Make Business Simple – Four-Word Rules For Success – #5

Posted on July 24th, 2017

Make Business Simple – My Four-Word Rules For Success. #5 in a Series.

We’ve spent the last few weeks talking about my four-word rules for business success.  My goal remains simple: I want to give you easy to implement tools, tactics, and techniques to make your business better.

Each rule is only four words long because that’s what matters. Often it’s all it takes to make a huge difference when you build your brand and your business.

Rule #1 is “Shut the @#$%!! up.” If you missed it just point your browser HERE.

Rule #2 is “Take them to lunch.” If you missed that one point your browser HERE.

Rule #3 is “Don’t work with assholes.” If you missed #3, point your browser HERE.

Rule #4 is “Uncover the Real Problem.” If you missed #4, you’ll find it HERE.

what matters

The voice over the loudspeaker was that generic, Midwestern, slightly southern Texas drawl we’ve all grown accustomed to on airplanes.

“Okay folks,” it started, “Sorry to tell y’all this but it looks like we’ll be stuck here on the tarmac another 20 minutes or so. If I get an update from the tower I’ll be sure to let you know what’s happening.”

The woman in the center seat resumed her complaining.

“Damn it! That’s the third time they’ve delayed this flight. We’ve been sitting here what, 45 minutes already? I’m sure I’m going to miss my connection now.  I probably won’t get home in time for the party no matter what happens.”

I had no idea what party she was talking about.

I didn’t ask.

The guy sitting at the window seat glanced over her head, caught my eye, rolled his.

She droned on, “Can you believe this airline? Don’t they care about their customers? Don’t they know what matters? Don’t they know we have places to be? What’s the point of them telling us when the flight is supposed to arrive if it never leaves?!”

Her voice was getting louder and louder.

The harangue went on for another 20 minutes or so before the man sitting in the window seat had had enough.

“Ma’am,” he said with a southern drawl eerily similar to the pilot on the loudspeaker, “I’m a pilot. Let me tell you what matters to pilots about delays…”

He paused for a moment before continuing. The angry woman stared at him.

“It’s always better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than to be in the air wishing you were on the ground.”

He went back to his book.

Our seatmate didn’t make another peep.

Since that day I’ve been in an airplane almost every week or two. I’ve listened to people complaining about delays, complaining about high ticket prices, even complaining about a shortage of blue corn chips. I never say a word.

Truth is, I know what matters. I would much rather be on the ground wishing I was in the air than in the air wishing I was on the ground.

Or, as comedian Louis C.K. said on Conan O’Brien’s show: “Flying is the worst because people come back from flights and… act like their flight was like a cattle car in the forties in Germany… They’re like ‘it was the worst day of my life. First of all, we didn’t board for twenty minutes, and then we get on the plane and they made us sit there on the runway for forty minutes…’”

“Oh really, what happened next? Did you fly through the air… like a bird? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight?! You’re flying! It’s amazing! Everybody on every plane should just constantly be going “oh my God! Wow!” You’re flying! You’re sitting in a chair, in the sky!”

So what’s my four-word rule #5? It’s simple:

Focus on What Matters.

Not only can’t you do anything about the flight taking off, but if there’s a problem with the plane or the tarmac you’re better off being on the ground anyway.

It’s the same for your brand and your business. If you understand what you do, what your client wants, and where those two things intersect, you already know where to focus your time and attention. Sure, there are other things you can busy yourself with. But just like that delayed flight, you’re better off concentrating on the things you can affect and improve instead of busying yourself worrying about things that are out of your control.

Instead, Focus on What Matters.

Make Business Simple – Four-Word Rules For Success – #4

Posted on July 17th, 2017

Make Business Simple – Four-Word Rules For Success. #4 in a series.

We’ve spent the last few weeks talking about my four-word rules for business success.  My goal remains simple: I want to give you easy to implement tools, tactics, and techniques to make your business better.

Each rule is only four words long because often that’s all it takes to make a huge difference when you build your brand and your business. (And it’s because four words are about all my short attention span can handle!)

Rule #1 is “Shut the @#$%!! up.” If you missed it just point your browser HERE.

