Have you made bouillabaisse lately? It’s the traditional Provençal fish stew from the port city of Marseille. To make one you fill a pot with all kinds of fresh seafood including fish, mussels, clams, octopus, and langoustines and a whole mess of vegetables such as leeks, onions, tomatoes, celery, tomatoes, and potatoes. The whole mix is brought to a rollicking boil and then served with grilled slices of crusty bread and rouille – a mayonnaise seasoned with olive oil, garlic, saffron, and cayenne pepper. Yum, right?
While the bouillabaisse boils away on your stove it fills the kitchen with fragrant garlicky deliciousness. It’s hard to keep from lifting the lid and inhaling deeply, maybe even dunking a piece of crusty bread into the bubbling broth.
But be careful. Because when you raise the lid on the bouillabaisse all kinds of things can come shooting out of the hot pot. Some of the splatters can stain your clothes, some can burn your arms, and some just dirty up the countertop.
Spouses disagree. Kids fight back. Clients aren’t always as thrilled with your work as you thought they’d be. Hell, even blog readers post comments that aren’t always as complimentary as you expected.
But just like the French stew that often tastes much better than the sum of its part would suggest, our relationships often pay delicious dividends that we never expected.
Take this blog for example. When I uploaded my first post seven years ago, my intentions were simple. I wanted to get some hands-on experience to help our clients transition their businesses into the nascent online world and I was hoping to generate some new accounts and revenue for my ad agency. Both those things have happened, but the road to success wasn’t always smooth or linear.
When I started the blog I expected readers to be complimentary – and most are. But I also naively assumed that people who didn’t like what I wrote would either quietly unsubscribe or post thoughtful, albeit critical, commentary. Boy, was I wrong. If I posted some of the nastier responses I’ve received they would singe your eyeballs. I’m constantly amazed at how much time and vitriol anonymous forums encourage – this blog included.
At the same time, I’m also amazed at the thoughtful commentary and insight my readers share. If it’s true that we teach what we need to learn; then my habit of writing about things I’m learning about has been rewarded with great advice time after time. For all of you who have contributed to my blog (and my growth), thank you.
For those of you thinking about writing a blog and wondering if it’s worth the time and effort, here are some other great benefits this exercise has given me.
Yet the best thing is that this bouillabaisse of a blog disciplines me to think more deeply about issues that are on my mind and to organize my thoughts into cogent conversations – while it also forces me to work on my writing. And it helps me build a stronger relationship with you.Published on April 27th, 2015
Disclaimer: I’m very eager to hear what you think about the candidate’s logos but have no interest in turning this blog into a debate over the relative advantages of the candidates themselves or their respective issues (there are PLENTY of places online where you can discuss that until you’re blue (or red) in the face). Please keep your comments to your opinion of the logos themselves and how you think they accurately or incorrectly portray the candidates. I will remove any posts that are blatantly partisan or offensive.
Because there are more of them in the race this year, let’s start with the Republicans:
Despite my best efforts I can’t find a campaign website or new logo for Jeb. My guess is that when we finally see where his presidential logo is going it will represent the simple acronym “Jeb” in an attempt to separate the candidate from his father and brother, but that’s only a projection. As of now there’s nothing to discuss.
Jeb Bush’s Grade: Incomplete
Ted Cruz is lucky enough to have a name that is short, easy to spell, impossible to mispronounce, and solidly American with a just touch of international immigrant exotic. Odd then that his logo mark (the teardrop, not the text) would be so busy, complicated, and difficult to understand.
While the red, white, and blue flag in his presidential brand —complete with star and stripes—is hard to miss, what does Cruz’s logo shape represent? A flame? A drop of water? A tear? All kidding aside, I find it strange that a candidate who does not believe in global warming nor sea level change would include these allusions in his logo mark.
Ted Cruz’s Grade: C-
Like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio has a name that is short, easy to pronounce, and suggests his immigrant roots without screaming them – a great asset that should not offend xenophobes who might otherwise balk at Rubio’s Cuban roots. On the other hand, a name as exotic as Barack Hussein Obama didn’t hurt his presidential brand nor keep our current president out of the White House so maybe the name doesn’t matter that much.
What does matter is the little splotch that has replaced the dot over the “i” in Rubio’s last name. When it’s large enough, the red mark will be easily identifiable as a red Republican continental U.S. (wonder how Hawaii and Alaska feel about being left out?) but when it’s shrunken down for business cards and campaign buttons it will look like a red wine stain.
