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« February 2009 | Main | April 2009 »

Demonization

The closer you get to someone, something, some brand, some organization... the harder it is to demonize it, objectify it or hate it.

So, if you want to not be hated, open up. Let people in. Engage. Interact.

Pivots for change

When industry norms start to die, people panic. It's difficult to change when you think that you must change everything in order to succeed. Changing everything is too difficult.

Consider for a minute the pivot points available to you:

  • Keep the machines in your factory, but change what they make.
  • Keep your customers, but change what you sell to them.
  • Keep your providers, but change the profit structure.
  • Keep your industry but change where the money comes from.
  • Keep your staff, but change what you do.
  • Keep your mission, but change your scale.
  • Keep your products, but change the way you market them.
  • Keep your customers, but change how much you sell each one.
  • Keep your technology, but use it to do something else.
  • Keep your reputation, but apply it to a different industry or problem.

Simple examples:

  • Keep the musicians, but change how you make money (sell concerts, not CDs).
  • Keep making guitars, but make bespoke expensive ones, not the mass market ones that overseas competition has made obsolete.
  • Keep the punch press and the lathe, but make large scale art installations, not car parts.
  • Keep your wealthy travel clients, but sell them personal services instead of trips to Europe.
  • Keep the factory that makes missiles, but figure out how to make high-efficiency turbines instead.

In search of dolphin leather

There's a story in the bible with very specific instructions for building an ark. Included in the instructions is a call for using tanned dolphin leather. Regardless of your feelings about the historical accuracy of the story, it's an interesting question: why create an impossible mission like that? Why encourage people who might travel 100 miles over their entire lifetime to undertake a quest to find, capture, kill, skin and eventually tan a dolphin?

My friend Adam had an interesting take on this. He told me that the acquisition of the leather is irrelevant. It was the quest that mattered. Having a community-based quest means that there's less room for whining, for infighting and for dissolution. Having a mission not only points everyone in the same direction, it also creates motion. And motion in any direction is often better than no motion at all.

All around you, people are telling you two things:
1. whatever you want, forget it, it's impossible, and
2. sit still, preserve resources, lay low.

And yet, the people who are succeeding, creating change and (not coincidentally) are happier aren't listening to either of these pieces of advice. Instead, they're on the search for dolphin leather.

Frank Sinatra had it wrong. Your dream shouldn't be impossible, but it sure helps if it's improbable. Don't choose your dreams based on what is certain to happen, choose them based on what's likely to cause the change you want to occur around you.

The difference between PR and publicity

Most PR firms do publicity, not PR.

Publicity is the act of getting ink. Publicity is getting unpaid media to pay attention, write you up, point to you, run a picture, make a commotion. Sometimes publicity is helpful, and good publicity is always good for your ego.

But it's not PR.

PR is the strategic crafting of your story. It's the focused examination of your interactions and tactics and products and pricing that, when combined, determine what and how people talk about you.

Regis McKenna was great at PR. Yes, he got Steve Jobs and the Mac on the cover of more than 30 magazines in the year it launched. That was just publicity. The real insight was crafting the story of the Mac (and yes, the story of Steve Jobs).

If you send out a boring press release, your publicity effort will probably fail, but your PR already has.

A publicity firm will tell you stories of how they got a client ink. A PR firm will talk about storytelling and being remarkable and spreading the word. They might even suggest you don't bother getting ink or issuing press releases.

In my experience, a few people have a publicity problem, but almost everyone has a PR problem. You need to solve that one first. And you probably won't accomplish that if you hire a publicity firm and don't even give them the freedom and access they need to work with you on your story.

Slack

A lot of corporations have seen dramatic decreases in revenue and have cut back projects as well. In many cases, this is accompanied by layoffs, and so everyone is working far harder.

But in other organizations, and for a lot of freelancers, there's more time than work. In other words, slack time.

Assume for a moment you don't have money to develop and launch something new. So, what are you going to do with the slack?

What can you build over the next year that will take time now and pay off later? How can you invest the slack to build a marketing asset that you'll own forever?

May I offer two suggestions:

1. Learn something. Become an expert. For free, using nothing but time, you can become a master of CSS or HTML or learn Python. You can hit the library and read the entire works of important authors, or you can borrow some books from a friend and master Analytics or discover case studies and corporate histories that will be invaluable in a year. You could learn to become fluent in Spanish...

