I am sitting in the audience of a breakout session at the NSA (National Speakers Association – the ones who talk, not the ones who listen). An online expert is putting on a fascinating presentation about how to generate web traffic. Right now he’s demonstrating his theory on how to build a powerful podcast.
His outline is simple:
1. Identify the customer’s challenge.
2. Personalize it.
3. Offer three ways to solve the problem.
But that’s just the basics. Besides the simple structure, he also showed us how to make the pitch personal and compelling. He even demonstrated some brilliant examples of how to do just that.
The speaker asked the audience to take five minutes to create their own presentation following his specific instructions. At the end of the allotted time, he asked for three volunteers to get up and make their pitch.
The first volunteer got up and spent his valuable few minutes in front of the crowd explaining why he didn’t do it the way the expert suggested, but instead wanted to check if his way of building his presentation was correct.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the woman the speaker called on next stood up and did an eight-minute soliloquy on why certain professionals aren’t successful in business and how annoying it is to work with them – a screed that had nothing to do with what the speaker was teaching us. I didn’t even hear the third volunteer because I couldn’t stand it anymore and slipped out of the session.
In the hallway, I ran into a guy who asked me if I’d take a look at his marketing materials and let him know my thoughts. He pulled out a notebook and started flipping through the pages, showing me what he’d done and explaining to me why each specific item was included on each page.
My suggestions were simple. As I’ve tried to explain so many times in this blog, all he needed to do was change his focus from company-centric to customer-centric. In other words, reframe his messaging from an intellectual sell to an emotional one, away from himself and towards his potential clients. But no matter how many times and how many different ways I tried to explain he wouldn’t listen – all he cared about was having me validate what he’d already done.
So here’s my question: What good is good advice if you’re not going to take it?
If this sounds like a rant, I’m sorry. I am peeved and banging the keys on my laptop a little harder than usual. But the reason might surprise you. Believe it or not, I’m not that annoyed about the people I just wrote about. Instead, all of this makes me wonder how often I’ve been exposed to great ideas and didn’t listen or pay heed because I was too busy defending what I’d already done? How often did I miss the opportunity of learning from an accomplished expert because my focus was elsewhere? And most important, how can I make doubly sure it doesn’t happen again?
I texted my wife and told her my dilemma and her simple response was, “Deep breath. ILY.” After thinking about it for a while, I think she’s right. The simple way to make sure that we’re open to opportunities is simply to breathe. Don’t be so quick to respond, don’t be so quick to defend, and don’t be so quick to disagree. Instead, I’m going to try to simply be open to the information I’m lucky enough to receive and save both the evaluation and the retaliation for later.
Needless to say, the information I get may or may not be accurate or helpful but how can I know the difference if I’m too busy explaining why I did what I did? There will be plenty of time for evaluation later. For now all I’m going to do is breathe and pay attention. How about you?
I have a personal question regarding social media. In a nutshell, I’m working to hone my social media skills; keeping up with the ever-changing industry and learning everything there is to know so that I can become an expert in the field. I want to know everything! But, as you know, it’s an extremely overwhelming industry and there is no textbook that is available to teach you everything. I’ve been hearing a lot about these social media certification courses, but I’m not sure that they’re worth the money. So I wanted to talk to an expert (you!) about your thoughts on this.
Thank you in advance,
“I don’t know much about these certification courses, Sarah, but I can’t imagine they’re particularly helpful unless perhaps you’re interested in learning programming.
Instead, building your own robust online social media (SM) presence would be your best way to keep up-to-speed on the practical realities and changes in the space.
I’ve had clients tell me they want to learn about SM but they don’t want to actually do it — what they’re looking for is the book they can read that’ll show them what to do. Their question is simple: what book should they read?
My answer is that learning SM is like learning to swim (SwiM, get it?). You can read all the books you want on swimming but if I row you out into the ocean and throw you over board, you’re not going to be able to swim very well, are you? And I can even toss you the book but if it’s not made of Styrofoam it’s not going to help keep you above the water either.
The way to learn how to do it is to do it.
I do recommend you attend various conference and seminars — that’s where you’ll find people who are passionate about staying ahead of the bleeding edge in the technologies and who will be able to help you. Maybe you should even read some great books (The Viral Loop or Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, for example) about what others have done. But at some point you’ve just got to say ‘What the hell’ and jump in with two feet.
