How to blow it.


photo by saam

Here are all of the ways that you and your company can blow it when it comes to hiring new clients, new customers, new partners and even new employees:

1. Don't make the effort to really know them.
2. Talk more than you listen.
3. Be patently indecisive.
4. Make assumptions about what it is they want and need from you.
5. Take them, their business, or their interest in you for granted.
6. Forget that you are far from being the only game in town.
7. Forget that you're just one year away from being last year's "it" company.
8. Say one thing. Do another.
9. Overpromise/underdeliver.
10. Make them feel unappreciated.

Think of yourself as being on a first date. Put yourself in the shoes of the pretty girl or cute guy sitting across the table from you. What are they seeing? How are you making them feel? More importantly, how will they feel once the date is over? What will they say to their friends about you?

How would you feel if you found out that despite your best intentions, this was the report on you: "He was cool, well dressed, soooo smart and talented and hip... but he seemed more interested in himself than in me."


It isn't enough to say you're different and cool and brimming with talent. It isn't enough to know all the right people. It isn't enough to have the dopest portfolio in the industry or the fattest budget. It doesn't even matter how great you are, really. Sooner or later, someone cooler, smarter and more talented, and a whole lot hungrier will come along to send you packing.

They're already out there, inching their way towards you.

Their secret weapons: They'll do what you don't. They'll treat everyone like kings. They'll make sure their work is better than anything they've ever produced before. They'll make friends with their clients and customers and employees. All of them. Not just the core group. Not just the cash cows.

Just this week, I had the opportunity to see both ends of the spectrum firsthand.

At one end, two companies I was speaking with showed me how cool they really were: They scheduled meetings with me pretty quickly. They did none of the above ten things. They asked all of the right questions and answered all of mine without reservation. They knew exactly what they wanted out of our relationship. They know exactly who they want to be to their clients and customers, and aren't just talking about it. They're still smallish, but they're already category leaders in their markets. They've grown mostly through word-of-mouth even though they've never really given much thought to WOMM. Their employees are fun and engaging and infected. They're companies infused with purpose and vision and drive. In two words, they rock, and I am happy to say that I will have an opportunity to help them grow.

At the other end of the spectrum was another company. One that I have to admit I used to be pretty impressed with. That is, until they blew it with me.

How? By displaying almost every no-no on the above list, starting with 8.

I was very surprised this week to get a call from that very company. I was offered a pretty decent opportunity with them. One that, until a month ago, I wouldn't have thought to turn down for any conceivable reason.

A whole load of people would kill to get that phone call. I used to be one of them. And while these guys aren't Apple or Nike or Pixar, they aren't the kind of company whose offer you turn down either. (Even after months of enjoying their mildly entertaining and now legendary version of the runaround dance.)

I'd venture to say that they aren't used to hearing "no" either.

Oh well.

Unfortunately, the call came six months too late and saddled with motives that, frankly, I was kind of offended by. Call me crazy, but the promise of decent money and relative prestige aren't enough of a reason to overlook six months of bullshit.

I'm not talking about the last six months. I'm talking about what would have been the next six months.

A brand is a promise, after all.

Client. Partner. Customer. Employee. No difference.

Be careful how you present yourself. Every move you make matters.

Many years ago, a mentor shared a wonderful piece of advice with me. It was this: "Watch the way people treat waiters. It'll tell you everything you need to know about what kind of person they are." It's 100% true.

When a waiter isn't handy, watch the way they treat everyone else. The less important to them, the better.

Well, I've been watching.

Two companies impressed the heck out of me. One disappointed me to no end.

I'll take those odds any day.

So the lesson here is this: If you want to blow it, do any of the ten things on the above list, or any combination thereof. If those aren't enough, try your hand at being so full of yourself that you end up turning off even your most ardent fans.

It isn't easy, but with a little bit of hard work and perseverence, you can do it.

Short of kicking everyone you meet in the huevos, that, my friends, is how you blow it big in 2006.

Now that's advice you can put to good use.


Slippery Slope


image by ilisu

I don't always agree with Seth, but sometimes, he just nails it.

"As soon as they start using the tactics of the other guys, playing the game they play, they become them. As soon as they decide that they can buy (not earn) attention, it all changes."

Chances are that you've forgotten what made your company or services or products so different. So unique. So good.

Chances are that your success has driven you away from those early days, when being different from everyone else, when being better was what it was all about.

Back when taking care of every new customer was like going out on a first date.

Chances are that you're more focused on aligning your pricing to that of your competitors now than you ever were.

Chances are that you've started to copy their every move. You advertise where they advertise. You offer the same services they offer. The closer you get to beating them, the more like them you become.

Chances are that you are slowly becoming a clone of the very people you once thought sucked.

"As soon as they start using the tactics of the other guys, playing the game they play, they become them. As soon as they decide that they can buy (not earn) attention, it all changes."


Take a breather.

Go back to the start.

Are your products still the best? Are they still unique? Is your company still unique? Are you who you promised yourself you would be when you started?

Are you still earning attention?

If the answer is yes, congrats. You're one of the rare few. I hope you manage to keep it up for decades to come.

If not... well, maybe it's time to get back to basics. What do you say?


Sharing Your Passion


Matt A. - Self portrait

Every once in a while, you get to meet someone truly original. If you're lucky, they also turn out to be everything you could ever want out of a friend or colleague or client.

Matt A. is just one of these folks, and he has a blog now- which is pretty exciting. No, it doesn't have anything to do with marketing or branding... but it has everything to do with passion (and yes, food). We could definitely all use a little extra dose of it here and there, and it doesn't hurt to draw from fresh sources every once in a while.

If his photos (and recipes) don't make you drool, something may be wrong with you.

Now, the question is... if a simple blog like his can make you crave food, if a free blog like his can make you want to try some of his recipes, why is it that most websites don't engage their visitors at all?

If you have a website, ask yourself this: Are your customers recommending your website to their friends?

If the answer is no, you probably need to find out why.

Is your website a nice, professional, by-the-numbers web presence or is it truly an extension of your brand?

... or better yet, is it an extension of you? Of what makes you tick?

Does your website (... or store... or catalog... or menu) just show what you have to offer, or does it also inspire? Does it make people feel something?