Marco Rubio’s Grade: B
Dr. Rand Paul has focused on his first name and removed his last name altogether. Maybe he did this to distance himself from his famous father Ron or maybe to associate his presidential brand with the Rand Corporation, the nonprofit global policy think tank originally created by Douglas Aircraft Company (a perfect association for this oddly hawkish Libertarian).
Have you noticed that the negative space between the “A” and the “N” serves as the handle for the torch? How about the horizontal white line working as the bowl of the torch? What do you think of the poorly rendered flame itself? While the mark is strong and distinctive (like the candidate?) Paul’s logo looks like a rough first sketch of what could eventually become a good logo. This is particularly ironic because Rand Paul’s name backwards (Paul Rand) is the name of one of the greatest logo designers in history with designs for Westinghouse, IBM, ABC, and UPS in his oeuvre. Paul Rand truly put the “Rand” in “Brand.”
Rand Paul’s Grade: C (with room for improvement)
Now the Democrats. (Excuse me, Democrat)
As the most well known candidate in the race, and currently the only Democrat, Hillary Clinton could take a hint from Madonna, Cher, and Beyoncé and simply promote herself with one name. But for her logo she’s gone a step further and followed President Obama’s practice of just using a single initial.
While I did promise to be politically agnostic in this column, I did not promise to be designer agnostic. Michael Bierut, the creator of Hillary’s logo is one of my favorite designers, a friend, and a great guy. Lucky for me I love the mark Bierut created.
Clinton’s logo is powerful, simple, memorable, and moving and sets the stage for a cohesive presidential brand. Her arrow points to the future and suggests the progressive administration the candidate promises. The logo’s simplicity makes the mark transparent and understandable, issues that Clinton herself has had problems with. Finally, its components – the arrow and the strong vertical lines – will give the campaign’s graphic designers easy elements to use in her websites, bumper stickers, brochures, and other marketing materials. This is what good graphic design looks like and more than anyone could ask from such a simple logo.
Clinton’s Grade: A+
Having started to create the look and feel of the presidential brands, it will be fascinating to watch where the candidates go from here. Stay tuned for a masterclass in the dos and don’ts of brand building. In the meantime, please let me know what you think.Published on April 20th, 2015
We lost a great big piece of business. We lost a great big piece of business we should have won.
The relationship started really well. We know the travel and tourism industry inside and out. We had exquisite experience and were able to demonstrate the great results we had achieved for similar clients. Our ideas were spot on. And the presentation went as well as it could have. We were on fire.
But we lost a great big piece of business.
And the worst part of it was that it was all my fault.
Do you want to know why?
We were meeting with the client after the pitch. They were blown away by our presentation and we were negotiating next steps. They were fine with our pricing and had no issues with the contract itself. They liked the account people we were assigning to their business and the creative people who would be working on their account. In fact, they were so pleased with the team that the CEO complimented me on assembling such a great group of professionals to work for them.
“Thanks,” I answered. “With such great people working on your business, there’s almost nothing for me to do. And you know, I’m always willing to do less.”
The CEO stared at me dumbfounded. And although I didn’t realize it at the time, everything went downhill from there.
Here’s the worst part:
I was kidding.
Really. I. Was. Kidding.
There was actually a lot of work for me to do. And I was very excited about doing it too. But the little comment that I thought was amusing – “I’m always willing to do less” – was exactly what our new client was worried about.
You see, it turns out that her last agency had apparently done a great presentation with talented senior level people, too, but after that they staffed the business with entry-level employees. They never delivered the work quality they had promised and the client’s sales had suffered.
She was concerned that history was about to repeat itself.
Of course I had no way of knowing that that was her concern, but ignorance is never an acceptable excuse. My attempt to be cute cost us a showcase client and a lot of money.
Last week I found a story online and posted it on Facebook. I am not the original author but I think an edited version is important enough to repeat here:
Two dogs walk into the same room at different times.
One comes out wagging his tail while the other comes out growling.
A woman watching this goes into the room to see what could make one dog so happy and the other so mad.
To her surprise the room was filled with mirrors.
The happy dog found a thousand happy dogs looking back at him while the angry dog saw only angry dogs growling back at him.