Rule #2 is “Take them to lunch.” If you missed that one just point your browser HERE.

Rule #3 is “Don’t work with assholes.” If you missed #3, point your browser HERE.

Rules for success

Between my sophomore and junior years in college I worked as a waiter in a fine restaurant called the Grand Café.

I enjoyed the work. I enjoyed dealing with people. And I enjoyed the novelty because I knew I wasn’t going to be doing it for the rest of my life.

One lunchtime I was serving a woman who wasn’t happy with anything. Her water was warm. Her food was cold. The A/C was blowing directly on her. The table was rocking. I brought the salad too slowly. I brought the entrée too quickly.

She finally got so exasperated she insisted I get the manager.

Back in the kitchen, the manager asked me what went wrong.

“I don’t know,” I answered. “I don’t think I’ve done anything to make her so mad. But no matter what I do, she’s not happy.”

The manager walked up to the table and introduced himself. I stood a few steps behind him.

“Good afternoon Ma’am. I’m Bernard Fish, your general manager. How can I help you?”

That was all the invitation she needed. What came next was a five-minute diatribe of everything that was wrong with the service. And the food. And me.

Mr. Fish watched and listened, nodding appropriately. Finally, the angry patron just ran out of steam and stopped complaining.

Mr. Fish paused a moment and then leaned over. He waited another agonizingly long moment before saying quietly: “I heard everything you said. And I can fix it all for you. But I have to tell you I think there’s something else bothering you. Tell me the truth. What’s really wrong?”

The patron was so enraged she couldn’t speak. She started to sputter when, like the sudden passing of a raging thunderstorm, her face softened.

She stared blankly at Mr. Fish for a long minute before erupting into tears.

“My husband left me last week and I don’t know what to do.”

Her head collapsed on her arms.

Mr. Fish turned to me. “Go grab a couple cappuccinos and a slice of our chocolate cheesecake.”

I turned and walked towards the kitchen.

“Bring two forks” he added.

Mr. Fish sat at the table and listened. When we cleaned up the lunch mess they were still talking. When all the chairs were piled on the tables and the carpet was being vacuumed, they were still talking.

Finally they got up. The formerly upset customer came over to me and apologized for her behavior. She hugged me and handed me a $100 tip.

Four-word rule #4?

Uncover the Real Problem.

The water wasn’t too warm. The food wasn’t too cold. The A/C wasn’t blowing directly on her. And the food came out when it was supposed to come out. But of course, none of that mattered. Because she wasn’t happy.

Most therapists will tell you the concern their patients first present is usually the symptom, not the problem.

I had a client who used to say, “Don’t fix problems you don’t have.”

It goes double for your customers and your clients.

Instead you’ll find real success when you uncover the real problem.

Four-word rule #4 is uncover the real problem.

Make Business Simple – Four-Word Rules For Success – #3.

Posted on July 8th, 2017

Make Business Simple – Four-Word Rules For Success

Rules for Success


If you’ve been reading along, you know we’ve spent the last few weeks talking about the four-word rules for business success.  My goal remains simple: I want to give you easy to implement tools, tactics, and techniques to make your business better.

Each rule is only four words long because often that’s all it takes to make a huge difference when you build your brand and your business. And it’s because four words are about all my short attention span can handle!

Rule #1 is “Shut the @#$%!! up.” If you missed it just point your browser HERE.

Rule #2 is “Take them to lunch.” If you missed that one just point your browser HERE.

Today’s rule might be counter-intuitive and maybe even a little icky. But in all the years I’ve created brands for some of the biggest companies in the world I have found that Rule #3 proves itself true time and time again. And besides being the key to running a successful business, Rule #3 is also an important component of improving the quality of your life.

Ready? Rule #3 is simple.

Don’t Work With Assholes.

That’s it.

Life is too short, and the world is too small, for you to be spending time working for – or with – people who make your life miserable. Not only do toxic people make your life unpleasant, working for folks like that will not result in great work or enviable profits.