Open an account on WordPress and start a blog. Learn to upload it and monitor it. Promote it on Twitter and Facebook and Google+ and LinkedIn. Figure out how to upload video. Repurpose your text as video blogs (VLOGS) and create your own channel. Figure out the difference between YouTube and Vimeo. Look into SlideShare and Quora. Start building lists and email your posts to your followers using Listrak, Constant Contact, MailChimp or some other email-marketing provider. Figure out how to reduce your spam complaints. Analyze your click-throughs and unsubscribes. That’ll teach you more about SM than any certification class ever will.
Don’t feel overwhelmed. Remember that you don’t have to do it all at once but you do have to do it. Otherwise you’ll just be sitting on the sidelines, books in hand, watching the world pass you by.
Don’t know if this is what you wanted to hear but it’s my truth. I hope it helps you.
All my best,
I love daring and bold concepts, especially when they work. Recently I was introduced to The SEED Foundation.
17 years ago SEED’s founders looked at the expensive elite boarding schools available to privileged kids and thought, hmmm… “Why shouldn’t there be FREE elite boarding schools available to underserved children – the very children who need this kind of model the most?”
And so Washington DC, one of the worst-performing school districts in the country, was where SEED first proved their concept. And this August SEED is opening their third school in the country right here in Miami. There are not many schools that have been visited by President Obama, First Lady Bush, and Prince Charles, but SEED has and here’s why…
A number of years ago I tried to figure out why our ad agency wasn’t quite as successful as I would have liked. It finally dawned on me that we had been trying to sell something our clients might not have been interested in buying.
Quite simply, we were trying to sell better design work and they wanted to buy better sales. Sure it was more complicated than that but when you boil it down that was the gist of the disconnect.
What I understand so clearly now is that none of our clients are patrons of the arts. Instead they look at what we do as a means to an end. We’re perfectly welcome to get our jollies by crafting our branding creations anyway we’d like but in the end we need to solve our clients’ problems and sell their products.
The most interesting thing is that as we evolve our business and look for continuous ways to reinvent what we do — using more and more sophisticated technology, more and more talented practitioners, more and more complicated programs — the core service we provide gets simpler and simpler.
It’s our job to turn NEEDS to WANTS and WHYS to HOWS.
One of the biggest challenges technology presents all of us is the abundance of products and services it facilitates and the commoditization it creates. Products and services that used to be exclusive to developed countries and sophisticated companies and professionals now glut the market because computers make it easy for them to be produced and distributed quickly and cheaply all around the globe. And where there used to be significant differences in quality between the goods produced by these different companies and countries, once again computers have shortened those gaps and reduced the differences.
So while being in a business where people buy products based on NEEDS used to be a strong market position, it isn’t anymore. If I live up north where it’s cold and I need to be warm, for example, many tropical beach destinations can solve my dilemma. But that creates a competitive situation amongst tropical destinations that drives costs steadily downward. Good for the traveler perhaps, but not so good for the hotels and amusements that service them.
If I’m going to an event and need a new pair of silver pumps to match my gown (yes, I am embracing my feminine side here), most any shoe brand that sells formal shoes can solve my problem. Again, this invites competition and drives prices down.
And if I want a pair of Jimmy Choo or Louboutin pumps, then their absolutely outrageous prices will seem utterly acceptable and reasonable. After all, if I WANT those shoes I won’t be satisfied with anything else. In fact, the high prices might even add to my desire.
What causes this? Brand value. It’s the perception of brand value that makes an Apple iPad worth more than a no-name Korean tablet and a cup of Starbucks coffee worth more than the same drink poured at the corner diner. Are the iPad and venti half-caf cappuccino actually better? That depends on what you what you need and how sophisticated your palette is. But it’s ultimately irrelevant; the desire for the brand — the WANT — is what makes the product more valuable.
If you build a successful brand, not only do you move your consumer from NEEDS to WANTS, you can also go from WHYS to HOWS. You no longer have to spend your time, effort, and hard-earned marketing dollars convincing your potential customer WHY they should use you. Instead your efforts can be spent showing them HOW – how they can hire you. Do this properly and it reduces the need for competitive pricing, filling out mind-numbing RFPs, and putting on dog and pony shows for prospects. When clients want to hire YOU, not just someone who does what you do, you’ll find that the entire sales cycle changes and the HOWS become the meaningful explanations that will get you hired.
NEEDS to WANTS and WHYS to HOWS. It took me a lot of years of hard work to realize it couldn’t be much easier than that.
Walk into Junior’s in Jupiter, Florida and you might be surprised at what you find. The walls are painted with graffiti. The furniture is constructed from industrial diamond plate steel, and red and black leather. And the proprietor is wearing a Harley-Davidson mechanic’s shirt, with short sleeves of course, to show off his fully tattooed arms.