What you see in the world around you is a reflection of who you are. That goes for your outlook, your business, and your life.
I saw funny.
Our client saw lazy.
Learned a lot, though. I hope you did too.Published on April 13th, 2015
A recent story on public radio talked about the logistics of pursuing smugglers of coveted black rhino horns. The officer interviewed made the point that the discoveries made in this case also helped uncover smugglers of guns, drugs, and even human traffickers. His point was that the skills needed to bring in the banned aphrodisiac were applicable to smuggling all sorts of things.
In 2014, Uber, the logistics app that facilitates a new type of taxi and limo service, moved into different areas too. The company introduced UberRush, a courier service designed to move stuff instead of people. According to The Washington Post, “The same back-end technology that Uber has built to track drivers and connect them to riders can easily be used to order and follow deliveries. All that changes is the cargo on board and the mode of transportation, a detail around which the company is becoming increasingly agnostic.”
Back in 2004 when IBM made their momentous shift from equipment sales to software and systems consulting, it capitalized on the protocols and practices it had constructed to run its previous business model. These proprietary programs became the foundation of what has since become a global business with over $22 billion in revenue. What’s more, the new model provides IBM with both higher-margin recurring revenue and reduced volatility.
So what do black rhino horns, Uber’s logistics, IBM, and your business have in common? Quite simply, you’re sitting on a gold mine of proven protocols that are both marketable and monetizable. The programs and procedures that you have created over the years are exactly what other businesses are looking for.
37 Signals, the creator of Basecamp, was a web design company founded in 1999. But in mid-2004 the company’s focus shifted from web design to web application development when they found a significant market for the management software they created to run their own business. The transition was so successful that 37 Signals changed their company name to Basecamp (their first product) to focus entirely on their flagship.
Many successful speakers in the National Speakers Association, from Mikki Williams to Lou Heckler to Patricia Fripp to Doug Stephenson, have taken the things they’ve learned over their years on the platform and turned them into valuable programs for all the people who want to succeed in the speaking business. Some of their programs teach stage skills, some teach business logistics, and still others are about marketing and promotion. But while all of them are simply a reutilization of proven programs that the practitioners have already used to build their own businesses, each has produced new business opportunities and new revenue streams for their creators – sometimes rivaling or even surpassing the success of the original business they’re cribbed from.
The Washington Post says, “Uber foresees – as Amazon and eBay do, too – that the next growth opportunity in a shifting economy isn’t facilitating digital marketplaces: it’s moving physical stuff. It’s figuring out urban logistics in a world where crowded cities will only become more so, where e-commerce is actually making congestion worse, where the rise of ‘sharing’ has created a need for coordinating the mass joint use of cars, tools, tasks, and dinner.” Most importantly, these companies have figured out that what they already know how to do creates valuable practices and unlimited opportunities.
You can take advantage of what you already know, too.
Many years ago I was in an office with a tattooed art director who dressed in Hell’s Angel denim, leather, and chrome long before it was fashionable. Despite his intimidating appearance he was fiercely soft spoken about his work.
One day, dressed in his best Easy Rider regalia, he presented a beautiful campaign to a less than sophisticated client. The ads featured stunning beauty shots of the product surrounded by a great field of empty white.
The client glanced at the work for a brief moment before he started explaining to my office mate all the things they could put in the white space, from a map to phone numbers and addresses to a great big Se Habla Español announcement. After all he explained, “I’m paying for all that #$%@ empty ad space anyway. Might as well fill it with something $@&%ing useful.”
The art director listened for a long noisy minute before interrupting the client’s rant.
The client was dumbfounded. The ads ran the way they were presented.
Artist-architect-philosopher Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said: “Less is more.”
Steve Jobs said: “Simple can be harder than complex.”
And French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote: “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”
Clearly, simplicity has been an important subject for designers and communicators both before and after my lesson in that ad agency office years and years ago.
The dictionary offers three different insights into the meaning of the word simplicity that also point to why designers would find it such a compelling concept:
Obviously, being easy to understand does help accomplish the goal of communication because there is nothing extraneous standing in the way of comprehension and subsequent action.
But wait, there’s more.
Simplicity in design helps create a sense of calm, aids comprehension, and provides an attractive focal point for attention.
Simplicity allows the viewer to concentrate and to appreciate what matters while helping them disregard the rest.
