What Do YOU Think Disruption Means?

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Sometime in the 1980s, President Baking’s Murrays released a new cracker product designed specifically to compete with Nabisco’s Ritz Cracker. Murray’s product looked the same, tasted the same, and was delivered in a red and yellow package that looked like the Ritz Cracker box. Even the name left no question about what their cracker was all about. Not only did it sound like Ritz but it almost rhymed with the original cracker. Murray’s named their new cracker “Hits.”

Take a look at the two boxes side-by-side and you’ll see what I mean:

Ritz and Hits

But similarity alone was not enough to compel enough consumers to change their buying habits. According to Deborah St. Thomas, “Nabisco introduced Ritz crackers to the Philadelphia and Baltimore markets November 21, 1934.  They were well received from the start with their unique light and buttery flavor and a reasonably low selling price of 19 cents a box. The name was also important because it conjured up images of wealth by alluding to the posh Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York, which elicited the promise of better times to come. This had great appeal to Americans during the Great Depression years. By 1935, Nabisco was selling the cracked nationally and within three years it became the best-selling cracker in the world.

Instead, Murray’s marketing team had to do something to shake cracker consumers out of their habitual lethargy. And so, they created a package design that not only looked like the Ritz package but caused consumers to do a double take.

Take a look at what multiple boxes looked like on the grocery shelf:

Hits Crackers on the Shelf

Do you see something different, something that might cause you to pay more attention to two Hits’ boxes than you might have done if you only saw one? And if you did see the difference, would that compel you to buy two boxes so you could repeat the trick at home?

Needless to say, the word that showed up when two boxes were placed side-by-side looked coincidental enough that consumers could wonder whether or not the comic combination was intentional. In fact, when my friend Buzz Fleischman showed me the Hits package on his radio and Facebook Live show, he wasn’t convinced the new word the lined-up boxes created wasn’t simply a funny accident.

But you and I are too savvy to be fooled, aren’t we?

After all, when Burger King instructed us to Have It Your Way, we knew they weren’t talking about burgers, right?

And when Nike told us to Just Do It, we knew they weren’t only talking about athletics, didn’t we?

Disruption – defined as a “disturbance or problem that interrupts an event, activity, or process – was a viable marketing technique long before pop-up ads interrupted your web browsing or restaurant suggestions interrupted your directions on Waze.

For years savvy marketers have been looking for ways to interrupt your view, make you question your traditional activity or try something different. And whether you’re trying to sell crackers, direct clients to your investment company, or fill your cruise ships, disruption is still an effective way to reach your potential customers. Because unless you’re the market leader, lulling them to continue doing what they’ve always done is not the way to build your business. Getting their attention is.

You Cannot Square A Circle.

7 responses.

You Cannot Square a Circle.

“…so, they spend all this money, but they’re not doing it right,” my friend Mitch said. “I know there’s a big business there. All we have to do is square the circle.”

“Huh? I interrupted. “What does square the circle mean?” You can’t turn a circle into a square!”

David was waving his hand like that obnoxious kid in your sixth-grade class who always had the answer. “I know, I know,” David said, barely able to control himself.

“Okay, David, tell us… but please spare us the long mathematical explanation” I begged.

Even though David’s a math savant, he doesn’t get to show off his knowledge very often. He could barely control himself.

You Cannot Square A Circle

“That a circle cannot be squared was not known to the ancients because the Greeks didn’t grasp the concept of irrational numbers,” he started. “Indeed, one of the Pythagoreans was killed for attempting to explain that the square root of two is indeed an irrational number. But before considering irrational numbers like the square root of two or pi, let’s consider rational numbers. Rational numbers are the RATIO of two integers.”

I already regretted asking David to explain. But it was too late.

“Rational numbers come in two flavors, those that repeat and those that terminate. 3/4 is the ratio of the integers three and four. Its decimal equivalent is .75. 3/4 terminates. 2/3 is a rational number that repeats. 2/3 equals .66666… The sixes repeat forever. 2/3 does not terminate.

But irrational numbers neither terminate nor repeat. The square root of two is equal to precisely 1.414213562.”

“I’ll bet you didn’t have to look that up,” I smirked.

