The more I write about how critical it is to discover and express both your authentic self and your customers’ deepest desires in your brand, the more questions I get. Many are about how one can discover the true self they should be promoting, or how to know exactly what their customers want. Clearly answers to both these questions require a lot more time than an email answer or even blog post offers. But the other frequent request is for a clear example of a brand that is congruent with both its own authentic self and the desires of its clients.
Before I explain, let me issue a prophylactic disclaimer. I’m neither condoning nor condemning O’Reilly’s politics in this blog. For the sake of illustrating the concept of true brand value I’ve gone out of my way to be as agnostic as possible. The point here is not the what, but the how.
Almost a year ago I was a guest on The O’Reilly Factor, coincidentally invited along with my friend and tech/social media genius Peter Shankman, as one of two marketing experts O’Reilly wanted to interview about ESPN’s decision not to run a Christmas-themed television commercial for a Catholic children’s hospital.
It was O’Reilly’s contention that ESPN’s refusal to run the spot was a clear example of what he called “America’s War on Christmas.” Click HERE to watch the interview.
If O’Reilly had actually permitted me to explain why ESPN had disallowed the commercial I would have told him about these three factors:
The funny thing is that O’Reilly, one of the highest paid personalities on television, knows these things better than I do. But explaining them doesn’t promote his brand nor engage his audience.
Bill has strategically built an aspirational brand by living the life his viewers wish they could live. Bill sells his brand to disaffected, formerly middle-class general market consumers who are angry that the life they lived is being eroded by rampant technology, increased minority rights, painful economic realities, and encroaching old age. And so O’Reilly brilliantly fabricates crises such as The War on Christmas to empathize with his audience while he first enrages and then placates them by manhandling his guests. Quite simply, O’Reilly beats up his mostly affluent, well dressed, educated, and/or minority guests because his audience wants to but can’t.
Simply remove O’Reilly’s signature rancor, and there’s a lot to learn and emulate from his brand, regardless of what you think of his politics, his practices or his policies.Published on October 12th, 2014
If you’ve read my blog before you know I’m obsessed with traveling light. That’s because a minimalist mindset makes travel more enjoyable and stress-free. Also I believe there are only two kinds of luggage – carry-on and lost. I’ve written about this before, listing a bunch of road-tested travel tips HERE and HERE.
My business partner and I used to go to a lot of industry events. We’d sit in way too cold conference rooms listening to lectures by the SVP of marketing for Humongo Company or director of international relations for Gigantis Corp. During the speech, Roberto would whisper, “You think this person ever made payroll?” When I’d answer, “No, payroll arrives from HR regardless,” Roberto would walk out. If the speaker didn’t walk the walk, why hear her talk the talk?
It’s the same with travel advice. And knowing Roberto would read this blog, and that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly, I made sure it was accurate and “real-world tested” before I uploaded it for you.
My family and I recently made the trip of a lifetime through Southeast Asia. All of us — my wife, kids, and mom — only took carry-on luggage. But I went further and took as few clothes as possible so I could report back to you.
What I learned is that there are three strategies that make all the difference: color coordination, fabric selection, and clothing utility.
The importance of color palette is easy to understand. I only brought black, gray or blue clothes. That way everything matched everything else and I never ran out of combinations.
Fabric is critical, too. Certain cloths are lighter and easier to pack, wash, and dry quickly, don’t hold odor, and keep you comfortable. The magic words are nylon, merino, and wool crepe. Ultra light merino wool shirts and socks from Icebreaker and SmartWool are comfortable on warm and cool days, easy to wash in the shower, don’t retain odor, and don’t itch. Really.
Woven nylon is another great fabric. Nylon cargo shorts and pants are comfortable and easy to wash, drying more quickly than cotton. Best – the new nylon looks and feels like cotton canvas so you don’t look like a fly fisherman.
What did I take? Here’s my entire list:
Three pairs of shorts – two nylon cargos and one pair of athletic shorts for jogging, gym, and pool.
Three pairs of ExOfficio travel underwear. Two are plenty but I splurged and brought an extra pair. I know, I’m wild.
Three t-shirts – two ultra-light weight merino wool tees and one dri-fit running shirt.
One no-iron cotton button-down. Besides being easy-care, you can wear a button-down with a suit and tie or roll up the sleeves and wear it untucked with shorts. You can’t do that with more formal dress shirts.
Three pair of socks – gray and black lightweight merino wool and one pair of low-cut running socks.
Shoes – one pair of black dress sneakers (mine are from To Boot but they’re available from most designers), one pair of Nike Free running shoes (with collapsible heels that I wrote about HERE) and flip-flops for the pool.
