When I was in high school one of my part-time jobs was working as a bagboy at the local supermarket. Even though the walls were plastered with signs that said, “Carry-out is a Publix service. No tipping please,” we bagboys stuffed our pockets with the single dollar bills the neighborhood housewives slipped us for wheeling the groceries to their cars.
I learned very quickly that there were two keys to getting good tips – being nice to my customers and making an extra effort to serve them. Besides a big smile and a happy “hello” each time I walked up to a new cash register, insisting on double-bagging, putting chicken into plastic bags to thwart leaks, and making a show of tightening the caps on Clorox bottles were all effective techniques to ensure a bigger gratuity.
This knowledge served me well a few years later when I worked as a waiter. The same two practices – smiling and being extra helpful – helped me earn the biggest tips and get regular customers. That’s why I was so surprised when a particular patron told me how unhappy she was with my service and asked me to “get the manager right away.”
I walked back to the kitchen and told the manager that the woman at table seven wanted to speak with him.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t think I did anything wrong but she’s been unhappy with everything… her food, the service. No matter what I do, she’s angry.”
We walked back to the table together and the manager introduced himself. “How can I help you?” he asked.
She immediately launched into a litany of complaints – her salad wasn’t fresh, her food wasn’t hot, her server was surly, her water glass wasn’t filled quickly enough, and so on. Finally she stopped complaining to take a breath. The manager saw his opportunity.
“I’m sorry you’ve been served so poorly and of course I’ll take care of it right away,” he purred solicitously. “But let me ask you a question. You’re not really that upset about your lunch, are you?” He paused knowingly. “What’s really wrong?”
The woman glared at him with burning malevolence and I held my breath, waiting for her to start screaming. Then all of a sudden her face dropped and her shoulders slumped – it looked like she had been deflated. “My husband left me last week,” she said quietly. “I don’t know what to do.” She burst into tears.
The manager handed over his handkerchief. Without taking his eyes off her he leaned towards me and said, “Bruce, clear off the table and go get us two cappuccinos and a big slice of cheese cake… two forks.” Then he sat down across from the sobbing woman and told her to tell him all about it.
The two of them huddled like co-conspirators through the rest of the lunch service and continued to talk long after we had cleared the restaurant. It wasn’t until we were setting up for dinner that they got up. After bidding the manager goodbye, the woman came up to me and slipped a folded piece of paper into my hand. “This is for you,” she said before she walked out.
I never found out what they talked about that afternoon but I did learn a valuable lesson. Even though the woman came into our restaurant for lunch, that wasn’t what she was buying. What she really wanted was someone to listen to her. The manager was smart and sensitive enough to know that it was his job to give his customers not what they thought they wanted but what they really wanted.
Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” A century later Steve Jobs said, “It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want.”
For us business owners and brand marketers these are very valuable insights. After all, when we continually surprise and delight our customers by fulfilling wants they might not even know they have, we demonstrate how much we care and why they should continue to do business with us.
Oh, and that piece of paper the restaurant customer slipped into my hand? It was a $100 bill.
My father was a passionate proponent of architecture and design. Throughout his career he worked with some of the best in South Florida, including Gail Baldwin and Don Sackman, Roney Mateu, Frank Schulwolf, Jordan Barrett and Murray Gaby, and Manny Abraben. I don’t think my dad ever worked with Alfred Browning Parker but I know he was a big fan.
Wikipedia says Alfred Browning Parker “was a Modernist architect who is one of the best-known post World War II residential architects. He gained fame for his highly published modern houses in the region around Miami, Florida.”
Once a year House Beautiful, the primary architecture magazine of the 1950s and 1960s dedicated an entire issue to their House Of The Year. Four of Parker’s homes were selected, more than any other architect. In 2006 Wallpaper* magazine chose Woodsong, Parker’s Miami residence, for their “Top 10 Houses of the World,” the only house chosen in all of North America.
On Friday I was lucky enough to have lunch with a group of Miami creative leaders that included Parker’s son Robin. Robin sent me his dad’s list of “Aphorisms For Architects” from an early issue of The Florida Architect that I know my dad would have loved. More relevant to all of us, Parker’s aphorisms are perfect not just for architects but for marketers, entrepreneurs, speakers, business people and anyone striving to do a great job and make a difference. You might have to change an architecture-specific term here or there to fit your own profession — and life — but I think you’ll get the picture.
