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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.”
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.
Horses of a different color. More than one way to skin a cat. Pushing an elephant through a keyhole.
Why are the metaphors for paradigm shifts all about animals? I don’t know and I don’t really care. What I do care about is implementing and benefiting from this idea of looking at things differently and sharing those ideas with you.
For example: everybody I know complains about travel. They don’t like going through security, they don’t like waiting in lines, and they don’t like feeling rushed.
I travel almost every week and I don’t mind it a bit. True, I don’t enjoy any of those situations either, but I’ve learned how to eliminate most of the aggravation they cause.
When I thought about making travel less stressful, I realized two of the most irritating things I could control. One was the discomfort and delays that come with schlepping heavy baggage. The solution? I simply stopped taking so much stuff. When you stop worrying about carrying everything but the kitchen sink, you also stop worrying about finding overhead luggage space, having TSA inspectors root through your stuff, waiting in interminable lines to pick up your luggage, and having your stuff stolen. (If you’ve read my blog for a while you know I’m a fanatic about travelling light. You can find great tips HERE and HERE.)
The second issue was the stress that came from rushing and worrying about being late.
Let’s say my flight was scheduled for five. I’d figure I needed to be there an hour early (four), and it takes about 40 minutes to get to the airport and park so I’d plan to leave my office at 3:20 or so. Needless to say, I’d only start leaving at 3:20 which meant I wouldn’t actually get into my car until 3:30 or 3:40 and I’d already feel rushed and stressed. Then if anything went wrong — traffic or a family of 18 ahead of me in security — my stress level would boil over and wouldn’t abate until I was on the plane and breathing heavily. No wonder people drink on flights.
One day it dawned on me that if I left for the five o’clock flight at one, I would get to the airport with hours to spare. Then I could go through the TSA line without cursing the people in front of me for dumping their coin collections and silverware service into the X-ray tray.
“But what do you do in the airport two hours early?” I hear you screaming at your computer screen. Simple. I go into the Admirals Club, pull my out my laptop and cellphone and make calls and return emails and write copy, exactly what I’d do if I were in my office. Except I do it calmly because I’m not rushed and I’m not stressed.
I have friends who went through a relatively amicable divorce. Because they have three small children, and because they thought it would be too disruptive for the kids to move back and forth from one parent to the other every week, they came up with a paradigm shifting solution – they gave the house to the kids and the parents move in and out each week. At first they also tried splitting the townhouse that the non-visiting parent would use but they found that that only reminded them of many of the reasons they got divorced in the first place. But by keeping the kids in one house, there was less disruption, fewer school changes, and more comforting surroundings. They also didn’t have to try to sell their home for less money during the financial downturn.
Have you seen the ads for Christian Mingle? It’s the dating website for singles who are looking to meet other singles of the same faith. Do you know who owns Christian Mingle? Spark Media, of Los Angeles, the company that owns JDate, the leading site for Jews who are looking for dates their grandmothers would approve of. Spark used the same technology they created — and the profits they made — matching Jewish singles to create Christian Mingle and 28 other sites, including hookups for Adventists, Catholics, deaf singles, and more. Was their strategy Kosher? It is very profitable and a great example of looking at an existing situation from the opposite point of view.
So the question is, what problems in your business, or your life, could be solved if you just looked at them differently? Or is that a whole different kettle of fish? (Dammit… There go those animal metaphors again.)
What the heck’s going on in the world of brands? If you haven’t been paying attention lately, lots of great companies are suffering significant headaches dealing with the body blows their brand images are taking almost every single week.
Look at Nike, the sportswear company that has built its dominant brand on the broad backs of superstar athletes and their sponsorships. From Michael Jordan to Florence Griffith-Joyner to Tiger Woods, Nike has both created their brand and the brands of their spokespeople athletes through enormous investments and laser-focused marketing.
But suddenly it seems like Nike’s most visible athletes are self-destructing both on the field and off.
Lance Armstrong spent years vociferously denying his regular use of the performance-enhancing substances that helped him dominate competitive cycling. Armstrong was so adamant in his protests that Nike even filmed a commercial showing Armstrong on his bicycle asking, “What am I on? I’m on my bike, six hours a day, busting my ass. What are you on?”
Of course, now we know that Armstrong was on a lot more than his butt. And Nike had to cut ties with their spokesman after they saw his growing unpopularity start to damage their own brand.
While Armstrong was enjoying the Tour de France, Tiger Woods was busy enjoying his Tour de Pants.** But after Elen Nordegren, Woods’ model wife, attacked Tiger’s car with one of his signature golf clubs, Nike again saw their brand start to take some of the lumps intended for their spokesman.
Even more recently, Oscar Pistorius – the Para-Olympian known as the Blade Runner – was arrested in South Africa for fatally shooting his model girlfriend. Unfortunately for Nike, not only was Pistorius one of their spokes-athletes but they had run an ad featuring the Blade Runner with the headline, “I am the bullet in the chamber.” Of course the ad was yanked from Pistorious’ website lickety-split but the damage had already been done. Once again, the sportswear giant has to decide how long to continue to publicly support their spokesperson even before they know if he has a leg to stand on.
Let’s move from the field to the seas. Carnival, the world’s largest cruise line company, suffered an engine fire that stalled their Triumph ship in the Gulf of Mexico. No one was injured and Carnival’s staff was lauded as going way above and beyond the norm to help the stranded travelers. But even though the company refunded their customers’ fees, promised a free replacement cruise, AND paid each cruiser $500, class-action lawsuits have already been filed and Carnival’s brand has become the punching bag of news shows and late-night comedians. Why such an aggressive response? After all, everyone knows ship happens.
