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 email@example.com 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.”
My father was a passionate proponent of architecture and design. Throughout his career he worked with some of the best in South Florida, including Gail Baldwin and Don Sackman, Roney Mateu, Frank Schulwolf, Jordan Barrett and Murray Gaby, and Manny Abraben. I don’t think my dad ever worked with Alfred Browning Parker but I know he was a big fan.
Wikipedia says Alfred Browning Parker “was a Modernist architect who is one of the best-known post World War II residential architects. He gained fame for his highly published modern houses in the region around Miami, Florida.”
Once a year House Beautiful, the primary architecture magazine of the 1950s and 1960s dedicated an entire issue to their House Of The Year. Four of Parker’s homes were selected, more than any other architect. In 2006 Wallpaper* magazine chose Woodsong, Parker’s Miami residence, for their “Top 10 Houses of the World,” the only house chosen in all of North America.
On Friday I was lucky enough to have lunch with a group of Miami creative leaders that included Parker’s son Robin. Robin sent me his dad’s list of “Aphorisms For Architects” from an early issue of The Florida Architect that I know my dad would have loved. More relevant to all of us, Parker’s aphorisms are perfect not just for architects but for marketers, entrepreneurs, speakers, business people and anyone striving to do a great job and make a difference. You might have to change an architecture-specific term here or there to fit your own profession — and life — but I think you’ll get the picture.
I am honored to share these with you. Thank you Robin (and ABP).
Alfred Browning Parker’s Aphorisms For Architects
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.
In response to last week’s blog post How To Skin A Horse Of A Different Color, John Calia wrote, “A great modern day parable that explains the power of inductive reasoning. It’s McKinsey-level strategic thinking applied to everyday business and personal challenges.”
Thanks, John. I just thought it was a simple explanation of a complicated concept.
That’s what we do every day — reduce very complicated and not very compelling product explanations into short, simple, easy-to-understand, and profitable brands. Because these strategically simple messages make consumers regard, remember, and respond.
But if you’re thinking about how to reduce your brand message to just one word, I know what you’re thinking. “Sure, Bruce, defining an issue and standing for something makes a lot of sense and I can see how it works for others, but…(big sigh)…I’m different. After all, my business is much more diverse, much more creative, and much more customized to my clients’ specific needs…(bigger sigh)…you see, I do too many different things. There’s just no way I could shoehorn everything I offer into a couple of words.”
Really? Your business is too complicated to brand simply? Well then, consider Volvo.
Volvo is ostensibly in the car business. But that means they are really in a number of different businesses — transportation, manufacturing, research and development, metallurgy, engineering, upholstery, design, import/export, logistics, to name just a few. Plus, they operate retail stores (for both new and used products), and also provide sales, service, and accessories. Volvo operates under the governmental regulations of the hundreds of countries, states, and municipalities they operate in. They work in multiple languages, with multiple consumers, and in multiple currencies. And don’t forget that they don’t just make consumer automobiles. Volvo also manufactures buses and trucks and provides engines and engineering for lots of other companies. And yet despite this incredible complexity, Volvo still describes themselves with their commitment to one word: safety.
Volvo’s brand description isn’t even about what they actually provide. Nowhere in their branding do they talk about transportation or about getting from point A to point B. They talk about safety. And this positioning is so valuable that when Volvo introduced an SUV, arguably the new American suburban family car, their XC70 outsold all foreign SUVs (European and Asian) combined.
But it’s not just Volvo that understands the value of a simple brand position.
New York is “The Big Apple.” Chicago is solidly Midwestern. Los Angeles is movies, Las Vegas is sin. Miami is hip. What are you?
Apple built their brand on the da Vinci line, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” and it’s driven their product philosophy ever since, most recently resulting in one single button controlling your iPhone or iPad. Despite the outcry from Blackberry users, Apple’s iPhone does not have a raised keyboard.
Here’s what Mr. Mo’ sang:
“Two cars, three kids, six phones; a whole lot of confusion up here in my home.
500 stations on the TV screen, 500 versions of the same ol’ thing.
Y’all know it’s crazy, and it’s drivin’ me insane.
Well, I don’t wanna be a superman, I just wanna go somewhere, use my hands.
And keep it simple.
I called my doctor on the telephone; the lines were open, but there was nobody home.
Press one, press two, press pound, press three; why can’t somebody just pick up the phone and talk to me?
Well I went down to the local coffee store; the menu went from the ceiling all the way down to the floor.
Decaf, cappuccino, or latte said the cashier; I said gimme a small cup of coffee and let me get the hell up outta here.
Y’all know it’s crazy, and it’s drivin’ me insane.
Well now I don’t wanna be a superman, I just wanna go somewhere, use my hands.
And keep it simple, real simple.”
Thoreau famously wrote, “Simplify, simplify.” But maybe if he had heard Keb’ Mo’s song, he would’ve cut his credo in half to just “Simplify.”
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.)
One Sunday a few months ago, über parachute BASE jumper ‘Fearless’ Felix Baumgartner opened the hatch of his hot air balloon capsule and hurled himself into the very edge of space.
The next day, FOX Money’s Melissa Francis interviewed me about what the jump meant to Felix’s sponsor, Red Bull.
Felix’s daring jump might have been the best marketing stunt yet performed. Not only did over eight million people direct their Internet browsers to watch the jump live, but Felix broke four world records and will be in the records books for years to come.