What else? A lightweight merino wool sweater, wool crepe sport coat (folds small and hardly wrinkles – if it does, it straightens in a steamy bathroom), travel belt with leather-covered plastic buckle that doesn’t set off TSA alarms, zip-up running jacket (for cold planes), knit silk tie (absolutely does not wrinkle), and a SmartWool watch cap for rain, cold, and to pull down over my eyes to sleep on planes.
Besides clothes, I brought a few harmonicas, Garmin running watch, Apple MacBook Air and iPhone, Samsung DV300F camera, noise-canceling headphones, a reduced toiletry kit, sketch book, and laptop charger – I charged everything else by running their USB cables into my MacBook. All of this – plus a Mountain Smith day bag, fit in my 22” overhead-sized carryon.
Were there downsides? Sure — some mornings I felt like putting on something different but it wasn’t because my clothes weren’t clean or comfortable. And each night I had to wash what I wore that day in the shower but that only added a few minutes in the bathroom.
I know you women are wondering if my wife also took a single carry-on. I’m proud to say she did. Gloria brought gauzy pants and tops that fold up small, silky dresses that also take up little space and colorful scarves to brighten up her relatively subdued palette. She brought four pair of shoes – loafers, running shoes, and low- and high-heeled sandals. And she brought a set of travel curlers from Hot Tools. My mom and daughter also fit everything in a single carryon.
If this seems too Spartan for you, remember that a credit card in your pocket means you can purchase anything you’ve forgotten or can’t live without. But if you forget some of the selection you’re used to, I promise you an easier and much more enjoyable trip.
Published on June 1st, 2014
Are you mature enough to remember when radio was a significant influence in your life? I wasn’t old enough for the golden age of radio – Amos N Andy, The Thin Man, Tommy Dorsey, and the like – but for me radio was the soundtrack of my childhood in the sixties and seventies.
Numerous musicians and writers talk about listening to radio in their formative years. Boz Scaggs said, “I’ve always listened to the black side of the radio dial. Where I grew up, there was a lot of it.” And Salman Rushdie wrote, “In the ‘50s, listening to Elvis and others on the radio in Bombay – it didn’t feel alien. Noises made by a truck driver from Tupelo, Mississippi, seemed relevant to a middle-class kid growing up on the other side of the world.” Of course we’ve all seen the movies where a pre-teen in the fifties or sixties brings his radio to bed and listens to faraway stations under the covers. And speaking of movies, nostalgic shows like American Graffiti and Diner used radio broadcasts as their defining soundtracks. Cousin Brucie, indeed.
Like many things we loved when we were younger, radio grew long in the tooth and lost its vibrancy to the encroaching powers of commercialism and new technology. Local DJs and programming went the way of the dodo bird as multi-state networks such as CBS and Clear Channel gobbled up hometown stations. Real live voices with local accents and geographically specific music gave way to computer-generated song lists and nationally recognized celebrities and bland voiceovers. And many listeners abandoned traditional radio when they turned to iPods, CD players, satellite radio and Internet music providers such as Boomer Radio, Pandora, Spotify, iTunes, and others.
But while the industry is being consolidated, disrupted, and disintermediated, it’s also being innovated. And entrepreneurs are figuring out what they can do with the newly democratized technology.
On April 23, 2014 Apple announced a new milestone when it uploaded one billion podcast subscriptions via its iTunes store. “From comedy to hard news to sport to innovative educational content and so much more, podcasting has transformed the global media landscape,” Apple said. “The heart of podcasting is finding your favorite voices in this exciting field, and subscribing to the best ones.”
One billion! And that’s just from Apple’s servers. Clearly podcasting is not a passing fad but a genuine and quantifiable new media. Perhaps it will actually be more influential than traditional terrestrial radio. Maybe it already is.
Speaking of influential new radio ideas, my friends Marcy Rosenbaum and Seth Werner have just thrown their hats into the fray, debuting their online streaming concept, Entrepreneur Radio. According to their website, “we provide programming in the ‘how of success’ for people launching and growing new businesses. We provide unique insight and perspective into the entrepreneurial mindset through in-depth interviews with successful business creators.”
Rosenbaum, a management development coach and Internet radio pioneer, and Werner, a veteran real estate and finance businessperson interview successful entrepreneurs and ask them how they started their companies and what they’ve learned – what worked, what didn’t, and what they wish they had done differently. Every two weeks, they upload new interviews with business creators who are willing to share the true stories of how they got where they are. It’s one part inspiration, two parts information, and a whole lot of entertainment. With their direct and insightful questions, Werner and Rosenbaum draw out honest, personal perspectives you won’t hear anywhere else.
