[Please note: I am on vacation this week and sharing one of my favorite posts from a few years ago. If it’s new to you, I hope you enjoy it. If you’re reading it for the second time, I hope you enjoy it again.]
Do you know how to read musical notation? If you do you know that when you’re reading music you’re actually reading at least two things simultaneously. Written music tells you what note to play and when to play it.
Written language, on the other hand, only tells you one thing – what letter to pronounce. Of course, punctuation helps indicate pacing – pause at a comma, stop at a period (I’m not really sure what to do at a semicolon) but it’s still up to the reader to interpret how the author wanted the piece paced.
For example, read the following sentences aloud and place the emphasis on the bold faced underlined word. You’ll see how the pacing, and the meaning, can change based on where you choose to place the emphasis.
I didn’t say you should leave now.
I didn’t say you should leave now.
I didn’t say you should leave now.
I didn’t say you should leave now.
I didn’t say you should leave now.
I didn’t say you should leave now.
I didn’t say you should leave now.
Music notation is not like that. The composer provides the note to play, the time signature to play it in, the exact time each note should be played, the way the note should be attacked and the volume with which the note should be played. That’s why an entire orchestra can play a piece of music simultaneously and get it mostly right on their first reading. Of course the conductor can add flavorings and nuance, as can each player, but the basic structure still provides instructions for every part of the composition.
At the same time, musical notation has a way to allow the musician to add his or her own ideas, or improvisation, to the piece. Here the composer might suggest what the musician should play but also provides for the instrumentalists to create their own music and explore their own musical ideas by playing what they feel, and hopefully, what fits into the structure of what the rest of the ensemble is playing.
Ironically, written language, which doesn’t put nearly the same restraints on interpretation of prose, has no such flexibility. Sure, a rabbi or minister might halt their liturgical reading to allow parishioners to riff on a theme (they call it private mediation) but when was the last time you were reading a novel and the author inserted a few blank pages for you to add your own thoughts? There’s no room for readers to add their own words to a written piece.
That’s why sarcasm and irony seldom works well in print or static online advertising. It’s one thing for the copywriter to add their own inflection to a headline when they present it to a client but it’s quite another to expect a reader to add that same emphasis. Instead, the language of ads must be clear, simple, and to the point. Hopefully this will cause an emotional response without depending on a specific interpretive performance from the reader.
Imagine if Gershwin had e-mailed the lyrics of his famous song to his manager:
“You like potato and I like potato,
You like tomato and I like tomato,
Potato, potato, tomato, tomato,
Let’s call the whole thing off.”
Say what? Call the whole thing off just because we both like the same vegetables? Clearly something was lost in the transmission.
Remember Gershwin when you’re writing to be understood and when you’re writing to be influential. Your reader most certainly won’t read your text the way you want them to read it; instead they’ll bring their own pacing, emphasis, and meaning to your words. To build your brand value it’s important that your intention be so clear that your audience will internalize it no matter how they pace their reading.
And by writing simply and clearly, the results of their interpretation will be music to your ears.
Do you remember the first time you rode a bike by yourself? I remember when I did.
I hopped up on the shiny blue two-wheeler I got for my birthday, and my dad ran alongside me holding onto the saddle while I furiously pumped my legs and struggled to control the wobbling handlebars.
At some point my dad quietly let go of the seat and let me ride on my own. I shot down the street without a care in the world until I looked back and realized he wasn’t keeping me steady — which is when the wobbly handlebars won the war and I went crashing to the ground.
It was almost exactly the same story some 30 years later when I taught my son to ride his bike. He fought with the handlebars and wobbled along and did spend some time sprawled out on the pavement. But before long Danny figured out how to ride and his life changed forever. All of a sudden he could get to friends’ houses or the park on his own. He was free.
A few years later I taught my daughter to swim. She’d stand on the side of the pool while I bobbed in the water just a few feet away. With an excited, “Ready Daddy?!” she’d hurl herself into the air, splash down in the water, and lead a trail of bubbles straight to the bottom where she’d stay until I’d dive down to grab her and bring her up to the surface. After a big breath and an even bigger smile, she’d push the wet curls out of her face and squeal, “Again Daddy!!” and we’d repeat the whole process. Eventually Ali figured out the secret to buoyancy and could splash into the pool and dog-paddle all the way over to me. Now she could go to swim parties at friends’ houses and run along the surf at the beach without worrying about touching the water. Life was never the same again.