Does it make them crave more?

What you have to realize is that at the core of what makes your business special, at the core of what sets your business apart from every other business out there, is passion. You passion for building cars or cooking food or racing triathlon or shooting cutting-edge fashion photography is at the very core of your identity - as a person and as a brand. It could be brand you or the global brand you represent. Same thing.

Passion sets you apart. Passion inspires. Passion infects. Passion is ingredient X of every succesful brand.

If your passion isn't evident in the way you present yourself to the world - if every little thing you do isn't infused with it - oozing with it, even, you're dropping the ball. Badly.

If your website isn't as cool and engaging as Matt's blog, don't feel bad. You're running about average...

... which means (again) that you could be doing a whole lot better.


Corporate Manners


One thing I've learned in the last few years is that there are four different types of people you run into in the business world - and therefore, four different types of companies that you can do business with or work for:

1) Those who talk a good game but are essentially full of crap.

2) Those who don't have the huevos to either say yes or no without dragging things out for six months.

3) Those who don't bother to be polite unless it serves their immediate interests.

4) Those who strive to always give you a straight answer and deliver on their promises.

It's been such an interesting education on so many levels... You have no idea.

Like the company that fixed my windshield in twenty minutes flat yesterday: palmetto Auto Glass. These guys find you when you have a cracked windshield (it's uncanny), schedule an appointment, and in a day or two, send a crew to your workplace or home. They call you on the phone to confirm the appointment, and again later to tell you they're on their way. When they get to your car, they're fast, professional, courteous, and 100% competent. (And oh, in SC, they're free.) Even if the service had been average, the way the whole experience was so top notch that I would have still been impressed. The thing is, these guys are so good at it that they blew me away. That's saying something. From the first hello to the final goodbye, everything was absolutely perfect.

Same with Carolina Triathlon. Same with Go Magazine. Same with Cox photography. Same with Tenth Planet. Same with Orange Coat. Those all fit in that last category: You call, you meet, you talk, you get an answer. There's no posturing. There's no bullshizzle. If anything, there's real dialogue... You know... the kind with actual direction.

None of these people overpromise. If anything, they err on the side of overdelivering.

Even if you can't work something out with them right there and then, you want to stay in touch because you know that someday, you'll need their services, or they'll need yours, and you can't wait for that day to come. When you can work something out right away, they deliver like nobody's business.

These are companies that you are excited to recommend to friends and peers. I'm not kidding.
And as fate would have it, they're the very best in their respective industries. We're talking pinnacle here. Summit. Apex. None better.

Ask their competitors, and they might scoff, but I guess one man's reality is another man's denial. From where I stand - with a clear view of both the forest and the trees - there's no question who rules the coop.

Size doesn't always matter.

Now... I'll spare you commentary on the first two categories, but I feel compelled to touch on the third for a minute because it's a HUGE peeve of mine. Okay... ready? Here we go...

There's no excuse for being dismissive or even rude with anyone.



(And yes, ignoring people is rude.)

To illustrate my point, let me tap into my feminine side a bit here: Remember that scene in "Pretty Woman" in which Julia Roberts goes to a posh store on Rodeo Dr. to get herself some clothes? Because she doesn't look like a "qualified" customer, she is rudely shooed out of a store. She returns later - well dressed this time - and gets the royal treatment from the same lousy salespeople who were so rude to her before. She lets them do their song and dance and then gives them the scoop: She had gazillions of dollars to spend on clothes, but she went ahead and took her money elsewhere.

Well, there's a big lesson in that: Never, ever, ever treat anyone poorly. Don't ever be dismissive or rude. Don't ever blow anyone off. Ever.

See, that kid you blew off ten years ago, he might be CMO of your biggest potential client today. Guess where he won't take his company's budget. That's right. Just because you didn't return any of his phone calls after he sent you a resume.

Or that little old lady you ignored last weekend when she came into your car dealership? Too bad you didn't know that her millionaire son is looking to buy a half dozen trucks for his new landscaping business.

Or the tired looking woman you gave the cold shoulder to a month ago? That's right. Two years from now, she'll be VP of event marketing for a company who will book 400 beds between February and May every year, but none at your hotel. Ever. Because you blew her off.

When someone contacts you, even if you don't see the point, even if time is limited, reach back. It takes forty-five seconds to dial a number and leave a message on someone's voicemail. It takes half as long to send a form email.

I know... I know... "But Olivier, we get sooooooo many calls and emails every day. It's impossible to reply to them all."


This is the click & paste era. Stamps and paper are obsolete. Emails are easy. You click reply. You send a form letter saying "hey, thanks for contacting us but we're all booked up right now and won't be able to get to your problem/suggestion/question until later this year. We're sorry if that isn't what you wanted to hear, but we didn't want to keep you hanging for weeks waiting for an answer."

You write it once. You make it a template. You reply to every email you can't answer personally. Done. We're talking five minutes per day, tops. If you assign it to a staffer or an intern, it takes you zero time.

It's polite and professional. It's an absolute minimum. Period.

You might not think so now, but people will appreciate it x 1,000.

They'll even respect you for it. Why? Because, like me, they can respect an honest no. A flimsy or insincere maybe, however... sucks.

With the exception of form letters and mass mailings, answer every written introduction. Every resume. Every proposal letter. Return calls too. Even if it takes a week to clear ten minutes in your schedule, do it. Or assign someone else to do it for you.

Think of it this way: When someone says hello on the street, when someone introduces themselves to you at a party and goes to shake your hand, you don't ignore them. You don't turn around and walk away. This is the same thing.

Either you're polite, or you aren't. Either you're professional, or you aren't. Either you're the type of company that makes me want to work with you or do business with you, or you aren't.

If the hangup is that you just don't like saying no or giving people bad news, get over it. Give people a straight answer when they ask for one.

A no disguised as a maybe is just a pain in the schedule, to put it mildly. It's an enormous waste of time for everyone.

A maybe makes youre clients/customers/potential hires call back again and again, for absolutely no reason.

