Josh Mayer is a nice guy who runs a wonderful advertising agency in New Orleans with his brother Mark. Josh also has a good enough marriage that his younger employees come to him for advice when they’re thinking of getting married. Josh’s advice is simple:
“Don’t marry for money. Money comes and goes.
Don’t marry for looks. Looks can fade.
Don’t marry for sex. Sex gets better and worse (and better again, if you’re lucky).
Don’t even marry for love. Love also ebbs and flows.”
You know, I spend a lot of time writing these posts and even more time thinking about what I’m going to write about. I want you to find these posts useful, enjoyable, and valuable. I’d also like them to be profound enough to make a difference to you and maybe even generate some commentary and ongoing discussion.
But Be Nice? Be nice is not something you’ve never heard before. Be nice is not earth shattering. Hell, be nice is not even profound.
But it is true.
Be Nice is the most important thing you can do to make your life better right this minute. Because being nice changes you and it changes the way the people around you react.
Since hearing Josh’s advice I’ve been trying to train myself to be nice. For example, I greet every jogger and dog-walker and bus stop sitter I pass on my morning runs. The folks I run with make fun of me when the people I greet don’t return the greeting but it doesn’t matter. I’m greeting them for myself. Here are five other simple ways to be nice:
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By the way, our Tribal Signature Boot Camp is only a few weeks away. No hard sell needed but if you’d like to learn more about it and what it can do for you, please click HERE. There’s obligation but I’m pretty sure it’s an event you won’t want to miss.
Thanks to Mayor Bloomberg, there’s a lovely little park in front of the Macy’s New York flagship store on 34th street between Broadway and 7th Avenue. I lucked upon a garden table and chair shaded from the sun by a big patio umbrella and cooled by the wind rushing between the buildings. With Macy’s free Wi-Fi and a nice breeze it’s the perfect spot to catch up with the office and our clients between now and my lunch meeting down the street.
But today’s revelation comes from something else. I’ve been wandering through New York from meeting to meeting over the last few days and I’m continually struck by how many people, businesses, brands, and ideologies want to stand out, constantly vying for our attention, our time, and ultimately, our dollars and commitment. And at least half of the people I’ve passed are busy thumb-typing away on their smartphones which means there’s a whole mobile environment that’s also fighting for their eyeballs and iWallets.
But the people, too, are all trying to stand out and get attention. There’s a woman with a pink Mohawk. A guy in a Thom Browne shrunken suit. A woman teetering on seven-inch heels. A woman in a Chanel suit and flip-flops.
There go a couple of guys in skin-tight tank tops with enough muscles between them for a whole football team. There’s a woman with a little dog in a stroller. There’s an old man in a baggy suit and collapsed pleather loafers. Even the scruffy folks hoping for handouts try to outdo each other and stand out with their hand-scrawled signs.
And it’s not just the street I’m on. Hop in the subway, bounce along for 20 minutes in any direction and you’ll surface miles away but still smack dab in the same swarm of teeming humanity – all trying to stand out – striving and searching for whatever it is they’re all looking for. Commercial success? Fame? Love? Companionship? Enough spare change to get a bite to eat? It’s a dog-eat-dog world and everyone’s trying to get their bone.
So how do you stand out? How do you make a difference? How do you build your business, sell your novel, promote your website, fund your non-profit, meet your mate, change your world?
If it were only through the function of being good at what you do then you’d have reached your goal by now. After all, you’re already great at your job – an acclaimed professional, a successful practitioner, a skilled technician. But it’s not enough, is it? Because in today’s world there are plenty of people who do what we do, all of them looking for their shot, auditioning for their spot, waiting for their moment. Few of them stand out.
And it’s not just on the streets of New York or Los Angeles or London or Buenos Aires, because today’s professionals only have to log on to the ‘Net to find legions of people around the world just itching to sell their wares. Radiologists in Mumbai, engineers in Beijing, web designers in Germany, social media experts in Indonesia. If people only want to buy what you do they can find it anywhere. Lucky for you, they want more.