David nodded and continued: “Pi is also an irrational number. The infinite decimal expansion of pi neither terminates nor repeats. The first few digits of pi are 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288. I could go on.”

“Please don’t” we said in unison.

“But you get the point. Unlike 3/4 which terminates, unlike 2/3 which repeats, irrational numbers neither terminate nor repeat.”

We didn’t get the point but he was on a roll.

“Now that we have distinguished between rational and irrational numbers, we have to distinguish between two kinds of irrational numbers. The square root of two is an irrational number. Pi is an irrational number that is also transcendental. Irrational numbers, like the square root of two, can be the answer to quadratic equations. X squared -2 equals zero has an answer. The answer is the square root of two. But there are no quadratic equations that have pi as an answer. Pi is not only irrational but transcendental.

The area of a circle is pi times the radius squared. A circle with a radius five has an area of 25 pi.

The area of a square is the length of a side times itself. The area of a square with a side of eight is equal to eight squared or 64.

Squaring the circle means finding a circle whose area is exactly equal to the area of a square using only a finite number of steps. Since the area of the circle will always be a transcendental number and the area of a square has to be an integer, this can never happen in a finite number of steps. Therefore, you cannot square a circle. It’s a metaphor for that which cannot be done.”

“You mean it’s impossible,” said Mitch. “Why didn’t you just say that in the first place?”

David was knowledgeable. Mitch was erudite.

Which are you? Are you presenting your brand, your business, and yourself in simple terms that your customers can understand? Or are you wrapping yourself in acres of tiresome talk? Are you using big words when small ones will do? Are you using long rationalizations when simple examples offer more clarity? Are you writing an SAT essay when you should be tweeting a competitive advantage?

If you are, you are squaring the circle.

The Secret To Building a Successful Business.

One response.

Recently my very successful speaker friend Bill was invited to do a TED talk. He reached out to me to find out how I had enjoyed the experience and what specific recommendations I might have for him. After answering his questions, I directed him to my TEDx talk so he could watch my speech.

His (edited) response:

“I watched your video. I can see why this is a great video for you. I gave it a like while I was there. 😊

The breakdown of Obama’s 3-word slogan is great.

I love your concept: ‘Your brand is based on 3 words, All about them.’ (Sounds like the title of a great book. Oh… it IS the tile of a great book. 😊)

The most powerful part of the talk (for me) is this statement: ‘The most powerful brands, the most compelling brands, the brands that help you win your argument, sell your product, sell your service, do not make the consumer feel good about you. They make your customer feel good themselves!’

You could build a business on that!”

Here’s the funny thing:

I HAVE built a business on that.

And you can too.

Good Brands

Many of us have been trained to build businesses on what we do. It’s such a strong part of business culture that it wasn’t too many years ago that people were named based on their occupations.

Goldsmith was a goldsmith.

Baker baked.

Fletcher made arrows.

Carter transported goods.

But today, too many forces conspire against us being successful if we only focus on being good at what we do.

This is due to the ascendance of democratized information, the ubiquity of overnight delivery of goods, the consistency of computerized production, and the 24/7/365 nature of social media. Thanks to these factors, your clients and customers have unlimited access to people and companies who do what you do and sell what you sell.

Are you better than the competition? Of course you are. Just like Lake Wobegon, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average,” the members of my blog community are also the best at what they do.

But today that’s simply not enough.

First, most of your customers and clients aren’t qualified to determine if you’ve done a good job for them or not. After all, if they were as good at doing what you do they would do it themselves.

Second, unless you sell an instant gratification product or service, your clients won’t know how well you did your job until days, weeks, or even years have passed.

Instead, the way to win your argument, sell your product or sell your service, is to make your customer feel good themselves. And you do this by creating an All About Them brand that speaks not just to your potential customers’ needs but to their prevailing aspirations.

Showing your customers not just how you can help them achieve what they want but how they can be who they want to be puts you in a singular position miles above your competition. And making your customers feel good not about just what you can do for them but about themselves will secure your place in their roster of critical contributors to their own success.

All you have to do is remember that a good brand makes people feel good. A great brand makes people feel good about themselves.

Great Brands

The Importance of Giving AND Taking.

