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« January 2010 | Main | March 2010 »

The brand, the package, the story and the worldview

Madecasse Madecasse has a lot going for it. It's delicious chocolate. It's made in Africa (the only imported chocolate made on the continent with local beans). The guys who make it are doing good work and are nice as well.

The question I asked them is, "does your packaging do its job?"

I don't think the job of packaging is to please your boss. I think you must please the retailer, but most of all, attract and delight and sell to the browsing, uncommitted new customer.

Let me take you through the reasoning, because I think it applies to your packaging as well.

We start with this: if I've already purchased and liked your product, the packaging isn't nearly as important. I'm talking here about packaging as a sales tool for converting browsers into buyers. (If you're already a buyer, all I need to do is remind you what we look like). If word of mouth or other factors are at work, your package matters a lot less. But for a company this size, in this market, the package matters a lot.

Now, among people who haven't bought, but might, understand that every one of them starts with a worldview. What are the beliefs and expectations and biases they have about the world?

In this case, it's about someone in the market for high end chocolate. If your worldview is, "Hershey's is the best, it reminds me of my childhood," then I'd argue that this $4 bar isn't for you no matter what they do with the package.

Perhaps you believe, "All that matters is how it tastes, and great chocolate looks a certain way,"

or perhaps, "I care about the origin of what I buy,"

or perhaps, "I want something out of the ordinary, unlike anything I've had before,"

or perhaps, "Chocolate is like wine. I am interested in vintages and varietals,"

or maybe, "Chocolate should be fun. Enough with the seriousness."

As you can see, no package can optimize for all of these people. You can compromise your packaging, try to appeal to everyone, muddy your brand promise and hide your story. I think that's sort of what the existing packaging does and I'm not sure it's smart.

Chocolate  The alternative is to focus not on ALL the people in the market, but just a few. Winning hands down with 25% is plenty in this market, and perhaps in your market too.

You could figure out how to tell the delicious story, by referencing (copying the style of) other products in other categories that are already seen as delicious, at least by this audience.

You could tell the snobby varietal handmade story, and that's been done many times as well.

Or you could tell a story that is yours and yours alone.

For example, the Madecasse story about made by Africans in Africa is very powerful, at least as powerful as fair trade, if not more (they keep four times as much money in Africa by selling a bar as they would if they just sold beans to other companies).

If that's true, then why not put your workers on the label? Big beautiful pictures that would be an amazing juxtaposition against all the other abstract stuff in the store. Tell me the story of the worker on the back. Make each one different and compelling. Packaging as baseball card. I wouldn't put a word on the front, just the picture.  Now I not only eat something that tastes good, but I feel good. You've made it personal. The story on the back is about a real person, living a better life because I took the time to buy her chocolate instead of someone else's. When I share the chocolate, I have something to say. What do you say when you give someone a chocolate bar? This package gives you something to say.

Or be fun and funny. Make the product itself almost a bumper sticker, something worth buying and talking about.

The two elements that must come together are:

  • The story you can confidently tell and
  • the worldview the buyer tells herself

When those align, you win. Happy Valentine's day on Sunday.

The hidden power of a gift

If I sell you something, we exchange items of value. You give me money, I give you stuff, or a service. The deal is done. We're even. Even steven, in fact.

That's fine, but it doesn't explain potlatch or the mystery of art or the power of a gift.

If I give you something, or way more than you paid for, an imbalance is created. That imbalance must be resolved.

Perhaps we resolve it, as the ancient Native Americans did, by acknowledging the power of the giver. In the Pacific Northwest a powerful chief would engage in potlatch, giving away everything he owned as a sign of his wealth and power. Since he had more to give away, and the power to get more, the gifts carried real power, and others had to accept his power in order to engage.

Or we resolve it by acknowledging the creativity and insight of the giver. Artists do this every time they put a painting in a museum or a song on the radio. We don't pay for the idea, but we acknowledge it. And then, if it's particularly powerful, it changes us enough that we become givers, contributing to someone else, passing it along.

Sometimes we resolve the imbalance by becoming closer to the brand or the provider. We like getting gifts, we like being close to people who have given us a gift and might do it again.

And sometimes, in the case of international aid, we resent the rich giver, the one with so much more power, and thus create a cycle of dependence that does neither side any good. This sort of gift isn't much of a gift at all.