So here's a tip: If you know that something isn't going to happen, do what Nancy would do: Just say no. Okay? Stop wasting people's time, and politely give them the scoop: "No, we don't have it in stock. No, we won't write you a check for $200M. No, we don't want to hire you. No, we can't fit you in our schedule today."

Don't drag things out. It's rude, it's unprofessional, it undermines your credibility, and ultimately, it makes you look like an ass.

Before you focus on cool digs, catchy names and fun advertising, make sure to give some thought to how you want to treat people. All people. The pizza delivery guy. The intern next door. The waitress across the street. The next salesperson who walks through your door.


Think about it. Chances are, you could be doing a lot better on that front.





Mea culpa. Spike's last post made me look. After what... six months, the brandbuilder finally passed the top 25,000 mark on technorati. I guess it's kind of a milestone, although I'm not sure how relevant it really is.

I'll just say this: For what it's worth, I'm kind of happy to see the counter moving in the right direction... just out of principle, if anything.

As of today, I only have 24,504 other sites to beat before I can complete my goal of global blog domination. Yep, at this rate, it should only take me another twelve years or so to become one of those elite A-listers. (As if.)

(Hey, a guy needs goals, right?) Meh!

So thanks for reading my humble little musings, everyone. I'd share the bubbly stuff with you, but it would be kind of gauche of me... what, with my barely being a B-lister and all. (Or is that a C-lister? I forget.)

Nevertheless, cheers, sante, salud, kanpai, etc.



Marketing is Dead! Long Live Marketing!


So... Two things:

1) Thanks to Moe's (on Augusta Rd.) I was sick as a dog this weekend with food poisoning. Let me just say that it was a whole lot of fun.

On the plus side, I lost whatever weight I'd put on during the holidays, so I guess the last three days weren't a complete waste.

2) Because I am still trying to catch up with three whole days of web work, I'm going to be lame and post a piece I just wrote for Corante. (I'll be back to my true self tomorrow though.)

Here you go:

Is advertising really circling the drain or is the whole "advertising is dead" thing just a lot of noise? Whether the question is even relevant is itself up for discussion, but one thing we can all agree on is that whether ad agencies want to admit it or not, their world is changing fast... and the relevance of traditional advertising is losing some steam. This is the topic of David Wolfe's latest post. Here's a taste:

"After the poor showing of advertising sales for this year’s Super Bowl and the collective yawn of Americans’ over the Winter Olympics, Al Ries may have it more right than Madison Avenue yet has the insight or courage or both to admit. Great brands are being created with little or no advertising. Starbucks is one such. Ries lists others in the aforementioned interview."

David points us to Al Ries' piece in PR Intelligence Report (PR vs. Advertising: 3 Facts of Life) in which Al makes a compelling argument for publicity overshadowing advertising:

Steve: In your book the Fall of Advertising & The Rise of PR you state that today's major brands are born with publicity - not advertising...

Al Ries: Yes, all the recent brand successes have been PR successes, not advertising successes. Red Bull, Starbucks, Harry Potter, Linux, Palm, The Body Shop, JetBlue, and Google.

Steve: Examples?

Al: Starbucks spent less than $10 million in advertising its first 10 years. That's less than one million a year, a trivial amount for a national brand. Here's what Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, has to say about advertising. "It is difficult to launch a product through consumer advertising because customers don't really pay attention as they did in the past. I look at the money spent on advertising and it surprises me that people still believe they are getting returns on their investments."

Want to read more? Here's the link. It's definitely worth going through.

As an aside, I find it interesting that on this side of the Atlantic, a distinction can be made between advertising and publicity. In France - the land of cheese, wine and yes, advertising - there is no difference between the two. "Publicite" (or "pub" for short) means both publicity and advertising. The power of traditional advertising is still pretty potent over there, so there may be something to that.

Speaking of France, check out what Grant McCracken had to say about Bernard Henri Levy's take on America's identity crisis. Now... to be fair, I haven't read BHL's book "American Vertigo", but having followed his work for over two decades now, I expect that any commentary on US culture by BHL should be about as relevant as a vegan's review of a Texas steak house. But hey, read his book and prove me wrong.

To come back to the original point... Advertising's demise and all that jazz, well, here's what's next: Economics might be circling the drain too! (Yay!) Ever the watchdog, Grant McCracken (yes, him again) points us to yet another "disappointing showing" this week with his response to this statement by David Brooks, which all but ushers the end of economics as we know it. Here's what Mr. Brooks had to say:

"Economics, which assumes people are basically reasonable and respond straightforwardly to incentives, is no longer queen of the social sciences. The events of the past years have thrown us back to the murky realms of theology, sociology, anthropology and history. Even economists know this, and are migrating to more behaviorialist and cultural approaches."

Sharing the same name as the famous MIT Economics professor should make me a bit of an authority on the subject, but since it doesn't, I'll let you read Grant's complete response here. (Go ahead. Google my name. I dare ya.)

Okay, so... advertising is dead. Now, the subject of economics seems to be following suit. What could be next? Ah yes, the internet. How so? Well, Mary Schmidt raises some very valid (and scary) points in her appropriately titled "Is The Internet Doomed" piece Monday:

"Broadband vendors want to start charging hefty fees for access. Their reasoning is that they provide the pipes so they should get paid more. However, that also means “them that has, gets,” at the expense of the smaller companies who can’t pay premimum fees. So, the Long Tail would be abruptly bobbed, drastically reducing business opportunities and innovation."

Let me just say two words: Bad idea.

Very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very bad idea.

Definitely read the rest of Mary's piece and follow her links. While you're there, check out her response to Slate's assertion that blogging - having peaked - is probably going to die soon as well. *sigh* Check out Slate's "Twilight of the Blogs".

"Like many others who are constantly analyzing blogs, the on-line pub just flat misses the point (and power) of blogging. It’s not an industry, product or trend – it’s a way of communicating. And, communicating never goes out of style (sloppy as it may be at times.) What is changing is that the spin power of media, ad agencies, and governments is rapidly diminishing.
The bell has rung, the horse is out of the barn and there’s no going back – regardless of government censorship, business wishful thinking, and pundit pontificating."

Wow. Well said.

Rounding up today's posts, also check out Johnnie Moore's links - especially the one on "the end of the silver bullet".