What’s more, Red Bull judiciously applied their logo to Felix’s spacecraft, his helmet, and his parachute, and aimed their proprietary cameras where they’d create the most effective images.
But that’s not what I want to talk about. There’s plenty of information all over the ‘net about Fearless Felix and his fantastic feat. What I want to share is my experience working with FOX Business. (You can watch it HERE or click on the video below).
Three days before Felix’s scheduled jump date I was contacted by FOX’s booker, Brooke, who asked if I’d be interested in commenting on the branding implications for Red Bull. Over the next three days, as the jump was postponed due to weather, Brooke was in constant contact with me, making sure I was available, ready, and knowledgeable about the subject. She was the perfect example of friendly competence and held her digital leash tight without ever making me feel as if I was being pestered.
On the day of the interview, Brooke arranged for a car service to whisk me to FOX’s remote studio about 25 minutes from my office. When I got there I was treated like an honored guest and walked through the process that included a touch of makeup and a little lapel microphone.
Here’s where it got interesting. Even though it appears to TV viewers that the interviewer is sitting with the guest, truth was I was in Miami and Melissa Francis was interviewing me from FOX’s studio in New York City. What I was responding to was what I heard through a little speaker lodged out of sight in my ear.
Because of the seven-second delay between the interview and the broadcast, I couldn’t even watch a screen of the show. Instead, I was sitting behind a wall of lights and focusing on the barely visible luminous crosshairs taped around the camera lens.
Now that I’ve done these “blind” interviews almost weekly since the Fearless Felix story, the process has almost become second nature. But beforehand I hadn’t realized how much of any conversation is based on visual cues. Head nods and body language all go a long way to letting you know when you’re supposed to talk and when you should shut up. Staring at blinding lights? Not so much.
I never realized how talented interviewers like Melissa Francis are, holding up both ends of a blind conversation until they know they can trust their guest to respond appropriately. After all, I’m only responsible for a few minutes of air time at a time but the host holds the fate of the entire show in her hands every time she goes live.
The other thing I didn’t know was how important the bookers and producers are to making everything run smoothly. They’re part of every aspect of every show – discussing what issues to cover, booking the guests (there can be seven to 10 guests on a one-hour program), preparing the host with information and direction, making sure everyone shows up on time, booking the studios, ordering the fiber connections, directing the on-air graphics, and so on and so on. And that’s before you even consider all the effort it takes to then translate the on-air programming onto the Internet.
When done properly, the end result is a smooth show that looks like an interesting conversation between two interesting people, much like you’d have over cocktails or a cup of coffee with a friend or coworker. But the amount of time, money, effort, and expertise that go into such an activity is truly mind-boggling. It gives me a new understanding and appreciation of the 24/7 news cycle that we all participate in, and an intense interest in seeing how these activities will amp up as online information makes the world more connected and more mobile.
From The New York Times: “The (Volkswagen) Beetle was a revolutionary car that changed how people thought about mass-market transportation. As dedicated as the Beetle was to simplicity, the (Toyota) Prius is equally focused on fuel economy. Typically, cars that obsess over a single objective become niche products, like the previous fuel-economy champ, the original Honda Insight. The Prius succeeded where others failed because it offers a beguiling combination of technical wizardry, everyday practicality and offbeat styling at a mainstream price. People buy a Prius for the efficiency, sure, but not just for the efficiency. The Prius exudes an endearing optimism; its colorful charts and graphs challenge you to be a better person (if, possibly, a more aggravating driver). It’ll fit right in during the next Age of Aquarius.”
I’m a habitual reader of The New York Times but I don’t agree with the conclusion of this paragraph. The Toyota Prius did not succeed where others failed because of its “technical wizardry, everyday practicality and offbeat styling.” If that were the winning combination then the Honda Insight would have been a runaway success as well.
No, the Prius was a one-of-a-kind success because its unique design signaled the drivers’ intentions to the rest of the world. While Honda’s funky little Insight looked like other Hondas, albeit it with rear wheel skirts, the Prius looked like nothing else on the road. THAT’S why eco-conscious consumers, Hollywood A-listers, and suburban social climbers flocked to Toyota’s little hatchback doorstop.
Before the second-generation Prius (the body style we all recognize), the only way to drive an inexpensive car with character and panache was to pick a Jeep Wrangler. But that meant that the socially conscious driver had to make do with a jarring ride, noisy plastic windows, and Spartan accommodations for the sake of significance and style. For the first time in automotive history, Toyota created a status symbol that was practical, affordable, and very, very noticeable.
The Toyota Prius didn’t just usher in a new niche of automobile, it also gave birth to a whole new class of products – socially “correct” merchandise that telegraphs the users’ intentions at a relatively low price. You can see what the Prius wrought in non-automotive applications such as TOMS shoes, LIVESTRONG wristbands, and CLIF bars, among other consumer goods.
These days, the roads are full of all sorts of eco-conscious cars from lots of different manufacturers. But most of them look exactly like their normally powered siblings, the only noticeable difference being the word “HYBRID” stamped on their flanks. Only nascent electric car manufacturers Tesla and Fisker seem to understand what Toyota proved – that consumers who want to save the world want the world to see them doing it and they want to build their personal brands with the cars they drive. After all, we used to say, “You are what you eat.” Now we say, “You are what you consume.”