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Twelve people are sitting around a conference room littered with two days’ worth of empty coffee cups and water bottles, plus enough USB chargers to open an Apple Store. Our Mastermind is coming to an end. We’re busy tying up some loose ends and handing out assignments for our next meeting.

Most of the people in the room are exhausted and elated, excited and insightful. We’ve spent our time together talking about our successes and failures, and mapping our plans for when we go back to our regular lives.

Giving AND Taking.

Our system works something like this: we all introduce ourselves and talk about what we think our top three challenges are. Then we spend about 45 minutes listening to each of the other people around the room. They use their experience and knowledge to make suggestions for us to consider, helping us work through our problems. Finally, we agree to have someone in our group be our “accountability partner” and make sure we actually do what we say we are going to do.

The universal truth is that everyone in the group likes offering advice and talking about other people’s problems. But not everyone is quite as comfortable talking about themselves and their own concerns. It’s a matter of being vulnerable, yes, but there’s more to it. What I’ve discovered is that many of the people I’ve worked with in Mastermind groups — and many of the people I know in my life — are comfortable giving but not taking.

This seems to fly in the face of what you might naturally believe — that many people are self-centered and stingy and therefore prefer to take and not give. But that hasn’t been my experience. Instead, I find that people are generous to a fault with their expertise, skill sets, and contacts. But they’re not always as willing to be vulnerable enough to let people know what they need.

It’s also counterintuitive to something else you’d think is true – that the women in the group are more willing to be vulnerable than the male participants. I find there’s a pretty even split. The willingness to open up and share (and the unwillingness to do the same) seems to be the same for men and women. Generosity and desire to help others seems to be virtually universal. Willingness to ask for and to receive help?

Not so much.

The funny thing is that the people who happily offer help but don’t want to take help from others don’t even seem to know they’re holding back. And when the facilitator (that’s me) makes it clear that they’re not participating fully, they still don’t recognize their reluctance nor their reticence. Worse, they often push back, abnegating both the Mastermind group’s needs and its requirements.

Playground teeter totters and two-man saws do not operate properly unless there’s an equal contribution on either side. Newton’s third law of motion says that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Effective Mastermind groups require balance, too. Like Dr. Doolittle’s Pushmepullyou, there’s no moving forward without cooperation. And in an effective Mastermind group, there’s no giving without taking.

What relationships of yours require two-sided participation? Where can you make things better by opening yourself up to input and recommendations? Where are you holding back — not by not contributing — but by not being vulnerable? Metaphorically speaking, balance is required in effective relationships.

Which of your relationships is out of balance because you are giving but not taking?

Logically Illogical Logic

One response.

First, a disclaimer: When I say “my mother” I am not talking about MY mother.

When I say “my wife,” I am not talking about MY wife. And when I say “my neighbor,” I am not talking about MY neighbor.

They are just examples of people I know whose names have been changed to protect the neurotic. Got it?

My mother did not go to the doctor today because she did not feel well.

If you think that’s odd, how about this? My wife did her hair before she left the house for her hairdresser appointment.

And down the street, my neighbor cleans her house before the housekeeper comes over.

How logical is it to avoid going to your physician when you are feeling ill? Isn’t dealing with your health care issues the whole point of going to see your health care provider in the first place? If you look up the word “irony” in the dictionary, there’s a good chance you’ll see a picture of my mother there.

Logically Illogical LogicA famous comedian once asked why male football fans wear team jerseys to watch games. Is it because they think they’ll be called to play if someone on the field gets injured? If so, he reasoned, then why don’t women ballet fans wear tutus to performances with the same hopes?

Why does this logically illogical logic matter to you? Because when you market your company, your products, and your services, you probably do it based on what you think is the logical activity and desires of your customers. And when you do consumer research and ask customers and potential customers why they buy your products or services, you don’t get real answers. Instead, you get their own logical thought process. But as you see, consumers’ logic is not always so logical.

Before you laugh at the foibles of others, think about your own illogical purchase habits and experiences. For example, I drive a sports car designed to perform at the unlimited speeds of Germany’s Autobahn. Yet I live in a country where speed limits seldom top 70 MPH. Worse, I live in a city where traffic seldom allows speeds above 45 MPH.