... Okay, that one doesn't really count, but it's worth reading anyway: First, because it will help improve your health, second, because it will illustrate a thing or two about the power of assumptions (like... "eat low fat foods to stay thin,") and third, because it will also teach you a whole lot about the power of denial. Oh yeah, I almost forgot... it also announces the end or death or demise of... something. It seems to be the popular theme this week.

So... Is it the end of this, or the end of that? Doubtful. The French will continue to be French for a while, Americans will continue to be American for a while too, and so will advertising, blogging, marketing and economics, for starters. People will keep buying diet aids and fat-free ice cream and low-carb pasta. We will keep watching the Olympic Games and the Superbowl and whatever the next big network TV hit may be. We will keep noticing billboards on our way home from work. We will continue to notice great print ads in our favorite magazines, which, by the way, we will continue to buy or subscribe to. Sure, the world is changing fast, but none of these things will die. At least not in the next few years. We aren't talking about VHS of 8-track here. You can't compare advertising to 33-turn records. At this point in time, it's kind of silly.

So, don't pay too much attention to some of the doomsday noise bouncing around out there: Just because new clouds are rolling in doesn't mean that the sky is falling.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone.


TV's Revenue Revolution


Note: For those of you getting this on RSS, sorry for posting it three times.

Diane Mermigas gives us this eye-opening article on TV advertising's most potent foe to date: (No, not apathy or Tivo.) Downloadable TV programs.

Yep, that's right: Those $1.99 commercial-free downloadable episodes of Lost. Folks are buying them, the numbers are growing, and the technology's use is spreading fast. But we aren't just talking about hip cats and early adopters with DVRs and video iPods driving the demand here. There's something a whole lot more compelling pushing this impending shift: Revenue.

TV networks can actually generate more money from the sale of these individual episodes via broadband than they currently do from selling advertising.

Hmmm... Now, where do you think the networks are going to go?

That's right: Where the money is.

But let's backtrack for a second and look at numbers affecting potential downloads. As Brandplay's Aaron Dignan points out:

LOST has 10+ million viewers every week. If at the end of a good cliffhanger episode they ran an ad that said, "wait until next week to find out, OR go to iTunes right now and find out for $1.99," they'd probably sell a hell of a lot of downloads.

Now, to put those numbers in perspective (downloads turning into $$$ revenue) check out this bit from Diane's article:

Wang makes some telling comparisons in his report "Waking the Sleeping Giants." Such hit primetime series as "Desperate Housewives," "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "Survivor" and "Lost" command about $440,000 per 30-second advertising spot, which implies a $26 cost-per-thousand rate. With a typical 17 million viewers and 13 minutes of commercial time per hour, one episode of such a hit series generates about $12 million in gross ad revenue, he said.

By comparison, even in the worst-case scenario -- with 20% of TV viewers opting for downloads, 100% of which overlap with existing programs -- downloaded episodes of such popular series can generate an estimated $15 million in revenue."

The main reason is that the $1.44 in download revenue per user (or 70% of the $1.99 per download) is greater than the estimated 57 cents in advertising revenue per user generated under the current model," Wang said.

I think the word you're looking for is "whoa."

Thanks to Brandplay's Aaron Dignan for the heads-up. Read his insightful post here. (Good to see you posting again, man.)

So the issue here may no even be about great advertising vs. weak advertising. It may instead be a question of technology changing the game's economic landscape.

Will broadband kill TV advertising? No. Of course not:

One, it'll be a while before we reach a technological tipping point.

Two, for this model to work, each download (or the inevitable monthly download fee "a la napster") has to be above a certain $$$ amount. Since the more TV we watch, the more expensive this could get, this system could quickly be cost prohibitive for folks who watch a whole lot of TV. In addition, exponential growth in broadband distribution could hit cable companies hard and send them crying uncle to their friends on Capitol hill. (We'll have to revisit this topic when we have more time because it gets kind of... big.)

Three, eliminate TV advertising, and you eliminate the need for pay-per-downloads. (duh.) iTV or iShows (or whatever they'll end up being called once they truly become mainstream) are very much the yin to TV advertising's yang.

So... TV advertising isn't going anywhere. That being said, get ready for some serious changes in the way television networks do business in the next couple of years. Networks, not advertisers are going to be in the driver's seat again, and if HBO is any indication of what that kind of creative freedom can generate, viewers could be in for a hell of a great ride.

Yep, the rules of the game are about to change. This isn't a prediction, it's a fact.

With the balance of power about to shift clearly in favor of TV networks, advertisers are going to have their work seriously cut out for them. Whether this turns into what the French would call un bordel monstre or pushes both networks and advertisers to reach new heights of content quality, it's is going to be fun to watch.


On Courage & Leadership


Yes, while the Winter Games are going on, expect more shots like this one.

First, go here. It'll set the stage for today's post.

Then, come back and read this:

"Good To Great", by Jim Collins
The Stockdale Paradox
Chapter 4, pages 83–85

The name refers to Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was the highest ranking United States military officer in the “Hanoi Hilton” prisoner-of-war camp during the height of the Vietnam War. Tortured over 20 times during his eight-year imprisonment from 1965 to 1973, Stockdale lived out the war without any prisoner's rights, no set release date, and no certainty as to whether he would even survive to see his family again. He shouldered the burden of command, doing everything he could to create conditions that would increase the number of prisoners who would survive unbroken, while fighting an internal war against his captors and their attempts to use the prisoners for propaganda. At one point, he beat himself with a stool and cut himself with a razor, deliberately disfiguring himself, so that he could not be put on videotape as an example of a “well-treated prisoner.” He exchanged secret intelligence information with his wife through their letters, knowing that discovery would mean more torture and perhaps death. He instituted rules that would help people to deal with torture (no one can resist torture indefinitely, so he created a step-wise system—after x minutes, you can say certain things—that gave the men milestones to survive toward). He instituted an elaborate internal communications system to reduce the sense of isolation that their captors tried to create, which used a five-by-five matrix of tap codes for alpha characters. (Tap-tap equals the letter a, tap-pause-tap-tap equals the letter b, tap-tap-pause-tap equals the letter f, and so forth, for 25 letters, c doubling for k.) At one point, during an imposed silence, the prisoners mopped and swept the central yard using the code, swish-swashing out “We love you” to Stockdale, on the third anniversary of his being shot down. After his release, Stockdale became the first three-star officer in the history of the navy to wear both aviator wings and the Congressional Medal of Honor.59

You can understand, then, my anticipation at the prospect of spending part of an afternoon with Stockdale. One of my students had written his paper on Stockdale, who happened to be a senior research fellow studying the Stoic philosophers at the Hoover Institution right across the street from my office, and Stockdale invited the two of us for lunch. In preparation, I read In Love and War, the book Stockdale and his wife had written in alternating chapters, chronicling their experiences during those eight years.