That instant where everything changes is what Malcolm Gladwell calls “The Tipping Point” — the momentary catalytic mechanism that introduces a whole new world of opportunity and possibility. Steering a bike without your parent holding onto the seat and swimming on the top of the water instead of sinking to the bottom both require a leap of faith and some new skills. But in both cases, figuring out the counterintuitive solution makes all the difference and changes everything.
Building your brand is just like that. Once you you create a compelling brand you reach your own tipping point and everything changes. The big question is: How do you achieve that?
Ahhh, THAT’S where the branding process becomes counterintuitive and requires some new skills.
Most average marketing and branding talks all about the product. How many locations the retailer has; how powerful their computers are; how long they’ve been in business; se habla español. But the problem is that nobody cares about those things until they’re interested in the product (or service) in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong – all of those product attributes are critical. But they’re the RTBs (Reasons To Believe) and are of no interest or consequence to the potential customer until the customer is interested in the product.
I don’t care how many bottles of wine are on the menu of a restaurant I’m not planning to visit. I don’t care how inexpensive a pair of running shoes are if I don’t want to try them on. It doesn’t matter how many lawyers work for a firm I’ve never heard of.
The secret to building a powerful brand can be summed up in three words: All About Them. Make your brand resonate with who I am and what I care about or, even better, make your brand help me feel good about myself and then I’ll be all ears when you share all of your wonderful RTBs.
Like learning how to swim or learning how to ride a bike, learning how to make your brand All About Them changes everything. And once you figure that out, nothing will ever be the same again.
People are constantly asking ‘what is a brand?’ and ‘how a brand is defined’. Most business people and consumers are savvy enough to understand that a brand is not a logo or a trademark, it’s not an ad and it’s not a sign, website or brochure. Instead many people define a brand as every communications touch point and interaction that a consumer has with a company. But where the former list is too restrictive, the later description might be a bit too all encompassing.
Yes, a brand can be seen as every interaction between a customer and a company but that makes it a little hard to quantify and identify, and certainly hard to manage and manipulate.
I’ve also heard a brand described as “what people say about you behind your back.” While I think this is true, after spending a long, intense, and very enjoyable weekend working with the remarkable attendees of our branding seminar it dawned on me that this definition puts all of the brand responsibility in the consumers’ corner and doesn’t leave much room for the company or individual to improve their lot.
An active and interactive weekend of sharing branding tips and techniques with an inquisitive audience got me to consider new ways of defining a brand and monetizing its value.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that a brand is a shortcut to understanding. Like the car buyer who kicks the tires or slams the doors to determine if the auto they are interested in is solid, a brand becomes the shorthand explanation and validation of what a product or service is going to do for the consumer.
That’s why so many people thought that a brand was a logo. After all, the logo serves as the physical manifestation of the brand. And indeed, Louis Vuitton’s “LV,” or Hermes’ “H” tells the consumer and the world what to expect from the product. In the most powerful examples the subliminal message isn’t about the function or utility of the product at all but about the more abstract attributes that the brand provides, such as bestowing status.
In the last few weeks and months our branding agency has seen the direct benefits of this brand power. Thanks to almost weekly appearances with Melissa Francis on FOX Business, the strength of this blog’s distribution (18,000 subscribers and many more thousand “organic” online readers), a cover story in Speaker Magazine, and more, our new business activities have soared, as has our closing ratio on new business. My agent, Katrina Smith, calls this newly acquired brand power “social proof” and I think that makes a lot of sense because it explains how high-quality brand exposure becomes the verification and validation buyers are looking for before they take the risk of a purchase decision.
Thanks to computerization, globalization, enhanced logistics, and multiple sales channels, we live in a world where most products are very good (or at least good enough) and they’re all almost instantly available. All new cars provide more than adequate transportation. All flat screen TVs have great pictures and sound. All new watches keep accurate time. All cruise lines offer food, lodging, and exotic destinations. What sets different products apart and makes them more or less valuable is not the function of the product itself but how well the brand resonates with the consumer and the potential consumer. And the quality of the brand is both transmitted and confirmed through social proof.
A great product or service is not a brand; it’s cost of entry. Which means the moment to start working on your brand and generating social proof is the same as the best time to plant an oak tree in your yard — either twenty years ago or today.
Have you upgraded to iOS 7 yet? If you’re an Apple iPhone or iPad user you know what I’m talking about (if you aren’t an Apple user, indulge me please and read on. You’ll catch on quickly.) iOS 7 is Apple’s chief of design Jonathan Ive’s first public shot at overseeing the entire ecosystem of their products, both hardware AND software.
There are two noteworthy parts to Ive’s debut operating system – the new software features and the design updates. Let’s leave the software function changes discussion to the industry program pundits; what I want to discuss here are the design developments.