What they want is you. More precisely they want you and how you make them feel. Even more precisely, what they want is you and how you make them feel about themselves.
For example, all cars can get people from Point A to Point B. But a Toyota Prius can make them feel environmentally conscious. And a Tesla can make them feel environmentally conscious AND successful. You see, it’s not about the function; it’s about the brand identification. A good brand makes people feel good. A great brand makes people feel good about themselves.
The Ice Bucket Challenge is working spectacularly well. The explanation on the ALS website says, “As of Sunday, August 24, The ALS Association has received $70.2 million in donations compared to $2.5 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 24). These donations have come from existing donors and 1.3 million new donors…” And the ice bucket dumping craze shows no sign of abating. How much money the organization will ultimately raise remains to be seen.
Needless to say, the success of The Ice Bucket Challenge has marketing and development people at every charity in the country scrambling to figure out how they can create their own social media sensation and I’m sure we’re going to see the fruits of their labors — successful or otherwise — cross our Facebook pages very soon. But there’s at least one company that could jump on the Ice Bucket Challenge bandwagon immediatley and not only raise a lot more money for ALS but also build their tribal equity at the same time.
Quite simply, there’s no proper Ice Bucket Challenge vessel. People are dumping cold water on their heads with everything from buckets to aquariums to coolers to shot glasses. The Ice Bucket Challenge doesn’t know it but they’re searching for their holy grail. So what if Coleman announced that for every Ice Bucket Challenge video that was made with a Coleman cooler the company would donate an additional $10 to the cause??!! All of a sudden people everywhere would pull their old Colemans out of the garage, borrow a friend’s Coleman or even go out and buy one. But more importantly, Coleman would not only be tying themselves to something altruistic and good, they’d be building their own brand equity because when you think ice and containers and fun, you’d think Coleman.This alignment of purpose and meaning and authentic truth and marketing is what developing a true tribal signature is all about. And while it may seem obvious and easy, why hasn’t Coleman latched on to The Ice Bucket Challenge already? Is it because they don’t have a professional marketing staff or a contract with a creative advertising agency? Of course not. It’s simply because most marketers are so busy thinking of traditional marketing and advertising ideas that they miss the concepts that are hidden in plain site.
But on Thursday, October ninth, we’re going to change that. Because that day marks the debut of the first Tribal Signature Bootcamp in Miami, Florida. Toby LaVigne – a black belt founder of the concept – and I are going to take a select group through the exercises and experiences that will help you uncover your own authentic truth and build the brand value and tribal equity that will market your potential to the world. Understand that this is not a rehashing of the old and tired (or even tried and true) marketing concepts that you studied in ADV 101. Instead it will be two days of power packed learning on how to develop a brand that will force people to sit up and take notice.
If you’ve been reading my blog for sometime now, you’ve probably seen that I’ve been working on these concepts for a long time. That’s because my hands-on experience with my advertising agency and clients has convinced me that the old ways simply don’t work in the new world. For example, I’m sure that someone at the ALS Association was still clamoring for the 5Ks and other traditional fund raisers that brought in last year’s $2.5 million while some forward-thinking genius was crafting the Ice Bucket Challenge that has already raised $70.2 million!
And if someone at Coleman is reading this, I hope they use our idea and sign up for our seminar.
I hope you do, too. We opened sign-ups a few days ago and will only keep the site open until our limited slots have been filled.
Click HERE to learn more.
There’s always one in every group and our harmonica master class was no different. Each time the instructor would ask if there were any questions, “That Guy” would raise his hand.
“Little Walter was the best. And I read somewhere he used a 1940’s Astatic taxi dispatcher’s microphone. So I tracked one of those mics down and spent a fortune tweaking it but I still can’t get his tone.”
“Yeah,” instructor David Barrett answered. “Little Walter was famous for playing whatever mics he stumbled upon. But even if you could find one of the actual mics he played through it won’t help you sound like Walter did.”
Barrett went back to his instruction but eventually “That Guy” raised his hand again.