When done properly, gifts work like nothing else. A gift gladly accepted changes everything. The imbalance creates motion, motion that pushes us to a new equilibrium, motion that creates connection.

The key is that the gift must be freely and gladly accepted. Sending someone a gift over the transom isn't a gift, it's marketing. Gifts have to be truly given, not given in anticipation of a repayment. True gifts are part of being in a community (willingly paying taxes for a school you will never again send your grown kids to) and part of being an artist (because the giving motivates you to do ever better work).

Plus, giving a gift feels good.

When I want your opinion, I'll ask for it

Too many people, when asked for their opinion, dissemble. Instead of giving an opinion, they push back. They ask,

  • What do you think?
  • Did you do any research?
  • Can we do a focus group?
  • What did Will say?
  • There's a typo on page three
  • How long do we have to study this?
  • Can we form a committee?

This is the work of the resistance. This is your lizard brain, hiding. It feels safe. It's not.

You're an expert. If nothing else, you're an expert on life, on your opinion, on being a consumer. When I ask you for your opinion I'm not asking you for the right answer. I'm asking you for your opinion.

TEDthink

Can you factor this? X2-4x+4

If you're like most people, you get a little queasy at the thought. And when you were in tenth grade, you surely wondered why they were bothering you.

(the answer is (x-2) times (x-2), in case you were curious.)

It turns out that the real reason you needed to do this work was to be able to play with numbers in your head. Abstract numerical thought is an important skill among educated people.

Which brings us to TED, a conference held every year in Long Beach. It's going on right now.

Dinosaur001-thumb Watch a few TED videos and try to get ahead of the speaker. They have an idea...it's probably a conceptual tricky idea, one with a lot of moving parts. And there is a lot of shorthand and arm waving ... basically, it's similar to a quadratic equation. If you need the other person to slow down and explain every little bit, you've missed the point. The point is to do abstract conceptual thought. To get in practice taking the accepted status quo and questioning it, at least for a little while, at least this or that part of it.

I think this is a skill, a rare one. The ability to be facile in the manipulation of ideas, both theoretical and established, is a valuable one, and I think the TED videos and art of reading books (at least the first ten minutes of each) are two great ways to getting better at manipulation of ideas. It takes practice, and it's worth it.

I sat in a meeting last week with someone who was 100% tactical. She couldn't let go of the urgency of the moment long enough to envision a different future, even for five minutes. The abstract conceptual part was missing from her part of the conversation.

The trick is to be able to leap to, "if we did A and B, would that get us C? Would C be a good thing? Is it possible to do A and B if we really commit?" and then move on to the next one. And that takes practice. Why wouldn't it?

BONUS: Hugh MacLeod, artist, good friend and creator of the cartoon above, has created four cube grenades about being a linchpin. These are limited editions, first come first shipped. (You can sign up for his free cartoon of the day).

Frightened, clueless or uninformed?

In the face of significant change and opportunity, people are often one of the three. If you're going to be of assistance, it helps to know which one.

Uninformed people need information and insight in order to figure out what to do next. They are approaching the problem with optimism and calm, but they need to be taught. Uninformed is not a pejorative term, it's a temporary state.

Clueless people don't know what to do and they don't know that they don't know what to do. They don't know the right questions to ask. Giving them instructions is insufficient. First, they need to be sold on what the platform even looks like.

And frightened people will resist any help you can give them, and they will blame you for the stress the change is causing. Scared people like to shoot the messenger. Duck.

The worst kind of frightened person is one with power. Someone in a mob of other frightened people, someone with a gun, someone who is the CEO. When confronted with a scared CEO, time to run. Before someone can change, they have to learn, and before they learn, they have to cease being scared.

One reason so many big ideas come from small organizations is that there is far less fear of change at the top. One mistake board members and shareholders make is that they reward the scared but hyper-confident CEO, instead of calling him on the carpet as he rages at change.

When I first encountered surfing, I was scared of it. It looks cool, but an old guy like me can get hurt. A patient instructor allayed my fears until I was willing to get started. When you first start out, the things you think are important are actually irrelevant, and it's the stuff you don't know is important that gets you thrown into the ocean. Finally, and only then, was I smart enough to actually learn.