What’s logical about that?

Many people I know drive four-wheel drive SUVs – large, rugged vehicles designed to go off-road, ford raging rivers, and climb steep hills made otherwise impassable by boulders, snow, and ice. Yet we live in tropical Miami where we are blessed with no mountains, no dirt roads, no boulders, and no snow. In fact, the only ice you’ll find around here are the frosty cubes chilling your mojito. Logical? Hardly.

How about you? Do your expensive Nike running shoes make you a better runner? Does your beautiful Fender Stratocaster make you a better guitar player? Does your featherweight Bianchi Italian racing bike lower your race times? Do your Henckels chef knives make your food taste any better?

The truth is we all do things – and buy things – for seemingly illogical reasons that simply make us feel good about what we’re doing. And the companies who understand this – from Apple to Huckberry.com to Tom Ford to Whole Foods – profit from their ability to stoke our aspirational fires.

Today’s consumer tells the world (and themselves) who they are based on the things they buy and the brands they consume. This means that the quality of the function those products provide is necessary, but is not the prime purchase driver. Instead it’s what the product says about the purchaser that matters most.

How do you take advantage of this for your own business? Quite simply, you need to not just understand your customer’s motivations but recognize their aspirations. Then, by creating your brand message to show them how they can express and accomplish their hopes and dreams with your help, your vendor/customer relationship can take a new and more profitable course.

Logically illogical? Perhaps.

Effective? Absolutely.


From an Organization to a Destination.

6 responses.

The Rarified Results of Moving from an Organization to a Destination.

A few years before my agency started marketing Miami, Time Magazine featured the city under the headline “Paradise Lost.” In September 2017 Miami International Airport reported record monthly arrivals of almost 2,000,000 passengers. Miami is now one of the most successful tourist destinations in the world.

In September 1972, Florida International University opened its doors with 5,667 students. Today the school enjoys an enrollment of 45,813 students, making it the 4th-largest university in the United States.

These are the types of successes stories that any business would be proud to report. Of course, they both have some things in common. Yes they’re both Miami-related, but both brands are also both destinations.

Organization to Destination

Destinations have unique marketing challenges. You can consume media (movies, music, magazines, etc.) from the comfort of your own living room. You can use products and services from your home, office or wherever you are.

But to consume what destinations offer, their customers have to actually go somewhere. Whether you’re promoting a restaurant, a hotel, a sports complex, a city, state or country, a hospital or a university, your customers have to actually get off their duffs and visit.

Besides presenting unique challenges, forcing customers to visit a destination also offers some unique advantages. For example, when our clients visit Puerto Rico, New Smyrna Beach, or Miami Jewish Health Systems (a few of our destination clients), they are surrounded by our environments. We orchestrate the consumer experience and we manage our customers’ expectations because they are in our milieus.

Similarly, when our customers visit our online destinations, we also manage their consumer journey and show them the best possible experience. That’s because even though they are visiting a digital realm, they are still within our borders and are exposed to environments we prepare just as carefully as a director and set designer create theatre.

But what if you don’t market a destination? What if you don’t control the environments within which your consumers enjoy your products? How can you storyboard an experience that will both satisfy and delight your users and keep them coming back for more?

It’s easy. Simply turn your organization into a destination. Stop thinking about your product as a thing. Stop thinking about your service as a period of time or a delivered solution. Try positioning what you sell as an experience your audience will consume.

Position what you sell as an experience your audience will consume.

It’s not enough for them to open a bag or box and pull out your product. Instead storyboard the entire user arc – from purchase to delivery to usage. And if you’re thorough enough, you might even want to consider what your customer does with your product when they’re finished with it. By doing this you can change the way they see what you sell. So while your competition might simply be selling a tool or a solution, you are moving away from function and content and taking your customer on a trip through context.

By doing this you can increase both your product’s value AND its perceived value to your customers. And you can change your purchasers from simple buyers into delighted participants and evangelists.

If you’d like to know more about how to do this, drop me a note or comment on this blog. I’d be delighted to show you proven tips, tactics, and techniques that can raise what you sell above the mundane and ordinary to an exalted position that will build desire, increase purchases, and expand your profits.

