The Key To Building Your Brand.
“I blew out my flip flop, Stepped on a pop top; Cut my heel, had to cruise on back home.”
Those aren’t just some of the lyrics to Jimmy Buffett’s 1977 song Margaritaville. They contain the secret message to his stellar success in music and business.
Maybe it’s no surprise that such a powerful branding ethos should come from a Jimmy Buffett ditty. After all, Buffett is a masterful brander who mixed simple country tunes with an aspirational lifestyle to create a powerful and multifaceted brand. The New York Times says Buffet’s enterprises include an $800 million family resort and over $1.5 billion in annual sales.
Think about Indian Fakirs laying on a bed of nails. First, they lower themselves onto a surface constructed of thousands of razor sharp spikes. While their audiences gasp in amazement, the Fakirs lay on their ghastly divans in apparent comfort. And when they finally rise – they do so easily, appearing no worse for the experience.
But according to the song, a barefoot Buffett stepped on an errant soda top and had to head home to care for his injury.
I believe this advice inspired Buffett’s entire business and branding strategy.
Why? Because simply put, one point, even a dull pop top, is more powerful than thousands of perfectly sharpened points. In other words, despite all the different ways Buffett engages his audiences, his brand is singularly focused.
Whether you’re attending Buffett’s concerts, drinking his Landshark Beer or sipping his Margaritaville Rum, wearing his jewelry, listening to his online radio station, eating in his restaurants or staying in his resort, you’re always consuming the same message.
Kick off your shoes, enjoy the tropical breeze, and lighten up.
When you think about building your brand, think about the best brands you buy and the brands you love. Regardless of what business they’re in, they also have a singular way of telling you who they are, what they do, and why it should matter to you.
Disney is The Happiest Place on Earth.
Lexus offers The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection.
DeBeers taught us that A Diamond is Forever.
The US Army promised you could Be All That You Can Be.
Nike encouraged us to Just Do It.
And Vegas told us with a wink, What Happens Here Stays Here.
Now compare those singular messages with the complicated and overwrought way you probably describe your own company and your own services.
No matter how critically important all of your facts and figures are, if you need to list them every time you describe your competitive advantages you’re creating a bed of nails. And as we’ve already seen, while that might be a great way to create a comfortable place to lay down, it’s not a very good way to grow your brand.
Or your business.
Do you know where good ideas come from?
Don’t feel bad, I don’t either.
Surprising, perhaps, considering I’m responsible for coming up with great ideas for our clients every single day.
I know how to present ideas; I know how to sell ideas. And like the blind pig finding the occasional truffle, I even create some good ones now and again.
I just don’t know where they come from.
And once you frighten them, others don’t show up.
The other thing I know is they don’t suffer criticism well. That’s not to say all ideas are good ideas and should be used, only that criticizing ideas at the same time you’re trying to come up with them is the way to make sure you don’t come up with any more.
Finally, I know shooting down new ideas is the quickest way to prove they won’t ever work.
Plenty of people will shoot down your ideas, whether they realize it or not. And so, you must be on constant alert, vigilant to the telltale signs of idea killing.
Like a feral cat hunkering down before it pounces on an unwitting bird, concepticidal maniacs clearly telegraph their intentions, both with body- and spoken-language markers.
The other way to know when Concepticides are getting ready to pounce is when their superiors ask them for opinions and they’re in the position to show off. The equation is elementary: when Concepticides compliment you they hear themselves saying, “You’re smart.” But when they practice concepticide and shoot down your ideas they’re telling their boss or their client they’re smart.
After all, if they just left it up to you, who knows what crazy things you’d come up with?
Like children, ideas only live up to their potential and achieve greatness when they’re accepted, nourished, and encouraged to thrive. Whether you’re the mother or father, creator or patron, it is your responsibility to fight concepticide whenever it rears its ugly head.
You know the old joke:
Q: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
A: “Practice, man, practice.”
This joke was probably never funny but it was accurate. In the old days before the Internet was as common as sense is not, the ability to do something well was the best predictor of success.
People paid more money for better products. And publications such as Consumer Reports provided consumers with information about which products performed better than their competition.
But then two things happened:
First, the ubiquity of the Internet meant anything was available to anyone at anytime.