As I moved through the book, I found myself getting depressed. It just seemed so bleak—the uncertainty of his fate, the brutality of his captors, and so forth. And then, it dawned on me: “Here I am sitting in my warm and comfortable office, looking out over the beautiful Stanford campus on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. I’m getting depressed reading this, and I know the end of the story! I know that he gets out, reunites with his family, becomes a national hero, and gets to spend the later years of his life studying philosophy on this same beautiful campus. If it feels depressing for me, how on earth did he deal with it when he was actually there and did not know the end of the story?”

“I never lost faith in the end of the story,” he said, when I asked him. “I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

* * *

I didn’t say anything for many minutes, and we continued the slow walk toward the faculty club, Stockdale limping and arc-swinging his stiff leg that had never fully recovered from repeated torture. Finally, after about a hundred meters of silence, I asked, “Who didn’t make it out?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “The optimists.”

“The optimists? I don’t understand,” I said, now completely confused, given what he’d said a hundred meters earlier.

“The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say,‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

Another long pause, and more walking. Then he turned to me and said, “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

To this day, I carry a mental image of Stockdale admonishing the optimists: “We’re not getting out by Christmas; deal with it!”

Copyright ©2002 Jim Collins. All rights reserved.


The Power of Confidence - Part 1


Confidence isn't about knowing for sure that something is going to work. It's about knowing that you can make it work... and make it work better.

Whether you're an athlete, a CEO or a surgeon, confidence comes from hundreds, thousands, even millions of hours of preparation, training and focus. Confidence comes from knowing that you're ready. That you can handle the task at hand, even if your best laid plans go down the tubes and you find yourself having to improvise right off the bat.

It isn't about thinking you can do it, it's about knowing you can do it.

Confidence comes from being so comfortable with your craft, with your skills and talents and abilities, that you can handle any challenge that gets thrown your way.

You want to get a crash course in confidence? Go have a beer with some Marine snipers. Olympic athetes. First chair violinists. Neurosurgeons. Astronauts. Marathoners. Ironman triathletes. Cancer survivors.

Do you know what all of these people have in common? They've pushed their limits. They've laid it all on the line. Their health, their pride, their careers, their lives... whatever mattered to them the most, they laid it all on the line and they went well beyond the limits of their comfort zone.

They concquered their fears.

They did something risky and extraordinary. They pushed their limits. They hit rock bottom but kept going. They came out the back side of the pipe stronger. Wiser. Mentally tougher.

They came back knowing that they could accomplish a lot more than they realized. They came back knowing that... hey, if they could beat cancer or complete an ultramarathon, or get through medical school, they could probably accomplish just about anything they set their minds to.

People like them drive progress. They drive everything forward.

You can't toe the starting line of a race without a hefty measure of confidence. You can't perform surgery, try capital cases, lead a platoon into war or lead a company without a gutful of it.

Confident leaders drive companies like Starbucks, Pixar and Apple to leave tired old strategies behind and rewrite the rules.

Confidence is what compels us to go further. To aim higher. To put ourselves and our ideas to the test again and again and again. It's what drives us to do the very things that scare us. It's what pushes us to find ways to become better today than we were yesterday.

It is the very thing that makes us not only look to the stars but also reach for them.

If this all sounds cheesy to you, think again.

Confidence is the fuel of industry. Without it, we'd still be living in caves.

So... my question is this: Take a quick inventory of what your company or department has accomplished in the last six months. In the last year. In the last however long you've been working there. What do you guys stand for? What are you doing to be extraordinary or groundbreaking?

Okay, let me ask the question in a different way: If your job were an Olympic event, how would you fare against your peers at Nike or BMW or Apple?

Bonus: How excited/disappointed were you by your own answers?

Food for thought.


Hoorah! TV Advertising is back!


Superbowl vs. Olympics:

Ads during the Superbowl: As derivative, stale, pointless and boring as the half-time show.

Ads during the winter Olympic Games: Creative, fresh, entertaining and smart.

Yep, about a week ago, I thought that maybe all of the chatter about TV advertising's impending demise was true. I mean... this was the Superbowl. This was the annual showcase of the best ads money can buy. Right?

But they were all poorly designed. Poorly executed. Poorly delivered. (Granted, some were less horrible than others, but for the most part, they were just expensive pieces of junk.)

My point is, if this was the best that money could buy, if these were the most creative ads that titan agencies could come up with... then we had pretty much hit rock-bottom.

TV advertising was circling the drain.


But after watching day one the Winter Games, I discovered that Superbowl was a fluke. Without the pressure of the Superbowl, without the competition, without the hype, ad agencies were still more than capable of producing really great ads. And for an advertising junkie like me, that's good news.

No... it's great news.

My picks so far:

General Electric
Visa Card
Go RV'ing
Toyota Corolla
Chevy Suburban
Goodyear tires
... and every ad that incorporates the Games' coverage.

Wow. What a breath of fresh air. You have no idea.

And man, did we need it.


From 6 to 2 degrees of separation.


From the Emergence Marketing blog (thanks, Francois.):

Bentley College marketing honors looks like an interesting college project - with the following mission:

"The students in the honors seminar in marketing at Bentley College have created a multiple author blog in order to complete a class assignment as well as to introduce other marketing students to cutting-edge ideas and principles by monitoring and commenting on some of the best marketing blogs in the blogosphere.

So, each student will monitor a particular blog and post a commentary on a particular blog posting every week. A few of the Corante Marketing Hub contributors got adopted as blogs to follow, and there are already interesting commentaries on posts from those blogs - including the brandbuilder, marketing to women, diva marketing, and brand autopsy.