“I Goggled vintage tube amps and found that Junior Wells used Word War Two Czechoslovakian vacuum tubes that he plugged in out of sequence. I bought some really expensive dead stock tubes on EBay but my amp doesn’t sound any better.”
“I don’t know what specific tubes Wells used,” Barrett answered, a little more annoyed this time. “But there are online sites with schematics of all the different permutations you can try but I don’t think any of them will help you sound like Jr. Wells.”
Barrett returned to the subject at hand. Before too long, “That Guy” stuck his hand up again.
“Someone told me that the best players like Walter Horton used to soak their harmonicas in vodka and that would change their tone. Could I…”
A few years after that my friend Soren came into a little windfall. With the money burning a hole in his pocket he went to his favorite golf store. He told the old man behind the counter that he had this gift money and wanted to spend it on golf. He couldn’t decide between new drivers, a titanium putter, or a new bag and shoes. The old man eyed him suspiciously for a minute and then asked what he wanted to accomplish.
“I want to be a better golfer.” Soren said proudly.
“You want to be the best? Put the money back in your pocket, go to the golf course and take some lessons.”
Last week I went to FootWorks and treated myself to the awesome new Garmin 620 running watch I’ve been lusting over. Besides telling time, distance, caloric consumption, and pace, it will also monitor my V02 intake, running cadence, ground contact time, and even my vertical oscillation (whatever the hell that means). It’s the best running watch out there. There’s only one problem. It doesn’t make me run any faster.
Neither do the new SmartWool PhD light micro running socks I got. They’re the best — super comfortable, incredibly moisture-wicking, and have cool red and blue speed lines that make them look fast even when I’m standing still. Only trouble is that after I put them on I finished my run at the same speed as I did with my old cotton socks.
Even my brand new Adidas running shoes didn’t help. Yeah, they’ve got lightweight cushioning, firm heel cup support, and are the same shoes Meb Keflezighi wore when he won the New York Marathon. Hell, he won Boston in 2014 with a best time of 2:08:37, less than half my marathon pace. But even with Meb’s shoes on my feet I just don’t go any faster.
When I told the guy in the cycling store who was fitting my road bike that I was embarrassed it didn’t compare to the best 16 pound, $12,000 carbon fiber masterpieces he was used to working on, he looked up slowly and said, “It’s not the length of the spear, it’s the strength of the hunter.”
It’s not the rock star’s vintage Stratocaster, it’s not the ace’s tennis racket, it’s not the celebrity chef’s ceramic knife, it’s not the hotshot lawyer’s $8,000 Brioni suit, it’s not the starchitect’s CAD/Cam program, it’s not the super agent’s Jimmy Choos. It’s not the Pulitzer Prize winner’s SLR, it’s not the Emmy winner’s laptop, it’s not the successful marriage’s diamond ring, it’s not the happy child’s Christmas gift, and it sure as hell ain’t my running shoes. And it’s not yours, either.
But when you finally do figure out what it’s not you will also know exactly what it is.
Until then, click HERE.
Last week, Melissa Francis at FOX Business did a story on BuzzFeed’s review of fast food marketing. The site created a sliding scale format that compared the pictures of fast food presented in advertising with the actual items you’d be handed across the counter. Even though there’s a big disconnect between what you see and what you get, that didn’t stop advertisers from presenting idealized versions of their products.
Of course this is nothing new. For years advertising agencies have created compelling personas for their clients and their products to position them to be as compelling as possible to their customers. But even in the best of times this practice was only thought to be about 50% effective. As legendary retailer John Wanamaker said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”
Despite all the advances the industry has made in the century since Wanamaker uttered those famous words, the situation has only gotten worse. Today many retailers and other marketers are finding that simply saying what their customers want to hear just doesn’t work anymore.