Siri and her friends Alexa and Cortana, know everything and are instantly available. Thanks to their promiscuity of knowledge, it’s no longer necessary – or even beneficial – for you to even try to corner the market on brains.
Remember bar bets? It used to be fun and sometimes profitable to actually know who played third base in the second inning of the 1976 World Series. Or what song was on the flip side of Herman’s Hermits smash hit Mrs Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter.
But today those answers are just a thumb-swipe away. Knowledge isn’t power, knowledge is atmosphere.
Second, function became ubiquitous.
There was a time when people would pay more for Mercedes and Volvos because they were better automobiles. When most cars weren’t made very well, those two marques were known for exceptional reliability, often traveling half a million miles before being sold and shipped off to third-world countries where they soldiered on for millions of miles more.
Having a car that could last for 10, 15, or 20 years mattered when a car purchase was a major percentage of a consumer’s income. But once leasing became the norm for luxury cars everything changed. After all, why bother to pay more for a car that will last for a generation or two when you’re only keeping it for three years? Mercedes discovered that there was no competitive advantage to selling longevity. Instead they had to get their buyers to pay more for something else. In their case, prestige and technology.
It’s the same for professional services. I’m lucky enough to spend a lot of my time traveling the world and speaking at corporate conferences and annual conventions. Because of this, lots of my speaker buddies and people interested in the business ask me what they should do to build their speaking careers.
My answer is always the same. “If you want to speak more, speak more.”
“But how do I do that?” they ask.
“Easy,” I answer. “Just land a plane in the Hudson River.”
Days after Captain Chelsea “Sully” Sullenberger saved USAirways flight 1549 he became the third-highest paid speaker in the country. He was so successful that Hollywood made a movie about his heroic act. Tom Hanks played Sullenberger.
A few weeks ago Dr. Dao was dragged off a United flight and onto a YouTube video that’s been viewed millions of times. If you keep your eye on his career, I don’t think you’ll be surprised to find him lecturing about customer service before long.
That’s what Dave Carroll did that after his video, United Breaks Guitars went viral. What does the singer actually KNOW about customer service? Beats the hell out of me. But his video was viewed over 17 millions times. Carroll’s infamy means he can generate interest in what he has to say and people will pay to listen.
You’ll notice that none of their exploits – Sullenberger’s piloting skills, Dao’s unfortunate ejection, nor Carroll’s busted guitar – mean any of them have the capability to do what they promise. But it’s not important. Function has become cost of entry. Today function takes a back seat to notoriety and branding.
I’m not suggesting you don’t have to be good at what you do. Only that those skill sets are NOT the reason your clients are buying your services.
Bill Clinton and Barak Obama are great speakers – yes – but that’s not why they get paid huge fees. Mercedes and Volvos are no better at getting you from Point A to Point B than Kias and Hyundais but they still command premium prices. Sully Sullenberger and Dave Carroll are not better speakers than all my pals in the National Speakers Association, but that’s not why they get high fees or more gigs either.
Today function is the ante you pay to get in the game. But it’s your brand value and your brand awareness that will help you win. Because while you won’t get to Carnegie Hall if you don’t practice, talent and virtuosity are not enough to get you there either.
Lolly Daskal and The Leadership Gap
Every day someone recommends a book I should read, a movie I should watch, a podcast I should hear.
Boy, does it stress me out to have to add to my list of Must-Dos. Who has time to digest all this information? And if I do get through it all, how much can I enjoy and retain?
There’s a stack of books by my bed testing the strength of my mid-century bamboo nightstands. My unread Kindle library is straining my device’s memory. And my Netflix and Amazon Prime view lists are growing faster than a 30-year old hipster’s facial hair.
I’m sure you feel the same pressure.
Books I’ve recently read (or reread) include Sublette’s The World That Made New Orleans, Ford Collins’ The Joy of Success, and Pressfield’s Do The Work. I’d recommend you read them too if I wasn’t concerned about adding to your To Do list and your stress level.
But here’s a book you should make the time to read: The Leadership Gap by Lolly Daskal. If you’ve made it to your advanced age without knowing about Lolly Daskal, here’s a brief primer: Daskal helps her clients meet their professional goals and business objectives. Daskal is the most read author on Inc.com. Her articles include How to Successfully Clone Your Best Employee, How to Know When It’s Time to Quit, and The Extraordinary Power of Collaboration.