Besides changing the colors and the icons, the biggest change Ive made was to get rid of Apple’s trend setting skeuomorphism design protocol (don’t feel bad, I didn’t know what skeuomorphism meant either. Skeuomorphism is the design of a derivative object that retains the ornamental design cues that were prevalent in the original. For example, the yellow-lined paper for Notes, the leather binding for Calendar, the wooden shelves for iBooks). As David Pogue wrote in The New York Times, “The look of iOS 7 is sparse, white — almost plain in spots… it’s all blue Helvetica Neue against white.”
Because of these changes, when people talk about the new system what I hear is either praise for the stark new look or complaints about it. Being a minimalist at heart, I happen to really enjoy the new clean look. But in this instance, I think discussion of the aesthetics of the new program really misses the point.
Back in the early 1980s when Apple first introduced their Macintosh interface and again when they introduced their first smartphone 20 years later, Apple was showing us something we’d never seen before. In fact, Steve Jobs famously said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” It was Apple’s job to expose us to something we’d never experienced before that would quickly become both intuitive and intrinsic.
Because Apple was showing us something new with the original Mac, they needed to use a visual language that we already understood. THAT’S why the icon for deleting digital files looked like a trash can and the icon for pointing at things on the screen looked like an extended finger.
Jumping forward to the original iPhone operating system and all the way to the one iOS7 just replaced, Apple used these same visual metaphors to shortcut the need for wordy explanations.
Which brings us back to skeuomorphism. And so the “bookshelf” was dressed in wood grain, the “notepad” looked just like the old school yellow legal pad we all instantly recognize, and the “datebook” was represented with a faux-leather cover and computer-generated wire binding.
Those real world finishes were not simply design elements used to make the interface look better but were, in fact, visual metaphors judiciously employed to quickly explain what the phone could do for us.
That leads me to believe that Ive’s elimination of these realistic design features was not just an overhaul created to bring the iPhone’s operating system in line with his design aesthetic. Instead, it was the realization and acceptance that today’s consumer is savvy enough to no longer need the visual training wheels that Apple first bolted on their early phones.
Business consultant Marshall Goldsmith’s last book was named What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Goldsmith’s title describes a lesson that Apple clearly took to heart. What Apple and Ive figured out is that because it’s not broken doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fix it. Ive clearly understands that unless Apple constantly innovates and updates their mighty iPhone it could just as easily suffer the fate of the Palm Pilot and Blackberry and wind up on the unforgiving trash heap of irrelevance.
Whether it’s abandoning skeuomorphism or moving on from an operational system that no longer supports their brand, Apple’s iPhone refresh is a great lesson and reminder to all of us of the importance of staying ahead of our competition AND our customers before we too suffer the cruel fate of the outdated and the obsolete.
Do you understand how speakers bureaus work?
I never did either.
In fact I was starting to believe the old adage that the only time speakers bureaus need you is when you don’t need them.
Then I became friendly with a few speakers bureau owners and started working with them and learned a little about how their businesses actually work and what they’re looking for. And before long, they started booking me. Now, thanks to an exclusive arrangement with Keynote Speakers Bureau in Silicon Valley, I get virtually all of my bookings through bureaus.
Why do you care? Because while we were planning our Elite Branding Intensive, Katrina Smith, president of Keynote Speakers generously offered to come to the workshop and explain to everyone exactly how bureaus work. Katrina believes that by showing speakers EXACTLY what bureaus are looking for, she can help make the business better for everyone.
How does Katrina know what bureaus want? Not only does Katrina own Keynote Speakers, she’s also the incoming president of the IASB (International Association of Speakers Bureaus) so it should be pretty obvious that she really knows what she’s talking about.
Katrina is going to show you exactly:
Plus, Katrina will be available to answer your questions and demystify the whole bureau process for you.
Personally, I think that Katrina’s knowledge and availability are worth the price of admission to our branding intensive alone. But you’ll get Katrina’s insight in addition to learning how to build your brand, how to create compelling messaging, and everything else we’ll be sharing. And we’re still including everything you need – all your meals, your hotel stay, all your materials, and more. All you have to do is get here.
We’ve kept our attendance limited and we’re almost full. So if you want to join us, you need to act now. Click HERE for more information call Toma Rusk at (831) 402-5574 or email Toma at TurkelBrands.com.
Remember that our limited seats are filling up fast. So as Ferris Bueller famously quipped, “I highly recommend picking one up.”
