Takashi Murakami figured out how to monetize talent. He makes big money selling cartoonish figures and licensing his outrageous designs for $5,000 limited edition Louis Vuitton handbags. Murakami is so influential that in the last decade he was the only visual artist included on Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People list. That year Sotheby’s sold Murakami’s sculpture, “My Lonesome Cowboy,” for 15.2 million dollars.
What’s the difference? Why did one artist reach monetize talent to such incredible levels of public acceptance while the other had to wait until after his death to be hung in the finest museums? If we accept that both Van Gogh and Murakami worked hard at their craft and were blessed with plenty of talent, there must be something more.
In his book Superclass: The Global Power Elite And The World They Are Making, David Jochanan Rothkopf writes, “ten percent of the population owns 85 percent of the world’s wealth. What’s more, data suggests that there is an 80/20 rule within the 80/20 rule: The richest two percent in the world own half of all global wealth.”
What does this have to do with the success or failure of artists? According to Rothkopf, “The superclass does not rule by dictate or direct control, nor does it exercise power through conspiracies or cabals. It has a thumb on the scales and exerts influence…via its most powerful activists or motivated subsets.”
Indeed, Van Gogh did not have any way to exercise power or influence. Nor did he have the connections that could lead him to commercial success. In contrast, Murakami has his thumb firmly on the scale and has successfully blurred the lines between art and commerce. Thanks to his power, Murakami counts fashionistas, commercial brands AND art collectors amongst his fans and patrons. So did Murakami’s predecessors Warhol, Oldenburg, and Lichtenstein.
Is that the secret? Is the key to monetize talent really as simple as the old line, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know?” Was Van Gogh less monetarily successful than Murakami solely because he knew fewer people?
Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this in The Tipping Point: “Sprinkled among every walk of life are a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack of making friends and acquaintances. They are Connectors.”
Keith Ferrazzi is a big believer in the power of connections, too. In Never Eat Alone Ferrazzi gives three points for building and benefiting from his database of people:
Is Ferrazzi’s last point the secret to monetize talent? Was Van Gogh not able to break out of the pack because he suffered from invisibility? Has Murakami reached the pinnacle of artistic and commercial success because he is the master of harnessing media, both analog and digital, to build his brand?
Is it not what you know but who you know? In the end does it all come down to networking and marketing?
Of course, I’m a branding guy so I would think so. After all, if the only tool you have is a hammer, every solution looks like a nail. Still, the idealist in me would like to believe that besides ability and hard work there’s more to monetize talent than just whom you know.
Redefine Your Dreams
Sometime in the early 2000’s, Dr. William Werther was chatting with my father.
Bill was telling my dad that his greatest goal in life was to be a philanthropist. And even though Dr. Werther knew that he had helped scores of students throughout his career, his biggest disappointment was that he hadn’t earned quite enough money to build a powerful philanthropic machine.
My father asked Dr. Werther for his definition of a philanthropist.
Bill said a philanthropist was a person who worked diligently to give money away with the intent of making the world a better place.
My father nodded in agreement. Then he asked Dr. Werther why that definition precluded him from being a philanthropist?
Bill repeated that he didn’t have enough money to give away and maintain a sustainable fund.
My dad paused for a moment before responding.
From that day forward, Dr. Werther and my father partnered to create the Center for Non-Profit Management at The University of Miami. Over the next ten plus years the center operated the pair educated thousands of non-profit professionals. Their mission was to teach non-profits to “manage for results.”
Thanks to their commitment and hard work, the attending organizations raised millions of additional dollars and helped enormous numbers of underserved communities. And because the Center was cause-agnostic, Bill and my dad reached every part of the community and every demographic.
From advocates for immigrant farm workers to teams repairing inner-city homes damaged in Hurricane Andrew to prisoner education programs, to free clinics to foster care organizations, their good works impacted an entire community.
Simply put, lots of great people did lots of great work. But if the pair hadn’t redefined their definition of the word philanthropy in the first place, none of these good things would have happened.
Because based on the traditional meaning of the word philanthropy, Dr. Werther didn’t think it was possible that he could live his dream and become a philanthropist. Clearly what was holding him back was a definition, not his abilities.
That obviously brings up a question: What outmoded definitions are holding you back from doing the things you want to do?
When I was a little boy on Miami Beach, the most important thing in our lives was sports. My friends and I would suffer through our classes just to get to recess. Then we’d go outside and play ball. And the minute we got home we’d run to the empty lot at the corner to play football, softball, kill the man with the ball, or whatever was in season.