Daskal wrote The Leadership Gap based on a simple question each of us who is honest with ourselves has asked. “What if there’s a gap in what I think I know?”
According to Daskal, not asking this question – or worse – not answering it “…is the mistake that highly driven, overachieving leaders make every day. They have soared to the greatest heights on the basis of what they know. But there comes a time when they must rethink everything…”
Daskal presents that point in her first four pages. She then fills the remainder of the book with stories and anecdotes to show her readers who they are and who they need to be to accomplish what they want.
Daskal quotes great thinkers from Viktor Frankel to Carl Jung, Albert Einstein to Joseph Campbell. Plus the successful but unknown business people she works with. Their insight helps present both the questions you need to ask – and the answers you need to give – to achieve what you want.
According to Daskal, “What prevents so many leaders from achieving the greatness to which they aspire isn’t a lack of skill or opportunity. Rather, it’s that they rely on what has always worked for them, even when it is no longer working. But it takes a very special individual to own his vulnerability and find his leadership gap.”
Are you that special individual Daskal writes about? The author warns, “…it takes a committed leader to embrace the search for truth as a criterion for leadership, and not everyone can achieve this. Very few are willing to embark on an inner journey to discover what propels them.”
I’m lucky to have people in my life – friends, family members, business associates – who are both honest and caring enough to point out when I’m doing something that may not be in my best interests. Listening to them and taking their comments to heart without being defensive or combative is not always easy and it’s not always fun but it is always productive.
Daskal wrote The Leadership Gap like that except it’s not personally aimed at you. That means it will make you think about who you are, where you’re going, and how you’re going to get there. But it will also do so in an entertaining and disarming way – the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down.
As Daskal says, “If you want to get your leadership right, you have to get yourself right… You have the power within you not to be imprisoned by your circumstances, or jailed by your setbacks, or shackled by your mistakes, or beaten by your defeats. Every single one of us has the chance and the choice to choose to stand in our greatness or not. What will you do?”
If it were me, I’d read The Leadership Gap. Oh yeah, I did.
You know the old story:
Four blind Indian Fakirs are wandering down a path through the jungle when they bump into something blocking their way.
The first Fakir grabs hold of what he thinks is a tree trunk. “We have wandered off the path into the forest,” he said. “We are being blocked by too many trees.”
The second feels across the rough, curved surface blocking his way. “No, no,” he disagreed. “There are giant boulders in our way.”
The third grabs hold of the thick, rope-like thing in his way. “No, you fools. We’re being blocked by giant vines.”
And the fourth grabs what he thinks is an enormous leaf. “I don’t feel any vines but there’s a big leaf in my way.”
As you already know, none of the Fakirs were correct. They could not continue down the road because they were being blocked by an enormous elephant. The elephant’s legs were the tree trunks, his body was the boulder, his trunk was the vine, and his ear was the leaf.
Not only did each of the Fakirs have a different experience, but they were all wrong.
A few blocks from my house two local chefs run a great restaurant. Gloria and I had gone there for a special event where a group of us took a cooking class and learned and ate in the kitchen. Since that time, we’ve thought about the restaurant as a place to go for special events. We never think of it as a place to grab a quick dinner on a weeknight.
I was talking to a good friend of mine who told me he and his wife go to the same restaurant all the time. They often meet there after work, sit at the bar, and have a casual dinner when neither of them feels like cooking.
Ed and Daniella have never thought to go to that restaurant for a birthday or anniversary. Gloria and I have never considered eating there during the week.
Same place. Very different understanding.
My client Paul just got back from an enviable tour through France. One of his favorite spots was the Champagne region. When he was there, he tasted his way through all his favorite vintages. At one of the wineries, the tour guide asked Paul when he drinks champagne. “Special occasions,” Paul answered.
“And what do you eat with along the champagne?” the guide continued.
“Strawberries, of course” Paul responded.
“Next time you’re having spicy food — Cajun, perhaps, or Thai — wash it down with champagne instead of beer. The heat and the effervescence balance each other out. You’ll love it.”
These situations are all examples of the same thing — our dependence on self-referencing criteria. That is, the way we use what we know, what we’re experiencing, and what we’re comfortable with to determine how we see the world.
But as these examples also show, our dependence on our own personal understanding of things doesn’t push us to discovery or innovation.