But it gets even worse. That’s because working with unpleasant people will keep you from making money and enjoying yourself, and they will destroy your environments they work within. What that means to you is that your unpleasant clients — and your unpleasant employees — not only ruin the part of your business they are involved in, they can also damage the parts of your business (and your life) that they’re NOT involved with.

Unfortunately, these toxic types can be really good at the technical parts of their jobs. But even those skills are not important enough to keep them around.

Instead they are:

  1. Unpleasant
  2. Unprofitable
  3. Able to destroy parts of your business they’re not even involved with.

Looked at that way, it’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?

Which is why the Four-Word Rules For Success #3 is:

Don’t Work With Assholes.

Make Business Simple – Four-word Rules for Success – #2.

Posted on July 4th, 2017

Make Business Simple – Four-Word Rules for Success

Over the next few weeks we’re going to be talking about the four-word rules for business success.  My goal is simple: I want to give you easy to implement tools, tactics, and techniques that will make your business better.

Each rule is only four words long because that’s all it takes to make a huge difference to build your brand and your business. And because four words are about all my short attention span can handle!

Last week we talked about Rule #1, “Shut the @#$%!! up.” If you missed it and want to start at the beginning, just point your browser HERE.

Take them to lunch

While I’m convinced that Rule #1 is often the most important thing you can do in most business situations, it’s not lost on me that you need to get into those situations in the first place.

That’s why you need Rule #2.

Whether you’re trying to get a face-to-face new business presentation or your goal is to reach out to reporters and bloggers to get them to write about you, you need a strategy. The one I’ve found to be most successful is a lot easier –  and often a lot more fun – than you think.

But first, a story:

A number of years ago my little advertising agency landed a whale. We parlayed a small marketing assignment we did for the Sawgrass Mills shopping center into a full agency of record (AOR) relationship for three of their four properties: Sawgrass Mills in Ft. Lauderdale, Gurnee Mills in Chicago, and Franklin Mills in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, even with that great David and Goliath story I couldn’t get the advertising press to write about us.

But at the same time, one of the big New York agencies won the Potomac Mills account in Washington D.C. Their success was plastered on the front of both AdWeek and AdAge Magazines even though they only had one Mills account AND WE HAD THREE!!

WTF? How come they got the article and I got the shaft?

Not knowing how to fix this situation, I called a good friend of my father’s who was the president of Miami’s most acclaimed public relations firm. She agreed to have lunch with me and give me some advice.

We chit-chatted through lunch. I was getting impatient waiting for the answer but she kept talking about everything but what I wanted to know.

Finally, the check came and she was ready to go. Before she got up to leave, she scribbled a few words on a napkin, bunched it up, and slid it across the table to me.

“Here are the four magic words to getting PR and business. Don’t you dare look at them until I leave and don’t tell anyone I let you in on the secret.”

And then she left.

Needless to say, I couldn’t wait for her to leave so I could uncover the truth. The minute she was out of sight I uncrumbled the paper and read the four words that changed my life:

“Take Them To Lunch.”

Here’s the truth that no one tells you: regardless of whether your business is B2B (business to business) or B2C (business to consumer), your business is P2P (people to people). And the best way to get to know them and get to have them know you is F2F (face to face).

If you want to build your business, your bottom line should be to generate as much interest in you and your activities as possible. And while there are no direct metrics to extrapolate how many lunches it takes to generate additional income; a good rule of thumb is this: the more the merrier.

Work hard to make your professional persona ubiquitous and it will pay off in perception and interest. And sooner or later those things will all lead to opportunities and success.

But it all starts when you take them to lunch.

Make Business Simple – Four-Word Rules for Success

Posted on June 27th, 2017

Make Business Simple – Four-Word Rules for Success

Leonardo da Vinci wrote, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Confucius said, “Life is really simple, but we insist in making it complicated.”

Chopin believed, “Simplicity is the final achievement.”

If those brilliant minds got it right, then why do spend so much time, money, effort, and heartache making our business much more complicated than it needs to be?

Rules for Success

Is it because we don’t have confidence in good ideas? Could it be because we need to justify our labors? Is it just that it’s hard to make things easy?