Now I come from good, strong athletic stock. My dad played basketball in New York in high school and college and pitched in the men’s night league. My younger sister was the best athlete in our elementary school. My little brother Doug is a natural athlete who can play anything. And my mother was a terrific tennis player. But despite all my genetic potential, I couldn’t even throw the softball past the girl’s line in the President’s Physical Fitness award competition. Worse, I always came in last in the 50-yard dash.
I was the worst athlete in the school. But as an adult I’ve finished three marathons and scores of half-marathons. I’m a regular at the gym and spend my weekends cycling and scuba diving.
At some point I decided to redefine my definition of the word athlete to focus on participation and not outcome. And by doing this I redoubled my efforts to stay in shape and enjoy physical activity.
Changing your definition of the words that hold you back is simply another way to rebrand yourself. It allows you to reestablish what matters in your life and what you’re going to do to benefit from it. Just like the citizens helped by my dad redefining Bill Werther’s meaning of the word philanthropy or my blood pressure and waist line benefiting from my redefinition of the word athlete, there’s something out there just waiting for you to redefine whatever’s holding you back from accomplishing what you want to do, too.
How you do anything means everything.
Most business books could be simply described as thick bumper stickers. Why? Because despite their pages and pages of examples and illustrations, many of them can be reduced to one single thought. And that thought can be the theme of a 300-page book. Or it can be a bumper sticker.
Here are some standouts from my library and their bumper stickers:
Of course, no one would plop down $20 – $30 for a bumper sticker. So that’s why it makes good business sense for writers to guild their lilies and convert wispy concepts to weighty volumes.
One of my favorite books is HOW by Dov Seidman. The simple bumper sticker for HOW is this: “How you do anything means everything.” In How, Seidman explains that the why and the how of what we do is often more important than what we actually do.
Two months ago I spoke at a conference in Las Vegas. The subject was my new book, All About Them. When I finished, a young woman (we’ll call her Lisa) came up and complimented me on my talk. She also told me that she and her fiancé had just moved from New York and she’d taken a job she wasn’t very happy about.
“What would you like to be doing?” I asked.
“I worked in finance in New York. I’d really like to get back into that.” She answered.
I signed my new book, handed her my business card, and asked her how else I could be helpful.
A few weeks later Lisa sent an email asking me if I knew anyone at the XYZ Bank & Trust. If so, would l introduce her? I answered yes and followed up with an introductory email to her and my good friend Bill. Bill just happens to be the CFO of XYZ.
Bill responded almost immediately. He told Lisa he’d be delighted to meet her and even suggested times he was available. Bill asked her to send her resume. And he asked for a quick explanation of the position she wanted.
Yesterday I ran into Bill at another speech I was giving.
The first thing out of his mouth was that he still hadn’t received Lisa’s resume. After that Bill told me about a second young woman interested in a job. The difference was that that prospect sent her CV and included research she had done on XYZ. Plus she sent a competitive overview and links to some articles Bill would find interesting.
“How.” I said. “Dov Seidman.”
I find Dov’s bumper sticker is a great gut check for me when I deal with others. Keeping Seidman’s mantra in mind helps me be punctual, refrain from gossip, and always try to under-promise and over-deliver. “How you do anything means everything” reminds me to stay present and attentive. It also reminds me to be helpful and supportive — even when I don’t see any immediate benefit in doing so.
Needless to say, Lisa’s not going to get the job at XYZ Bank & Trust. And the next time she asks me to make a connection I am going to politely decline.
Job Opportunities for Millennials and More
Are you looking for job opportunities? You probably don’t need me to tell you that for certain groups these are unprecedented economic times. Our children are the first generation in living memory predicted not to do better than their parents. And this despite the history of our great country being that of the children of immigrants enjoying economic prosperity of which previous generations could but dream.
But our 20-somethings tell a different story. Many are faced with student loan debt, poor job prospects, and the daunting economic reality that comes with an uncertain future.
But I can also tell you that for kids who “get it” the news for job opportunities is unexpectedly good. The principles I wrote about in All About Them have helped these job seekers have a future as bright as those of previous generations.
Here are the six guiding precepts that will allow your children to find job opportunities. Handled properly, they can achieve the dreams that you have for them and they may have for themselves:
When I was writing All About Them I asked Mark Levit this question. Mark was a successful advertising agency owner in New York until he traded the subway for sunshine and moved to South Florida. Today Mark teaches advertising and marketing and works with hundreds of students.