The European sea powers believed “the world was flat.” Because of this, they could not find the New World until someone challenged that assertion.
16th century Europe believed the sun revolved around the earth. Because of this, Galileo was nearly burned at the stake for the apostasy of suggesting the opposite was true.
Mainstream automobile manufacturers believed no one would buy an electric car. They did not pursue this technology and today Tesla has a larger market value than General Motors.
What outdated self-referencing criteria is holding you back?
What outdated beliefs are keeping you from accomplishing what you want to make happen?
What’s blocking your way? An elephant or a boulder? A special event restaurant or a nice place for a quick meal? Strawberries or spicy nam pla prik?
Perhaps it’s time to remove the “self” from the self-referencing criteria that negatively defines your life and your brand.
An Open Letter to United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz
Dear Mr. Munoz.
For the benefit of the uninformed, let’s recap just a little, shall we?
First one of your United Airlines’ employees chose to have a passenger taken off a flight in order to seat some United Airlines’ employees. By the time Chicago security dragged the hapless passenger – Dr. Dao – off the plane a second time, he was both screaming bloody murder and bleeding from his mouth. Days later, Dr. Dao is due for both reconstructive surgery and his day in court to punish you and United.
Of course, Dr. Dao’s unfortunate trip down the aisle was documented on your other passengers’ cell phone videos and smeared all over the Internet. You can’t swing a mouse through the Internet without coming across a replay of this awful event.
Despite all this, it took you at least four attempts at a public statement before you both apologized sincerely and took responsibility for what happened.
In the meantime, a scorpion attacked another United passenger, a newlywed couple was put off their flight, and the blogosphere erupted in humorous memes and incensed outrage, all targeting you and United. And if that weren’t enough, pundit after pundit reminded the public of the “United Breaks Guitars” event (the video has been viewed a staggering 17,258,000 times) and the aptly-named “legging incident.”
And even though you issued a positive financial statement on Monday, there’s no reason to believe the losses won’t continue.
That’s not to say you haven’t done a lot of good for the company. You are given credit for leading United airlines through the tumultuous merger with Continental Airlines and fixing the union crises. Better, under your leadership United Airlines logged a record $1.1 billion in profit last year, and you commandeered a brilliant $3 billion stock buyback program.
But let’s face it, you’ve really stuck your foot in it this time. To get out of this nightmare is going to take a little bit of planning and a whole lot of work.
Notice something interesting, Mr. Munoz? That’s right. The spot is for United Airlines. The company you run.
This commercial is proof positive that almost 30 years ago your company knew exactly what it stood for and why. And it shows that United Airlines understood why your customers do business with you. In my world, this commercial proves that once upon a time United Airlines had a powerful All About Them brand.
What this great commercial shows us is it’s not that United Airlines has been hit with bad luck. It’s not that times have changed. It’s not that conditions have conspired against you.
I’m not suggesting that your flight back won’t be a difficult one. But just like your suggestion of “having to re-accommodate… customers,” maybe it’s time to re-accommodate your brand messaging and the operational training procedures that go along with that re-accommodation.
And unlike the blowhards who are screaming for your head, I think you’re the perfect person to lead your company into the promised land. After all, you’ve already proven your financial acumen and your uncanny ability to negotiate with unions and employees. And you’ve felt both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Victory feels a whole lot better, doesn’t it?
Now it’s time to demonstrate that your leadership coups were not simply beginner’s luck.
If it’s not clear yet, I would love to help you build a compelling brand strategy every bit as powerful as the one your airline debuted in 1990. I believe United Airlines is perfectly positioned to prove the power of All About Them. What’s more, I believe you’re just the guy to do it.
I simply await your call to get started.
How NOT to Write a Blog Post.
This blog was born in 2007 and it quickly became our most important marketing tool. Since the first post the family of people who have subscribed to these branding thoughts has grown to over 86,000. Plus 80,000 additional readers follow the blog on LinkedIn every week.
But today’s post is different. Today is not about how to write a post. Today is about something more important. Today is about how NOT to write a blog post.
The most important part of your blog is the headline. Because if the headline doesn’t intrigue the reader to read more, the rest of what you’ve written doesn’t matter. Like the proverbial tree that falls in an empty forest, if no one reads your blog it didn’t make a sound.