Or, as that other great thinker, Pogo the Opossum said, is it because “we have met the enemy and he is us?”

Regardless, there’s great learning to be had and benefits to enjoy by figuring out how to make it simple.

As I wrote that, I realized that’s what I’ve been doing with my clients for the last 30 years or so. In fact, in my third book, Building Brand Value, which described the seven points for building a great brand, my third point was “Make It Simple.” And because I wanted all seven points to be memorable and usable, I reduced each one to just three words.

But it went deeper. It dawned on me that many of the corollaries I use to help build my clients’ brands and business are only four words each. And while I’d like to brag about my foresight, this wasn’t by design. I just noticed that the length of each was what they had in common.

In my ongoing effort to provide you with powerful suggestions to help build your brand and your business, I’m going to use the next few weeks’ blog posts to show you these Four-word Rules for Success. Let’s start with a story:

Four-Word Rules for Success

My clients and I were presenting a new partnership opportunity to a Fortune 500 Company. The company filled the room with their best thinkers —their CIO and CMO, and the VPs of marketing, product development, and consumer insight.

Our team was no slouch, either. We’ve got both founders, our system designer, our carefully selected celebrity spokesman (you’d recognize him in an instant) and me.

The Fortune 500 team loves the idea. They see the connection between the product and their customers, and they see how it will enhance customer loyalty and generate new revenue.

Pogos Rules For SuccessThere’s only one problem: My client won’t shut up.

She’s so excited she needs to explain every detail of the plan. And she’s so wrapped up in her pitch that she doesn’t see her partner signaling her to be quiet.

The meeting ends at least 45 minutes later than it should have. When we get out to the sidewalk, the client high fives everyone on the team. And on the way to the airport we stop for a celebratory dinner and a few great bottles of wine.

But when the buyers call back they are no longer buyers. Instead they said they were “putting the project on the back burner.” That’s corpspeak for “don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

What happened? Simple. My client violated the cardinal rule of sales: “Always take yes for an answer.” Her prospect wanted to buy until she convinced them that they didn’t.

Four-Word Rules for Success

“Yes” is the best you can hope for. Who cares if you spent weeks on your PowerPoint? Who cares if you’re only up to page four of a 28-point deck? Who cares if you flew halfway across the country? When your buyer is ready to sign on the dotted line, turn off the projector. Showing your full dog-and-pony show isn’t the goal — getting to “Yes” is why you’re there.

Decisions are often made without all the facts. Once the purchase decision has been made, more facts can either enhance the decision or kill the deal. Once you’ve got a “Yes,” why risk snatching defeat from the jaws of victory?

The simple solution in presentations — especially ones going well — is to let the buyer talk. To do that just remember this Four-Word Rule for Success: “Shut the @#$%!! up.”


Writing A Great Tagline

Posted on June 19th, 2017

Writing A Great Tagline

Last night I noticed that Lexus has a new tagline.

Even though I don’t drive one of their cars, I am a big fan of the company and their advertising. That’s because Lexus and their marketing professionals clearly understood the All About Them mindset.


Launched in the United States in 1989, Lexus was a brand created specifically for an emerging market. 20 years later, Lexus was the fourth-largest premium car make in the world by volume and was the number one selling premium car brand in the United States for 10 years in a row.

How did they do it?

Lexus combined engineering from Toyota’s most reliable models with the various creature comforts and status cues that newly affluent consumers craved. The result was a car that was proficient at comfort, luxury, status, and performance without being the best at any of those things. The brand was successful because it spoke directly to its customers. Plus, it gave them exactly what they wanted and nothing they didn’t.

Writing A Great Tagline

But besides building the car its buyers wanted, and providing them with the dealer-service experience they demanded, Lexus also excelled at communicating the car’s brand value. This was especially true with their tagline: “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection.” The slogan suggested that the car company would never rest in their ongoing quest to build the best car in the world.

But the tagline did something else. It also represented its buyers’ attitude.

