Blog : Ideas

The person who does that

workerWhen faced with a disruptive change; something that fundamentally alters the way your business works, it generally means that it’s time to do at least a few things differently if one hopes to survive.

When considering the competencies needed to do those new things, a common response is: “But we don’t really have anyone who currently does that…


The lazy way out is to consider your lack of adequate resources as a reason why doing that new thing isn’t worthwhile.

The foolish way out is to take someone that used to be doing other things, and assign them to the new role; authority by proximity and convenience. (Assigning the new requirements on top of previous responsibilities qualifies for a high score on foolish and some bonus points for lazy.)

The enlightened way out is to re-examine the environment in which you now find yourself and ask the hard question: If we were to blow it all up and start over, based on our current reality, how would we build this company?

It takes more work than the lazy approach, and more guts than the foolish approach, but ultimately leads to more than survival, enabling a constant state of reinvention.

Crossing the chasm


When I was 15 years old, my family visited the Grand Canyon. I have vague memories of the desert; the vast expanse of nothingness; a feeling of awe and personal insignificance. But what I remember most are the squirrels.

Even rodents, it seems, have an interest in staring out over the void. Maybe they were resident squirrels, keeping an eye out for change in familiar territory. Or perhaps they were visitors, attracted by stories passed on from friends.

Either way, the behaviour is the same.  They creep to the edge of the cliff, flattening themselves against the rocks to fend off the breeze. And then they lie still, completely paralyzed, stuck halfway between being adventurous and running away.

There’s nothing worse than being stuck halfway

I recently asked a question on Twitter, looking for great examples of branded mobile applications.  What came back was a bit of a shock:  “Brands should forget about apps; my phone can view their websites just fine, thanks”.

I read it wistfully, feeling as forlorn as Henry Ford at an equestrian convention.  As brands, as marketers, as human beings capable of dreaming up big ideas that improve the lives of our customers, we have let our customers down.

When presented with the myriad capabilities provided by technology that was once relegated to the realms of science fiction now living in the pockets of our customers, we talked about QR codes. We dreamed about the day when we’d be able to send a text message from a billboard. We slapped digital lipstick on brochures and masqueraded them as apps.

We stared at the chasm and we flinched on take-off, worried that doing something too radical might upset all of the things that used to work so well. We didn’t have the guts to leap.

Luckily some of us have jumped.

A funny thing happens when you leave the ground with a sense of purpose.  You catch a gust, discover a current, and find yourself soaring.

Nike realized early on that runners weren’t using their smartphones for browsing; they were too busy running.  Their Nike+ app now allows more than 7 million users to track distance, complete goals and share their accomplishments with friends.

Disney didn’t stop after making the obvious, yet genius, My Disney Experience, an app that allows park visitors to explore virtual maps, get real-time data on wait-times and schedules for character visits.  They also built Story, allowing users build and share digital photo books, inspiring us to tell the stories of our lives, with a little help from Mickey et al.  Logically, some of those stories might even one day include an adventure through the Magic Kingdom.

Lacta, a Kraft-owned Greek chocolate brand found their futuristic inspiration in an analog tradition shared by, literally, their most passionate customers.  Messages once exchanged between lovers on candybar wrappers are now thumb-typed on the Lacta app. One click delivers the digital-sweet-nothings to a Facebook friend who must simply hold their phone camera up to a Lacta bar to display their note. Simple? Sure. Innovative? Yup. Does it sell chocolate bars? You bet it does.

At some point you have to leap

Fortunately, for thrill-seeking squirrels in Arizona, there will always be two sides to a canyon.  As they nervously peer out over the edge, they have the benefit of perpetual solid ground beneath their feet.

We’re not so lucky.  Time, they say, stops for no one.  The ground on what you once considered the safe and comfortable side of the gap is rapidly eroding.  With each passing day, your runway dissolves, costing you precious time that could be spent gathering momentum.

The leap won’t be easy, and we won’t all make it.  Some will cling to safety, even if it guarantees an inevitable fall.  But those brave enough to cross the chasm will be greeted with a sight that makes it all worthwhile: your customers are already waiting for you on the other side.

