harley-Davidson. The truth.

E-Street-Final

If it’s just another product, consumers may or may not work harder to get it, may or may not spend more to buy it, and probably won’t pursue it if it’s not readily available online. These products or services may in fact cost more and you may have to work harder to get them (walk down the alley, wait in line, get on a waiting list…whatever). But consumers will pay more and work harder to get it because that’s what the magnet of truth does.

Lucky for you, it’s already there. Like the rising sun we enjoyed this morning, your truth already exists, hidden in plain sight. All you have to do is figure out how to identify it and develop it. The rest is easy. If you’re interested in learning how to do it, stick around. I’ll address that soon.

Posted on June 30th, 2014


Hey World Cup, What You China Do?

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Did you see what China just did? Amidst cries of outrage and scads of adverse attention, they managed to shift the negative news they’ve been receiving away from their cultural and politically significant aggression and toward fuzzy pandas.

After all, everyone loves pandas.

Time Magazine and The Wall Street Journal reported that China is backing out of a stunt in which pandas would make World Cup predictions.

Chinese-Soldier-FinalAccording to a spokesperson for China Conservation and Research Center, authorities worry that the swarm of people and cameras watching the animals prognosticate could endanger them.

It was reported that the pandas were expected to call matches by “either picking food from bowls marked with the national colors of competing teams, or by scaling trees flying certain flags.” What’s more, the South China Morning Post suggested that the pandas “would take part in races wearing the vests of different nations to predict winning teams.”

Remember all the press China was receiving for completely obliterating coverage of June 4th’s 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protest? The New York Times wrote that “even by the standards of the clampdowns that routinely mark politically sensitive dates in China… the anniversary of the day in 1989 when soldiers brutally ended student-led protests in Tiananmen Square has been particularly severe.”

How about China’s amusing shenanigans in the South China Sea? According to Reuters, Vietnam is protesting Chinese oilrigs and drilling in waters traditionally claimed by the smaller country. The conflict began when a Chinese rig was installed 150 miles off the coast of Vietnam. Hanoi says that the platform is within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone and on its continental shelf. China has said the rig is operating completely within its waters. But then China claims dominance over the entire South China Sea, including areas that the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan all claim are within their territorial waters as well.

So which do you think creates more newsworthy photo-ops?

Panda-Final

Taciturn Chinese soldiers or fuzzy pandas? How about energy workers in oil-stained slickers or giant puffball bears? Clearly the old magician’s sleight of hand works exceedingly well in public relations (PR).

And it’s not just China. Which do you prefer?

Brazil’s teeming favela slums and Amazon deforestation or exciting World Cup soccer action?

Cable companies push for monopolistic net neutrality or new seasons of Game of Thrones and House of Cards?

Misdirection is a classic PR strategy – used whenever seasoned practitioners need to distract their audiences’ attention away from what matters to what titillates.

Just like a catastrophic weather event can push a political scandal off the front page, manufactured events—planned or not—can do the same thing.

Remember rancher Cliven Bundy’s anti-government rebellion and racist screeds? They were mercifully supplanted by Donald Sterling’s not so sterling tongue, which was in turn pushed off of the front pages by the Washington Redskins’ baseless defense of their unfortunate name that all but disappeared in the wake the basketball championships.

Pay attention the next time the media starts foaming at the mouth over a “storm of the century” flood, earthquake or hurricane. If you carefully peruse the financial news, you’ll see announcements of reduced earnings, massive layoffs or automotive recalls. Companies actually wait for these unfortunate events to slip their bad news out to an otherwise distracted audience.

And when there’s no storm, celebrity divorce or other scandal to provide an appropriate smokescreen, the creative PR practitioner can always count on pandas.

 

Posted on June 23rd, 2014


How Do You Do Your To Dos?

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How difficult is it for you to keep up-to-date with your to-do list? In 2010 I wrote a blog on my to-do list problems and it’s turned out to be one of my most popular posts to date, so I’ve assumed that to-do list problems are pretty universal. Funny thing is the article really wasn’t about my to-do list or to-do list management at all, but rather about what to do when in those rare moments when you finally get all the issues screaming for attention done.

Since then, I’ve tried lots of different solutions to try to keep organized and lessen the stress of keeping track of everything that needs to be accomplished. The first thing I did was to read David Allen’s genre-defining book, Getting Things Done (GTD). Allen’s system is comprehensive and complete but turned out to be way too complicated for me – I believe it would actually take more time to manage his system than to simply do what needs to be done. Funny, too, because Allen’s system promises that Getting Things Done is “The Art of Stress-Free Productivity,” but I found it to be even more stressful than just doing nothing.