My friend Phil Allen, brilliant lawyer and blazing lead guitar player for The Southbound Suspects, told me this story:
The defense attorney was questioning the prosecution’s star witness.
“So you say you actually saw my client bite off the victim’s ear in the bar fight?”
“Yes I did,” the witness answered nervously.
“But it’s a big bar, isn’t it? Exactly where were you standing?”
“In the front, over by the door.”
“And where did the fight take place?”
“In the far corner, near the back of the bar.”
“In the back, huh? So how far away do you estimate you were standing?”
“About 150 feet away.”
“And how many people were standing between you and the fight?”
“Oh, at least a 100 or so. The bar was packed.”
“Was there anything else in the way?”
“Yeah, there were a few pool tables too.”
“And the two of them were fighting on the floor, isn’t that right?”
“Yes. They were on the floor and surrounded by a big crowd.”
The defense attorney pulled his full bulk up and out of his chair, straightened his tie, and puffed out his chest:
“So let me make sure I’ve got this right,” he bellowed. “You were in a big bar, at least 150 feet away from my client. There were a few pool tables and 100 people standing between you and the fighters. And they were down on the floor surrounded by a big crowd. And yet you continue to insist that you’re absolutely sure my client bit off the other guy’s ear.
“Yes I am,” the witness answered quietly.
The defense attorney moved in for the coup de grace.
“And just how do you know that for sure?”
“I saw him spit out the ear when he stood up.”
Bam!! You just heard it — the question that should never be asked. The question that negates everything that came before. The question that gives it all away. The question that changes things forever.
Obviously the defense attorney never learned about the two most important words of sales: shut the @$#% up (How did I learn that? Read more HERE).
How many times have you snatched a wet and wiggly defeat from the jaws of victory and talked yourself right out of a sale?
The King James Version of the New Testament says, “Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.”
Both Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln have been credited with: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”
And Lao Tzu wrote simply, “Silence is a source of great strength.”
Of course it is hard to keep your mouth shut when you’re moving in for the kill. But if we can’t get a better answer than “yes” in the first place, why do we keep pushing for more, especially when we know better?
There’s lots of eloquent advice and stories like Phil’s about the over-eager attorney to remind us to stop before we reach the question you should never ask. But me, I’ll stick with “shut the @$#% up.”
A few weeks ago I wrote about our upcoming Elite Branding Intensive (you can read that post HERE). It’s an all-inclusive, hands-on, two-day branding workshop that we’re putting on at the end of September to teach entrepreneurs, small business owners, and large company professionals EXACTLY how to build their own profitable brands. Our very limited seats are filling up fast but if you’re interested there are still a few left. Just click HERE for all the details.
I don’t usually use this space to rant. I try to be thoughtful, even-tempered, and even a bit circumspect in what I write about here. But today I’m typing this post with my teeth firmly clenched together and my fingers smacking the keyboard.
A few months ago I spoke to an industry group about how they should build their brands for success. I laid out the simple rules — our Seven Steps to Building Brand Value —and exactly how they should determine their customer-based advantages to market themselves most effectively — specifically how to make their message All About Them.
During the Q&A and the rest of the time I spent at the conference, I listened as person after person showed me their business cards, websites, brochures and so on. Of course they weren’t done the way I had suggested since they had just heard me speak. But when they told me how much money they paid “professionals” to produce such misguided work, it made my blood boil. Especially when they explained how their sales had not kept pace with the expanded business they had been promised.
If they had been given good advice they might have created powerful brands that would have moved their sales meter. But because they were given such poor advice, they not only spent too much money, but they paid the opportunity cost of not making sales and earning profits.
I felt like that madman in the movie Network (1976) who stuck his head out of the window and screamed, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”
That’s where our Elite Branding Intensive idea came from – a hands-on program where we could show entrepreneurs, small business people, and marketing folks in large companies exactly how to build their brands. We figured it would be an especially good deal for people and companies who need help with their brands but can’t afford our agency fees.
Coincidentally, while we were planning our Elite Branding Intensive, I made a presentation to a client committee that’s deciding how to market their own big opportunity. After reviewing the goals and the research results with the committee, I showed the first campaign we had created for them. Everyone loved it. Next I presented our second suggested campaign and everyone loved that one as well.
But before too long the sidebar conversations started. The agendas came out. The insecurities chimed in. “Maybe we should add more information” they said. “Maybe we should cover all bases.” “Maybe we should combine both campaigns.”
Maybe I should go home and stick my head in the oven!! (Of course, our oven’s electric so all I’d do is singe my hair). But remember, I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.