How cool is that? I mean... seriously.

Oh, and in other news, another project dear to my heart just got a HUGE boost with this month's issue of international cycling news magazine Velo News. It isn't every day that you get to shoot not only a feature spread for a national magazine, but the cover as well. (Especially after only having been in business for a couple of months.) I'm pretty excited about it.

See? Proof that word-of-mouth works pretty well, even for startups.

Superphotographer Roby, and Supercyclist George strike a pose for me last month.

The cover.

Now, all George has to do is win Paris-Roubaix and the Tour De France!


Crafting Memorable Customer Experiences


The secret to crafting memorable customer experiences is simply to build environments that allow customers to create their own.


Brandwatch: Middle East


There's anger in the Middle-East this week over those pesky Danish cartoons. We're being flooded with images of angry people taking to the streets to burn flags and yell and shake their fists at the heavens, but what strikes me the most is the serendipitous product placement in so many of those images.

Like this one with the Dairy Queen in the background. (Happy Birthday, Salo!)

Or this one with the bootleg Levis 501 T-shirt.

Or this one. (Can you spot the Adidas logo?)

Or even this dangerous use for what used to be a Seven-Up bottle?

These aren't edited in photoshop. They're completely real and were all shot in the last week.

So my question is this: Are these images a testament to the global appeal of big brands... or are they the result of a brilliant marketing mastermind's devious product placement scheme?


Quality is a promise.


In response to Seth's odd take on Joe Nocera's rant about iPod product life and Apple's reluctance to even address the issue. Here's some of what Seth had to say:

"Should we be angry when an iPod breaks after two years? Joe Nocera sent Apple a Nastygram in the Times yesterday (reveries).

I think it's misguided.
There's still a business called the Fountain Pen Hospital. When you buy a pen for $100, you expect that maybe you can get it fixed. But pens are now disposable fashion items, not tools that last a lifetime. What Steve Jobs has done, brilliantly, is turned the iPod into a fashion item."

No. What Steve Jobs has done, not so brilliantly, is fail to deliver on his brand's promise of quality.

Should we be unhappy when an ipod breaks after two years? At $200-$300+ a pop and with no moving parts, you bet. iPod isn't a running shoe or a tennis racket or a broom. It isn't subjected to enough abuse to just "break" one day. It shouldn't just fall apart or fail on its own after only two years.

Neither should a Brooks Brothers suit, for that matter. Or a Mont Blanc pen.

That's what cheap junk does: Fall apart on its own. That's the mark of what we like to call a commodity item. Buy cheap, replace often.

iPod isn't a commodity item. It's somewhat of a luxury item. Perhaps more importantly, it's an Apple product.

When I buy Apple, BMW, Canon or Oakley, I don't expect my product to break after only two years. On the contrary. When I buy a brand-name product, I am buying the promise of quality. That's what makes me choose to drop the extra green in the first place.

I own a pair of thirty-year-old Raybans. I own watches that belonged to my grandfather and survived two world wars. I own tweed jackets that are twice my age. They look and work as if they'd been in storage most of their lives. (They haven't. I use them all regularly.)

That's quality.

Here's the thing: If I know that my mp3 player is going to just die on me every 18 months or so, guess what? I'm going to buy something cheaper. Something that will still work well and look good and serve its purpose, but that I won't mind replacing often.

Let me say this again: There's nothing even remotely commodity-like about iPod (and certainly not the pricepoint). If Steve Jobs wants his products to be seen as commodities, he needs to drop the pricepoint to $50. (Funny that eBay pricepoints can be pretty revealing about the true value of a product.)

What I expect out of iPod is the same thing I remember from my old Sony walkmen, back in the 80's: I want to get bored with them long before they'll die on me. I want the option to sell them on eBay or pass them on to my friends or a younger sibling after I've upgraded to a newer model, and know that they'll work well for years. The point is that when I spend $200+ dollars on an mp3 player, I don't expect it to stop working before I am done with it.

Once the quality of an Apple, Nike or Mercedes product begins to resemble that of some cheap POS I could have just as easily bought from a no-name import house, it devalues the brand.

Luxury and fashion aren't synonymous with cheap. Quite the contrary.

A good suit shouldn't come apart at the seams after a year. A good mp3 player shouldn't just die before reaching adulthood. A good pair of optics shouldn't just fall apart after one season.

When we talk about brands, we talk about relationships and promises and expectations. What's the expectation here? What's the promise?

I don't expect my Magnavox TV to implode every five years. I don't expect my VW Passat to need a new engine every 100,000 miles. I don't expect my Canon EOS 20D to need a new sensor after 10,000 photographs.

I don't expect my iPod to just die after two years.

Come on, Seth. Get real, man.


Deflating the XL balloon


So, Superbowl XL came and went... and so did the advertisements... and so did my hopes and dreams. Yeah, there were a few good ones, there were some pretty ones, and as always, there were some funny ones... but is it just me or were most of them kind of... disappointing?

For all the hype and pricetags, for all the self-proclaimed advertising geniuses who worked on most of these ads, I have to admit that I expected a lot better. But considering the following list, I'm not surprised.

Top Ten comments overheard in pre-Superbowl agency-client creative meetings:

1. "Okay, so... how many more celebrities can we get for another million?"
2. "And then, the guy gets tackled! In his own office! It'll be a riot."
3. "Just like the last one, but with more monkeys this time."
4. "The clydesdales football game, but with a twist."
5. "Picture it: Broadway meets fast food."
6. "Two words: Cleavage."
7. "Five blades, you say? Um... maybe we should do something futuristic?"
8. "It's kind of generic, but once we digitally add your logo behind the talking head, no one will notice."
9. "I think that we can probably get Leonard Nimoy to come in on this."
10. "And then the can of Diet Coke gets stepped on! Hi hi!"


Very few of these ads will still be on our minds a month from now. None stand a chance of becoming cultural icons. The big showcase is over, and for the most part, it was boring and poorly executed.

For the most part.