After that I tried lots of different programs for my computer and apps for my phone. I created lists and codes, scribbled on Post-it notes, dabbled with Evernote, and even wrote Excel spreadsheets. But nothing I tried was clear or simple enough to work for very long.

To-Do-List-Final

Somewhere in my quest for the Holy Grail of personal organization, I stumbled across a series of online videos titled The Secret Weapon (TSW). Even though I hate watching online videos – and dislike instructional videos most of all – I sat through all 11 chapters and immediately set up the system they recommend. Ironically, TSW is a combination of David Allen’s Getting Things Done and Evernote software, both of which I had previously rejected as far too complicated and difficult to incorporate into my life. But TSW’s online videos make the system so easy and so sensible that I figured it was worth a try.

After a year with TSW and GTD, here’s where I stand:

  • I’m a total convert to the TSW method. I haven’t looked at other software or tried other systems. TSW just plain works for me.
  • I’ve got my to-do lists cross-referenced across my desktop computer, laptop, iPad, and iPhone. That means that wherever I am I always have access to my lists and notes, and can add information and updates whenever necessary.
  • I have 1,636 active notes, 880 completed tasks, 447 archived memos, and 4,512 notes in the trash. While that might sound like an insurmountable pile, thanks to Evernote’s tags they are all instantly searchable and available at the swipe of a finger.
  • I even have notebooks set up for my assistant, agent, and others in my office so I can stay on top of tasks I’ve delegated and follow up when necessary.

The SecretWeapon.org system combined with Evernote is a lifehack that I can’t recommend highly enough (for the record, I have no connection with either TSW or Evernote other than being a satisfied user of both). Yes, the ramp-up is a little confusing and uncomfortable, mostly because you have to accept new ways of doing things you’ve probably done a different way for your entire life. And backsliding is to be expected although it’s no different with this system than it is with any other meaningful life change you’ve attempted (dieting, exercising, quitting a bad habit, etc.). The good news it that the payoff is spectacular and liberating.

TSW.org-Final

What’s not spectacular is the price. TSW is free and so is Evernote. After you use Evernote for a while you’ll probably pay the $45 upgrade fee to their premium subscription, but you don’t have to commit to that until you’re a hardcore power user and ready for the extra features. And because Evernote is completely cross-platform, it works with the various digital devices you already own. There’s nothing else to buy.

So what have you got to lose? A few hours watching the videos and a few more setting the system up. After that, the only things you might miss are the scraps of paper you scribble notes on, the various datebooks and legal pad lists you might still be using, and the stress of keeping track of whatever it is you need to do next.

Posted on June 18th, 2014


The Incredible Lightness of Travel

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If you’ve read my blog before you know I’m obsessed with traveling light. That’s because a minimalist mindset makes travel more enjoyable and stress-free. Also I believe there are only two kinds of luggage – carry-on and lost. I’ve written about this before, listing a bunch of road-tested travel tips HERE and HERE.

My business partner and I used to go to a lot of industry events. We’d sit in way too cold conference rooms listening to lectures by the SVP of marketing for Humongo Company or director of international relations for Gigantis Corp. During the speech, Roberto would whisper, “You think this person ever made payroll?” When I’d answer, “No, payroll arrives from HR regardless,” Roberto would walk out. If the speaker didn’t walk the walk, why hear her talk the talk?

It’s the same with travel advice. And knowing Roberto would read this blog, and that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly, I made sure it was accurate and “real-world tested” before I uploaded it for you.

My family and I recently made the trip of a lifetime through Southeast Asia. All of us — my wife, kids, and mom — only took carry-on luggage. But I went further and took as few clothes as possible so I could report back to you.

What I learned is that there are three strategies that make all the difference: color coordination, fabric selection, and clothing utility.

The importance of color palette is easy to understand. I only brought black, gray or blue clothes. That way everything matched everything else and I never ran out of combinations.

Fabric is critical, too. Certain cloths are lighter and easier to pack, wash, and dry quickly, don’t hold odor, and keep you comfortable. The magic words are nylon, merino, and wool crepe. Ultra light merino wool shirts and socks from Icebreaker and SmartWool are comfortable on warm and cool days, easy to wash in the shower, don’t retain odor, and don’t itch. Really.

Woven nylon is another great fabric. Nylon cargo shorts and pants are comfortable and easy to wash, drying more quickly than cotton. Best – the new nylon looks and feels like cotton canvas so you don’t look like a fly fisherman.

What did I take? Here’s my entire list:

Three pairs of pants – one pair of light wool suit pants, Clothing Arts cargos, and a pair of Lululemon nylon pants that look dressy but stretch like sweats — perfect for red-eyes.