If you're a glass blower without a job, you can't do much glass blowing. But if you're a digital marketer between gigs, you can do a lot of digital marketing... build a tribe for your favorite non-profit and make it a case-study for an entire industry.

2. Earn a following and reputation. Use social networking tools to connect to people for no good reason. Post tons of useful answers on discussion boards where your expertise is valued. Build a permission asset in the form of an email newsletter or a fascinating blog that people want to read. Do resume makeovers for 100 friends. Start a neighborhood or industry book group. Don't go to conventions, earn the right to speak at them.

If you were as serious about these two endeavors as you are about doing your job (eight hours a day on a slow day), imagine how much more powerful and in demand you'll be a year from now.

Beats the alternative, by far.

Return on Design

Return on investment is easy to measure. You put money in, you measure money out, divide and prosper.

But return on design? (Design: graphics, system engineering, user interface etc.)

Design can take money and time and guts, and what do you get in return? It turns out that the sort of return you're getting (and hoping for) will drive the decisions you make about design.

I think there are four zones of return that are interesting to think about. I find it's more useful to look at them as distinct states as opposed to a graduated line, because it's easy to spend a lot of time and money on design but not move up in benefits the way you might expect. Crest might have a better package than Colgate (or the other way around, I can't remember), but it doesn't sell any more units...

Negative return. The local store with the boarded up window, the drooping sign and the peeling paint is watching their business suffer because they have a design that actually hurts them. Software products suffer from this ailment often. If the design actively gets in the way of the story you tell or the utility you deliver, you lose money and share.

No impact. Most design falls into this category. While aesthetically important, design in this case is just a matter of taste, not measurable revenue. You might not like the way the liquor store looks, or the label on that bottle of wine, but it's not having any effect on sales. It's good enough.

Positive return.
We're seeing a dramatic increase in this category. Everything from a bag of potato chips to an online web service can generate incremental sales and better utility as a result of smart design.

The whole thing.
There are a few products where smart design is the product (or at least the product's reason for being). If you're not in love with the design of a Porsche 911, you would never consider buying it--same as an OXO peeler.  The challenge of building your product around breakthrough design is that the design has to in fact be a breakthrough. And that means spending far more time or money than your competitors who are merely seeking a positive return.

Knowing where you stand and where you're headed is critical. If you have a negative return on design, go ahead and spend enough money to get neutral, asap. But don't spend so much that you're overinvesting just to get to neutral. Watching a local store build an expensive but not stellar custom building is the perfect example of this mismatch.

If you're betting the whole thing, building your service launch on design first, skimping on design is plain foolish.The Guggenheim in Bilbao would be empty if they'd merely hired a very good architect.

How far away is your emergency?

It's amazing that people have so much time to fret about today's emergency but almost no time at all to avoid tomorrow's.

A glimpse at the TV and internets shows one talking head after another angsting about today's economy. These are the same people who needed to devote entire hours to mindless trivia nine months ago when they could have done an enormous amount of education about avoiding this mess in the first place.

Six years ago, I gave a mildly controversial talk to the newspaper publishers at an annual convention. I explained in detail why they were just a few years from bankruptcy and how they could use the momentum and assets they had to build up a hyperlocal internet presence and permission asset now, because it would be too late when the emergency hit. Of course, my talk wasn't an emergency, they had other priorities, and so the dire prediction comes true.

When gas is $10 a gallon (and it certainly will be), we'll have plenty of time to obsess about what we can't change and what a mess our world is. So I wonder...Where are the groundbreaking reports about how this device or that organization are wasting so much energy today, when we can still do something about it? Why not shine a light on the holes we're digging today as opposed to the canyons we'll have to deal with years from now?

They say the best time to look for a job is when you don't need one. And the best time to invest in a new Purple Cow is when you're still milking the old one. Move your emergency back in time and you'll be amazed at how far your money goes.

Direct from consumer marketing

Drug companies have coined an acronym for the marketing they do that bypasses doctors: DTC. Direct to consumer. Those happy face ads you see in Readers Digest and other magazines, or the erectile dysfunction ads during the Super Bowl.

What they are totally unprepared for, and what your organization may be unprepared for is Direct from consumer.

If someone takes your medicine and gets sick, do you want to hear from them, or would you rather have them blog about it or make a video?

Most drug company marketers instantly say, "we want to hear from them!"

Really?