There were some nice surprises, like Ford's "green" and Dove's wonderful self esteem ad... but they were the minority... And while they were good, they weren't extraordinary by any stretch of the imagination.

I hate to hear people talk about "the demise of TV advertising". I really do. I grew up loving TV ads, and I can't imagine the world without them. But you know, something's going to have to change. Creative for the sake of creative isn't good enough. (Especially when it's so derivative.) Spending millions on thirty-second celebrity endorsements isn't either. Not when so many other ways to communicate with your customers now exist. Cheaper ways. More effective ways. If TV advertising is to survive, it's going to have to take a step back and really give some thought to its future.

By taking a step back, I mean taking a BIG step back.

I've been meeting a lot of people lately who work for relatively small advertising agencies. They're small only in size, not talent or ideas or potential. I've listened to a few of their principals talk about their frustration when it comes to not being in the running against major ad agencies in New York, California or Florida, and it bothers me that in this day and age, issues of geography and perception and size still seem to be almost insurmountable obstacles. Fact: Big corporations like big agencies. Big corporations like big city partners.

And unfortunately, most big corporations, like most big agencies seem to like big pricetags too.

Often at the expense of great work.

Wait. No. Not just great work. Great work that also gets results.

The question not enough marketing Veeps in corporate America are asking yet is this: "Is big really the answer anymore?"

Is big still about results, or has it completely become only about ego and hype?

Here are Seth Godin's thoughts on the matter:

"Enron (big) got audited by Andersen (big) and failed (big.) (...) American Airlines (big) is getting creamed by Jet Blue (think small). BoingBoing (four people) has a readership growing a hundred times faster than the New Yorker (hundreds of people).

I’m writing this on a laptop at a skateboard park… that added wifi for parents. Because they wanted to. It took them a few minutes and $50. No big meetings, corporate policies or feasibility studies. They just did it.

Today, little companies often make more money than big companies. Little churches grow faster than worldwide ones. Little jets are way faster (door to door) than big ones.

Today, Craigslist (18 employees) is the fourth most visited site according to some measures. They are partly owned by eBay (more than 4,000 employees) which hopes to stay in the same league, traffic-wise. They’re certainly not growing nearly as fast.

Small means the founder makes a far greater percentage of the customer interactions. Small means the founder is close to the decisions that matter and can make them, quickly.

Small is the new big because small gives you the flexibility to change the business model when your competition changes theirs.

Small means you can tell the truth on your blog.

Small means that you can answer email from your customers.

Small means that you will outsource the boring, low-impact stuff like manufacturing and shipping and billing and packing to others, while you keep the power because you invent the remarkable and tell stories to people who want to hear them.

A small law firm or accounting firm or ad agency is succeeding because they’re good, not because they’re big. So smart small companies are happy to hire them.

A small restaurant has an owner who greets you by name.

A small venture fund doesn’t have to fund big bad ideas in order to get capital doing work. They can make small investments in tiny companies with good (big) ideas.

A small church has a minister with the time to visit you in the hospital when you’re sick.

Is it better to be the head of Craigslist or the head of UPS?"

You don't have to agree with everything Seth has to say, but he does make some pretty good points.

Also be sure to check out fellow Corante contributor John Moore's short but insightful audio commentary on the XL debacle.

It isn't to say that big and corporate are always bad. I don't want to make these kinds of generalizations. Look at Ford's "green" ad. Look at Dove. FedEx and Budweiser and Nike. It isn't all bad. Not at all. Johnnie Moore points us to a fantastic little reminder that small isn't always the answer. The answer is context. From Russell Davies:

"It's easy these days to be seduced by the delights of little, 'authentic' local brands, we like the the specialists and the mom and pop size. Brands like that have real appeal and emotional advantages. But a big brand that uses its scale effectively (ie not to bully or bewilder people, but to connect and delight them) has a rarer and more interesting opportunity. We shouldn't use communications to try and make big brands small (which is often the temptation) we should use them to help big brands connect and make their scale something positive for people..."

Read the full piece here.

But back to my point: Smaller agencies. Less glitzy zip codes. Maybe, just maybe, they're worth a shot. Maybe they're small enough that they actually take the time to get inside a brand culture. A customer culture. Maybe they're used to coming up with more powerful advertisements. The kinds of advertisements that inspire and motivate. The kinds of advertisments that translate into more than just... 30 seconds of noise. Think deeper brand equity, increased familiarity with a product or product line, and yes, ultimately, increased sales.

Ask yourself this: Do the Whopperettes make you want to eat a Whopper? Does a loosely sci-fi faux-trailer make you want to buy a five-bladed razor? Does a guy in a suit who could just as easily be yapping about aspirin make you want to join Blockbuster's vaguely Netflix-ish club?

Did you honestly answer "yes" to any of these questions?

With the rise of blogs, WOMM, podcasts and other new marketing tools, with PR's rebirth about to kick into high gear, with numbers starting to look scary on the print side, There's work to be done. This is not the time for major advertising agencies to hide behind irrelevant metrics. So what if 90 million viewers saw your ad? If it was lousy, you just threw a whole lot of cash down the drain, didn't you?

The questions you should be asking your marketing department are these: How many viewers loved it? How many viewers hated it? How many viewers didn't care? How many viewers will go out and buy your car or your soft drink or your service as a result?

How is your company better off today because of your ad?

Maybe it's time to demand more from your ad agencies. The talent is out there. There are no limits to creativity and insight. $2.5 million ought to buy you a fantastic ad. Heck, if you aren't considering the next Superbowl as an option, $6,000 ought to buy you a fantastic ad too. If you aren't getting the results you want from any of the usual places, perhaps it's time for a change. A different approach, even.

AdPulp's David Burn says it best:

"This year's commercials were uneventful through and through, with only a few bright spots, which is hard to understand on some level. When you have 90 million viewers paying attention, you better have something to say."

When you have 90 million viewers paying attention, you better have something to say. You betcha.

Oh well. Better luck next year.


"Where's The Beef?"


“Getting a product known isn’t the answer. Getting it wanted is the answer. …be sure your advertising is saying something, something that will inform and serve the consumer, and be sure you’re saying it like it’s never been said before.”

- Bill Bernbach

If you liked that, you'll probably dig this.