Three pairs of shorts – two nylon cargos and one pair of athletic shorts for jogging, gym, and pool.

Three pairs of ExOfficio travel underwear. Two are plenty but I splurged and brought an extra pair. I know, I’m wild.

Three t-shirts – two ultra-light weight merino wool tees and one dri-fit running shirt.

One no-iron cotton button-down. Besides being easy-care, you can wear a button-down with a suit and tie or roll up the sleeves and wear it untucked with shorts. You can’t do that with more formal dress shirts.

Three pair of socks – gray and black lightweight merino wool and one pair of low-cut running socks.

Shoes – one pair of black dress sneakers (mine are from To Boot but they’re available from most designers), one pair of Nike Free running shoes (with collapsible heels that I wrote about HERE) and flip-flops for the pool.

Nike-Free-Final

What else? A lightweight merino wool sweater, wool crepe sport coat (folds small and hardly wrinkles – if it does, it straightens in a steamy bathroom), travel belt with leather-covered plastic buckle that doesn’t set off TSA alarms, zip-up running jacket (for cold planes), knit silk tie (absolutely does not wrinkle), and a SmartWool watch cap for rain, cold, and to pull down over my eyes to sleep on planes.

Besides clothes, I brought a few harmonicas, Garmin running watch, Apple MacBook Air and iPhone, Samsung DV300F camera, noise-canceling headphones, a reduced toiletry kit, sketch book, and laptop charger – I charged everything else by running their USB cables into my MacBook. All of this – plus a Mountain Smith day bag, fit in my 22” overhead-sized carryon.

Were there downsides? Sure — some mornings I felt like putting on something different but it wasn’t because my clothes weren’t clean or comfortable. And each night I had to wash what I wore that day in the shower but that only added a few minutes in the bathroom.

I know you women are wondering if my wife also took a single carry-on. I’m proud to say she did. Gloria brought gauzy pants and tops that fold up small, silky dresses that also take up little space and colorful scarves to brighten up her relatively subdued palette. She brought four pair of shoes – loafers, running shoes, and low- and high-heeled sandals. And she brought a set of travel curlers from Hot Tools. My mom and daughter also fit everything in a single carryon.

If this seems too Spartan for you, remember that a credit card in your pocket means you can purchase anything you’ve forgotten or can’t live without. But if you forget some of the selection you’re used to, I promise you an easier and much more enjoyable trip.

Luggage-Final

 

Posted on June 1st, 2014


Beware of Silos and Rock Pits

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Silo-SignWhen I was a kid growing up on Miami Beach, the public service announcements we saw regularly were about the evils of littering and the dangers of silos and rock pits. Because of the constant brainwashing I received, I am a virulent anti-litterer. So much so that when I see someone litter I actually have a negative physical reaction.

I don’t have the same reaction to silos or rock pits because I never knew what they were – apparently there are not a lot of either to be found on Miami Beach.

They haven’t gotten any safer, though. Geology.com reports that accidents in the rock pits found at abandoned mines and quarries claim 20 to 30 lives per year, mostly due to drowning. And silos are just as dangerous. A 2012 article in The New York Times blames silos in farming communities for more than 80 deaths since 2007 and at least 26 deaths in 2010 alone.

Funny then that the advertising industry is fond enough of the word “silo” to use it to describe the different groups of consumers that it reaches out to. Different demographic populations are differentiated and placed in silos based on their various attributes, so that marketing messages and media can be created and utilized based on whom the advertisers are trying to attract. And so strategies, campaigns, and even specialty agencies are created to reach not only general market consumers but also African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and LGBT customers as well as groups defined by age, income, marital status, education, and more.

You can often see this especially targeted work when you watch television, read magazines or surf the web. And if you spend time with specialized niche media – magazines aimed at the gay and lesbian consumer, for example, or a TV show that targets younger consumers, or a Spanish-language website – you’ll notice that the advertising is chock-full of the people, languages, and cultural cues (fashion, music, dances, etc.) that the advertisers assume their intended viewers will appreciate.

Unfortunately, these seemingly well-reasoned attempts at consumer-specific advertising often go awry because the practitioners ignore a simple fact of the modern demographic experience: Today’s niche consumers don’t live in one silo but can occupy many at the same time. So it should come as no surprise that a consumer could be a black, Spanish-speaking, gay man with small children or a young, affluent, single Asian woman. And both consumers, as different as they might appear, could have a preference for J.Crew jeans, Starbucks Coffee, Rolex watches, and Prius hybrids.

silo-diagrams-framed

But it gets worse. Not only do these multiple-silo consumers make up a greater and greater percentage of today’s population but, in fact, we all move from one silo to another depending on what, when, and where we’re purchasing our favorite products.