I am honored to share these with you. Thank you Robin (and ABP).
Alfred Browning Parker’s Aphorisms For Architects
Horses of a different color. More than one way to skin a cat. Pushing an elephant through a keyhole.
Why are the metaphors for paradigm shifts all about animals? I don’t know and I don’t really care. What I do care about is implementing and benefiting from this idea of looking at things differently and sharing those ideas with you.
For example: everybody I know complains about travel. They don’t like going through security, they don’t like waiting in lines, and they don’t like feeling rushed.
I travel almost every week and I don’t mind it a bit. True, I don’t enjoy any of those situations either, but I’ve learned how to eliminate most of the aggravation they cause.
When I thought about making travel less stressful, I realized two of the most irritating things I could control. One was the discomfort and delays that come with schlepping heavy baggage. The solution? I simply stopped taking so much stuff. When you stop worrying about carrying everything but the kitchen sink, you also stop worrying about finding overhead luggage space, having TSA inspectors root through your stuff, waiting in interminable lines to pick up your luggage, and having your stuff stolen. (If you’ve read my blog for a while you know I’m a fanatic about travelling light. You can find great tips HERE and HERE.)
The second issue was the stress that came from rushing and worrying about being late.
Let’s say my flight was scheduled for five. I’d figure I needed to be there an hour early (four), and it takes about 40 minutes to get to the airport and park so I’d plan to leave my office at 3:20 or so. Needless to say, I’d only start leaving at 3:20 which meant I wouldn’t actually get into my car until 3:30 or 3:40 and I’d already feel rushed and stressed. Then if anything went wrong — traffic or a family of 18 ahead of me in security — my stress level would boil over and wouldn’t abate until I was on the plane and breathing heavily. No wonder people drink on flights.
One day it dawned on me that if I left for the five o’clock flight at one, I would get to the airport with hours to spare. Then I could go through the TSA line without cursing the people in front of me for dumping their coin collections and silverware service into the X-ray tray.
“But what do you do in the airport two hours early?” I hear you screaming at your computer screen. Simple. I go into the Admirals Club, pull my out my laptop and cellphone and make calls and return emails and write copy, exactly what I’d do if I were in my office. Except I do it calmly because I’m not rushed and I’m not stressed.
I have friends who went through a relatively amicable divorce. Because they have three small children, and because they thought it would be too disruptive for the kids to move back and forth from one parent to the other every week, they came up with a paradigm shifting solution – they gave the house to the kids and the parents move in and out each week. At first they also tried splitting the townhouse that the non-visiting parent would use but they found that that only reminded them of many of the reasons they got divorced in the first place. But by keeping the kids in one house, there was less disruption, fewer school changes, and more comforting surroundings. They also didn’t have to try to sell their home for less money during the financial downturn.
Have you seen the ads for Christian Mingle? It’s the dating website for singles who are looking to meet other singles of the same faith. Do you know who owns Christian Mingle? Spark Media, of Los Angeles, the company that owns JDate, the leading site for Jews who are looking for dates their grandmothers would approve of. Spark used the same technology they created — and the profits they made — matching Jewish singles to create Christian Mingle and 28 other sites, including hookups for Adventists, Catholics, deaf singles, and more. Was their strategy Kosher? It is very profitable and a great example of looking at an existing situation from the opposite point of view.
So the question is, what problems in your business, or your life, could be solved if you just looked at them differently? Or is that a whole different kettle of fish? (Dammit… There go those animal metaphors again.)
I am sitting in exit row seat 12C and looking out the window at the great Florida prairie. Led Zeppelin’s Heartbreaker is blasting through my ear buds and I’m thinking about the talk I gave last night to The University of Florida Ad Society.
My talk was originally going to be about some of the things I’d learned in the ad business in the last 30-something years (gulp) since I was a design student at UF. But listening to the students report on their doings before my talk inspired me to change my entire presentation at the last minute.
Instead of talking about what today’s companies need to do to build their brands, I talked about what today’s students need to do to get an internship or a job.
What I realized as my talk progressed was that the techniques for building a great brand are the same whether we’re talking about Rolex or Rolando, Mercedes or Mercy, Samsung or Samantha.
As we’ve discussed so many times in this digital discussion, people don’t buy what you do, they buy who you are. And students looking for employment need to understand that simple statement just as clearly as the brand manager trying to sell her company’s products.