Do NOT make the headline about you. Why? Because no one cares. With the names changed to protect the wrong-headed, here are real-world examples of headlines you should NOT emulate:
I’m not about to tell you how to write your blog. The subject, poetry, and context you choose should be yours alone.
But I will tell you how NOT to write a blog. Do not write about anything that does not/cannot/will not intrigue your audience or improve their lives. If your post is not All About Them, why should they care?
Perhaps your company bought new equipment, won industry awards, hired a new executive assistant, or opened a facility in Sphincter, Wyoming. Congratulations! Those are great things to tell employees, vendors, and the customers who are affected. But they’re not blog-worthy.
Because outside of the limited audience of people who are directly impacted, nobody cares. And even if they do, do you think they’re still willing to take time out of their busy lives to read about your accomplishments? If you think so, you have bigger marketing problems than your blog.
Regardless of what you heard from Kevin Costner’s character in Field Of Dreams, if you build it they will NOT come. The days of a blog post being read and distributed simply because it was posted on the Internet ended more than a decade ago.
Instead, you need to have a well thought-out and executed distribution strategy. You need to think about who you’re writing for and why they should care. And you need to figure out how to get your words in front of them in a way that will both invite and incentivize your readers.
Distribution techniques NOT to count on include:
What do these techniques have in common? None of them will produce your desired results if you expect them to work on their own. Well-read blogs get that way because they are not only interesting and targeted but because their authors consistently promote them.
Here are some promotion techniques that ARE worth your time and effort:
The simple, overriding strategy that will get your blog read and forwarded is to be sure what you write is NOT about you but is All About Them. For more techniques on how to do this, direct your browser HERE.
When is Enough Enough?
The table Jimmy Buffett was sitting at was off to the side of the dining room but not really private. After all, most of the diners at Joe’s Stone Crab Restaurant are there to see and be seen. Tables are placed to accommodate their wishes.
Because Buffett’s position was so visible, diner after diner made a beeline for the star. They asked for signatures or a word or two with their idol. And Buffett was as accommodating as could be. At least until one guy overstayed his welcome and did everything but pull up a chair and snatch some French fries off Buffett’s plate. At this point Buffett apologized graciously, told the man that he had been enjoying a quiet meal with his family, and asked the guy to kindly leave them in peace.
The imposing boor was insulted. He told Buffett he’d bought his albums, attended his concerts, and was offended Buffett didn’t have time for his biggest fan. He stormed off.
A week or two later we ran a promotion for Miami tourism on South Beach. Part of the promo included appearances by two stars – Cameron Diaz and Jeff Goldblum. Diaz sat behind velvet ropes throughout the whole event, protected by an imposing bodyguard and an even more intimidating scowl. But Goldblum greeted everyone at the party like an old friend. Better yet, he found a way compliment every single person he spoke with. When the event was over, Diaz rushed directly to the security of her limousine. Goldblum sat on the porch of his hotel and chatted happily with each passerby that approached.
Some years ago, I lectured to a class of Ford engineers at MIT. Since that time, the professor who was teaching the class has published two or three best-sellers, gave a record-breaking TED talk, and has become a real business thought leader. Over the years, we’ve stayed in touch and I even asked him for a testimonial of my latest book, All About Them.
Last week I was reading the Wall Street Journal and saw a column by my now-famous friend. Excited by his success, I hopped on my email and sent him this note:
I just read your column in the WSJ.
Don’t know why I haven’t noticed it before but congratulations. Another great accomplishment for you. I’m glad and proud to say I know you.
Here’s what I got by return email (edited for brevity):
Thank you for writing me.
Due to work overload, my interest in too many things, my inability to take into account the opportunity costs of my time, and my general inability to say no — combined with my particular physical limitations — I am just unable to manage.
With this in mind, and for my health and sanity, I need to focus on the projects that I have already committed to and cut down on the time I spend responding to emails to about an hour a day.
If you have a question that you think other people might have asked before, or if you have a question that you think others might be interested in, please go to my section in Quora, read the existing questions and if your question is missing add it.
If you are interested in an interview, please write to my assistant.
For anything else, I will try to answer emails as they come but please know that if you don’t receive a response from me, it’s just a matter of too many emails and too little time.
Thanks for understanding.
My questions are simple:
I look forward to your thoughtful responses.