Mark believes the only statements worth making promise prospective employers that you will save them time, effort, or money or that you will make them money.
Everything else, he says, is superfluous. “The person reading the résumé doesn’t look at a student’s job search the way the student does. They’re scanning the document for key words signaling the applicant understands why they’re being hired and what’s expected of them. If they find that, then they’ll go on to look at the applicant’s specific qualifications. If they don’t find it in the application, the résumé goes directly to the circular file.”
What job seekers don’t realize is that a résumé is the wrong place to be yourself. Instead, it’s the opportunity to be what the employer wants you to be. I’m not suggesting that students should lie or even exaggerate—remember in today’s world, confirmation of a job prospect’s former employment and education is only a mouse click away. What students need to do is look at their job search materials less as an opportunity to tell the world who they are and more as the chance to tell a potential employer what they can do for them. Because that’s what gets kids hired.
Uber, San Francisco, California
Attn: Mr. Travis Kalanick, CEO
You had the great idea to create a ride sharing app. And you put in the effort to make Uber incredibly successful. Thanks to your hard work, your company has reached a very rarified status.
First Uber made the mistake of looking like it aligned with the president’s unpopular ban on immigration. This appeared to be against the best interests of both your customers and your employees. Then Susan Fowler demonstrated the depth of Uber’s sexist work environment. The recount of her experience working for the company has become an Internet sensation.
Of course, you could always blame your bad luck on others including liberal activists and fake news writers. Except that the way Uber has handled these PR disasters could become the syllabus for a Harvard business school case study on how not to manage a crisis.
Believe me, I know what I’m talking about.
It wasn’t that long ago that my hometown, Miami, was the place people loved to hate. I know because my firm was responsible for helping shepherd the city through its biggest crisis. Those were the dark days when visitors were afraid to vacation here because of crimes against tourists and the way crime was glamorized on popular shows such as Miami Vice.
But not so many years later, having followed a very careful and well thought out crisis management plan, Miami is the hottest and hippest tourist destination in the world. More importantly to you, our shareholder value numbers are through the roof.
So I’m hoping that at least one of my readers knows you or works for you and will forward this post to your personal email address. Because as I’m about to show you, fixing your problem is not that hard. Proper crisis management requires a careful, steady, and well-experienced hand on the tiller that will guide your ship to future profits. It ain’t rocket science. But it is serious business.
And please don’t believe anyone who tells you that it’s already too late and that there’s nothing you can do. Look at what happened to Tylenol in 1982. Their poisoned product killed seven people. Yet by handling their crisis properly they not only overcame the nightmare scenario’s effect on their bottom line. They returned stronger, more profitable, and claimed their position as the leading pain reliever in the market.
Let me guide you through the five simple steps you must follow to pull yourself out of this hole.
Of course, before you can do any of this, you must accept that you have a problem. Because as the adage goes, “when you’re in a hole and you want to get out, the first thing to do is stop digging.”
You’ve got a problem, my friend. Step one to fixing it is accepting it.
And if you need more assistance, I’m happy to help.
Foreplay starts in the morning.
I have a buddy who told me about a disagreement he had with his girlfriend.
The two of them weren’t getting along and hadn’t been nice to each other throughout the day. But after dinner was done and the dishes were put away, he started to feel amorous. Hoping the day would end better than it started, he went out of his way to apologize and be solicitous.
It didn’t sound like his change of heart was very sincere and his girlfriend didn’t fall for it. And even though he turned on the charm and tried being affectionate, his girlfriend called his bluff. She stopped his advances cold.
When he questioned her lack of interest she answered tersely:
I know what you’re thinking.
If you’re male, you’re probably thinking: “Ouch. Cold, dude.”
And if you’re a woman you’re probably thinking something along the lines of, “You go girl.”
But regardless of your gender, you’re probably also wondering why this anecdote is in a blog that purports to be about building brand value.
Salacious click bait? Au contraire my little cynic. It’s a valuable marketing lesson for you.
You see, my buddy’s verbal red light is not only an insight into his relationship, but a great way to think about your customer relationships. Because many companies believe it’s important to interact with their customers only when those customers show up to buy something.
Wal-Mart greeters don’t say hello until you walk into the store. The Whole Foods app uses geo-locating to offer you discounts and specials once you stroll their aisles. And the Nordstrom sales associate walks out from behind the cash register after you’ve made your purchase.