I was lucky enough to be the first guest they interviewed. Not truly convinced of my own entrepreneurial standing, I mostly talked about the most powerful entrepreneur I was lucky enough to know – my father. By sharing the things he taught me I figured I could both honor his memory and provide the show’s listeners with real, proven information and anecdotes they can use to build their businesses. Give it a listen HERE and let me know what you think.
Only time will tell if Entrepreneur Radio has figured out how to take advantage of radio’s future. But it’s clear that Marconi’s invention is now about on-demand programming and unrestricted access to voices and information free of corporate filters.Published on May 18th, 2014
The flight to San Juan was scheduled to leave at 7:25 AM, so my mental math looked something like this:
“Want to get to airport an hour early, that’s 6:25 AM.
Thirty minutes to get to airport, that’s 6:00.
Half an hour to get ready, gotta get up at 5:30.”
But here’s what happened:
Was still jet-lagged from my trip back from Southeast Asia and California the day before, so I went to bed early and was wide awake at 4:30 AM. Finally got out of bed at 5:00. Took 40 minutes to leave house and 20 minutes to get to airport because of early hour, so I arrived at 6:00. Zipped through TSA pre-check, grabbed a snack and still got to gate at 6:15 – at least 45 minutes before boarding time.
Know what happened next? Absolutely nothing. I read the paper, sipped my coffee, and boarded the flight when they called my section. No stress, no drama, no nothing.
Flight on the way back landed late and I was pulled over by a policeman for speeding.
“Where’s the fire, Mario?” he asked.
“Sorry officer,” I answered. “I’m late for a meeting.”
“You should have left sooner.”
Damn it! Why didn’t I think of that? I had no good response, so I just nodded and opened my hand and took the ticket.
Leave early, stress free. Leave late, stressful.
Can it really be as easy as that?
“Leave early?!” I hear you screaming. “Who’s got time to leave early? And anyways, what the hell do I do when I get to the airport or meeting with an extra half hour to kill?”
Here’s a radical idea – you’ve probably got your smartphone, laptop or iPad with you already – why don’t you do what you’d do if you were still sitting at your desk? Answer messages and emails, reread your proposal or presentation, read the newspaper, write blog posts, or just sit quietly and think.
The simple point is that thanks to today’s technology, where you are has less and less to do with what you can accomplish than ever before. And so the old rules just don’t apply anymore. The trick is to figure out how to apply the new realities and possibilities to make your life as enjoyable, productive, and stress-free as possible.
All of a sudden, location and productivity are not joined at the hip. A workspace can be anywhere with power and Wi-Fi. The inspiration muse can be serviced wherever you are. An hour in a Starbucks between meetings can be more productive than running back to the office only to turn around and run back out again. And when you are in the office and face-to-face, that time can be better spent doing the personal warm and fuzzies — the “atta-boys” and “atta-girls” that are best done in person.
Running late and making yourself and everyone around you crazy no longer needs to be a part of your life – or your brand. All you have to do is change the way you approach your calendar and your to-do list.
Try it. I think you’ll like it.Published on February 10th, 2014
It happened again! You blinked and the world changed. Don’t feel bad if you didn’t notice (it was hidden in plain sight). But whether you saw it or not, all of a sudden the planets realigned, the tectonic plates slipped, the paradigm shifted.
While you were dealing with your day-to-day affairs, function and competency took to a back seat to design. It’s John Lennon’s prediction coming true: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Back in the dark ages of analog production, we bought stuff because it worked better than other stuff. The Sears Craftsman tools in your shed were unbreakable and warrantied for life—in case it ever turned out that they weren’t. The Mercedes diesel in your garage would run for 300,000 miles without a hiccup. The Timex on your wrist would “take a licking and go on ticking.” Those products were successful because they were anomalies. Back then, most stuff just plain didn’t work. These things did.
Remember your old television? It broke all the time. Tubes would blow, dials would strip, and those funky remote control buttons would stop controlling remotely. But today, TVs simply don’t break. I’d be willing to bet that your giant flat-panel TV works just as well today as the day you mounted it on the wall.
Remember when cars used to leave you stranded? Back then it made sense to spend the extra money for a Volvo or Mercedes because they were so much more reliable than less expensive cars. But today, an inexpensive Kia or Hyundai will provide you just as much hassle-free driving as the most expensive BMW or Bentley. Maybe more.
Today people just expect the things they buy to work. And so function and competency are taken for granted. Instead of worrying about how well things work, consumers now buy things for how they look and feel, and more importantly, how the products make them look and feel.