I'm bad at surfing now, but at least I know why.

Comfort the frightened, coach the clueless and teach the uninformed.

The least I could do

One way to think about running a successful business is to figure out what the least you can do is, and do that. That's actually what they spent most of my time at business school teaching me.

No sense putting more on that pizza, sending more staff to that event, answering the phone in fewer rings... what's the point? No sense being kind, looking people in the eye, being open or welcoming or grateful. Doing the least acceptable amount is the way to maximize short term profit.

Of course, there's a different strategy, a crazy alternative that seems to work: do the most you can do instead of the least.

Radically overdeliver.

Turns out that this is a cheap and effective marketing technique.

iPad app of my dreams: the digital talking pad

Here's the spec. If you build it and it's great, I'll use it and I'll blog it.

A while ago, I posted about the talking pad and a modern version of it.

I think there's a killer app version of this for the iPad, and I hope someone will build it. The talking pad is an interactive presentation tool for smart people.

Overview

It's a very simple concept: a collection of pages (slides, images, type, let's call them pages) that are easy to navigate in a non-linear way. Along with the standard zoom features, I'd like to be able to write on any of them in real time using my finger. I can also call up, on demand, a calculator or a blank drawing pad.

Creation

I can create the talking pad files on my Mac or on the iPad using a builder app, and sync both ways. The builder is really simple, just the ability to organize pages I create in other apps, with simple navigation, scale and type tools.

Navigation

Instead of it being linear (like Powerpoint or Keynote), the pages are arranged in a grid or checkerboard. From any page, then, I can go back, forward, up or down, and the four diagonals as well. So depending on the conversation I'm having with my audience, my 'next' page can be any of 8.

In addition, the app supports an external monitor. When I'm hooked up to the projector or screen, I see twenty or thirty of my pages in thumbnails on my ipad screen, and I can click any of them to instantly bring that page up on the projector.

In essence, I want to be able to play a presentation the same way some people play jazz piano.

As a prompt, each corner and side of the page can have little keyword reminders, so I can easily remember, for example, that pressing the bottom left corner of the page about dogs will display the page about tigers.

So now, someone asks a question and I can just jump to the slide that answers that question. If I want to circle something or zoom in, I just put my finger on the screen and do that.

Bonuses:

1. the ability to have one of the pages be a web browser with address already loaded, so if I want, without leaving the talking pad app, I can jump to this.

2. the ability to embed links within the pages, so I can actually have a page that points to other pages (this is currently built into keynote and powerpoint, but people don't use it because those programs are so linear). In essence, a page becomes a piano keyboard with each key pointing to another page.

Reporting

The app can keep track of which pages I used the most, and for how long. This is useful in a corporate setting. Imagine that the sales manager dreams up a talking pad file and offers it to 100 salespeople. Every day, when they re-sync, we can see how often the pad was used and which slides got used the most often.

The Killer App

A killer app is a program that all by itself is good enough to justify the price of the hardware. The killer app for the PC was Lotus 1-2-3. The killer app for the iPod was iTunes. This is reason enough to pay $500, I think.

PS I've received so much interest in this I've started a wiki on this topic so you can find fellow travelers.

The relentless search for "tell me what to do"

If you've ever hired or managed or taught, you know the feeling.

People are just begging to be told what to do. There are a lot of reasons for this, but I think the biggest one is: "If you tell me what to do, the responsibility for the outcome is yours, not mine. I'm safe."

When asked, resist.

Linchpin videos (first in a series)

We're traveling around, finding interesting people and asking them to riff for a minute or two about what makes someone indispensable. Kicking off the weekly series is Gary Vee. Click the picture to view it. We'll do four for February and see how it goes.

Linchpin: GaryVee from Seth Godin on Vimeo.

Shiny objects

If you're a hunter, are you wasting your gift chasing shiny but ultimately worthless objects?

And if you're a farmer, are you wasting your resources by planting and nurturing a crop that's fashionable but without real value?

It might be fun to win a Grammy or dominate your category in terms of market share, but what's it worth if it doesn't support the actual goal?

Marketing is more powerful than ever. We have more leverage than ever before. Which makes picking your milestones and your goals more critical than it has ever been.

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