Simplicity also insists on responsibility. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright said: “Less is more only when more is too much.” A minimalist aesthetic demands that what is included be absolutely critical to overall comprehension and appreciation.
Simplicity is a technique, a direction, and a goal.
Simplicity is simple but never simplistic.
Thoreau wrote: “Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify.”
Thoreau believed simplicity was important enough to say twice, employing an ironic juxtaposition to make his simple point as simply as possible.
Last weekend Gloria and I were in the right place at the right time when we went up to Washington DC to celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary. Our daughter came down on her spring break and our son had just moved to Washington to find a job in the political arena so it was a family reunion too. We even had our anniversary dinner at Clyde’s in Georgetown, the same restaurant where Gloria and I got engaged some 30 —sigh— years ago. Needless to say we all had a wonderful time.
On Monday I did my FOX appearance from the Washington DC bureau. That’s always a treat because of both the enormous traffic of interviews and interviewees FOX hustles through their DC outpost and because a lot of the faces you see in the hallways are the same ones you see in the House and Senate (FOX’s studio is across the street from the Capitol Building for that very reason.) For my political junkie wife and son it was like sitting on the field during the all-star game.
While we were waiting in the green room we struck up a conversation with a very nice man who was catching his breath after a heated on-air debate. Turned out he’s a political consultant and gave Danny lots of good advice on what he needed to do to find a job. David (I’ll protect his last name and identity) explained to Danny how the system works, why you need a mentor to guide you through Washington’s labyrinth-like proceedings, and why it would make sense for Danny to build his network today and worry about building his bank account tomorrow. It was a 45-minute master class in how Washington works.
While they talked I was called to do my segments and left the room for about half an hour (you can watch them HERE and HERE). When I returned they were still chatting about what Danny needed to do to launch his career. David commented on the two interviews I had done and it turned out there were a few things that I had that he needed – specifically contacts in the TV and speaking worlds. We spent the next little while exchanging VCF cards and phone numbers and promising to get together the next time I was up in DC.
Once I got back to the hotel I looked up our new friend on Google and Facebook and discovered we weren’t just chatting with any old political consultant but that we’d been with one of THE (pronounced “THEE”) political consultants. Clearly Danny, Gloria, and I were in the right place at the right time.
That got me to thinking about opportunity.
A few years ago we were at a dinner that featured a sitting Supreme Court Justice. Thanks to the generosity of my friend Phil Bakes, Gloria and I sat at the same table and got to chat with the judge. At some point during the meal I asked him how he actually made it onto the Supreme Court.
The judge explained about the basic requirements (not legal or historical, by the way, but pretty universally accepted) of first being a lawyer and then federal judge and having a good relationship with the White House. But, he said, while that was all well and good, you still have to “be on the corner when the bus goes by.”
Clearly I’ve been in the wrong place at the wrong time and the right place at the wrong time a lot more times than I’d like to remember but sometimes I’ve been in the right place at the right time too. And that’s when you realize how important it is to be ready when chance presents itself.
My father always said, “When opportunity knocks, you can’t say ‘come back later.’” Both our Justice’s chance to serve on the Supreme Court and Danny’s chance to find a mentor in Washington DC confirm that my dad’s words were correct.
Actor Denzel Washington said, “Luck is where opportunity meets preparation.”
Auto racer Bobby Unser said, Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.”
I said, “Hey Danny, don’t forget to call David.”
What would you say?Published on March 24th, 2015
Samsonite is also getting into the smart luggage act with their “new line of GeoTrakR suitcases, containing a cellular-enabled baggage-tracking system… and Andiamo will introduce a new carry-on with a Wi-Fi hotspot, battery charger and other features.”
Before we proceed, let me make it clear that I’m a tech geek. I love gizmos and technology. I lust for every new device Apple releases, I change apps as often as you change underwear, and I’ve figured out how to digitize all of my papers, bills, accounts, photos, sketches, and every other thing I can scan and upload to the cloud. My music hard drive has three terabytes of storage and holds over 114 days of continuous songs.
But even though I’m an early adapter and totally obsessed travel-light voyager, I will never buy one of these modern day steamer trunks. Talk about putting the “lug” back in “luggage,” not one review mentions how much smart luggage weighs, but I’ll bet it’s plenty. And that flies in the face of my belief that the key to travelling happy is travelling light.