But it all starts with a reframing of what you create when you shift from an organization to a destination.

The Distractor in Chief

12 responses.

Strolling past the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago in Chile towards the Mercado Central sends you from the sacred to the secular. The street leading to the giant seafood market is lined with cut-price flea market booths hawking tourist tchotchkes, drinks and snack foods, and counterfeit Nikes and Adidas.

Between the booths are buskers and entertainers plying their trade for the grubby pesos passerby’s toss into their baskets. And every block or so there’s a small crowd of people gathered around a bunko dealer. These flimflammers play different versions of three-card monte; some with cups and balls, some with dice, and some with the classic set of playing cards.

Distractor in Chief

But no matter what device the con artists use, they all employ the same techniques; they count on shills and distraction to fool their victims. They do this to first convince their audiences that the games are legit and then to fleece them. In response, their audiences pull folded-up pesos out of their pockets and purses in a single motion that’s both hopeful and desperate at the same time.

Distraction, sleight-of-hand, interference, disruption. All are techniques magicians use to make sure their audiences see what the performers want them to see and don’t see what the performers don’t want them to see. When done right, the audience doesn’t even know they’ve been distracted. They’re simply astonished when the ball isn’t under the cup, the card isn’t in the deck, or the beautiful girl in the cabinet is gone and the magician is there instead.

Most magicians (and con artists) make it look easy. It’s not by mistake that the traditional image of the magician has him dressed to the nines in a natty tuxedo. The distraction is pulled off with such aplomb that it not only appears effortless but it’s usually done long before the audience even knows they’re being fooled.

But some magicians actually work hard to make their distraction look clumsy and unplanned – thus making the ultimate switcheroo appear even more surprising when it unfolds on the hapless spectator.

So what if that’s what’s happening in Washington? What if President Trump’s apparent missteps are actually calculated techniques used to distract us from what’s really going on?

Don’t worry, this is not a political screed. Instead it is an exploration of the ways that the current administration might be using a time-honored technique to legislate without our knowledge.

Why else would the president insult the pregnant widow of a fallen soldier? Why else would he insult the Puerto Rican victims of Hurricane Maria? Why else would he go to war with the NFL over freedom of speech? It’s much too easy (and naïve) to write it off to him being a clumsy boor. What if there’s something else going on?

Consider this – as much as all of us want to look at the classified papers from JFK’s assassination, why release them now? What could be a bigger distraction than to get us all lathered-up over an assassination and conspiracy theory that occurred over 50 years ago?

Or consider this – while we’re paying attention to Trump’s reality-show antics, what’s happened to the Russian hacking investigation? While we’re busy being sidetracked by 45’s tweets, look at the bills that have been introduced in the House of Representatives:

  1. HR 861 to Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency
  2. HR 610 – Vouchers for Public Education (which may end free public education as we know it)
  3. HR 899 to Terminate the Department of Education
  4. HR 69 to Repeal the Rule Protecting Wildlife
  5. HR 370 to Repeal the Affordable Care Act (again??!!)
  6. HR 354 to Defund Planned Parenthood (even though exactly none of your tax dollars go toward abortion services now)
  7. HR 785 – National “Right to Work” which would effectively end unions
  8. HR 83 – Mobilizing Against Sanctuary Cities Bill
  9. HR 147 to Criminalize Abortion (“Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act”)
  10. HR 808 to Impose Sanctions Against Iran

Whether you agree or disagree with all, some or any of these bills is not the point. What matters is that we are all being suckered by the same tactics that we’d smugly say we’d never fall for on a three-card monte table. On the other hand, there were plenty of people tossing their cash at the bunko dealers on the street, so maybe I’m wrong there too.

Making wine — and business — better.

One response.

I’ve had the great fortune to spend the last few weeks touring Argentina and Chile. Together Gloria and I explored fascinating sites, ate wonderful meals, enjoyed spectacular wines, and met very gracious and hospitable people.

Not only did we try great wines, but we visited wineries in both countries and saw how the wines are made and what goes into making them so special.

Some of the wines we were introduced to were described in industrial terms: their weights, measures, time in the barrel, time in the bottle, temperatures they were processed at, and so forth.