While the reason is uncomplicated, the causes are very complex. But simply put, we don’t decide who we are, the market does. In the old days (read pre-Internet) it was relatively easy to craft a brand personality that matched what the market wanted without having to worry that you’d be found out if your persona wasn’t consistent with your true identity. After all, consumers — even those who had been deceived and disappointed by products that didn’t deliver what they promised — had no effective way of reaching out and letting the world know how they were treated. But today the Internet and its ever-present suite of social media sites allow almost anyone to broadcast their occurrences, observations, and opinions to millions and millions of consumers regardless of geography or budgets.
In those old days, many companies used to hire advertising agencies to fashion their brand positioning simply because they didn’t have the guts to be true to their own authentic selves. But as we’ve seen, that was before consumers carried web-enabled smartphones and had the ability to instantly share their experiences with the world. Today aggressive marketing companies cannot game the system simply because ubiquitous and instantaneous online accountability won’t stand for it.
Today’s marketers must make a bold declaration consistent with what they believe and who they really are and get serious about changing their behavior, policies, procedures, and teams to reinforce this powerful declaration. Otherwise they will continue to hide behind advertising because they want to shift responsibility and not be accountable.
In simple terms, today leadership equals marketing.
All of this brings up a question that we’ve all struggled with, both personally and professionally: “Who am I?” And while the Greeks asked this question as far back as the 10th century – even inscribing it on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi (γνῶθι σεαυτόν) – most modern companies and business people do not know their answer.
Unfortunately, not knowing what a person or company truly stands for does not stop marketers from generating an inaccurate racket. But activity does not necessarily result in productivity. Or as the warrior philosopher Sun-Tzu put it, “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
Last week we talked about what happens when critics judge new ideas too quickly and often risk sentencing great ideas to obscurity; in that case, Airbnb’s new logo that was compared to “certain female anatomy.” (Branding Gone Wrong) But what happens when the creative process is killed before great solutions can even be developed?
This is what apparently happened when North Star Destination Strategies, a Nashville-based tourism branding firm, was first hired by City of Clearwater, Florida staff and subsequently fired by Vice Mayor Doreen Hock-DiPolito (Read more HERE) because they created a sexist logo.
Negotiations were almost complete and North Star was about to be retained to create a brand identity for the community, when Hock-DiPolito learned about a branding job the company had done for a Florida economic organization.
“It’s very male-oriented and does a disservice to women who own businesses,” Hock-DiPolito said of the logo On Ideas in Jacksonville designed for Enterprise Florida after North Star completed their research. Specifically, the logo presented the word “Florida” in green except for the letter “i” that was depicted as a man’s necktie. Hock-DiPolito said she was concerned about the “company’s apparent sexist attitude toward women.”
To be fair, I don’t think the logo is very good to begin with. But whether or not you agree that the mark was a sexist logo, the bigger question is whether or not one participant’s opinion — in this case Hock-DiPolito’s — is an appropriate reason for the firm to be passed over. While it’s possible that the iconography does suggest a male business slant, it could just as easily be argued that in today’s business casual environment, a necktie simply represents a traditional or serious business attitude. And further, nobody involved has any idea whether or not the decision makers at Enterprise Florida asked for a logo with a necktie in it in the first place.
Look at this logo designed by Herb Lubalin for Families magazine in 1980. At the time it was created it presented a perfect representation of a family inside the word family itself. Thanks to its elegance, simplicity, strong messaging, and impeccable graphics, this mark is one of my favorites and a piece I return to whenever I need inspiration. But by today’s standards it would be pretty easy to argue that Lubalin’s Families masthead is a sexist logo and inappropriate simply because it shows a taller person (insensitively representing a male father), a shorter person (a possibly sexist view of a shorter female mother) and a single child (don’t get me started!).
So what does this logo say about families with same-sex parents?
How about childless families?
How about blended families with many more children?
How about same-height parents? How would this logo make them feel?
Apple? Isn’t the once-bitten apple the symbol for original sin? Does that mean that religiously observant believers should buy their computers and smartphones elsewhere?
Chevy? Their bowtie logo is clearly a symbol of masculinity. Does Clearwater Vice Mayor Hock-DiPolito find Chevy’s mark unacceptable also?