At that moment it dawned on me that if more people attended our Elite Branding Intensive and understood the simple but profound concept of “All About Them,” more people would understand exactly how to build a brand and build their business.
So if we need more people to attend, why not make it even easier (read “less expensive”) for more people to attend?
Because we want to give everyone hands-on assistance, we’ve already planned very limited seating. And since we’re not going to increase the number of seats in the room, this offer will lower our profits. In fact, I might actually remove a few chairs to make sure everyone gets the attention they need.
So here’s the deal: If you want to join us AND you want to save some money, bring a friend or partner at no extra charge. That’s right. You can bring a second person absolutely free.
Split the tuition with them, let them come for free, charge them more and lower your cost — however you handle it is entirely up to you. I just want more people to attend and learn exactly how to build their brands.
Your guest will still get all their meals, all their materials, all their training, and all their surprises. The only thing I ask is that you share your hotel room because we’ve included that in the price too.
This is BY FAR the lowest price for our program. But of course the REAL deal is on the benefits to your business that will come from properly constructing your brand.
And maybe for me in not being so annoyed anymore.
To get all the details, click HERE. But hurry before I calm down and change my mind!
The Internet bubble burst right after Y2K and the real estate bubble burst after the middle of the decade because people believed that with all the new technology and opportunities the old rules simply didn’t apply anymore. But the history of fads has shown us that even when the tools change drastically the rules remain the same.
That got me wondering what would happen if a business superstar from 50 or 100 years ago — Carnegie or Rockefeller perhaps — looked at today’s business environment. What would they think of the Internet and the new opportunities it has created? Would they do things differently or would they run their business by the same fundamentals that brought them such success before the information age?
While I don’t have access to the wisdom of Carnegie or Rockefeller outside of history books, I was lucky enough to learn about business from two superstars of the previous generation and two men who built their business before digital technology became the ubiquitous norm.
Ted Pappas was a visionary real estate man who built Keyes Realtors, a large and successful business in South Florida. Although his son Mike and I are running buddies— and coincidentally the same age—I actually met Ted long before I met his son.
Ted was fond of telling old jokes and reciting his rules of business. I used to hear both at different networking events at places such as the Miami Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, and economic development meetings.
Ted believed that all businesses required the same four Ms — management, methods, manpower, and money. Perhaps you’d argue to add two more Ms — marketing and momentum — but Ted believed those fundamentals would get you pretty far regardless of what business you were in.
Because Ted was in the residential real estate business, he also had a list of why people buy and sell homes, all of which started with the letter D — debt, divorce, death, distress, deployment, dowry (marriage), and downsizing.
My dad was also a visionary businessman and also a contemporary of Ted’s. And he also had a list of rules that he believed were applicable to all businesses. Since my father died, I’ve dubbed his adages Lessons From Lenny and think about them often.
But it was my father’s rule of buying property that was the most well known. My dad believed that when you buy real estate or anything negotiable and expensive, you have to offer a price that’s so low it embarrasses you. According to my dad, if you can say your price with a straight face, then you are offering too much. In fact, if you go into the negotiation with your spouse or partner and they don’t walk out of the room because they’re disgusted at how low your offer is then it is too high. Friends and neighbors throughout South Florida still tell me that they were able to buy their homes, cars, boats, or whatever at a great price because of my dad’s rule. (Do me a favor. If you got a great deal using my dad’s rule, please scroll down to the comment section and post the story for everyone to enjoy. I know I’ll enjoy it.)
“But wait,” I hear the rest of you saying, “what about sellers’ markets when buyers are paying more than the asking price just to buy the property of their choice? How does your dad’s rule of offering low prices work then?
For that answer we have to go even one generation further back and ask my grandfather, Poppa Hy.
As I recall, my Poppa Hy only had one rule of business — “Buy low, sell high.” Poppa Hy believed that that simple bit of advice could heal all business ills.
“But Poppa,” I’d naively ask, “What if I buy low but the price still goes down?”
He’d stare at me knowingly for an agonizing 30 seconds before answering.
“Then don’t buy it.”
When it comes to fundamentals, there are some very specific rules to building a powerful brand. Because I’m fed up with watching people throw good their time and money at hapless marketing programs, we’re hosting our first Elite Branding Intensive in Miami this month where we’ll show you EXACTLY how to build you brand.
I don’t want to use up the time you generously share with me to read this blog so if you want to know more, click HERE. The workshop is planned for the end of this month and is filling up quickly. We’re limiting attendance because we want everyone to have a hands-on experience so if you’re interested, NOW is the time to act. Click HERE for more information.