The technical information did help us understand the wines better, but taste-wise most of them were ultimately forgettable — especially to someone like me who is an uneducated and unsophisticated oenophile in the first place.

Some of the wines we tried were described in more romantic terms: their histories, their struggles against bad weather and drought, and their experiences in French oak casks and on the tongue, for example.

Of course, some of these stories sounded a bit overwrought and implausible. But one really touched me.

Wine rootsWe were talking with the winemaker and the sommelier about their Sauvignon Blanc. As the sommelier explained it, the roots of grapes grown in soft soil don’t have to work very hard to find water. The wines they produce, therefore, are drinkable but not interesting. Or as he put it, wines from unstressed grapes are soft and lazy. Easy to drink, but once you’re done you’re left with nothing of value to think about.

But he said that his winery’s products were superior. That’s because of all the effort their roots had to go through to find healthy purchase in the rocky soil of the Leyda Valley. By working hard to break through the rough terrain of coastal Chile, the roots developed a strength and character that was reflected in the wines all that effort produced.

While I was listening, I was thinking skeptically about this anthropomorphic technique of comparing wines to people. The winemaker must have read my mind because he too equated wine with people. To him, the trials, tribulations, and travails people go through in their lives is what makes them interesting and gives them character. And that’s what he looked to do with his wines.

Then he brought out some samples and let us taste what he was talking about. I don’t know whether the wines actually tasted better because of what they’d gone through or whether I simply enjoyed the wines more because of what I learned. Either way I did taste a substantial difference. The romance of the story either gave me a reason to prefer his wines or it gave me the vocabulary to understand what I was tasting. Regardless, the wine experience was better because of the story.

Of course, we all know the power of suggestion goes a long way to influence the enjoyment of wine. When you listen to a knowledgeable drinker talk about aromas of fresh flowers, baked bread, stone fruit, blackberry notes, and subtle hints of citrus blossoms, it’s easy to be cynical and poo poo the descriptions. Because while you might be able to determine the ingredients in a stew or a sauce — cilantro and garlic, say, or tomatoes and basil — those items are actually in the food. But the descriptions of wines’ aromas and flavors are fanciful because none of those components are actually in the bottle. Instead, the tastes you perceive — minerals, fruit, herbs — are all created from grapes and the talents of the winemaker.

Now how does all this relate to your business? What can you learn from the world’s great wineries? It’s simple.

Do you simply sell what you do based on the ingredients that go into your products or services — your MBA, years in the business, licenses and patents — for example? Or have you created a romantic story that helps your clients (and your potential clients) better understand and appreciate what you do for them?

Always remember your clients don’t only choose you for what you can do for them. If you simply offer them legal advice, bagel delivery, new eyeglasses, or cybersecurity services, for example, they can always find those things cheaper somewhere else. But if you provide them with a sense of who you are and what you do, they will choose you for what you stand for and how you make them feel.

Please don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m suggesting you can get away with not being the best in the business. You can’t. Your functional offer must be the best there is. I’m only pointing out that at the highest levels of business, your function is cost of entry. Once your clients understand what you sell is the best, then they can further actualize themselves and their companies by including you in their businesses and their lives.

Good Brands on Cyber Monday

Porsche sells performance automobiles yet most of the people who own their cars drive them back and forth to their offices.

Fender and Gibson sell iconic instruments played by every guitar hero from Jimi Hendrix to Eric Clapton to Jimmy Page. Yet most of their customers will never play at Wembly Stadium or Carnegie Hall.

Speedo sells the swimsuits you’ve seen on Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps below their gold medals. Yet most of their products are worn by splashers and sunbathers.

And my sommelier friend’s wines are all made with unbelievably painstaking care and passion. Yet most bottles will most likely be enjoyed by people who wouldn’t know a focused palette of black currant and hints of cassis from a complex nose of violets, mint, and white pepper. Or Riunite on ice, for that matter.

Does this mean the struggle you went through earning your education or building your business is for naught? Of course not. Just like the noble fight those little roots put up to get through the soil, your travails not only made you capable but provided you with a heroic story that the world wants to hear.

Because as we’ve said so many times before, a good brand makes people feel good. But a great brand makes people feel good about themselves.

A Great Brand on Cyber Monday


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