Of course accomplishments and skills are critical to getting a job. But like the functional attributes of the last car you bought, those accomplishments are just cost of entry. In other words, if a car doesn’t get from point A to point B, doesn’t get good gas mileage or doesn’t operate flawlessly, you’re not going select it. But just because it does all those things doesn’t mean you’re going to select it either. First you have to WANT that particular automobile in your driveway.
By the same token, if a student doesn’t have the proper degrees, computer skills or industry knowledge, they’re probably not going to get hired. But just because they do have those things doesn’t mean they’re going to get hired either. That’s because those skills are merely table stakes in the employment game and because these days, students with those attributes on their resumes are a dime a dozen.
Speaking of resumes, why do they all start with the same run-on sentence? “I am endeavoring to find an employment situation where I can utilize my professional skills in a productive and fulfilling environment committed to personal growth, creative expression, and increasing remuneration opportunities.”
Wouldn’t it be refreshing to read a student resume that started differently? “It’s my lifelong dream to be an art director. I will work 24/7 doing anything you need for the chance to learn my craft and prove that I can be valuable to your company.”
I found it shocking that fewer than one third of the students I spoke to use social media to prepare for their job search. For the first time in history, democratized media has made it possible for students to build rapport with the people they are planning to interview with before they actually meet them, turning difficult cold calls and awkward first meetings into warm calls and expanding relationships. And yet, today’s digital natives not taking advantage of the technology they grew up using.
Randy Gage, prosperity thought leader, says he gets more new business leads and speaking requests on Facebook than from calls into his office. How? Randy spends two hours a day on social media, building his tribe of followers and potential customers across Twitter, FB, and YouTube. He uploads his blog posts five days a week and adds a new VLOG (Video Log) to his YouTube channel every Monday.
Randy believes that to build your own followers and create your own opportunities you’ve got to have a point of view and get out there and promote your message and offer valuable content. And he’s certainly the poster child for practicing what he preaches.
How does he get it all done? Because the first word of social media is social, Randy eschews auto posts and other mechanized tools and builds his tribe by creating real-time online relationships one person at a time. And for those of you who are reading this and asking, “Two hours? Who the hell has two hours a day to spend on social media?” Randy would answer that because there’s nothing else that brings as much business to his website, there’s nothing more valuable he could be doing with his time.
Whether you’re looking for your first job, making a career change or promoting your own business, I’m confident this strategy will work for you, too. And if you’re an Ad Society student at the University of Florida, I’m especially talking to you.
“Will does not mean should, will does not mean could, will does not mean might or maybe. Will is unequivocal. Will only means ‘will.’ The word will is so strong that the law will enforce it even after you’ve passed on.”
What does it mean when you say, “I will”?
According to Knox’s definition, saying “I will” is the same as issuing a vow, creating a pact or promising an outcome. But as easy as it is to say something, the real effort in making the pact is not in the making; it’s in the doing. Because if your will is unequivocal, then not doing what you’ve promised is simply not acceptable.
I was thinking about Knox’s definition of the word will when I was in Orlando presenting to the international marketing team for Philips Home Healthcare Solutions (HHS). After my talk on the Keys to Innovation, Philips HHS VP of Global Marketing, Erik Hollander, inspired the group to always include Philips HHS’ innovative solutions in an exceptional customer and end-user experience. Hollander tasked each and every one of his marketing team to match the insight and foresight Philips’ engineers and product managers have marshaled to create the products when the marketers devise the strategies and tactics to sell these products. Coincidentally, I had just seen one of their latest innovations — Philips’ GoSafe mobile personal emergency response system — the week before when Philips debuted it in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).
Now I know some of you are already writing back, “Bruce, don’t you know there are no coincidences?” but that’s not my point. What I find interesting is that with all the time, money, and effort Philips spent to bring their new products to market, it was now just as important for the marketing team to make the product successful in the market. In fact, it could be argued that regardless of the quality of the product itself, GoSafe would live or die in the marketplace based on the quality of the effort of Hollander’s marketing team.
And that team had better be serious about what they say they will do. After all, Philips has done some significant innovating to create the GoSafe. According to their product release, GoSafe was designed to be an easy-to-use medical alert system that provides access to assistance both indoors and out. GoSafe delivers innovative fall detection capabilities as well as a comprehensive suite of locating technologies. GoSafe helps provide active seniors with a sense of confidence to continue to get the most out of life.