Thanks to my never-ending travel schedule speaking at conferences around the world, I’ve experimented with enough bags and packing schemes to sink the Titanic. And I’ve figured out the exact solution and the exact bag to make travelling as easy as possible. More on that in a minute…
I’ve written on the subject of travelling light a few times before (I told you I was obsessed). You can read those posts HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE. And you can read my Fortune Magazine profile on travel as a competitive sport HERE. If you do you’ll see that learning about travelling light is an ongoing evolution – some of the tools and techniques I recommended early on have been discarded for new ideas. Live and learn, I say.
But before we get to my latest solution, here are five rules that will make your travel as pleasant and convenient as possible:
If you’re only going to bring a briefcase or pocketbook and one bag, you better bring the right one. After years of experimentation, here’s the best bag you can buy for trouble-free travel – a 22” Tumi duffel. It’s got a cavernous central storage area for shoes, folded suits, and all your clothes, a zippered pocket on the inside for items you want to keep as secure as possible, two pockets at either end – I use one for technology and the other for accessories – and a large zip pocket on the front for tickets, keys, passport, phone, etc. It’s easy to pack, easy to live out of if you organize with packing cubes, easy to carry, and easy to stuff overhead. And no wheels or frames adding weight or taking up valuable space.
The bad news is that Tumi doesn’t make them any more but you can usually find them on EBay for less than $100 in nylon and around $200 in leather (but beware, leather’s heavier than nylon). They come and go but there were a few listed when I wrote this article.
Happy travels.Published on March 15th, 2015
2,400 years ago Socrates said, “ὁ δὲ ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ.” (For those few of you who don’t read Greek, Socrates’ statement translates to something like, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”)
Thanks to the computer’s limitless ability to compile measurements and metrics, companies and professionals now have a way to apply Socrates’ theory to business. As we rush headlong into The Internet of Things – the new Internet protocol that will enable all of our devices to interconnect – this phenomenon will only grow more prevalent. Spending, transactions, speed to market, and every activity that can be tracked will be tracked and managed with equations that can squeeze every little bit of efficiency out of every little action.
When it comes to customer service, I’ve figured out that the specific equation for success is 925<247365.
As far back as the 1920s, The Hawthorne Effect was studied to prove that observation improves performance. According to Wikipedia, “The Hawthorne Effect suggested that productivity gains occurred as a result of the motivational effect on workers of the interest being shown in them.” In simpler terms, it is where individuals improve a measureable aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed.
Last week I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of people who work in the customer service industry. These hardworking professionals, formerly known as the Complaint Department, manage the phones and desks of companies that want to provide a friendly voice for customers that have a problem. The gist of our discussion was how technology has changed their businesses—and will continue to do so.
Long before we had democratized communication, most rants against companies were one-way monologues. Yes, you could send a letter to a company you thought had wronged you, and you could call the complaint department, but those were the only options available to you. Whether the company fixed your problem or not, you had little recourse other than to tell the people in your immediate circle how unhappy you were.
But with today’s ubiquitous access to social media (SM) sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, plus video sites including YouTube and Vimeo, a disgruntled customer has lots of ways to spread the news of their disappointment. In many cases, the angry customer may have an even larger and louder soapbox than the company itself.
Because of this, the position of the former “complaint department” becomes more important than ever. After all, they’re the ones who are on the frontline of responding to issues, fixing problems, changing attitudes, and maintaining clients. This opportunity offers even more potential when you realize that a formerly disgruntled client who feels that they’ve been respected and well-served can actually become a more loyal and higher value customer.
The mistake is that most companies put their social media activities in the hands of marketing departments who are ill-equipped to handle the job. Let’s face it: Marketing folks want to come up with a great new concept, seduce the idea, bring it to a big exciting climax, and then smoke a cigarette afterwards. We’re too busy expressing our creativity to do the day-to-day blocking and tackling required to turn around unhappy customers who are tweeting their displeasure at all hours of the night. Instead, it makes all the sense in the world for marketing departments to create SM messaging and design and then turn over the day-to-day (and night) operation to customer service.
Problem is, marketing departments will be loath to surrender control of their company’s SM activities even though it’s the best thing they could do. And so customer service representatives who want to burn down the old systems and suggest this unique realignment will need some fuel for their fire. And that’s where metrics come into play:
After all, that’s the way their customers see it too.
Published on March 9th, 2015