When your airline or hotel has a passenger or guest who is so angry he could spit, do you want to hear from him or do you want him to make a long Powerpoint that spreads around the whole web? Really?

And when your cable company or chiropractic clinic or consulting firm has a disappointed client, what about you? Really?

I think the actions of almost all marketers say, "we'd rather you were happy, but if you can't be happy, please go away."

If you really want me to call you, then put your toll free number in giant type on the label. (If you run a free service, Google style, I think it's okay to settle for an easy to use and responsive web presence). Answer the call on the first ring. No phone tree. And give me instant sympathy, maybe a little empathy too. Don't blame me or evade. Give me a refund. And say sorry and thank you.

"Oh," the powerful marketers say, "we could never do that." Two reasons, apparently. First, they say, because it would encourage people to pretend they were angry in order to take advantage. And second, they say, because it would be too expensive.

Compared to what?

Back when every consumer was alone, you could ignore the few angry ones and use the money you saved to run more ads. But now? Now in the DFC era, do you really have any choice?

Angry phone calls are your friend. They're your friend because the alternative is angry tweets and angry blog posts.

The two elements of a great presenter

1. Respect (from the audience)
2. Love (to the audience)

There are no doubt important evolutionary reasons why this is true, but in my experience, every great presenter earns the respect of the audience (through her appearance, reputation, posture, voice, slides, introduction, etc.) and captures the attention of the audience by sending them love.

Love takes many forms. I love you enough to teach you this. I love you enough to help you. I love you enough to look you in the eye. Or, in the case of rock and roll presentations, I love you enough to want to engage in various acts with you, right now, backstage.

Margaret Thatcher was a great presenter, even though she had none of the glib charisma people expect from someone with that title. That's because people (even those that disagreed with her) respected her before she started, and they understood at every moment that her motivation was to motivate and improve the lives of those she was presenting to.

In the famous interrogation scene in Basic Instinct (link not included so no one yells at me), Sharon Stone does a brilliant presentation. She instantly earns (a sort of) respect from the cops and their undivided attention at the same time. She replaces love with sex, and it works.

Tony Robbins is considered an astounding presenter for a similar reason. His stage presence and reputation and energy and sheer size earn him respect, and his generosity and complete connection with the audience is received by them as love. The result is a connection far bigger than the content alone would account for.

If you have love but no respect, you're a lounge singer. Fail.

If you have respect, but no love, you're like one of the rare self-promotional talks at TED. Fail.

Consider this clip from Patton. In 28 seconds, George C. Scott delivers both.

When you create a presentation, think about what your status will be as you begin the presentation. What can you do to prewire, to earn more respect from the start? How can you be introduced? Lit? Miked? What can you wear? If your reputation doesn't precede you, how do you earn it?

Don't apologize at the beginning of the talk. For anything. Don't hide in the dark. Don't hide behind a wall of bullet points.

And then, as the talk (pitch/presentation/interview) begins, don't focus your energy or concern on yourself. It's not about you. It's about them. The presenter who loves his audience the most, wins.

Three kinds of meetings

Meetings are marketing in real time with real people. (A conference is not a meeting. A conference is a chance for a circle of people to interact).

There are only three kinds of classic meetings:

  1. Information. This is a meeting where attendees are informed about what is happening (with or without their blessing). While there may be a facade of conversation, it's primarily designed to inform.
  2. Discussion. This is a meeting where the leader actually wants feedback or direction or connections. You can use this meeting to come up with an action plan, or develop a new idea, for example.
  3. Permission. This is a meeting where the other side is supposed to say yes but has the power to say no.

PLEASE don't confuse them. Confused meeting types are the number one source of meeting ennui. One source of confusion is that a meeting starts as one sort of meeting and then magically morphs into another kind. The reason this is frightening is that one side or the other might not realize that's actually occurring. If it does, stop and say, "Thanks for the discussion. Let me state what we've just agreed on and then we can go ahead and approve it, okay?"

While I'm at it, let me remind you that there are two kinds of questions.

  1. Questions designed to honestly elicit more information.
  2. Questions designed to demonstrate how much you know or your position on an issue and to put the answerer on the defensive.

There's room for both types of questions, particularly in a team preparing for a presentation or a pitch. Again, don't confuse them. I like to be sure that there's time for the first type, then, once everyone acknowledges that they know what's on the table, open it up for the second, more debate-oriented type of question.

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