Randy's Secret


Yesterday, I briefly mentioned Randy McDougald and how his hiring practices have helped him turn a longshot into a huge success (on every conceivable level). Today, let me tell you what they are.

But first, this:

The first thing you need to know about Randy is that a couple of years ago, he left a very cushy corporate job to take over a failing bike shop and turn it into a triathlon store.

The second thing you need to know about Randy is that he's never looked back.

Randy is more passionate about triathlon and fitness and the commuity he is helping to build than anyone I've ever met... and his business, being firmly anchored in that passion is unlike any other triathlon shop I've set foot in.

I know it might sound a bit cliche, but Carolina Triathlon (the new website is under construction) isn't a business or a shop. It's a hub. It's the Main Street USA of the triathlon and cycling worlds in Greenville. People don't just go there to shop, they also go there to hang out. They go there to find people to ride or run with. They go there on their lunch break, just because... they feel at home there.

Trust me when I tell you that it has absolutely nothing to do with the bikes and the helmets and the running shoes. It isn't about the coffee or the powerbars. It isn't about the wetsuits and swim goggles either.

Despite the fact that Randy would probably love to personally take care of each and every one of his customers, he can't be everywhere all at once. That's where his employees come in. They are the heart and soul of his business, and he knows it. They're the living, breathing, walking, smiling articulation of his brand. So he pays particular attention to whom he hires and why.

Honestly, I'm not sure what his secret is. I just know this: When you walk into another bike shop in Greenville, you're pretty likely to get blown-off or snubbed. When you walk into his store, you're taken care of by cool friendly people who really want to help. There's no service vibe. It isn't fake in any way.

Sounds simple? Of course it does. And it is... but most retail outlets I visit don't even come close to the level of care and cool and confident professionalism that you'll encounter there.

Think boutique chic minus the attitude. It's uncanny.

Based on what I've seen, here's what I think Randy does:

(And if this echoes some of Guy Kawasaki's advice from yesterday, don't be too surprised.)

1. Randy hires infected people. No, not raging zombies from the U.K., but fitness-infected people. Everyone who works there is either an avid runner or cyclist or triathlete. These folks live, eat and breathe this stuff. They love it. It's their passion, and they're eager to share it with everyone who walks through his door.

2. Randy hires volunteers. Everyone who works there wants to work there.

3. Randy hires big talent. Everyone there is incredibly bright and/or talented. If your idea of the stereotypical bike shop/tri shop employee is of some nacho-munching underachiever with a racing fetish, think again. Some members of his team have Masters' degrees. Others have managed very profitable businesses. Some of them are immensely talented artists and coaches and promoters. It's uncanny, really.

4. Randy hires nurturers. Here's how Randy sees his customers: It doesn't matter if they're going to buy a $7,000 pro-kitted time trial bike or a $350 starter hardtail. They'll be treated with the same courtesy and enthusiasm and attention. If you're 300lbs and want to start exercising, you'll be treated with the same respect as if you were a nationally known pro cyclist. If your budget is very limited, you'll be treated just as well as a customer who drops $20,000 in the store each year.

Randy recently refused to hire a guy who told him he loved selling high-end bikes but not budget bikes. That pretty-much says it all.

5. Randy hires positive, enthusiastic people... because you know what, they're just fun to be around. Running a tri shop is supposed to be fun. His shop is fun. That's why people like to hang out there.

So there you have it. Whether you're running a triathlon shop, a chain of grocery stores or an accounting firm, you absolutely can't go wrong by following Randy's five hiring criteria. Next time you find yourself evaluating a potential hire, make sure that they match all five. Trust me when I say that anything short of the complete package will come back to bite you in the proverbial butt.

Okay, I'm done preaching for today. I'll just leave you with these two brilliant little points:

"The art of recruiting is the purest form of evangelism."
- Guy Kawaski.

"Your people are your product"
- Jack Spade


Wookie 101


I can't explain it or rationalize it or quantify it. I just know I laughed really hard when I first landed on this site and couldn't wait to show it to other people.

That doesn't happen very often.

Unfortunately, Chewy's Flikr account got deep-sixed yesterday, so all of his hilarious photos are now gone. The site only has today's post on display. Too many hotlinks or some nonsense.

Sad, sad, sad. I wish you could have seen it before the photo dump. Hopefully, it'll all be back soon.

How is this relevant to branding or marketing, I hear you cry? Good question. I'll tell ya:

1) I serendipitously ran into this old post from John Moore's Brand Autopsy blog today, and it kind of put Chewy's site in perspective for me:

"I must receive at least 10 pitch letters/packages a week from advertising agencies extolling why they are the best agency in the land and that we should work with them to develop marketing campaigns that get results.

One such pitch letter intrigued me -- not because it was remarkable, but because it was so unremarkable.

This particular pitch letter was 100% cookie-cutter. Nothing in the letter was customized to appeal to me. No mention of key issues that my company faces. No mention of the challenges facing us in the age of parity and commoditization. (Note to ad agencies … sending out “cookie-cutter come-ons” is not going to get my attention.)

In unremarkably remarkable fashion, the pitch began this way:

John, over the past several months I¹ve sent you a number of things in the mail hoping to stimulate a conversation about my company, and our approach to marketing.
Let’s stop right there.

If this agency can’t capture my attention (which after sending me numerous pitch packages, they obviously haven't), then how will they capture the attention of our customers?"

The point: Chewy caught my attention, made me laugh, and made me come back.

To be fair, I doubt that Chewy could sell me anything, but he caught my attention... which is already a pretty good start.

Chewy: 1
Cookie-cutter ad agencies: 0

2) Flikr could have capitalized on this. Instead, they decided to play it corporate.

a) Wrong decision.
b) Wrong way to handle the problem.
c) I don't think there needs to be a c) at this point.

Kind of reminds me of that whole FedEx incident a few months ago.

When will people learn?

3) Apparently, Chewy lives in Greenville, SC, so I can't help but feel a bit of hometown pride.

So anyway... What I learned from Chewy today is simply this: Be remarkable. Be funny. Be relevant. Be unique. Unless you're at least one of these things, you're dead in the water.

Wookies sure are smart.


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