Something vs Everything

The job of a storyteller is not to tell everything he or she knows.   The job of a storyteller is to use as many blocks of something as it takes to build a memorable story.

The more blocks you use, the more you risk saying absolutely nothing at all.

Waves of love

One week ago, our dear friend Adam suffered a tragic loss. After a battle against the demons of depression, his son Jacob took his own life.

The memorial service will take place today at Cyprus Lakes Highschool in Fort Myers, Florida.

Adam has spent years spreading joy, wisdom and love into many of our new media communities. He’s been there for us whenever we needed advice, inspiration, enlightenment or just a comforting voice in our headphones as we knock down the miles.

A peaceful warrior, a sage with running shoes, a beam of sunshine on the rainiest of days, Adam is the eternal best friend.

Now, Adam needs us. He needs us for support and strength, wisdom and enlightenment, encouragement and understanding. He needs us for love.

On March 30, 2013 join us in sending #wavesoflove to our dear friend @zenrunner

Send tweets, vines, videos, podcasts, Instagram photos…. However you can best digitize your hug.

Use the hashtag #wavesoflove

Together we can change the world. One wave of love at a time.


The Problem With Shoulders

Shoulders are great for a lot of things.  They help you lift big things.  They help you finish a body check.  They’re pretty good at holding up the sleeves of your shirts.

But shoulders are also a dangerous thing to have.  You see, as soon as fear creeps in, you start to use your shoulders to make hard decisions.  Instead of thinking about what you should do, your shoulders sell you out.  They tempt you to peek at your competition. You look over one shoulder and take some notes.   You peer over your other shoulder for a bit of “inspiration”.

You revel in your final product, because of its creativity.  You know it’s creative because your most creative competitors did it first.  You love the camera angles; you know they’re artistic because your most avant-garde competition did it first.  Your new thing can’t fail, because you’ve eliminated all risk.  You’ve blended the most important aspects of what everyone else has already done. The problem is, it can’t succeed either.

The blending starts slowly, but the effects are long-lasting.  Projects become templates, canvases become photocopiers; we all become average.

Take a step back from your industry, and have a look around.  Don’t wait for a movie parody to point out what should already be obvious.  We’re surrounded by grey and safe and predictable.

From now on, your shoulders have a new role in your decision making process.  They stay out of the creativity part.  They stay out of the strategizing.  They hold your head up high, because your new idea is yours, and yours alone – and it wasn’t even close to average.

Your everyday is someone’s “once”

Everyday we get up and go to work. We do the same things, we find patterns, we cut corners and naturally find ways to make things go a bit smoother for us. Clock in for eight hours, hopefully cross everything off the to-do list, go home, sleep, repeat.

Your customer wakes up, anticipating how whatever it is you do is going to change their life. They’re apprehensive, a bit worried, but more excited than anything. They’ve never interacted with your brand before, but they’re really hoping that you’re the right choice. They really need whatever it is that you’re promising.

Sure, price matters… and your glossy marketing veneer is going to get you somewhere, but their antennae are set dead-red on clearing up one feeling:

Are you treating this exchange as your everyday? Or are you respecting the fact that this is their once?

Once upon a time

This blog post started with the words “Every day”. It set the tone. Drudgery. You could almost picture the grey figures marching in unison as part of their daily grind.

Everyday is boring. We all know what everyday feels like.

Once, on the other hand, is special. Once upon a time. This one time, at band camp… Once is what makes a great story great.

Your Turn

How are you going to make someone feel like you (and what you’re trying to sell) is part of their unique story?

The customer is always active

Welcome - the key is under the mat

With all of the digital tools at our fingertips, the field of Customer Relationship Management is exploding. Whether you’re talking about email marketing, social media, or cloud-based database systems, the value of relationships is sure to be at the forefront of the conversation.

I had two encounters recently, that clearly illustrate an interesting concept in relationship management. Both situations involved businesses that were very non-technical by nature; medical, in one instance, and brick-and-mortar retail in the other.

Situation A

Last year, I visited a local dental surgeon for an assessment about a fairly major (but optional) procedure. I was impressed with the home-like atmosphere of the clinic, the friendly faces, the smiles and comforting assurance.