The other guys there are dressed in a similar fashion—jeans and baggy shorts, black tee shirts, tattoos, baseball caps, and chains. And most of them—Ruben, Jairo, Trix, Chi, and Johnny—are clutching just-sharpened straight razors or have them ready at hand at their workspaces.
But the people waiting to be served are not typical “hot rod shop” customers. Instead, they’re young boys and businessmen and suburban mothers and fathers.
That’s because Junior’s is not a garage or a gang hangout.
It’s a hair salon. No, really.
Further down the Florida coast on the tip of Miami Beach, Joe’s Stone Crab Restaurant sells the same thing as Junior’s. Not haircuts with a garage vibe but the feeling that you’re in a special place, part of a special club, in the know.
On a Saturday night during tourist season, patrons line up in front of Ed and Anthony’s maître d’ stand to put their names on Joe’s seating list even though they know the wait for a table might be over three hours. And since Joe’s doesn’t take reservations, you could argue that the diners are not there in spite of the wait but because of it. After all, where else can you see and be seen in the ground zero of South Beach?
Joe’s and Junior’s are thriving businesses created for today’s tribal economy where what you do is not as important as how you do it or who you are.
If you just want your hair cut, you can go anywhere from an $8 discount cuttery to a $150 exclusive salon. But if you want something different, if you want to feel cool, if you want an experience, then you have to go to Junior’s.
But don’t take my word for it; read what they say on their website: “Junior’s Barber Shop, where Rock-N-Roll sets the tone for this garage inspired tattoo vibin’ atmosphere. Junior’s is a FULL SERVICE Barber Shop offering everything from children’s to men’s cuts, to hot towel shaves and we even do custom designs for the edgier folk.”
Notice that Junior doesn’t say anything about how well they cut hair or how inexpensive they are. That’s because those things don’t matter. What Junior’s is selling is not a haircut, it’s an experience.
I think Joe’s grilled fish is the best in Miami. And their fried chicken is the best in the world. But their website doesn’t brag about their food. Like the haircuts at Junior’s, food at Joe’s is currency. It’s what they trade for money but it’s not what their customers are buying. Want proof? Go to the website and you’ll find the recipes for their most acclaimed dishes, including their Caesar salad dressing, their ginger salmon, and Joe’s world-famous key lime pie published right there for all the world—and all their competitors—to copy. If all you want is the food, you can make it yourself.
What you can’t make yourself is Joe’s atmosphere, their feeling, their vibe. Or as they say on the web, “It has always been the love of food, family, and friends that has brought in customers and kept them coming.”
That, and the crowds that tell you you’re somewhere special.
What does this have to do with you? The takeaway here is that your business needs to make people feel special, too. More importantly, it’s a reminder that people are not buying what you sell; they’re buying who you are. And if you can express your authentic self through your business, as Junior’s and Joe’s have done, you’ll find scores of customers who are hungry for what you’re selling.
“When one door closes, another opens.”
“The universe will provide.”
“If you can conceive it you can achieve it.”
[Parental warning: I hate insipid bromides. If these are sayings you appreciate, things you hang on the wall or slather on your coffee mugs, please don’t read any further. You’re not going to be happy, and who wants to be unhappy?]
“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
Really? Now I’m no expert on dogfighting, but I’d bet that big dogs kick the crap out of little dogs every single time regardless of how feisty the little dog might appear.
“Quitters never win and winners never quit.”
That sounds like it makes sense unless whatever you’re trying to do turns out to be undoable. In which case sticking with the undoable just to avoid being a quitter is stupid. Giving up and going on to some other more valuable opportunity is a much better way to ultimately succeed.
Years ago, web marketing expert Jay Berkowitz from Ten Golden Rules did me a lovely favor and sent a copy of John Warrillow’s book Built To Sell. Jay had just read it and learned how to convert his business – not to sell his firm but to figure out how to remove himself from things he didn’t need to do everyday so he could concentrate on what he did need to do – pleasing his clients and growing his business.
It was something I needed to learn but I didn’t know I needed to learn it.
A year or two later I was at a seminar and the speaker was talking about how to systematize a business. His point was that there are lots of revenue streams a business can provide, but only if there’s a consistent, coherent, cogent protocol that can be managed by a team of experts, each doing what they’re best at.
That was something I needed to learn too, but didn’t know that either.
This morning I was at the National Speaker’s Association meeting listening to Steve Shapiro talk about how to leverage business assets and he opened his talk with: “After all is said and done, more is said than done.”