Design, the former handmaiden to production, has become the differentiating asset consumers look for. To completely mix my metaphors, the king and queen of the prom have been upstaged by the AV guy with tape on his glasses.
Good design used to be something that was hard to acquire — it took a lot of time, money, and discerning taste — not to mention an unwillingness to accept the ordinary. Back in the day, being well dressed or having a beautifully designed home or office was a mark of distinction that was simply ‘out of reach’ for most people.
But today good design is available everywhere you look. Crate and Barrel, Target, and West Elm peddle it in every mall in America. Apple promises that the ubiquitous phone you carry in the pocket of your (designer) jeans or the computer sitting on your desktop is the most highly evolved industrial design you can own. Even products as prosaic as Nest thermostats, Plumen light bulbs, and Dyson fans have been designed to within an inch of their lives.
What hasn’t kept up with the blinding pace of design growth is the ability of salespeople to use aesthetics to meet their quotas. Believing that most consumers are still buying products based on what those products do, most salespeople are still busy demonstrating features and explaining capabilities instead of promoting what people are buying. Today an in-depth understanding of the modern consumers’ purchase motivations is what the best salespeople are using to push their products and services. Instead of inventorying capabilities, the savvy salesperson understands that their job has changed the best of them into editors and curators – constantly reappraising the aesthetic and lifestyle advantages of the products they sell and demonstrating these benefits to their customers.
After all, that’s what their customers are buying, even though they think they’re buying old-fashioned functionality.
Published on November 17th, 2013
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.Published on September 24th, 2013
Tom Brokaw wrote the book about the generation of Americans who grew during the depression and fought in World War II. In his preface, Brokaw describes the people he researched and wrote about this way:
“These men and women came of age in the Great Depression, when economic despair hovered over the land like a plague. They had watched their parents lose their businesses, their farms, their jobs, their hopes. They had learned to accept a future that played out one day at a time. Then, just as there was a glimmer of economic recovery, war exploded across Europe and Asia. When Pearl Harbor made it irrefutably clear that America was not a fortress, this generation was summoned to the parade ground and told to train for war. They left their ranches in Sully County, South Dakota, their jobs on the main street of Americaus, Georgia, they gave up their place on the assembly lines in Detroit and in the ranks of Wall Street, they quit school or went from cap and gown directly into uniform.
…They answered the call to help save the world from the two most powerful and ruthless military machines ever assembled, instrument of conquest in the hands of fascist maniacs. When the war was over, the men and women who had been involved, in uniform and in civilian capacities, joined in joyous and short-lived celebrations, then immediately began the task of rebuilding their lives and the world they wanted. They were mature beyond their years, tempered by what they had been through, disciplined by their military training and sacrifices. They married in record numbers and gave birth to another distinctive generation, the Baby Boomers. They stayed true to their values of personal responsibility, duty, honor, and faith.”
Brokaw is so impressed with this generation and their exploits that he calls them – and his book about them – The Greatest Generation. Brokaw spends a lot of pages interviewing members of the greatest generation and telling their stories, and draws conclusions about their bravery, their sacrifices, their accomplishments, and the consequences of their actions.
What he doesn’t talk about is how the generations that came after his greatest one – the Baby Boomers, Generations X and Y, the Millennials, et al, were significantly different, especially when it came to consumerism and branding.
While WWII was certainly not the last war in which generations of young Americans have fought and died, it was the last war to be fought by all levels of American society. And while too many American lives were lost in wars from Korea and Vietnam to Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, WWII was the last war that enveloped and defined an entire generation, regardless of social standing, financial wherewithal or education.
As such, the generations that have followed Brokaw’s greatest one have looked for new ways to define themselves and many have embraced consumerism as their comprehensive, albeit shallow, defining factor.
The large black plastic keys for Mercedes, BMWs, and Jaguars; the doorstop-shaped profile of the Toyota Prius; the bitten Apple logo glowing on computers and phones; Lauren’s polo ponies and Gucci’s interlocking Gs are all icons that the undefined generations use to tell the world who they are. Somehow Rosie The Riveter’s “We can do it” has morphed to “We can buy it.”
Even younger consumers who claim to eschew brands and commercialism use the things they own – from flip-flops to ironic tee shirts to tattoos and piercings – to establish their place in their own tribes of crunchies, hipsters, geeks, and more.
For those of us born after The Greatest Generation, our lack of a defining moment in world history forced us to look elsewhere. Instead of a war and the sacrifices it required, we are defined by the things we own and display to the world. In other words, our parents’ generation is known by the wars it fought. Our generation is known by the things we bought.Published on June 25th, 2013
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.”Published on April 22nd, 2013