Even though an emergency locator sounds simple (remember “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”?) Philips had to leverage seven different technologies to make sure the device will work in all conditions and all situations.
And there’s that “will” word again. Because the GoSafe has to work in all conditions and situations, Philips brought very different technologies to the table to make it possible. And in doing so harnessed some of the best practices needed to live up to the word “will.” Here are my top three techniques of accountability:
Instead of trying to live up to a difficult commitment by yourself, marshal others to help guarantee your success. When I committed to running my first marathon I found training partners to make sure I put in the miles. On mornings that I don’t want to get out of bed at 5 a.m. (like today!), I do it anyway because I know my running buddies will be there waiting for me. I like to think that they’re there because they know I’ll be waiting for them, too.
It’s one thing to say something out loud; it’s another to commit it to writing. Write your commitments down on paper and post the notes where you can see them frequently — on your computer monitor, on your medicine cabinet, on your steering wheel. That way your “I will” item won’t slip your mind.
Don’t just post your note where YOU can see it, make your commitment a public announcement. Post it on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other places where your friends and family will read it and know that you’re committed to doing what you’ve said you’ll do. They might even become your study buddies and become part of your accountability team.
These three simple accountability tools will help the Philips team guide their GoSafe to success and they will help you accomplish your goals as well. I will do it. Will you?
A few weeks ago the National Speakers Association (NSA) hosted their Laugh Lab. It’s a seminar taught by comedians and humorists to teach professional speakers and presenters how to use humor in their talks. I was able to fit the Laugh Lab into my schedule between speaking at BlogWorld and CES (you can read my post HERE) in Las Vegas, and I was thrilled to attend.
My friend Brian Walter ran the seminar and classes were taught by Brian, comedian Judy Carter, NSA president Ron Culberson, comedy writer Bill Stainton, funny man Brad Montgomery, and more hilarious characters. To underscore the strength of the Laugh Lab faculty, you should know that between us, Bill Stainton and I have been awarded 29 Emmys. (You should also know that without me Bill Stainton has been awarded 29 Emmys.)
One fascinating assignment was to go to a Vegas comedy show and keep track of the comedic techniques we had learned about in class. Foolishly, it never occurred to me that comedy actually had specific techniques, but now that I’ve learned just a few of them it fascinates me to see them used in comedy routines by famous comedians from Sid Ceaser to Louis CK to the guys working Vegas today.
What did I learn?
1. Being funny is a really hard business.
Setting aside how incredibly hard it is to make a living as a successful comedian, being funny takes a lot of hard work. The people we listened to have dedicated their lives and their study to comedy, and they’re always on the lookout for stories and occurrences that they can use in their work to get a laugh.
2. Spontaneity takes a lot of preparation.
Although a lot of comedy seems to be ad-libbed, much of it has been written, outlined, and rehearsed over and over and over and over. And even when the yuks appear to be off-the-cuff, they’re usually very well practiced. It’s the talent of the performer that makes the audience believe they’re hearing something that’s never been presented before.
3. Really funny people are really funny.
I like to think that I’m funny, although the people stuck running with me and listening to my jokes most mornings might beg to differ. But compared to Judy, Ron, Brad, Brian, et al, I’m about as funny as a bag of hammers. Or, as Henny Youngman used to say, “What am I, chopped liver?” Being funny might start out as a genetic advantage or childhood coping mechanism but it takes a lot of study, practice, and hard work. A recent NYT story about Jerry Seinfeld diagrams the arduous process Seinfeld goes through on every joke he develops and he’s arguably the most successful comic on earth.
4. The “magic question” for writing humor is not to ask when something funny happened.
Maybe the most revealing thing I learned was that humor writers don’t necessarily look for funny situations but instead ask, “When did something go wrong?” According to Bill Stainton, the funny stuff starts at the “oh crap” moment when things change so severely that nothing can ever be the same. Stainton says that the movie Tootsie is the master class in this technique because as the trouble gets more and more complicated, the film just gets funnier and funnier.
5. The spoonful of sugar really does help the medicine go down.
Since attending the Laugh Lab, I’ve tried to consciously use humor in all of my client presentations. What I’ve found is that humor helps my audiences relate to what we’re trying to communicate.