So why is all this occurring now? Some people have suggested that the burgeoning 24/7 news cycle is so hungry for stories that they’ll publicize any corporate hiccup just to entice viewers based on the motto that if it bleeds, it leads. Others say that it’s the proliferation of smartphones and mobile technologies that have turned all of us into a new breed of citirazzi – citizen paparazzi who aggressively capture the corporate gaffs that would otherwise go unseen and unrecorded. And still other experts suggest that the corporate world is just a reflection of society in general, and that the scares and scandals affecting brands go hand-in-hand with the degradation of civility and ethical behavior we’re seeing in politics and society in general.
All of those factors contribute to the current situation but don’t thoroughly explain it. Instead, I think that it’s the recent proliferation and expansion of the brands themselves that has caused the problem. As I’ve written many times before, as products become more and more genericized, the brand itself has emerged as the way companies differentiate themselves. And as products and services spend more time in a digital environment where customers can see but can’t touch, the brand personality becomes the way consumers differentiate, decode, and decide what they’re going to buy.
So it stands to reason that the squeaky wheel would get the grease. After all, if good things make a brand stronger, then bad things will also do great harm.
But the major reason why big brands are taking it in the shorts runs even deeper. You see, when branded companies are most successful, their customers use the brands themselves to tell the world who they are. The cars we drive, the athletic shoes we wear, and the vacations we enjoy all become badges that consumers use to create their own personas. We used to say, “Your are what you eat.” Today we say, “You are what you consume.” The result of this is that we are so personally invested in the brands we use that we are hypersensitive to any chinks in our image armor. And so when we notice that the brands we’ve built our own self-images around have the same human frailties that we do, we feel betrayed.
Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, corporations and organizations are seen as humans and entitled to the same First Amendment rights as you and me. It seems that thanks to the recent ascension of the brand, brands are too. And just like in the political arena, brands have to take the bad with the good.
** This hysterical line was not mine. It was written by my good friend and very funny guy David Glickman.
My friend and client, Juan, went on a holiday a couple of months ago. Juan’s from a small town in the Pyrenees, just outside of Barcelona, and he was going back home with his wife and kids for a two-week vacation. Unfortunately, it turned out to only be a one-week vacation because his company’s international marketing meeting was held in Barcelona during his break and he felt duty-bound to attend.
Of course I could empathize. When Gloria and I got married, we didn’t go on a honeymoon because I had some client emergency or other and had to cancel our trip so I could deal with it. But here’s the funny part: 27 years later, we still remember that we didn’t go on a honeymoon but we can’t remember what it was that was so damn important at the time. And even though we have worked with the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau for going on 20 years now, we don’t have any 26-year old client relationships so whoever it was isn’t with us anymore regardless of what sacrifice we made for them.
What was so damn important anyway?
The past few weeks have been dark ones where I’ve attended a number of funerals, including one for my longest running friend, Alan Somerstein. Alan’s mom and my mom met in the maternity ward at Mt. Sinai Hospital on Miami Beach and he and I were lifelong friends after that. Alan and I were born five days apart and we used to tell people that we were twins. If they asked who was the older twin, I’d proudly answer “Me.” If they asked how far apart we were born, Alan would say “Five days.” Then we’d walk away giggling while they scratched their heads and tried to figure it out.
Alan and I were roommates for a couple of years after graduation and stayed in touch after we both had gotten married and started raising kids. And even though Alan was a rabid sports fan and I never even know what type of game people are talking about, we always found things to chat about.
At most funerals, people go on and on about how nice the recently deceased was, even though they often weren’t. But Alan was. Alan was easily the nicest person on the planet.
At Alan’s funeral, the speakers all talked about how much we loved him. We told stories about Alan’s life and how he made us smile. And his daughter Lindsey made us cry with her poignant words of love and loss.
But no one talked about how much money Alan made, how big his house was or what kind of car he drove. Not because he wasn’t successful — Alan was the leading salesperson at his company every single year, even after he got sick and had to cut his hours way back — but because those things no longer seemed to matter. Still, like the honeymoon I never went on and the family vacation that Juan cut short in Spain, those are the things we worry about every day.
The stories that made us laugh through our tears were the stories of the kind words Alan had for everyone, his concern for their well-being, and the funny things he did and said in his life.
In his beautifully crafted The New York Times article, You Are Going To Die, Tim Kreider writes, “You are older at this moment than you’ve ever been before, and it’s the youngest you’re ever going to get. The mortality rate is holding at a scandalous 100 percent. Pretending death can be indefinitely evaded with hot yoga or a gluten-free diet or antioxidants or just by refusing to look is craven denial.”
As Erma Bombeck wrote in her 1979 book Eat Less Cottage Cheese and More Ice Cream, “If I had my life to live over again I would have waxed less and listened more. I would have cried and laughed less while watching television… and more while watching real life. But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute of it… look at it and really see it… try it on… live it… exhaust it… and never give that minute back until there was nothing left of it.”
Alan did just that. And I hope I’m halfway smart enough to learn that from him. After all, what was so damn important anyway?
==> From OFrager
How would Barack circumvent trademarks, local media and C&V operaratives to own the oportunity?
Special guest Bruce Turkel (that’s me) will tell you LIVE tonight. And the answers will blow your mind. I promise you will never look at the way you approach the business of domaining the same again.
Bruce just finished keynoting for the Illinois Governors Conference on Tourism in Chicago, and accompanying him on stage was an incredibly gifted graphic interpreter by the name of Brandy Agerbeck. What came out of their time together was unanimously agreed to be engaging, visceral, and totally unique. The audience went completely bat guano. Enjoy.
If you want to check out more of Brandy’s work, make sure to check out: www.loosetooth.com.