Think about the last time you went to the grocery store. If you were buying items for a fancy dinner party or your most special recipe you probably splurged on the ingredients without much regard to cost, much the same as a one-percenter might shop. But then if you were buying laundry detergent, say, or cat litter – something you don’t care much about – you might be as price conscious and penurious as a low-income shopper because the product you were purchasing had little value to you.

When you’re buying over-the-counter drugs, perhaps you save money by buying generics because the FDA requires that “generic applicants must scientifically demonstrate that their product is bioequivalent” and you know you won’t sacrifice performance. But then maybe you splurge on luxury vodka because you think it tastes better even though the ATF’s (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) standard legal definition assures us that “it’s neutral spirits… treated as to be without distinctive character, aroma, or taste.”

And so, like their lethal counterparts that dot the rural landscape, marketing silos can be just as dangerous to advertisers who treat them casually and without thought and respect. The answer is to be sure that your marketing messages are carefully created to be All About Them, built to generate specific consumer responses, and not to simply meet a convenient demographic standard.

Posted on May 26th, 2014


Do You Read The Signs?

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With his dark sunglasses, slicked back hair, and untucked short-sleeve shirts, Mr. R was the coolest dad in our Miami Beach neighborhood. He’d pick us up in his enormous navy blue Lincoln Continental, and let us slide across the slickly mink-oiled cordovan leather bench seats while he screeched around the corners. He’d never even ask us to make sure the car doors were locked before we slammed into them.

At bar mitzvahs and weddings, Mr. R was always the cool dad slipping us drinks – usually screwdrivers or Jack & Cokes – even though we mostly didn’t want them. And Mr. R even let me fire his handgun when we were tramping through the sable palms up in Cocoa Beach, looking at a piece of property he was interested in developing.

No-Parking-FinalBut the best part of being with Mr. R was that he would park anywhere – in loading zones, in driveways, even on the sidewalk. When we’d tell Mr. R that he was parking illegally, he’d tell us that he wasn’t – we were just reading the signs incorrectly. According to Mr. R, the signs didn’t say, “No Parking Anytime” but were actually responding to the question, “Is it true I can’t park here?” with the answer, “No. Parking Anytime.”

Of course, we now recognize all of this as bad behavior but back then we felt like we were living large with a real-life member of the “The Rat Pack.”

Mrs. S wasn’t a cool mom but she was a great cook. The best night to have dinner at her house was when she grilled lamb chops. With three sons between 12 and 16 and their friends sitting around the table, Mrs. S would bring out never-ending platters and platters piled with the fragrant crusty chops. At some point, one of us would stop stuffing our faces just long enough to compliment Mrs. S on the great dinner.

“Of course, sweetheart,” she’d respond “I always get my lamb at Maxwell’s. You can’t beat their meat.”

“YOU CAN’T BEAT THEIR MEAT??!!” Hearing our friend’s mom say, “You can’t beat their meat” would throw the table full of adolescent boys into paroxysms of laughter until one of us could catch his breath long enough to sputter, “And you can’t lick their chops either,” before erupting back into waves of hysterics.

Mrs. S would just “tsk tsk” bemusedly and shuffle back into the kitchen, never letting on that she was aware of what just happened. Of course now we understand that Mrs. S knew exactly what was going on and the joke was on us, but back then we had no idea.

Slow-Kids FinalMy hilarious friends Brian Walter, Ron Culberson, David Glickman, and Bill Stainton have taught me that humor comes from the unexpected – Mr. R’s sign reading, perhaps; or Mrs. S’s double entendres. When you anticipate one thing but experience something else, that can be funny.

I’m not a customer service expert like my friends Shep Hyken and Holly Stiel, but I do know that your brand is built not just with logos and banner ads but also through every touch point between your company and your customer. Where this gets dicey is when our interpretation of the messages we’re sending out is different from the messages our customers perceive.

Just like Mr. R’s interpretation of Miami Beach’s parking signs, our customers look at what we say and decipher our messages the way they want to – not necessarily the way we plan. And so, my mantra of All About Them reminds us that we have to work doubly hard to make sure we are building brands and brand messages that not only reinforce what we offer, but also resonate with our customers. Otherwise, our actions can actually work against our desire to build our brand value.

Whether they knew it or not, Mr. R and Mrs. S built their brand value not with logos and taglines but with every single bit of their actions and behaviors. Whether you know it or not, you do too.

Posted on May 12th, 2014