Is the humor actually working? While I don’t have any good measurement metrics to prove that humor improves our business, we have won the last four new business pitches we participated in. So to quote the old woman who told the ambulance driver to feed chicken soup to the dead man: “It couldn’t hurt.”
I’ve written before that my goal with these posts is to do three things, 1) be valuable, 2) be useful, and 3) be enjoyable. NSA’s Laugh Lab accomplished all three of these goals. My sides hurt for two and a half days while I filled page after page with notes I’m sure I’ll refer back to for years and years. Thank you, Brian, for a wonderful experience.
Sometimes you get exposed to a new viewpoint from a unique venue that you weren’t expecting. To that point, I’m sitting on a panel in a university auditorium listening to one of my fellow panelists talk about the subject of our conference. I’ve already prepared my answer to the question asked by the group so now I’m looking up and out into the crowd sitting in front of me.
The people in the room are composed of a fair mix of age, ethnicity, and gender. Most of them seem to be paying attention, although a few are texting on their phones (I like to believe they’re taking notes or Tweeting our brilliance but they’re probably arranging their lunch dates or updating their marital status on Facebook to get ready for the weekend), and one or two are napping. What I’m most intrigued by, though, is not what they’re doing but the expressions on their faces.
When a speaker makes a joke they laugh and when that speaker makes a poignant point they look concerned. Most of the time the people in the audience have neutral expressions – neither happy nor sad. But here’s what I’m finding so interesting: the sea of neutral expressions in front of me isn’t really so neutral after all.
Most people do have classically defined neutral expressions – flat mouths, unfocused eyes, slack cheeks. Some folks look like they’re hard at work – furrowed brows and pursed lips. Only one young woman looks very happy – her eyes are wide and shining and the corners of her mouth are turned up. But most people look like they’re constipated or even worse – with scowling mouths, sucked in cheeks, and wrinkled foreheads.
Remember, these people aren’t mad. It’s just that they were unlucky enough to be born with an angry neutral face.
My friend Connie Dieken spent years as an anchor on television news shows and she knows all the tips and techniques of looking good in public. If you get the chance to see her speak, make sure you go and make sure you pay rapt attention. Connie has studied this issue extensively and created and trademarked what she calls “The Magic Move™.” Connie’s Magic Move only requires you to lift two little muscles but it can help you change your world. Connie’s technique? Put your index fingers at the corners of your lips and lift them up. Move your fingers away and you’re left with the right look. “These facial energy correctors are called the levator labii muscles,” Connie says. “They connect the corners of your mouth to your eyes. Activating these muscles creates a hint of a smile while simultaneously making your eyes sparkle. And that’s what’s so magical. People experience this expression as warmth radiating from you, without perceiving you as disingenuous or goofy. By simply raising these two small muscles on the sides of your mouth, you can change the way the world looks at you.”
If you’re not lucky enough to be like the woman in our audience whose neutral face is a perpetual smile, then you have to be diligent enough to create the look yourself. And Connie’s simple tips can help. By the way, if you haven’t figured it out yet, you should read Connie’s book, Talk Less, Say More: Three Habits to Influence Others and Make Things Happen.
If you research the power of the smile a little bit, you’ll learn that besides improving your interpersonal relationships, engaging the small muscles around your mouth and eyes has the power to improve your outlook, reduce your stress level, and just make your day a little bit better. Dale Carnegie said:
“A smile is nature’s best antidote for discouragement. It brings rest to the weary, sunshine to those who are frowning, and hope to those who are hopeless and defeated. A smile is so valuable that it can’t be bought, begged, borrowed, or taken away against your will. You have to be willing to give a smile away before it can do anyone else any good. So if someone is too tired or grumpy to flash you a smile, let him have one of yours anyway. Nobody needs a smile as much as the person who has none to give.”
But what does a perpetual smile have to do with branding? I’m glad you asked. Besides helping to craft their own personal brands, happy, accessible people who look like they are engaged and interested in their customers build the relationships and perceptions that build businesses. Happy, smiling people improve the workplaces they operate in. And happy, smiling people create the positive energy that leads to creativity and productivity. Not bad for doing something that’s a pleasure to do, improves your outlook, and doesn’t cost you a thing.
Do you know what the word “tautology” means? Wikipedia says:
Tautology: using different words to say the same thing, or a series of self-reinforcing statements that cannot be disproved because they depend on the assumption that they are already correct.