Now there’s a saying I can get behind. Much more is said than done. But Steve went on to show how to actually do more. He explained how systemizing your business can create all kinds of opportunities to generate more revenue, increase free time for other activities, and help your other associates generate revenue too.
It was something I needed to learn but I still didn’t know I needed to learn it.
Then I wandered into Bill Cates’ breakout session and listened raptly while Bill spoke about what it takes to license products. His first suggestion? Systemize your business so others can do what you’re doing and you can focus on generating multiple revenue streams.
After being taught, and taught, and taught, the student was finally ready. I finally heard the message that systemizing my business practices is what I need to do to continue to grow our business. This is something I do need to know and now I know that I need to know it.
But the other thing I learned is that the old saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear” is true. Not for the assumed reason that the teacher magically pops up when the student has the need, but for the metaphorical explanation that the teacher is there a lot of the time, the student just simply isn’t listening.
I’d been given the information I needed time and time again; I just wasn’t sensitive to it because it hadn’t become important enough to me. But as soon as the need was clear and the message was repeated enough times, it sunk in and I got it.
Does this suggest that I’m not very aware, sensitive, or perceptive? Perhaps. But what it also suggests is that I need to spend more time prioritizing what I want to accomplish and then paying attention to all the resources around me that are generously offering their recommendations and assistance. Maybe you do too.
After all, I’d hate to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Spend enough time talking to online marketers or digitally savvy traditional advertisers and you’ll hear lots of conversation—and consternation—about the power of online reviews. According to these marketers, the comments and critiques on review sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp are key to either their company’s success or failure.
But according to a fascinating new article in this month’s Harvard Business Review, titled “What Marketers Misunderstand About Online Reviews,” the most important factor in determining the significance online reviews play in a consumer’s propensity to purchase is not necessarily the quality of the reviews but the type of product the client is looking for and the way the consumers determine what to buy.
According to the authors, consumer purchase decisions are affected by three different factors: “…Prior preferences, beliefs, and experiences” (P), “information from marketers” (advertising, packaging, and other marketing tools) identified as M, and “input from other people and information services” (O). The authors say these factors create a zero-sum game where “…when the impact of O on a purchase decision about a food processor goes up,” for example, “the influence of M or P, or both, goes down.”
What’s even more interesting is that the authors have found that the importance of the various factors – P, M, or O – on purchases is less determined by the customers’ demographics and more by the type of product they’re buying. Low-involvement purchases that are mostly a matter of habit, a gallon of milk, say, or laundry detergent generally are not influenced by others’ opinions. P, or previous experience, is the most important factor in these decision-making processes.
At the far other end of the spectrum, luxury goods such as designer handbags, expensive watches and upscale automobiles, are also O-independent. That’s because these products appeal to buyers’ emotions instead of their utility.
Chain restaurants are also mostly O-independent because consumers know exactly what to expect from a Subway or McDonald’s and have no need to learn what anyone else thinks. But the uncertainty of independent restaurants makes them O-dependent and explains the success of review sites such as Yelp. Non-luxury cars, too, are O-dependent, with customers conducting extensive research and putting significant faith in the cars’ brand. (Brand value itself can be O-dependent but it can also be increased substantially by savvy M.)
Finally, digital products such as consumer electronics are very O-dependent with buyers looking to early adopters and more educated users for input and recommendations. But interestingly enough, during sale periods such as Black Friday, the marketers’ influence (M) – such as packaging and in-store promos – becomes more and more important as buyers do not have the time to do the research they’d otherwise conduct.
The authors close the article by pointing out that emerging technology continues to change both sources of O and the way consumers can access that information. They conclude by writing that “as the influence mix evolves, success will come to companies that can closely track the sources of information their customers turn to and find the combination of marketing channels and tools best suited to the way those consumers decide.” Very good advice.
But what the authors don’t point out is that there are things marketers can do immediately to reduce the influence of O and increase their sales. First, a strategically planned move to the luxury end of the consumer spectrum—where emotion overrides intellect—will allow marketers to sell more and more product regardless of available information. Next, marketers can strive to build an emotional connection between their consumer and their brand. In this scenario, the functionality of the product (an attribute ironically never mentioned by the authors) becomes less and less pronounced while what the product does for the user becomes of primary importance.
In other words, building brand value (coincidentally the title of my last book) is one technique retailers and marketers can use to both sell more product and reduce the effect of other’s posted opinions on those sales. Like the door slamming or tire-kicking that yesterday’s car buyer might have done to determine quality, brand value becomes the shorthand that encourages today’s consumers to purchase.