After two visits, I was left with an armful of pamphlets, a medical insurance quote, and a major decision to make. I decided that, although the procedure was something I wanted to pursue someday, the timing wasn’t quite right.

During the last 12 months, the thought bubbled up from time to time. I read online forums, I spoke to others who have been in my spot. I’ve even mentioned it during several speaking engagements. For a big ticket purchase, I was exhibiting behaviour that I would imagine is typical for the buying cycle: I was taking my time.

Last week, I decided it was time to move ahead. This morning, I dialed the phone, feeling a mixture of nerves and excitement.

The receptionist took my name and paused. She broke a long silence with an unexpected response. We’ve marked your status as inactive – I’ll have to have someone dig up your record and get back to you later this week.

Situation B

I visited a local retail store five months ago, looking to make a fairly substantial purchase – not nearly on the scale of dental surgery in terms of cost or consequence; but still fairly expensive. The owner struck up a conversation, explaining the story of their family business. He gave me a card, took my name, and shook my hand. There were no comfy couches or crackling fireplaces, but the authenticity of the conversation achieved the same sense of comfort and familiarity I had felt in the aforementioned clinic.

I’m sure my name was never entered into a database.

I didn’t make a purchase that day, either. I chose something else, somewhere else and he never heard from me again.

Recently, I wandered back into the store. The conversation picked up where we had left off, many months ago. He knew my name, and he recognized that I had chosen to shop elsewhere after our first interaction. No problem – I’m so glad that gift worked out. I have a few things that I think you’ll love… let me show you.

Your customer owns the relationship

No matter how shiny or fancy your database might be, you never actually own any relationship. Any status you apply to a customer is ultimately just your best guess of their future actions; not a reflection of their true state.

It’s an odd juxtaposition: As technology has advanced for businesses to manage relationships, that same technology has put more power in the hands of the consumer; weakening any “ownership” that the business may have once had.

Your old signals might be broken

Once upon a time, a customer had to rely on the business for all information and consultation prior to taking the next step. Status was quite simple – the business owned the funnel, and could count the customers they had traipsing along the pipeline.

The game is different now, and the pipeline is full of holes. Your customer can look up any technical specs, access reviews, and comparison shop from the palm of their hand – on their own terms. Traditional signals of “inactivity” (aka: we haven’t heard from them in awhile) might not apply anymore.

Look for new signals

This is where our shiny new tools can come in handy. What’s the ROI of Facebook “Like”, Twitter Follow or Email subscriber? So often, people stumble here, debating dollar values. These asymmetrical, loose-tie relationships represent a juicy middle ground between the on-or-off customer status that businesses might have applied in the past. They symbolize I’m still here, just not quite ready. They allow you continue to educate. They also allow you to note new changes in a potential customer’s life; data that could very easily be factored back into a database system client status.

How are you equipping your potential customers to keep you on their radar? Do you have a communication plan for loose-tie connections, beyond “add them to email blasts?”. Be honest.

Open your arms for inactives

No one likes to walk into a room where no one knows their name. We like to fit in.

Perhaps, a less comfortable sensation is the thought that the room of people who once knew you might have forgotten you exist. We like to be memorable.

While Pareto might espouse the value of focusing on your top 20% of customers, you also need to pay close attention to those who might seem to be “inactive”. These represent relationships that are hanging on by a thread.

How do you welcome them back?

How do you ensure that they don’t feel like outsiders?

How do you make the next conversation feel like home?

Photo credit: alborzshawn

It’s not easy…

It's not easy

When you become moderately successful at something, there are two ways to describe your success:

It’s just easy to do.

It’s difficult, but I’m pretty good at it.

In the “it’s just easy” camp, you set yourself up for a situation where you’re expected to do well, so success is just status quo. But if anything goes wrong, you’ve failed to clear the lowest possible bar.

In the “it’s difficult” camp, you set yourself up to feel proud of your achievements, while also protecting yourself from becoming demoralized in the face of failure.

Easy commoditizes success. Difficult makes you valuable, while leaving room for continual improvement.