After all, Lexus were not first purchased by people who were already buying Mercedes Benzes and BMWs and stepping down to the Japanese marque. Instead, Lexus were driven off the lot by newly-affluent strivers who were trading up from mid-tier domestic and imported brands. These drivers were attracted both by Lexus’ Mercedes-like looks and quality and their significantly lower prices. And so the line, “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection” did not just talk about the car. The line represented the aspirational lifestyle of the car’s customers, too.


But after 20 incredibly successful years, Lexus’ fortunes began to change. Thanks to a global recession, along with changing consumer tastes, Lexus lost significant market share in the U.S. and lost their best-selling luxury status to BMW and Mercedes Benz. In response, the brand edited its message to the shorter “Pursuit of Perfection.”

Whether or not this edit referred to Lexus’ former achievements or continued to represent its consumers is hard to tell. After all, while the relentless pursuit of perfection is, by definition, an impossible hunt, it certainly seems more romantic than the truncated message.

But this year Lexus changed their tag again. Lexus’ new tagline is “Experience Amazing.”  And what was once an extremely powerfully motivating life mantra has been watered down into generic pabulum.

Writing A Great Tagline

Porsche warns us that, “There is no substitute.”

BMW tempts us with, “The Ultimate Driving Machine.”

Volvo reassures us, “For Life.”

Mercedes Benz promises, “The Best or Nothing.”

And now Lexus wants to inspire us with line that would be just as appropriate for Cirque de Soleil’s new show, Disney World’s latest theme park, a new IPA, or even Dr. Scholl’s newest shoe liners?

Where’s the learning you can apply to your business? Simply put, while a good brand makes people feel good, a great brand makes people feel good about themselves. Just like the relentless pursuit of perfection!

A Good Brand


Jeff Bezos has a lot to teach us.

Posted on June 14th, 2017

Jeff Bezos has a lot to teach us.

It has now been three years since online retail visionary, Jeff  Bezos, bought the Washington Post.

On NPR this morning I heard about how the tech entrepreneur has changed the newspaper. There are lots of things Bezos has done, but the major change will come as no surprise. Bezos completely redesigned the way the company operates. Bezos transformed the Post from a newspaper company to a technology company.

Jeff BezosTo do this, he commissioned in-house software to run all aspects of the business, from the newsroom, to production, to ad sales. Being an ad guy myself, it was these changes that I found most interesting.

Thanks to Bezos’ understanding of the online environment, not only does software run the Post’s ad department more efficiently, but big data also makes their advertising more efficient.

Thanks to Bezos’ changes, the Post’s ad revenues are up to almost $100 million. This is significantly more than they earned before the changes. And in a day and age when all we hear about is how newspaper profits are falling, this is startling news.

Ironically, most people find that the online Post now includes fewer ads than the former print version. In the past, newspaper consumers complained about the number of ads that were blocking their enjoyment of the paper. But the Post has found a solution to this problem as well. What happens now is that the ads readers see are specifically targeted to specific audiences. These targets are based on those audience’s propensity to look at specific parts of the Post’s site and purchase the specific items advertised.

But advertisers are okay with the lower volume of ads being served. That’s because today’s savvy advertisers realize that circulation and frequency are not what’s most important. Instead, they care about being in front of the right people.

That’s worth saying again. Today’s savvy advertiser realizes that what’s important is being in front of the right people. In other words, positioning is now more important than frequency. Advertisers understand that they will get a greater sales return, and greater ROI, if they talk to the people who have the highest propensity to purchase their products. And technology now allows advertisers to specifically target their perfect audiences with greater and greater accuracy.

The old days of “Let’s run it up the flagpole and see who salutes” or “Why don’t we toss it against the wall and sees if it sticks” are over. Ironically, this idea is not new.

Maybe you remember the apocryphal tale from the 1950s:

It’s about a son who thought it was time for him to take over his father’s business. Unfortunately, his dad was not ready to relinquish control. And so the son asked to run marketing and advertising for the company. The father did not agree with this either. But instead of giving up, the son got strategic. He asked his dad to simply give him a small budget to see if he could make their advertising work. The father agreed.