Starbucks? The Lady Godiva mermaid woman is topless for Pete’s sake. Does that mean men aren’t welcome? How about mastectomy survivors?
Truly offensive logos such as The Washington Redskins’ have no place in today’s increasingly tolerant and democratic society. No matter how you try to defend it (and regardless of how long it’s been in use) the title “Redskin” is an offensive slur against Native Americans that must be changed.
But to neuter the power of symbolism, and the people who create those symbols, simply because someone doesn’t understand what the symbol represents is an egregious overreaction and sets a dangerous precedent for mediocrity.
After all, even Sigmund Freud agreed, “A cigar is sometimes just a cigar.”
Airbnb, the online vacation rental service that now controls more hotel rooms than all of the major hotel companies combined, introduced a new logo last week. The response from the blogosphere and myriad branding experts” was immediate and negative.
Apparently, the responses were so bad that Fortune magazine titled their article on the fiasco, “Branding gone wrong: When bad logos strike back.” Besides Airbnb, the article also highlighted the criticism around new branding initiatives from Tropicana, Gap, JC Penny, and Starbucks – amongst their gallery of “branding gone wrong.” Of course, the title, and specifically the reference to “bad logos” clearly established the author’s own opinion and instantly moved the story from observational reporting to editorial commentary. Because regardless of whether the logos turn out to be successful examples of branding or not, and regardless of how the companies and their publics responded, being lumped under the title “…bad logos…” pretty much stops any reasonable conversation before it even begins.
According to the article, “Vacation rental service Airbnb unveiled a new logo last week that generated a wave of criticism for its design. Some likened it to a triangular paperclip or, even more crudely, to certain female anatomy. But the company still stands by the logo… ‘It’s a symbol for people who want to welcome into their home new experiences, new cultures, and new conversations,’ Airbnb said on its blog. Well, maybe if you squint,” sniffed the author.
Unfortunately for both Airbnb and the readers of Fortune magazine, neither the reporter nor the public is actually qualified to decide whether the logo is good or not. Sure, immediate public outcry can put a lot of pressure on a company’s CEO and marketing department and can even cause its board to forgo the new branding initiatives and crawl back to the comfortable old, folding like a lawn chair under the onslaught of negativity. But just because the first responses are loud and critical doesn’t make them correct.
Steve Jobs said that “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” However, even Jobs left out the critical notion that some new things simply require time before people can see and accept their true value. The practice of disparaging the new until it becomes accepted as breakthrough—and inevitably a beloved part of the status quo—is a common trope in the history of art and innovation. In 1889, the intelligentsia of France, including Guy de Maupassant, Alexander Dumas, Emile Zola, Charles Gounod, and Paul Verlaine signed a letter of protest that read in part, “We, the writers, painters, sculptors, architects and lovers of the beauty of Paris, do protest with all our vigor and all our indignation, in the name of French taste and endangered French art and history, against the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower.”
A few years before that John Ruskin wrote of Beethoven’s music: “Beethoven always sounds to me like the upsettings of bags of nails, with here and there an also dropped hammer.”
And even Paul Cézanne, the post-impressionist master Picasso and Matisse both said was “the father of us all,” was disparaged in his day. In 1877, the artist showcased a collection of his paintings to so much criticism that he vowed to never exhibit his work again. Many people are afraid of things they can’t yet understand but quick as a mob of angry villagers to light their torches and storm their metaphorical Frankenstein’s castle. Unfortunately, by the time cooler heads prevail it’s often too late to save the delicate and beautiful new idea trampled under the rioters’ hobnail boots.
I’m not predicting that Airbnb’s new logo, or any new branding idea that faces initial scorn, will ever prove to have the staying power of an Eiffel, a Beethoven, or a Cézanne. What I am suggesting is that if we judge too quickly we not only run the risk of killing ahead-of-their-time concepts that might otherwise prove to be masterpieces, but we also rob ourselves—and the world—of the potential power of a great new idea.
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.
“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.
“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?’”
“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.
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.
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.