But great brands also know that the best way to build and maintain their customer relationships is to delight their clients when they’re not in the process of buying something. Metaphorically speaking, they know that foreplay – even the sale process type – starts in the morning.
This blog post you’re reading is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. I have been writing these marketing messages since 2007 and I send them out every single week at no charge to my readers. My simple goal is to be useful, valuable, and enjoyable. That way, I hope to build a relationship with you and the rest of my 86,000 readers. Of course I don’t expect that any direct business will come out of these essays on any given day. But over the decade that I’ve been sending these posts and building my list, the relationships this blog have facilitated have created all sorts of great opportunities for me.
Thanks to the foreplay this blog has created, I was offered my first opportunity to talk about branding on national TV. Since that time, I’ve been on TV more than 250 times.
Thanks to the people I’ve met through this blog, I have been invited to speak at conferences around the world, I’ve been offered opportunities to present my advertising agency to lots of great clients, and I was offered a book deal for All About Them.
Perhaps most telling, almost all the inbound email inquiries I get from people interested in hiring me or learning more about what I can do from them show up as replies to the week’s blog post. That means that people know they can find me through the blog. It also means this blog keeps me top of mind with my tribe until they are ready to respond to my virtual foreplay.
And unlike my buddy’s unfortunate evening, many of the interactions my foreplay facilitates conclude with very happy endings. Thinking about how to delight your customers when they’re not buying something can do the same thing for you, too.
Companies including Uber, Lyft, Under Armor, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Nike, and Anheuser Busch have all found themselves on one side or the other of the current chasm of political polarization.
Celebrities including Beyoncé, Steph Curry, The Rock, Tom Brady, Mike Tyson, and Dennis Rodman have too.
Once upon a time it was business suicide to take sides. But today, more and more companies and celebrities are lining up on one side or the other. Some, like Lyft and Under Armor, have done so because of their leaders’ political leanings. Some, like Nordstrom and Macy’s, say they’ve wound up taking sides simply because of non-partisan business decisions. And some, such as Uber and Budweiser probably found themselves the victims of unintended consequences. They had a political position thrust on them thanks to the interpretation of their behavior by others who view the company’s actions through their own tinted lenses.
What is unarguable is regardless of the reason a company or celebrity finds themselves on one or the other side of a political issue, it can have a drastic effect on their business. As we discussed last week in The Trump Effect, Uber saw their app deleted from 200,000 customers’ smartphones at the same time Starbucks and Lyft saw their businesses increase.
Clearly Uber did not transcend politics.
Of course, taking sides and using partisan positioning to build a brand and a business is nothing new. Sonny Bono, Ted Nugent, Kid Rock, and Clint Eastwood were all darlings of the right long before it became fashionable. Using the same strategy, the backwoods stars of Duck Dynasty rode their conservative positions to incredible, if improbable, success.
On the other side, stars including Barbara Streisand, Jane Fonda, Warren Beatty, and Harry Belafonte all built their audiences and brands by firmly attaching themselves to America’s progressive movement. And today we see a repeat of this strategy by entertainers including Jennifer Lopez, the members of A Tribe Called Quest, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Seth Meyers, and so many more.
But it’s not always strategic. Many companies and celebrities who find themselves on one side or the other probably had no intention of making their opinions so public. Instead, their ideological outings could have been forced by supporters or haters on social media sites. Or maybe it was something else. Because as film producer Seth Berkowitz asked on my blog last week, “did they each (take a stand) based on their strongly held personal beliefs or out of a desire not to have their personal brands devalued by association” with an unpopular sponsor or boss?
Offense? Defense? Circumstance? Whatever it was, none of the following brands were able to transcend politics.
LGBTQ supporters will no longer eat at Chick-Fil-A or shop at Hobby Lobby.
Trump supporters are staying away from Starbucks, Lyft, Pepsi, Oreos, Netflix, Ben & Jerry’s, and – shockingly – the NFL.
Trump detractors are boycotting Yuengling, L.L. Bean, Uber, Under Armor and up to 200 more companies.
Dakota Access Pipeline naysayers are boycotting Bank of America, HSBC, Goldman Sachs, and almost 40 other banks.
Interestingly though, some brands can transcend politics and appeal to both ends of the spectrum. Bruce Springsteen wrote both Born in the USA and The Ghost of Tom Joad and is beloved by both right- and left-leaning music fans. This even though he’s made it very clear where his loyalties lie. For those who weren’t sure, the Boss clearly walked his talk when he repeatedly refused to meet with New Jersey Governor and uber-Springsteen fan Chris Christie.
