Blog : Marketing

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.

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?

Exposure will kill you

exposure will kill you

Serendipity just brought together two great points that will make any social media marketer think.

Electronista wrote about a report signifying a new trend among record labels: opting out of new subscription based services such as Rdio and Spotify. Long story short, a lot of plays is not being correlated with a lot of revenue. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

My friend Paul from Black Lab (a great Indie rock band) recently wrote a post that sums up his arguments as to why the band’s music wouldn’t be available on Spotify. Once again – getting paid is important. Money lets you feed a family and have a roof over your head.

Then I saw a retweet from @FauxMusicSupe (a parody music supervisor account) that summed it all up. In this brave new world, where marketing metrics are indeed shifting, sometimes exposure is getting too much credit. Too much exposure, without actual business goals being achieved might fool you for awhile, but eventually it will kill you. You can’t eat air.

How are you capitalizing on exposure to actually make money?

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

When it all goes wrong

It’s been said before that failing to plan is planning to fail. But, what do you do when it all goes wrong? We’ve all been there. You can plan and prepare as much as possible, and yet sometimes, in crunch time, everything falls apart. It sucks, its normal, it happens.

Some things are impossible to plan for.

Use failure to plan

There’s a lot of talk about failure being a backhanded gift; a learning opportunity in disguise. This is true, but only if you take advantage of it. Want to maximize the learning? Use failure to plan.

Exercise physiologists have proven that there is an optimal window for refuelling your body after an intense workout. After about 2 hours, you can still get the nutrition into your body – but the effects won’t be as good. Failure’s kind of like that.

Imagine you’ve just taken the stage to give a presentation, and something goes wrong. Think about the rush of emotion, adrenaline, and chaos that starts to play out in your body. As you walk off the stage, the adrenaline gives way to a blur of thoughts. Sentences resembling why didn’t I…., I can’t believe I…., and If only I had… own the moment.

This is your window. This is the magic hour for doing better next time. This is where you grow.

Your mind will protect you from dangerous things

If you’ve ever experienced a traumatic event, if enough time has passed, you will recognize the mind’s ability to make things go away. Ironically, it’s not the actual event that goes away, it’s often the tiny details. As time passes, we protect ourselves from the anguish, emotions and corrective self-talk. We build walls so that we don’t feel the adrenaline anymore.

Failure is a traumatic event. So, once the post-failure window passes – damage control sets in. We unconsciously start to forget.

It wasn’t so bad. I survived. Whatever. .

Build your action plan now

Nothing ever goes exactly as planned. There’s always room for improvement; so for a minute, let’s be pessimistic and say that everything we do contains some element of failure. Optimistically, this means everything we do contains some potential for learning. Take advantage of it.

Here are some things that have helped me:

  • Build and rehearse a procedure now (before you’re full of adrenaline and emotions), that you will use every time you have a post-event learning moment. Whether its a notebook, a voice recorder or a trusted friend that you talk to – make sure you know where you’re going to catch those corrective thoughts when they start to fly.
  • Schedule it – Book the time now, so you won’t run away and hide from the moment. I often take 30 minutes to jot down notes about a presentation within an hour of it being over.
  • Structure it. Use a template or a common format to force yourself to put down positives and negatives. This way you don’t gloss over the bad parts, and you force yourself to find good things.
  • Let it go – Once you’ve documented all of the what-if’s, you can park them on paper. Once they’re out of your mind – the danger is gone, things are taken care of, you’ll be able to sleep at night. And when you wake up, you can start taking action.

A perfect example? I was supposed to moderate an important webinar today. The technology completely fell apart. After 15 minutes of struggle, we threw in the towel and rescheduled.

In the moment, it sucked; a lot.

In the aftermath, my mind was flooded with if only we had…. But now after a structured time to reflect, we’ve circled the wagons, made the strategy more bulletproof and we’re ready to go again.

This strategy works well for me – how about you?

Photo Credit: Realworldracingphotog

It’s all been said before

How often do these words rattle around in your skull?
It’s all been said before

Sometimes the words are the building blocks of a good excuse. I use this all the time with blog posts and ideas for books. Some might call it writer’s block, Merlin Mann would call it an excuse: I can’t possibly write anything new… it’s all been said before..”

Sometimes, the sentiment is a reactionary damper on an idea that struck you as revolutionary; a manifestation of deep-seated disbelief in our own abilities. There’s no way I came up with that; I’m sure someone has already done that before.

Sometimes, it’s an opportunity.

You don’t have to dream it up every time

I was recently chatting with some folks who specialize in leadership education. As we went through leadership topics, from Lifehacker to Zen Habits to Gretchen Ruben’s Happiness Project – we encountered a recurring theme. Little of this is new information. It’s all been said before! And It’s true; many of the realizations from The Happiness Project were already summed up by Dale Carnegie – decades before Gretchen ever realized she was sad.

Does that make her book any less valuable to her readers?

Does that make it any less valuable to her as a New York Times best-seller?

Or did she make it new by saying it in her own way?

I’ve often looked at Malcolm Gladwell and wondered if he’s ever had an original thought in his life. But, now I realize I’ve been falling for the trap of it’s all been said before. Does Gladwell simply tells stories, facts, and figures that were already told by other people? Certainly. But does he make it all new by saying it in his own way? The sales of his books seem to indicate he does.

If Seth Godin were to read about the cage of it’s all been said before, he’d likely attribute it to the lizard brain; a vestigial apparatus on our brainstem designed to protect us from taking big risks. And he’d probably be right, after all, he did write a book about it. But guess what – that’s all been said before too. Steve Pressfield wrote about this extensively in The War of Art; and Paul McLean discussed the different parts of the human brain as early as the 1950′s.

So if it’s all been said before, what are we supposed to do?

That’s the secret

Don’t worry about it.

I remember a discussion I had with a singer about a song on his latest record. “It’s one of the best songs I’ve written in years,” he said. “I worked on it for a week, until I had it just right. And then, I realized, parts of the melody sound like something I released 5 years ago”.

You know what he did? He released it anyway. And no one noticed. The new song had new lyrics, new emotions, and new melodies on top of a familiar sound. It was a new experience.

Whether you’re building marketing campaigns, writing a novel or building a website – stop worrying about whether it’s all been said before.

Unless you were given a photocopier instead of a mind – remove the phrase from your vocabulary. Take whatever thoughts come to you, apply it to the context of your world, paint it with your brushes, in your colours, and let it go.

We’re not always blessed with world-changing new ideas, but apply your context and your spin, and your story can make all the difference in the world.

And when you do have one of those rare ideas that no one has ever had before? Maybe, if you’re lucky, someone, someday might give it new colours, new life, and make it resonate differently with an entirely new audience.