The first thing the son did was buy ads for the company in the newspaper his father read in the morning. Then he bought posters surrounding the subway station he knew his father walked through on his way to the office. Next, he bought the placards inside the subway that his father rode to work.  And, as you’ve already figured out, he also purchased the posters outside the subway station near his dad’s office. Finally he bought ads on the one radio station he knew his father listened to at work.

You know what happened.

After a few days of this onslaught, the father told his son how great his ad plan was because he saw it everywhere. Based on his son’s ad successful ad schedule, he named his son the company’s marketing director, and eventually made him CEO of the company.

The moral of the story? Positioning that reaches the right person at the right time is what matters. Understanding your audience, understanding who they are, what they want, and where they spend their time, is the key to spreading your message. The business owner’s son proved it 70 years ago. Jeff Bezos proved it today.

Proof Positive That You Can Do Anything.

Posted on June 6th, 2017

You Can do Anything.

You can do anythingFor a couple years now I’ve been writing about how the world has changed while you and I were sleeping.

I’ve written about how social media put the power of the media in the hands of each one of us.

I’ve blogged about how the handheld video recorder in your smartphone has destroyed our concept of privacy.

I’ve talked about the ways wireless Internet connections have turned our consumer society into an unending 24/7/365 telethon.

And I’ve pointed out how computer design and manufacturing have made all products “good enough.” This has eliminated the importance of a product’s functional ability in purchase decisions.

But maybe you haven’t always bought my line of reasoning. Or perhaps you’re new to this blog and haven’t been following my points for long. If so, here’s proof:

The canary in the coalmine is Eugene Romanovsky’s ad to sell his 1996 Suzuki Vitara. It proves you can do anything.


Romanovsky created this epic video to unload a car that CarsGuide says is worth somewhere between $2,640 and $6,270. But that didn’t stop Romanovsky from pulling out all the stops to present the 96-horsepower SUV.

In his video, Romanovsky’s little Suzuki stars in cameos from Jurassic Park and Mad Max and also travels with sharks, dinosaurs, and the Space Shuttle.

Of course, Romanovsky is a special effects artist. His Facebook page says Romanovsky works at the Tel Aviv animation studio Gravity and has access to the technology necessary to create an ad like this.

But what’s so exciting is that it proves you can do anything.

Video editing programs including Final Cut Pro X, Screen Flow, Autodesk Inventor, and Adobe Edge are available for less than $100. And if that’s too much to spend, there’s a long list of software that will give you much of the same functionality for free.

Needless to say, just having the software loaded in your laptop doesn’t mean you have the skills or creativity to recreate Romanovsky’s blockbuster. Hell, I have a piano at home but I can’t play it. But the point is that today’s cost-of-entry barriers to so many things that were previously unavailable to us simply do not exist anymore.

Today you can learn how to use the tools yourself. Or you can go online and find someone in India, Malaysia or perhaps the Philippines who is more than willing to make your vision a reality. And they’ll do it at an astoundingly low price.

For years we were told that anyone in America could grow up to be president. But based on how similar all of our presidents looked up to that point, I’m not sure we entirely believed it was true. Until 2009 when Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States, that is. Suddenly anything was possible.

By the same token, motivational speakers have made it a cliché to believe that you can do anything you put your mind to. And I don’t think many of us believed that was true either.

But that was only until Eugene Romanovsky created an ad that would have cost millions of dollars to produce less than a decade ago. And he did it to sell a four-thousand-dollar car.

What can you do?

You can do anything.

  • Follow Bruce on the Web

  • Most Recent Comments

    • User AvatarBruce, loved your post, I am doing a PhD and your words... by Julia says on Numbers Lie.
    • User Avatar;^) by Bruce Turkel says on Numbers Lie.
    • User AvatarBruce, Thanks for continuing to do all three. by David J. Hawes says on Numbers Lie.
    • User AvatarThank you Mary Lou. That’s very nice of you. by Bruce Turkel says on Numbers Lie.
    • User AvatarThis is great stuff, Tim, thanks. I actually read quite a bit... by Bruce Turkel says on Numbers Lie.
    • User AvatarI am literally amazed and amused by your writing. I have known... by Mary Louise Cole says on Numbers Lie.

  • Archives