Steve Jobs is also a hero of both left and right. Rightwing mouthpiece Rush Limbaugh fell all over himself to praise the entrepreneur, saying, “Steve Jobs epitomized American exceptionalism.” Somehow Limbaugh ignored the fact that the Apple CEO was the son of a Syrian immigrant and an outspoken liberal who also outsourced his company’s manufacturing to China at the same time he sent his company’s financial assets to Ireland.
Tea Party darling Ayn Rand created objectivism and stood for individual liberty. Because of this, Rand was also an ardent atheist and supporter of reproductive rights. Still, that didn’t stop Speaker of the House Paul Ryan from listing Rand’s classic, Atlas Shrugged, as one of the three books he most frequently rereads. As he told The Weekly Standard, “I give out ‘Atlas Shrugged’ as Christmas presents, and I make all my interns read it.”
The saying “Politics makes strange bedfellows,” was adapted from William Shakespeare’s “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.” And nowhere is either saying truer than in today’s intersection of business and politics. Because today there’s no mission without margin and no margin in the middle.
So stay neutral if you can, take a stand if you must. But for real brand power, take a page from Bruce, Steve, and Ayn.
The Trump Effect.
When Uber eliminated their surge pricing during the JFK taxi strike, #deleteUber trended across social media. In a lightning-fast response, competitor Lyft announced that they were donating $1 million to the ACLU. Two days later, CEO Travis Kalanick stepped down from President Trump’s economic advisory council to try and salvage Uber’s reputation. But it was too late. Over 200,000 Uber customers had already deleted their accounts. Uber had so many deletions that they created a new process to handle all the people fleeing their company. At the same time, Lyft’s app shot to the very top of both Apple and Android’s download stats.
In response to Trump’s executive order to bar entry of refugees from seven Muslim countries, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz pledged they would hire 10,000 refugees in their stores around the world. The next day, #BoycottStarbucks trended highest on Twitter with some posters pledging to stop patronizing the coffee shops. But simultaneously, Schultz’s supporters posted their intention to increase their purchases.
No one noticed Schultz’s pledge was a continuation of the company’s 2013 promise to hire veterans and active duty spouses. As the company said, “…we will start this effort here in the U.S. by making the initial focus of our hiring efforts on those individuals who have served with U.S. troops as interpreters and support personnel… where our military has asked for such support.” Bottom line? Starbucks’ business continues to increase regardless of the outrage.
What’s clear is the danger of the Trump Effect. A brand-chilling wind that affects those who attach themselves to the Trump brand.
I know most associations (the groups that hotels covet most because they bring large-scale conventions to their properties) would most certainly choose not to book an event at a Trump property. To confirm this, I spoke to a board member of a major national association who answered on the promise of anonymity. He said his board would insist the group not book a Trump hotel so for many reasons. First, they oppose Trump’s policies, actions, and everything he symbolizes. But more important, as someone with a fiduciary responsibility to the organization, he says that such a booking would cause a backlash of social media vitriol from members on both sides of the issue.
“But how about if a Trump property offered a great deal on the accommodations?” I asked. “Would the board of directors consider it then?”
“Not on your life. Because the drama of considering the property overshadows any savings benefit.” And when word leaks out that the association is considering a Trump hotel, the group would be in a no-win situation.
“We would be accused of having painfully terrible judgement: ‘How could you possibly DO this?’ And we would be attacked for having no cojones: ‘You’re just backing away because of the liberals in our association!’”
Regardless of your point of view, no good would come of the controversy. And so what happens? Nothing.
Thanks to a democratized media where everyone with a smartphone and a social media account can speak their mind, marketers and advertisers are going to find it harder and harder to stay neutral. Because no matter how firmly they straddle the fence, someone is still offended.
Coca-Cola’s heartwarming replay of their 2014 Super Bowl ad incited controversy because America the Beautiful was sung in multiple languages. Budweiser’s stunning Super Bowl entry was considered anti-American because it presented the Adolphus Busch’s travails immigrating to the U.S. But regardless of the outrage in the blogosphere, a Tuesday morning count showed the beer ad had been viewed almost 22 million times.
When Coca-Cola and Budweiser are accused of un-American behavior (yet revel in the success of their advertising) you KNOW the Trump Effect is at work. And it’s something to which you’d better pay very close attention.